The Paradise Garage LEGEND hits London town. World exclusive
Interview by Dan Prince
As Homer’s Odyssey is to western literature, the Paradise Garage is at the cornerstone of modern dance music and its culture. Having attained almost mythical status, this groundbreaking club and the man at its musical helm, the legendary Larry Levan, have had a profound and lasting effect on the music we listen to and the clubs that we listen to it in. On Sunday 30th November, coinciding with World AIDS Day, A Night in Paradise will bring the spirit of the Garage to London for the first time. Making its home in the very place that it famously inspired nearly twenty-five years ago – the Ministry of Sound. Showcasing Levan’s seminal soundtrack, and the music it has since inspired, this event also aims to raise £20,000 to support two of the world’s first and leading HIV charities; New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis or GMHC and the UK’s Terrence Higgins Trust, with all profits from the event being split equally between the two organisations. The line up includes US legends and UK figures responsible for bringing the Paradise Garage ethos to Britain, and more specifically to London. Stars on the night include Danny Krivit, Joey Llanos, Victor Rosado, Jocelyn Brown, Kenny Carpenter, Ricky Morrison, Frankie Foncett, David Piccioni and Bryan Chambers. Here, Dan Prince checks in with David DePino…Larry Levan’s best friend in the world and another of the Paradise Garage gods…
David a very warm welcome to DMCWORLD…where on planet earth are you today?
“Hi Dan, today I’m in NYC.”
I remember the time when you said that you only DJ’ed twice a year; for the Paradise Garage Reunion and Larry Levan’s birthday. Man, you have already rocked Larry Levan Way and now you are heading over to London to play at the Ministry of Sound’s big event. I guess you can’t keep a good man down huh?
“Well I am still retired to be honest, playing out as you say one or two times a year…and loving it lol…!”
‘A Night In Paradise’ takes place on Sunday November 30th and is an Official Paradise Garage HIV fundraiser dedicated to the memory of Larry Levan and Mel Cheren. Can you recall the first time you stepped foot in our capital and encountered our own music scene, what were your initial thoughts?
“I think the first time in London was at The Ministry of Sound and also Queer Nation. Loved it then, still do and love your country!”
Born and raised in Manhattan it was you sir that heard about the space of a second floor parking lot that later became the most famous nightclub in the world. During the day back then in the 80s you were a hairdresser, come Saturday night you’d proudly stand the door at Larry’s DJ booth. Larry would sometimes be a little late and you’d have to spin a few records, soon you would be the official Opener for him. How did the crowd take to someone else in the booth, was it immediate acceptance?
“The crowd accepted me straight away, I guess because I was part of the family and also Larry’s best friend.“
You used to work for one of the fiercest ladies in dance music…Judy Weinstein at For The Record Pool where you were responsible for bringing all the best music to DJs in NYC. What was she like to work for?
“Judy was always and is still on top of her game.”
Back then you were surrounded by amazing young DJs, many who went onto become household names. Who did you spot early doors that you just knew was going to be fabulous?
“Well, not to toot my own horn…lol…David Morales! I asked Judy to make her a member of the Record Pool straight away.”
How much of a religious feeling was a night at the Garage, did people really have their souls filled leaving on a Sunday morning?
“It’s like I always say. You went to The Garage…and Larry took you to Paradise!!!”
This year Forbes Magazine published it’s DJ Rich List, some of the DJs coined in more than $20 million over the last 12 months in earnings. Larry Levan was renowned for making his dancefloor wait until he had climbed his ladder and polished his beloved mirror ball before starting the music at Paradise Garage. Do you think today’s stars of the turntables would do the same?
“The reason why I’m working so hard for Larry Levan Way is for all the DJs today to know about DJs like Larry whose shoulders they’re all standing on. They need to know the history of who came first…”
True or false : At Christmas and Thanksgiving clubbers were served turkey with all the trimmings?
“Ha ha – true! And the turkey was great!!!“
The Ministry of Sound event is also in honour of the late, great Mel Cheren – the innovative record executive who helped start the Paradise Garage back in the day. One of the things many people don’t know about Mr Cheren is that through his record label West End he helped create the 12 inch vinyl single and also the idea of instrumental B-sides for dance singles. From a musical point of view, how important was he to that time?
“Mel was quite simply an important part of a small group of people who were VERY important. And he will be remembered for it…”
His autobiography ‘Keep On Dancin’ : My Life and the Paradide Garage’ described in stunning detail a glorious and albeit decadent time whose carefree spirit came crashing down with the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Indeed, it portrays his lonely and sad destiny and the treacherous chicanery of those that surrounded him as sycophants and leeches. New York in the 80s was ruthless and cutthroat, heroin and crack had ravaged the inner city, the post Stonewall explosion of gay liberation that had produced disco was in retreat. What are your memories of that time?
“I guess in the 80s I was very young and it didn’t really affect me til the 90s. Thank God for people like Mel who started the fight early…”
May 11th 2014 will long go down in history as one of the finest parties the city of New York has ever thrown! A celebration of Larry Levan Way where you rocked the street and sidewalks alongside Joey Llanos, Francois K and Miss Jocelyn Brown. Man – 22,000 people in the house!!! Tell us about it!!!
“Well…22,000 people on the street and another 3000 on line that never made it on the block…WOW!!! I was blown away and the love for Larry was overwhelming…”
The likes of Gloria Gaynor, Loleatta Holloway, Dan Hartman, Chaka Khan, Al Hudson and the Jones Girls all took to the famous stage over the years. Tell us though about the night one of the biggest snowstorms ever hit NYC and a certain Patti Labelle had been booked for $20,000…not a dry eye in the house right?
“Even though Patti had areally bad cold that night she still gave an incredible performance…I love her!!!”
Another colossal loss to the world of music was our man Frankie Knuckles passing on March 31st due to a Type II diabetes related illness. You first met Frankie back in 1971 and were firm friends ever since. I am sure you have been asked this a million times, but one more time for DMC. Why was this man such a musical genius?
“Dan, if I knew the answer to how or why someone becomes a star and others don’t…I would package it and sell it!! Lol. I do miss him.”
Over in the United Kingdom the biggest DJ we have lost to the turntables in the sky is Tony de Vit, a massive figure in the 90s who brought a new sound to the UK and who’s records are still played today. In time we hope days like May 11th will be repeated in some way for the likes of Tony and Frankie. It just seems incredible though how much Larry’s legacy continues! His birthday on September 27th always is remembered, the Garage continues to celebrate a reunion…what was it about this man and his music that will never be forgotten?
“I get asked this question from time to time and I still can’t really answer it. I guess he was loved, maybe it was as simple as that. I know I loved him.”
You are a massive New York Yankees fan, you face a tricky situation off season this year with less money to spend than usual and still holes to fill. Do you think you’re going to be able to retain Headley and McCarthy?
“Haha! Yes I am a Yankee fan!!! No matter what!!! Lol. Win or lose, good or bad…Go Yankees!!! Lol.”
True or false : On occasion you would have to rush into the DJ booth and tell Larry to stop playing your favourite records as you’d keep burning the muffins you were baking in the kitchen for the clubbers?
“False perhaps? But I do recall helping one time when the first did get burnt! So maybe…!”
What was the last contemporary album you bought and loved?
“Honestly? I cannot recall the last time I bought an LP!”
Does it irk you how most of today’s young clubbers can be clueless when it comes to separating a good DJ from a bad one?
“Yes absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I am now retired.”
When Michael Brody died in 1987 and the Garage closed, you continued DJing at the also historic Tracks and Sound Factory nightclubs. “I changed the history of New York in my own little way” you recalled. Is that how you want to be remembered?
“I want to be remembered for making people dance and have fun. Like so many DJs did for me and to me…”
And finally, walking past 84 King Street today must fill you with many emotions. Sad that the building is now a salesroom for Verizon trucks but so much happiness of the memories of this hallowed dance palace. Love really was the message through those doors wasn’t it…?
“Yes!!!!!! It made me happy and sad at the same time on that street…and it will be even sadder to see the building come down and be replaced. That’s why Larry Levan Way is so important. Thank you DMC!”
A NIGHT IN PARADISE
Official Paradise Garage HIV fundraiser at Ministry of Sound dedicated to the memory of Larry Levan and Mel Cheren, the Godfather of Disco.
The Box: Paradise Garage 1977 – 1987
Danny Krivit, Joey Llanos, David DePino, Victor Rosado, PA – Jocelyn Brown
103: Ministry of Sound – The First Ten Years
Justin Berkmann, Kenny Carpenter, Ricky Morrison, Frankie Foncett, David Piccioni, PA – Bryan Chambers
Baby Box: Handsome (Disco/Hi NRG/House)
Horse Meat Disco, Jeffrey Hinton, The Reflex, Fidel