Frankie Knuckles, simply legendary! Talks to DMC before his return to London.
Frankie, welcome back to DMC. Where in the world are you right now?
I’m here in London.
So let’s get the dreaded bit out of the way… the charts…
What is the current top 10 tunes you are spinning right now?
“YOUR LOVE” (Every Mix) by Frankie Knuckles presents Director’s Cut featuring Jamie Principle
“HALLELUJAH ANYWAY” (Director’s Cut Mix) by Candi Staton
“NOTHING BUT LOVE FOR YOU (Love Song) by The Shapeshifters & C-Dock
“DRUNKEN PREACHER”by Rober Gaez
“FABLE” (Director’s Cut Mix) by Lil Louis
“IN IT TOGETHER’ (Director’s Cut Signature Togetherness) by Human Life
“GET OVER U” (Director’s Cut Original Mix) by Director’s Cut featuring B. Slade
“I FEEL GOOD THINGS FOR YOU” (Nicola Fasano & Steve Forest Vocal Mix) by Daddy’s Favourite
“IN TIME” (Richard Earnshaw & Grant Nelson Mix) by Richard Earnshaw
“WORTHY” (Director’s Cut Classic Mix) by Richard Earnshaw featuring Jocelyn Brown
If we had a Back To Mine session back at yours after a club, what would be your 10 tunes to chill us out?
“STAY FREE” by Ashford & Simpson
“ALL THE BEFORES” by Diana Ross
“ALL FOR ONE” by Diana Ross
“YOU ARE MY STARSHIP” by Norman Connors
“WHERE PEACEFUL WATERS FLOW” by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“YOU’RE NUMBER ONE (IN MY BOOK) by Gladys Knight & The Pips
“SOMETHING FOR NOTHING” by MFSB
“SINCE I’VE BEEN GONE” by The Spinners
“CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT” by The Stylistics
“LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE” by Chuck Mangione
And what are the finest 10 records you have been involved with that have set the world’s dancefloors alight over the years?
“YOUR LOVE” (The Original circa 1985) by Jamie Principle
“LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER” by First Choice
“TEARS” by Satoshi Tomiie
“THE WHISTLE SONG” by Frankie Knuckles
“RAINFALLS” by Frankie Knuckles & Lisa Michaelis
“ROCK WITH YOU” by Michael Jackson
“THIS TIME” by Chante Moore
“THE PRESSURE” by The Sounds Of Blackness
“WHERE LOVE LIVES” by Alison Limerick
“I’LL TAKE YOU THERE” by Director’s Cut feat. Jamie Principle
Cool. On with the show. 25 years ago ‘Your Love’ was released to the world, what made you go back to revisit it again for a new generation?
I felt it was time to revisit it Several DJ/Producers have covered it over the years. Plus, it had been sampled so many times by so many producers. 25 years is a long distance from the original and, with the legacy that’s attached to this classic I just felt it was time to bring the song (sonically) into the Here & Now. Making it accessible to today’s technology and DJs.
Often described as the most emotional song in dance music ever recorded and has brought many tears to the dancefloor, when did you first realize that something special had been made?
The first time Jamie handed me the cassette with his 4 track mix of the demo. I thought it was perfect at that stage but I knew the industry in the states would never give it a listen. And as I shopped it around I found that I was right in my thinking. It took Larry Levan to play it at Paradise Garage to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice. It was already a classic at The Powerplant in Chicago.
What is the best remix you have ever done?
It depends on who’s judging. My mixes and productions are like my children. I love them all equally. But from the outside looking in people judge my work by their favorites. There is some timeless beauty in each song. Each remix has it’s own personality with one common thread.. A sound that several programmers helped me to define over the years. Eric Kupper, Peter ‘Ski’ Schwartz and Alec Shantzis are the main men that helped me to develop the sound. and rounding out the production with great engineers like John Poppo, David Sussman and Steve Barkan, these guys have always made me look/sound good. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.
Did you get that same feeling recording the new version of ‘Your Love’ with Jamie as you did first time round in the 80’s?
Let me tell you, it was a very scary process. Taking on an iconic piece of music that to everyone was already perfect and re-visit it was nothing short of frightening. Plus, being so close to it, it was like doing surgery on one of your own children. I felt much to close to the project. Jamie’s part was easy but to get the sound just right, the energy and all the emotional nuances to gel well together without stepping out of music character. we were definitely walking a tightrope on this one. But we made it happen with “THE WHISTLE SONG (REVISITED). It was well worth the effort. Kupper followed my lead and again, delivered. When I first played it for Simon Marlin (Nocturnal Groove/The Shapeshifters) and he gave me an overwhelming approval of the production well, lets just say “The Surgery Was A Success”.
How did the whole Director’s Cut Signature mix come about with Eric?
While completing final production on “I’LL TAKE YOU THERE” Simon Marlin asked if I had a follow-up single in mind? The idea of re-producing “Your Love” was in the back of my mind but it wasn’t my first choice. However, when I mentioned it Simon said, “Dude, You Have To Do It! It’s time to re-visit it and make it fresh and new with that same old feeling” (paraphrasing). And here you have it.
Did you have to dig some of the old analogue gear out again for the track or is everything created using current technology?
Eric (Kupper) keeps an enormous library of sounds that are tagged with my name on them. It’s a bit of an old school sound but fresh with today’s technology. We applied that technology with our own musical sensibility. The song ALWAYS comes first. Technically we can make almost anything happen. But with a song this beautiful it’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s about embellishing the thing that made everyone fall in love with it the first time and making it work today.
Favourite piece of studio gear from the past and today?
STEINWAY BABAY GRAND PIANO and THE HUMAN VOICE.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My health. I wish I had taken better care of myself when I was younger.
Where does the name Knuckles come from?
My Father. I have a history chart of my family tree dating back to the early 1800s when a gentleman by the name of KNUCKLES, from England was given a patch of land and several slaves in North Carolina. His name was Knuckles. Hence, the name was given to the slaves and that’s my lineage.
Who has been the greatest vocalist you have ever worked with?
Let’s go way back. You went from studying textile design at FIT in Manhattan to spinning alongside Larry Levan at The Continental Baths playing Soul, Disco and R&B – had did that switch happen?
My friend, The Legendary Tee Scott, who was a major DJ in NYC at the time asked me to come play at his club on Monday & Tuesday nights. He was already playing from Wednesday to Sunday and the club was planning to open on those dark nights. I was actually in High School at the time, living in the Bronx and needed the money. I moved in with my Uncle in the East Village and took on the job. But after 6 months the club shut down Monday & Tuesday nights due to not enough attendance. The resident DJ at Continental Baths had quit and Larry became resident. He asked me to come be his Light man. That’s how it started.
What was the music you were listening to / brought up with around your family home. Which family members were into their music?
Lots of soul, Motown, Latin Salsa (I’m from The South Bronx Y’know) Jazz and Bosa Nova. Most of this music was all a part of my oldest sister’s record collection.
When you go out to DJ these days are you still carrying the classic but maybe a little worn vinyl around or are you using laptop or cd’s?
I carry a 64gb USB stick with a large part of my record collection downloaded to it in WAV format. I don’t carry vinyl or play with it these days. My vinyl collection sits in storage. But I do have a few classics amongst the many other choons on this USB stick. Do I play any of them? Not the way everyone else does. If the mood strikes and the moment is right I’ll pull a choice choon from the collection, just to give everybody a rush. It’s a shame though. Most folks don’t get it.
How does the audience/clubbers differ now compared to your early years as a DJ?
People are the same but DJs aren’t. Technology has made most DJs lazy. Technology has given them all the tools to play with at their finger-tips. So, instead of studying a song and what makes it great and, challenging themselves to make it work on it’s own merit, they loop it, play with sound effects and whatever. Back in the day all you had was the records and your own imagination. And even better than that, sometimes the songs were so strong all a DJ had to do was put it on and let it play. Maybe even go down on the dance floor and enjoy it with everyone else. THAT’S THE DIFFERENCE! When was the last time you saw a DJ really enjoying himself dancing to another DJs music?
What is the strangest sight you have ever seen in a New York club?
I’ll pass on this one.
How do you keep your enthusiam to still travel the world and spend all night in clubs?
You make it sound like I’m up all night hanging out ‘cos I have nothing else better to do. Not at all. I believe I’ve reached a certain station in my career where I’m allowed to make the most of what I’m doing. Some DJs say, “You’re Frankie Knuckles so you can get away with anything”. That’s not true. To keep working and staying relevant at this game I have to do the work. I stopped making music for a long time. But I’m doing it again. I had to reinvent myself in order to find my place in todays market. It’s not easy. I can’t rest on my laurels. It’s essential for me to make the effort to make a difference. Otherwise why would anyone be interested in what I do?
What DJs do you admire on the scene right now?
When it comes to me dancing only one DJ can play for me. Danny Krivit. When it comes to being inspired and completely entertained… Simon & Max (The Shapeshifters), DJMeme, Dimitri From Paris, David Harness (San Francisco), Manny Ward (Oakland), Marques Wyatt.
And what DJs do you admire from back in the day…?
David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Tee Scott, David Todd and Larry Levan.
What is your greatest weakness in life?
Wearing my emotions on my sleeve.
What is the greatest club you have ever played at?
Us Studio, The Warehouse.
Knuckles and Morales – synominous in the history of modern dance music. Why did you two gel so well as DJs?
It was magic. We were young and learning new things from each other. We complimented each other. In the studio David would take the top of the console where all the drums and percussion was laid out and, I was at the bottom of the console where all the voices and musical instruments were. Working the console while orchestrating parts for the mix we’d meet in the middle and what we’d end up with is a song like, “WHERE LOVE LIVES”.
Who has the best dress sense out of you two?
Before, it was me. Then I taught David how to shop. Now it’s him Since then I’ve become a schlub. I can’t be bothered with getting all dolled up only to sweat it out while having fun playing music.
The Ministry of Sound is celebrating the big 20 this month, what have been your favourite nights there?
It’s been so long. I honestly can’t remember any.
Not many people know this, but Frankie Knuckles is very good at…
If you had to pick one tune which always struck a chord when you played it at MOS – what was it?
I can’t remember. It was a long time and many choon ago. I think practically every tune we worked on at DefMix was massive there.
Your Def Mix weekly at Pacha has been stuff of legend. Why is Ibiza such a magical place?
There’s just no other place like it on earth. Oh, there are breathing places all around the world but, Ibiza is the only place in the world that you can experience the best of the best in dance music.
When was the last time you went to Chicago? Or the last time you played there?
I live in Chicago and the last time I played there was this past summer at the CHOSEN FEW’S 22nd ANNUAL OLD SCHOOL PICNIC.
You have played the world fifty time over – what countries and clubs do you love returning to?
ENGLAND, ITALY, JAPAN & AUSTRALIA.
What have you planned for 2012…?
Maybe more of the same. Ask me in 2012. Thanks!