DJ Disciple is one of New York’s best-loved House music DJ & Producers, having played at seminal events like the floating Wild Pitch parties, Save The Robots, Choice,The World, Sapphire Lounge, Le Souk and Studio 54. Known for tracking down tunes before they hit promo, Disciple built his rep on breaking new music, often on his college radio shows or WNYE 91.5 FM, which were famous across the city before going to garner worldwide reputation.
During his 30 year career his energetic sets took him to iconic clubs such as Ministry of Sound, the Southport Weekender, Back To Basics, Ms Moneypennys, Middlesborough’s Empire club, Notting Hill Carnival, Luke Solomon & Kenny Hawkes’ Space, Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson’s Loft club, Fabric and Cream in Ibiza. His Grammy-nominated track “Caught Up” reached Number 1 on the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and was later featured in the Showtime series “Queer As Folk”. His music has landed on scores of top music charts around the world. Disciple has also won an ARIA music award for his remix of Steven Allkins’ “The Bass Has Got Me Movin.”
With his Catch 22 label still going strong, DJ sets in New York, Disciple has also found time to write his story “The Beat, The Scene, The Sound” and we catch up with him ahead of its release on June 16th 2023.
Hello Originally from New York, where do you spend most of your time these days?
I still live in Brooklyn bound where I’m bringing up my daughter. I play drums in the church, DJ four nights a week, and am putting out two releases a week on my label, Catch 22. And of course doing talks to launch my new book “The Beat, The Scene, The Sound”
How have you seen the music scene evolve since you started and do you think clubbers appreciate the house music legacy established by pioneers such as yourself?
Some people follow the DJ, not the scene, and vice versa. Since the late 80s house music has combined African, Caribbean, and Latin rhythms together. On one side of the spectrum, you have a new audience embracing more afro house because it’s refreshing. The decline of R&B also bought in some of their audience and its DJs. On the other side, Tulum has swapped out the EDM craze reverting to Deep house and tribal melodies which have been with us since the start. We’ve seen Marques Wyatt in LA do whole yoga functions and there’s been a new line of festivals promoting the genre.
There is an appreciation of our legacy as the hyper-development of the scene continues to grow in Brooklyn. Themed parties like Carry Nation, Love Injection, and Mister Sunday, have new and thriving audiences that love house music. House Of Yes, Good Room, Public Records, and parties like Shelter and 718 Sessions are also still going strong.
Do you feel your book will reaffirm this with the new generation?
Yes, because scenes and DJs always change with the fusion-friendly house sound.
House music in Europe is quite different from anything in the USA, and in many respects, it’s thrived here in a way it never did back in the US Why do you think it’s so much more popular on this side of the Atlantic, having experienced it on both sides?
Since the beginning, how radio playlisted house music in the States was crucial in its development to mainstream audiences. In ‘92 black radio stopped playlisting House music as artists were dropped from labels. There was a homophobia reaction to house music in certain circles, even though the scene itself de-sensitised the taboo of LGBTQ communities. The P.L.U.R. movement in the States has themes about love, peace and harmony, just as strong as the Woodstock movement. But without major label backing to develop artists, it became a lost cause in many cases. I empathised with Marshall Jefferson in his 2020 article titled ‘Why I Quit DJ-ing,’ but I survived because I had a great agent and manager early on in my career. From the start, I believed in the power of collaboration and delegation. I also believe that your energy is currency and to value yourself, no matter what your circumstances are. JP Firmin and Kim Benjamin were the transition counsellors that prepared me for the re-inventions I had to make in my DJ sets and the music I produced. Preparation plus opportunity equals success.
New York is one of the key cities for House music and you were there as a teenager growing up in the middle of it. How significant was House music at that time and how aware were you that it was taking off globally?
I was a teenager in the post-disco era. Contemporary Gospel, New Wave, Punk Rock, Freestyle, and R & B’s rebirth were all part of my teenage DNA before I got the house music bug in 1986. I picked up the first issues of DJ Magazine and Mixmag when they first came here in 1991 at Dance Traxx in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My WNYE 91.5 FM radio show was so popular that I was interviewing British artists from 1989 to 1990. ‘Chime’ with Orbital was my favourite. My first show featured Baby Ford, and I was big on A Guy Named Gerald. I played these artists heavily during my college days at the Baruch and Hunter parties. During the New Music Seminar in Manhattan DJ Mag threw a party at The Sound Factory Bar in 1992 and I was featured in their magazine. I thought to myself, ‘This is a game changer”.
What inspired you to want to become a DJ and how did you start?
Ralph Davis, DJ Jaz, and Rich LaMotte were my first inspirations. My journey began as an intern for Davis aka Kool D on W.B.M.B, Baruch College Radio. He was breaking into rap music when there was little to no hip hop being playlisted. Rap artists were hungry for college exposure in 1985 when I decided to join. I started off with Gospel Music to coincide with the journalism I’d been doing for the school paper, The Ticker.
Who or what influenced you at this time and were there other elements of Soul, Disco, Hip Hop, and Funk in your early sets?
When other people couldn’t do their shows on W.B.M.B I would pick up the slack and experiment. “Nightmares” was a big record because Dana Dane lived in Fort Greene, just a few blocks from where I lived. The same with Just-Ice with his track, “Latoya”. DJing in block parties in Fort Greene gave you the ability to come through the neighbourhood anytime you wanted during the crack era. Even though I did house music, I’d still come through and play in the street. When I started doing college parties, a whole crew from both projects would come together in peace. It became a great fellowship between those communities.
What was your first big break?
Larry Levan was playing Ellis D.’s “Took My Love Away” at Studio 54 in the summer of 1988. I was invited to go by Monty Collings, who hired me to do my first party at Hunter College. When I got to Studio 54 Monty looked at the DJ booth where Levan was spinning and told me ‘You gotta to play like that guy”. After the success of the Hunter parties, Studio 54 was where I did my first big gig.
What were some of your favourite haunts in New York at that time, and can you tell us about any special nights or memories?
Playing in Manhattan’s East Village. In 1990 I started playing at the Pyramid Club located at 101 Avenue A in the East Village. It was a really small venue with a bar in the front and a small dance floor in the back with a stage. I loved this space. One night I dropped the promo of “Black Betty” by Ram Jam and followed it with “Stand In Line” by ESG. It was the first time I’d played at a venue filled with rock lovers and dance heads. Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rupaul, and Lady Bunny performed at the venue., After spinning at the Pyramid, I fell in love with the Lower East Side in the Village. Club such as Save The Robots, The Choice, and The World weren’t far from each other. In the 2000’s it was the Sapphire Lounge, Le Souk, La Vie, and Affaire were all stomping grounds where I held long residency runs. Lady Bunny and I went on to collaborate on ‘I Get High’ in 2005.
What was the major turning point in your career as a DJ and where did it lead?
When I decided to stop touring and stick to playing in New York. After seeing DJ Dave Camacho at Franks Lounge I decided to come back to playing deep and soulful house music in 2006. I will still touring but didn’t commit to playing for the soulful scene like I did in the 90s. I started the Next Level Party that summer of ‘06, and then went on to do Release and Feel Real at Sapphire Lounge. I collaborated with most of my DJ peers, did charity events with the brand, and reconnected with lifelong dancers and friends from the scene I once left.
In the mid 90’s you started to travel overseas to the UK and Europe, and do you recall your first trip to the UK – the early clubs, DJs, and scene?
Highlighted in the book are clubs like Lakota in Bristol, Garage City, Feel Real and Ministry Of Sound in London – all notable venues where I debuted. I also played at ‘Enjoy’ with Ricky Morrison, Phil Asher, Matthew Ballister, and Grant Berry. The party was located at a secret London location, and you could feel the buzz in the air. I would spend my days hanging out in Soho at record shops like Catch-A-Groove and Uptown Records, and Black Market and picking up promos from labels like Azuli and Defected who were also in Soho. You had the movies in Leicester Square, the comic book shop, not too far away, and the Zoo offices of the Garage City crew on Shaftsbury Avenue. I’d get inside information from various DJs about what records were firing up the various clubs they played at. The fellowship and bonds created between DJs are what I loved so dearly about being in London. I’d pick up the magazines just to see what DJs were charting on their playlists. I would look for new DJ gear that constantly educated me.
The dance styles up North were completely different from what I’d see in London. London dance styles were more in line with what was happening in New York. Paul “Trouble” Anderson at The Loft, or Garage City is where I witnessed the best dancing and footwork. I didn’t see that up North. The dancing up North reminded me of how they danced in San Francisco. Real loose. In the early 90s dancers in New York started traveling to other countries to teach House dance. Particularly in Japan. That skill was in London, but I didn’t hear about too many dancers monetising it as they did in house music venues in New York.
You adopted the UK as a second home with regular sets at Garage City, Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson’s Loft club, Southport Weekender, Love To Be and why do you think you fitted in so well to what was happening in the UK at that time?
The UK was a fresh start for me. Back in New York, at certain parties, you were judged by how you played Loft, Paradise Garage, and New Jersey classics. In the UK you didn’t have to do any of that. You could just play house music through and through. UK producers were also making US-sounding records before they came into their own. I started collaborating with UK engineers and UK producers in 1995, so it was easier for me to adapt to understand the musical languages, sounds, and trends emerging in the area from North to South, or West.
You also started producing in 1993 and talk us through your first release and what happened with it.
I released my first record in 1993 on Muzik Pushers. I was desperate to learn how to work in the studio and do my own music. Bobby allowed me to record with the belief that I would put out a record on his label, Muzik Pushers.
Because of the reputation I built playing in clubs in New Jersey and the radio show in New York, Mike Cameron from Smack Productions called me up to come to the studio to get more unreleased music from him. When I get to New Jersey to meet him, he introduced me to Eddie Perez and Paul Simpson. Simpson was a prominent producer for Adeva (behind the successful house and R&B hits “Respect”, “Warning” and “I Thank You” . Perez, a keyboardist, and I became cool and agreed to work together in the studio. Perez played keys on Disciple’s first EP out of Muzik Pushers and in return Disciple helped Perez out with his other projects for Smack. For the first three months, I drove Bobby’s engineer Rolando Maldonado crazy in the studio. I bought an E-mu SP-1200 and loaded it with drum sounds that Roger S. gave me. Maldonado had to figure out how to integrate the drum machine with his Cubase digital audio workstation. We would spend hours programming around the drum machine. Once we did it, and with Eddie playing his Juno 9 keyboard the project came out like magic. “When The Music Stops’ created a buzz in Italy and was picked up by D:Vision there.
From there you started producing regularly for different labels can you tell us about some of your favorite productions, collaborations, and your proudest moments?
Working with Gerald Elms and Michele Chiavarini was life-changing for me. The musicality that came from these guys was incredible. I had worked with Michele on the “My True Colors” LP and we developed a good working relationship. Michele was just coming off working on the hugely successful dance-chillout Jakatta album Visions. The album he did with Dave Lee scored three U.K. Top 10s including “American Dream,” “So Lonely,” and “My Vision” featuring Seal. “Midnite Espresso” was also notable track from this period. I got my friend Jask from Tampa to do the vocal version of the song. Michele and I went on to collaborate on songs like “I Want It Right,” by Disciples Of Phunk, “Doin It Good” by D & M Project, and the Brooklyn Soul Boys’ “Fort Greene Jazzmatazz” which got playlisted on Jazz FM. I felt like he could do anything musically and it would work. He was the musician’s musician. Gospel, jazz, funk, Latin—Michele could do it all. I’d look forward to the studio sessions we’d have at his place and the magic we created when I put any vocal in front of him. It was a big deal to be working with him on the record “Turn It Around” featuring Michelle Weeks. Michelle Weeks lived in Fort Greene but I first witnessed her work when she appeared in the movie “Little Shop Of Horrors” alongside Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold. Michelle was always gifted and even at the age of 5 she won a Herman Stevens award for Gospel. When Michelle sang, I felt like I was in Gospel heaven.
You’ve played all kinds of events from festivals, bottle service clubs, Notting Hill Carnival, etc and then you traveled the world DJ-ing taking in Ibiza, Italy, Japan and what were your favourite clubs to play at, and what made them so special? Any particular memories?
I loved playing soulful house at Queer Nation, Wednesday nights at The Fez club in Cambridge, Love Zoo in Nottingham, Shindig and Nice in Newcastle, Up Yer Ronson in Leeds, 2nd Sunday, Love To Be, The Forum, and Hustle in Sheffield, House Party in Reading. Gotta mention in To The Manor Born, The Empire in Middlesbrough, Sankeys in Manchester, L’America in Cardiff, Miss Moneypennys in Birmingham, and Hard Times in Leeds. I love UK house music culture, how the residents break music and make their own anthems with ease. I love the passion they have for their movement.
Your sets are very dynamic and it takes me back to that idea of House as an attitude rather than a genre or a style of music. What is your perception of the term House today and what are your thoughts on the very formulaic style of the genre in recent times?
David Mancuso’s Loft survived the disco craze. I look at the house music movements of today in the same way. In New York, we have a sound to go with our scene. We got Louie Vega who has the roots sound; the Body & Soul sound; the Shelter sound; the New Jersey Sound; The Funkbox with Tony Touch; the global sounds of Ian Friday, DJ Sres, and Stan Zeff. DJs, artists, and promoters have built their own eco-system, which younger and newer DJs can work in and feed off of. House music continues to have its institutions and builds its musical identity around it and its legacy continues to grow. Natasha Diggs, DJ Rimarkable, and Rissa Garcia are not just opening up doors, they’re crushing it and making room for a new wave.
After a whirlwind life of traveling, you returned to New York and started a family, and during the pandemic, you wrote your story “The Beat, The Scene, The Sound” and what prompted you to write your story?
I’ve been doing book launches at The New York and New Jersey Public Library because house music is an important part of American music history. There’s hardly been a book written by a DJ from New York of colour who’s actually worked in the scene and can explain the importance of Paul “Trouble Anderson”, Bobby & Steve Zoo,behind Garage City/Groove Odyssey, and other European champions that also kept house music alive with their events and radio shows. It’s been great working with Henry Kronk on it as he’s an amazing background as a journalist.
You’re coming to the UK next month and what plans have you got?
I’ll be doing a Dance For Stevie Boat Party event with Bobby & Steve on Sunday July 16th on the Dutch Master at Tower Bridge Quay in London and Saturday July 22nd I’m playing in Bristol with Deli G ands Sean McCabe at Good Vibrations.
Do you still DJ in New York, and are you still thirsty to chase down those promos like you used to and what are your future plans?
I’ve produced four albums since the pandemic and I DJ four nights a week in the restaurant industry. I do like to hold some ammo when I get out there on the decks though. For me it’s essential. There’s nothing better than a DJ coming from abroad to spin some bullets and create more demand for you to come back again because of it.
“The Beat, the Scene, the Sound: A DJ’s Journey through the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of House Music in New York City” by DJ Disciple & Henry Kronk is published on June 16th 2023 by Rowman & Littlefield.
Praise for The Beat, the Scene, the Sound:
“DJ Disciple has consistently championed our music, and I’m happy that he is sharing his story.”
— Roger Sanchez, Grammy Award-winning DJ & Producer
“DJ Disciple and Henry Kronk perfectly capture the golden era of house music. DJ Disciple’s story is a testament to hard work, dedication, and talent. He carved his way through the crazy music business and built a successful career. Enjoy the ride as I did—this is a must-have book.”
— Nick Jones, (Wild Pitch Club Promoter/DJ & Producer
“The combination of Disciple’s experience, meticulous research, and interviews makes this important book hard to put down.”
— Tamara Palmer, DJ & Author of Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip-Hop