Friday, March 7, 2008

Larry Levan Tribute

Larry Levan is quite possibly the most beloved DJ in the history of Dance music. Larry Levan and his friend Frankie Knuckles experienced the first rumblings of Disco and what became Dance music as we know it in the early 1970's as precocious teenagers. They soon built personal connections into professional DJ opportunities. While Knuckles headed to Chicago as one of the acknowledged founders of House, Larry Levan helped move Dance music from the crash of Disco to a new eclectic stew that entranced mixed audiences of multiple ethnicities and varying sexual orientations. His residency at Paradise Garage is legendary. Unfortunately, Levan's own life came to an abrupt tragic end in 1992 but his innovations and his inspiration live on.

Larry Levan was born Laurence Philpot on July 21, 1954 in Brooklyn. Larry and Frankie Knuckles grew up amongst the New York City black gay bar scene. According to Knuckles they were introduced to each other by a drag queen who went by the name of Gerald and they both became part of the underground Voguing scene in which drag queens would compete against each other by throwing shade, or, in other words, visually demonstrating attitude. Levan and Knuckles quickly became entranced by the early Dance music scene in Manhattan, particularly after attending parties at David Mancuso's Loft. They were amazed by both the mixed nature (ethnicities and sexual orientations) of the crowd invited by Mancuso and the music itself. The two became well known on the club circuit and by 1972 had worked their way into helping out DJ Nicky Siano with setup at The Gallery. Larry Levan also began to hang out at Continental Baths and before long had managed to obtain a regular DJ gig for the Baths' small dancefloor. In 1974 the Continental Baths shut down and Frankie received a resident gig at SoHo Place, a new club modeled after David Mancuso's Loft parties.

After Richard Long, owner of Soho Place, made plans to shut down near the end of 1975, Larry Levan received a call from Michael Brody about a new club Brody was opening. The new club at 143 Reade Street was outfitted with a sound system built around Klipschorn speakers and designed with memories of David Mancuso's Loft in mind. Larry Levan had already developed a following and his reputation grew at Reade Street. The club developed notoriety for free-flowing drugs and a highly sexual atmosphere. With overcrowding and safety concerns mounting, Michael Brody was forced to close Reade Street, but before it closed he secured an agreement with Larry Levan that Levan would spin records at Brody's next club venture.

The new Dance venue opened by Michael Brody was Paradise Garage. With funding from Brody's partner Mel Cheren and a sound system designed by Richard Long, Al Fierstein, and Larry Levan himself, Paradise Garage began operation hosting construction parties in 1977 to raise funds to complete work on the club. The official opening took place on February 17, 1978. Among the New York City Dance music elite, Larry Levan quickly became known as the top DJ working in the top club in the entire city. Billboard magazine's Disco Convention voted Paradise Garage Best Club and Best Sound System in both 1979 and 1980. Larry Levan became known for his ability to completely control the mood of his crowds through changes in the music being played and manipulation of lighting and sound controls. He took his primary inspiration from the work of David Mancuso and Nicky Siano but then created an entirely new atmosphere. Larry Levan was the only resident DJ at Paradise Garage for its nearly 10 years of existence. One of Larry Levan's legacies is the Dance music genre called Garage named in honor of Paradise Garage. However, the Garage style, an updated elegant expansion of classic Disco rhythms and vocals, is merely one small part of the music Larry Levan would play on a given night. The music he played could veer from classic Disco to Rock, Punk, Rap, various sound effects and back again. The mood or message being delivered was all important, and the music was a vehicle for creating or delivering it.

Shortly after he began spinning records at Paradise Garage, Larry Levan moved into the remixing booth as well. With plenty of experience mixing various elements of Dance recordings live in the club, it was only natural that Levan would use his talents on recorded remixes. Among his early successes was a stripped down version of Instant Funk's I've Got My Mind Made Up in 1978 that ranks as one of the all-time great remixes. Among his other notable recorded mixes are Taana Gardner's Heartbeat, Central Line's Walking Into Sunshine, and Loose Joints' Is It All Over My Face?. In the early 80's Larry Levan took on production duties as well, most notably for The New York City Peech Boys' classic Don't Make Me Wait. Later in the decade he created notable remixes for Gwen Guthrie and Patti Austin among others. On record Larry Levan's music is noted for his use of synthesizer washes, Electro beats, and smooth, heavy bass lines that lay foundations for much of Garage and House to come.

By the late 1980's Paradise Garage was falling on difficult times. Owner Michael Brody was gravely ill from the ravages of AIDs and Paradise Garage elected to close with a massive final party September 26-27, 1987. An estimated 14,000 people walked through the doors in 48 hours. The club's closing was a serious blow to Larry Levan. He assisted Ministry Of Sound in England setting up a new club modeled on the spirit of Paradise Garage. Relatively brief residencies took place at The Choice, Mars, and Sound Factory. However, it was clear that many years of a punishing lifestyle including drugs was having a physical impact. Larry Levan embarked on a final tour in 1992 with Francois Kevorkian. Larry Levan passed away on November 8, 1992 three months after the tour concluded. Larry Levan's legendary status has continued to grow with the passage of time. West End Records continues to help sponsor parties every year to celebrate Larry's birthday, and his spirit lives on in the countless DJs, remixers, and artists influenced by his talents.

It's because of this gentleman i have this love and passion for disco.
Thank you Larry for the inspiration. Rest in Peace...

Man Friday - Love Honey


Anonymous said...

O yes, Larry Levan was one of the best deejays ever.

Bobby Breidholt said...

Good read. Levan Lives.