On the night of Jocks&Nerds’ third anniversary issue launch, the legendary New York DJ Danny Krivit – who mixed with the likes of Larry Levan around the heydays of The Loft, as well as the The Paradise Garage – played for Jocks&Nerds’ Amp clubnight in the basement of the Ace Hotel. A few days before the gig, Dr Bob Jones, founder of club night and radio show The Surgery, as well as a much-loved UK DJ, caught up with Krivit to speak about his longstanding career.
Your musical upbringing in Greenwich Village, New York City was incredible to say the least. With your mum being an established and famous jazz vocalist and your dad, also a key figure in New York City’s jazz movement. Can you recall the first ever tune you heard back in those days on your home radio or music system?
The music my parents listened to was mostly jazz. By the time I was five, I knew more music from the radio and TV than my parents.
My mother really liked Nina Simone, and maybe the only song that stuck with me a little latter was ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. I also remember ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’ by King Pleasure. A friend of mine who was older than me convinced me to buy my first record, ‘Love Potion Number Nine’ by The Searchers… But that was his favourite record, not mine. A couple of days later I went back to the store to buy the first record for myself, The Supremes’ ‘Run, Run, Run’.
Was it that tune that started you off into becoming a vinyl junkie amongst other things?
No, not really. The music my parents listened to didn’t even register with me until later in life. But I was in the heart of Greenwich Village at a time when it felt like the centre of the musical universe.
Every kind of person around me was into music and had some sort of record collection, and my area was full of record stores, with walls and windows filled with records on display.
Not just hearing the music as I passed by, but the images of the album covers… I can’t even describe what kind of an influence and pull they had on me. The funny thing was, this was at a time when the cover of a record usually told you accurately what the music was gonna be like, I was rarely disappointed buying a record just from the cover image.
You also became a musician back then. Why didn’t you pursue that road as a guitarist as opposed to spinning tunes? What person, tune or event made you decide to become a DJ?
I hadn’t really thought about being a musician... I never studied music – in school that is. I had a piano in the house, but never touched it anymore than chopsticks. A childhood neighbourhood friend of mine, Nile Rodgers, helped me pick out my first guitar, and even taught me a few easy chords.
But I was already listening to a lot of great music… I just wanted to enjoy it, not study or work at it. Becoming a DJ was never a conscious decision, I was just enjoying the music, then enjoying it with my friends and getting better equipment.
When Andy Warhol’s club The Dom closed in 1967, I managed to get their Altec Valencia A7 ‘Voice-of-the-Theater’ speakers… kind of huge for my room, can’t believe what great neighbours I had. It just kind of progressed in a natural order. And my father letting me DJ for his club The Ninth Circle at the age of 14 helped speed it a long.
Not including your DJ club career, which started in 1971, can you remember when you actually started DJing and were you mixing 45s?
In 1969 – I already had a pretty decent record collection and sound system. A lot of my friends would come over my house to listen to music and hang out; it was a bit of a neighbourhood hangout. I bought a second turntable and a mixer, and I started mixing and blending, just entertaining myself and friends.
But this was still very primitive; I had never even heard someone mix two records beat on beat, that wasn’t for another year or two. I was mostly playing seven-inches at that time, I still have most of those seven-inches today.
What was a typical DJ set up that you were using in the clubs back in the early 1970s, were the decks Thorens, QRK, Gates, Russco, or Vintage Technics B101 – and what was the mixer /sound systems like back then?
There wasn’t much of a standard yet. Seemed like everywhere was so different. In the better clubs, Thorens started to become the standard turntable and Bozak the standard mixer. I was also using turntables like Gerard.
All turntables were belt driven. I didn’t start seeing Technics until the mid-1970s. Technics 1100A, was always considered pretty special, the other models, not so much, until the 1200s with their newly perfected quartz lock, that quickly became the industry standard. Sound systems by today’s standards were rather small and not much bottom.
Even in the dead of winter, mid-party, the dancefloor could be a super-sauna, with fainting temperatures. Larry Levan controlled the fans, and used them more as an effect for his set
You’ve said in previous interviews that Larry Levan and The Paradise Garage were both influences on you. Was this from a musical point of view or Larry’s DJ skills and The Paradise Garage’s unique sound system by Richard Long?
The Paradise Garage was my favourite sound system and club, and had the best crowd.
Larry was my favourite DJ… but it was for a lot more then just his DJing skills. Larry helped design and control ever aspect of the club, from hand picking the members to help designing and constantly modifying the sound system. They had no air conditioning, but he did have two of the biggest industrial fans I’ve ever seen embedded in the east wall of the dancefloor, leading out to the garage-ramp entrance.
Even in the dead of winter, mid-party, the dancefloor could be a super-sauna, with fainting temperatures. Larry controlled the fans, and used them more as an effect for his set. At four or five in the morning right after a monumental peak, he might just let the record end… put on a little wind sound effect, and then turn on the fans and for a brief moment, letting in the winter from outside.
When he wanted a black out, he didn’t just turn off all the lights on the dancefloor and the DJ booth… he somehow had full control over all the dancefloor exit signs. When he turned them out, it was a blackout like no other. You couldn’t remotely see the hand in front of your face. Needless to say, this was totally illegal, but no one ever complained. Larry knew his crowd extremely well, and there is a very long list of things that set him apart from everyone else and why he was so special.
But when it comes to the Paradise Garage and it’s sound system, as great as it was, it was all just Larry’s tool.
Did you think back then, what was happening in the clubs in the US in the mid-1970s would go on to spawn a multi-million dollar industry across the whole of planet earth?
Yes. The music industry was very healthy and well-organised back then and it seemed very natural to think of it as a multi-million dollar industry, even more so than now.
Around what time did you start mixing tunes as a DJ? Did it coincide with the arrival of the 12-inch single around early to mid-1970s?
My professional DJing started in 1971, the first 12-inch single didn’t happen until 1975.
It felt like money was ruling everything, and we wanted to get away from that
Whose idea was it to get you, Joe Claussell and Francois K. together for Body&Soul? And, with the 20th Anniversary approaching in 2016, have you guys got anything major planned for this mammoth occasion?
Me and FK had been good friends since the mid-1970s. By the 1990s, I was DJing full time – four to six days a week. FK had a successful recording studio (Axis), and a very healthy remixing career. He was an excellent DJ, but really only played now and then.
Often after a gig, he would call me up venting his disappointment about bad promoters, clubs, and crowds, perplexed on why some of these problems would happen so often. He was always surprised at how thick-skinned I was and wondering how I dealt with it.
Then we would start comparing ideas on what we imagined would be the best possible dream scenarios for the best party. Things like the freedom to play whatever music we really love... like he could interject some of the drum&bass he was so into, and said I should try to include some of the great hip hop I was finding, mix the tempo up a bit, which just wasn’t being done in New York at that time.
Playing for a bunch of friends or people who felt the same way, on a great sound system of quality – not necessarily so loud – a comfortable club, and not on a Friday or Saturday night, and without the overbearing rude security. And not about being high on alcohol or drugs, just high on the music.
Also, not solely focused on making money, which was another thing not really going on in New York at that time. It felt like money was ruling everything, and we wanted to get away from that. A lot of these ideas came from our experiences at The Loft and Paradise Garage. Also we could play together, like every other record or every few records, but no rules, just whatever we’re feeling, maybe even invite another person to join us – or not, that could get a little sticky as it needs to be someone who feels some of the same things we’ve been discussing, someone who is also a friend.
These phone conversations went on for about two to three years, then FK called me the first Saturday in July 1996 and said an English promoter named John Davis had asked him to do a daytime party at Club Vinyl that Sunday, very chilled, no pressure and great sound.
He said this could possibly be close to what we’ve been talking about; there’s no money, but why don’t I just bring a few records, there may not be any people, but you know we’ll have a good time.
I did. There was only about 30 people, but the vibe was right, and we had a great time. That was the first Body&Soul party… but we didn’t have the name Body&Soul yet. The name of John Davis’s party was The Midis Club. I guess that name made us think harder about what we wanted to convey in the name, Body&Soul felt right and stuck.
We both knew Joe Claussell from his Dance Tracks record store and loved his depth in music. He would play these great sets in the store that would make us ask, why isn’t he playing out somewhere? We asked him to play our third party with us, a Larry Levan tribute. It was not easy to get him to say yes, but he did. It was an unbelievably fabulous and unforgettable night, we had such synergy together.
I had played together with other DJ’s before, but he was special on another level, we're now approaching our 19th year together. We’re just starting to discuss plans for the 20th anniversary now, I know it’s gonna be special.
You’re known worldwide for your DJ and production skills, especially your immense catalogue of re-edits. Which do you prefer re-edits or remixing a tune and do you have to like that particular tune in order to ‘work’ on it?
I’m not a formal engineer, so for remixing I need an engineer, recording studio, a good budget, and time. Generally this is not something I can orchestrate on my own, I would need to be hired by someone who has the multi-tracks of a good song.
Occasionally this has happened for me, some with good results, some not so great. In the best circumstances, I love remixing but it's hard to compare to my editing, where I’m basically choosing any piece of music I feel like, working on it as long as I like, whenever I like. Under typical circumstances maybe it’s easy to see why I prefer editing.
After 100 years, a vinyl recording still sounds great. In comparison, digital degenerates pretty quickly
What was the very first tune you got to work your magic on and how did that come about?
My first remix was not what I would call ‘magic’ but it did pave the way for my first edit. A friend of mine who had just started a record label asked me to remix his first release in 1981. It was a not that memorable rap record called ‘The Chill Pill’. The budget was very low and the session was short. During the mix, the engineer kept saying “don’t worry, we’ll fix that later in editing.”
I didn’t yet know how to edit… but I did know what a bad edit was, and when “later” came, the engineer wasted the rest of the session trying to fix his one very bad edit. I walked out of the session so frustrated, instead of turning the record around, I just barely got out of there with something mediocre at best.
After that I went to a friends house, who did most of the editing at WBLS radio station. He said to me “you have a reel to reel and know how to splice leader tape on the intros… you already know most of what you need to know”. He showed the rest of what I needed to know.
Dejavu… I soon got another remix, again for a friend, low budget. A different engineer did almost the exact same thing, “we’ll fix that in editing later”… he couldn’t… and yet I didn’t have the nerve to jump in there and do it for him. Another forgettable mix.
But this time I went home and tried to do my own edit. I figured I couldn’t do any worse than him. I was working at Roxy around that time and hearing a lot of DJ DST. He was cutting up records like ‘Funky Drummer’ by James Brown and ‘Scratching’ by Magic Motown Disco Machine… incredibly.
I knew I could never cut those records up the way he did, but it inspired me to do an edit of ‘Funky Drummer’. A friend of mine was putting out these Big Apple medleys, and asked if I could give him any medleys. I turned ‘Funky Drummer’ into a medley called ‘Feeling James’ and that was my first edit. The next edit was ‘Rock The House’, based around the scratching jam. Then a Sly & The Family Stone medley, and then ‘Love is the Message’, which started my transition away from medleys.
In this digital, ‘must have’, fast moving world that we live in, how do you feel about DJing on laptops / memory Sticks as apposed to analogue vinyl – do you embrace the latest formats?
I would include CDs with that, as it’s really analogue v digital shortcuts. I love vinyl! It sounds the best and is the most stable.
After 100 years, a vinyl recording still sounds great. In comparison, digital degenerates pretty quickly. I think CDs, laptops and memory sticks have their place. If I’m really going all out, at most maybe I can bring three to 400 records with me (locally), with CDs maybe 1000s, with laptops and memory sticks maybe endless.
I haven’t played on a laptop yet, but I can see for some purposes some clear advantages. I think if someone really knows what they’re doing and playing with a laptop, it can be pretty great. But more often I hear people on laptops that, at best, are mediocre. And even worse, as a tool for an instant DJ. I feel memory sticks are somewhere between CDs and a laptop.
I use vinyl, CDs and memory sticks. I bring an enormous amount of music with me on memory sticks, but there can often be a whole assortment of issues with them, and I generally bring a lot of CDs too. In the best scenarios I bring a good amount of vinyl… clearly my favourite.
Apart from your home clubs, where outside the US do you really enjoy to DJ? Oh and do you still own the Ninth Circle club, you infherited from your dad?
Lately there are a lot of great party’s with real music lovers in quite a number of places... but Japan is clearly my favourite. The Ninth Circle closed in 1993.
You visit the UK a lot in your world travels, you obviously enjoy being here. How do you rate the UK DJs and the UK clubs and dance scene?
I rate UK pretty high, very soulful.
Next year will be my 44th year DJing. When I starting back in 1971, I played mostly 45s. For my 45th year DJing, I will focus on doing a lot seven-inch parties. That same year will also be Body&Soul’s 20th anniversary.
Aside from that I currently have a number of edits on vinyl coming out, along with a few compilations. Currently my main focus is my 718 Sessions party in New York, this is where I’m most myself and gives me endless inspiration.