Monday, 16 February 2009

Larry Levan

Everyone knows that the roots of all the best electronic music are gay and black right? The strand of disco that house would come to evolve out of certainly traces its roots back to clandestine parties thrown by visionaries like David Mancuso whose New York nightclub, The Loft, was arguably the first discotheque. Sure, there was Studio 54, but The Loft was notable for its open door policy, as opposed to the star-fucking tendencies of the Studio.

It wasn't until 1977 however, that disco found its true spiritual home, for it was in this year that Larry Levan, a gay, black prima donna, was offered a guest slot DJing at the newly opened Paradise Garage in Greenwich Village. What was unique about Levan was that rather than simply playing soulful disco hits, he would play less genre-specific sets, taking in room for European electronica such as Kraftwerk and Neu! without compromising on the party atmosphere. These adventurous sets went on to have a deep impact on a young Frankie Knuckles, a young New York DJ, who would famously take what he learnt from Levan with him when he relocated to Chicago to play at The Warehouse. As in the WareHOUSE. The rest as they say is history.

It was with this knowledge in mind that myself and a group of friends made our way to Jodie Harsh's night, Circus, at the Soho Revue Bar in the late autumn of last year. This is the night, we chuckled to ourselves, that we get to recreate that Paradise Garage feel, and perhaps, fingers crossed, stumble across some musical history in the making. Surely this is THE place playing the most innovative, divisive, and daring music in our capital...

Well it wasn't unless you count tinny Amy Winehouse remixes cutting edge. I was 150% ready to leave at the end of the night. Canned disco it aint. Which all goes to show, it is impossible to replicate a scene, especially one which was so much a product of its age. In 1977, AIDS was a twinkle in the disco-ball eyes of a generation of revelers, hip hop didn't exist, and The Clash had just released their debut album. The advent of the internet along with other advanced modes of communication have severed a link with the organic, hedonistic nature of the disco beast, and left us struggling to replicate an intangible past. However if you want to start, I would recommend 'Maestro', a youtube documentary that gives as good a feel as any of what it was like to be there.

Aside from that, I can also heartily recommend Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story, which gives a good insight into the music policy at The Garage.

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