For so many years, in so many clubs, the music has been geared to please the bottle frat-boy crowd whose musical tastes are as innovative as their shoes. I’ve found myself listening to pretty much the same rock anthems I listened to ten years ago, mixed with some very mainstream hip-hop. Sure, the good ones — Jus Ske, Cassidy, the Ronsons, and Nick Cohen added their own flair. But everyone knows that as you club-hop, you’re so often greeted with the same track you were listening to when you left the previous club. The DJs are often as much about the social scene as the music. Through it all, the purist music party survived in clubs you didn’t read about on Page Six, and now the silver lining of the bottle-service demise is the return of the importance of music to club formatting. Recently, an eager young operator asked me to rate his joint amongst Life and some of the legendary clubs. I said on a scale of 1-10, with Studio 54 being #1, he’d rank around 150.
In fairness, looking back you only remember the heyday, not the demise or the last bad months; like Jim Croce records, there is posthumous appeal. I said that the difference between then and now is that your VIP bottle buyer wouldn’t get into most clubs back then. And without those potatoes, you didn’t need as many tables, so clubs had banging dance floors. You wouldn’t be able to name let alone predict the next song the DJ would serve up. Dance floors? At most places these days, the floors accommodate barely a conga line. With the return of the dance floor, the return of the DJ is inevitable.
I met John Davis in 1996, when we worked at the club Life. He was doing “Body&Soul,” which was a real purist house music night, and I combined John’s music with my rock ‘n’ roll nights. The crowds that came to our parties were completely different, but the concept was one club with different offerings. You were skeptical, but I said no, let it flow. And you know what? You were absolutely right. That whole three-room dynamic is really lacking in clubs these days. For some reason, even though there was a hip hop, rock ‘n’ roll, and deep house room, people used to flow between all three rooms, and it created an incredible atmosphere.
If a club offers multiple things, people will flow around. Body&Soul is still going on … Webster Hall is doing it about once a month now? When Howard Rower [owner of Vinyl] died, his sons took over the club, and they didn’t really want to keep it as a club because they’re art dealers by trade, so they eventually sold the building and that party ended there in 2002.
But the party only ended in that location, right? Well, we didn’t really do any parties for about two years, until 2004. In all the years we were at Vinyl, we were always getting offers to take Body&Soul on the road, to play in Spain, Italy, France, etc., and we would always turn them down except for Tokyo, because we always had a big connection with Japan. So in 2004, we decided to try and start doing the Body&Soul parties overseas.
Who is “we”? Francois K, Danny Krivit, Joaquin “Joe” Claussell, and I.
So, it’s you and the DJs? Well, Francois K is my partner in Body&Soul. We each own 50 percent of it.
And now you’re a DJ also? In 2004 I started messing around at home, mixing, and started putting out a few CDs, and all of a sudden people started booking me. But people would book me more because I was a Body&Soul promoter, so they were like … let’s see what he plays like. The thing is, I’ve been around DJs for 30 years, and I’ve been listening to music for 30 to 40 years, so I’ve always had music in my system, and it was just a matter of transferring what I already knew in my mind into playing the records at the club. Then in 2004, we decided to start touring a little bit with Body&Soul and decided to do these one-off events in New York and music festivals overseas. In Rock in Rio, we played on the electronic stage with Carlos Santana and Pink Floyd on the main stage. We did it again this year with the Police on the main stage and us on the electronic stage in front of about 100,000 people.
What does that feel like? It’s incredible, but 100,000 people weren’t there for Body&Soul, they were there for the Police! But what is amazing, and what I hadn’t realized until we started traveling with Body &Soul overseas is how well known the party is. And it’s funny because everyone criticizes the music scene in New York, yet everyone in the world looks at New York as the marker for the rest of the world in the music scene.
Why isn’t electronic music as big in the U.S. as it is in Europe? Everyone asks about the difference between Europe and America, and because I’m British, I say that it’s because Europe has electronic music culture while America has hip hop culture. All the big name DJs — the Tiestos, Van Dykes — they’re all European. Since the 80s and the 90s, America has grown up on hip hop culture; kids listen to the radio, and that’s what they hear. When I grew up listening to the radio, it was dance, disco, and house music. And that’s why I think hip hop has far more commercial viability as a genre than electronic music. We went to London a few months ago to do Body &Soul, and on the way to the venue I put the radio on, and I must have gone through seven FM radio stations that were all playing house music.
Are electronic and house the same? Is electronic a genre in itself? Well, I think in Europe, electronic is definitely its own genre because by definition it encompasses everything; it’s house, techno, electro, everything. Most people now associate house with the deeper house, but to me it’s all house music. But in Europe they call it electronica.
When I was promoting in the 80s, I was constantly in London, interacting with promoters and owners. Now it seems that London has gotten very far away from New York. The music might be a common thread, but there isn’t as much travel between these two places anymore. No, plus for lot of these electronic DJs, in Europe they get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. They don’t get that kind of money in New York anymore because the scene is a lot smaller, and people don’t make that kind of money to be able to pay that.
And when DJs go over to London, they have lines around the block; here it’s hard to fill a room. Exactly.
You live in both cultures, so what’s the difference between the British club culture and ours? Is it the hip hop? Well, there is hip hop in London, but it’s not as big as dance music, like I said. But also I think as far as Europe is concerned, they look at New York with a certain mystique. They see it on the news all the time, on television, in movies, and all the rest of it, so when those DJs come over to London, they’re like gods. New York is the center of the universe as far as everyone is concerned. A lot of it has to do with Hollywood and the movies — it’s that picture that people have mentally of New York and what it represents; it’s gritty, it’s underground, it’s urban, it’s all these things.
So what about “Legends,” the party you did with me over at Life. It was DJ Legends. I think there’s still a place for that. I have a list of all the DJs that played there … now these guys make hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of them are millionaires. They were playing for me at Legends for less than $500. People like Roger Sanchez, Davis Morales, Little Louie Vega, Todd Terry … they were all playing there, and that’s why we called it Legends. You don’t have that anymore; it was a networking party, where DJs were walking in with 12-inch promo records to give free copies to people, to schmooze, have a drink, and listen to some music. Those parties were a way for DJs to give out their new records. You don’t need that anymore — now people can sit at their computers in pajamas and get that kind of music.
Are people still using vinyl, or has everyone gone to Serato? There are always going to be DJs who have certain records that sound much better on vinyl than they ever will if they burn them onto CDs. When we travel with Body&Soul, Francois K. comes with a laptop, Danny Krivit comes mostly with CDs, and Joe comes with a few CDs and boxes and boxes of records.
Check back tomorrow for more with John Davis.