Terry Casey’s Le Royale is a serious attempt to have a club that’s both musically and socially relevant. If you start with the premise that a 1Oak or a Kiss & Fly or Tenjune cater to a mostly musically ignorant crowd, while the Santos’ Party House, Pacha, and Cielo seek musical nirvana, then Le Royale leans towards the latter. The DJs at the former clubs and their ilk offer up sets of music cloned from basically the same Serato. I just don’t think a really cool crowd wants to hear Kanye West, Beyonce, or crooker crap anymore.
There are some noticeable exceptions — i.e. Cassidy, Steve Aoki, and a few dozen others who have the political juice to play some of that while mixing enough of this to be really hip. Le Royale draws from its DJs, but its off-the-beaten path location draws a crowd seeking more of an edge socially as well. Where nearby Movida was cramped by a rough space and some bad breaks , Le Royale is thriving just enough under the radar. Terry Casey — one of those rare owners coming from a DJ background — is now expanding to Brooklyn and a venue big enough for his ambitions.
You own Le Royale, which is one of my favorite names for a place ever. Tell me where the name came from. It basically came from a trial of 500 different names when we just couldn’t make our minds up, and we finally had to leave it to our friends when we got to the desperate stage of “what name could we put up with?” It came down to three names, and one of them was Le Royale, which I told my friend was too short, and then weeks later after we named it, people are like “Ah, that’s so clever that you put Leroy and Ale together,” (because we’re on Leroy street). But I wish we were actually that clever because I didn’t realize it until people had said it a few times.
What are you trying to accomplish at Le Royale? I co-own it with David Baxley, who I’ve known for many years because I used to DJ and play pretty much all over the world. I met David at the club Centro Fly, and I would go in there, put events together, bring different artists, DJ, and bring different crowds than what they would have their normally. Through that we built a very good friendship because I would move my party around the city, and even if it was competing with him, he was still such a gentleman. After that I moved to London for two years and stopped DJing, and when I moved back to New York, the nightlife scene had changed. It had become pretty much all the people I would see in the music clubs doing bottles or growing up into that bottle life, and the music clubs became pretty much second rate.
So the music scene moved away from the clubs, and there really wasn’t anything happening where you had a social scene and a music scene together? Yeah, I felt like Centro Fly had a little of both, but even the clubs that were bottle-service oriented like Pangea would have decent DJs. I found that when I came back, there wasn’t really a good music scene with any kind of social aspect, and I was just waiting for it to change. I found myself spending all my time in social clubs because the music clubs were slightly boring, and they didn’t want to play the new music. After awhile, it just annoyed me enough to open a club pretty much.
So Le Royale is very music based? That’s very important to your formula? Very music based, but at the same time we invite lots of people from the social scenes also, and we think it’s a great combination. It’s just people with culture. There’s a lot of people who go to social clubs that want to listen to better music than what they hear on the radio, and they find that there’s not many options. So we took that little niche and built something.
A lot of the better clubs are moving away from hip-hop, and they’re mixing in a lot of electronic — is that what you did? Basically what happened is that I’ve always liked what people used to call underground music, which is really tracks, and I’ve also always liked song-written music. What happened — in my opinion — is that the music scene of tracks became a little bit irrelevant after 9/11. I didn’t realize right away, but I would just continue to DJ and see people acting very differently immediately, because I think people needed more, they needed something else. I think that the song-written music seemed to have more of a message, and it seemed to be more popular, and generally that is what was on the radio, and hip-hop was really popular. But now, there’s really good song-written electro-pop that’s actually edgy production but still song-written. So with the new club music in the last seven years, even with bands like LCD — they have real songs in their music, but it’s still for the clubs.
Can you explain the concept of song-written music? Lost of tracks will be instrumental, and they don’t have a start, middle, or end. They’re very repetitive. But a song-written track is something that can be played on the radio. Probably in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, Madonna’s tracks were played in the clubs, and they were song-written so they were on the radio, whereas a lot of house DJs tracks could never be played on American radio.
You’re opening a new space out in Brooklyn; tell me about it. David and I were booking huge acts at Le Royale and everyone was doing us a favor, doing it for really cheap to free. We wanted to book more acts, but we found that we had to compete with people with lots of money. The acts clearly wanted to play great crowds, but they also needed to get paid to make a living. We really liked Williamsburg because it has a lot of young people, and there’s no real club out there in my opinion. I think Studio B plays more tracks than song-written, so we found an amazing space that we’ve been building. We don’t have a name for it, and it should be ready in May — although we have been doing parties secretly for six months already.
Brooklyn is sort of raw; what’s the deign element to the space? I think Brooklyn has changed over the last ten years, and there are many different types of people now. When I first came to New York, Williamsburg and Greenpoint were very different places; now they have many different kinds of crowds, lots of international people coming from abroad and lots of people from the Midwest. I think even people who were living in the East Village or the LES think it’s kind of more refreshing at times. I think there are lots of band venues, but there aren’t too many clubs that have a full-on sound and lighting system. It takes a lot of more work and energy and production, and that’s what we’re pretty much doing. It has a courtyard, and we’re going to be building a rooftop. It’s a pretty ambitious project.
Do you have any neighbors? Amazingly there are actually no neighbors, which is unique in New York. And we are half a block from the Bedford Avenue train as well, so it’s eight minutes from Union Square.
Where did you come from — how did you end up in the New York music scene? I was basically a 16-year-old kid in London DJing, practicing 12 hours a day, and my family kept telling me to get a real job. When I first came to New York to DJ, I was 21 years old and worked for Masterworks, which was a dance label. I was playing trip-hop and Detroit techno because people didn’t really know what jungle music and the stuff I wanted to play was.
What are some of the places where you’ve DJed? My favorite places in New York were the World Trade Center, which was pretty well known — we did about ten film crews, and that was just to prove that you could do a massive event in a small venue. I also did Grand Central Station, but my favorite clubs were Shine, Centro Fly, and I even played at Life one night when Keith Richards played. It was a good club because it had many formats and different crowds on different nights. I don’t think there was anything else like it at the time. I’ve also played in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Europe … but in New York I think Pangea was a lot of fun.
Do you still DJ now? No … I did one party recently, and I just played a 60s psychedelic rock set, but I don’t want to DJ anymore. I love it, but for me its a perfectionism. I need to go back to practicing 12 hours a day, and I don’t have the energy.
But it’s a lot of easier to DJ now because of the software and the internet. That’s true, but there’s a problem — you can definitely become a DJ with a computer, but it’s really hard to become a good DJ, and it’s really hard to have a good DJ without actually sourcing your music and having some kind of history. The online music stores all have the same music, so you’ve lost the ability to buy interesting music. That means that whoever is good is really, really good, and there are very few great DJs because of that.
Who are the great ones right now? My favorite DJ at the moment is Diplo because he plays every style and he produces. But of the New York local DJs, I love Busy P, B-Roc, I think David Katz is great, Jesse Marco is really good, and DJ Mess Kid, who I’ve only recently heard, is fantastic because they all have unique styles. I also love SweatShop Labor because they play almost like a soul set with hip-hop, which is incredible — definitely unique and not selfish at DJing. They’re real DJs, and there’s just not enough of them. I wish I could find ten more who could make my life easier. A great DJ is someone who plays to crowds — they inspire and give the people what they want, but at the same time they bring them into a new world.
Photo: Brady Donnelly