Mark Kamins is out in the world DJing, creating, staying relevant, growing with the music, changing with the times and not retiring. In the conversation I had with him via Skype (see part one of our interview) he told me of DJs in Parisian clubs making peanuts as the world economy tanks. Still, the circuit DJs keep pulling in big bucks. The Haves and Have-Nots concept I apply to clubs in a recession seems to apply to DJs as well. Mark refers to Danceteria and mentions how poor everyone was; in the pre-bottle-service era, clubbies spent half of their energy on dancing and scrounging drink tickets. Danceteria gave birth, or at least a significant boost to legends, including Madonna, Run DMC, Russell Simmons, Chris Isaak, the Psychedelic Furs, and so many more — a list of employees who would become stars. I still visit a website where old habitués of the joint chat about old and new.
This is why I keep thinking that the club world is on the verge. Out of these economic times, a new generation of talented folk will emerge and most likely shape things culturally for decades. Maybe I’ll just name the next joint I build “Silver Lining”. Although my age makes me a bit creaky in the joints, and I sleep a bit more (I’m up to 20 hours a week), it also affords me the resulting experience. I remember the lean times and how the creatures of the night, unable to afford designer or “label” clothes, turned to style to get them what they needed. Modern clubs need style. I see it in the bars and coffee shops and of course on the street, but in the clubs its mostly clones. Out of the pain, the music exploding all over the world will once again become the driving force in nightlife. Dollar for dollar, a nightclub affords you a great hourly rate; a movie costs you at least ten bucks an hour, bowling and pool more, and Broadway and off-Broadway even more. Even if you can’t hustle your way into a joint for free or on the cheap, it still can be a five-buck-an-hour dance-a-thon.
The people need clubs, and the clubs must adjust to afford letting people in who don’t necessarily have hundreds to blow. The image promoter should fade as real style replaces the yuppie and bottle-service mentality. Word of mouth might push out unaffordable publicists, and staffing costs might just diminish as the hostesses and runners and door people are less important. A club full of stylish folk listening to music and drinking not-so-expensive drinks will remind us of those legendary days. For the second half of my conversation with Mark Kamins, we made our personal lists of our favorite clubs of yesterday.
You’re a multi-faceted DJ, with influences from all over the world. Maybe that’s why I don’t really have a specific song. If you want a David Morales mix, or a Junior Vasquez or Eric Morillo mix, you know what their records are going to sound like. But if you hire me, I do a lot of mixes. I want it to be contemporary, and I do my thing. I’ve always kept my ears to the street, and I’ve always wanted to play new music.
For a while, you were even down in Central America. Yes, I was head of Warner Brothers records in Mexico City for three years.
What were you trying to accomplish? What was interesting is they had a roster of about 12 acts. The one, two, and three acts, they said you don’t deal with them — that’s Luis Miguel, Mana, etc., they sell millions of records. So I went to the bottom of the list, and there was this fat Cuban guy, and I said OK, let’s produce this guy, and we made a record, and it ended up selling six million. I like to work with the underdogs — that’s what turns me on. So I took it upon myself to make something out of those guys.
Now how often do you get back to New York? I left New York after 9/11. I was living my whole life waiting for my next trip to Europe, and after 9/11 (I lived two blocks from the towers) and a couple of family tragedies, I said hey, fuck it, let’s live in Europe, let’s do it. So I sold the loft in Tribeca, and I moved to Paris. It’s been great every since.
Let’s talk about the best clubs in New York. My list of the five best clubs are: Area, Max’s Kansas City, Studio 54, the World, and Paradise. Danceteria was sixth on my list. OK, so the five or six clubs you mentioned were all run by two groups of people; you have your Rudolfs and Fouratts, then your Rubells and your Schragers.
To me, the World was one of the best because it was the first club where there was a lot of non-white people in the club mixing with the mainstream white crowd that dominated New York at that time. More than Danceteria?
Yes, I think so. You see, that’s my problem — everybody thinks Danceteria was a rock club, and it wasn’t a rock club. There was rock ‘n roll music on the first floor, and every time there’s mention of disco and house music, they never talk about Danceteria.
But the fact that Danceteria still has a website 20 years later where everybody is getting together and chatting is amazing. So what are your five? OK, so that’s your five with your criteria as a blogger and a big shot. With my criteria, I would say the Milk Bar, Opera Afterhours, Le Jarden, Plato’s Retreat, Galaxy, (more than five) Infinity, and the Saint — that’s a must.
What does a club mean? What a club means to me is that when you come in, you feel like you’re with your family. You’re not a customer, you’re not a client, you’re family. And all the clubs you mentioned, when you walked in, you were family. It’s about being home.
I think people misunderstand service and familiarity. They can service you, they can get your bottle to your table fast, and the girl will be pretty, but they don’t understand that you have to know the person. But we didn’t even buy bottles in those days, we had no money to buy a fucking bottle, we were lucky to scam a drink ticket. That’s what it was all about. But what I figured out, the most important thing I ever learned in my life, was to rotate the dance floor. My numbers at the bar were higher than any other DJ at clubs like Danceteria and Mars.
What does rotating the dance floor mean? It was changing the music in a way that — I wasn’t playing a ballad just to change things, I would play a record that would change the feeling, change the aura. It would get people to go from the bar to the floor, from the floor to the bar.
Who do you see from the old crowd in Paris? What’s crazy about Paris is that everybody comes through. Afrika Bambaataa is playing tomorrow night, the Zulu Nation is playing in Paris tomorrow night!
What’s he playing, is it old school shit or modern? C’mon Steve, we do what we do.
Give me a moment that you look back on your life and can’t believe it happened. I was DJing in club Xenon one night because Jellybean had to take the night off, and he asked me to play. I’m in the DJ booth playing a record — Burn Rubber on Me — and Grace Jones and Larry Levan are standing behind me — and the fucking record started to skip! I start to freak out; I’ve got Grace Jones and Larry behind me, and the record is fucking skipping. Grace comes to my ear and says, “Use your mistakes”. Now in those days I had three turntables, so while the record is skipping on the beat, I took an acapella from the second turn table and the acapella was Jocelyn Brown I think, so she’s singing over the skip, and on the third table I took a drum track and mixed it in. I had all three turntables playing, and Grace turned around and said, “Yes, thank you for using your mistake,” and Larry Levan is looking at both of us like we’re crazy.
That’s an amazing Grace story!
Luis Miguel Tickets