Mark Kamins’ Greatest Legacy & My Spot On The ‘Vanity Fair’ Downtown 100 List

The celebration of Mark Kamins’ life and times culminates at Santos Party House tonight. Konk will perform for the first time since 1986. Lady Miss Kier of Dee-Lite fame, as well. Coati Mundi, Crystal Ark, and a ton of other performers will crowd both floors of the club that most resembles the old- school type clubs where most of these folks did their thing …in days of yore. A zillion DJs including Jellybean Benitez and Justin Strauss and Mike Pickering and Stretch Armstrong and Ivan Ivan and Jazzy Nice and and and…. will make musical statements about the man we and thousands of others loved. I will MC along with Jim Fouratt, Chi Chi Valenti, Michael Holman, and and and. Proceeds of the event will go to the Mark Kamins Scholarship Award in Electronic Music. Walter Durkacz is the puppeteer pulling all the strings that make this sort of thing happen. Not an easy gig.

This journey will end for all of us maybe tomorrow, maybe in 40 or 50 years. Many have preceded. Some people will say Mark’s legacy can be defined by a great record or his immense body of work. I think Mark Kamins’ legacy is the love that he instilled in the hearts of all the people who will gather tonight to remember and celebrate a life well-lived. 
 
For 20 years, Vanity Fair’s George Wayne has compiled his Downtown 100 List for his annual party of the Most Fabulous+Inspired+Relevant People Who Today Define Downtown. The list has often been controversial, as many who think of themselves in those terms have been snubbed, and many newbies added have gained instantaneous validation and recognition.

The order of the list seems to be irrelevant save for the first name who is always someone delicious. This year that name is Kate Upton. The list includes Solange Knowles and Vito Schnabel and Marc Jacobs and Dita Von Teese and Alan Cumming and Susanne Bartsch and, like, 94 more. I am honored to be listed as well. George is an old and extremely vibrant friend. I will join him on The DL Rooftop, 95 Delancey, tomorrow night at 10pm.

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Walter Durkacz, International Man of Mystery

Walter Durkacz is an extraordinary human being. He tells me this in the course of our interview, and you don’t find me disagreeing. In the movie business — a place Walter tells me that he wants to be — the real players are often quiet participants, while other less brainy but maybe more brawny folk tend to get all the credit. Take Gone with the Wind for instance, most people know its mega stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and even Hattie McDaniel. But these were all just interchangeable hired guns, and so many others might have done just as well. The heavy lifting was done by the far lesser known (at least these days) producer David O. Selznick and the director Victor Fleming. How many of you knew Victor Fleming’s name? Yet, in that same year, 1939, Victor also directed The Wizard of Oz, so you really should know him. Walter Durkacz is that kind of player. If you take the time to read this, you will see a list of names and places that Walter made happen, and you will be impressed and wonder how come you’ve never heard of him. Although he is very quiet (unless you speak to him), Walter is making moves.

You were a DJ at clubs like Danceteria and The World, and I would go as far as saying that you were a teacher and not just DJ. Yeah, without trying to be egotistical, I certainly consider myself one of the pioneers of the skill. I certainly didn’t have the notoriety that a lot of the other DJs had, but that had to do with the nature of the way I carried myself. I’ve been playing records for a long time, and I’ve always been very versatile in terms of what I liked and in terms of understanding a lot of different kinds of music. A lot of that came from my family background and from people I met at places I visited all over the world. The reason I really became a DJ, in terms of big influence, was because of my brother-in-law who was a collector of doo-wop 45s. I got to hear a lot of this amazing music and to this day, some of my favorite music — which I still play if I occasionally spin records — is old soul ballads and doo-wop. My favorite two things are probably old soul ballads and old soul instrumentals.

How did you get your start DJing? When I was a kid, there were these 21-and-under places that we could go to, and they would play a mixture of funk and rock music. When I turned 16, I was able to go to places called The Zodiac and 2001, which held about 1,000 people. I used to go there all the time, and the DJ used to play this one record that I loved dancing to, so once, maybe I was drunk enough from the cheap wine and I decided to go to the DJ and find out what that record was. He went through his records and pulls out this seven-inch, and says “You got a dollar?” and he sold me the record. It was from a band called The Trick, the song was called “Free as a Bird,” and the label said Made in America. So that was kind of my in, the fact that he sold me this record for $1. As weeks passed I used to go up there and I eventually befriended him, and then he got me my first job when I was 16, as a DJ in a nightclub in Pittsburgh. Then somewhere around the blackout and the Yankees winning the World Series, I made it to New York and started DJing here.

What places have you DJed at in New York? People don’t usually know this about me, but I actually moved to New York to be in the fashion business, and I’ve actually worked at several places like Paul Stuart. I was even an assistant shoe buyer at Bloomingdale’s for a quick moment, but after I took the Bloomingdale’s job I got really fed up with wearing a suit and tie every day, so I decided to go back to DJing or something music-related. But I worked at Ice Palace while I was still going to school, and later I got a job at the Mudd Club.

Where did you end up after the Mudd Club? I went to the Rock Lounge, which was Howard Stein’s place, and from there I went to Danceteria, which obviously was a long haul. During that time at Danceteria, I got taken to Paris with a guy named Peter Smith, who was a doorman. A French magazine called Actuelle brought us over there, and that was actually the first time I got into booking bands because while I was a DJ there, they asked me if I wanted to bring some bands from New York, and I did. Then eventually I booked some English bands and even African bands, since that was a big influence in France at the time. It lasted about eight months, and then I DJed in Berlin and did a record in Berlin with a woman named Christiana F., who is a very famous German personality.

So then you made the jump from Europe to New York again? Yeah, after that I went back to New York, and we opened up the Pyramid Club, so I did that and Danceteria at the same time. I eventually left Danceteria when someone fell down the elevator shaft, and that’s when I went to The World as a DJ.

You’re known as a DJ but also as a great booker of acts. Are you still booking acts? Yeah, after The World shut down, I didn’t really know what to do, and I had done some booking in Paris, so I ended up doing booking at a club that actually wasn’t looking to book a lot of bands. I got approached by a Grateful Dead-head who wanted to open a hippie club in Manhattan called Wetlands Preserve, and I did it because it was a change. I decided to help them out, and from there I really went to booking clubs seven nights a week. I’ve always had a lot of bands around me, even as a DJ in Danceteria — Madonna, the Beastie Boys, and a lot of these people came around us and hung out.

Tell me about the talent you’ve run into at Danceteria. Well, that was a special time in the early 80s, growing up with all of the graffiti legends and all of these musicians like the Beastie Boys who became my friends — I went to their weddings, etc. It’s always a nice thing when you see your friends do very well for themselves. Madonna was one of them too, but Madonna and I never really got along. She basically came on the scene when I was in Europe, so that’s when she met and got involved with the other DJs at Danceteria, like Mark Kamins. For some reason we just never really spoke that much, but it was probably more because of me.

What was it like working at Wetlands after being a DJ? At Wetlands we ended up doing something that had never really been done in New York, and for me it was a new thing also, because I was coming from the club scene. I was used to soul music, and all of a sudden I’m throwing parties for this Grateful Dead hippie owner, who wanted to do all of these things and I had never even been to a Grateful Dead concert. I was a purist in terms of being a DJ because any DJ would tell you that they don’t like playing with bands. I was never a huge fan of bands, so it was ironic that I ended up making my living by booking them. When I was a hardcore DJ, a band would come on, they would ruin your night, and you’d have to start all over. But Wetlands became much more than just a Grateful Dead club — hip-hop, reggae, world music, and a lot of punk bands became big there also.

How did Wetlands evolve? At some point people became enamored with the club and the sort of music that we were booking there, and it became quite a famous place. Maybe not to a lot of people who read this blog, but the main thing about Wetlands is that some of the biggest bands came out of that club, and I feel like I helped to develop them. Bands like Dave Matthews, Phish, Hootie and the Blowfish, a lot of these jam-bands, like Blues Traveler came out of there. I left after six years there because the bands had become bigger than the place, and the owner was reluctant to move to a bigger capacity, so I moved on. After it closed down, it got inducted in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and to me that’s a feather in my cap. From Wetlands, I went to booking Joe’s Pub and a few other places here and there like The Ritz and Central Park Summerstage.

What are you doing right now? I still primarily book concerts at places like Hiro, Joe’s Pub, and a few different places. At this point a lot of people know me, so I can call most people and they’ll open their house for me, which I’m grateful for and I don’t take advantage of it. I’m also an investor in La Esquina, and I have a couple other nightclub ideas … I’m thinking of a opening a Japanese noodle shop, but in terms of my passion I’m looking to make movies.

What kind of movies are you going to make? I have about six current projects, and they’re all different types of movies. I’m looking to be a producer, so I’d use some of my own ideas that have been developed, and I’ll bring people on the help me write the scripts, etc. The idea is for me is to find the money and hire directors to create the ideas that I have in terms of what I think could be popular in movie theaters.
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