A BOY SURROUNDED by legendary rock stars, treating them as the neighborhood patron at his father’s restaurant. A teen whose DJ career launched at the age of 14 after being handed a James Brown promo. A young man inspired by and associated with the likes of the Paradise Garage and The Loft. A musical patriarch whose Body & Soul parties have left a worldwide impression. A master of manipulating recorded music to move the masses. A four-decade participant, observer and forecaster of some of the most exciting times in American music.
This is Danny Krivit. And in this interview, you’ll read about why he thinks the cycle of music has been breached, who to call upon to DJ a DJ’s wedding, and if soulful House is indeed dying on the vine…
You just got back from Japan – so what’s on your agenda now that you’re in the States?
I’m going to be married in September in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and I’m moving my apartment at the same time. That’s my priority lately and it’s kicking my butt.
Wow, whom are you getting married to?
Akemi Kakihara, also known as AK. She’s a singer/producer and has a couple records out on King Street and is quite big in Japan.
Who will be the wedding DJ at a wedding for a maestro DJ?
My next door neighbor, Johnny Dynell. He’s a really old friend and well suited for the gig.
You started seriously DJing at age fourteen, right?
Yes, that was literally my professional start. Before that I was a record collector and played for my friends. My father changed his downstairs restaurant into a disco after business had slowed down, and I was enlisted. He was in the middle of Greenwich Village, so he was told, “Open a disco and you’ll have money overnight.” That’s what he did.
Your father’s restaurant was The Ninth Circle?
Yes, it was a steakhouse during the 1960s and didn’t have much to do with DJs. At the time, jukeboxes and tapes ruled the city, and that’s how most of the places had their music. The difference between them and The Ninth Circle is we were able to pick the music that was played at our place. Most jukeboxes were regulated to what the record companies gave you. But my father found a place on 10th Avenue that would make individual cuts of whatever you wanted. He had the music that was hot, ranging from jazz to rock, which helped attract a certain type of crowd. It was in the heart of Greenwich Village, which at the time was a mecca of artists, and The Ninth Circle was their regular hangout.
When was the place first opened?
It all started in 1961. By the time I started there, the restaurant was beginning to fail and then it had its second life by implementing the disco. Prior to that, its big reputation came from folks like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Mingus and others. In the ’70s there were some celebrities, but it was more of a happening spot as a disco. In the ’60s it was completely straight, but just over night it was completely gay.
What was it like witnessing the rise of gay pride?
I think it was something boiling under for awhile. Prior to gay pride, I knew about gays but I thought it was a small group of people. But then one day, just outside of my apartment I could see the Stonewall incident and noticed that the everyday type of person was there. Before then it was illegal to be gay and I think from that transition, people really took it as an avenue to express themselves. There was a time when it seemed like the best clubs and everything artistic and hip was gay. There were no happening straight clubs. It was such an explosion that was repressed for so long…
Do you feel that having an avenue to release the repression, such as the Paradise Garage and The Loft, helped make places those places as legendary as they are now?
It was a combination of that and some other things. In the past we had these regular cycles of liberalism and conservatism. And with all of the political and social turmoil we were going through, it was a period where there was a lot of change in the air.
Around that time, in the 1970s, all music was formatted to two minutes and forty-five seconds. Subsequently, you could play these long, obscure album cuts and everyone was going nuts to them. I loved them, but I tried to play these same things to other people, and they weren’t getting it. I was told it was music you listened to at your home. And then I realized there was a whole community into it.
Things just had to change. I think that’s how the DJs came in and had such power and influence. They were bringing something new to people with their music, and I think people were tired of the music that was being forced down their throat. I think that’s where hip-hop is right now, as opposed to the early hip-hop scene when it had expression, was cutting edge and hip. During that time, people were really reaching out for music that was different and had something to say and wasn’t necessarily mainstream.
After witnessing so many cycles in music history, where would you say we are on the cycle in this current decade?
This is a more complicated cycle. In the case of hip-hop, people pushed it back for a long time and didn’t want to know about it. After awhile it had been suppressed so much that it almost was denying its popularity – so much so that when it did finally spring forth, it was this big money-making machine. People were saying, “Okay, it’s the next disco.” Once the industry got behind it, it was almost too late – you knew where it was going.
So usually we’d know it was the end of the mainstream cycle and would make room for the next thing. But I think the cycle has been broken, and instead of making room for new music and ideas, we got side-swiped by the internet and downloading. The reason to get involved in music and study music and so many other aspects of it has changed. It’s a lot harder to think, “Okay, this is where it’s going.” There are so many factors involved now.
The main thing for me is that my whole life I knew people had leisure time, and were able to enjoy music in their leisure time. Now people have a shorter tolerance and patience so they tend to reach for gimmicks instead of music that grows on you. So much music I like now I didn’t like at first. These days, you don’t have the time for that and you might never like that song because you’ll never give it time to grow on you. Places like The Loft – you had this twelve hour party every Saturday, with no mixing and long, obscure cuts. And people just absorbed the whole night. Now, it’s every once-in-a-while. I don’t know anyone that has the time and patience to stay for an entire evening. People are looking at their watches saying, “I don’t like this song and if the next one isn’t good, I’m gone.” It’s that kind of mentality.
Why do you think that is?
It’s a sign of the times. The pace that we’re going through, we’re working so hard just to live instead of enjoying life. Instead of computers working for us, they’re sucking us dry. Nobody really has time anymore.
For awhile, we’ve had the option of having a digital copy of music, but within the last year or two we’re almost forced to. It’s all you can have. The people who have records – it’s like some kind of luxury. “You have space for that? Where do you buy them?”
As accessible as digital downloads are, they’re not that much fun. When I get handed a record, I can look deep into the art and get lost in the music. And with the lack of quality in a download and the ownership aspect, it doesn’t mean as much to you. So instead of crying that you lost your record collection, you just buy a new iPod and probably don’t even replace that much of the music.
I don’t even know when songs are released anymore. Great songs are lost and mediocre songs are considered a reasonable hit. And nothing’s much of a hit anymore. Now you sell a thousand records in the soulful House scene and it’s considered a hit. They used to give that much away!
So the onslaught of technology has changed people’s use of time?
Yeah, it’s pulled the rug all across the board. Just like club owners in the past. You didn’t need to make a lot of money – it was more of an artistic venture. And now because of the cost of rent, the only people that get involved are money people. It’s all about bottle service. You go to these places and you feel it.
It’s the same with music. Many people getting involved with music now are looking for short cuts. It’s a matter of “What can I do to sell a hit?” instead of “I have this musical thought in my head that I have to express.” And you don’t have people taking the time to study music or instruments. It’s short cuts and that trickles down to the public because now they don’t have a lot of moments when they’re blown away.
Was it common back then for DJs to start at such a young age?
I thought during that time that it was common for almost everybody to be into music. Everyone seemed to have a record collection. Some were more intense than others, but it was common. Even my mother had a record collection. It seemed to start from as young as you could collect until you couldn’t hear anymore. And I would see certain places where they all came together. Growing up in Greenwich Village. It was an amazing melting pot.
If someone said they spent all night at this party or all day looking for records, it didn’t seem odd. It seemed like a cool thing. Now, me – myself – if someone says those things to me, I can’t help but think, “Oh, you don’t have a job? How do you have the time to do that?” There’s something really unusual about it. People that I respect or that I see out, I think maybe they’re not really into music or that they only have a few CDs in their car.
Is soulful House a dying breed?
Soulful House has dropped down to the part of the industry just below soundtracks and children’s music. Now the industry is failing so fast that soulful House is, relatively, not fading at the same rate. It hasn’t grown much, but in proportion, it’s getting bigger to what it was because everything else is shrinking around it. I think it has a little bit more of a loyal following instead of attracting people looking for gimmicks. It’s not the strongest thing and I’m not looking for it to be this big thing, either. But I think it will grow to be a lot stronger than it has been. And it’s probably one of the few things that support vinyl and real music enthusiasts.
Do you feel new generations are joining?
I do. The music industry is changing so much. But when I travel I find these pockets of people that are new, young and getting into this, people that are looking for this oasis and getting all excited about it. I find that in the places I’ve been traveling in Japan, certain places in Europe and the UK, and even in NYC. I can’t say that much for other places in the country.
Where would you place the Martinez Brothers amongst this?
They’re a good and a bad sign. I think it’s great that they’re young and have a jump start on talent and music with their father being a Loft guy. But it’s sad there isn’t a whole breed of them. They’re a little by themselves out there, so they’re treated as this rare occurrence. They’re obviously getting a lot of attention and they’re very talented, but I wish there were more like them.
Do you feel as though they’re pulling their peers into the music?
I definitely think they’re influential. I’ll give you example: The first time they played at 718 Sessions, Jellybean came with his two daughters. They wanted to check them out and I heard one say to the other, “We’ve really got to practice.” And I feel like they are a good influence and a shot in the arm for a new generation. If you don’t have someone like them to look at, it’s like, “I guess you have to be old to be into this?”
Do you feel as though the industry is trying to cultivate young, forthcoming talent?
The industry is so busy running around trying to save their ass they don’t do much cultivating. They used to cultivate their artists and they thought ahead. Now they’re thinking about just today, just to save their ass. So the industry is not doing much for anyone. But at the grassroots – kind of like the grass that grows through the cement – people get tired of the gimmickry and the commercialism and the music being shoved down their throats, so after awhile you get this new community that comes into the scene that takes another turn and looks for something a little higher. They might invent something or reach out to the better part of what’s there. There has always been that element and I think now is the time for that to happen.
Where’s it coming from, the new movement?
Unfortunately, the invention of new music is a little stumped by all these other factors that are pretty new, such as the lack of patience and the quick fix. That really makes it difficult for a natural course of change. There’s also this gray period where so much of our lives has to do with computers. But when we get our leisure time back, we’ll express ourselves and get creative. Right now people are burdened. It’s a hard time for creativity.
Anything new that you see potential in?
As much as I’m ragging on technology, there’s a lot of technology that is good and bad. It opens doors and new parts of creativity. I think that things are changing so quickly – I’m just surprised all the time.
Somebody said to me in 1980, “Where do you think you’ll be playing in twenty years?” I thought I’d be ancient. But then I said, “You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if in twenty years I put on a record that wasn’t much more than a beep and a squeak and people would run out and buy it.” And it wasn’t that far from reality. And now I can’t make another prediction about twenty years from now. The cycle has changed.
On that note, what can you say about longevity within music? How have you kept your head clean and legitimized music as a lifestyle and not the continuation of an overgrown party?
When I was a teenager, I saw the glamour and the whole drug scene, but it was a crowd that kept me from enjoying the best of music. And as time went on, I felt like myself, and the people I played for changed. I choose to play for people that don’t drink and get high. I want them to be aware and if they respond because they’re aware, that’s great. If they respond because they’re drunk, I really don’t care. And for music that lends itself to the drug scene, I think if you take the drugs away, there’s not much there. If I had a child, I would try my best to keep them away from that.
But on the other hand, there is a positive force in music. As a case in point, take kids like the Martinez Brothers – their father was a preacher and he went to The Loft and saw the positive side of the music. He instilled that and passed it on to his sons. And all of those years I played in roller rinks – that was the cleanest scene. The music that worked the best was real music. It had something that was alive in it, not so much gimmickry and noise.
I feel like there’s a real positive side of music that people can really embrace. It’s healing. When I think of my age, I realize that it’s my love of music that’s a real part of my energy and happiness.
Do you go out that much anymore?
I go out quite a bit. I’m fortunate to be associated with guys in my field that I think have it together, so I’m jumping around to things they’re involved in and it’s easy in my neighborhood. I also feel that I’m not there as a complete bystander – I’m learning something all the time. I’m networking or covering a lot of bases while I’m having fun. So it’s interwoven. I can’t say that I’m going out with the same excitement I had with the Garage and The Loft, but I’ll always find something that makes it worth going out or that gets me up dancing.
I see that you play in Japan quite a bit. What is it about the cultural atmosphere that has Japan taking such a liking to soulful House?
I love playing there. They get the music – they’re immersed in it. And we’re talking about young people, like your age. They know all of the music – maybe better than some of the guys I’ve grown up with. They respond to it and they cry to it. They’re much more into substance. Plus, almost every place I play there has a superior sound system and they want you to play vinyl. They get disappointed when you don’t. But they seem to be such an extreme mirror of American culture. They’ve immersed themselves in trying to be more into it than us – and that’s with everything. When you go down the street you see a composite of everything that’s in America, but much more extreme.
What are some cities you’ve played that had an amazing event that you didn’t foresee?
I’m really surprised by certain things. I played in France for ten years or so and was having mild success. It was okay, but getting to be more of a compromise and I was starting to think, “Do I really need to go there?” Then I discovered this one party called Dance Culture at Le Djoon. It was this oasis that was really focused on dancers and I was surprised that there were heads there.
Another one was when I was brought to Israel for a Giant Step party and thought it would be so cool. They got me a second gig and I figured it would be awful, but I did the little party first and it was unbelievably great. Then I did the Giant Step party and it was like a Sasha and Digweed thing. That’s what they’re into and I don’t have a handle on that.
What’s the status with Body & Soul?
We’re at Webster Hall in NYC four times this year and we’re traveling a lot – Japan, Singapore, France, London, Madrid, and talking to other people in other places. I miss the weekly party, but you know, it’s a change of times. Now we all have things we want do on our own and we don’t feel the strength we had on a weekly basis like it was, along with the fact that we don’t have a magic venue. We’re not actively looking for one, though. When it happens, it will jump up and bite us, so we’re settled that there isn’t a place right now. But with this city, there are hardly any affordable commercial zones anymore. They make it so tough, to the point where you have to make so much money to have a club.
Will Chicago ever see a Body & Soul?
There have been people after us to do it, but I don’t see it as the right time. I feel that Chicago is missing a lot of unity and to put on such a big thing, you need everyone with it. You can’t just have part of a crowd. It needs to be cultivated better.
What projects are you working on currently?
I’m working on a Soul Heaven compilation with Mr. V, another compilation with the guys from Southport Weekender and then a lot of edits. I did a remake of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” and that just came out in Japan. I’m looking to do a Warner Brothers compilation of a bunch my own edits, but Warner usually takes awhile. And I actually have a stockpile of a lot of edits that I’m worried about coming out as bootlegs. Not my doing, but I gave them to people who I consider my friends, but in this day and age, it gets out and people end up bootlegging them.
Danny Krivit was interviewed by Brent Crampton