As house music and DJ culture age, more and more DJs and artists are writing their memoirs, contributing to an ever-growing literary history of dance music.

Brooklyn’s DJ Disciple, real name David Banks, with writer Henry Kronk, is the latest to document his DJing career in his new book The Beat, The Scene, The Sound. It’s subtitled A DJ’s Journey through the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of House Music in New York City, and Disciple’s story is told against the backdrop of New York’s ever-changing club scene, from the birth of disco in the 1970s right up to the present day. It’s a tale is peppered with names like Larry Levan, Roger Sanchez, Tony Humphries, Todd Terry, David Morales, François K. and Junior Vasquez, and venues like New York’s Paradise Garage, The Palladium, The Tunnel and New Jersey’s Zanzibar, but it also zooms out, providing an overview of the global dance music explosion of the last few decades.

Frankie Knuckles, DJ Disciple, Tedd Patterson & Bobby D'Ambrosio.
Frankie Knuckles, DJ Disciple, Tedd Patterson & Bobby D’Ambrosio. Photo: supplied.

The Beat, The Scene, The Sound begins with Banks’ earliest days as an introverted kid who rarely spoke, whose apparent lack of social skills worried his family, but who clearly responded to music from a very early age, loved gospel music, and drummed for his local church. Initially a gospel DJ, Banks’ Christian faith is a big part of who he is, calling himself “Disciple” because, quoting the Bible, “Only what you do for Christ shall last.” He began DJing gospel in the late ’80s on college radio and playing at roller-skating rinks, eventually embracing house music on radio station WNYE 91.5 in ’88. His first live radio interview was with Frankie Knuckles the following year, and Banks remained committed to house music for the rest of his career.

Banks lived below pioneering New York DJ Flowers in the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn and the writers describe him growing up in the 1970s in a musical family, but in a city that was falling apart. Heroin, white flight, economic recession, corruption, widespread city mismanagement and near-bankruptcy led to all-time crime and unemployment highs in New York, and parts of the city simply burnt to the ground as swathes of buildings in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan were torched for insurance. However, New York still had plenty of legal and indeed illegal places where people could dance together, and as is often the case, nightlife and its associated culture blossomed in a time of hardship.

Grant Nelson And DJ Disciple, Nice N Ripe Studios UK. Photo: Si Firman.
Grant Nelson & DJ Disciple, Nice N Ripe Studios UK. Photo: Si Firman.

Starting with the earliest days of disco, the narrative moves between the micro and macro. So the book recounts how Francis Grasso pioneered beat matching using pitch control, how Technics slowly overtook Thorens TD124s as the turntable of choice for working DJs, the impact of Roland’s affordable synths and drum boxes to the post-disco landscape, what happened when Larry met Frankie and so on. But throughout, we also get a more general overview as Disciple notes, for example, how the late ’70s disco boom created a NY club renaissance, how the mid-’80s was a time of death and rebirth for NY clubs, and discusses his firsthand experience of how the interaction of house music and hip hop affected clubs and their DJs through the ’90s.

As a DJ who has DJed in New York since the late ’80s, Banks inevitably has the benefit of a broad yet detailed overview like this, and he tells his story within this broader context. His book covers the impact on DJing of societal issues like the arrival of crack cocaine, the rise of gangster rap, AIDS, or how Giuliani’s broken windows policy targeted clubs. But he also charts how more prosaic things like bottle service, EDM, festivals, the MP3, digital DJing and the iPod have changed how DJs operate too, and it’s a level of detail that is repeated when he speaks about the craft of DJing itself. As the book documents Disciple’s DJing career through the Wild Pitch parties, US raves, Leeds’ Hard Times, Bagleys and Ministry of Sound in London, Pacha, Ibiza and his adoption by the UK Garage scene, he’s is happy to detail the kind of woes and worries that every DJ faces from time to time. He can literally recall what tunes he played on a certain night a couple of decades ago that worked or didn’t work, can recount gigs where he wasn’t sure if he had the right records and had to borrow some, or lacked the confidence to use an unknown DJ mixer; all of which is very relatable.

Paul Trouble Anderson & DJ Disciple at the Loft in Camden London UK. Photo courtesy of The Banks Family Collection.
Paul Trouble Anderson & DJ Disciple, the Loft in Camden London UK. Photo: courtesy of The Banks Family Collection.

Finishing The Beat, The Scene, The Sound, I realised that having read a few hundred pages written by an artist about their career I’d come away with plenty of knowledge of New York’s club scene and of the development of the international house/club industry — but with very little sense of who DJ Disciple actually is. His book tells me he’s respected, hardworking, a Christian and a good DJ, but aside from that I gained little insight into his character, personality, drives, qualities or flaws; it’s very much a study of his career rather than the man. But this is an observation more than a gripe. As an in-depth account of the career of a professional house DJ, in the context of New York’s club scene and the growth of dance music culture from the 1990s now, The Beat, The Scene, The Sound is a strong addition to the growing canon of house music/ DJ/histories.

The Beat, The Scene, The Sound is out now from publisher Rowman & Littlefield.