Danny Krivit Talks Disco

One of the greatest DJs ever to grace the decks talks disco, production, and the Garage...
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One of the greatest DJs ever to grace the decks talks disco, production, and the Garage...

Danny-Krivit

As one of the most widely respected DJs to spring from New York’s golden-era, a pioneer of editing and co-founder of one of the city’s most highly regarded parties in Body & Soul, Danny Krivit is a man whose story is intertwined with the place he still calls home.

Krivit’s family moved to New York when he was a child, and as he informs me with a laugh over the phone, he’s only “moved about 10 blocks since”. His exposure to New York’s vibrant nightlife came earlier than most; in 1962 Krivit’s father opened a Greenwich Village hangout, The Ninth Circle (a reference to the circle of hell preserved for the worst sinners in Dante’s Inferno) where Danny would work.

“In the ‘60s, before you really had DJs, everybody had a jukebox, but that meant everybody in the whole country had the same pick of the same three minute songs” he begins in his upbeat New York twang. “My father had a way to get around that: he found a place that would make a 7’’ from an album cut, so he had this hot jukebox, you know, of hot jazz and other things that people didn’t have. It just attracted a more artsy and musical crowd.” He recalls regularly encountering the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Chet Baker (whose band Krivit’s mother had sung with) and John Lennon – icons not only of the wider musical world, but of New York’s buzzing counter-culture scene.

He remembers back to his first experiences clubbing: too young to gain admittance, he’d stand outside with a group of friends dancing in the street. “I would go places like the Limelight, there was a really hot DJ called David Rodriguez, and I remember me and my friends would be hanging outside the wall of the club, and we’d hear all the music, we’d be dancing and everything, I got to hear all this great music and mixes, so it didn’t feel like I was missing out”.

“I remember hearing songs like I Like What I Like Because I Like It by Everyday People, things like that, stuff that really hit well in the club, Barrabas, all that kinda stuff - borderline rock.”

Krivit’s journey into the history books began around 1975 in the same place as so many of his generation - David Mancuso's Loft parties - considered today to be the starting point from which the modern club scene derives.

“I’d wanted to go for a long time but you had to go with a guest,” he remembers. “I finally got there in ’75. I befriended David very quickly, I was bringing him new music that I’d acquired, and he really appreciated that, and he started giving me guest list. I remember my membership card on the back said +7, which was kinda rare for him. It really was a DJ mecca, even if they worked at another club first, they all ended up here.”

“Clubs could open up anywhere then and be cheap or free”, he explains when asked why New York was such a fertile ground for a burgeoning club scene. “There was no emphasis on moneymaking, you had freedom to go where you wanted, dress how you wanted, there was a lot of character.”

It was a chance meeting at The Loft which introduced Danny to Larry Levan, “I came in one day to bring David records and Larry was playing.  I was like ‘oh hey where’s David?’ but he was sleeping, so I just gave Larry the records anyway, and that’s how we got friendly. I remember meeting Francois [Kevorkian] there also, we’d really nerd out talking about music, and that’s where I got really close to both of them.”

How big was the disco scene at this stage? Was it still very underground or had it started to become more popular in the mainstream?

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“Well those are two different things really” he tells me. “The Gallery and The Loft were definitely underground. The Loft had no advertisement, completely word of mouth. Then the disco scene was emerging around it, so you had those clubs in the centre, and a bunch of peripheral clubs around it where people were saying ‘wow, you got to go out and hear this music!’ but you didn’t use the word ‘disco’ right away, it seemed to creep in from the mid -seventies.”

Disco’s popularity grew rapidly from then on, as Danny explains, “From ’75 every year was double, triple, than the year before. Bigger industry, more groups, more clubs, more DJs, more airplay, everything. By ‘78 the financial benefits are clicking in and companies are jumping on this – rock groups are making their disco records. There was a ton of great music and a great scene going on, but because it was so big you started to see people capitalizing on everything, you’d see Micky Mouse Disco, you know, anything with the word disco on it.”

By the time John Travolta had shimmied across screen in his white jumpsuit in Saturday Night Fever, disco had begun to overstay its welcome in the mainstream. “Places like Studio 54 were just in the news everyday", he sighs. Danny also remembers the 'Disco Sucks' campaign, which saw a mass burning of disco records at a Chicago baseball stadium, which he says "seemed laughable, but somehow struck a very strong chord in a rather scary way. It seemed like something out of Fahrenheit 451, and yes, in just a week or two, disco was a bad word. As a result, some of these disco records on Discogs & Ebay for $1,000 now, in 1980 they could have easily been found as a door stop".

However I’m interested to see if the backlash had a negative effect on the underground scene. Danny informs me that it was quite the opposite, “in fact I think they kinda thrived in this environment,” he says. “To give it some perspective, in ’79 there was probably about 4,000 cabaret licenses in NY at that time – and that’s just the licensed places, there’s probably another double or triple that of unlicensed places, all thriving - nowadays there’s maybe 40. Almost instantly, all these clubs suffered, because they had to find something to replace disco. So there was this uneasy transition period. It wouldn’t affect people like me, The Loft, The Paradise Garage, that was an underground scene, it didn’t relate to any of that, but the general public, their scene was really just thrown up in the air. It was probably another three years before something clicked a little, and even that wasn’t big until house music”

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Those underground clubs went on to become places considered legendary today, although gradual changes to the financial structure of the city began to tighten the grip on the freedoms clubs had enjoyed in years previously. As he explains, up until then the lease-holding club owners held an advantage with the city’s police, who’d favour them by ignoring complaints from the transient rental tenants.

“The ‘80s brought a new real estate market, which changed the emphasis. Now the ownership of property came into play these people started to have weight” he explains, “and the complaints were mounting up. It was all, ‘oh I don’t want a club next to my house’. So there were all these restrictions starting in the ‘80s and towards the’90s, that got places closed down, there was a lot less freedom. Rents were going up, so you started seeing higher prices and more restrictions and more dress codes and red ropes outside".

Despite this, throughout the '90s until today, Danny’s Body & Soul parties with DJs Francois K and Joe Claussell have carried on the traditions in music and atmosphere in New York. “Me and Francois were talking about the things we liked and didn’t like about clubs, and he called me one day and said ‘I’m doing this thing on a Sunday, you know, it could be what we talked about.’

“It was nothing to begin with. It had a great vibe but only a few people, but for us it was a lot of fun. And what stood out about it was that everywhere else was about business – DJs were about business, everybody wanted to make money at the bar, make money at the door, make money as a DJ. We came in with the party where we don’t have to do that, just a comfortable scene where we play what we wanna play, not the Saturday night scene, you know. And it really stood out, and it shone a light on what the ‘90s had become – all business in clubland.”