10 iconic mixes from the dancefloors of New York

iconIt’s the city that gave birth to disco, house music and hip hop, the home of iconic, seminal clubs like The Loft, Studio 54, Paradise Garage and the Sound Factory. If you were going to pick one city on earth where you could track the history of dance music through a series of classic sets, then New York would be it. Back in the early 90s, inthemix writer Jim Poe worked as a DJ in New York City, and here he’s selected ten iconic mixes from the history of NY clubs, tracking the city’s evolving sounds from Grandmaster Flash in 1978 to Francois K at Output this year.

1. GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS 4 MCS LIVE AT THE AUDUBON BALLROOM, 1978
You can’t talk about New York without talking about hip hop; and if you forgot how fundamental it is to the development of electronic music, check out the “disco king of the mean machine” rocking an uptown club (sadly also known as the place where Malcolm X was assassinated).
Here Flash cuts in one devastating uptempo funk or disco jam after another – sometimes with house-like smoothness, sometimes slicing and dicing like a champion – while his posse lays down a mindbending freestyle flow that would crush any of today’s sucker MCs like a box of donuts. Also significant are the trippy experimental excursions, as when Flash works a record backwards for minutes at a time, proving his influence on everything from ’80s postpunk to techno.

2. LARRY LEVAN LIVE AT THE PARADISE GARAGE, 1979
Larry Levan reigned at what many consider the ultimate club from 1976 to 1987, becoming one of the godfathers of the house movement in New York and beyond. He has inspired generations of DJs and producers with his trippy, dubby approach to disco, mastery of crowd energy and flawless selection. He passed away in 1992 and there are precious few recordings of his sets in circulation; but they do exist and this is a terrific example.
Levan’s eccentric mixing is sometimes lackadaisical – there are a few train wrecks here – but it’s frequently masterful – as with the wonderful transition into Janice McClain’s Smack Dab in the Middle. Sometimes he didn’t mix at all, the better to highlight towering anthems like First Choice’s Double Cross and Loose Joints’ Is It All Over My Face. Also on display is Levan’s innovative manipulation of the mix with improvised dubs and mash-ups or cut-in sound effects – check the eerie sampled kids’ voices.

3. DAVID MORALES LIVE AT RED ZONE, 1990
It doesn’t have the same name recognition as the Garage, Zanzibar or the Sound Factory, but Red Zone was one of the key New York clubs where house music transformed from underground sensation into worldwide movement. David Morales commanded the decks with a dynamic mix of house and techno and a range of other funky sounds.

This yours mix, from late in the club’s run, is eclectic, energetic, bright and relentlessly melodic. Part 1 is more accessible; no doubt it’s from early in the evening and shows Morales as a quintessential New York DJ pleasing his crowd with hip-house, reggae and Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner. Part 2 has a late-night feel and shows the maestro’s appetite for the raw, soulful sounds of true-school house, including 808 State’s Pacific and Underground Solution’s Luv Dancin’.

4. FRANKIE BONES LIVE AT DELIVERANCE, CIRCA 1993
Brooklyn’s Frankie Bones has long been considered the king of New York techno, and this mix, recorded at a one-off rave, is a great reminder why. (I date it 1993 based on the track selection, including The Nightripper’s supreme analogue anthem Tone Exploitation.) Bones was known for his vast knowledge and experience; his fierce love for all forms of underground music (often expressed in passionate rants on the mic during the mix); and his pranksterish ability to drive a crowd nuts with thundering hardcore. However he had plenty of finesse and subtlety too, and it’s on display here. If this diamond-hard but smooth, melodic and atmospheric set were played in a techno tent at peak time at any given festival today it would still tear the place down.

5. JUNIOR VASQUEZ LIVE AT THE SOUND FACTORY, 1994
There was no other place on Earth like 530 W 27th. The mostly gay and totally fierce clientele, the historically awesome sound system and Junior Vasquez’s majestic 12-hour sets; no experience could compare. This recording is no doubt a peak-time set on a big night (peak time at the Factory being 6 or 7 in the morning) because Junior is mixing – more often than not he’d play end to end and let the silence between tracks build tension. Still, it’s quintessential Junior – equal parts deep, dynamic, drama and diva. It contains a number of his all-time anthems: his own epic remix of Lectroluv’s Dream Drums and Frankie Knuckles’ emotion-drenched mix of Pressure by Sounds of Blackness.

6. LITTLE LOUIE VEGA LIVE AT VINYL, 1996
When he wasn’t defining the New York sound of the mid ‘90s as one half of Masters at Work, Louie Vega was doing it on the decks, first at the long-running weekly industry night at Sound Factory Bar, then at the legendary Vinyl, formerly known as The Shelter.
He had me from the moment he mixed Aly-Us’s anthem Follow Me into Fingers Inc.’s still-revolutionary Mystery of Love. Though Louie generally favoured more organic and soulful sounds, he gets surprisingly hard at times – showing how even in its heyday the New York scene wasn’t limited to garage and deep-house clichés. Overall this is classic New York house big, warm, expansive, fierce, with mucho sabor.

7. DAVID MANCUSO LIVE AT THE LOFT, 2005
Before Larry Levan, before Ron Hardy, before any of the other innovators, there was David Mancuso. Beginning in 1970, Mancuso basically invented the concept of the DJ St in the early-to-mid-’90s; between and dance music as we know it, playing marathon unmixed sets of everything, and I mean everything, from jazz to rock to disco to ambient noise to electronica (way before it was called that) on his custom-built sound system for an invite-only crowd.
The Loft is still going strong almost 44 years later. Mancuso is intensely loyal, eternally positive and joyful (and still invite-only) crowd. OK, I confess, I didn’t listen to the entire thing when I was writing this up – it’s seven hours long. But just look at the track selection (listed separately by a fan on an RA forum) and tell me if you think you can go wrong. As Tim Sweeney said when he posted it on Facebook, “Use it for your next house party.”

8. TIM SWEENEY LIVE AT LE BAIN, 2012
Perhaps no one represents where New York is at these days better than Tim Sweeney, whose ridiculously eclectic Beats in Space radio show on WNYU has only gotten more popular around the world since it premiered 14 years ago; and who has proved a valuable bench player in DFA’s conquest of the world with his signature mix compilations.
Here he comes out of the radio studio to do an all-night live set at Le Bain, with his repertoire running the gamut from Al Green to Maze to Abba – and those are just the first three mixes. Stay with this expertly programmed set and you’ll also be treated to weird and wonderful selections like Danish postpunk anti-heroin Garage classic White Horse and Tiga’s deliciously crazy and sexy Plush.

9. NICKODEMUS LIVE (WITH LIVE PERCUSSION FROM NAPPY G) AT TURNTABLES ON THE HUDSON (NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM), 2012
From his home base in Brooklyn and residency at the long-running Turntables on the Hudson, Nickodemus has built a worldwide following with über-eclectic sets that span almost every kind of music on the planet that makes people move, from American funk, hip hop and house to tropical Latin and reggae to the vast traditions of Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. It’s the sound of New York as world capital of dance music.
Here he is in action at a special Earth Day session at New York’s iconic Natural History Museum. (Incidentally Bonobo was the headliner). In true Nickodemus form, we go on a globetrotting journey incorporating sometimes indescribable combinations: jazzy hip hop, Cuban salsa, a house remix of Fela Kuti, Egyptian dub-funk, what might be described as “tech reggaeton” – many of them his own productions. It’s all mixed with a sense of booty-shaking fun – it must have been a good night at the Museum.

10. FRANÇOIS K LIVE AT DEEP SPACE (OUTPUT), 2013
Output, in Brooklyn’s infamously trendy Williamburg, has become heir to the legacy of the New York superclubs of yesteryear, with ultrachic design (its two separate world-class rooms are an answer to Berlin’s Berghain/Panoramabar), incredible sound and a galaxy of local and international talent most nights of the week.

It feels appropriate to end this list in the contemporary age with an Output set from one of the most respected veterans in the business. François played at Studio 54, the Garage and Body & Soul; but is still innovating on his digital decks every week at his long-running eclectic dub-house-disco party Deep Space. This set starts with Daft Punk’s Give Life Back to Music – a pleasant surprise from someone who’s always been vocally opposed to the commercialisation of dance music – and goes on to fold in banging house, acid, tech, reggae and hands-in-the-air Garage classics, all mixed with buttery smoothness. If you want to understand the breadth and depth of New York dance music in the mix, it’s not a bad place to start.

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