Thursday, March 13, 2008

Brother Danny Krivit Tells it like It Is

DJ Times : Danny Krivit

When James Brown Handed Him His First Promo Vinyl At 14, Danny Krivit Knew DJing Was His Future. Now 35 Years & 70,000 Records Later, He's Still At It Deeper Than Ever.

Published in the February 2007 issue of DJ Times Magazine
Volume 20 - Number 2
By Jim Tremayne

New York City—How does a DJ survive nearly four decades of work without becoming completely jaded? How does he maintain his passion while navigating the pitfalls of an often-fickle clubland? How does he make a living while remaining artistically viable and true to his craft?
It’s a unique set of questions and one rarely asked because there are very few DJs in a position to answer. One of them is Danny Krivit, a man whose vast experience includes 35 years in the booth, an accumulation of 70,000 records and almost as many useful anecdotes.
Krivit’s personal story is unusual from the very beginning. Growing up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, he was exposed to legendary musicians at a young age—who meets Jimi Hendrix as a middle-schooler? His father managed artists like troubled jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. He was a childhood friend of future disco star and hit producer Nile Rodgers. His first promo vinyl was personally handed to him by none other than James Brown. At 14, he scored his first DJ gig at The Ninth Circle, his father’s club. Talk about auspicious starts…
Like many DJs in the early and mid-1970s, The Loft—David Mancuso’s seminal private party—provided Krivit with a musical voice and social sensibility that he retains to this day. Later, the Paradise Garage and its booth maestro Larry Levan would show him the artistic heights a DJ could reach.
Krivit experienced New York’s disco heyday on both sides of the turntables, hearing many of the era’s great DJs and sharpening his skills by playing a slew of area clubs over time—including Roxy when it was a roller-skating rink. But his experiences with Mancuso and Levan never left him, and the changes in New York club life eventually offered an opportunity for a different kind of event.
Along with Joe Claussell and Fran├žois Kevorkian, he co-founded the Body & Soul party in 1996. Running through 2002 at Manhattan’s Vinyl club, Body & Soul was based on a similar music-first aesthetic. Whether the trio was playing Garage classics, new drum-n-bass dubplates, Afro-beats, or original productions, a Sunday at Body & Soul was almost always an uplifting experience. It easily ranks as one of New York’s greatest club parties.
Since B&S shut down, Krivit has stayed in the deep end of house music with his 718 Sessions, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary. A 718 evening at Club Deep will surely find Krivit playing his sharp re-edits of soulful and funky cuts, some hot new Quentin Harris mixes and a few well-timed surprises. It’s not an unusual occurrence to hear the crowd singing every word to their favorite numbers, while Krivit beams behind the decks. For Krivit and his acolytes, love is still the message.
As he prepared for another tour of Japan, Danny Krivit connected with DJ Times to discuss his career, his perspective on the past and his views of the future.

DJ Times: I read that your dad was Chet Baker’s manager—that must’ve been a challenge.
Krivit: It probably was, but I think there was a cut-off point with Chet. So when Chet wasn’t [working], my dad went onto something else—and for him it was his club, the Ninth Circle.

DJ Times: You met Hendrix, Joplin and other legends as a kid. What was it like having all those musicians around?
Krivit: It was kind of endless. I was in Greenwich Village and I probably took it for granted a little because I even had a piano in my house and I didn’t take the time to learn it, which I really regret now. I think it was very influential. All these musical people surrounded me. The whole Village was like that back then.

DJ Times: So what made you want to DJ?
Krivit: There were a couple factors that made it happen. I was a huge James Brown fan and my neighbor, Jerry Schoenbaum, was a vice-president of Polydor and I met James Brown in his office. Jerry introduced me to James Brown and he said, “Oh, Danny’s a DJ.” I had just started. And at the time—this is around 1971—James was putting out about two records a week [laughs] and he says, “Oh, you gotta give him my latest things!” So he gives me “Get on the Good Foot” and “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins. And they’re both white labels and I was used to the red label with his face on it [laughs]. And here I am getting promo music from my idol and I’m thinking, “I guess I’m in it now—I’m going to take it seriously.”

DJ Times: And the other thing?
Krivit: I grew up with Nile Rogers, who helped me pick out a guitar and buy a guitar. And I realized that it was a lot of work [to learn] and every time I listened to records, I thought, “I don’t think I’m going to get there [as a guitarist]—I’d rather play the record.” I can go out and pick out so much great music that I just got lost in the records. It was all kinds of music, music that made me move and music that was emotional.

DJ Times: At your dad’s club, what were you playing?
Krivit: There was quite a bit of rock back then, a lot of soul and early disco. There wasn’t really the word “disco,” but these were now-established disco records. There were records from War and Rare Earth, but also some lesser-known kind of things like Exuma and other African-rock kinds of things, “I’m a Man” by Chicago, “Melting Pot” by Booker T. and the MGs, lots of things in that vein.

DJ Times: What was your first DJ setup?
Krivit: At home, I had a cheap little mixer—don’t remember the brand. It was the simplest thing. My turntables didn’t match—they were belt-driven. At the club, we couldn’t get the turntables to stand still because the floor was so wobbly. Back then, technology was primitive and cassettes weren’t a problem. We had two cassette decks and a mixer. I’d make tapes at home and my dad was buying tapes from clubs around the city. I’d program segments from the tapes and use those to program the night. Vinyl was skipping too much. Only later we began using turntables.

DJ Times: What was club DJing like in the early 1970s? What was expected from a DJ?
Krivit: It wasn’t very defined, and DJs were pretty low on the scale. You felt like a dishwasher some of the times. Superstar DJs hadn’t happened yet. I remember Nicky Siano being the first.

DJ Times: What about Francis Grasso?
Krivit: He was big, but I don’t remember him being a superstar. Those guys made $50 a night and that was a big salary. The next big thing was Richie Kaczor. He was an underground DJ, and he took off with Studio 54 and elevated the whole pay scale.

DJ Times: How did The Loft and David Mancuso impact you?
Krivit: When I finally got into The Loft, it was 1975, and it had been opened for about five years. You had to know somebody to get in. It impacted me greatly because I was early in my career and I had a lot of self-doubt. I’d get up a lot of steam to play something loved like “City Country City” by War. I thought that this is great music and it’ll make everybody go nuts—and I got so much grief, like, “Why are you playing this? What are you doing?” I mean, I’m on the verge of getting fired. Then I walk into The Loft and that song would be the biggest thing, everyone’s going nuts to it. It kind of gave me [confidence]. I wasn’t wrong about that. I was just programming for the wrong people.

DJ Times: Did you feel like an artist who hadn’t yet found his audience?
Krivit: Exactly. The Ninth Circle was a great audience, but I didn’t understand the limitations—you know how there’s a time and a place? It made me understand people on the floor and look for the reaction—that’s what I’ve carried for these years. I have to respond to them. The music at The Loft was mind-opening and free and pure, and so was the crowd. David’s thing was simple. The sound system was the highest quality. He focused on a good crowd of music lovers, and a community. It wasn’t transient drunk people.

DJ Times: So what did you learn?
Krivit: It opened my mind. I started to see that there’s my perspective of what I think the whole thing could be and there’s also the side where there are limitations. I’m not always going to play for the perfect audience. So what I try to do is teach people music and you can’t shove it down their throat. When they’re ready, I give them what I feel they can swallow. Then, I would tend to lean away from jobs that seemed like jobs.

DJ Times: You obviously began to make a living at this.
Krivit: Well, people were constantly asking me, “What are you doing to do when you grow up?” I mean, this is a hobby that I got paid for. I made living out of it, but I very rarely took it that seriously as a living. I took it seriously as a hobby. But instead of going for radio or the biggest audience, I was searching for music lovers. If the job went towards that, I went toward that.

DJ Times: What are the misconceptions of the disco era?
Krivit: There are a lot. The whole disco scene was exploding to a point that it had to kill itself because it was exploding so fast. The movies and all that focused on this one narrow view of it—the Enquirer point of view, the drugs, the celebrities, the thinness of it. Really, a lot of people during that period had a lot of leisure time. Today is astronomically different. Almost everybody had a music collection and they had spare time—they did things to music. I think they wanted an outlet and they went out and enjoyed it. They had the time to do it.

DJ Times: How did that impact the DJ’s job?
Krivit: The perfect story is [Taana Gardner’s] “Heartbeat” by Larry Levan. When he first played it, it took an entire club off the dancefloor with people cursing it out, like, “What is this drug music?” Because there was nothing like it, and he kept pumping it for a month. Every time he put it on, they were like, “What is he doing?” But then more and more people were saying, “Y’know, I actually like this.” And in a month, people were running to the floor. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen now. There’s no time for that to happen. The audience had more patience then. People would’ve left the club today. Music had a patience to it, like, “Oh, I learned to like this.” People had time to experience this.

And Krivit back in the day at the Paradise Garage with Larry Levan.

DJ Times: Let me ask you about a few DJs from that era and what you think they contributed to the craft. Richie Kaczor?
Krivit: He really mastered both worlds—the street and commercial scene. He was a consummate professional. He was the success of Studio 54, but I wouldn’t pigeonhole him to that. He was at Club Hollywood before that and DJs came to hear him. Coming from the underground vibe, he brought something to the commercial end that made it work.

DJ Times: Walter Gibbons?
Krivit: He was an inspired master DJ. He did some very early ‘impossible” things DJing—technically, but not limited to that. He would work these ridiculously short breaks flawlessly like they were an acetate, like a bootleg, and he was doing it live, stuff that other DJs could never do.

DJ Times: Tee Scott?
Krivit: He had a great soulful power. He had great taste in music and it showed in his mixes. He had a great power to what he chose.

DJ Times: Nicky Siano?
Krivit: The first superstar DJ, from high-energy vocals to altogether funky. He brought the first drama to DJing. For me, the first DJ diva, Nicky was a total performance.

DJ Times: Larry Levan?
Krivit: Larry is still the most inspired and talented DJ. He felt a lot more than anyone else I knew. He was very moody—you felt what he felt. The Garage was this thing built around his talent.

DJ Times: You were playing The Roxy in the early hip-hop era when a lot of these seminal jocks like Grandmaster Flash, Bambaataa and DXT were spinning there. What was that like?
Krivit: They were onstage, but I didn’t play onstage. Sometimes they’d over-scratch or not program right—and they got paid a lot of money back then—so the owner’s threat was, well, Danny’s gonna get up there and play [laughs]. They’d listen to me and I was their friend, but I was like, “You gotta bend a little and try to please the whole audience.”

DJ Times: What did you think of these guys as DJs?
Krivit: DXT was the first one they had. He was phenomenal. I thought he was a good guy and he was the most talented of all of them. He really knew music—he wasn’t just about one angle. He was a producer up there onstage. He really programmed well and scratched just the right amount and played songs. Then the other guys came along and I thought it was a little more rocky. Some of the other guys were just as talented technically, but I thought they lost track of the producing of the party. You just didn’t feel the strength that DXT had, but he had moved onto bigger things with Herbie Hancock by then.

DJ Times: How did roller skating and playing rinks inform your DJing?
Krivit: It definitely influenced me musically. It was another aspect that brought me closer to the groove. Before that, as I was growing as a DJ, I was getting a little lost in the technicality of mixing beat-on-beat, and I was losing track of the groove. The roller-skating really made me focus. In doing that, I thought it made me understand the written music a little more, things like chord changes and structure, along with the strength of the song.

DJ Times: The roller-skating rink was the first place I ever heard a live DJ. As a kid, I got turned onto a lot of music there.
Krivit: It was a lot realer than a club in that sense. It hit across all dimensions of record-buyers. That was the other thing about the skating scene—things that worked at skating rinks worked in sales. [Artists] were there borrowing grooves and getting ideas. I remember once when I was rocking “Rising to the Top” by Keni Burke—and I worked grooves a lot—Rick James was hanging out and, next thing you know, he made “All Night Long,” Mary Jane Girls, and it was exactly from that. That was constantly happening. A few years later, the early rappers were searching for grooves and the roller-skating rink was a really happening scene for music, although it wasn’t always too celebrated.

DJ Times: How did you get into your famous re-edits?
Krivit: In the beginning, edits and remixes were very simple. Remixes were always the song, but rearranged a bit, not a lot of overdubbing. Editing was very clearly cut. Now, with all the post-production, re-edits sound a lot like remixes and remixes sound like new songs. I think my original take on re-editing was, “I like this song and it’s because I like it that I’m picking at the strengths or weaknesses and maybe it just needs a little of this or a little of that.” It’s for the dancefloor and this was my way of having my own tools to play with. Like everyone and their mother had an edit of “Love Is the Message” and a lotta DJs didn’t share—so if I wanted one, I had to make my own.

DJ Times: How do you work in the studio now?
Krivit: I’m not really an engineer, more of an editor. So what happens is that I’m editing in Pro Tools. As far as outboard gear, my remixes don’t come that often, so when I go to a studio, I generally make do with what they have. Occcasionally, I’ll bring in a musician for overdubs.

DJ Times: Almost five years after it’s ended, what is the legacy of Body & Soul?
Krivit: First of all, it’s based in soul during a time when soulful house was really happening. It’s an open forum to music that really catered to music lovers and got away from the whole politics of clubs—the drinking, the pick-up scene, superficial attitudes, the whole late-night feeling. It was a lot more positive. It was built on the positive angles of the things we liked in the first place, from The Loft and the Paradise Garage. Not pounding music, some subtleties, and we were introducing music to people, playing drum-n-bass or hip hop, perhaps for an audience that didn’t expect it.

DJ Times: Were you surprised how well it turned out and how highly it remains regarded?
Krivit: I wasn’t floored, but I was pleasantly surprised. We went in there with the total intent of “this is our jobs, but this is our outlet to do something and have fun—and it could be good,” but just good. And the first few parties were 30 to 50 people. It wasn’t about success. People are here and they’re having a great time. It felt right. Then it started taking off and we thought, “Wow, I guess a lot of people feel this way.”

DJ Times: So your 718 Sessions just enjoyed its fourth anniversary. What was your approach to that party?
Krivit: One of the strengths of Body & Soul was that it was the three of us. As a DJ, there are positive and negative points. You want to take it in your direction, but when you’re playing with two other people, you take a step back and look at it objectively and think about what you’re programming and then you do it—but you didn’t take it the whole direction. So you take a lot of turns that are good, but some aren’t where you want to go.

DJ Times: So how did you make it different?
Krivit: So when I did my own party, I was borrowing from Body & Soul, The Loft and the Garage, but it was my personal take on it. It’s the simplicity of good music, a community, like I’m playing for my friends. There’s a lot of people out there—even those at a young age—who are fed up with what’s pushed on them. They learn very quickly that, no, I want something a little more.

DJ Times: What’s your ideal DJ setup now?
Krivit: I’m still pretty simple, but, as opposed to just playing vinyl, I am playing a lot of CDs—mostly on the CDJ-1000s. I used to get acetates and reel-to-reels and DATs, but now I get new music on CD. I haven’t moved to computer yet—I’m not opposed to it, I’m just not there. As far as working the music, it’s still best for me with the vinyl and CDs.

DJ Times: Mixer?
Krivit: I still love the Urei, but I also like this French mixer, the DJR 400 by E&S. It’s portable, but it’s excellent and it’s got a good isolator in it. I like the Allen & Heath—but, for me, it’s a little clumsy with all the knobs. Sounds good, though, and I’m happy to use it. Effects? I’m not as proficient as someone like Fran├žois. If I have a little Pioneer, I’m happy.

DJ Times: What about club sound these days?
Krivit: I look for things that are high fidelity, but full-range. In the past five years, I think most clubs have taken the shortcut of digital processing. It’s very efficient, but it also limits the potential of a sound system. If you play just one kind of music, it’s good. If you leave it alone, it sounds like it’s supposed to. But if you play a variety of music, it really shows its weakness. It has no versatility. If you work music with an isolator and you go up, down, all over the place, it just falls on its face.

DJ Times: When you play, you’re big on personally balancing the turntable’s tone-arm, aren’t you?
Krivit: I set the balance and the weights up every time. Classic example, this Sunday I was playing at Pacha with Danny Tenaglia—I was a little rushed and I didn’t do that. Sure enough, the record starts skipping. I look at the weight and it’s turned around like for hip hop. People think, “Oh, you just put a lot of weight on it, then.” But that’s just like cutting a new groove into your record and it doesn’t mean it’s going to stay in the groove. So I learned how to do it correctly and I balance it out before I start—I go through a little ritual.

DJ Times: What would you consider the best venues for you to play?
Krivit: Precious Hall in Sapporo, Japan. They have what I consider the best sound system. Stereo in Montreal. It’s setup like an old-school club like the Garage—simple room, wooden and an awesome analog sound system. Also, Yellow in Tokyo. It’s an excellent sound system, a pleasure to play there, and a great audience.

DJ Times: For up-and-coming DJs who want to make a career out of music, what would be your advice to them?
Krivit: Don’t be in such a rush. There’s a lot out there. It would really serve them well to have an open mind and take it all in. Be open. I think that’s safe advice.

DJ Times: You’ve been DJing for 35 years now and you turn 50 next year. I know people don’t ask Tom Waits and Keith Richards this question, but what keeps you going?
Krivit: My love is music. It’s really my passion. I’m a vinyl junkie, a music junkie. I still love the reaction from the audience. I love hearing new music that touches me in a new way. This is my energy and my love. I feel so connected to music and people who love music.

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