FRANçOIS K. with BARBARA MENDES (live), BLUEPRINT and MORENO at Roxy Blu (12 Brant), Friday (December 13). $20 advance, more at the door. www.garage416.com
dj/producer françois kevorkian's gentledemeanour becomes charged and emotional when we hit the subject of the clubbing crackdown in the U.S. The man who redefined soulful dance music in the late 90s through the Body And Soul parties in New York says today's Big Apple isn't a very pleasant place to throw a party"Eight years of Giuliani didn't make it very nice to open new clubs, and our new mayor has even more hardcore views on certain subjects," Kevorkian says from the offices of his label, Wave Records.
"Dancing has become a political act that you need a licence to do, so our administration must be afraid of its power or it wouldn't want to regulate it. It's something that comes directly from the days of segregation, when people tried to stop whites from going to Harlem to all the jazz clubs."
The idea of New York clubs needing a licence so their patrons can dance is absurd. But even more worrying developments are happening at the national level, where politicians are competing to come down hardest on anything vaguely related to the rave movement.
"When you have the Rave Act -- which threatens to hold promoters, club owners and everyone involved in throwing a party legally responsible for whether or not a couple of people take a couple of pills of ecstasy -- then the people in power, all older white men, all over 50, are deciding how we should be living our lives. Those older white men all have a Christian, neo-Victorian Western backgrounds and feel they should be able to dictate what kinds of life experience we are going to have in many places, including the places we dance."
The man who pioneered disco DJing in the 70s and remixed hundreds of tracks in the 80s has a pretty good overview of the situation -- he's spent the last 25 years deeply involved in the development of underground dance music. His first ambition, though, to be a jazz drummer, was never fulfilled.
Born and raised in France, he moved to New York City in 1975 to chase after the jazz funk scene that had become his obsession. But he soon found that the jazz scene was way too competitive and intimidating.
"It's not like I gave up, but I was overwhelmed by the competition from people who had 10 or 15 years of experience on me," Kevorkian admits.
"There were thousands of drummers in New York, all looking for jobs. It was such a battle. I mean, I wasn't that great, at least compared to someone who's been playing Latin percussion for 15 years. Making a living as a drummer was so much harder back then, sort of like what it's like for DJs now."He ended up getting a gig playing drums over top of legendary disco DJ Walter Gibbons's mixing and was thrust into the soon-to-explode dance club scene. Before long he got some DJ gigs of his own, let go of drumming and began what would become an illustrious career mixing records. By the end of the 70s, he'd played all New York's biggest clubs, including Studio 54, Zanzibar and the Paradise Garage, where he'd frequently cover for the legendary Larry Levan whenever Levan felt the need to leave the booth and join the party.
By 1982, he was working as an A&R guy for Prelude Records and had started doing club remixes for some of the biggest names around. The workload meant that for most of that decade he gave up DJing in order to spend more time in the studio.
By the end of the 80s, he was feeling the need to play out again, but opportunities weren't as easy to come by. The Paradise Garage had closed, and AIDS had decimated the black gay community that had supported the music. He started toying with the idea of doing a Sunday-night party. It became the hugely influential Body And Soul.
"When the Shelter opened in 92, I requested that the club consider letting me put a party together on Sunday nights, but they never wanted to. Larry Levan and I were going to put something together at David Macuso's Loft when we came back from doing a tour of Japan playing as a team. The Loft was in deep financial trouble, and I thought this was something we could do for them, but it never happened. Larry went into the hospital and never came out. I just didn't feel right doing it by myself after that. It really took the wind out of me for a few years."
In 1996, Kevorkian teamed up with Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell to start Body And Soul, a back-to-basics party where you could hear disco classics right after deep dubby house as well as pop hits and lushly orchestrated Latin-jazz-influenced organic dance music. Unfortunately, Body And Soul is currently on hiatus. Not much in the way of explanation has been given, and Kevorkian won't comment on rumours suggesting that it may have something to do with a change of management at the club.
"Body And Soul is a collective. It's not fair for me to be the spokesperson for the rest of the crew. I've always made a point when talking about Body And Soul to make sure it's all of us or none. We don't know what we're going to do yet. A bunch of things happened that made it impossible for us to continue in the fashion we've been going for the past six years.
"We need to re-evaluate whether we can maintain the quality people have become accustomed to."
The hiatus has allowed Kevorkian to concentrate more on his label, Wave, and he's just released Bossa Mundo 2, a new compilation of mellow, Latin-jazz-inflected music. The disc also contains Awakening, a new song from him featuring Brazilian diva Barbara Mendes, who performs live with him on this tour.
He's also very excited about a new piece of software, Ableton Live, that was designed by Berlin minimalists Monolake to facilitate their live laptop techno performances. Kevorkian intends to start integrating it into his DJ sets to help him re-combine elements of his favourite records in new ways. If we're lucky, we may get a sneak peek at his new tactic Friday at Roxy Blue, although he says he may not have all the technical issues worked out in time. email@example.com