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DJ Disciple

The Wild Pitch years

2020 Jul 11     
2 Bit Thugs

In this EXCLUSIVE extract from his forthcoming autobiography, Disciple remembers where it all began for him: New York's notorious Wild Pitch parties

It used to be that DJs made a name for themselves based on the clubs they’d played. By that measure, in 1989, DJ Disciple was next to nobody. He had played plenty of college parties and had a radio show on New York’s WNYE 91.5 FM. But other than that, there wasn’t much to speak of on his resume. Looking to get involved, he followed a friend’s tip to hit up a club called The Space in downtown Manhattan.

DJ Disciple: "I arrived early and ordered a soda. A guy at the bar approached me and introduced himself. His name was David Camacho. He was a DJ too, and he’d been spinning for over a decade out of his home base in Newark, New Jersey. He told me about these parties he was doing called Wild Pitch. He’d heard my show and said I should come check the event out sometime. I had no idea these parties were about to put me on the map."

Before underground parties like Wild Pitch, Save the Robots, House Nation, and many more came along, New York’s music scene was dominated by clubs. Many music fans know these New York clubs in the ‘80s as a collective crucible for genres like hip hop, new wave, house, and post-punk. But to a dedicated subset of city heads, there were two types of genres: good music and bad music. And for a time, the best place to go to hear good music was the Paradise Garage. 

Throughout the early and mid ‘80s, the Garage was the definitive dance club in Manhattan, if not the universe. Inspired by David Mancuso’s The Loft, it was the place to go to hear the freshest underground sounds. It was also home to the greatest DJ on earth. Larry Levan was born with a divine pair of ears. He could tell if one bullet tweeter out of an array of 12 had blown. He knew how to fine-tune a sound system to make it sing. If turntables spinning records (hooked up to a soundsystem worth its salt) form an instrument, Levan stretched that instrument’s range, timbre, and expressiveness galaxies beyond what was formerly possible.

But nothing lasts forever. Soon, the Garage would close, and a handful of clubs and mobile parties would take up the underground flame. Wild Pitch and others helped ensure that New York dance music survived in a city that was being split apart by AIDS, the crack cocaine epidemic, and a series of mayors that wanted to stamp out certain forms of nightlife altogether. 

Ex-Garage members, college kids who were just coming online, and emerging DJs struggling to gain consistent work found their footing on the Wild Pitch dance floor. A party that moved around Manhattan through clubs and DIY spaces, Wild Pitch went down just about every Friday or Saturday from the mid-80s well into the late ‘90s. Not only did it bring together a diverse mix of New Yorkers unified by the common denominator of emerging dance music, it also cemented a spirit of musical fusion and acceptance at a time when scenes and genres were splintering.

On any given night, you might catch Bobby Konders’ dancehall mixes, fresh house from Nick Jones and Timmy Richardson, DJ Camacho’s disco throwbacks, gospel-inflected sets from DJ Disciple, or the legendary beats of Larry Levan, Tony Humphries, Louie Vega, David Morales, and Francois K. The party also hosted numerous live performances from house legends like Fingers Inc., Robert Owens, and Aly-Us.

Notorious New York dancers Voodoo Ray, Marjory Smarth, and Monique Brooks would work the door, then carry the party on to 10am the next day. Behind it all was promoter Greg Daye, whose commitment to New York dance music was unwavering.

IN THE BEGINNING
It all started with a group of friends from Brooklyn cutting their teeth, throwing their own events. Patrick Lafontant, Trevor Biggs, Ernest Manigo, Mark Blagrove and Greg Daye started doing parties when they were in high school. They’d cobble together a soundsystem, print some fliers, and get busy promoting. They’d co-opt a friend’s house, a gymnasium, or if nothing else was available, Lafontant’s basement. 

Promoting under the name Just Us, Lafontant would design the fliers and handle distribution, Biggs took care of the money, and Daye booked the DJs. Then, on the night of the party, it was all hands on deck. When there was a gap in DJ sets or someone dropped out, Lafontant would fill in behind the boards.

They started branching out in the early ‘80s. Daye started working the door at Danceteria for Soul Boy Sundays, an outfit that included Rocco, Steven Lewis, and Collin and Courtney Williams. 

Greg Daye: "They taught me about consistency. They would say how everyone can’t get in, this party isn’t for everyone. To this day, I'm still the same guy. No baseball caps and no pants hanging off your ass. They hated me at the front door. Hated me. They'd call me racist but I'd be like, 'You’re still not getting in.' [laughs]"

The Just Us and Soul Boys team soon joined forces. These parties had a gravitational pull. At the time, Nick Jones was DJing at Lovelight and working at Hi-Tech Music during the day. 

Nick Jones: "Greg was one of my customers in the record store. He would come buy records, laugh, have a good time, and then we’d go out to different clubs together. Then David Camacho was DJing at a club called The Space. It was somewhere in the 20s on the west side. We wanted to bring him on. He gladly accepted and brought his crowd."

Greg Daye: "We didn’t know how to market ourselves back then. We just got to make sure we were doing a party every Friday, otherwise these guys would throw us out. It was us against the owners. And the owners learned the hard way."

Their parties were gaining steam and drawing an audience a few hundred strong on a given night. One weekend, a label known as Wild Pitch sponsored the event. 

Patrick Lafontant: "After that, people just kept calling it the Wild Pitch parties."

And then, in September 1987 the dance world turned upside down: the Paradise Garage closed. Suddenly, thousands of New York’s most dedicated club kids, music fans, and dance heads had to find a new place to go. 

Nick Jones: "It was the end of an era – the Garage was a second home for a lot of us. A lot of us learned at Larry’s feet. But if I’m being honest, we knew [the Garage closing] would be an opportunity. There was about to be a bunch of people who needed to find a new home to go party at."

Greg Daye: "When the Garage closed, we were right there. We didn’t miss a beat."

THE KONDERS EFFECT 
Wild Pitch started growing fast, gaining new audiences, promoters, and DJs. Daye and his team cast a wide net. At the time, Bobby Konders had a mix show on 107.5 FM WBLS. 

Bobby Konders: "They hollered at me and said, 'Come DJ'. We became friends."

With the addition of DJ Timmy Richardson (TOT – The Other Timmy besides Regisford), the core group was set. A classic night would feature some combination of Timmy Richardson, Bobby Konders, David Camacho, and Nick Jones, along with a wide range of guests and, as time went on, some of New York’s top DJs. 

Wild Pitch parties would go down in lofts, studios, and other DIY spaces around Manhattan. Occasionally the event would move to a club like Trax/Redzone, Kilimanjaro, the Tunnel, The Loft, or the World. But the party truly leveled up when the organizers made contact with a dance studio located at 626 Broadway just north of Houston. Almost always vacant on a Friday or Saturday night, the studio became the go-to Wild Pitch location.

Besides an electrical and plumbing system that were up to code, the studio had two large rooms. Daye, Biggs, and Lafontant began experimenting. They started throwing together a second soundsystem and hosting two DJs playing different styles at the same time. 

Greg Daye: "All these clubs like Danceteria, they were all one room. We had too many great DJs. We needed two rooms. Patrick and Bobby’s room alone would have 500 or 600 people. And we’d have 800 to 1,000 in the main room. We couldn’t even open up without that capacity."

In terms of music, Larry Levan had set the bar at the Garage. Wild Pitch DJs set out to push it further. And Wild Pitch had one thing going for it that the Garage never had: Bobby Konders. 

Trevor Biggs: "Back then, reggae wasn’t implemented in the city yet. We kind of took that off with Bobby Konders."

Nick Jones: "Bobby was another one of my customers who’d come in to buy records at Hi Tech Music. He really brought in a different perspective with the reggae he was playing. We cultivated that."

Bobby Konders: "I was a DJ who played everything. I was very much into the house and the deep house of that era: Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson, the stuff coming out of Jersey … and then I got into the studio and started to produce some stuff and started drawing on reggae. I fused the two together."

Konders wasn’t the only one innovating. Camacho, TOT, and Jones fostered an ‘anything goes’ mentality that ensured that no Wild Pitch party would be like any other. It was all about the love of the music.

Gregg Daye: "Camacho was one of the greatest underrated DJs ever. Ever. He could mix records like you’ve never heard. Him and Nick. On the boards, mind you – just pitch up three and pitch down three. It wasn’t like the [Technics] 1200s. You had very little wiggle room. 

"I just wanted people I knew to produce their own night. Like look at the crowd, see what’s going on, and write them a script."

Timmy Richardson: "Today, you have these line-ups of DJs and they’re all playing the same music. It kind of doesn’t make any sense. But we had three DJs with a purpose. The first guy was breaking the new music. The second guy was playing the reggae or something different. And the third one was coming in with the classics. I didn’t know of anybody else that was doing that."

Bobby Konders: "The trendy clubs that were picking and choosing people, it was pretty much just one format of music. But Wild Pitch was an eccentric party. It drew a very music- and dancer-oriented crowd. Whatever the DJs brought to the table, the idea was to keep people dancing."

More than a few attributes of the Garage began rubbing off on Wild Pitch. 

Timmy Richardson: "If you know what you’re doing, you can get the crowd to dance to anything or like anything. That goes back to Larry Levan who made you like records. We would have a goal every week of breaking two or three new songs. Sometimes that meant continuously playing them."

Greg Daye: "That’s the thing that Timmy, Camacho, and Nick would do… you don’t have to play the record only once a night. Timmy used to play a record ten times in a night. I remember once I wanted to kill Larry [Levan] because he was in there playing Karma Chameleon eight times in a row. Like, enough Boy George, Larry!"

But Wild Pitch didn’t want to simply copy the Garage. The party was just as appealing to college students and kids who were too young to spend a night at 84 King Street. Promoters like Frank Thomas who had a large undergraduate network became indispensable. 

Nick Jones: "There were a lot of Garage heads who would not go anywhere else. We wanted that audience. But we also realised, hey, let's let's bring in and cultivate some of these younger kids, these younger college students. So we start promoting heavy at colleges. We had a real mixture.

"It was about trying to take the younger people into what the Garage was and also what we were trying to present to them the new music of that day. Even what David Mancuso did at the Loft—we would mix that all together."

"It grew. The kids were hungry. The Garage was gone, and they couldn’t get in to some of the other clubs because they were too young. Each week, it grew and grew."

ONE NATION UNDER A GROOVE
Kim Santoro often worked coat check at Wild Pitch. 

Kim Santoro: "There would be all walks of life all under the same roof: homeboys, B-boys, doctors, lawyers, porn stars, mothers, queens, junkies, lords. They were all out for the music. In the dark, they’d just be shadows of movement."

DJ Disciple: "The audience loved being at these parties so much that even at 7am they would still be dancing with the same energy, bringing out tambourines, pouring baby powder on the floor, and listening to great classics from the Paradise Garage from residents like Nick Jones and DJ Camacho. Many musicians, DJs, music composers and producers have had connections with Wild Pitch."

Patrick Lafontant: "Our door guys weren’t looking at you to see if you had money to spend. They were like, 'Okay, you look like you’re going to make the party even better, come on in.' In the beginning, we was just like 'Get em in. Get em in.' We didn’t want the line outside."

Trevor Biggs: "We had to get the crowd off the street as fast as possible. Just in case. We had a very mixed crowd—straight, gay, Black, White, Hispanic, it didn’t matter. It was about the music. You could hear that. At Wild Pitch, there were two types of music: good music and bad music. As long as you were moving the crowd, who cares? It didn’t really matter. People felt safe there."

DJ Disciple: "People that went to the Choice and Wild Pitch parties didn’t want to hear commercial music. Dancers attending these parties used acrobatics, tap-dancing, gymnastics, Latin and African dance, all molded into one gyrating rainbow. If you didn’t play what they wanted to hear, they would let you know."

More than a few celebrities were spotted at Wild Pitch over the years. A short list of semi-regulars includes Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, Wesley Snipes, Drena De Niro and Heather Hunter.

Timmy Richardson: "It wasn’t a big deal. Everybody just wanted to go inside the party and dance."

Greg Daye: "I remember smoking with the Fab Five, John F Kennedy Jr. and Brooke Shields at some high school gymnasium. It was a high school in the Village."

Trevor Biggs: "Mike Tyson came up to me to get a bottle of champagne. I was like, 'I got you two already, that’s enough!'"

Patrick Lafontant: "But for the most part, they would just blend in with the crowd. Back then, nobody really cared. Most people were just interested in hanging out and having a good time."

This attitude started at the door, which was supervised by some of New York’s most legendary dancers, promoters, and personalities. Voodoo Ray, Marjory Smarth, Monique Brooks, Christopher Bell, David Cole, David Ian Xtravanganza, Frank Thomas and many others who would go on to do good things once presided over the Wild Pitch entrance.

Greg Daye: "There was just a lot of love, especially between the DJs. At block parties, it used to be that DJs would black out the labels so nobody could see the name of the record they were playing, and all that nonsense. We were like, 'Get out of here. We’re trying to make the party flow.' Camacho couldn’t go anywhere without 15 crates of records.

"Every record we had in there was playable, but the real DJs knew the time to put the record on because they knew the crowd. After that, you’ve got them hooked, and you can play anything. After you play that one right record, you got 'em hooked."

Things came full circle when Larry Levan himself started showing up. For a time in the late ‘80s, he became a semi-regular Wild Pitch DJ. 

Patrick Lafontant: "He was so sharp with setting up the sound. He’d put everything together and listen. After a minute, he’d point to some units and be like, 'These speakers right here are out of phase'."

Numerous other DJs at the top of their game came on at Wild Pitch. Besides those mentioned so far, alumni include David Morales, Louie Vega, Francois K, Tony Humphries, Timmy Regisford, Tee Scott, Joey Llanos, Victor Rosado, Basil, Clark Kent, Kenny Carpenter, Naeem Johnson, Manski, French, and more.

STAND ON THE WORLD
On 20 November 20 1989, Disciple was hanging with his friend Ralph when he got a call from Greg Daye and DJ Camacho. They wanted to know if he would spin at a Wild Pitch event. A few days later, Disciple stood behind the decks at a club called The World on the Lower East Side. It was snowing heavily that night, and the weather affected the sound system on the main floor upstairs.

Trevor Biggs: "It was snowing like crazy. We was like, 'Damn we’re losing money tonight. Nobody’s coming.' Then I looked outside the window and the line was around the corner. I was like, 'Wow'."

"The World was pretty much falling apart. Nothing was correct in that place. We just made do."

Daye kept everyone on the ground level while things were sorted out. When the soundsystem upstairs came online, everyone rushed upstairs. Disciple, Camacho, and Bobby Konders were on the bill. Disciple opened with a set of emerging and unreleased house. 

DJ Disciple: "My nerves were going crazy before my set. This wasn’t the college circuit. This wasn’t radio. This was a room full of dedicated clubbers who all had strong opinions about what records should and should not be played. They were used to hearing most of the best DJs in the world at the time play. I was shaking as I brought my milk crate full of 45s up to the booth. I put them down, looked at the set-up, and thanked God to find a straightforward combo of turntables, EQ, and other basic features."

Greg Daye: "Disciple helped change house music to a faster, a more acceptable beat here in New York. When we would normally be playing downbeat, he would be up at 125BPM at, like, 10pm. I thought he was going to kill the crowd. But I was amazed at how he handled things. He was so mature."

Besides younger DJs like Disciple, Wild Pitch hired numerous jocks and promoters who had been out of the game.

Greg Daye: "We brought a lot of guys out of retirement. Kenny Carpenter wasn’t doing anything. He was lost in the source. Mike Stone – nothing. Charles Jackson – nothing. Tee Scott – I went to the roller rink where he was playing and said, 'Come on, we’re getting up out of here.' He was like, 'I’ve got to pay rent, Greg.' So I said, 'Watch this.' I’d got him like $1000 for his first gig. I said, 'Is that enough for the rent?' He just nodded and said, 'Yup, that’s enough'."

Despite their growing success, a history of attracting A-list DJs, and the blessing from Levan himself, Wild Pitch wasn’t without its hiccups. As an all-cash business, the crew had their fair share of encounters with various organisations, both legal and otherwise.

Trevor Biggs: "Everyone had their hands out! A guy would come in, he'd want to know who was running the party and we'd have to give him an envelope. Then he would go on his way."

Once the elevator got stuck while they were bringing up the soundsystem. Once they got busted for throwing a party in a building that was under construction. There would be occasional scuffles at the door, run-ins with the law, or trouble with gangs. The party wasn’t immune from violence, beefing, and other drama. 

Frank Thomas: "I was asked to join Wild Pitch by Monique Brooks way before I actually did. The reason was because I brought some of my people there, to 626 Broadway, and my boy Ozzie was stabbed in the stairwell. There were delays in getting him help. That put me off for a time. Eventually Monique got us to pow-wow. We joined up and made Wild Pitch the dopest 'gypsy' party in NYC."

THE CLAMPDOWN
In March 1990, up in the Bronx, one Julio Gonzalez got into an argument with his girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano at the Happy Land social club, where she was working the coat check. The club had previously been ordered to close by the city for numerous code violations, including lack of fire exits. Feliciano reportedly broke up with Gonzalez that night and was thrown out of the club by a bouncer at 3am. He walked across the street, purchased $1's worth of gasoline at a nearby station and, pouring it across the base of the staircase at the club’s only entrance, lit it on fire. 87 people died in the blaze. At the time, it was the largest mass murder in American history.

Instead of strengthening safety laws, the city government under Mayor David Dinkins, brought the hammer down on the clubs themselves and pushed them further underground. Former Mayor Ed Koch had created a club inspection task force of 10 teams (involving police officers and buildings and fire inspectors) after a similar fire in the Bronx that claimed eight lives. Mayor Dinkins had initially reduced this task force to one team, but after Happy Land, he increased it to 20. These teams found 1,391 New York clubs that were operating illegally, 209 of which were open on a weekly basis. The task force closed 505 establishments in all.

Timmy Richardson: "Happy Land definitely affected everything, but we just kept on. We were young. Sometimes we’d do something and the cops would show up. We’d tell them we were shooting a video. Sometimes it worked. I couldn’t believe it. We’d have 1,500 people in there! But nothing legally ever happened to us. They didn’t know about our parties, even though you could see a line going down the block."

Trevor Biggs: "We wasn’t stable so it was hard to catch up with us. A lot of places where we were looked like office buildings. They wouldn’t think anything of it."

Nick Jones: "We had a party or two that was shut down. Once, we had to change locations during the night. I was scheduled to DJ at a place in Midtown. I get to the spot, and we had one of our guys standing out front. He said, 'Nick, we had to move the party downtown'. I go, 'Oh god, nobody’s going to be here', but then I pick up all my records, head downtown, and there’s like 2,000 kids partying! The audience knew the party was mobile. They expected that, so when we had to move locations, they were all set to move with us."

Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, hip hop was taking off and becoming a commercial success. Many believe that house suffered as a result. But Wild Pitch and other parties kept the spirit of dance music alive in New York. 

Patrick Lafontant: "When hip hop got good, house changed. It’s almost like it went even more underground. Most of the clubs were playing hip hop. It was a shift. The reggae changed too. And most people started moving away from both. Back then, rap was really good. It was tough competing against that."

Bobby Konders: "Things changed around ’91 or ’92. Dance music got less popular. Crack was running back then. Drugs was running, money was running. A lot of the kids was going more towards hip hop."

Timmy Richardson: "The underground scene was what kept everything going. There was no club like the Garage that everyone was going to except for stuff like Wild Pitch. There were a couple of clubs at the time, but they weren’t putting 2,000 people in a room. Wild Pitch and a few other mobile parties like Save the Robots, House Nation and Cafe con Leche — they kept the underground scene alive. "

Almost throughout, this was supported by Daye, Biggs, Lafontant, Jones, Richardson, Camacho and others, involving at a huge expense of time, money, and effort.

Greg Daye: "I refused to let it die. I would give my whole paycheck. I was dating Monique [Brooks] at the time, she’d give her whole paycheck too. That’s enough to cover security, sound, and the DJs. I’d give each DJ like $250, $300. Everybody got paid. Everybody. Down to the people who were cleaning up. Whatever we made, we’d split. There were no fixed salaries, I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know how the nights were going to turn out, but God let us sustain.

"We were able to do a party every Friday and sometimes on Saturdays. I’d have people come to me and say, 'Man I need help with my rent,' or 'My girl is pregnant, we need to get an abortion.' I’d say, 'Come on, man, I’ll get you half.' It was good times. It was all part of the struggle. Being independent versus owning a club, I’d take being independent any day."

Patrick Lafontant: "Back then, a lot of the DJs weren’t playing a lot of clubs. A lot of them were making their names through the Wild Pitch parties. It was a great place to blow up. There were a lot of DJs who were with us before they got famous."

THE WILD PITCH LEGACY
Wild Pitch began to wind down in the ‘90s. During that time, DJs and house music became one of New York’s signature exports. DJ Disciple, Bobby Konders, Nick Jones, David Camacho, and Timmy Richardson – not to mention Wild Pitch guests like Francois K, Tony Humphries, David Morales, Louie Vega, and more – all went on to tour and play internationally throughout Europe, the Americas, and Japan.

Patrick Lafontant: "For a lot of DJs that played for us, we were that step that took them to the next level. After us, they were going to Japan, going to Europe."

In the years since Wild Pitch threw its last event, much has changed about house music, DJing, and New York. Too many of those who made Wild Pitch what it was have passed. Voodoo Ray, DJ David Camacho, and Marjory Smarth are no longer with us.

Greg Daye: "Camacho was taken too early. He loved Wild Pitch. Loved, loved, loved. The week before he passed, he said, 'Greg, we got to do more parties'. I said, 'Camacho, that’s legendary. Let’s leave that alone and let it be a place in history'. But he said, 'Let’s actually build parties on it. Let’s start something new!' So we went looking for a location, and the next week he passed.

"It was the same with [Voodoo] Ray. The day before he died, he was on the phone with me trying to do a party. He was like,'I’m just going to the post office and I’ll call you back.' He didn’t call back, and I didn’t think nothing of it. And then I found out two days later."

For many today, Wild Pitch was a time and a place that exemplified New York music. It lives on mostly as a memory.

Bobby Konders: "These kids today don’t know nothing about that time because radio stations and streaming platforms are so analytical. Even the urban stations in New York don’t play New York classics. They just play Michael Jackson or Prince. New York in the ‘80s – you had New York songs. Like your Junior Reids, your Marshall Jeffersons, Mr Fingers, all the independent hip hop labels. New York had a sound. And it was getting daytime radio play."

"They’re never going to play those records again. That’s a whole forgotten scene."

Words: DJ Disciple and Henry Kronk Pics: DJ Disciple, Louis 'Loose' Keys, Kim Santoro. Flyers: Patrick Lafontant

DJ Disciple's latest album Sounds You Can Feel is out now on Catch 22. His autobiography will be published later this year

Follow DJ Disciple: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter  Follow Henry Kronk: Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: DJ Disciple, Wild Pitch, New York, Paradise Garage, Bobby Konders, Dave Camacho, Larry Levan, Danceteria, Save The Robots, David Mancuso, The Loft, Tony Humphries, Louie Vega, David Morales, Francois K, Fingers Inc., Robert Owens, Aly-Us, Nick Jones, Timmy Richardson, Nick Jones, Greg Daye, Patrick Lafontant, Timmy Richardson, Kim Santoro, Trevor Biggs, Ed Koch, Happy Land