The album features contributions from producers whose lives and careers were shaped by the legendary NYC discotheque
Monday saw the arrival in stores of a new Paradise Garage-themed compilation album. There are, of course, several of those available already, but Paradise Garage: Inspirations is a little bit different.
Inspirations isn't a long-lost live recording of the late, great Larry Levan; nor is it simply a collection of cuts that were big at the club during its heyday. Instead, it's an album made up of tracks by artists who were influenced by the club in some way, whether that was playing there, going there as a paying punter or through dealings with co-founder Mel Cheren and his West End Records label.
Featured artists include the likes of Todd Terry, DJ Spen, DJ Rolando, DJ Spinna, Mark Farina, Francois K, Deee-Lite and Terrence Parker (in his Seven Grand Housing Authority guise). The album also includes some of the last tracks Frankie Knuckles ever worked on: a remix by him, Kenny Summit and Eric Kupper of Lou Rawls' You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, plus the same trio's own Loving You.
The last two should be no surprise, because the album's being released by Summit's label Good For You Records, with all proceeds going to GMHC, an AIDS charity of which Cheren was instrumental in setting up. So not only does the album come packed with some great tunes, it's in aid of a great cause as well!
We reached out to Kenny to find out more...
How did the idea of putting this album together first come about?
"Around 1999 in NYC, some promoter/artist/DJ friends of mine in Manhattan were self- publishing a pocket-sized nightlife magazine called TMS. It was nothing special - none of us had any publishing experience - but it did give us the opportunity to network with higher-ups in the music industry and interview producers and DJs we looked up to at the time.
"Each of us would hand-distribute the magazine outside various clubs all around Manhattan, and one cold night I was standing outside Danny Tenaglia's Be Yourself party at Vinyl on Hubert Street and Mel Cheren walks out and takes a copy. I had no idea who he was. It was absolutely freezing that night, the wind blowing off the Hudson River on the West Side was brutal and cut right through you. Mel opened the magazine and started a conversation with me that lasted well over two hours. Standing there chatting helped me forget about how cold it was outside, so I really appreciated the time this total stranger took to keep me company.
"We exchanged phone numbers, and the next day around noon Mel called and asked if he could buy me lunch. I told him I couldn't make it and hung up, but my roommate at the time was a big-shot nightclub promoter who worked as Peter Gatien's right-hand man - Peter owned the Limelight, Palladium, Tunnel, many of the great clubs during that time - and he asked me who was on the phone. I told him, 'I met this old guy last night, he was really cool, had a black moustache and white hair, he was asking about the magazine,' and my roommate stopped me and said, "Was his name Mel?".
"He proceeded to tell me that Mel was one of the people behind the Paradise Garage. So I picked up the phone right away, called Mel back and we went to lunch! After that we met almost once a week for lunch for the next five years. He became a mentor, a friend and a confidante, and for maybe two years I was taking notes on our conversations to help Mel write another book.
"Eventually his health deteriorated and Mel passed away in 2007. The last time we spoke was some time in 2005. Mel had started the GMHC, the world's first AIDS prevention, care and advocacy organisation, and spoke about it with great passion. So after Mel passed I promised myself that one day I would honour his memory, honour the things he valued most - the Garage and his GHMC. Finally, after running Good For You Records for five years I felt I was ready to take on a charity project of this size, so I made some calls, worked out a deal, and here we are."
There must be countless DJs and producers in New York who owe a debt to/claim kinship with Larry, Mel and the Garage, so how did you go about selecting the tracks/artists to include?
"Because of Mel, because I lived in Manhattan and because of all the legendary DJs I was surrounded by, I was very steeped in the Garage history. I owned all the previously released Paradise Garage comps, I heard stories about the Garage every day. So when it was time for me to start selecting music for this new compilation, I wanted to show the world that the Garage impacted not just the few lucky people who were able to attend, but dance music as we know it today.
"The Paradise Garage wasn't just a moment in history: the spark Larry started at the Garage ignited a fire that still burns strong on dancefloors all over the world today. That influence that Larry and the Garage had on people like Francois K, Eric Kupper and David Morales didn't end with New York producers: even West Coast legends like Marques Wyatt and Mark Farina, DJs all over the world, felt the impact of the Paradise Garage.
"The tracklist on this compilation reflects just how far that impact has echoed in our industry since they closed the doors back in 87. Every song we selected either takes you on a journey or purveys a message, and at the very least makes you forget about your worries for just a moment. We selected songs rather than tracks, but even the few that don't contain vocals take you out of your present state of mind and really bring you into the music, and that's something very special.
"That euphoria you feel when you find yourself dancing with your eyes closed in the middle of a dancefloor, that's what we tried to capture with his project. Good music, good songs help you let go - if only for a short period of time."
What are your personal memories of Larry and/or the club?
"When I lived in Manhattan I did live quite close the Garage, but I was only 12 years old when it shut down in 1987 - and I'm not one of those kids who were let loose in the streets! When the street lights came on, if I wasn't home, my mother would beat my ass when I got home. So other than being enamoured with Mel's countless stories of nights past at the greatest club ever built, my only experiences with the Garage were when friends and I would run up the driveway and take pictures in the 90s, doing anything we could to absorb the spirit of that place.
"I know that sounds silly, but when you believe in something as wonderful as the Garage, when you're surrounded by all these heroes of house music, when you own all the iconic dance records that were played on that Richard Long system, and you've heard countless recollections of amazing nights there from so many people whose lives were touched by that special place, it becomes holy ground. I've walked past that building a thousand times, and I'd get the chills each and every time. It's sad they recently demolished the building."
The album includes you, Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper's remix of a Lou Rawls track. Tell us the story behind that one...
"That's the marquee track on the album for sure. How it came about was pure chance. I was in LA in my studio, and my friend Art was coming over to learn a bit about music production, so I told him to show up with a track in mind that I could take apart and show him how I do my edits. The track he selected was the iconic Philly International anthem, Lou Rawls - You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.
"When I was done with the edit, we kinda sat there for a few minutes in disbelief because not only did it come together very quickly, the end result was without a doubt a peaktime jam. I've always been a dancer, so my thoughts when producing anything usually focus in on how the music is going to impact the dancefloor. It was obvious this one was going to drive the dancers insane, so I called Eric, who regularly engineers my work, and asked him to clean it up.
"The next day Frankie calls me and said his sassy fun way, 'You can't keep doing this to me baby! I'm already playing half your records in my set. This one is magic though, Kenny - I'm going to see if we can get it released officially through Sony. I want to be a part of this, I want to make sure this sees the light of day.' And when Frankie Knuckles tell you he wants to be a part of your project, you don't say no!
"Unfortunately Frankie passed away before he could help get the remix cleared through his contacts at Sony. Frankie really championed that record, he played it FOUR TIMES back-to-back at his last birthday party in Chicago, it was one of the last records he played at his final DJ gig, and he was just so confident that this release would be yet another defining moment of his career, I felt that it was my mission in life to make sure this track comes out and gets an official release.
"Now, five years later, after a million phone calls to Sony, literally banging on doors until I finally found the right person to help us clear the track with Lou Rawls' estate and Sony Classics, it was hell getting approval for this release... but worth all the hard work and effort. We're also set to release the track on vinyl in December, as a collaboration with Pioneer, also in aid of GMHC."
Another album standout is the Loves Last Episode remix of Deee-Lite's Power Of Love. As Deee-Lite aren't active any more, how did you track that one down?
"That remix is so sexy! I've known Super DJ Dmitry since my early Limelight years, but I haven't kept in touch, and I'm friends with Lady Miss Kier as well, but when dealing with a major label hit of this magnitude you have to involve the label in all talks and negotiations. Again, that wasn't easy, but luckily I was fortunate enough to meet with someone at Warners who was not only a fan of Deee-Lite but also a massive Garage head and they helped make the deal happen.
"To me, the Power Of Love original spawned out of a time in NYC when it was still very much a creative mecca, and I know for a fact Larry played and loved this record. To have an updated, dancefloor-friendly mix like this on the compilation really solidifies the mission statement of portraying the impact the Garage has had on the world."
Those two tracks aside, what are your own highlights from the album?
"Personally I love the Sunshine Anderson remix that Eric and I produced. The original is an R&B classic, even though it's not very old, and the Garage was a place where R&B thrived. The DJ Rolando techno classic Jaguar is another track I absolutely love; there's no vocal but when it's playing you feel as though the song is taking you on a journey.
"But for me every track on the compilation is magic. Francois K's Time & Space is one of the greatest productions of all time in my opinion, Work.Groove by my buddy Homero and Farina is such a feel good jam, a perfect example of a well thought-out club track. I love each and every track on this compilation."
Proceeds from the album are going to the AIDS charity Gay Men's Health Crisis, of which Mel Cheren was a co-founder. Tell us a bit about them?
"GMHC is the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy. With decades of dedication and expertise, GMHC understand the reality of HIV/AIDS and they're simply looking to empower a healthy life for all. They're truly on a mission, fighting to end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected. It doesn't get better than that! If anyone wants to donate, get involved or learn more about the GMHC, they can go to www.GMHC.org."
Finally, what else have you got coming up on Good For You?
"Apart from this album, then along with singles dropping each month, there are three more compilations in the pipeline: one mixed by UK legend Grant Nelson, one by US staple Mark Farina, and a Best Of Kenny Summit compilation is also in the works, including my remix of Louie Vega's Diamond Life, my Billboard #1 remix for Giorgio Moroder & Kylie Minogue, some of my work with Frankie Knuckles and possibly an unreleased jam or two on there as well.
"Can I add a last word? I'd like to thank everyone who helped bring this project to fruition; David DePino and Joey Llanos for their guidance and participation, Joe B for his passion and persistence, Eric Kupper for his friendship, and lastly thank you Frankie, Larry and Mel for the light you brought to the world. I hope this makes you proud."
Words: Russell Deeks
Paradise Garage: Inspirations is out now on Good For You Records. Buy it here.
Tags: Paradise Garage, Larry Levan, Mel Cheren, Richard Long, Frankie Knuckles, Kenny Summit, Good For You Records, Lou Rawls, Eric Kupper, Deee-Lite, Mark Farina, DJ Rolando, GMHC, Gay Men's Health Crisis, Sunshine Anderson, New York, NYC, Peter Gatien, Francois Kevorkian, West End Records