Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles
When a young Bette Midler left the stage at the Continental Baths in the early 1970s, two black teenage disc jockeys named Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles commanded the DJ booth.
Levan’s mixes gained renown for blending bits of progressive rock, soul, and rhythm and blues alongside standard disco fare.
By 1977, he was a resident spinner at the Gallery, a well-regarded disco space located at 132 West 22nd St. in Manhattan.
When asked to take the helm as the lead resident at a new underground garage-turned-night spot, the Paradise Garage, Levan jumped at the opportunity. It gave him a chance to play his sound, unrestricted, on a loud and custom-designed sound system to a crowd of regular followers that numbered in the thousands.
Similar to his childhood friend Levan, Knuckles’ popularity in New York exploded during the disco era while he was a resident at the Gallery. In fact, he became so popular that when a group of Chicago-based promoters were opening a new club called the Warehouse, they reached out to Knuckles to spin at their new space. Not intimidated by the challenge, Knuckles accepted, splitting the New York-based dance legacy between two separate cities.
By the end of the disco era it became commonplace for labels to tap DJs to create longer, break-laden dance remixes.
By the late ’70s/early ’80s, the dance remix was a concept unto itself, and when Knuckles took tracks like Michael Jackson’s 1979 hit “Rock With You” and made remixes, magic happened. Using drum machines to replace live drumming on soulful disco classics and laying sweeping, drawn-out melodies on top created such a distinct sound that Knuckles’ residence at the Warehouse quickly became seen as one of the best. In fact, the spot was so beloved that Chicago dance fanatics and global crate diggers alike started to ask record store owners about the music that they heard “at the Warehouse.” Over time, people dropped the “ware” and simply came in search of “house” music.
While Knuckles transformed original house tunes like Jamie Principle’s 1982 single “Your Love” and remixes of disco-era tunes like First Choice’s “Let No Man Put Asunder” into instant “house” classics, Levan played from midnight on Saturday through Sunday afternoon at the Paradise Garage. Levan’s ability to create a binding tie between soul and dance may not have been “house music” per se, but when influential tastemakers took notice, his progressive sets certainly whet America’s appetite for the style of music that Knuckles was using to dominate the Windy City.
Legendary DJ/remixer Francois Kevorkian tells Rolling Stone that “[Levan’s mixes were] kind of hard to characterize. He could just as well be playing some Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker or he could playing [sic] some rock music. Pat Benatar.
Even in those early years, he was favoring a great variety of things, some of which he was pretty faithfully carrying on the legacy of an entire generation of musicians, like old people from Philadelphia, like Teddy Pendergrass and the Jones Girls and so on and so forth.” (complex)
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