This article is part of a series of Music Tour City Guides put together with our partner Miller – for more inside info on clubbing in New York, visit the Miller Music Tour Hub.
It’s the city that gave birth to disco, house music and hip hop, the home of iconic, seminal clubs like The Loft, Studio 54, Paradise Garage and the Sound Factory. If you were going to pick one city on earth where you could track the history of dance music through a series of classic sets, then New York would be it. Back in the early 90s, inthemix writer Jim Poe worked as a DJ in New York City, and here he’s selected ten iconic mixes from the history of NY clubs, tracking the city’s evolving sounds from Grandmaster Flash in 1978 to Francois K at Output this year.
1. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 4 MCs Live at the Audubon Ballroom, 1978
You can’t talk about New York without talking about hip hop; and if you forgot how fundamental it is to the development of electronic music, check out the “disco king of the mean machine” rocking an uptown club (sadly also known as the place where Malcolm X was assassinated).
The quality of the recording is terrible, but you’ll still feel the force of the rhythmic and cultural explosion that shook the world. Here Flash cuts in one devastating uptempo funk or disco jam after another – sometimes with house-like smoothness, sometimes slicing and dicing like a champion – while his posse lays down a mindbending freestyle flow that would crush any of today’s sucker MCs like a box of donuts. Also significant are the trippy experimental excursions, as when Flash works a record backwards for minutes at a time, proving his influence on everything from ’80s postpunk to techno.
2. Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage, 1979
Larry Levan reigned at what many consider the ultimate club from 1976 to 1987, becoming one of the godfathers of the house movement in New York and beyond. He has inspired generations of DJs and producers with his trippy, dubby approach to disco, mastery of crowd energy and flawless selection. He passed away in 1992 and there are precious few recordings of his sets in circulation; but they do exist and this is a terrific example.
Levan’s eccentric mixing is sometimes lackadaisical – there are a few train wrecks here – but it’s frequently masterful – as with the wonderful transition into Janice McClain’s Smack Dab in the Middle. Sometimes he didn’t mix at all, the better to highlight towering anthems like First Choice’s Double Cross and Loose Joints’ Is It All Over My Face. Also on display is Levan’s innovative manipulation of the mix with improvised dubs and mash-ups or cut-in sound effects – check the eerie sampled kids’ voices.
3. David Morales live at Red Zone, 1990
It doesn’t have the same name recognition as the Garage, Zanzibar or the Sound Factory, but Red Zone was one of the key New York clubs where house music transformed from underground sensation into worldwide movement. David Morales commanded the decks with a dynamic mix of house and techno and a range of other funky sounds.
This mix, from late in the club’s run, is eclectic, energetic, bright and relentlessly melodic. Part 1 is more accessible; no doubt it’s from early in the evening and shows Morales as a quintessential New York DJ pleasing his crowd with hip-house, reggae and Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner. Part 2 has a late-night feel and shows the maestro’s appetite for the raw, soulful sounds of true-school house, including 808 State’s Pacific and Underground Solution’s Luv Dancin’. (The latter, produced by Roger Sanchez, samples a 1979 Loose Joints record featured in Larry Levan’s mix and thus charts the evolution of the New York underground sound.)
4. Frankie Bones live at Deliverance, circa 1993
Brooklyn’s Frankie Bones has long been considered the king of New York techno, and this mix, recorded at a one-off rave, is a great reminder why. (I date it 1993 based on the track selection, including The Nightripper’s supreme analogue anthem Tone Exploitation.) Bones was known for his vast knowledge and experience; his fierce love for all forms of underground music (often expressed in passionate rants on the mic during the mix); and his pranksterish ability to drive a crowd nuts with thundering hardcore. However he had plenty of finesse and subtlety too, and it’s on display here. If this diamond-hard but smooth, melodic and atmospheric set were played in a techno tent at peak time at any given festival today it would still tear the place down.
5. Junior Vasquez live at the Sound Factory, 1994
There was no other place on Earth like 530 W 27th. The mostly gay and totally fierce clientele, the historically awesome sound system and Junior Vasquez’s majestic 12-hour sets; no experience could compare. This recording is no doubt a peak-time set on a big night (peak time at the Factory being 6 or 7 in the morning) because Junior is mixing – more often than not he’d play end to end and let the silence between tracks build tension. Still, it’s quintessential Junior – equal parts deep, dynamic, drama and diva. It contains a number of his all-time anthems: his own epic remix of Lectroluv’s Dream Drums and Frankie Knuckles’ emotion-drenched mix of Pressure by Sounds of Blackness.