Larry Levan  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Larry Levan (born Lawrence Philpot, July 20, 1954 – died November 8, 1992) was an African-American DJ, best-known for his ten-year residency at the New York City night club Paradise Garage. The Paradise Garage is generally cited as the prototype of the modern night club and it was the first to put the DJ at the center of attention. He developed a cult following, who referred to his sets as "Saturday Mass". François Kevorkian credits Levan with introducing the dub aesthetic into dance music.

Contents

Career

Levan was openly gay and got his start alongside DJ Frankie Knuckles at The Continental Baths, as a replacement for the DJ from The Gallery, Nicky Siano. Levan's DJing style was influenced by Siano's eclectic style, and by The Loft's David Mancuso, who briefly dated Levan in the early 1970s. As Knuckles was still trying to make his way in the New York club scene, Levan became a popular attraction perhaps due to his "diva persona", which he developed in the city's notoriously competitive black drag "houses").

At the height of the disco boom in 1977, Levan was offered a residency at the Paradise Garage. Although owner Michael Brody, who employed Levan at the defunct Reade Street, intended to create a downtown facsimile of Studio 54 catering to an upscale white gay clientele, Levan initially drew an improbable mix of streetwise blacks, Latinos, and punks.

Open only to a select membership and housed in an otherwise unadorned building on King Street in Greenwich Village, the club and Levan's DJing slowly engendered themselves into the mainstream. The DJ and programming director from WBLS, Frankie Crocker often mentioned the club on air and based his playlists around Levan's sets. The PA system of the club included custom-designed "Levan speakers".

Filling the void left by leading remixer Walter Gibbons, Levan became a prolific producer and mixer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with many of his efforts crossing over onto the national dance music charts. Among the records that received Levan's touch were his remixes of "Ain't Nothin' Goin On But The Rent" by Gwen Guthrie and "Heartbeat" by Taana Gardner, as well as his production work on "Don't Make Me Wait" by the Peech Boys, a group that Levan formed and was part of (and who became the New York Citi Peech Boys when the Beach Boys threatened a lawsuit due to the similar sound of the name). With a strong gospel tinge in the vocal arrangements and driven by a tinkling piano, the latter song is a quintessential example of the deejay's soulful aesthetic. One of the first dance releases to incorporate a dub influence and an appended vocal-only edit, Levan tinkered with the song for nearly a year to the consternation of Mel Cheren, whose label, West End Records, was nearing bankruptcy. When it was finally released, much of the song's momentum had been lost and it stalled in the lower reaches of the charts.

As the popularity of the Garage soared in the mid-1980s just as many of his longtime friends lost their battles with AIDS, Levan became withdrawn and entirely dependent upon PCP and heroin. While performing, he ensconsced himself within an entourage of drag queens and young acolytes. As beat-matching and stylistic adherence became the norm, Levan's loopy sets (spanning the gamut from Evelyn "Champagne" King and Chaka Khan to Kraftwerk, Manuel Göttsching, & British synth-pop) and unwillingness to delve headlong into the more synthetic variants of house and techno elicited criticism from some quarters.

The Garage ended its run with a spectacular 48 hour-long party in September 1987, weeks before Brody died from AIDS-related complications. The closure devastated Levan, who knew that he was now bereft of a space that would tolerate his peccadilloes. Although Brody verbally bequeathed the club's sound and lighting systems to Levan, they were left to the fallen impresario's mother in his will - a change instigated by Brody's lover and manager, who reportedly despised Levan. Despite protestations and pleas to the Brody family from Mel Cheren, the systems remained in storage as their property. Unable to secure a residency, Levan began to sell his valuable records for drug money; friends like Danny Tenaglia would buy them back for him out of sympathy.

As the nineties dawned, Levan seemed on the precipice of a comeback. Although he was regarded as a drug-addled relic in New York, his popularity had soared in Europe and Japan. Levan designed the sound system for London's Ministry of Sound nightclub and DJed alongside Knuckles in its opening weeks; though still dependent on heroin, his 1992 tour of Japan received gushing accolades in the local press. Spearheaded by Cheren, he also made a tentative return to the studio during this period and entered rehab. On the contrary, he informed his mother in June 1992 that he had "lived a good life" and was "ready to die"; Francois Kevorkian described Levan's final Japanese sets as nostalgic and inspirational, imbued with an air of bittersweetness and closure.

Shortly after returning home from Japan, Levan voluntarily entered the hospital. He died four days later of endocarditis, an ailment common among intraveneous drug users. In September 2004, Levan was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame for his outstanding achievement as a DJ. The 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast by electronic music duo Matmos contains a tribute to Levan titled "Steam and Sequins for Larry Levan."

Discography

Salsoul

  • SG-207 Instant Funk 'I Got My Mind Made Up' (1978)
  • SG-301DJ Instant Funk 'Crying' (1979)
  • SG-323DJ Skyy 'High' 'First Time Around' (1980)
  • SG 332 Steve Arrington 'Summertime Lovin' 7:54 / Special Effects From Mars (1980)
  • SG-340 Instant Funk 'Everybody'
  • SG-350 Inner Life Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1981)
  • SG-351 Logg 'I Know You Will' (1981)
  • SG-403 Jimmy Castor Bunch 'It's Just Begun' (19??)
    • the original was a rare groove classic*
  • SA-8533
  • Inner Life f/ Jocelyn Brown 'Make It Last Forever' (1979)
  • Instant Funk - Slap, Slap, Lickedy Lap (1979)

West End records

  • WES 22116/WES 4001? Taana Gardner 'Work That Body' 1980
  • WES 22118 Billy Nichols 'Give Your Body Up To The Music' 1979
  • WES 22122 Taana Gardner 'When You Touch Me'
  • WES 22132 Taana Gardner 'Heartbeat' (1981)
  • WES 22135 Sparque - 'Let's Go Dancin (1981)
  • WES 22138 Ednah Holt - 'Serious, Sirious Space Party (1981)
  • WES 22140 New York Citi Peech Boys "Don't Make Me Wait" (1982)
  • WES 22143 Forrrce 'Keep On Dancing' (1982)
  • WES 4002 Loose Joints - "Is It All Over My Face'" (1978) or WES 22128/22129

Prelude records

    • PRL D 608 Strikers - Body Music (1981))
    • co-mixed with Francois*

Island records/Mango records

  • 0-99928 Peech Boys 'Life Is Something Special' (1982)
  • 12IS119 Peech Boys - 'On A Journey' (1983)
  • 0-96993 Peech Boys - 'Dance Sister' (1983)
  • 176202 Peech Boys - 'Come On, Come On' (1984)
  • Gwen Guthrie 'Seventh Heaven' (1983)
  • MLPS 7804 David Joseph 'You Can't Hide Your Love' (6:37) (1983)
  • good with 'Jingo' and 'Another Star'*
  • 12IS106X Gwen Guthrie 'Hopscotch' remix (1983)
  • LP 90273 Grace Jones (on Pumping Iron Sdtrk) 'Feel Up' (1982)
  • Gwen Guthrie - 'It Should Have Been You' (Island Positively 4th St. Comp. LP

444 020(1982))

Garage records

  • ITG 2001 Gwen Guthrie 'Padlock' (1985)
  • ITG 2001 Gwen Guthrie 'Getting Hot' (1985)
  • ITG 2001 Gwen Guthrie 'Peanut Butter' (1985)
  • ITG 2001 Gwen Guthrie 'Seventh Heaven' (1985)
  • ITG-201 Black Mamba - 'Vicious' (1984)

Sutra Records

'Every Way But Loose' (8:30) Plunky & the Oneness of Juju 1982

  • Plunky has website*

Atlantic records

    • DMD 376 Lace 'You Can't Play Around' (1982)

Supertronics records

  • RY-016 Janice Christie/Heat Stroke (1986)
  • RY 015 The Cut/Kindness For Weakness (1986)

Sleeping Bag records

  • SLX-1 Sleeping Bag Class Action f. Christine Wiltshire 'Weekend' (198x)
  • produced by Bob & Lola Blank
  • a - Mixed by Sergio Munzibai & John Morales
  • b - Mixed by Larry Levan*
  • SLX-5/The Jamaica Girls 'Need Somebody New' (1983)
  • Dinosaur L - Corn Belt (Sleeping Bag's Greatest Mixers LP TLX-42012X(1986))

Megatone Records

Vanguard Records

  • Spv 81 Tony Paris 'Electric Automan' (1985)

Warner Brothers records

  • Janice McClain - Smack Dab In The Middle (Warner/RFC DRCS 893(1980))
  • Chaka Khan - Tearin' It Up (0-29721(1982))
  • Narada Michael Walden - The Nature Of Things (0-20331(1985))
  • Nile Rodgers - State Your Mind/Stay Out Of The Light (0-20375(1985))
  • Karyn White - Facts Of Love (0-20545(1986))
  • Man Friday - Winners (0-20596(1986)) also appeared on Vinyl Mania?; William Brodie
  • 0-20971 Gwen Guthrie - 'Rocking Chair' (1988)
  • 0-20817 Anthony & The Camp 'Suspense'/Open (Up Your Heart)' (1988)
  • Qwest 0-20361 Patti Austin 'Honey For The Bees' (1985)

A&M records

  • SP 12089 Jeffrey Osborne 'Plane Love' + dub (1983)
  • SP 12116 Jeffrey Osborne 'The Borderlines' + dub (1984)
  • SP 12242 Tramaine 'The Rock' (1987)

VinylMania records

  • VMR #001 - Man Friday - Jump (1986)
  • VMR #002 - Man Friday - Love Honey, Love Heartache (1986)

4th & B'Way records

  • PRO-444 Gwen Guthrie - Ticket To Ride (1987)
  • BWAY 401 Loose Joints - Tell You (Today) (1983) =Arthur Russell

Active records

RCA records

  • RCA PD-11522 Bumblebee Unlimited 'Lady Bug' (1978)
  • A-side mixed by John Morales, B-side by Levan, written by Gregory Carmichael
  • RCA PD-12209 Esther Williams 'I'll Be Your Pleasure' (1981)

Polydor records

  • 422-855106-1 Gwen Guthrie - 'Ain't Nothing Goin' On But The Rent' (1986)
  • 885 362-1 Gwen Guthrie - 'Outside In The Rain' (1986)
  • 885 528-1 Gwen Guthrie - 'Close To You' (1987)

Quality records

  • QRFC002 Jimmy Ross - 'First True Love Affair'(1981)
  • QRFC005 Tracy Weber - 'Sure Shot' (1982)
  • QRFC012 Frontline Orchestra - 'Dont Turn Your Back On Me' (1982)

Various labels

  • Central Line - Walking Into Sunshine (Merx 90(1981))
  • DJ H & Stefy 'Come On Boy' late eighties
  • Dan Hartman - We Are The Young (MCA 12" 23517(1984))
  • Dan Hartman - I Can Dream About You (MCA 12" 23510(1984))
  • Bert Reid - Groovin' With You (Next Plateau 12" NP 50027(1984))
  • East Village People - Love's Gonna Get You (Sam 12" 25024(1992))
  • Merc & Monk - (I Get Carried Away (EMI 12" V-56008(1985))
  • Syreeta - Can't Shake Your Love (Motown 12" 4500MG(1981))
  • Smokey Robinson - And I Don't Love You (Motown 12" PR145(1984))
  • Hanson & Davis - I'll Take You On (Fresh 12" FRE-005X(1986))
  • Imagination - Changes (on their dub album)
  • Fearless Four - 'Just Rock' 1983, Elektra/Asylum 1983, based on Gary Numan's cars
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater - Bad For Me, Elektra 1979
  • Turbo rds Retta Young 'My Man Is On His Way' (1978)
  • Columbia rds XSS 177822 Ronnie Laws 'SmokeHouse' (1987)
  • Mr. Larry Levan @ Electric Lady Studios




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Larry Levan" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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