Through The Looking Glass - In Conversation with David DePino (FoH2018)
In the latest instalment of the interview snippets from this project (the full transcripts will be available this coming summer), I'm interviewing David DePino. David is one of the few voices who we can say for certain is authoritative in terms of New York and the Paradise Garage. With Larry Levan sadly no longer with us, David continues to shout Larry's legacy from the rooftops.
One of the nicest, and funniest people I've ever had the opportunity to chat to. I could have listened to David for hours, and now with hindsight, there are about 50 more questions I'd love to ask him.
FOH: Ok, let's get down to specifics. There's a bit of disconnect between the US and the UK in terms of what we mean by garage music. Can you define for me what garage music is?
DD: Ok when you say "house music", house music came out of Chicago. It was a bunch of young people who hung out at The Warehouse who wanted to make music so they started producing, writing and making their own music, and they hung out at The Warehouse. They would bring it to Frankie. Frankie would sometimes like it and remix it. Or sometimes work with the writers and artists from the very beginning and produce it. So, it was a sound that came out of The Warehouse from a certain little group of 5, 6, 7 producers. And most of the songs had the word "house" in it, some of them had the word "jack" "I'll jack your body jack jack jack" or "I'll house you", you know? And Garage music was a couple of artists like Boyd Jarvis, David Cole, Barbara Tucker, The Peech Boys, that hung out at The Garage that made their music and brought it to the booth for Larry to play. So, it was music that came out of New York, music that came out of Chicago, music that came through the Garage, music that came through The Warehouse. And once Garage closed and Larry passed, Frankie got bigger and bigger and bigger, and the word "dance music" which at the time in Black clubs was R&B, all went under the umbrella of house, which was easier. Because you didn't have to say its progressive R&B or it's uptempo R&B or it's really not R&B, it's pop, whatever, it was just all being called house if there was sort of a dance sound.
FOH: So, for it to be Garage music it has to be from that group of people like Barbara Tucker?
DD: Yes. And stuff that maybe Larry produced or remixed or worked on. That wasn't only through the Garage but it was through Larry. Because Larry was the Garage. And all dance music, other than just those people that Frankie produced, almost anything Frankie did, he was putting the mix on the record called "the house music". Because it came out of The Warehouse. And Larry was putting "Garage mix" because it came out of The Garage. And if Larry didn't pass maybe, and if the Garage stayed open a few more years, it might have all been called garage music instead of house music. But really it should have all been called Loft music. Because Frankie and Larry came out of The Loft. And David started that whole sound first. So, it's all dance, and whatever you call it, enjoy it, because it's all great music.
FOH: A lot of people have put quite a lot of significance on that disco sucks thing, saying it was really homophobic, and really racist. Or was it just people hating disco? With hindsight now what do you think?
DD: It's like... when that whole little movement started there were people that jumped on it, just like when the Rubix Cube came out, everyone wanted their Rubix Cube. When the pet rock came out, everybody had a little box sitting on their desk with a little rock in it, and I would say "what is that?" "oh that’s my pet rock". Stupid things! So, a lot of people jumped on disco sucks. "I'm not play dance, disco music no more" and then you'd go to their house and they'd be playing all this R&B stuff and they would go "oh, this ain't disco", I would say "but this is dance music, what are you talking about?". Who decides what's disco and what's not? The person who started this movement for attention? It was just nonsense and it faded out very quickly. I don't know about England, but it faded out in America really quickly.
Because Americans jumps on stupid things! (laughs) Fad things! Fad I should say. Fad not stupid. Like if something happening in the news bunches of people jump on it.
FOH: I've found that often people have a very different interpretation of just what disco, and garage, and house music was or is.
DD: Like I said sometimes the more you speak to people, the more contradictions you get and the harder is then for you to focus on what you're trying to say. I guess everyone has their own memories, everybody sees things through their eyes. I remember one time in the booth I was sitting with four friends. Two friends had came up from dancing, one was getting water, the other one was standing in front of the fan blowing on them, drying them off. And they got into a little bit of an argument for like 3 seconds. And then the four of us just said "what was that just about?" one of my friends said it was about "this this and that" and the other friend said it was about "this this and that". So, my point being, four of us, sitting in the same spot that just witnessed something in front of us that lasted 5 minutes, all had a different slant on what just happened. And we should have all had the exact same slant because we just witnessed it. But it’s what you take away from it, what grabs your imagination or your eye, where you go with it in your own mind, that you interpret it differently. So, my point is everyone you speak to is going to have their memories, their interpretation, was it religious for them on that dance floor? Who am I to say it wasn't? So, when people sometimes say to me "it was church for me, it was a religious experience" I go "oh please, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, it was a dance club night" but who am I to say to them it wasn't all magical to them? Some people come up say I think Larry played good that night, not great. And some people come to the bottom of the steps and get on their knees and start bowing down and say "Please tell Larry he was the most brilliant genius in the whole world tonight, that I've ever heard a DJ play music" and I look at them and say "ok" and I say to myself "really?! I thought he was just so-so tonight". So, you can't judge anyone else’s experience.
And there's people that come up to me and go "Oh I was at the club the night Larry played this one particular record 5 times" and I know for sure Larry never played that record ever. But who am I to tell them otherwise because I'll be taking away a memory they created. Because there were many records I would bring to Larry from the record pool and go "Larry this record’s great". "Meh, it's not so great" "No Larry, it is great" and then we'd go to the Loft, David (Mancuso) would play it, and Larry would dance to it like crazy! I'd go "See!?" he'd go "It's great here. David (Mancuso) played it fabulously, it sounds great on the Loft sound system, but it's not Garage David (DePino), it's not Larry, it's not me. So, I'm not going to play a record because it's good or it's happening. I play a record I believe in." And sometimes he would bring David records that were big at the Garage and David (Mancuso) would play it because Larry brought it and never play it again because it wasn't Loft. So, you have to be true to yourself, because it's your party. They're coming to your home, to your house, for your house party. So, you're dictating, you're the conductor, they're dancing to what you're conducting. So, I would say "Look at you, you're dripping wet, you just loved it" he said "I loved it here". And then I'd play it while Larry was dancing and he'd dance to it at the Garage too, and go "See David, you played it fabulously because you believed it in, I don't believe in it, I can't play it fabulously". And those were lessons I had to learn because when you're first hearing Larry or a DJ someone like David (Mancuso) say that to you, you roll your eyes "Oh please, a good record is a good record". No! You've got to believe in something. You can't just be a robot– you're not a jukebox. You don't just put music on, you're programming the night, you're teaching them, you're playing it.
When you work a record with two copies you work it because you know that little guitar that comes in briefly for four bars is, in your mind, so great that just became the peak so you need two copies to go back and forth to play for 16 bars or 24 bars. And you stretch it out and the place is going crazy because you're believing in it so much! You keep catching it from the beginning, four bars, boom, you go it again, boom, boom, boom, back and forth, and they know you're working it, they know you're working it, and then you do the lights crazy to it and then you black out the room and you shut the sound off, you let the room scream, you just created a peak off four bars of music. And that's when a record company person would be in the booth who brought that record and go "you need to remix this Larry". Because you just created something out of literally 3 seconds of the record I didn't notice was even in there, and you just made the room go crazy on that. And Larry would go in the studio and do a remix. And things like that made Larry get noticed by record companies and do a lot of mixing.