LISTEN:: KIM LIGHTFOOT live at BCD 1996
DJ Kim Lightfoot has been a music collector and turntable artist for most of his life, yet he somehow remains one of Brooklyn's best-kept secrets. With a cult following that reaches as far as the Land of the Rising Sun but that was born in the streets of Brooklyn, a party with him on the ones-and-twos is always a night or day to remember. In his first full-length interview, Kim shares the stories of his early days, his memories about classic Brooklyn and LES dance music flavor along with his very funny side. The best thing about this humble music maestro is that he's an old-school vet who's never lost touch with his soul. Dig in as we go deep with DJ Kim Lightfoot.
Where does it start for you musically?
KL: It started for me many, many years ago. Way back in the late 70's, you know, when I was a young teenager. I grew up in a family that always had music.
How big is your family?
KL: There are four brothers, one sister and my mother raised us. All by herself – no dad in the house. We were all musically inclined from day one. The first 45 [rpm] I bought was "Misdemeanor" by Foster Sylvers when I was in junior high in '77 or '78. We had like $4 or $5 from doing chores, lunch money, or other jobs. Corey and I would go to the record store after school. They had the Top 20 play-list from WWRL and WBLS, and we would go and get that music.
You mentioned Corey? Who's that?
KL: That's my twin brother, Corey. He taught me everything I know. For real.
You are twins so how did he get open to music first?
KL: Well, he was a DJ before I was back when the hip hop era had just started. The Curtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash days. We were doing break beats and I was his MC. We played all genres of music… break beats, hip hop, soul, and club music which was the Sal Soul Orchestra stuff. The classics that are out today, I'm that old that they were 'our records', you know what I'm saying? Yo, I remember when "Hit and Run" first came out. When was that, like 1977?! We were bugging! First, there was the album version and then the 12-inch came out.
Wait a minute because 12-inches were being innovated at this very moment…
KL: What was the first 12-inch, "Ten Percent?"
Pause: Cell phone rings… it's Mrs Lightfoot wondering where Kim is…
…The first one was on Sal Soul so it had to be "Ten Percent." As we got older, we were still doing the break beats and the hip hop and stuff, but we started getting into dance music, the Hustle stuff. In our neighborhood in Brownsville, the DJs used to play outside, in the parking lots of the projects, block parties, anywhere.
What were they playing, rap?
KL: No they were playing club music. Some of the hip hop stuff. Back then, you used to play everything. It wasn't like a house DJ now just plays all house music. They would play everything. Anything that was good and danceable. I grew up carrying equipment for other neighborhood jocks.
Including your brother…
KL: Including my brother. I was just the guy to get on the mic and try to rock the party… get the party going.
What was your first gig like?
KL: One of the first DJing gigs I played was for my older brother. It was a house party. We didn't have a mixer, but we had two turntables and a Sansui receiver. We had one turntable in the "phono" [input] and the other one in the "auxiliary". So it wasn't a blend mix, it was like, "click". Laughs… It was like, alright I'm putting on "Get on the Funk Train" and after that record goes off, it's like, "click" to put the other record on. It wasn't even a pause, one is playing now and then the next record would come on. That was my first mixing.
My brother [Corey] and I were also doing DJ battles. The Battle of the High Schools was the big thing in Brooklyn. We went to Midwood [High School] and all the DJs and MCs would be at Town Hall – a club in the Flatbush area. We got in a couple of contests, we never won or anything but we started developing routines with scratching, behind the back or he'd do one turntable and I would do the other one. That's how I started DJing. After that, I kept practicing.
Were you getting paid?
KL: No. He never paid me. I want to say to this day, 'Corey you owe me. When you hit it big, I want reparations!' After the little house parties that my brother and I were doing in the Brownsville area, a friend of mine that I played basketball with, his sister was having a birthday party and they needed a DJ. They gave me like, $40 and I came with my turntable and my little receiver. Or they would have a little set with a turntable and a mixer.
What kind of turntables were you using?
KL: Corey and I shared a room together and our room was like a disco. We had a whole DJ set-up. We had big, ass-kicker speakers in our bedroom. In the projects, you can play your shit loud and nobody's gonna say nothing. I played as loud as I wanted. We lived on the sixth floor, you could hear our shit outside. We weren't joking. [First he had] a belt drive Technics, the SL or something. They were cool. Then my brother got the 1600's… the belt drives. Those had pitch control and he knew how to work the pitch control – he blended perfectly.
By me watching him, that's how I learned how to mix. When we played without the belt drive, we slowed the records down with our hands. Our hands were all over the record slowing it down and you could hear it. We were dragging it just like that. Once we started doing it with the pitch control, we weren't touching the turntable at all, so you didn't hear us slowing the record down. You could do it real slow, and my brother taught me how to do that. I would sneak on his set while he wasn't home and be on it. He didn't know.
More family secrets coming out as we speak…
KL: Well, he knew but it wasn't like I was doing all the time. Every once in a while, I would get greedy and I would get on it.
When we graduated high school, my brother went into the Air Force and I went to college, Farmingdale on Long Island. When he went away, I was on my own DJ-wise, and I had to get my own equipment. My friend had equipment and whenever I had a gig, he would let me borrow his stuff. I would give him a couple of dollars out of what I made. I was getting gigs in the neighborhood Midwood Terrace, catering halls, community centers. I had a little thing going and it was cool.
When [Corey] came home from the Air Force six months later, I had a name and was kind of famous in the neighborhood and we were bonding a little more. It was great because while he was traveling to different countries, he was DJing also. He was stationed in Alaska and was on a radio station and doing all the parties over there. He and his crew were real big over there. When I was at Farmingdale, I had a crew also. We were MCs and DJs. I was doing my thing for that one year I was in school… I didn't say I graduated, I said, "I went to college." Don't get it twisted, yo. Laughs…
When you came back from school, what did you do?
KL: You know what was on the scene then? The Ozone Layer. It was in Flatbush between Church and Linden. That was the home of David Morales, before he was David Morales. He had the beard, was a real skinny guy, real timid looking and quiet. Dave was playing classics. That was during the time when "Set it Off" and "Music is the Answer" came out around 1984. There also was this club called Love People 1. That was on Empire Blvd. I think. They had Tantrum&Panorama on Waverly and Fulton. I first heard Kenny Carpenter at Tantrum. Those are the first underground dance music parties that I really went to. They was playing nothing but songs like "A Little Bit of Jazz", Colonel Abrams or anything we call a classic now, that music was new then. When Colonel Abrams hit, everybody flipped. Corey played at the Ozone Layer a couple of times and I played there with him once.
Were you friendly with David or Kenny at that time?
KL: Nah… I was real shy and quiet. I said, 'What's up?' to Dave, but I don't think he ever really knew who I was. I was real quiet. I didn't know anybody and I wasn't like that. I didn't even go to [Paradise] Garage then. That's when a lot of people I know were already going to the Garage. I wasn't there yet because I was at the Ozone Layer since it was in Brooklyn. I wasn't trying to go into Manhattan.
Were you into the gay scene? Were those clubs and parties you mentioned gay?
KL: The Ozone Layer probably had a one percent gay crowd. It wasn't openly gay. It wasn't like the Garage… it wasn't like that.
When did you first go to the Garage?
KL: I didn't honestly start going to the Garage until about '85. I went maybe once in '84. When I started going in '85, I probably only went once a month. I wasn't a member. I was getting in through my friends, Brian & Fritz and they hung out with [Levan]. So they were like the geese with the golden eggs.
What was it like for you… to be there once a month even?
KL: The first time I went, was on a Saturday night. That was the best party, Core night. There were women in there though! When I first walked in and felt that sound system hit me, man… never in my life [had I] heard no shit like that. I was definitely blown! After I went there, that was all I talked about. 'Yo, I went to this club and the fucking music was so loud that it was like lifting me off my feet. The bass…' Corey was the one that was more adventurous than I was. He went to The Loft, I never went to the Loft. He went to the Garage at least ten times before the first time I went. Matter of fact, it's probably more than ten times because he was going Friday and Saturday.
Did you like it?
KL: Yeah, I liked that shit. What?! At Garage, they had a big movie screen and they played some video. I don't know what the image was on the screen, but [Larry] played "I Want It To Be Real" (John Roker). As he played that, they had a big inflatable robot floating through the club like a blimp and with the screen, it was like a music video and it was crazy.
What's your best Garage memory?
KL: My best Garage memory was when he played "Real Love"– unreleased. That's it because he would play it about five times and you would know that's Larry's new record that nobody's got. It was the shit! When it came out, he played that shit to death. When he played it, he played it. He played it so much that you got tired of it. It got on your fucking nerves. Like 'Yo, you play that record one more fucking time… I'm going to die!'
Did you dance, or did you just hang out and listen to the music?
KL: Both. I didn't dance a lot. I mostly just walked around and took in everything. I was always listening to shit out of the speaker. I wanted to hear the clarity in the sound system and stuff like that.
Where are you spinning at this time?
KL: I was still doing the same thing… community center parties, little clubs, you know, mini-clubs, nothing with a name. They had lots of clubs back in those days… lots of bars with a small dance floor. I was doing well as a DJ back then, playing once or twice a month. I was mostly making tapes for my Garage-head friends and the tapes started spreading around. People started hiring me for parties. The first big club I played at was The World.
What was that like?
KL: Me and Corey played there and it was a WBLS-sponsored party where they had hip hop also. The early part of the night they had KRS-1 performing and after that party was over, we played for maybe two or three hours.
Had you ever gone to the club before you played there?
KL: Yeah, that was our spot. We knew the owners and everything so we got in free. That was the first club that I ever went to that had the guest list behind a rope and the guy stood outside with his pad, picking people coming in the spot. That bugged me out and I couldn't believe they were picking you. When I first started going to The World, we were dressed you know, with the shoes, the tweed coats… the hair done, everything. Homeboy was like, "Excuse Me"– picking people around us till I met the owner and he started letting us in for free.
Were you going to the Choice right around the corner?
KL: Yeah, I was going to the Choice every week… bringing tapes and giving them to Barry, who was lying to me saying he would give them to whomever. I don't want to talk bad about the dead, Barry was cool but that was the politics of the day. I didn't know that if you didn't know anybody, you weren't getting up into a club like that. I was just an eager DJ and I didn't know a way, nor did anyone tell me, how to get in. I was young and I didn't know any better. I was trying and giving cats tapes. I even brought a tape up to Timmy [Regisford], at 'BLS. I was trying to get on to the mixed show because they had different DJs featured. He was playing nights on the weekends and during the day, they had other DJs like Merlin Bobb and Ted Currier, you know?
Talk about how it was to listen to music on the radio at that time.
KL: The first club music I heard on the radio wasn't Timmy, it was WKTU Disco 92… Paco, G. Keith Alexander and all those cats. They used to do mixed shows at night and they would play club music. That was the first time I heard club music on the radio. Then Shep Pettibone was on KISS and Timmy was on BLS on Saturday night.
When you heard these guys on the radio, were you thinking you could have a career in this?
KL: I was a DJ. The MC thing that I was doing back then, and that I thought I was pretty good at, that was on the back burner now. I was strictly buying music. I was still doing hip hop a little bit because, back then, if you really wanted to make any money, those were the type of parties that were hiring me… R&B/hip hop parties. I was still collecting my stuff, which was club music. I just got the bug that I really wanted to pursue this seriously.
When you met Timmy Regisford at the radio station with your tape, what was that like?
KL: He was nice. I said, 'Hey my name is Kim Lightfoot and I'm trying to get on to one of your mixed shows. I have a demo I would like to give you and maybe you can listen to it.' I gave him my number and said, 'Call me back and let me know what's up.' That was the end of that…
…Never called you back?!
KL: No. I kind of expected he wasn't because I felt embarrassed afterwards. I couldn't believe that I went up there and they let me in. I had to tell the receptionist at the desk what I was there for. Timmy wasn't just a mixer, he was actually working at the radio station and was there when I went. I think he was program director at the time.
Who else did you really like hearing on the radio and why? John Robinson…
KL: Trust me, John Robinson especially. That's my man always. Bobby Kondors. Bobby Kondors was the best out of all of them because he played like me. (Laughs) Nah, I could relate to his mixes. I knew what he was doing and where he was trying to go when I listened to him. Not that I didn't feel like that with everybody else like, Timmy and them, because I did, but when Bob started playing, he sounded different than they did. He went a little deeper and his music was just, you know…
Did you ever get to meet him?
KL: Yes, I did. When I first met Bobby, of course my mouth was on the floor because obviously I didn't know he was a tall white boy with dreads! I didn't know he did reggae either. When I first found out he did reggae, I was shocked again.
Did he ever hear you play?
KL: Yes he heard me play at this party years ago at this place called Paradise in the Village. He came, introduced himself and said that he had heard and liked a tape of mine. I was telling him how much of a fan of his I was listening to him on BLS, what, two or three times a week. It was a good memory for me. I respect my man Bobby.
Let's take a look at the scene, was it competitive among other DJs back then?
KL: The only one I can remember being friendly in the early days was Herb Martin. I was doing the Ray Hands party and I met Herb through him. Then we started doing that party together.
What was dope about Herb Martin?
KL: It seemed like Herb's career was like mine. We started out doing hip hop, then everything evolved into dance music. He was an all-around DJ… he could play everything. He could cut and scratch… I couldn't do it anymore because I was solely concentrating on dance music. He was still fresh and could get a wedding gig and rock every type of music. I couldn't do that. And, he could mix club music like a mother fucker, you know what I'm saying? Herb was like, "people are sleeping." Come on now. There are a lot cats out today, that couldn't do all that and still play house music and be deep in house music. He's got a vast collection.
So do you, don't you think?
KL: Yeah, I think so. I can't say I have every classic because I don't and there are a lot of records that I don't even know what they are! I think I have about a thousand records now, maybe two thousand. I had a lot more but they got lost in the crack game. Laughs… No… the transition of me moving out of my home, I lost a lot of them.
When's the first time you went to Japan?
KL: In 1995. I went courtesy of Khalim Shabazz. We did an Afterlife tour since we had been doing it about 2 or 3 years by the time. He had already been to Japan once, maybe the year before. Then there was a request about him and I coming out there as a package deal. I went and we did, like, three gigs.
What was it like?
KL: Different. You know, definitely a culture shock because we were like tourists taking pictures and I couldn't believe that I was over there. It was like New York, but no one could speak English. The young kids over there were really into dread locks, and that's what we had. Soon as they saw us, they were just soaking all that in. What we had on, what we dressed like, how we talked. When Khalim and I went, we played what we played at Afterlife. A year later, they called me back and I've gone annually since.
Obviously, it's a special place to go and most DJs say you can't travel unless you produce as well, but that doesn't apply to you.
KL: I think I'm the only non-producer DJ that's going out there. Everybody that goes there, either they have a record out or they're affiliated with a record company. It makes me feel good because I have a little fan base out there and I think they like the way I play.
In Japan, you play at the best clubs like Yellow and Precious Hall, what is it like to play in those places?
KL: It's an honor to play because of that. I was intimated at first, of course, because of the crowd, the system and all those memories. But once I started playing, I just did my thing.
Talk about the fancy decks at Yellow…
KL: Yes, the Thornes. They're really just belt-drive turntables, but very expensive belt-drive turntables. You can't do any back-spinning on it. You can't pull the record back on it. You just put the needle on and just stop it and slowly turn it with your hand. Lightly, because it has its own suspension and it bounces a lot. It takes me at least an hour of playing on it to get warmed up. There's a pitch control on it, too, but it's deep. It slows that shit down to like a crawl. I've never played on a turntable with a pitch that deep. That's what I like about that. When you're mixing on that, it's real fun.
Let's talk about Caviar… I know a lot of people miss you there. Was that your first official solo residency?
KL: Yes, that was my first time. Maybe you could count Behind Club Doors when I was with Tyrone Francis and Manski.
Behind Club Doors was a private loft space in Brooklyn (formerly know as the Cave) that was extremely low-key and private…what was it like to play there and with those guys?
KL: That was one of the spots I've played at that will always stay with me - like Afterlife - it was just deep. The heads, it was dark…
KL: You could play what you wanted… you know, you were amongst friends and it was really like a family thing down there. It just didn't last long enough for me.
So back to Caviar… how did that come about?
KL: I got hooked into Caviar through Keith Porter. I had seen Keith when I was doing the Sound Factory Bar one night and he said, "Yo man, I'm getting ready to open up my own club and I want you to play." He was, like, the thirtieth person in five years who said that to me, so I was looking at him like, 'Yeah man, alright, sure.' I never knew that he was dead serious. He's the only one that has ever said that to me, and come through. A year later, he got in touch with me through someone else. We talked and he told me to come look at the spot. They were still doing construction on it, so I had no vision of how that was going to look other than it was a nice, long space. When they finally got ready to open, they called me and I started doing the Journey party down there. For almost two years, I was holding it down there on Friday nights.
Caviar was the greatest. It was my first residence… I was playing me every week. I could play all night and stretch out. [Go] from beginning to end and control the party. That's the ultimate shit. I don't mind playing with someone else or having guest DJs, but I had a chance to stretch out for quite a few months.
Jumping back to Sound Factory Bar, you did your thing there for a while in the Funk Hut. Talk about how you got hooked into that.
KL: I got that through my friend Barbara Tucker. I've known her since way back… Ozone Layer days.
Was she singing back then too?
KL: Yeah she was. Matter of fact, there were two versions of "Set It Off". She was singing on the Hardwick & Ford version and that's where I first heard of her. I knew Don Welch from when he was playing at Savage. DJ Comacho was doing the Funk Hut downstairs and he was going away a lot, so he needed guest DJs. He had me guest DJ and I owe that more to Camacho than them. He was really the one who put the bug in their ears about me being a DJ. Don was like, "Oh yeah I know that guy," and I got on. When Camacho played down there, it was always packed – from the DJ booth to everybody on the floor. It was like this..IIII. You couldn't even play in the DJ booth it was so crowded. The night that I played, it was like that and you can imagine what it was like.
You killed them…
KL: Everybody was like "Yo, you gotta have him back." [Barbara] said she would have a rotation of guys playing down there once a month, and she kept her promise. She started using me once or twice a month. I did that for like two, three years…
After that, we jump into the brief respite of independence for you and Afterlife at Vinyl.
KL: After we left the Crosby St. [location], we had to stop the party every couple of months because something would happen with the space and we would have to move on. Khalim and I were doing other things, and I was still doing the Sound Factory Bar. Then we got a chance to do Afterlife at Vinyl for like 9 weeks. That was when Shelter was closed and it was Vinyl. Louie [Vega] had Saturday's, we were doing Friday's and Body & Soul was Sunday. Then when we got word that Shelter was coming back, that kind of really, uh… I think people were saving their money up for Shelter because it cost $18. Laughs… They were probably like, we got to spend $10 on Friday and $18 on Saturday, that ain't gonna work. So they rather save the extra eight dollars and go to the Shelter for more hours. Whatever, I don't know what it was. We weren't really kicking those last few weeks anyway, so we were on our way out. Then the Shelter started… which was great, I mean, I was there every week, shit. Laughs…
We also skipped a party though… Abusua. I started that before I did Afterlife and Mars with Tyrone Francis. The Mars party was called the Muse, and was promoted by World Connection and Marco (he's currently doing the new club Vizion). The party was already going on and he had a whole bunch of different DJs. We were doing Friday nights there around 1993. First, I played there with Tyrone, and then I was doing some with Herb.
Abusua, was a bunch of cats I knew and was a very Afro-centric party that didn't have a home. They were monthly. They had a spot called Pay Day on Broadway, we did a party there. There was a party at 6 Bond St. and Great Jones and those spots. It was me, Camacho and Tim Richardson who DJd at the time. The brother that used to run that, Mwitu, now works for the President [of the United States]. He was one of the guys that started Abusua, him and another brother named Cheo. Cheo was the artist who was doing the Abusua T-shirts, the faces. That ran for almost two years.
How do you characterize your style?
KL: (Long pause…) Music. I mean, I could put some tags on it, but it all boils down to I just play music. There are so many different types – I could give you ten different types of music that I play, cause I play everything. I could play rock, jazz, soul… I could get away with a hip hop record at a house party if it's the right record, at the right time.
What was your best night out?
KL: Afterlife, when me and Khalim were playing. Some nights, I would play by myself or he would play by himself, or sometimes, we would split the night. While he was playing… when I was out there, I saw what everybody was feeling.
What's coming up for you?
KL: I'm doing an Afterlife reunion with Khalim Shabazz on [Feb.] 15th and that's the end of my career right there. There's nothing else! Laughs... I'm in the midst of doing something right now and hopefully in five years, I'll be nominated for a Grammy®. Laughs… No seriously, whether it's Best Remixer or for a song… that's my goal.
Do you want to travel more?
KL: Umm, yeah. But not a lot…
You're a father… does your daughter understand what you do?
KL: Oh yeah, she understands. She was at the outdoor gigs from the early days.
That reminds me… The Clubhouse Jamboree. You're a big part of that, tell us what that event is like for you.
KL: Ever since I did Behind Club Doors, Lil Ray has been including me in his list of DJs at the Jamboree. I am blessed to have played every year since the beginning. The Clubhouse Jamboree is the ultimate because you have all different types of DJs and live acts. I think the outdoors bring a different ambiance. I mean you see the sky, the sun, the trees… you are in the dirt… the music is just pumping.
What do you say to the people who want to get into this? What's the best advice you can give to someone that's coming up?
KL: I'm not divulging my secrets. Fuck that! Laughs…
No seriously… the best advice I could give them – that no one gave me – is to study and get some knowledge on your classics. Study the music that came before. Learn where it's from, and how to play it. You show more diversity when you play like that. [It] means you could play for a party where there are both old and new heads, and rock the crowd. If you're just playing straight up new stuff, you know, stuff from the 90's and 2Ks all night, the older crowd will be asking, "Yo, you got some classics?" For real! What are you going to do? You may have a couple of bootlegs but if you don't know how to blend and mix them in, like you know how to do your regular stuff, you're showing that you are unprepared and limited in what you're doing. You're a new jack, plain and simple. You could be a new jack, but you can be deep. When I was a new jack, I was playing everything. That's why people started hiring me cause I wasn't just playing new stuff.
Do you think that's the secret to a great party?
KL: Yeah. You can do some parties where you play new stuff all night, or most of the night and you can do parties where you play classics all night… once in a blue moon. But, I think you really should mix it up most of the time, because it balances the evening out.