As one of the culture’s most anticipated events, the annual Paradise Garage Anniversary parties led by DJs David DePino and Joey Llanos are always ecstatic celebrations of Larry Levan and his legend. But on May 11th the unprecedented event they will present outside the club's home on 84 King St promises to be a life-changing celebration above them all.
Produced with the Red Bull Music Academy series, the duo along with François K will go back in time for this free, family-friendly homage to the genus of underground club culture as only they can. For this 5-Qs flashback, we caught up with Joey & David to see just who are the men carrying the spirit of Larry Levan’s greatest accomplishment, into the new millennium and well beyond. As different in how they came to connect with the enigmatic Levan as to how they answer questions, the one thing they have most in common is an intrinsic calling to keep the music and the man alive with a reverence these OG's effectively represent. View the slideshow from the event, and read on to meet the maestro's.
1. You both had deep connections with Larry Levan: David in helping find the 84 King St space, then going on to program, design and creatively direct the legendary event from start to finish and Joey, in relief spinning during the party and keeping us safe as head of security throughout. What were some of the best things you learned and cherished about your personal relationship with Levan? Someone so globally revered to this day by people who never experienced him live.
David DePino: At the time Larry was not globally revered. His legend has grown over the years since his death. He was just Larry, my best friend – that’s what I miss. I would like people to know he was a big child at heart. [He believed that] playing music should always be fun, not work. He gave me the job in the booth at the door, and then made me the second DJ to play all the time.
Joey Llanos: The most cherished thing I learned about Larry Levan, was that he was actually a regular person under the star persona. He liked action movies, toys, games, roller coasters, playing hookie from work. He also became a DJ by accident – it was not our goal; I didn't really know what a turntable was till I met him. It kind of put me where I am today with David. LOL We actually had a lot in common. I was fortunate to see beyond the shadiness and diva personality that outsiders thought they saw.
2. Originally these reunion parties were started to benefit Larry’s mom, right? If so, what did she think about them and how has the tone changed since she too has passed on? What were your relationships like with her?
DD: Yes, when Mel [Cheren] did the parties in the beginning he gave the money made to Minnie. Now I do the parties to keep Larry's name and the Paradise Garage name alive for the heads, as well as the younger kids who never went there but heard about it.
JL: The reunion party was originally started by David DePino and was held at Sound Factory Bar as more of a classics party. A year after Larry died David called me, Nicky Siano and Tee Scott to do a tribute party at Sound Factory Bar. It was a huge success and Mel Cheren– who was in attendance, asked that we do it at the Winter Music Conference because in his words, he wanted to show the world how powerful what is known as Paradise Garage Classics are and to create an atmosphere of love where a melting pot of multi-cultural oneness [lived] on the dance floor. We did another Garage tribute party for Louie Vega's Dance Ritual at Vinyl as well, but it did not become a benefit for Minnie Levan until we did the party for Body & Soul. We actually did 3 parties with them, which gave them much needed exposure at the time! But my relationship with Minnie was very good. She knew I loved [Larry] and she was very grateful for the money that was raised for her. She was very proud of Larry. We would talk on the phone often and she would tell me how her 'Jr' was always interested in stereo equipment, and how she taught him to listen to music.
3. Talk about your seminal 25th anniversary event at Central Park SummerStage with Grace Jones. It was even nominated for Best Event in the 2003 DanceStar USA Awards (you lost to Sasha, Digweed & Jimmy Van M for Delta Heavy! - yeah, WHO??!!), so dish about what went into the production of that event and what it felt like for you to be a part of it?
DD: I didn't even know about any nomination till just now... THANKS! LOL It was a lot of fun, very hot and Grace – WOW!! What more can I say? Mel put it all together I just showed up and played.
JL: For me as a DJ, The Paradise Garage SummerStage event in 2003 was a little lackluster in part. There was a sound level ordinance [in effect in the park] preventing us from really serving it. But the turnout was incredible. There was a limit of 4 to 5 thousand people allowed to actually enter the concert area and that limit was reached. But estimates from the NYPD said that there were over 20,000 of our multi-colored people surrounding the [area] around SummerStage.
Blankets, baby carriages, beach chairs, picnickers! As long as they were able to hear our music, it did not matter that they could not get in!!! It was our park that day!!! The atmosphere was electric for lack of a better term. Grace Jones was the diva of course and she did her thing. They were not ready for her, especially when she pulled off her top showing her tits, LOL. SummerStage administrators were freaking out because their events are promoted as ‘family-friendly’ and Grace is by no means Rated G.
As far as losing the DanceStar USA Award, to WHO??? No disrespect intended but I didn't even know [about the awards] at the time, nor that we were competing? LOL But I would venture to say that if we took a closer look at the demographics of both events and who was on the so-called judging panel, you could probably guess – with pretty good accuracy, why we lost. LOL But seeing all our people gather in a venue of such magnitude was very emotional and empowering for me! I loved it!!! But 5th Ave residents were not supporting seeing that again. It was cool by me, but I can't afford to live on 5th Ave.
4. I notice you both do a lot of playing, planning and securing but not so much dancing. What gives and do you think great DJs need to be good dancers to deliver ecstatic dancing sets?
DD: I would dance for hours but now I'm too old and have bad feet and knees. Don't laugh – I can hear you from here! LOL To answer your question though, No!!!
JL: I don't think that great DJs, if there is a need for such a term, need to be good dancers to perform great DJ sets – but it probably helps. I will say that he/she has to have a keen ear and a vast exposure to different genres of music. You also need the ability to read the floor’s mood in order to create memorable moments that will be forever anchored in memories, good or bad. Because music marks time!!! If you cannot connect emotionally to the energy produced on the floor, you won't be able to manipulate the mood of the party. This is a wisdom not easily attained. This is something that Larry Levan certainly had and I am infinitely blessed to have been his apprentice because our PG Reunion parties speak for themselves.
5. How long do you think you will keep up the tradition and is there anyone you can see passing the torch to?
DD: I’ve been doing the reunion parties for twenty years now after Larry’s passing and I did a few parties after Garage closed and before he passed, [but] I don't know how much longer I'll keep it up. When Larry died, his ashes were placed in my hands and I made a promise to him [that] I'll never let people forget him. I’ve kept that promise for 20 years. If I stop, Joey will keep it going and if he stops, then the party will stop. There is no passing of the torch, the flame will GO OUT!!!
JL: My intent and goal is to continue touching people with the power of the history and legacy of Larry Levan and The Paradise Garage, with the music that Larry Levan made famous. The Garage was happening for us at the same time Studio 54 was happening, but the Paradise Garage was not turning blacks, gays or Latinos away from their doors – we welcomed them! This was our haven! I have been approached by many DJs, some of them very famous in their own right, [that have] wanted to play this party. They also wanted to play new music because they feel that the "G" was about cutting-edge, new music and it was. They ask why do you play those same old dusty tracks year after year, don't you get bored? Honestly, I do get bored, and that’s why we [only] do it annually! Also because the historical preservation of the Paradise Garage is paramount!
I sold ten tickets to a woman who said she was bringing her kids who are in their twenties and attended last year’s Garage event, loved it and asked to come again!!! So if 20-year-olds can love music from twenty-five, thirty years ago, there is no need to alter history! As for passing the torch, I don't think so. To make a long story short, Larry Levan forged us in the fire of his will!! Playing under him was not easy and there was no other influence. Now we can never be or try to be Larry, of course, but his essence has been instilled in us! The flame will die with us. The party would be totally different after David and I stop, since we have been so intimately connected to Levan and The Paradise Garage, but I will continue after David stops – God willing, and the party will change just like it did when Larry passed. When I stop it will change again! Who knows really? There is no tomorrow, there is only today!!!
BONUS:: After looking out over so many dance floors, in so many different places around the world – over so many years, what do you think are the most important elements of a good party?
DD: Make each person feel like your playing just for them. And like Larry always said, make it FUN – don't take your self too seriously, people can feel that.
JL: In my playing experience over the years – and I'm 55 in 2013! – the most important elements of a good party for me are a sound system that can truly articulate all the voices in the music without distortion, a DJ booth that is constructed in the sound box so that the DJ and floor are one and a safe, health code adherent venue for the patrons. Last but not least, the DJ. Infinite blessings.