The Inspirational Paradise Garage Lives On

Even though the doors closed in 1987, the name Paradise Garage still sends a shiver down the spine of music connoisseurs across the globe. The club’s legacy has left an imprint on not just the people who attended the mythical club, but also many souls who never had the chance to visit the venue, myself included. After all, I’m not sure the doorman would have even let me, as I was only 13 at the time it closed!

I first started buying records in 1993 and was always enamoured to the more soulful, vocal side of house music. US imports were my weapon of choice on labels like Strictly, Nervous, 8 Ball and Tribal, so due to this I became known in the UK as a ‘Garage DJ’. I soon realised that the sound I purveyed was named after the seminal New York club where Larry Levan held down one of the most famous residencies in dance music history.

Around the same time as I started buying records, the UK dance music scene started to take certain elements of the New York sound and mutuate them in a far more urban, streetwise direction. With faster beats and booming bass lines, UK Garage began to dominate not just the London club scene, but also the UK charts. DJs who played similar music to myself became known as ‘ Soulful House DJs’, as UK Garage took on a life of it’s own which was a very different take on the initial idealisms that Levan and co started in New York back in 1977.

The fact that a whole style of music and subsequent sub-genres were born out of the Paradise Garage’s music policy is a testament itself to the power of the legacy left by the New York club. I may no longer be defined as a ‘Garage DJ’, but my head and my heart will always classify myself as one. It was the orginal garage vibes that really got my blood pumping and my feet moving. I felt that I understood the nuances of the sound the Paradise Garage was famous for, even if I was dancing to Duran Duran at the school disco during the club’s heyday!

That to me is the true power of the Paradise Garage sound. It crossed oceans, continents and even decades of time to still be a relevant source of true inspiration today. Another man heavily influenced by the sublime New York sounds of Larry and co is Kenny Summit, who has an amazing array of upcoming Paradise Garage plans in the pipeline. On Saturday 19th December 2015, Kenny’s label, Good For You Records, will be teaming up with KCRW, XLR8R Magazine and Live Nation to bring an official Paradise Garage event to Los Angeles.

The event will feature music by Paradise Garage Resident’s Joey Llanos and David DePino, two DJs who helped mould the club’s special sound alongside the legendary Larry Levan. This will be taking place at The Hollywood Palladium, a 4000 person venue that will be decked out with a massive sound system for the event. This truly special party is also a fundraising event for the GMHC; an organization that fights to end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of those affected.

Alongside this event, Good For You Records will also be releasing a double pack vinyl compilation in 2016 called ‘Paradise Garage: Inspirations’ featuring music by producers who were changed by their experiences at the legendary NYC hotspot. The compilation will feature music by the late great Frankie Knuckles alongside Eric Kupper, Tedd Patterson, Tony Humphries, Angel Moraes, Romain Gowe and Danny Krivit to name just a few. This officially branded Paradise Garage compilation will also be used to help raise much needed funds for the GMHC and hopefully help to change some lives in the process.

With such amazing plans in the pipeline, I sat down with Kenny to discuss his Paradise Garage projects and to find out more about the release and the upcoming Los Angeles mega party. If you’re on the West Coast, this is one event you simply cannot miss!

How did this party come about Kenny?

I put this event together myself after approaching Live Nation for financial backing and then XLR8R Magazine offered to be our press partner for the party. This is an official Good For You Records event as much as it is ‘A Night At The Paradise Garage’. This is NOT a Paradise Garage Reunion (like many of their events) but a party to support the upcoming ‘Paradise Garage: Inspirations’ double pack compilation that is a fundraiser for the GMHC that will be coming out in 2016. Aptly titled ‘A Night At The Paradise Garage’, this event will be house & disco classics, unlike the other reunion events that only play original classics from the club.

How did the whole concept for the vinyl release come together?

Wow, that actually takes some back tracking! It’s something I spoke to West End Record’s Mel Cheren about years before he passed away, even before I had an inkling to open my own record label. I met Mel outside of Vinyl in NYC after one of Danny Tenaglia’s ‘Be Yourself’ events. At the time I was publishing a tiny, pocket sized nightclub magazine and was at Vinyl personally handing them to guests as they exited the party. I handed Mel a copy and the next day he called the info number inside of the mag that just so happened to by my mother’s home number in New Jersey!

The following day we met for coffee and a nice friendship / mentorship blossomed from there. There was a stretch of about 6 months where we would meet regularly for lunch in Manhattan and Mel would tell me some outrageous stories about the 70s and 80s NYC dance scene. Occasionally he would bring me a Salsoul unopened 12” and gave me stories to go with each record. The guy was generous and could really tell a good story. Mel was very concerned about how the Paradise Garage legacy would be carried on after he was gone. In the end, Mel bequest the Garage trademark and brand rights to the GMHC, an organization close to his heart. The concept being that the GMHC would respect the legacy and utilize the Paradise Garage brand to raise much needed funds to keep the organization up and running to help those in need.

In 2015, my mother sold the home I grew up in and I found the notebooks from my meetings with Mel. I took lengthy notes from our conversations; maybe for posterity, maybe with the idea to one day put together a documentary about the man. After flipping through the pages, I realized I was now in a position with my record label to do something Mel and I had spoken about; something that would get the younger generation more involved in the history of the Garage. The compilation itself is not a collection of tracks played by Larry, David, Joey or any of the other regulars who graced the decks in that groundbreaking nightclub. The tracks on this double 12inch vinyl compilation are a collection of songs made by producers who were inspired by the club; who’s lives were changed by the time they spent at the Paradise Garage. Joey Llanos and David Depino helped me come to the decision that the content be comprised solely by dance music producers who have a treasured connection to the Garage or Larry; respectfully keeping the legacy alive.

Which artists are involved in the compilation and was it easy bringing everyone together?

It’s an all star cast of house music legends; Frankie Knuckles, Todd Terry, Louie Vega, Eric Kupper, Terrence Parker, DJ Spinna, Tony Humphries. Insanely talented producers who have taken what they’ve learned from Larry Levan and their time spent on the dance floor of the Garage that has helped create today’s vibrant dance music community. This is the ‘Inspirations’ part of the project. It’s also a great way for the generation that proceeded the heyday of the Garage to connect with that era on a more personal level. The music tells a story and each of these producers are expert storytellers in their own right.

Why do you think the Paradise Garage is still talked about to this day?

Before the Facebook boom, maybe the tail end of Myspace, you didn’t see this kind of nostalgia for the Paradise Garage. Only people who have experienced the club first hand were fanatical about it. Now with social media and all this information about Larry and the Garage readily available, with brands like Red Bull pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into marketing that street event in NYC last year, the Paradise Garage brand is seeing a well deserved resurgence in popularity. Younger fans are being cultivated, even my 18 year old nephew was wearing a Paradise Garage t-shirt the other day!

The fact that radio and MTV are driven and programmed by labels with deep pockets, the generations that did not get to experience the Garage days are searching for better music and it’s simply not that hard to find. Thankfully, those advertising campaigns funded by Red Bull have reached many of today’s dance music fans, giving them the opportunity to experience better music.

So to answer your question, people are still talking about the Garage both because it was a genuine, authentic pivotal time in music that deserves to be highlighted, and with the popularity of dance music being what it is today, its natural for people to want to talk about where this music came from. You can’t open your Facebook newsfeed without seeing a friend or two make a post about the Garage or Larry. It really is a great topic to talk about which many people can relate to.

With house music seemingly coming around in circles, do you see the more vocal ‘Paradise Garage’ sound coming back around to dominate again as it did in the early 90s?

I see more SONGS coming back, thank God! Will a more Garage style come back? Well, we can only hope for that level of talent to break through today’s swamp of mediocrity that has unfortunately taken over this business. Technology has made it easy for anyone to make music and that comes with both positive and negative connotations. I can only speak of my personal experience; presently I am feeling the benefits of proper house music coming back into popularity. Good For You Records has had a half dozen Number One releases and I think over 40 Top Ten releases in the past 3 or 4 years, so there is a definitely a renewed interest in traditional house music.

A few years ago, Frankie Kuckles and Eric Kupper were doing their best to cheer me up during what I call my yearly ‘I QUIT’ phase, where I start to over analyze my place in the music industry and I talk to my friends about how my life would be if I became a carpenter instead. Frankie and Eric said the same thing every time I went through it, “Just keep making the music you love and the people who love house music will find you; stick to your guns.” If the Godfather of House sees fit to tell you to keep plugging away on your passion, you have no choice but to keep plugging away. They were right.

What does the Paradise Garage mean to you personally?

To me, that time period represents a purity in the spirit of music. The unity that people on the dance floor felt at the Garage was something you rarely, if ever, experience at a nightclub today. Black, white, yellow, Puerto Rican, whatever your color, whatever your financial status, once you stepped on that dance floor you were free. You were at one with the music and everyone was equal.

That feeling extended thought the 80s and was phased out little by little in the 90s, but for the most part I think the internet and social media to be more exact, has actually messed things up for the dance world. Too much time typing, too many opinions, not enough time shaking hands and hugging. The children of the 70s were the last ‘free range’ generation; a time when you had to go outside and play because there were no other options. Now you’ve got Boiler Room (which I think is a great concept that viewers have abused) and more armchair generals than ever before. People who don’t even go out to parties and yet comment on the state of today’s music and club scene. It all adds up to a very separatist, segregated scene, which I think is the complete opposite of what everyone at the Garage had in mind when throwing parties. That’s just my two cents. What the hell do I know! ha!

Kenny actually owns the original Robin Williams poster (pictured above) in the Larry Levan photo that was hung in Paradise Garage DJ booth with a Keith Haring doodle. It will be on display at the up coming Paradise Garage event in LA.

The Paradise Garage’s legacy has touched so many dance music fans across the globe and it’s amazing to see Kenny put the time and effort into not just the party and compliation, but also in helping raise much needed funds for the GMHC; the world’s first and leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy.

Tickets for the Los Angeles party are available here through Live Nation and for more information and the ‘Paradise Garage Inspirations’ release, be sure to follow the
Facebook group.