Kenny Summit: Laptops and the Future of LA Clubbing
“I don’t care if you use an iPad, a VHS tape player and a Texas instruments calculator to play some elaborate techno glitch DJ set, just know how to set your equipment up”
For over twenty years, Kenny Summit had been a staple of New York City’s and New Jersey’s nightlife scene, rising to notoriety as a prolific producer and DJ at the world-renowned Limelight.
In his long DJ career he shared the decks with some of the city’s and world’s greatest acts, including Moby, DJ Keoki, Deee-Lite’s Super DJ Dimitry, Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto and the “Godfather of House Music” himself Frankie Knuckles. As a producer, he has knocked up countless Top 25 house music releases, gaining support from the likes of Knuckles himself, Wolf & Lamb, Eric Kupper, Soul Clap, David Morales and Jesse Saunders.
Around four years ago, Kenny decided to change air and relocated to Los Angeles, where he has continued to produce music and DJ. He has further expanded his portfolio in the electronic music industry by establishing and running his own Good For You Records imprint and by opening Cure And The Cause – a nightclub located in Glendale, on the outskirts of Los Angeles proper. I had the chance to chat with Kenny about his newfound life in Los Angeles, the vision for Cure And The Cause in the local and West Coast house music scene, as well as about some recent controversial, yet seemingly misunderstood, statements that he made concerning the use of laptops and controller technology at the club.
You’ve been asked in previous interviews about why you chose to move to Los Angeles from NYC. As someone who has recently made the move from Chicago, I can definitely see why and how there is no reason not to. But why Los Angeles over any other cities you could have moved to? Was music a real deciding factor? – I couldn’t really get anything done in NYC. I was there for over two decades working in the club world, DJing two to five nights per week. It seemed that someone was always crashing on my couch, I never really got any peace. So when the opportunity to move to LA came about, I jumped at the chance. From the minute I got here, I was one-hundred times more productive in the studio and Good For You Records really started to thrive due to all the time I was finally able to put in.
Do you feel the house music scene has changed in LA since you moved? In what direction? – I’ve been in LA for four years now. I really couldn’t tell you if it’s changed much. Like any other city there is a core of promoters and DJs who stick together and do what they have to do to keep up with whatever the masses find popular; at the moment it’s “deep house” for many of them. Then there are the originators and underground promoters and DJs who “keep it real” so to speak, and focus on quality rather than trends.
It seems that you decided to open Cure and the Cause to fill the void of a real house club in LA. There doesn’t seem to be a real destination club in the city for house music, regardless of night of the week. Is there a club or clubs outside of LA that inspire you in this project? – I didn’t decide to open the club to fill a void. It just happened that way. King King was closing, that was the last club in Hollywood that really gave the underground/non bottle type of house heads a place to let loose. Most clubs can’t afford to stick to one musical format; they have to pay bills and to do so they work with promoters who sometimes dictate what acts and DJs are gonna get booked. There’s some really dope clubs in LA: Sound, Exchange, Avalon, all of them have big name DJs coming to play all the time. Cure And The Cause is a much smaller venue, so I have the luxury of not having to conform with what the masses demand. I like to have regulars at my club, I like seeing familiar faces on the dance floor… it’s comforting. It’s a feeling I had when I walked into various clubs in NYC over the years, knowing their is a community, knowing you’re part of something greater than yourself.
“I don’t care how much money you sink into your decor, the vibe of the party comes from the people involved, from the staff, from the DJs.”
I noticed most of the other LA clubs have little focus on resident DJs. Is that different at Cure and the Cause? – Again, I think that goes back to the situation many of these venues get themselves into from the start. It’s this “McMansion” way of building clubs that cuts out the potential for local residents from the clubs inception: sinking millions into decor and nonsense that has nothing to do with the vibe. And for some people that is what they want when they go to a club, but that also means having to sell a shit load of liquor at ridiculous prices to pay your investors back. Unfortunately for them, you’re not going to make that bottle service money unless you’re booking huge out-of-town talent. It’s a vicious circle that has to do more with making a killing rather than creating a vibe. I don’t care how much money you sink into your decor, the vibe of the party comes from the people involved, from the staff, from the DJs. If you want to build a sense of home, you start with solid sound system, then some resident DJs who know how to work the dancers, know how to purvey a good feeling onto the crowd and know how to select the right records all night rather than just banging out the hottest new releases one after another. That ‘bang out the hits’ mentality is what the weekend warrior crowds look forward to, and they can get that satisfaction from loads of venues in LA. But not ours… our residents focus on quality, tasteful, underground music instead of today’s top hits.
Are there any resident DJs at the club we should particularly keep an eye on? – Yeah, we got Charles Feelgood doing his regular thing, Juwan Rates throws a dope Wednesday party that has taken off, Andy Cladwell really knows how to work a crowd and Eddie B is always fun when he is in the booth, Sandra Collins has her regular night, Ghosts Of Venice and is a super talented DJ, DJ Mes has his Guesthouse thing quarterly with a lot of great guests, DJ Fido is always throwing down great sets. We have a lot of LA guys who I’m really proud of who have consistently come in and really wore out the dancers through their quality track selections: Flip Lynch, Flex Boogie, Ricky Kong, Jaime Proano, Joshua Mendez, Nino Bellemo, Epstein, Derrick Wize, Jason Blakemore, Brillstein/Thee Mike B, Jimbo James – we have so many rotating residents and regular guests that are just incredible DJs and I’m lucky to have them.
“no matter what happens with the liquor laws, the underground never dies”
One of the biggest issues in LA and California seems to be 2AM alcohol cut-off time. What is your opinion on this and do you feel this needs to change for the scene to really evolve? – It’s bad for the clubs, but I actually think it’s great for the Los Angeles house scene. If LA went till’ 4am, that would literally cut the underground warehouse party scene in half, if not more. The warehouse parties in LA are really where it’s at in my opinion. Incognito is one of my favorite parties, Scott K’s We Own The Night, Doc Martin’s Sublevel events, Eric Tucker’s ‘The Lift’ events… there are a good dozen or more incredible warehouse parties going on EVERY weekend in Los Angeles. Probably double that, maybe even more… and it’s my opinion that the warehouse parties are the real heartbeat of LA. Something about a warehouse that is more ‘freeing’ than a nightclub. You tend to let yourself go a little more, maybe drink a tad bit more, dance a bit more, stay out a bit later, push your limits more than normal. Do I think the 2am law needs to change? Not to sound all Harvey Milk or anything but I do believe we’re at the mercy of “the establishment” when it comes to that sort of thing. But no matter what happens with the liquor laws, the underground never dies, we’re like roaches baby!
How would you describe the Cure and the Cause’s atmosphere for anyone that hasn’t been? – DARK! The number one comment from almost everyone who comes in is. “It’s very dark on the dance floor. I didn’t expect to see something like this in Glendale”. I come from the “dim lit era” of New York City nightclubs, a time when amazing lighting techs like Ariel or my buddy Mikey Lights would keep a dance floor pitch black for hours while the music would build, the vibe would snowball, until that special moment in the night when you think the music can’t possibly get any better and then here comes a little strobe light to send your mind into overdrive, or a beam shines the disco ball sending thousands of tiny reflective rays of light over the crowd, making you realize you’re in a sea of like minded house heads moving in unison to one groove. Don’t get me started on atmosphere, I get chills just thinking about it.
“If You Don’t Know How To Set Up Your Equipment In A Nightclub, You’re Not Ready To Leave Your House.”
This past week, you made headlines with your statements concerning the club’s recent policy on the use of laptops and DJ controllers. People have been divided on the matter but I clearly understood that yours was a stance on up-and-coming acts who didn’t bother to learn their craft but instead created confusion, possibly even sound cut-offs, while transitioning between sets. Is that correct, or are you against the adoption of the technology at all costs? – I really don’t give a fuck what DJs use to spin. A billion salty DJs out there have taken the over hyped media sensationalism to heart and are acting like someone was personally telling them they are not allowed to use laptops to DJ. My comment was made on my personal Facebook page and was specifically directed to a handful of sloppy DJs who’ve repeatedly left my DJ booth in shambles after their sets. We’re not a mega club, we don’t have a sound tech allocated to keep watch over our equipment so we are very clear when telling the DJs that they need to be respectful of our gear. We have a dope DJ booth with all the highest quality bells and whistles one would need to play a killer set. Full Nexus setup and 1200s. If a DJ wants a rotary setup, I got a RLA crossover and Urei that I’ve had for over 20 years and I’ll gladly set it up if necessary. As an example, when Danny Krivit came out to LA last, I set up my Urei for him. Now, to be clear: these specific DJs were using laptops as ‘training wheels’ – as everyone seems to have latched onto that quote of mine – in that they were using the technology to mix from one track to the next. You don’t need a laptop to pull that off. And I was also quoted as saying “learn the tools of the trade”, which many people took the wrong way – what a surprise from the interweb; the TOOLS I was referring to were the mixer and their own equipment. Simply put: IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO SET UP YOUR EQUIPMENT IN A NIGHTCLUB, YOU’RE NOT READY TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. The world has turned this into a “real DJs vs. Laptop DJs” conversation, which has nothing to do with what I was talking about. I don’t care if you use an iPad, a VHS tape player and a Texas instruments calculator to play some elaborate techno glitch DJ set, just know how to set your equipment up without interrupting the other DJs and be sure to clean up after your set. Or better yet, show up early and set up your gear during sound check.
You put it perfectly, and honestly it is exactly what I understood from your original posts on the subject. Why do you think your statement was interpreted so harshly by some? – An old DJ friend who is now a very successful psychiatrist called to talk to me about that very thing. What it comes down to is confidence. If the subject WAS “real DJing” and if it came down to laptops versus controllers versus vinyl, I think the only DJs in any of those categories who would be offended are the ones who suck. If you’re good at playing on your controller or what have you, then you have no reason to feel anything towards the topic. Then there are the bitter DJs out there who look at the headline “LA NIGHTCLUB BANS LAPTOPS” and their narcissism overrides their ability to reason, they become instantly threatened and go on tirades about how it’s a stupid rule and they will “NEVER play at that club”, when in fact all they are really mad at is the fact that they just found out about yet another club in the world they will never get booked at. And finally you got the largest demographic of people commenting: the amateurs who have zero idea what the fuck they’re talking about, yet chime in with posts like “Steve Aoki uses a laptop! He’s fuckin’ awesome…” to which I have no recourse. I mean, how can one argue with that?
Alright let’s switch subject a little. You’ve now been in LA for a while. How do you see the future of house music developing in the West Coast and in LA? – The weather allows for a lot of opportunity, as there really is no “off season” over here. My buddy Oscar Poche just had his first West Coast Weekender, a weekend conference/fest that I think is going to really take off. He’s kind of picking up where WMC dropped the ball. There are TONS of Burning Man type outdoor things every weekend. Alex Castillo throws a really great party in the forest called SLINKY ever year. The Do-Lab has their Lightening In A Bottle thing… There is so much to do out here. If you’re into house, you definitely can fill an entire year’s calendar with something special every weekend.
“We’ve created a home for the freaks, geeks, oddballs and unicorns that society can’t handle.”
What role do you see the Cure and the Cause play in this development? – It’s a place where local talent can flourish. That, in itself, helps keep house music alive. We serve as an incubator for the DJs that are maybe a bit too underground for the other clubs. Creativity comes in many forms and it’s important to embrace those who are viewed as ‘odd’ by the mainstream. Cure And The Cause is a refuge to those creative types that may not fit in at other clubs. We’ve created a home for the freaks, geeks, oddballs and unicorns that society can’t handle.
Alright, now I would like to ask you some short-fire questions: Chicago or NY pizza? NEW-FUCKIN-YORK.
Favorite pizza spot in LA? JOE’S on Hollywood.
Favorite chill-spot in LA? My couch.
Favorite activity in LA outside of the club? I’ve come to like hiking the local canyons and hills.
Favorite LA neighborhood? Still trying to figure that out for myself.
Favorite local LA DJ? Oh god I have too many: Wally Callerio, Doc, Marques, Blakemore, Fido, Abdul Shakir, Sidney Perry, Josh Peace, Mike B, Rick Trainor, there’s so much talent here.
Favorite local club (other than Cure and the Cause)? Ummmmm… (laughs) I mean, I don’t really like nightclubs anymore. I’m more of a warehouse junkie at this point in my life. Sound is cool, Exchange and Avalon are both monster clubs, there’s a lot of little bars and lounges I prefer to go to in LA.