The Larry Levan Bump
Bands that once defined ‘70s punk rock at CBGB’s began making music that would appeal to the dancefloor (at The Paradise Garage) located but one mile west of that notoriously filthy venue. Blondie cut “Heart of Glass” and “Rapture”, while Talking Heads locked into a groove to smooth out the spastic tendencies of frontman David Byrne, and the aquatic funk of “Once in a Lifetime” became a Garage favorite. Meanwhile, Levan used to tune the room’s sound to the Clash’s “The Magnificent Dance”, and even rock royalty like the Rolling Stones and the Who vied for club play.
It speaks to Levan’s DJ sensibilities that it didn’t matter the genre of music—punk, pop, funk, disco, R&B—as long as it moved the crowd, it worked for him. And if Levan loved something, such as Pat Benatar’s brooding metallic synth-pop power ballad “Love is a Battlefield”, he would play it multiple times in a night, until any and all resistance was overcome.
Well before YouTube and Shazam provided metrics to forecast a song’s popularity, one only needed to peer out on the Paradise Garage’s dancefloor to see what was going to be a hit.
It’s always inspiring to hear these near-mythical stories of Larry Levan and other DJs from his era, and how they had the ability to create ‘hits’ within their cities and circles. As this story explains, Levan’s pull was augmented by his taste-making relationship with legendary NYC radio host Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker, and the two worked together in a perpetual search for the next big thing. This symbiosis may be particularly of a time … is there any similar relationship with such influence today? The web has given all DJs and artists a global audience, but has this decentralization diminished the importance and effectiveness of building scenes (and ‘hits’) organically within a city or region?
This piece’s stories also made me think of the classic New Order “Confusion” video showing Arthur Baker rushing to the Fun House to give Jellybean Benitez the reel-to-reel mixdown – hot off the presses! – to gauge the dance floor’s reaction: