"John Iozia described the Garage as both pagan ('an anthropologist's wet dream...tribal and totally anti-Western') and ecclesiastical (the dance floor was a fervent congregation of 'space-age Baptists')...
Levan was one of the very first examples of the DJ-as-shaman, a techno-mystic who developed a science of total sound in order to create spiritual experiences for his followers." -Simon Reynolds, "Generation Ecstasy" (Little, Brown and Company, 1998), p. 035.
"Dance music as it is perceived now - soul, disco, techno, and the many mansions of house - is, I believe, the one form of music which...is bound up in something that closely resembles Roland Barthes' notion of "jouissance," that is, rapture, bliss, or transcendence." -John Gill, "Queer Noise" (London, Cassell, 1995), p. 134.
XIV. BUILDING JACK'S HOUSE: GARAGE CONSTRUCTION PARTIES
A. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FRANKIE?
Frankie Knuckles continued to DJ at the Continental Baths until it closed in 1976. He was not considered to be one of NYC's hot and upcoming DJs. Frankie's career was, to be honest, pretty much at a standstill. I think his work was more imitative than innovative, and the artist he imitated most was Larry Levan.
In 1977 Larry Levan was offered a job spinning at a soon-to-be-opened gay club in Chicago called the Warehouse. Moving to Chicago was seen by both of us at the time like being exiled to Outer Mongolia. Just the reactions of provincial New Yorkers. Chicago is a great town. But musical and cultural history were being made in NYC in the 70's, while Chicago was perceived to be on the periphery of things.
Disco dance culture had not yet reached Chicago in '77, so it was fertile ground for a competent New York DJ to plant the seeds for the new dance movement. There would be little competition and much opportunity to jump start a lagging career.
Larry convinced Frankie to take the Chicago residency at the Warehouse, and he facilitated the deal with the Warehouse owner.
So Frankie went, much like a missionary, to Chicago in 1977 taking with him the technique he had learned from Larry and others in NYC as well as a musical library of Philly soul, funk and R&B disco. This disco priest was to preach a new gospel of dance music to the tribes of Chicago and help set afire the souls of those who would create the Chicago house movement of the '80s.
B. PARADISE GARAGE CONSTRUCTION PARTIES
From my perspective some of the best times at the Paradise Garage were the early construction parties. Looking at it with hindsight, these parties were a lot like warehouse raves.
One walked up a long ramp to the club-in-progress from the functioning parking garage downstairs. Upstairs a relatively small, intimate dance space was carved out of what was to become the Grey Room when the club was finally completed. One could see the massive main dance floor space under construction through plastic sheets. The floors in the Grey Room were covered in sawdust. Walls were unfinished. Speakers were stacked on one side of the room while the DJ equipment was set up on ordinary tables. All looked very much like renegade underground party site.
Food and refreshments were always served at the Paradise Garage free-of-charge, even in the early days. There would be a table set with fresh fruit, juices and other goodies as well as that excellent, invigorating punch. At Thanksgiving and Christmas there would be turkey with all the fixings. The club did not sell alcohol.
The Paradise Garage was like a small, secret underground society in the construction days. A few of us were assigned to promote the party to those who we all thought would make good additions to the tribe that was forming. I had chits, little slips of paper, that I would sign and give to candidates who would present them to the door for admission and eventual membership. Without some sort of direct invitation chit or referral it was very difficult to get into the club.
Larry and his friends had very specific ideas about what the Paradise Garage should become. This was not to be another Studio 54 or Flamingo where the glitzy "A" list would party. Rather, the Garage would be a gay venue where a very healthy proportion of the membership would be black and Hispanic as well as attractive to other downtown types -- even punks. I was a gay punk disco boy, and Larry was attracted to that scene and music.
Yes, the master of the disco turntables was a rock lover, among other things. Larry's mind was open to all genres of music, and I like to think I had something to do with introducing him to hardcore.
Michael Brody's views about what the Garage should be were often in direct conflict with Larry's vision. Michael, I think, was interested initially in tapping into the big money disco scene that was evolving in NYC. He wanted some of the gay uptown gold in his SoHo club and he was planning his own invitation list for the official grand opening when the construction was completed. Larry wanted nothing to do with most of these folks and there was much severe tension around what the ultimate membership policy was to be. During the construction days, however, Larry was pretty much left to develop the tribe as he wished.
Soon after the construction began Larry set up housekeeping in a space at the Garage. I think he pretty much lived on the premises the first five years of the club's operation. A few of us early Garage heads would spend evenings there with Larry after the workers left messing with the sound system, watching Larry work on sets, and spinning some of our own records for him. He was always looking for new, fresh sounds and was even then bored with much disco music. It was this openness to the new and innovative that made Larry the musical powerhouse that he and the Garage eventually became.
1. The First Construction Party
It was in the Spring of 1977 that the Paradise Garage held its first ever party. This was a party given by friends for friends. Old faces from the Continental Baths, the Loft, Reade Street and all the little underground bars and clubs we frequented over the years.
It was a wild, warm and sweaty evening in that little space within a space. I got dressed in some tribal-looking punk gear with face paint just for the occasion. For we were a small tribe, a loving family, that night. There was an intimacy on that dirty dance floor that we believed would certainly not be quite the same once the club was opened to thousands: Larry right on the floor with us; the feeling of being there at the beginning of something extraordinary; a relaxed anarchy that might disappear in the more formal club environment.
This was one of those magical evenings one remembers all of one's life. I can't recall many downsides that night except a few glitches with the sound system. And getting a lump on the back of my head.
During the party I was a bit high and wandered into the main work area to dance around a bit by myself within the shadows and industrial environment when I tripped over something and fell over backwards with my head hitting the concrete with much force. I got up feeling dazed and dizzy. Thinking back on it I probably had a mild concussion. But I careened back into the dance space and continued dancing for the rest of the night. Next morning walking home I felt this big bump on the back of my head and had headaches for days. It's a wonder I ever survived the disco era.
The first time I actually spun for any length of time in a NYC club was at one of the Paradise Garage construction parties. I was dancing around Larry and the turntables one night when he looked at me and said: "Take over for awhile." There was something he didn't like about the sound -- he was always fussing with the speakers and such -- and he couldn't bear it any longer. I had no choice really, he just rushed away to the speakers and I found myself at the turntables. One second blissfully high, the next sober, focused and pretty paranoid and terrified. All went well, though. I just imitated the master for a few minutes.