by Jane Lerner, 02/20/2009
When it comes to dance music, there's perhaps no greater cliché than the phrase "last night a DJ saved my life." (It was originally the title of an early-'80s R&B song.) But any dance-floor denizen worth his hand stamp would agree that there's truth to the maxim—that a DJ's choices can make or break the night, and that the perfect song at the perfect moment makes the coat-check line and that $12 cocktail worthwhile. Playing records (yes, records—12 inches of analog) is a higher calling for the New York DJs we're pleased to highlight here, mix masters who've put in years behind the decks, spinning at clubs both big and small across the five boroughs and beyond.
It cannot be overstated how important Bobbito Garcia is to the whole of hip-hop culture in NYC. A DJ, author, actor, break-dancer, magazine editor, broadcast personality and basketball performer, Garcia is an ambassador of all things funky and fresh. The list of events he has organized would be epic, so let's just mention his current jam, a monthly party called Vinyl is Forever, which just celebrated its eighth anniversary at the nightclub APT. "I've been blessed to have spun in five continents, over 30 countries and more than half the states that comprise the US," says Garcia, "but there is no feeling equivalent to rocking in front of my hometown crowd here in Nueva York." The basement space bounces when Garcia starts up his blend of hip-hop, Latin, jazz and new dance tracks, always striving to surprise. "My vision was to have dancers trust in my selections," he says. "It's really worked."
Famed for his marathon sets of soulful house music, DJ and producer Danny Krivit is a founder of Body & Soul (along with François K and Joe Claussell), a party that began in 1996 and ran weekly until 2002. World-renowned for the alcohol-free, body-grooving Sunday afternoons that always drew a diverse, dedicated crowd, Body & Soul created a genuine community through music and dancing. That celebration now occurs monthly in New York—the party travels around the United States and the world other weeks; the next NYC installment is at Webster Hall on March 15—but its special, spiritual vibe hasn't been compromised. Krivit's other monthly obligation is 718 Sessions, which recently relocated from Brooklyn to Manhattan, now at Santos Party House.
About 12 years strong, DJ Rekha and her Basement Bhangra at S.O.B.'s has provided the best of the genre to many adoring fans. The first Thursday of every month is known for DJ Rekha's seamless fusion of hip-hop beats with traditional South Asian music, creating an intoxicating mix of old and new, classical and radical. Basement Bhangra is an event where it's virtually impossible not to physically participate—just try standing still in this roomful of dynamic dancing. DJ Rekha is admired worldwide for her influential role in bringing bhangra and other international styles to a wider audience, and another chapter of her New York story is played out at her Bollywood Disco party, which takes place on the fourth Friday of each month at the Vault at Element.
Every Monday, downtown discotheque Cielo hosts Deep Space, a party where DJ François K offers a meditation on disco, dub and all kinds of electronic experimentation. His roots in the dance-music world are firm: he gained early respect as a remixer and producer in the '70s and '80s, manning the decks at eminent clubs like Paradise Garage and Studio 54. He hasn't stopped since. Drawing a stylish and lively crowd, nights at Deep Space can include spoken-word performances or live drumming to accompany the spaced-out grooves and heavy bass lines. François K continues to tour the world as a high-in-demand DJ, but Deep Space remains his hometown turf, where he plays to an enthusiastic, in-the-know crowd—hey, anyone out that late on a Monday night is there to do one thing: dance.
DJ Mr. Fine Wine (aka Matt Weingarden) is a crate digger and devoted vinyl hound who is obsessed with old records. He's a historian, really, a re-discoverer of crackly old 45s and obscure sounds from decades past, and his Wednesday-night gig at Houston Street bar Botanica has consistently drawn fellow enthusiasts (for 13 years!). He notes that New Yorkers are far more appreciative of music now than they used to be. A few years ago, he says, "a pack of 22-year-olds might have walked in and out of a bar where I was playing some early-'60s R&B single, thinking I was a hopeless square. Now they'll come running up to me to see what that amazing record is." Those same amazing records make more appearances on the turntables at Bumpshop (the first Saturday of the month at APT), as well as at Honeysuckle, a party that takes place on the third Saturday of every month at Legion Bar in Williamsburg.
A jack-of-all-trades on the NYC club scene, $mall ¢hange is a record collector and radio DJ, a music producer and kooky adventurer who is known around town as the go-to guy for getting the dance floor going. Though he currently works as the music booker for APT, $mall ¢hange makes it clear that he's not running with the mainstream. "My vibe gravitates toward underground and community-styled events," he says. "I have a genuine love for music and try to champion sounds that aren't being heard everywhere." $mall ¢hange's recent gigs have brought him to (Le) Poisson Rouge, Nublu and hard-to-find loft spaces in Brooklyn, and his open-armed, all-styles approach is not without a greater intent: "DJing is a beautiful collage," he says. "It's bringing all these sounds and cultures from around the world and facilitating a common experience."