NYC DJ François Kevorkian in Liverpool June 2004
On Saturday June 26th François Kevorkian appears at The Masque in Liverpool, deejaying at the popular monthly dance night, Circus. François K, as he is nowadays known, is one of the most respected DJs in the World and his visit is greatly anticipated by Liverpool’s club community, vibed by the almost reverential acclaim heaped on his more contemporary New York residencies, Body And Soul (which he ran in conjunction with Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell) and the dubbed-out Deep Space. However, some clubbers are still totally unaware that FK (to use a further abbreviation) has been making his hugely significant contribution to dance culture for over a quarter of a century, dating right back to the height of Disco, through to the present via his continued DJ appearances and the success of his record company, Wave.
I’ll also be deejaying in the same club on the same night, the downside being (from my perspective) that this will be at the same time in a different room, so I’ll be one of the few people in the club who’ll miss FK completely. It’s somewhat ironic that while he’ll be playing a more current selection of tunes for the Circus crowd (although I’ve no doubt there’ll be one or two classics slipped in along the way), I’ll be focusing on the pre-House era, when François Kevorkian was an inspirational name to me, with mix and remix credits on numerous tracks that I used to play. Suffice to say that the night obviously holds a special relevance from a personal point of view.
Back in the early 80s I was fortunate to be the DJ at the two biggest black music nights in the North of England – Tuesday at Wigan Pier and Wednesday at Legend in Manchester – playing cutting-edge Soul, Funk, Disco (the latter period stuff, which would nowadays be referred to as Boogie), Jazz-Funk and Fusion, plus the then new mutant style that would become my trademark, Electro-Funk.
This was an exciting underground era, my club nights attended mainly by black kids who were into the latest US imports. It was a particularly fertile time for New York, arguably its most creative period, with Hip Hop emerging from the Bronx and dance music re-defining itself. Detroit and Chicago might have held sway later in the decade, but both were heavily influenced by the innovations that had taken place in NYC. The same goes for Manchester, where, by the end of the 80s, The Haçienda had become one of the best-known House music venues in the World. This was half a dozen years on from when I’d launched the first specialist dance night at the club, playing the type of tunes I featured at Legend, the majority of which had originated not in Chicago or Detroit, but New York, where the true roots of contemporary club culture lie.
It was during the early 80s that remixers really came to the fore. Many of the 12” dance releases coming out of New York began to include dub versions, and it was these dubs (or instrumentals) that I generally featured on my nights, rather than the vocal sides. It wasn’t long before certain names I read on the labels began to stand out, their mix credits being something of a seal of quality. The first to really catch my attention being Tee Scott, who I figured must be pretty damn cool as his name was actually included in the title of a big underground track of the time! This was ‘Tee’s Happy’ by Northend, the mainly instrumental flip to the a-side vocal version, “Happy Days”.
Along with Tee Scott, further favourites were Paradise Garage DJ, Larry Levan, Kiss FM mastermixer, Shep Pettibone, and ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, The Fun House DJ who would help Madonna achieve her worldwide breakthrough. And then, of course, there was François Kevorkian, one of the most prolific remixers of the entire era, and the man behind numerous mixes for the great dance label, Prelude.
Kevorkian, born in France, arrived in New York in 1975. He was a drummer, with musical influences including Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. In ’76 he was hired to accompany DJ Walter Gibbons (who, along with Tom Moulton, pioneered remixing), drumming along to the records played at Galaxy 21. As a result, Kevorkian would learn much about the structure of Disco tracks and it wasn’t long before he became a DJ himself.
In 1978 he began working for Prelude, in an A&R capacity, and just a week later he was in the studio doing his first mix for the label, Musique’s club classic, “In The Bush“, which would go on to become a worldwide hit!
Although I played Musique and subsequent Kevorkian mixes on Prelude, it wasn’t until 1982 that I began to fully appreciate his work, via outstanding remixes like Sharon Redd’s “Beat The Street” and Rafael Cameron’s “Boogie’s Gonna Get Ya”. Both of these tracks had already been popular on the upfront scene since they’d first appeared as album cuts, but the remixes took them onto another level completely – not only giving them a new lease of life, but totally eclipsing the popularity of the original versions.
This was a golden age for remixing, with the mix specialists working from the multitrack master, setting their own EQs and effects for each individual track and re-arranging via tape edits. Unlike now, when a remix can often be completely unrecognisable from the original version, these back in the day remix exponents, like Kevorkian, knew how to bring out the best in an existing track, creating essential new club versions, whilst respectfully retaining the essence of the original production.
10 CLASSIC KEVORKIAN MIXES 82-84:
- Bohannon — Let’s Start The Dance III (Compleat)
- Rafael Cameron — Boogie’s Gonna Get Ya (Salsoul)
- Dinosaur L — Go Bang! #5 (Sleeping Bag)
- D Train — Keep On (Prelude)
- Forrrce — Keep On Dubbin’ (West End)
- Kraftwerk — Tour de France (EMI)
- Sharon Redd — Beat The Street (Prelude)
- Rod — Just Keep On Walking (Roch Niangandoumou) (Prelude)
- Wuf Ticket — The Key (Prelude)
- Yazoo — Situation (Sire)
As I play some of these groundbreaking mixes at Circus later this month, it’ll be strange to think that their creator will also be deejaying in another part of the same building. Liverpool has played host to some of the biggest DJs in the World, but it’s difficult to think of anyone who’s had a greater influence on the music we dance to than François Kevorkian.
Written in June 2004 for Circus website, prior to François K DJ appearance in Liverpool
@ Greg Wilson, June 2004