Larry Levan was a DJ best known for his decade-long residency at the New York City night club Paradise Garage, which has been described by many as being the prototype of the modern dance club. Today marks 20 years since his tragic passing on November 8, 1992.
Levan started DJ'ing 1971, an era when DJ's used 7' singles and LP's to work with, no room for error or fancy tricks, you had to work those decks. He got his first break starting alongside Frankie Knuckles at the Continental Baths in NYC, replacing Nicky Siano, a DJ who is credited with heavily influencing his eclectic style.
In 1977, was offered a residency at the Paradise Garage, it was a turning point in his career. He was employed to be a part of the owners vision to create a copy of the notorius Studio 54 club, which was aimed at the middle-class gay males in the city. However, Levan ended up bringing in an audience of young blacks, punks and latinos who dubbed his sets as being "Saturday Mass".
In the late 70s he would turn his hand to remix and production work, his production of The Peech Boys "Don't Make Me Wait" would become the basis of the sound he would become famous for. The soulful funk with a gospel twist and light piano stabs, at the moment this style is called 'Nu-Disco' back then, it was all Larry Levan.
In the mid-eighties Levan would lose many close friends tragically to aids and as a result, he developed a drug addiction and started to alienate himself the progressive DJ movement he had help start. Genre-specific sets and beatmatching were becoming increasingly popular in the dance music scene and Levan would recieve criticism for not catching up with the times. However, his eclectic nature would mean he would be one of the first DJ's to start playing tracks from the burgeoning Chicago house scene.
In September 1987, The Paradise Garage would close, ending Levan's decade-long residency of the club. Weeks before it's closure, it's owner, Michael Brody passed away due to Aids related illness. Both events would send Levan deeper into drugs, he would become increasingly desperate, selling his records at any given opportunity for drugs money. His close friends at the time would buy them back for him out of sympathy.
He would make his 'comeback' at the start of the 90s, he had started to gain fame outside of America and was getting shows in Europe and Japan, most famously he was invited to Ministry Of Sound in London where he ended up staying for three months, to help tune to clubs soundsystem.
His shows in Japan in 1992 were enough to encourage him to return to the studio and check himself into rehab. Sadly, on his return from Japan, he would voluntarily check into the Hospital and die four days later because of heart failure.
Twelve years later he would be recognised by the Dance Music Hall Of Fame and entered in their hall of fame for his oustanding work as a DJ.
For further reading on Larry Levan we reccomend these links:
Journey Into Paradise - The Larry Levan Story
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