Larry Levan’s birthday was a few days ago, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to honor the late integral founding member of the dance music community with a brief overview of his accomplishments. Here’s a Larry Levan set from 1979 to set the mood:
I will keep this to the point (in typical Indie Pong fashion) so please forgive any generalizations that I’m using in the interest of expediency. If you want to get into the nitty gritty I encourage you to check out the details for yourself, one of my favorite resources is Channel 4’s Pump Up The Volume: A History of House Music.
Basically there are two schools of thought, that house music either started in the late 70’s in Chicago at the titular club The Warehouse in Chicago, or that it started in Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage. Now this is a friendly debate, not a Cubs/Cardinals or Yanks/Sox level beer-fueled feud where people get slanderous tattoos that say “Cardinals take it in their Pujols” or “Ew, the Cubs, no thanks!!”, because the dance music scene was, still is, and always will be founded on the principles of love and inclusion. Techno is from… of course… Detroit.
Larry was a towering figure in the dance music scene who was a pioneer in adding drum machines and synths to songs to move us on from disco to house. Now for a little background, house music comes from disco. Disco slowly evolved into house music thanks to artists from the black and LGBTQ communities willing to push boundaries to evolve disco into something bigger and sexier. The scene was always welcoming to anyone with a bounce in their step that was good people, but make no mistake, this scene was founded by the black and LGBTQ communities. The parking lot turned popular club Paradise Garage was founded and run by Michael Brody on the core belief that “If people can dance together, they can live together”.
There’s a great story about how Paul Young couldn’t figure out what to do with his track ‘You Don’t Know’ until he heard what Larry Levan was doing with it at Paradise Garage. It was said that Larry may not have been the most technically skilled, but he had all the charisma and heart that the world needed to put dance music on the map and create an entire universe for groovers around the planet. In short, Larry was the discovery that led to house music as we know it today.
Now, I would be remissed if I didn’t mention The Godfather. The above article goes on the explain that while Chicago had the unrefined soul of the movement which was too rough around the edges for mainstream consumption while in New York, things were more production-forward. It wasn’t until Frankie Knuckles (the Godfather of House Music) came along after living in both places and used his technical skill to give Chicago house the production value it needed to go from the local jackin’ sound to the nationally recognized foundational sound of recorded house music.
Without these two musical monoliths house music as we know it wouldn’t exist today. Thank you to both Larry and Frankie.
And happy belated Larry :).