|"I think in the future people will have to have an ability to do lots of different things - synthesis as opposed to specialisation."|
Francois Kevorkian is a surprising element in the New York DJ/remix scene. Arriving from France in the mid-70s he was not brought up on New York music. He brings a whole different perspective to the science of mixing, both live and in the studio.
Just off the boat, without job or money, he was hired to drum along to Walter Gibbon's live mixing at Galaxy 21 in 1976. Situated out on the dancefloor and reacting to what came over the speakers; not knowing the tunes - it was an inspiring place to learn about the NYC underground disco scene (these days it's common for big clubs to have synthesiser players accompany the DJ).
From his earliest studio blends (Musique's 'In The Bush', 'Disco Circus' by Martin Circus) to more recent (Hamilton Bohannon's 'Let's Start The Dance III', Jimmy Cliff's 'Treat The Youth Right', Planet P's dub 'Why Me') Francois' mixes have all possessed a sterling sound quality, the result of carefully cleaning up each individua1 track before reshaping them, and a radical sensibility in terms of the shaping of music as architecture. His first D Train mixes suggested what a marvellous marriage there could be between Jamaican dub mixers like Augustus Pablo and the street/studio musicians of the New York dance scene.
As a live DJ he has been like a fast gun for hire. Having worked most of the city's major clubs, including the now defunct AM-PM, he has now retired from spinning, though he occasionally replaces Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage and David Mancuso at The Loft. He now mixes freelance, having moved on from Prelude Records, and his next step seems production. The first moves in that direction are work with Jah Wobble for an English LP and rhythm tracks with Sly and Robbie at Compass Point in a co-production with D Train's Hubert Eaves for an unannounced singer.
It took months to finally get a chance to sit down and talk with him. His talk is quite different from all the other DJs. He is more pragmatically negative about the upswing in dance music interest, having a brooding self-critical humour that struck me as a very good basis from which to evolve into a music producer.
"The first day I went to Galaxy 21 to play the drums was the first time I'd ever gone into a modern day disco - Black, gay, after-hours - the beat was like a hammer. I think a lot of people started reacting negatively to that but it's much harder to make people dance if you don't have that constant poom, poom, poom."
Except Walter Gibbon's mixes on record use lots of hand drums and are really quite delicate.
"I know exactly what you are saying but I'm describing my perception of it. It still has that percussion-heavy drone. You don't hear subtleties. Certain records have those qualities, really masterful playing, really inspiring combinations of sounds, something that truly uplifts you. I was not versed in the 1970-75 music, the pre-disco stuff. The beat wasn't so repetitive. The dynamics were way different. Now it's become very uniform, very one-dimensional. The way we perceive the music, digest it, assimilate it, like it and then reject it because we are sick of it has become alarming. There's too much fast food music and we become addicted to it instead of looking forward to something a little more challenging. The way people work with multi-tracks these days you can literally make the demo of your song on the same tape that you end up putting the master on. The way certain people work and try and capture the magic of the instant is not encouraged by all those records synching two synthesisers to a drum machine, all to the magic synchronisation time codes and pulse.
"I think in the future people will have to have an ability to do lots of different things -synthesis as opposed to specialisation. It used to be a time when there would be a recording studio and an artist and the engineer and the producer. The producer, all he was doing was making sure everything was going alright onto tape. So now more and more people are being added to the way it's happening. I can somehow see that the future is going to belong to those who can really comprehend the totality of that process."