With all the snow flushed away, at least here in the shadow of the alps where this podcast’s main character is currently residing,
we are now ready to give you episode 2 of Rhythm Cycles. Jonny Sender takes us on a journey through time. Starting whith a more low-tempo disco, Jonny presents us his musical memories and the vibes of New York City, passing through funk and soul towards ending with old school house and techno from today. This is what Jonny loves, this is music.
Rhythm Cycles (RC): First of all, let’s talk about NYC, back in the day. You played live at legendary places like the Paradise Garage and The Loft. What do you remember from those parties, the vibe, the people?
Jonny Sender (JS): Both the Garage and the Loft were very friendly places, most people were there for the music. It was a great vibe, people were considerate of each other, but there was lots of energy in the room, on the dance floor. People got hyped up but not in an aggressive way. The crowd reacted to the music, clapping along, applauding after a song, singing, cheering. Generally getting down, great dancers. It’s been said before, but it was like church.
I may have been the only one in Konk who was going to the Garage regularly before we were asked to perform, so I was very excited when we got the invitation. It meant a lot to me to be asked to play there. It was very different from other gigs, everyone was extremely gracious and helpful. You got the feeling that the people working there as well as the patrons, knew that it was a special place.
We were playing weekly gigs in Manhattan at most of the major downtown clubs, Mudd Club, Pyramid, Danceteria, CBGBs, The Ritz, The World. All of these places were downtown ‘post punk’ clubs. I was hanging out mostly at Mudd Club, Berlin and Danceteria, but I regularly went to the Garage for the music and Larry would play some of the same records that I’d hear at the white downtown clubs. ESG, Section 25, Liquid Liquid, Man Parrish, Yaz. I’d also hear some of these records at the Funhouse when I went there once in a while.
I was living on Thompson street in Soho, about a 7 minute walk from the Garage or 7 minutes walk in the other direction to the Loft on Prince Street and 15 minutes from Mudd Club, a good location.
Back then I was a member of a record pool called For The Record and I had a member’s card that included free admission to the Garage. The Garage and the Loft were private clubs, you had to be a member to get in. It’s amazing when I think back on it now, that I had a card and I could walk right in for free. After Konk performed there they would let us in, but I was going there regularly.
The shows at the Garage always went on at 4:00 am. Konk got to perform live and we played four songs. Most acts were track dates, a singer with a backing track and sometimes dancers who performed two songs unless it was one of the legends like Chaka Khan or Grace Jones. I remember being on stage and as we’re playing Konk Party, I hear the acapella from the 12” coming back at me from across the room. Larry was mixing the record live on top of the band, that blew my mind.
I saw Grace’s One Man Show, Chaka Khan, Jocelyn Brown sing Somebody Else’s Guy and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. The System, D Train, Gwen Guthrie, The Peach Boys. The sound was truly the best I’ve ever heard, I know it’s been said so many times before, but I’ve never heard anything to top Richard Long’s system. (Or anyone mesmerize a crowd like Larry). Not the Saint, Cream or Sound Factory. The Loft had really great sound but it was a different vibe, it was quieter than the Garage and each record was played from beginning to end, no mixing or crossfading.
I always used to walk by the Loft probably for a few years, on my way home from Berlin, an after-hours club on Broadway and Houston Street. I never knew what it was, it just looked like some kind of weekly party with big balloons in a dark room on the ground floor. I knew I would have to pay to go in or so I thought, it was also private. I never tried to go in because back then, we never paid to go out anywhere. One early morning, I was walking home past the Loft and the doors were wide open. There was nobody watching the front so I just…walked in. It was like walking into another dimension, I had walked out of Bauhaus, D.A.F. and Joy Division at the club Berlin and into some next level funky shit.
I had been going to hear Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay regularly at a small reggae club called Negril in the East Village so I was familiar with breaking from watching the Rock Steady Crew who would come down to hang out there but here I was at the Loft and there were dancers doing a very similar style of dancing but it was different as was the music. I later found out that I was seeing ‘Loft style breaking’.
Konk filmed our video for Konk Party at the Loft, David Mancuso invited us to perform at the new location on East 3rd street in the East Village.
(Here’s a great personal account of what happened after the Garage closed by my friend Richard Vasquez, Richard was also the DJ at Berlin in the early 1980s. http://thechoicerevoice.blogspot.com/ )
RC: As we said, you started as a live act. When did you decide to become a DJ? When one listens to your sets, you seem to like a lot of different styles of electronic music but who are your biggest influences as a Disc Jockey?
JS: I became intrigued by the role of the DJ when I started going to Mudd Club, I heard a lot of great music there but the DJs didn’t mix records. They just played one record after the other, sometimes crashing one into the next. I found this vaguely unsatisfying, but I didn’t really know why.
I remember really loving all the jams on Enjoy Records, early hip-hop and records like Walking on Sunshine by Eddy Grant.
But once I went to Negril and heard Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay it all made sense, I was blown away by what they were doing with records and I wanted to do it too.They were playing Cars by Gary Numan, I’m Ready by Kano, Queen, The Rolling Stones, James Brown all smashed together. It was so musical; they were taking some of the same records I knew from Mudd Club and re-contextualizing them. Taking two copies, mixing the break back and fourth. It was explosive! Disco records, rock records, Post punk electronic records, anything that worked.
If I have to choose my influences as a DJ and musician I’d say: Larry Levan, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, David Depino, Victor Rosdado, Bobby Konders, Sister Dimension (from The Pyramid) and Dany Johnson (from Mudd Club).
RC: Any favourite record shop in NYC? Still open? Or closed?
JS: I used to shop at Dancetracks in the East Village in the early to mid 1990’s. I was living just around the corner so I was always in the shop listening to new records. Before Joe Clausell and Stefan Prescott bought Dancetracks, it was owned by Stan Hatzakis, kind of an understated vinyl dude from Queens, NY. I’d hang out on Friday evenings before going to spin at Lucky Strike in Soho. We’d listen to Stan spin the new records for the week, always with a very serious face. There was a picture of Larry in the booth at the Garage over the turntables. Jerome would come by with some beer and we’d all hang out listening to music. Stefan, Joe, my friend Adam Goldstone, Jovann, lots of people would stop in from week to week. Dancetracks is where I first met Mandrax. I remember Disciple would come by. He had a radio show on the Medgar Evers college radio station in Brooklyn playing house music and taking calls on-air from listeners.
Jerome (Sydenham) was working at Atlantic Records with his friend Fumi (a great DJ). Jerome had just put out Underground Dance Music Vol. 1 (1992?) at Atlantic that included Sunday Afternoon by Rudoulpho, Holdin’ On by Michael Watford (produced by Roger S and Smack prod.), and what I think is one of Kerri Chandler’s first tracks. It also had a track on it called Peace in The Nation produced by Dana Vlcek who played sax in and started Konk.
A few years later, A1 records opened on East 6th street in the East Village. By that time I had moved a couple of blocks north to St. Marks Place and Avenue A, just around the corner from East 6th street. A1 sold only used records: disco classics, house, hip hop, reggae, latin, jazz, beats and ‘other’. It was constantly full of vinyl freaks that were traveling from near and far. New Jersey to Japan—for a while, it became ‘Mecca’ for the international vinyl addict and I spent a lot of time at A1. I was doing a latin party at the time called Don Flán and I got a lot of latin jams there. We’d play anything in Spanish or from the Caribbean, plus disco breaks. There was also amazing flea markets for records back then in Soho and Chelsea.
Today, the stores I still go to are Dope Jams and Halcyon in Brooklyn, A1 is still going. Turntable Lab in the East Village is a small but great store for all kinds of club music plus they sell vinyl and digital on-line. Another store I love is Rebel Rebel on Bleecker street in the West Village. David, the owner always seems to have strange records that no one else ever has stuck between the more commercial ‘circuit’ records and Brit pop CD singles.
RC: For the moment you’re living in Switzerland with your family. Why did you decide to leave The States? What do you miss the most from your country? Are you planning to go back soon?
JS: My wife got a good gig in Geneva. She lived and worked in Bern before we met in New York. We talked about moving over the last few years, when the opportunity came up we decided to try it. I miss the cultural diversity of New York and the reasonably priced food from all over the world.
RC: It’s been several months that you’ve been living here (close to Geneva) and you’ve already played at some underground parties, spots like Motel Campo and other underground secret parties. What do you think about the electronic music scene here in the area?
JS: The underground parties have been the most fun. I had a great time playing at Motel Campo with Crowdpleaser and DJ Agnes, they were easy to play with, a good flow with no DJ diva drama. I had the same experience with Ly Sander at his New York Disco Club anniversary, we had a good flow back and forth and I love playing disco classics.
I think the post techno generation is a little preoccupied with the idea of, or the term ‘electronic’ music. There’s a lot of great music that will work in a club that’s not always fully ‘electronic’. People are enthusiastic about music here, though I haven’t seen the disco revival and more downtempo house and new disco that seems to be so popular.
Though it’s starting to make it’s way to the Geneva area. We should try a night of just downtempo jams.
RC: Now that you’re doing a lot of DJ’ing, don’t you miss performing live? Are you planning on doing more records? Alone or with other producers?
JS: I haven’t played live much lately, I was on tour in the U.S. and Europe for a while in the late 1990′s, but I wasn’t playing bass or guitar, I was playing records with effects and samples in a band. I was the only electronic element. I was producing some records in the 1990′s in New York for Jungle Sounds records, Tommy Boy. I was also composing music for TV and new media.
I miss playing live and I’m starting to do more of it. I’d love to start a band, though finding the right people is always a long process. It would have to have a live element, probably with a live drummer, percussion as well as electronics. Live bands are a lot of work and expensive to maintain as well. With Konk, it was hard just getting everyone in the same room to practice! I have been working on music with a few people in Geneva and Lausanne. I’m enjoying collaborating as well as playing more bass and guitar. I’m looking for more people to collaborate with.
JS: Last question, because we’re nerds and we love machines! What kind of gear did you bring with you to Europe?
JS: I got rid of a lot of gear before I left New York, my Roland Jupiter 6, but I kept my Nord lead 2, I have a monophonic Doepfer rack synth, some analog delays, my bass and guitar. A Pioneer EFX-500 for live dubby disco. A bunch of stomp boxes. A Roland JV 1080, not too sexy but very useful.
RC: Supa Classic Bonus Question : You’re all alone on an Island only with a sound system (that’s for that smart-ass Lionel, cf. last interview) and a turn-table. You can bring just ONE record. Which record do you choose?
JS: John Coltrane – Live At The Village Vanguard