Krivit's experiences in the '70s and '80s have had a lasting effect on him, informing almost every move he's made since. His legendary Body & Soul night, co-founded with François Kevorkian and Joe Claussell, and 718 Sessions, his still hugely popular monthly party, were established on principles laid down during this golden period. Aside from his illustrious DJ career, Krivit is also a remix legend. He has over 130 editing credits to his name, including his rework of MFSB's "Love Is The Message," which is considered by many to be the greatest edit of all time. In anticipation of an eight-hour set in London later this month, I spent time with one of dance music's most storied figures.
You're releasing some new edits in 2015. What's the driving factor behind releasing something like your Thelma Houston edit, which you've been playing for years?
It seems like years but I guess I made that maybe two years ago. I tried to release it this past summer. Basically I'm working with somebody in Japan. There's somebody I trust who does really good work, but they can also be very slow [laughs]. They meticulously get things right. I'm still working with them on it but it's just taking forever to come out.
To play devil's advocate, why go through all that stress when you could release the song digitally?
I really wanted it on vinyl. It was that kind of a record. I'm trying to do a lot of vinyl releases this year. When I play I like to play vinyl. If I really care about a certain song I would probably prefer to have it on vinyl.
In your mind, what makes a good edit?
I think there are several things. From my perspective, definitely respect for the music is important. It's not about how much you do, or about showing your editing skill. It's about doing what the record needed. It could be a simple extension of a couple parts and that's it. You can manipulate certain parts of a record really well and still hold the integrity of something. The great thing is a lot of the original music has great arrangements and great musicianship—that's already there. You don't have to alter that. That's what I love about editing.
You really seem to love the records you edit. Is that important to you?
For me it is. I can't speak for everyone. I'm glad that shines through. I basically approach edits, not as something someone suggests to me, but from the point of view that I love this record and I see a different shape to it, an extension or different view. It motivates me. Sometimes I love a record but I love it the way it is. I don't want to make it longer or change it for change's sake. I'm either inspired to do something or I'm not. I've turned down a lot of edits that way.
Your 718 Sessions party has been going for 13 years in New York. What's the ethos behind it?
Just like the edits, I have a reverence for what I love about a party. In my history, places like The Loft, The Gallery and The Garage had a certain blueprint quality about them. They had a basic ethos of how to treat people and a simple reverence for the party. Really simple and pleasurable, but a lot of that stuff can get lost so easily, especially in a city like New York, which is a tough city to have pleasant things.
718 Sessions, with my partner Benny Soto, we're really focused on all that. It's something to enjoy and we want people to enjoy it. It's been a bit of a journey. We have this great fundamental crowd that just loves being there, loves the music and are very welcoming. When a new person comes in they feel like they're part of this group right away, and they get right into the vibe.
Do you think that's something that's not considered at a lot of parties?
Very often it's not. People focus on numbers or type of people or just focus on the music. Also the fundamental platform that it's on. If you have a great party but terrible security, the first thing that people experience when they come in the door is this bad vibe, and it carries through the whole party. And so on. There are so many things that add to the whole experience. It's been an achievement that I've managed to do it this long. I really love it. It's my favourite party.
718 takes place at two of New York's best spots: Output and Santos Party House. Do you feel the city's clubbing scene is resurgent at the moment?
I think there is a resurgence. There are a lot of things working against clubs and club life today that didn't exist when I started. Cities, not just New York, they're not automatically welcoming. There are so many rules and oppressions. The idea that someone's going to go out and spend a whole night in a particular place, that's a big achievement. It wasn't such a big deal in the past. I think we're in a resurgence. I think there's a lot of young people coming in, the new blood. They're searching out better parties and better new music.
For me it's an awkward thing to talk about. I don't think that was said everywhere. It was kind of known because it was right then. Frankie was really important to both me and Benny and most of our crowd. It was more like something second nature. I feel like even if I hadn't said anything the night would have been done with him in mind. I think 718 Sessions was the last New York party he played. We had a great love for him. He was a good friend and he had a great love for our party. Our crowd loved him and loved his productions. He had a great legacy. So it was a very… I don't want to say emotional in a sad way. More just a remembrance of how special he was.
Frankie was really concerned with the message of the music he was playing. Is that something you strive for, too?
Yeah, when I was introduced to Frankie I'd already heard a lot of his contemporaries. I was really impressed. It seemed like everyone worth hearing in the '70s, iconic DJs, all played with a message and talked with the music. It's something that I didn't focus on because everyone did it. As time went on, that really got lost. I rarely hear that now. When I hear it, even a bit, my head turns. It's a great thing.
It's something that I do without thinking about it. It just happens. I'll look back at a playlist I make and it will basically be talking. All the songs will really convey a particular message. It's more pleasurable to me and I think that's where Frankie came from also. Same kind of beginnings.
I interviewed Frankie a few times, and he once told me that you were his favourite DJ. Is that something he ever mentioned to you?
Wow. I know he definitely gave me attention as a friend. He'd never said that to me directly but that really is a wonderful compliment. He's somebody that I put on a really high pedestal. That's wonderful that he would say that or feel that. It would mean a lot to me.
Do you have a favourite DJ?
Unfortunately, as much as I find things I like in contemporary DJs, it's hard for me not to think of my whole career when I think of that, because it's the things that have made the biggest impression on me. I probably would have to put someone like Larry Levan at the top of the list. For me he was just my personal favourite. David Mancuso, who's still with us. Nicky Siano, a bunch of people like that. This guy, Tony Smith, who comes to all my parties, who's still DJing now, who's somebody I used to go listen to in the '70s. They hold a certain kind of entirety in the way they approach music that makes it hard to compare to somebody more present. The list goes on but I hold some of them at the top.
I really like the idea that people are telling stories. That they play all genres of music. That they're not so predictable. They have respect for the song that's playing, that it's not just two minutes of everything. That's my ethos of what I've come to feel about DJing and going out.
It's great you mention someone like Tony. He's a little less well known but he's someone who's blown me away in the past.
It's funny, because he still has it. I used to listen to him in 1975 and I was there with Larry Levan and other people and we were all listening to him. He was really on top of the scene in that time at some place called The Barefoot Boy. There were other people like Larry Patterson, who used to blow me away. It's that certain ethos of how they play that's truly remarkable. I know he still does it but he doesn't have that key club or venue where I can go hear him.
I wanted to talk about The Garage and Larry. It's kind of been talked about a lot, but there was one story I found fascinating. Did you and Larry used to skate around the Garage in the daytime? Did Larry bust his arm or something when you were DJing?
That's kind of putting two stories together. What it was, Larry himself, he was a skater. People didn't know this very much but he was actually a skate-guard in Empire roller rink. So he was a very good skater. He used to come to Roxy when I was DJing there. He would come with this other group of people in the industry who liked skating. It was a Richard Long system in the Roxy, so they were in their element. He came to the booth to talk to me. I was just putting on "Girl You Need A Change Of Mind" by Eddie Kendricks and he was like, "No you didn't!" He just ran away and ran to the floor. I guess I didn't see him for a few weeks and then, when I came to the Garage, he had his arm in a sling. I said to him, "What happened?" He looked at me and he goes, "You played that fucking song, man! I pulled my arm on the rail trying to get on the floor so fast!" Which is kind of a compliment, but it was sad.
What would happen was I would roller skate around Manhattan a lot, and I would call Larry up on the phone and it would be early afternoon. At the time, Larry lived at The Paradise Garage. Later on he would have his own apartment, but then he lived in the back. I would call him up and ask if he wanted to hang out. He would be like, "Yeah, I'm just getting up, I'll be up by the time you get here." I'd come over and I'd just be skating around The Garage dance floor. Larry would turn on the system and he'd basically be listening to new records that he got that week, kind of like DJing for me. But it was so etched in my memory: "Wow, does it get any better than this?" It was just very special.
You've experienced many of the world's greatest clubs, but do you think there's perhaps too much reverence for places like The Garage? If you're constantly nostalgic for something you've never been to it's probably harder to enjoy the present.
Well, from being there I can say the reverence is deserved. But sometimes it's a little hard to hear from people who've not only never been there, but you can tell by what they're saying they really don't get it. They just get the reverence and that's it, and they really don't understand why. A lot of people talk about it who don't really know what they're talking about. Maybe that's why it comes off that way. After experiencing all these clubs there are certain things about it that still hold it on top for me.
It's not just a room and this great soundsystem, which was always a work in progress, it's Larry Levan himself. Larry Levan was the club. There was no Garage without Larry Levan. He took it in a direction for ten years, and if it hadn't closed he would have kept doing that. He had a very strong personality. He had very strong DJ emotions and instinct. A lot of integrity in what he's putting forth, not only in the music, but the direction.
He controlled every aspect of the club. I've never been in a club that size where the DJ not only controls the lights on the floor and the lights in the DJ booth, he had control over the exit lights.
Yeah, he had a switch that was completely illegal. He wanted a pure blackout. He got control over the exit lights. Nobody made complaints. When he did a blackout, you couldn't move. He turned out the lights in the booth, everything. People didn't have cell phones, so you couldn't use that.
And what kind of record would he be playing during a blackout?
You know, it wasn't that it was a particular record—it was maybe a particular part of a record. The strength and timing of a blackout means you're really listening, you're not distracted by anything else. You'd pick a certain part of a record that you really wanted to focus on and that's where the blackout was.
You just don't see that today.
No. It's funny because there are so many aspects of that club that you not only didn't see again, but I haven't even seen one of the elements again. It was a huge club but it wasn't air-conditioned. He had a really strong dance crowd, so even during the dead of winter it would be sweating in there. He had these two huge fans on one side of the room. They must have been at least 8 to 10 feet wide. Huge industrial fans embedded on the wall. They were on the same wall that was part of the ramp that you walk up when you come in. Instead of opening and closing the fans as you need to cool the room he kept them closed.
At maybe four or five in the morning it was really hot in there. He would build something up to a peak point then let it end and maybe play some wind [sound effects]. He would then open the fans—that not only felt like this amazing breath of cool air, but it added to the show. It was part of the drama of the night. He controlled that. He controlled everything in the room. He played videos when videos started coming out but he wasn't like, "Oh, let's just play a video." Something would come down, maybe once in a night, and it would make sense. He used things to add to the new experience in ways I just didn't see again. Very inventive and experimental. There are a lot of things, these are just an example.
So many things you've done that were successful have not been motivated by money. Body & Soul was a party for fun. Your MFSB edit was just something you did for yourself. How much can you really plan success in dance music?
You know, maybe there are people out there who can do that. I've never thought of it that way. So I never really tried for that. Both of the things you mention were things that I just wanted to do. They could have gone the other direction. But perhaps because they're honest and heartfelt they somehow created a wave and hit at a certain time when they were able to carry.
Everyone I knew had an edit of "Love Is The Message." Back then people didn't share them. "That's my edit, do your own." So when I did that edit I put a lot of thought into it. I knew what I wanted it to do. What I like and what I don't like about other edits. It happened to come out and it stuck.
With Body & Soul, like I said, these certain clubs like The Loft and The Gallery and The Garage had a certain ethos of how they were formed and why they were as good as they were. When Body & Soul came along me and François [Kevorkian] had talked for more than a year about what we wanted to do in a party and what we thought was missing. François got an opportunity with Club Vinyl and he said, "You know, this could be what we were talking about. It's not about money, there might be no one there. But it's got all these great things. It's got this great soundsystem, just bring some records you like. We'll have a good time." That's really all Body & Soul was.
Then we invited Joe Claussell for a Larry Levan tribute party, and it kind of jumped off big as there weren't as many tributes back then. Then it kind of went back to normal for the summer, just not a huge crowd. The first Body & Soul might have been 30 people, but we thought something was right. Even though there's no money in it, we have gigs where we make money. This is what we do for a good time. We just continued it that way, and I think the success followed the spirit of the event being an enjoyable thing.
It was on a Sunday originally, right? You had no liquor license?
There was no liquor license and that's what gave us the opportunity. As soon as you went somewhere with a liquor license then you got pushed around because they're after a drinking crowd and maximising drinkers. The audience that we brought didn't focus on drinking. It's funny because drinking is such an important thing for the English crowd. I had some English friends who came to the party and said, "Wow, we're so glad we're here. This is so great... Well, where's the bar?" They couldn't get to grips with that. They had to go down the street, get a few drinks and come back. Something about our crowd, it's not the liquor first it's always the music first.
Speaking of the English, you're about to play in London for Need 2 Soul. You're playing for eight hours, is that the ideal scenario for you?
I play for eight hours or longer but I never usually announce that. I enjoy playing a long set for a crowd that wants to have it.
I suppose you come from a background where everyone was doing eight hours or more.
Yeah, and the crowd would be there for eight hours, too. That's the tougher part these days… There's such a short attention span, the crowd are not used to it.
It's not so much the DJ that has to have the stamina—it's the crowd?
I mean, I follow the crowd. If I have all these great records and I bring a great vibe, I can't do it on my own. It's really a relationship with the people.
You're a native New Yorker—you're probably about as NYC as it comes—what do you still love about the city?
Right now I'm in Williamsburg. Before that I'd probably moved about 10 blocks in my life. Now it's maybe 30 blocks. I really love downtown New York, and even though I'm in Williamsburg I'm over there a lot. When I travel it reminds me what's unique to this area. How villagey it is. How friendly it is to walk around and the accessibility of so many things. So much choice of food and music. I'm still a big record shopper. There are so many places here that you can buy records. Mostly used; new records are just difficult to find anywhere these days. I just feel the ease of being here. It's such a perfect melting pot for me. I feel very at home.