Kevorkian's current party, Deep Space, has been tipped as the heir to B&S's legacy. Held each Monday at Cielo in New York's Meatpacking District, the soiree drafts in an eclectic array of guests (Quiet Village, King Britt, DJ Spooky, to name but a few) and asks them to deliver sets that reflect Kevorkian's passion for deepness. The five-years-and-counting party's tagline says it all: "No dress code—just an open mind."
It's only been a short time since RA last caught up with Francois, but there's a reason for that: He has no shortage of things to say. RA's Todd L. Burns suffered through a choppy phone connection with a vacationing Kevorkian to talk dub, “beardo” disco re-edits, and his contribution to Grand Theft Auto IV.
You came to America when you were 21. Why did you originally decide to move from France? I read that you were drumming over there.
It was just a dead-end street. If you're crazy about Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis and people like that, you're not going to find them in France. You're going to find them in New York, which is what I did.
Were you looking to become a jazz drummer when you first moved?
Yeah. Funk, jazz, R&B, those kinds of things. But, you know, it was a whole different scene back then.
When you started playing with Walter Gibbons at Galaxy, was it almost too easy for you because of your jazz background?
Not really, because he was playing records that I didn't really know. I'd only know about 10 to 15%, the other 85% were completely unknown to me, so it was a bit of a challenge to play with them without any rehearsal. I would just have to immediately start playing along to whatever it was. It was a lot of work. I'd play for seven or eight hours on the dancefloor, so I guess I just figured that it would be a lot easier to be a DJ. There weren't a lot of DJs in those days. So I decided to try my hand at it.
What did you learn from Walter?
He was mindblowing at that time, doing things that few people knew how to do. He'd go really fast between records or he'd do some crazy special effects. His selection, too, was very on-point. I didn't know anything at all about DJing, but I picked up pretty quickly that there was a whole movement going on that was really incredible, really interesting.
It seems like there was a certain point in your DJing career where dub captured your fascination. What is it about deepness for you?
Well, lately I feel like I realized it's more than window-dressing for me. It's a really fundamental part of what I am doing, whether it's in the studio or DJing. When I started Deep Space, it was with a clear focus on that aspect of music, but rather than just playing back a collection of records from Kingston, Jamaica circa 1973 – 1977, I was looking at it less in a dogmatic way and more as something with that same spirit. And how you can apply that to many types of music. And what I mean by apply is instead of just letting the records play back, you would apply it as they played. I feel a natural knack for that when I'm DJing.
In many ways, I think of it as connecting the dots and showing people that it's all part of one flow. I guess the reason that I'm attracted to it is simply because I feel that it represents the most incredible stuff that's happened in the past quarter-century.
on a Monday night is going to be there
for the music."
What was the first dub record that you remember hearing?
I was late on all of that. I started to become aware of that in 1980 or so. There was this little record store on the Lower East Side run by these two women. When I got into it, I would go over there to buy these strange records. Of course, I was also aware of what Island Records was putting out, but it wasn't as authentic as some of the real Jamaican stuff. I can't say really which record it was specifically. Certainly there was Black Uhuru through Island.
The thing about it, though, was this aesthetic. There were these effects, processing, reverbs, echoes that I didn't quite hear in other records the same way. So I was naturally drawn towards that. And, of course, I started using those same kinds of effects in the mixes that I was doing. Based on that, I guess a lot of people think that I was one of the first to do that to disco records. Back then it was great, because you would have a hit record and then I'd make a dub and they didn't really care—they let me do whatever I wanted. I just thought it was good to bring out that crazy, demented, dubbed out side of things into the mix.
Fast forward 20 years, and I guess that I really wanted to bring that dubby music to a party, which is when I decided to put Deep Space together to really focus it.
Of course. We're not competing with anybody else, really. I figure that anybody that's crazy enough to be out on a Monday night is going to be there for the music, not for other reasons. I respect those other reasons, of course, but in my opinion it's not conducive to appreciating the thing that we're trying to do. Obviously it's not a super-commercial, chart-oriented, trend-oriented thing. We're not inviting all these big minimal guests from Berlin or having someone play the biggest hip-hop tunes of the moment. I figured we'd just have a little slot away from everybody else, so we didn't have to worry about it.
One of the times that I've been was just recently with Quiet Village, which was basically them pressing play on their record and projecting a video on a wall. I'd never seen anything like that at Cielo.
Yeah, and I think it's been very satisfying for me as well, to bring in guests over the course of the five years that I've been doing Deep Space and cater towards that aesthetic. We very specifically make them aware of what the party is about and ask them to make a special thing for us, because obviously we'd like them to fit in with the idea of the party.
Some people could just look at it as old-school. Nowadays music seems to often be an accessory to whatever people buy. That people are so open-minded when they play at Deep Space, I feel, is something very old-school. And now that we've gone past the first five years, it's given me confidence to try different things. Instead of trying to divide people, I'd like to show them that there a lot of uniting factors out there.
What do you make of the scene in New York these days?
I think the city has become very rich. The thing that made the city so incredibly powerful was the fact that there was this incredible mix of people. Recently, everything's become about money. Perhaps in this coming downturn, things will become a little bit more manageable again. With falling real-estate prices hopefully there will be a good opportunity for some people to build some bigger clubs in the city.
I find it really interesting that people are paying attention to records that were never hits when they came out—and making a much bigger deal over them than when they were first released. Undoubtedly, certain records were way ahead of their time, but I also think there's this other aspect of this beardo…beard-scratching/never-dance/stand-outside-of-the-booth geek that digs a lot of these because they are very obscure records. While there are definitely some people that bring a lot of creativity to it, it's like most things: 95% is forgettable, disposable stuff.
Do you ever think about going back to tape? Doing things the old-fashioned way?
I think that digital has a long way to go before it sounds as good as tape used to be. But it's not going to go there if we don't work at making it better. MP3s are not designed to be played in clubs. They're made to be sent over 56k modems in 1995 for people to listen to on their headphones. I don't know why people are making such a big deal over mp3s or bothering to play them in clubs. It's very poor taste. Of course, that's my personal opinion.
You know, we do have very hi-fidelity formats available, like SACD, which was a total commercial flop. It indicates that the majority of the population is not interested in high quality audio. So, as far as tape goes, yeah, it's great. But who knows about it? The advantages of digital production far outweigh the sonic advantages of using reel-to-reel tapes. So, now, it's just a matter of people working to get digital to a point where it is just as good.
Do you think we'll ever get there?
It’ll take time, but I believe we’ll get there. But only when people champion those formats. Right now, people are more concerned with downloading something that is 14 MB in size, as opposed to the ultra high quality version which might be 300 or 400 MB. Maybe once Verizon puts fiber optics in every home and transfers of gigabytes become trivial, it will change. But I think that most people don't have the patience to want quality; they want convenience first.
The last thing I wanted to ask you about was your mix for Grand Theft Auto. How did that come about?
The makers of the game came to me with a very specific idea of the station that they wanted to have and the type of music that they wanted to feature. I brought some ideas to the table, some of which they agreed with, and some of which they felt they had better choices for their vision. They actually turned me on to a lot of stuff that I should've been more familiar with. The recent electro stuff. It was truly a great experience.
Have you played the game?
How do you like it?