New York house man Levon Vincent does his thing on this week's RA podcast.
There's something happening in New York at the moment. The funny thing? Only a few of the people involved actually live there. Black Jazz Consortium, DJ Qu, Anthony Parasole, Jus-Ed and Levon Vincent all form a loose scene of DJs and producers gathered around Ed's Underground Quality imprint—and they're busy engineering a electronic music renaissance in the city. While Black Jazz, Qu and Parasole live in the city, though, Ed makes his home in Connecticut, and Vincent currently resides in Indiana.
The group all became friends through connections to the city's Halycon record store in the early '00s when it was located at Smith Street, but we'll let Vincent tell that story below. What you need to know now: Ever since his move to the Midwest six months ago, Vincent has been on fire production-wise, receiving praise from DJs such as Marcel Dettmann, DJ Deep and Martin Landsky for his releases on his own Novel Sound imprint and his and Parasole's Deconstruct Music. The duo will be taking their show on the road this upcoming weekend for a date—their first—at Berlin's Berghain. This week's RA podcast is a sampler of what you can expect from Vincent's set.
What have you been working on recently?
I just finished up a remix for Deconstruct for "Party People Clap They Hands" written by DJ Qu. I put the demo on this podcast. I need to do a couple tweaks and then record a final mixdown. Nothing can touch his original, but I am happy with this remix. We are going to release a Deconstruct double pack soon, with a contribution from everyone in the Underground Quality family. It's a special record for us, because Anthony Parasole and Fred P have worked together to do a remix, so the DEC-03 release marks Anthony's musical debut. He is seriously talented.
How and where was the mix recorded?
I recorded it in Brooklyn a couple weeks ago using two turntables, a Bozac rotary mixer and a crate of records. There are two unreleased tracks of mine; the QU remix and 'WKO' which were on CD. I recorded it the day after I played the House-n-Home party in Brooklyn and it's a lot of the records I had in my crate that night. Fred P played one the most elegant and simultaneously raw DJ sets I have heard in years that evening, he is truly a brilliant mind and such a good DJ.
Can you tell us a little bit about the mix?
I feel there are a couple routes which can be taken when putting together a mixtape for a site like RA: You can rehearse the arrangement which can yield a more relaxed/ listener-friendly mix, or alternatively it can be treated like a gig: Press record, bang it out and go for a raw feeling. I chose the latter approach, because I want people to know what to expect if they come to see me perform. I saw this podcast as an opportunity to (hopefully) promote my live set.
As far as the tracks and mixing style, it is a fairly good representation of how I might play out. I do some EQ moves and fader bumps, but I don't go too crazy. I try to tastefully play the turntables/mixer as an instrument. Within a two hour set or so, I'm bound to go completely "underwater" at least once or twice. There are moments when you play for the audience and moments when you play for other musicians... I have a gig at Berghain soon, that might call for a darker selection, but I won't know until I get there and read the crowd. Something tells me they wanna get dirty though...
You've had some classical training. Tell me about how that influences your work now.
I am not sure I could make the claim that I am "classically trained," but I am a lifelong student of music, both formally and informally. I studied Jazz, Classical and 20th Century Post Modernism at the State University of New York under James Mcelwaine, who produced Man Parrish's first full length; the one with "Six Simple Synthesizers" and "Man-Made." He told me they had a dog in the studio—a Great Dane—when they were tracking "Hip Hop Be Bop." That's how they got the barking on that one. To give you an idea of his range though, he also wrote music for the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, etc. Two other hugely important teachers in my life were Dary John Mizelle and Joel Thome. I am so fortunate to have known those guys.
I spent most of my time at school thinking about music and in love with this girl, but partying too much to make the connection we hoped for. No trust. She went on to be a full blown pop star, she don't talk to me anymore. I loved music theory, it was my favorite subject and I really was obsessive about that stuff. I failed my Orchestration class, I had to repeat that one... it was a humbling experience but I am better for it now. With that one exception though, I did very well there. I took a few lessons with Phillip Glass and interned briefly with Steve Reich's engineer, who was a complete asshole. I remember when I played him my music, he told me if I wasn't sitting in the room he would have thrown the disc in the trash.
You're currently living in Indiana. Is there any scene there to speak of out there?
I love it here. It is really quiet and a nice stop for me in my life, while I make my way to the next place. I had never been to the Midwest before... I have been here for the better part of six months now, and it has afforded me the opportunity to work on music full time without worrying for rent or working some shitty job. As far as a "scene" I wouldn't know: I never go out, and I haven't tried. I think if you are getting away for a musical retreat in a place like Indiana, you will be disappointed looking into the nightlife. There are fine musical dialogues everywhere, including this locale—but they definitely aren't electronic... I'm sure they hate that business.
I spend most of my time alone, working on music, so I do other things here: I went to an exotic feline rescue center, they take care of lions and tigers. I went to the local winery and got pissed on free wine, that was fun... but mostly I spend my time writing music and hanging out with Cosmo, a cocker spaniel who likes raw onions. I got a drivers license and actually, I failed that test too! I had to repeat the damn driver's test. Driving and Orchestration, ha ha ha.
I can't afford to live back home and make music. To complicate matters, I hurt my spine a few years back and I can't really take the train anymore, it shakes me too hard. I have to use a cane to walk, and it's hard to do too many stairs. It just got to a point where I had to leave NY and grow. So I left. My father and stepmother are there, and everyone I grew up with too, so I go back all the time... But for me, I am going to get up some money and buy a nice cheap little house while the economy is in the tank and I can get something together. I don't want to say where yet (fingers crossed) but I have some good ideas of places of where to relocate.
How did you get hooked up with Jus-Ed and the UQ crew?
Ed is someone who believes in me. He is a great friend and mentor. We got to be friends ten years ago, I worked at Halcyon in Brooklyn for several years and we broadcasted the Wednesday Underground Quality radio show from there. (7pm, NYC time, www.myhouse-yourhouse.net). I never let anyone work that night besides myself, Wednesdays was my shift, no matter what. The music was always the best, and that's the plain truth. Two other notable DJs were Ron Paizley and Adam "Almagest" Cruz. Those were my shifts, Tuesday and Wednesday every week, the days were locked down. I was there for Ed's first CD release party "Carnival House." We used to talk about making music, he played me demos of what would become the first few Underground Quality releases.
Talking about that time of my life makes me want to point out something: There's something about this new DJ era that I dearly miss: The record shops. I love the new digital formats and I find the new wares people are experimenting with for DJing to be very exciting... but there is an aspect that we have not devised a proper substitute for: The human interaction. For me, this is such an important aspect of the music community- going down to the shop and talking/learning about records once a week. There is nothing like "new record day." There is a tradition of movements throughout time—infectious dialogs that spread throughout regions and decades via arts communities and human interaction. People used to talk about Vienna hundreds of years ago the same way they discuss Detroit now or New Orleans a hundred years ago or so with guys like Scott Joplin. It's a visceral aspect to musicianship that is as crucial to good evolution as playing well. There is something new and different going on with weblogs and digital downloading and, while we defintely have a bright future, we can't just erase all our previous methodology. We need to mix them together for the best results. Damn! I sound like an old man and I'm only 33 ha ha ha. Anyway, vinyl is cool.
Back to UQ history: I saw Fred P and DJ Qu out plenty over the years, not at Halcyon but just out in clubs...Joey Anderson too. He and Qu are part of this crew of dancers, they are sick and you always see them out, seriously some of the best house dancers in the world. They travel around the world too. I heard about them going to Japan to dance a few years back. I didn't get to know them until the UQ thing came together. Anthony and me really got tight around 2005, when Halcyon close its doors on Smith Street and relocated under the Brooklyn Bridge. We hit it off immediately and have been great friends ever since. As far as the UQ family, we all come from the school of NY House, so we share a similar vision: Taking those lessons learned from our musical past and doing something with new with them that reflects our time and experiences... Maybe house, deep house or whatever direction we are all headed, which isn't fully realized yet... but people will look back soon and give a name and complete identity to this era of NYC House Music.