Theres always the occasional person at the party who thinks Im just not playing well enough. I dont know these people and they dont know me, but they think they do and they dont seem to realize that when they come and interrupt me to say something like that, they completely break my concentration, destroying my evening.
Chatting down the line from his summer home in Bologna, Italy, US house legend Frankie Knuckles admits hes less than happy when clubbers approach him and ask for requests.
I could never walk up to somebody else working and tell them theyre not performing to the best of their abilities; I could never do that to them and destroy their day, he storms.rnrnBut how do I get around it? The only way I can handle it is by not allowing them to get any closer to me. I dont like to be put in that kind of position; I dont want to be disconnected from the audience, I like being close to the crowd, but not so they can disturb me. I would say that probably 90% of the people understand that, but theres that 10% who dont, who think the purpose of me being that close to them is so they can bother me while Im working. The minute they destroy my whole head and ruin my evening, then the rest of the night becomes work, and its awful.
Though the terms ‘legend’ and’ pioneer’ are over-used beyond cliché, Frankie Knuckles is the bona fide real deal, helping create New Yorks notoriously hedonistic club scene of the late 70s then kick-starting house music with his seminal residency at ground-breaking nightspot the Warehouse (and later the Powerplant).
Nowadays touring the world, he remains a big name superstar draw and icon in Chicago – where as well as having a street named after him, he was recently made an Ambassador Of Goodwill at the citys first ever Chicago House Festival. Not that hes best pleased with how the media in particular still portray house.
I dont look at the whole house music scene the same way as everyone else does. Some people see it as a black and white issue; its here today and gone tomorrow, happening or not happening, but you people keep forgetting that there are individuals like myself, who have been working on this side of the business for a very long time and Im still happy working, Im still viable within the industry, he complains.
Mostly, the music industry, and really by that I mean journalists, rarely come to Chicago to see what is really going on or to see exactly how healthy it is or isnt. It takes something like the Chicago festival for everybody to prick up their ears to acknowledge that house is still happening. To me that is a disservice. House music never disappeared.
Skrufff: A number of original house DJs such as Farley Jackmaster Funk have become evangelical Christians in recent years, so you see dance culture as having any similarities to religion?rnrnFrankie Knuckles: I can see how it could be misconstrued in that way. In my own personal opinion I think religion can be dangerous. People need something to believe in, but you should believe in yourself first, and then the rest of getting through life will be easier. Belief has to start at home and music is something that transports people beyond their everyday lives. Whatever positive or negative experiences theyre living through, music automatically takes them right out of them. So if you are in a bad way and you are trying to figure out what your next move is or you need to escape from it all, the only thing that can help you is music. Its the only tangible thing.
I grew up in New York City in the original rat race, where I and everybody I knew would be working two jobs and living in an apartment with three other room mates and all the rest that goes with that struggle, the only real luxury that anyone had was going out on the weekend. So people would go to the Loft or to the Garage or wherever and dance from midnight to noon the next day. That was their vacation, their weekly vacation, the only means of escape they had, then come Monday morning it was right back to salt mines and doing the same thing all over again. It was all multi-religious to a certain degree, but no one was told what to do and how to do it and if what they were doing was right or wrong. Thats the biggest problem I have with religion. I dont knock the fact that Farley is a born again Christian, maybe he needed that in his life, but if you cant believe in yourself first, how can you believe in anything else? Thats the way I look at it. Belief has to start at home.
Skrufff: What do you make of New Yorks club scene today and the club crackdown of recent years?
Frankie Knuckles: Its very scary. Ive never felt more disconnected from New York City. When I first moved to Chicago in 1977, it scared me to be away from New York that long, because New York City has that kind of magnet that pulls you back in, no matter how far you travel you always end up back there. No matter where you hit anywhere in the world, nothing compares to being in New York. New Yorkers always use New York City as a beacon and they will always compare everywhere else to New York. But these days its totally different, its not just Giuliani that made it disappear though, the club scene pretty much killed itself. When you start doing things to the extreme, then it becomes detrimental. Its not enough to have a room that has great music in it thats appealing to an audience and an audience enjoying it.
When things go to the extreme in these places and there are drugs around as well it just puts a death on everything. It makes it impossible for anything that could be great in this part of the business to really succeed because sooner or later it will catch up with itself. Thats exactly what happened. When Giuliani was trying to actually put some control over all of this, when he tried to set the wheels in motion to restrict anything that had to do with vice or nightclubs and clubs, the scene faded out for the most part. Its now either gone or its been shut down so far underground that unless you know whos doing what youll never know how to find it.
Skrufff: You first made your name DJing at the Continental Baths, the notoriously hedonistic sex club of the late 70s and early 80s. Do any clubs like that exist there today?
Frankie Knuckles: There are no clubs in New York City like that right now. Could I see a club like that happening in New York right now? Probably not, because nobody would know how to do it right. The Bath-house was a very complex club because it needed to be regulated in a certain kind of way, I dont think anyone in New York City would know how to do that right now.
Skrufff: Are you committed to staying in New York long term? Do you ever think about moving to Chicago or Europe?rnrnFrankie Knuckles: I actually live in Chicago and I live in Bologna. Im in Bologna right now.
Skrufff: Youve been DJing for over 30 years; do you still focus on playing new music primarily?rnrnFrankie Knuckles: Im playing something for the current, something for the new and Im playing a bit of my history as well.
Skrufff: Are you a DJ that prepares much before a set?
Frankie Knuckles: I usually do, yeah. I dont go through any real serious changes when it comes to preparation. I go through all my music to make sure that I have everything I need and more; that if I get the rush to go in different directions then I have everything available around me. The best thing about what I do is that Ive been doing it a long time and people know exactly who I am, so when they come to one of my shows or a party Im playing at, they know exactly what they are going to find. My job is to entertain, to take people on a journey and tell them a story. If they dont have the patience to go with the rhythm that Im creating through the course of that night, they will make it difficult for anyone else thats willing to take that journey. They should leave then, get out of other peoples way and let other people enjoy it. Dont interrupt me in the middle of what Im trying to do just because you think that what Im doing is wrong and I should be doing what you want me to do instead. This is what Im here for. If thats the case then they should be playing.
Skrufff: Do you still enjoying playing generally?
Frankie Knuckles: I still enjoy it very much. I know that Im very fortunate that people recognize my name and what I do, so to a certain degree its easy, but I dont rest on that fact alone. I still have a job to do and Im there to perform to the best of my ability and hopefully I will surprise people by giving them a little more of what they expected. At Moneypennys recently, the whole room was in a zone and one guy comes up, while Im thumbing through my CDs, trying to find something to put on next. He says: Im no DJ, but you might want to change the energy in this room because its boring. Now, mind you, that room was packed. The whole room but him was moving. I answered: Well, obviously you know this better than I do, so you should come in here and you should be doing this whilst I should be standing out there. Please, by all means, come in here because you know it better than I do.
Thats the sort of situation I was talking about before. People just dont think when they are out, which is one of the main reasons why I dont go to bars, because people under the influence of alcohol become stupid. They do stupid things; they become disrespectful and dont care about what they say, because all they think about is themselves. Its very difficult to do a show in those circumstances. If you go to any concert or any other show, you wont be able talk to the performer during their act. Why should they, all of sudden, stop singing just to talk to you? Just because youve paid for a ticket to get in? Thats stupid.
Skrufff: Let me ask you about Frankie Knuckle Way, I understand you regularly take guests for breakfast there, to a restaurant. . .
rnFrankie Knuckles: I tell you, I dont think about it one way or another. I mean, Im thrilled to have the street named after me I really am, and the place I take guests to happens to be one of my favourite restaurants to have breakfast in Chicago. I dont eat in that restaurant every time when I am at home, but when I have friends in from out of town, the first thing they want to see is Frankie Knuckles Way. We go there for breakfast and to have a look at the street sign because they get such a big kick out of it. I feel honored.
rnSkrufff: What kind of street is it, does it reflect your personality, is it plush or rundown?
Frankie Knuckles: Its not rundown. Its in a commercial and residential neighborhood; its where the original Warehouse was, which at one time was all-industrial. They have taken over all the industrial lofts and turned them into residences now, so its part residential and part commercial. Its a nice neighborhood.
Skrufff: Does anyone recognize you usually?
Frankie Knuckles: Yes, some people do. They dont trip out about it though.
Skrufff: We were talking to DJ Sneak about gang culture recently, how safe is the city these days?
Frankie Knuckles: I cant speak about the gang activity there because I dont come from that situation in Chicago. I didnt grow up amongst that gang culture at all and the way I have always lived in Chicago has always been pretty safe.
Skrufff: Your Def Mix compadre David Morales got shot in New York when he was a teenager . . .
Frankie Knuckles: Thats the element he surrounded himself with then. If you put yourself in harmful situations these are the things that can happen. Thats not everyday culture. Although I was brought up in New York City, in the South Bronx, I didnt experience any of that. The Bronx just has a reputation then but Harlem had a reputation too, worse than even in Brooklyn. These days everyone is trying to buy a house or an apartment in Harlem. Youre talking about people spending millions and millions of dollars to live there.http://www.disco-disco.com/djs/frankie.shtml