Introducing : Levon Vincent
There was a time in the early-to-mid 1990s that New York was the epicentre of house music, a culmination of 20 years of deviant dancing in a city that was – according to Lou Reed - “sinking like a rock”. But it couldn’t last – as the city got cleaned up, the clubs disappeared, the labels folded, the record stores closed down. Some key names soldiered on, but the moment had more or less passed. The last 18 months have seen a flicker of something again – a new DIY East Coast sound, headed by DJ QU, Jus Ed and Fred P. Only this time – as Levon Vincent tells Bodytonic - almost no-one in New York is paying attention…
How much of an influence has the sound of New York been?
When you live there, you don’t realise how spoiled you are - to have such a fusion of cultures and to be able to pick and choose from such a wide array of influences is really great. It could be said that a common goal among artists these days would be to soften the difficulties that come with a frenzied globalisation. There are so many tools and experiences that the city has to offer in the way of advanced perspective.
But I am not in New York this year. I am living in Indiana right now. Solitude. I have been here for six months and I have only been home to New York a few times. It’s this excursion which has allowed me to focus so heavily on music and to do all the releases this year. I have never been to the midwest before - I love it here. I love how quite it is. I can really concentrate and also, it’s nice how loud I can be, with no neighbours to complain.
Am I right in suggesting (seminal New York club) the Sound Factory has influenced some of the music you are making?
Hell Yeah. The Sound Factory was a huge influence on me. That era is really when I decided what to do with my life. My first experience DJing was at Sugar Babies on 3rd Ave and 5th Street in 1992. Those guys were really cool to me. I was really young and they all looked after me and gave me work, first washing dishes and then eventually I became busboy. Both Dmitri and Lady Kier from Dee-lite worked there as wait staff before their project blew up. I never met Kier during that time, but I did meet Dmitri a few times, we would smoke pot in the basement. There were great clubs in the early ‘90s: Tunnel, Limelight, Save The Robots, Nation, The Shelter, others too.
I worked at (designer) Pat Fields’ shop from ‘93-’97. The walls were painted by Martine from Maxi records. You know the Running Back label’s ‘Sex Trax’ EP by Radioslave? That artwork is homage to Martine. I was active in the scene at that time, I DJed quite often at house parties and bars. You could say that’s when I “cut my teeth.” I also worked with Paul Alexander, who lent his voice to many house records… “Step into a world, of your innermost desires. So deep, so liquid”… 51 Days sampled him for their big one (’Paper Moon’ on Touche)…There were many brilliant, influential people I met through that job.
I am a scientist working in the field of ass-shakery.
Is there anything to get inspired by in New York today? Musically or otherwise?
I am inspired by all my friends - DJ QU, Fred P, Jus- Ed, Anthony Parasole, a friend of mine EM, who will make his debut on the upcoming Novel Sound comp in the fall…
When did you decide to start Novel Sound?
Jus-Ed really talked me into doing Novel Sound. I was basically finished with the business side of music - a little sour and happy just to be making exclusive tracks for my friends to play out, but lucky for me he convinced me to go further. He had been playing a track of mine, ‘Deeper’ out a lot. It eventually became the basis of the first Novel Sound release. I feel that a lot of people probably gave Novel Sound #01 a chance because I included a track by Ed, ‘Don’t Answer The Phone’. He has been a good friend to me and a great mentor to have in this business.
And Deconstruct Music?
I have a business partner for Deconstruct, my friend Anthony Parasole. He’s from Coney Island. He's also part of our UQ family. He does a party in New York called House n’ Home. It is widely known in NY as a guaranteed good time. I like that I also have a best friend who I trust and a second label going. Like they say, don't put all your eggs in one basket.
I made the music for the first two releases, but Anthony also makes beats and the third release will debut Anthony's music to the world, in the form of a remix collaboration between him and Fred P. The record is called ‘Party People Clap They Hands’ by DJ QU. Ed and I also did a remix… basically, the whole Underground Quality family. It’s going to be four tracks, a double LP release.
What inspired the tougher sounds of your past few releases?
I think I have always had an aggressive sound - I have been told that before anyway - but I can’t say that I have set out to have any sound in particular. Some music sounds like it comes from “the heart” - I think sometimes my sound comes from the gut instead. Maybe it’s a mistake actually, but a good one. As far as my work in 2009, I think I just finally got it right. I got some of the music out. I really hope that I can continue and survive because I truly love doing this.
The most difficult aspect, which probably holds a lot of us back as producers, is figuring out how to survive on little or no money. One thing that is tricky about the US is that you are not given healthcare as part of your citizenship - it is given instead through a full time job, meaning 40+ hours per week; leaving no time for music. You can buy health insurance privately, but you would have to be wealthy. It’s a system that keeps people locked in their jobs. No conspiracy or anyone trying to hold you down, it’s just a plain fact of life. The way our system has been designed, it benefits people who perform standardised work duties, at full time working schedules. The whole patronage system and support structure for the arts has broken down in the past 100 years. Things can be tough. I have been going without healthcare for most of my life, and I have been turned away from hospital more than once when I was in need. I keep my fingers crossed that nothing serious happens and I keep working on music. One day I trust everything will work out and if not, well, fuck it, I have music.
You are getting a lot of love from places like Hardwax and the Berlin techno scene – did you expect this?
No, I did not. I am truly honoured. Phonica and Dope Jams too. Actually the record stores have all been really good to me. I am so honoured. To know that Hardwax is supporting my efforts, it feels like I hit my mark. Those guys have been so cool… Marcel, Achim, Etsuko, Michael, everyone over there. The Berghain crew too. All I can say is that I feel very honoured this year.
One day I trust everything will work out and if not, well, fuck it, I have music.
There’s a deeper side to you too - I’m thinking of the the amazing ‘1000 Miles From Home’, ‘These Games’…
I was proud of that ‘1000 miles…’ track when I made it. It’s about “hiding out” in Indiana, getting all this music written. It’s just a guess, but I imagine I am about 1000 miles from New York. As far as the ‘split persona’ persona goes -I grew up on house music, like you mentioned - Sound Factory etc - but what we always thought was cool would be the DJ who dropped a Basic Channel record into their set, or when Power Music sampled (Basic Channel’s) ‘Quadrant’. I guess people always think there is something cooler going on somewhere else. There’s a romantic notion, one which every collector can probably relate to with their own search for cool vinyl: the “back” story; the narrative.
For us, you hear Eightball records all night and then one record which is slightly different stylistically, and that one is going to stand out. It will seem a little more exotic, like Berlin was to us at that time. It’s hard to communicate this powerful aspect to record hunting now, because the internet has made regional sounds much less distinct… And that is a good thing! Anyone can do any sound because we have equal exposure. This is not only with musical dialogs but also sexuality, religion, visual art… with some negativity too: weaponry, slavery, hatred….but the dialogues are proof we are benefiting as a species as the world grows smaller.
When you DJ, what kind of music do you play?
House music, techno, a random weird one if I think it will fly. I really work to make the people move. I am a scientist working in the field of ass-shakery.
Do you play often in the US?
No, almost never. I don’t try really either. I would love to, but considering that my records don’t sell here, I doubt I would have much luck, ha ha ha! Except for New York of course. I do OK there and have played countless times over the years. Lots of empty rooms, but a few notable gigs too. I had a great gig this year: I played the House n Home party with Fred P and we killed it.
Is there much appreciation for what you, Jus-Ed, DJ QU etc are doing?
I think Europe likes us a lot, we have a strong presence there. I really would like to get some more music into the Japanese market, but it’s tough: I don’t know how to yet.
How did you meet those guys?
We got to be friends 10 years ago, I worked at Halcyon in Brooklyn for several years. We would broadcast the Wednesday Underground Quality radio show from there. (Check it out Wednesdays here. 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, the days were locked down. I was there for Ed's first CD release party. We used to talk about making music, technique and stuff. He played me demos of what would become the first few Underground Quality releases. I have known Fred and Qu for four to five years, seen them out at clubs, but I am really becoming friends with them now that we are working together. I have so much respect for those guys and their musicianship.
So is there something of a new East Coast sound with you guys?
Yes, I am not sure where we are headed - or if there is a name for the new style, but we can all sense that something special is happening with our crew right now and over the next few years. We are taking our house/deep house and trying to expand upon it. In the future I think people will give our movement a name etc… I would be so lucky be part of something like that.
If so, this is a good thing, right? Strength in numbers?
Agreed. Strength in numbers.