Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Kenny. Let’s start with how you first got into music and the influences surrounding you growing up?
My dad used to collect records and design speakers. I was always fascinated by his work and electronics, especially record players. I used to find equipment that people had thrown out and I’d bring those pieces home to see if I could repair them. My mother loved to have parties at home and of course I would always set the sound system and play the music. I have seven brothers and we had a five bedroom apartment so those parties were like a rave.
Can you tell us about the first clubs you went to, how you got to hear about them and the influence they had on your life at the time?
I used to hang out with lots of girls in my teenage years and when I was eighteen we all decided to go out to a club in Manhattan. It was a small place in midtown called the Hollywood and Richie Kaczor was the DJ. That place closed at 4:30am and someone told us about another after-hours club on 23rd Street called The Galaxy 21. We went there and they let us in. I was amazed because the club was big, there were hundreds of people there and the place had three floors. I was so impressed with the main room which was on the ground level, the music was pounding and the Dj booth was massive. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of that booth, I wanted to get inside to see what kinda equipment they were using. The Dj took a liking to me, his eyes seemed to follow me everywhere I turned and I soon found out that his name was Walter Gibbons. He invited me into the Booth and they had an amazing setup, more equipment that I’d ever see at parties in Brooklyn. There was an analogue lighting console next to the decks but no one was working with it. I started to fiddle with the lights, green, blue, red and strobe. I had no idea what I was doing but Walter loved it and he offered me a job working the lights for him at the club.
So, I started working at clubs from that moment at the tender age of eighteen, I worked at the Galaxy 21 for a year until one of the co-owners opened up a new club on nineteenth street called The Inferno. I worked the lights at The Inferno for five years but I used to play music there sometimes too in the late hours. I was playing music there one morning and the promoters of Studio 54 came to visit because they were looking for a new DJ to prolate Nicky Siano. They were impressed with my set and they hired me for a Saturday night residency which lasted a year from 1980-81.
When did you first become aware of ‘mixing’ records and how did you learn your own style? What are your memoires of the turntables/ mixers you used to play on?
My family and I lived in a housing project in Brooklyn and we had a neighbour named Steve Standart. He was a mobile DJ that means that he would do parties and bring all of the sound and the music with him. Someone in our building stole a case of his records and I knew who it was so I told him about it, he was grateful to get his music back and that forged a friendship between us. He soon invited me to his house and I was so excited to be there because he had the mixer and the two decks set up in the house. I asked him if I could try to mix two records together but I was only sixteen at the time and I had no experience but I kept going until I got it right. Steve was impressed so he invited me to work with him on the road, he gave me a nickname, My new Dj name was Moondust. He choose that name because my older brother’s nickname was Moon. BTW, Steve was also a singer and he later became known as Strafe. He had a monster hit record called “Set It Off” which was mixed by Walter Gibbons but I also did a remix of the song a few years after it was released.
How would you now describe the impact of 1970’s Disco both politically and socially? Is nostalgia for those times a good thing or is moving forwards musically more important?
It’s difficult to separate the Disco era for politics, the lyrics were all about freedom and justice and that was partially due to the Stonewall Riots in NYC. I’m sure you know that the dance music industry couldn’t have existed without gay men and women like me. It was once illegal for gays to dance together or hold hands on the streets. We felt liberated when we heard songs from Gloria Gaynor like “I Am What I Am” and “I Will Survive.” But there was another struggle going on from a black prospective that’s still evident today. Racial injustice, housing discrimination and income inequality is something that’s ingrained in American culture, it’s like a poison that may take many more generations to weed out. I thank God for artists like Stevie Wonder. Teddy Pendergrass and the late great Bob Marley. They expressed the struggle of the black man and woman so eloquently in their music. There were so many things that I thought would set me back in my life when I was younger, growing up poor, gay and black was not an easy thing and it still affects me today.
The dance music of today is mostly crap. The themes are gone and there’s endless repetition thanks in part to digital technology. I’m so happy when I listen to pre-digital recordings because there were so many subliminal messages in the songs, it was like a blueprint for what we’re facing nowadays. The computer, sequencer and drum machine made it easier to produce music but that equipment also killed something musically that was so dear to my heart.
You began DJ’ing at Studio 54 in 1980 being hired by Mike Stone. How would you describe the change in clientele that happened after Steve Rubell & Ian Schrager were jailed? Do you think that the club has received a fair portrayal since?
Studio 54 lost their liquor license after Steve and Ian went to jail and that was the only reason why Mike Stone was able to get the club. Let me explain something to you that you may not understand: Black and Latino people from my generation in NYC never wanted or needed alcohol in the clubs, we were very happy when we went to The Paradise Garage or The Loft because alcohol wasn’t served at those clubs. Of course there were other drugs in the clubs during that time, mainly weed and cocaine. Mike’s parties at 54 were private, open only to members and their guests and that made the parties feel special, it made the place feel like a home, every patron was respected and the party started at the front door, no aggressive security dressed in all black, that would have killed everything. Clubbing and festivals nowadays have become all about business, the clubs and the promotors take, take, take and offer the patron nothing in return, fools don’t realize that they’re being used and herded like sheep but there’s a sucker born every second.
I have seen many of the documentaries about 54 and I wasn’t impressed by any of them. They never discuss the Mike Stone history, They insist on keeping the story glamorous and Lilly white.
By the early eighties there were a lot of new and different influences coming in musically too, were there any significant European records making an impression? Can you tell us about how that effected what you were doing and where you were getting your records from?
After Steve Rubell & Ian Schrager were released from prison they wanted their club back, they thought that they could pick up from where they left off but the magic was finished and that story was never to be repeated. Mike Stone moved me and his parties to the cavernous Bonds International Casino in Times Sq. The music was changing in the early 80’s, electronic music was becoming very popular and the Puerto Rican’s were the leaders in this new sound. Lisa Lisa & The Cult Jam and Afrika Bambaataa were favorites at the club but John Jellybean Benitez productions were also very popular at the time and anything that I played involving him went over well. I have an eclectic musical style and I refuse to be locked in a genre. I loved taking risks so I would play some English pop bands and New Wave. I played The Pet Shop Boys, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Heaven 17, Talking Heads and Soft Cell.
I was a member of David Mancuso’s Record Poll and then I moved on to For The Record. I also bought many imports from Dancetracks and Vinylmania.
By 1982 you DJ’ed at Bond’s International Casino. Tell about us about your time there and its influence on NYC?
I hated Bonds because they didn’t make the correct investment in the sound system or acoustical treatment in the room but I learned how to love the place after three months of working there. I discovered that people create acoustics and that meant that I had to have 2500 people in the room of optimum sound quality. Bonds was the biggest club ever opened in NYC the dance floor was the size of a 747 airplane hangar. If you lost the friend that you came with you most likely would see them for the rest of the evening. I had a great time working there mainly because the parties were private, We had some amazing performances there too, Chaka Kahn, Eddie Kendricks were two of my favorite shows there.
Did you ever play or visit the likes of The Saint? How did you feel about those clubs in comparison and the music played there?
I never went to the Saint but I can bet that I wouldn’t have liked the music. Most white American people and black folks have always been, and still are on different musical planets..
How would you compare the experience of DJ’ing today (pre-covid 19) and the early eighties in terms of technology and the music people like to dance to? Do you feel that something has been lost in the quality of contemporary song writing, or is it just as good?
I spoke about this in my earlier comments but I will elaborate further. I think that there are too many confusing genres now but the record companies and digital distributors are responsible for this. Technology has been a blessing and a curse because there’s a avalanche of quantity but little quality. The productions are so repetitive and the song writing, productions and mastering are lacklustre to put it mildly. I’ve been totally bored for years, dance music has become as worthless as disposable razor blades.
Outside of Dance Music who are your favourite artists in terms of painters, poets, writers etc. And have you discovered any music recently that you wouldn’t normally have listened to (because of the pandemic) which has surprised you?
I guess I’m old school but some of my favorite artists have passed on. I adored Maya Angelou and Keith Haring probably never dreamed that his art would be so popular. I’ve been listening to lots of music from the 60’s and the 70’s during these lockdowns. The message songs are really getting my attention because now I can fully understand the meaning in them. The time that we live now was predicted and prophesied long ago.
What advice would you give to someone starting out to DJ? And on the other side of Covid-19 what will it mean to you to return to DJ’ing?
I would advise any up and coming DJ to make sure that you have a second or third career because success in the music business is not promised. Don’t store all of the eggs in one basket. I believe that Covid-19 is a reset. The strong will survive and the weak will fall. I don’t know what my DJ future will be but I will always come back to that musical message of love.
Kenny Carpenter on facebook https://www.facebook.com/kcarpe177