Despite 30 years on the scene, Levon Vincent never ceases to surprise and remains one of the most prominent figures of house and techno. If someone's journey can be called proper, it would be his. NY’s clubbing heyday, the emergence of the distinctive NY house sound as well as the decline of the American nightlife - Levon Vincent experienced it all. He started to climb the downtown culture ladder by working in now legendary record shops like Kim’s or Halcyon.
These places had been the central hub for the most passionate dance music aficionados.
How do you define the scene for you?
The scene is a living being- it’s an organism that is made up of several smaller cells, and those cells are groups of friends, who are brought together by their love of music. And these groups come together at parties, share their knowledge, and inspire each other in many ways, art and music especially… It’s all about dialogues, engaging in dialogues with the people around you and hearing what they say.
Why do you feel part of Clubbing Heritage's mission, what brings you to dedicate to the community?
I’m celebrating 30 years in this industry this year, that’s been a lot of fun over a long time. I love making music and making records, playing music in clubs and festivals, and the art of DJing and performing. I'm playing at Tresor this month, they've been inspiring people for over 3 decades- you will find that there are a lot of people who dedicated their lives to this music, and that is something I am proud to see.
I've made between 50 - 60 records over the years and have never looked back.
What you would like to advise new generations?
Never stop loving what you do!
Don’t give up, the only people who don’t “make it” are the ones that throw in the towel.
If you love this scene, and sharing music for people, having dialogues with other DJs, then just keep at it, and you will get what you desire. You can make it if you try!
How was the first clubbing experience for you, between listening, discovering music and attending a party?
My first club experiences were at a roller skating hall called Skate22 in New Jersey as a young kid. It was so special because you could be any age and get into roller discos. This was in around 1985. We lived in Union and I looked forward to going to Skate22 every Friday. It was my first experience seeing DJing, I used to go and watch the Dj in the booth from the balcony, which was slightly elevated over the dancefloor. At the time the dominant style was called "freestyle." Records like "Let the music Play" by Shannon and "Summertime, Summertime" by Nocera both had an impact on me, as well as hearing "Blue Monday" by New Order and anything from Arthur Baker's "Streetwise" record label. You would think sooner or later people would re-discover the lost genre of dance music, but as of today, there has been no freestyle revival I'm aware of. If you make dance music, I do suggest you listen to Shannon's "Let the music play for inspiration."
That record used to hit so hard in the 80s.
Do you miss the days when record stores were the social hub of the electronic music scene?
I do miss DJ culture very much. But, there are still many gigs and many dancefloors, so... life is good!
You experienced New York in its heyday. How was your first approach? When you moved to Europe, what differences struck you most?
I experienced New York in one of its many heydays- I would say the years that impacted me were from 1991-1994. I am not old enough to regale you with stories of Paradise Garage, for example. But, I was there for the Nasa Parties at the Shelter, any party at the Shelter actually, they were all totally mind-blowing and so positive... Also, I spent a lot of time at the Limelight, and that whole time period represents the most hedonistic, and optimistic, time I've seen thus far in dance music. When Berghain made its mark on the world, for me it was very reminiscent of the New York period, pre-Giuliani, when I had the most fun of my life. So when Berghain became dominant, I fit right in and was very happy to be involved. It felt like a second wave of optimism, like, reliving the best years of my youth. What's interesting about New York City circa 93,94 is that they all moved on and never looked back once. The people who made Limelight or Nasa so special, moved on from dance music and for the most part never mingled in the dance industry again, so it's like, a forgotten time in many respects. Kervyn Marks made a movie about New York in the late 80s, called "Maestro." and despite not covering the "deep" era of 91-93, it is still the most enjoyable image of the forgotten time and place that is New York City's most important time period with regard to the birth of house music etc...
What, in your opinion, are the main reasons for the decline of the underground electronic scene in the USA? Or maybe that's the European misperception?
For better or worse, the US doesn't really look backwards very much. They are driven by hardcore capitalism and it's more profitable to create the next big thing over and over again, without sentiment. So, of course, the US would embrace EDM, for example. Because it's new and that is most exciting to Americans, they don't look back fondly, they look back only in retrospect. It's just a cultural thing. I can say that I am more comfortable in Germany where I can make my music and share it with people who appreciate the labour involved, that the EU culture is more about seeing things like an artist striving for virtuosity in whatever they do..regardless of which decade it came from. Also noteworthy though is Japan, they tend to honor forgotten eras with such precision, it's always so exciting and impressive to experience. You still hear Jazz in the shops there, for example. It's not only reliving the 80s over and over there, it's just a total irreverence to any decade, and simply looking to good music for what it is. It's also important to note that the styles that are big in the US today, however off-putting you may find them, will have an influence worldwide regardless, as it is an extension of commerce and therefore unavoidable. So, it's best to engage in any and all global dialogues with an open mind. Every genre will have something to offer.
Dialogues! One of the most important words in all of art.
Your LP Silent Cities just came out. It was definitely created not for dancefloor purposes. Was the creative process also significantly different compared to the dance material?
Oh yes, one hundred percent different. When I make House music or Techno, I know what I want to do and then I set out to accomplish it. But- with my Silent Cities project, it was more like trying to solve a mystery- I knew I wanted something- a certain sound and mood, but I didn't know how to get there... I had to experiment and take notes, and like, figure it out. It was a challenging and very rewarding process. And I have a lot of techniques which can be included in my repertoire now, it has influenced my approach to tunings especially, my next 12" release on Novel Sound, called "Niresa" is made of my own tuning system. I had done a few records in the past using my own places of tonality, "Stereo Systems" for example, but never have I created so many of my own tuning systems ahead of making music. But, technology allows for that these days, and I'm in love. I've made about 35 workable tuning systems, places that only I can take a listener to, because I am the only one with the code. So that is something special I can give to the dancefloor. And since I play my own productions when I DJ, and it was a very long personal journey for me to get there, like, about 10 years, I can say that I provide a completely unique and singular dancefloor experience. It's really aimed at the heads at this point, but I have seen that everyone, whether they are buying records or not,
feels that I am bringing something special to a dancefloor.
Living in Berlin for over 10 years, how was the vibe in 2012 during your performance in the first Boiler Room and then on your last visit to Tresor this year?
I'm still living my best life, having the best time each and every gig, and loving what I do. I am older, wiser and better at it now. I am as grateful as ever for this magnificent life I was blessed with and I still am thankful for every gig and every chance to share music with people. The scene is as strong as ever, if not more. Tempos go up and down, but the scene remains the same: people coming together to share light and love,
unified by a 4 on the floor beat.