Larry Levan Lawrence Philpot (New York | U.S.A. | 18.07.1954 08.11.1992)
Larry is revered primarily as the DJ and driving force of the famous gay disco “Paradise Garage.”
With engineer Richard Long, he custom-designed the Garage’s monster sound system and DJ booth, complete with audiophile Thorens turntables.
Larry’s brilliance lay not only in his technical skill and audio expertise, but also in his unique and eclectic taste. He confounded and greatly broadened the “rules” of what “dance music” could be, mixing everything from gospel, reggae, Philly soul and Euro-disco to rock (“Stand Back”/Stevie Nicks and “Eminence Front”/The Who, to name but two), post-punk (“The Magnificent Seven”/The Clash, and Talking Heads), ambient/environmental music (Klaus Schulze and Manuel Gottsching, for example), and just about everything else. He augmented this aural collage with disorienting sound effects and mind-expanding audio manipulations, working the crossover and balance controls to throw sound around the room as if it had a will of its own. Larry was a shaman who opened a sonic Pandora’s box when he D.J.’ed, with all kinds of beautiful, scary and indescribably bizarre sounds careening around the room like spirits flying out of the Ark of the Covenant.
Larry cut his musical teeth at The Loft, essentially the first underground, afterhours disco. Started by David Mancuso at the advent of the ’70s, The Loft combined psychedelic culture with proto-disco music, which then consisted of longform, psychedelic-influenced soul (“Melting Pot”/Booker T. & The MG’s,”Papa Was a Rolling Stone”/The Temptations, etc.), jazz-funk like TheBlackbyrds, funky rock (“Woman”/Barabas, for example) and trippy head music like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” When “Paradise Garage” opened in 1976, Larry added gospel-and R&B-flavored disco to his musical menu.
With Larry at the helm, the Garage embodied all that was beautiful about disco: glamour, unpretentiousness, excitement, hedonism, epiphany through music, black/white and gay/straight harmony, and the general concept of the dancefloor as family. Celebrities like Grace Jones, Keith Haring, Nile Rogers, Chaka Khan and Madonna hung out and danced the night away along with thousands more of Larry’s dedicated flock.
As a remixer, Larry applied his inimitable touch to countless all-time club classics, including “Got My Mind Made Up”/Instant Funk,”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”/Inner Life, “Can’t Play Around”/Lace, “Heartbeat”/Taana Gardner, Gwen Guthrie’s”Should Have Been You” and “Nothing Going On But The Rent” and many, many others. As a writer and producer, he helped create the sound of the innovative New York Citi Peech Boys and their seminal club hits “Don’t Make Me Wait”, “On AJourney”, “Come On, Come On” and “Life Is Something Special,” a joyous, mesmerizing celebration of life, love, and music. Larry’s work has a spacious, epic, atmospheric quality, with a haunting blend of joy and pain.
After the Garage closed in 1987, Larry kept a considerably lower profile, doing guest spots at various clubs, including “Studio 54,””Palladium” and “Mars,” and D.J.-ing regularly at “The Choice,” arguably the inheritor of the Garage’s underground legacy. “The Choice” didn’t have the grandeur of the Garage, but Larry made it his home, casting his psychedelic spell on a diverse crowd of devoted Garage heads and various other afterhours types. Although his remixing work (and, according to some, his spinning ability) diminished, there’s no doubt that Larry, even on a bad night, was still infinitely more creative, interesting and unpredictable than any other jock around. It was that unpredictability that was the reason for many of his followers disenchantment by the mid-and-late ’80’s: it was also the reason that legions more literally lived to hear him play, or were inspired to make their own careers in music and the music business.
Larry’s legacy is more than just a legendary nightclub and a fistful of club classics. Larry Levan was the ultimate DJ: he didn’t just excel at his job, he reinvented the concept of the DJ, blurring the boundaries of music, race, sex, sexuality, and changing thousands of people’s perception of music, sound and the world around them. For those reasons alone he is still revered and talked about to this day. Larry…..we miss you, the club world has never been the same!