Tea With… Frankie Knuckles (Rediscovered)
The 31st March. One year ago today, the Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles sadly passed away aged just 59. His contribution to house music and his absolutely pivotal role in its birth has been well documented by many, including myself on Ransom Note, so I don’t want to cover that same ground again.
As I mentioned in the article I wrote just after his passing, I was lucky enough to interview Frankie just over 4 years ago for Faith Fanzine ahead of his appearance at a Boys Own party. It was a strange and quite challenging experience. Confusion about the time of the day that I should call caused us to miss our fist slot. I then spoke to Frankie who was clearly annoyed that I was calling an hour late. We agreed to find another time and I retired to the local pub to lick my wounds and rue a missed opportunity. Shortly afterwards Terry Farley, from Faith and Boys Own, texted me to say Frankie was sorry if he’d been short with me, then shortly after that my phone started to ring – and it was an American number that I didn’t recognise.
“Hi, is that Miles? It’s Frankie.”
The Godfather of House was calling me in my local just to check I was okay and he hadn’t upset me too much. We chatted for a bit about the vagaries of British Summertime Daylight Saving and emboldened by our conversation, and probably the beer I’d had too, I returned home to recommence the interview.
Skype cut out again and Frankie, who was packing to move house, was beginning to lose a little patience. He didn’t have much time and we agreed to do 20 or 30 minutes. I asked him about the early days and his friends – Nicky Siano, Larry, and Tee. He told me they were brothers in arms but they were just kids having a good time. It was a natural thing. I asked more about Tee and he said that he gave him his first job as a DJ. He wasn’t looking to be a DJ but needed to make money and 6 months later he was fired. I asked him about something in an interview I read with Tee where he talked about Frankie.
Frankie had had enough, he cut me short. Did I want him to co-sign everything I read about him on the internet? I was asking questions that he’d been asked 500 million times before, did I really expect a different answer? Did I want to talk about Tee Scott? If we bumped into each other in a bar, would I ask him about Larry Levan first thing? Wouldn’t this go better if we just had a conversation? If we had a nice chat? Shouldn’t I put my interview notes aside and just talk to him?
I felt like I was being told off but, with hindsight, he was just talking me through how to get him to open up. He wanted the interview to be good. He wanted me to walk away from the interview feeling that I had got to know him, not that I’d just got the answers to a big list of questions.
When Frankie passed away, Terry Farley remarked on how Frankie managed to make the conversation feel like it was about you and not about him. I was being told off for asking hackneyed questions but during that exchange he had convinced me it was for my benefit, which indeed it was. Emotional intelligence combined with emotional warmth.
So I did what Frankie asked me to do. I pushed the interview notes to one side and just talked to him. Talked to him about my visits to New York, about shared experiences, shared loves, the state of music today, the sort of stuff we might have discussed if we had bumped into each other in a bar…
So, the first time I heard you DJ was back in 1992 at the Roxy in New York – that era in New York, was it a great time?
I think it was like a golden era in New York as far as clubs and dance music is concerned. I think it was a pristine period because it was like the last days of what was really good about dance music, house music and nightlife in New York City. New York City will never see that it will be that way again, ever. I don’t think it will ever come again.
Why do you think New York has changed like that? Some of the best nights I’ve ever had out were in New York then, but I’ve been back since and the vibe’s gone.
It’s dead! It’s dead, it’s pretty much dead. I think that… well you know, recent events — I’m talking about 9/11 and the scares that followed it and the way the government here in the United States has beefed up security, not to mention the Disney-fication of New York City. When the Disney Company bought into New York City, they whitewashed the whole town. They cleaned it up. And the thing about it is, all that little, dirty, gritty stuff that was going on in the periphery, it added character to the city. And the minute Disney bought into 42nd Street, Times Square, that whole area, it just came in and it just hosed everything down and left it sparkling clean, and that takes away from it as well. After 9/11 and everything else, it just will never be the same. Nightlife can’t flourish the way it did before because the powers that be don’t believe in it. The thing about it is, I think that New York and probably this country, period, could do really, really well if it followed the UK and the European lead when it comes to knowing how to regulate this kind of business. Because there’s so much commerce in it, there’s so much money to be made. All you have to do is look at the UK, look at Italy, look at Germany, all these different countries where nightlife is regulated in a way that the money is there. It adds to the economy and it helps bring it up. This country has a stick shoved so far up its ass, it just can’t come to terms with it.
They’re so afraid of everything else as well. That’s such a different atmosphere – it used to be quite edgy.
Yeah, but there was so much you could do. There was so much to do as far as nightlife was concerned, there were so many places you could go, there was something for everybody. And not just a club here, a club there, but LOTS of them. There were a bunch of different house clubs, a bunch of hip hop clubs, that was scattered about the city. There was so much to do, but now? Please. It’s not happening.
There were also a lot of big rooms back then. The Sound Factory was a big room, The Roxy too, and even Zanzibar out in New Jersey, but now they’re all gone. Do you lament the loss of the big room and do you think it’s affected house music generally?
Um, no. The Warehouse was only 3000 square feet, so it wasn’t that big a club. I think, after Paradise Garage closed, to me, that was pretty much it. Sound Factory was great, and I had a lot of fun while I was there, but Sound Factory Bar was so much better. It was a little bit smaller, a little bit more intimate. It could only house like 1,200 people versus Sound Factory that did like 4 or 5,000. Sound Factory Bar was really more of a neighbourhood club, if you will. It really was, because it was right there in the heart of Chelsea, and it really catered for the whole neighbourhood, and the whole neighbourhood came and hung out, which was nice, you know? When you have these big super clubs, you have to rely on so many numbers to make it feel good and be right because when people walk into a club that size and there’s not enough people in it, people tend to not have a good time because they mentally have it fixed that this room needs to packed in order for me to have a good time. There are DJs out here who play but cannot play for an empty room or play for a room that only has a few people in it. Nobody started at the top, no one that I know in this business started at the top, everybody had to start somewhere. Believe me, when I first got there I worked the Continental Baths almost, I would say, probably five days a week and there was nobody on the dancefloor in front of me. But the club didn’t give up on me, the guy that owned the place didn’t give up on me, and hey, so I’m playing for a bunch of guys that are roaming around cruising in towels, but hey, one thing I knew for sure — they were listening!
So do you think that sort of experience is a good grounding for a DJ? To learn to work what you’ve got rather than just playing peak-time music?
Absolutely, you have to know where you came from and you can’t forget, you just cannot forget. I tell people all the time — sometimes I’ll go and play different events and things for people, big clubs, small clubs, medium clubs, it doesn‘t matter, and they may not have the turn-out they expected, and they’re more upset for me. And I tell them, “Listen, I’m here for you. You hired me to come here to play, five people, five hundred, five thousand, it’s all the same, I’m here for you. If nobody shows up and you the only people that’s here, I strongly suggest you get on the dancefloor and have a damn good time, because you just paid me to come this far!”, and it’s not like I’m not going to play for them. I have to give them the same thing, it doesn’t matter how many people are in the room. Even if there is one person or two people in the room, they expect me to at least give who I am. It’s not their fault no-one else is there, somebody just didn’t do their homework and they dropped the ball, but I am there, they’re there, and [I’m still going to play].
You came to the UK for the first time in 1987, how did you find that?
It was exciting, I thought it was great. The first time I came there I was supposed to be there for two weeks. I came and find out when I first got there, and I got to immigration, that the necessary paperwork hadn’t been handled, so I had no work visas or anything to be there. And I’m travelling — and this goes to show how green I was when it came to travelling — I had a steamer trunk, a foot locker full o’vinyl! And I showed up at immigration and they want to know why I was there and did I have the paperwork, where’s the paperwork for the visas, and stuff, and I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. So, of course they’re holding me up in immigration and try figure out whether they should send me back out. But I told them there were people waiting for me and they were outside, and those guys, they spoke to them and I eventually got into the country — I was only supposed to be here for two weeks and I stayed for four months!
Where were you playing?
I was playing at Delirium at Heaven every Thursday night and once a month on Saturday.
How did you find London clubs at that time?
I thought they were fantastic, I thought they were really fascinating. When I came in 1987, during that period, the most popular music in the UK, was anything by James Brown. Anything by James Brown, the JB All-Stars, anybody that worked with him, if you played anything by them, it was on. So for me to come over there… and house was only working in really, really underground, deep, off the beaten path clubs, or the really, really big fluffy commercial clubs back then. But for the most part, you went to places like The Wag and it was anything by James Brown. So I’m playing Delirium and at the same time, they’re periodically trying to drag me into The Wag to play there because they’re really trying to bring The Wag around, so they take me in there to play. They were all for it but I’m constantly up against all these guys that’s playing nothing but James Brown. Or the All-Stars. It was a treat but by the time I got ready to leave there, people didn’t want me to leave, they wanted me to stay and I really considered moving there. But I got back to Chicago and I made a decision, before I move to London I think I should I go back to New York, and that’s how Def Mix got started.
You touched on what it was like in London on the cusp of the rare groove scene and when house exploded, but in Chicago you would have experienced the transition from disco through to house. In London, that felt like a revolution, it felt like it was beamed in from another planet. As somebody who lived the early days of house’s life, how did that feel to you, was that a natural progression for you as a DJ or did it feel like a revolution in Chicago as well?
Well, when I look back on it now, yeah I can see it where it felt like a revolution or something new was bubbling on the horizon. Back then? I was just happy to be there, I wasn’t giving it that kind of thought. I’ve had people say “Did you know exactly what you were doing when you created house, when you were at The Warehouse?”, how would you know that? I’m a kid, I’m a kid playing records! I’m lucky to have a job doing this. I’m lucky to have a job period, but the fact that I have job that’s paying me for what I want to do and have a good time, and show people a good time, that’s the icing on the cake. What do I know of the technical end of it all? That this is something major, that’s eventually going to blow and it’s going to be everything in the world to everybody else? No, you don’t think about stuff like that, you’re too caught up in what you’re doing. I’m a kid and that’s what it was. You have to remember it’s 30 plus years later, it’s easy when you look back and remember all the innocence of it, exactly where I was at through all that period… yeah, I played around with drugs just like everybody else did. I did all the same things that everybody else did, but I didn’t get caught up in it to the point where it’s wiped half my memory away.
Now, that didn’t take its toll on my health, but things happen as you get older, for whatever reason. Everyone thinks they’re invincible when they’re a kid, they may not say it out loud, but everyone carries on like they’re invincible when they’re children. And before you know it, by the time you reach middle age, between 45 and 55 years old, your body stops talking to you. Your body is talking to you all the way up until then but by the time you reach 45-55 years old, your body stops talking. You don’t hear, you don’t realise it’s stopped talking and then your whole life begins to spiral. If you’re lucky enough to come out the other side of it, then you do what is necessary to pull yourself together and just keep moving forward. Not everyone is as lucky as that, not everyone survives it. But I have. And at the expense of not sounding too deep, it’s never been nothing but fun to me and I have to keep it fun. That’s the reason I get a little guarded sometimes and don’t always want to talk about it — people want to pull it apart. It’s like they’ve found something that’s really, really rare and then they want to pull it apart to try and dissect it, to get to the core of what makes it work. Why can’t it just be what it is? You can see it for what it is, you can hear it for what it is, it’s got enough of a legacy that people can bite into and taste exactly what it is. It’s bigger than what I ever expected it to be and I think it’s going to be even greater than that, long after I’ve gone. But at the core of it all is a good time and that’s the only thing that’s important.
I think in England that transition felt more pronounced. England had that rare groove thing, so it went backwards before it went forwards. Like you said, it was all James Brown, all Maceo and the Macks, so when we heard acid tracks it was like “Wow! Where did that come from?”
You guys had something that was completely different to the music industry in the United States. Music like that gets a second life, a third life — a fifth life! All of a sudden someone can play it, it will spark interest and it gets a whole new life in the UK. Not here. Once it’s flared up, hit its mark, reached its peak, it goes away, it’s buried. You might hear it on an old disco radio show or throwback radio show, but it never sees the light of day or the type of success it can do in the UK, two, three, four, five times around. And that’s what so great and unique about the UK versus the United States or anywhere else in the world — because everyone else was following, musically, what happens in the UK.
On the subject of recycling older music, at the moment there’s a little bit of a resurgence of 90s New York house. You go to a party in a basement in East London and there’s all these 25-year-old kids playing old Hardrive records, MK records, your records. Do you feel that sound is still relevant today?
It must be! I think there’s a certain romanticism about that music from that particular period. It’s interesting because back in the 90s, when everyone was playing classics, they were playing everything from the disco period. Basically from the 70s upwards, not even anything from the 80s, whenever they were playing classics or you went to these classic parties, and you find sometimes at the Sound Factory or at Zanzibar, they were pulling out all these old disco records. Fine. We’re now living in the millennium and now the classics that everybody is romantically involved with, is all this stuff from the early 90s, which is the same thing that happened in the 90s about everything that was in the 70s, 20-25 years before. And I think it’s great! I especially think it’s great because I’ve got some music in there that people have gravitated towards. People have discovered this, especially a lot of these young people, when they’ve discovered it for the first time, their approach towards it in the UK is so completely different than it is here. It’s like finding a rare gem to them and then they treasure it. They play it like it was played back then. Then it inspires all these guys that are making music in their bedrooms, to try and build and make tracks that sound like the stuff we were making back then.
I think that’s right. I’ve spoken to guys 20 odd years younger than me, they’re discovering this stuff now and find it so exciting. There was actually a poll on www.faithfanzine.com to find the greatest house record of all time and you were involved in three of the Top Ten (‘Your Love’, ‘Tears’, and ‘Let the Music Use You’). Then we did a poll at the end of the Noughties for the greatest records of that decade, and your mix of Hercules and Love Affair ‘Blind’ was in that Top Ten too, so you had from the mid-80s till 25 years later covered.
I think that particular song has had something to do with this whole resurgence and renaissance feel everybody has about that early 90s feeling, because ‘Blind’ sounds a lot like stuff from back in that period. A lot of the new music that I’m doing now has the same feel to it. It’s kind of a bit of a throwback but sonically it fits and matches everything that’s going on now.
What I took from those polls and the popularity of ’Blind’ is that you’ve managed to stay fresh. There are references to your influences from the past but it’s not overtly retro. Do you feel keeping that freshness is important, rather than just making a bunch of derivative records that sound like the ones being made 25 years ago?
What I’m doing now production wise, I haven’t tried to recreate what happened back then, I’ve not purposely tried to do that. I’m just trying to make music the way I know how. I think one of the greatest things anybody that’s making music can do is home in on a sound that become a signature and people recognise you for it. You can walk into a club blindly for the first time and you listen to the tracks that’s playing and you know exactly who that is, because you recognise their sound. Or you can walk into a room where a DJ is playing and there could be a bunch of other DJs playing as well, but at the time you walk in, you can tell if that’s the person you came to listen to playing or not. I’ve managed to do that, I’ve created and built a sound for myself, this signature, and it works and people recognise it. Other songs are compared to it, other productions are compared to what it is, which is really, really flattering and I think that’s really nice, but actually trying to revive that? I’m not purposely trying to do that but it is nice that people have that to reference, and compare it to and say “This is like the old stuff but it’s great! It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s like what it was but it’s like the next thing or it’s better!”. But that’s fine by me, I’m just trying to stay in the game, that’s all.
So you think it’s important to keep moving forward rather than dwell on the past?
I think if you’re going to do this, you should be serious about it. I think music is really, really serious, because it’s so personal, it’s so personal to everybody and everybody likes what they like for whatever reason. If you’re going to do it, you have to take it serious. On this particular side of it, especially when it comes to being a club DJ, you have too many people that count on you, to help them escape from whatever bullshit they’re going through in their lives. People can have messed up weeks, working on jobs that they absolutely hate and living with people that don’t give them any kind of peace of mind whatsoever, but then one day out of the week, they go to one particular club and get on the dancefloor and completely lose their mind because that music is the thing that takes them away from all that.
I think you’re talking about me when I was younger!
I think everybody to a certain degree can relate to that, especially when you’re growing up. When you get into this particular business, there are guys that get into this business strictly for the women and the money. And there are people that do it because it's such a part of who they are, they can’t imagine themselves doing anything else, even though they probably can, and nobody wants them to anything else. I’ve produced a lot of records, I’ve mixed a lot of records, and my approach towards each and every one of them was not to do cookie-cutter, not to make it what everyone else is trying to do, not to follow trends.
So as a DJ you think that staying fresh is important as well, to play new music? I know you’re not a fan of wheeling out all the old classics when you play.
That’s not necessarily true. When I get booked to do a gig, if I only have three hours to play then I have to put together the best possible show I can give in that three-hour period. Now, what’s consistent in that show might not necessarily be what you think might be the best of me to give, because you might have certain expectations about things you want to hear, that you think I’m going to play but I’m not predictable in that way. But when I have the luxury of five, six, eight hours to play, which is where I come from, then I have the opportunity to really stretch out and go there. I’m going to take you on a journey musically, that’s going to take you back to them periods, but I’m not going to get locked into doing just one thing or playing one particular way all night long. Or people are going to come in and say “He’s gonna play nothing but the old retro stuff now” or “This is the retro period”, no, no, no, I’m going to sprinkle it here and there to give you a rush. You’re not going to know it’s coming, you’re not going to know what it is — that’s the way it’s done! All these other guys, you have to remember they’re younger, they did not live through that period, they don’t know how that works, they will lump it all into one particular show. And for me, it’s just a bunch of old music being played all night long. I’m too busy trying to work in the here and now. I have to live and work in the here and now, or else I’m going to get pegged a retro DJ. I’m not. The work I do is much too current and much too relevant, right now, to have to wear that kind of moniker round my neck. I’m at that age where I could easily be misconstrued for that but I don’t want to be known for that, which is why I keep writing and producing new music, and working with people.
What do you think about the quality control of house these days? Good vocals seem to be fewer and further between.
Well, you know why that is? It’s because the majority of these guys don’t know how to work with a vocalist. They don’t know who to produce a vocal, they don’t know the first thing about song writing, so you know, it is what it is. And most of that music is disposable, it might have the shelf life of a week, if that, but the minute a new song cuts through, that has a great vocal, is really saying something and on top of that, the production is the icing on the cake, it blows up and becomes really, really big, because it sticks out like a sore thumb and everybody can see it, versus all the other disposable tracks that are played all night long.
I think that ‘Blind’ was a good example of that – it really stood out at the time.
I agree. It stood out at a time when there was nothing else out there like it.
What about quality more generally? Will we get that quality of production back into house, especially in light of the upsurge of interest among younger people — will that fresh blood improve the quality of production?
Yes, I think so. I think one of the things that helped to chase it away was when people like myself and some of my other colleagues just stopped doing the remix thing and producing thing, and got more involved in travelling and playing. But to some extent we were forced to do that, because when you’ve got the industry dictating it’s a DJ culture and it’s all about the DJ and what the DJ’s doing, and you’ve got these DJs who are trying to become producers and they’re only making tracks in their bedroom, and we’re talking about disposable tracks and nothing of any serious quality is coming out — what happened in the industry for the last 10 or 12 years, is what you get. So people like myself and some off my other colleagues, the only thing we can do is just retreat, try and continue to work, try and stay relevant about what we’re doing. And then, when you feel good enough and you feel inspired enough about wanting to do something, then do it. I had completely got out of the remix game and was borderline about to get out of the whole production thing, until Hercules & Love Affair asked me to do ‘Blind’ for them. I didn’t want to do it, I really didn’t, I didn’t hear it at first. But they kept saying, “We need you. Ain’t nobody can do it but you. There is a certain sound that you have, there’s a certain retro feel, a period we’re trying to recapture with the song and it wouldn’t sound as good any other kind of way”. Okay fine. I did it, sent it to them, went on about what I had to do and didn’t think about it. I went on tour down to Australia, I get down there and everybody‘s talking about it, because they had put it out just that quick. Everybody’s talking about it and wait a minute, I just finished that record before I left home! And so by the end of that year, when I find out it’s the biggest record, all I could is sit back and scratch my head, it’s like “What the hell is going on?”, it took me by surprise. Then on the heels of that, Depeche Mode came after me to do ‘Wrong’ for them. I’m like, “Aw, just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”, and while working on that, I had to give it some real serious consideration to whether I want to do this again or not.
Only if I can do it at a level I want to do it at and produce things at the level I can do it, and present that quality. My only fear was that, is there a market for it? Would anybody be hearing it? Would anybody recognise it? Would anybody buy it? Would it be viable enough anywhere? And thank God I stuck with it because now it is. Hopefully, what I’m doing will inspire these guys who have been sitting in their bedrooms playing with themselves to take this shit to the next level, that’s all.
I’m not trying to discount any of them when I call them ‘these guys playing that are in their bedrooms’, I think they’re very creative in what they do. But you have to challenge yourself, when you’re being artistic you need to challenge yourself. These DJs, they will find a certain kind of mixer that they know that they like that they probably played on in their bedroom until they started working in clubs, and then they don’t want to work on any other mixer than that. When they walk into a club when there’s a mixer they’re not familiar with, they get nervous, they’re afraid, they don’t really want to play on it, simply because they’re not familiar with it.
My train of thought is that, every time I walk into a club that doesn’t have a mixer I’m used to playing on, I have to adjust. Because I could be playing with five other DJs and they’re all fine with this one particular mixer, but if I wanted to put my foot down and say “Well no, we only going to have one kind of mixer in here and it’s the one I want”, they’d be pissed and at the same time they’d also be afraid, because they’d be afraid they can’t work on the mixer. Out of consideration to all of them, and none of them ever think about this, I’ll work on the same equipment as they do — whatever makes them comfortable, fine, I’ll do it, no problem. Because when you come into my arena, you’re going to play the way I play.
I rise to the occasion, I have to. Because, at the end of the day, all those people that are out there in that room, they don’t know none of it, they don’t care. All they know is you’re here and we want you to give us the best of what you’ve got. All the other DJs that I’m playing with, they’re nervous as hell, but you have to remember they’re not sound educated, all they know is to put it on, turn it up loud, and leave it to that. I have a sound education, that’s where I come, and there’s certain kinds of mixers that work in rooms and make music sounds beautiful. If I’m going to play, it’s got to sound better to me than it does to you.
So do you think DJs today, the younger generation, are a bit pampered? That they haven’t had the hard-knocks education that some of the old school had?
No, I think they just don’t challenge themselves. What’s the point of doing anything if you don’t challenge yourself? You get complacent, that’s the bottom line. You get comfortable, everything is the same, you get complacent. And when you get complacent, people get bored.
Modern technology swings both ways on this, doesn’t it? It’s cheap and readily available, so it opens things up to more people, and some of those will be hugely creative, which is great, whereas others won’t be creative at all but will still be able to churn out any old rubbish.
We’re talking about music. I’m not discounting any of these other genres of music but you are talking about music. Okay, so technology has helped you along and taught you how to do all these incredible things, okay, what else you got? That would be my question, if I walked in on a child of mine, and he had taught himself all this brilliant stuff with computers and how to make all these fabulous and dynamite tracks, okay great, so what’s next? What else you got? What else you going to do? You can’t tell me about the next technological wonder, “I’m going to be able to this with keyboards, and mix something live, and remix things live in front of the room”, that’s not enough. Where’s the vocalist? Where’s the human condition in the middle of what you’re doing? You can’t just say it’s you, because if you’re just standing there staring at a keyboard or a computer, and not even looking at the people in the room, you’re going to take a second and look up, and the room’s empty — everyone will have left!
Do you think that some DJs get too hung up on the technology? Almost like it is more important to have the latest kit or wizzy software, and be playing in some certain way, rather than focusing on the importance of the music itself?
Yes, absolutely. It’s really interesting, for all technology has done and how DJ s are playing now… I was just in Miami last week and I showed up at the Def Mix gig, and there was some guy who was outside the club as I was going in. And he ran up, said hello and all the rest of it, asked if he could take a photograph. He said “Where’s your CDs, where’s your vinyl?”. I was like “I’m only playing a couple of hours, I didn’t bring any CDs with me, and I definitely don’t travel with vinyl anymore”. He was like “Aw man, that’s disappointing, it’s not the same thing unless you’re playing with vinyl.” I was like “And where do you play records at? And you’ve been playing how long?”, I said “Let me tell you something, I carried vinyl for years. I hired people to carry vinyl for me for years. Technology keeps changing and unless I rise to the occasion and change with it, I’m gonna be one of those guys that’s going to be limited to where they can go and what they can do.” I have to stay involved, I have enough people around me to keep me connected to what’s going on, however, I have to keep the real side of who I am involved in what it is that I do. There’s one thing that I know my audience expect from me whenever I’m playing. They expect me to look up at them, they expect me to make eye contact with them, especially the women in the room. People feel really good when you connect with them in that way, because they feel like “He knows that I’m here, he may not know me but he knows that I’m here”, and if I look up and I smile at them, it makes them feel like they’re at a private party, versus just in somebody’s club. So many guys that are playing on laptops, they are so locked into their computer that they never look up. One of these days they’re going to be surprised — they’re going to look up and the room’s going to be empty!
So technology is great when it pushes things forward but when people get too hung up on it, it can become a barrier?
I think a lot of times it’s a social thing. So many of these kids and these people that are locked into their computers, they have no social skills. They don’t know what it is to go out and sit and have a conversation with someone about absolutely nothing. They’re so used to working in their bedroom by themselves and doing things by themselves, when they get in a club in a DJ booth, in a real club, in a real arena, with thousands of people in front of them, they don’t connect with them. And that’s the sad thing, that’s the sad part of it, because as far as they’re concerned, it’s alright.
That might go a bit beyond the technology though, maybe they just need to get out more?!
But you can see how technology plays into it? Because they’re so used to doing everything in their bedroom by themselves. The human voice never comes into it, unless they’re sampling someone else’s vocal. They don’t know the first thing about producing a vocal, they don’t know the first thing about really writing a song, and to me, if you’re going to challenge yourself, that’s the next step. You know to produce tracks, you know how to lay out a production, that’s great. Now put a voice to it, put a song to it.
You were saying about Miami and the Winter Music Conference, how was it? Do they still have big conference tracks?
I think those days are pretty much over. The internet has changed that, so it will not be that anymore, not the way it used to be, like there would be one particular song that was the highlight of the conference, because everyone’s on the same page, pretty much. But it was great, it was a great buzz, because Def Mix hasn’t had a party there in the past couple of years. I have a new project I was presenting and people were eager to hear it. Morales has a new album that is coming out, we had his album and his party as well, so there was so much focus on Def Mix and the both of us. I think you would have really appreciated it if you were there, it was kind of like a throwback feeling to way back in the day, the early days of the Music Conference, when it was like that — there were certain songs people kept talking about throughout the whole conference, which was nice, and they were songs of mine and David’s, which was cool.
You’ve just done something new with Jamie Principle, is that right?
That’s the first single that’s getting ready to come out, it’s coming out while I’m [in London] as a matter of fact… Jamie Principle performed while we were [at the Winter Music Conference], so people got to see him for the first time.
And with that, Frankie played me his new single, the Blind-esque, ‘I’ll Take You There’, with a polished vocal performance from Jamie Principle. It’s classic modern Frankie – maybe the last classic record he made.
While the music played, we chatted a little about the interview, Frankie told me I seemed more relaxed now, thanked me for taking time out to speak to him and doing the interview another way, because he wanted to make it easier for. Then he told me we were going to be good friends and that he hoped I’d stay in contact with him, his big smile positively beaming out from the screen from Chicago.
Our 20 minutes quickly became 30 and before I knew it, I had just spent an hour to talking to the Godfather of House Music. I also had the best interview I had ever done. And felt like I did know him.
True to form, Frankie had made it seem like it was all about me.
This interview first appeared in Faith and Strobelight Honey Fanzine in 2011. Check out the fanzine’s forum here.
Photo credit: Nick Ensing. www.nickensing.com