Danny Krivit of NYC’s Body & SOUL and 718 Sessions headlined the DJ stage of the Malasimbo Music And Arts Festival 2019. Photograph by Andre Drilon
Culture Music

From Manhattan to Malasimbo: A quick chat with Danny Krivit

A discophile recounts her love for soulful dance music and the craft of the American DJ, a legend in New York City’s dance scene. She caught Krivit live again 15 years later and got an exclusive when he headlined the DJ stage of the 9th Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival.
Lara Parpan | Mar 05 2019

1977, Discovering Dance

I was nine years old when I knew I loved to dance. I was raised on disco and Manila Sound.

My parents—Mom was then 32, Dad was 43—took turns with other couples hosting dance classes in our breezy neighborhood of Brookside Hills. I sprinkled our red-tiled living room floor with Johnson’s baby powder for the ’rents and their disco-loving friends to swing and sashay with ease and flair to Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” (1975) or Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” (1974).

But the track that rocked my 9-year-old self was “Shame” by Evelyn Champagne King. Star Wars came out that same year and I got (and still get) goosebumps hearing John Williams’s majestic “Main Theme.” I could lead my siblings in a military-style march to it but hell, no, we couldn’t dance to it. So “Shame” it was, with the silvery synth-pop, sexy sax intro, and King’s sultry voice. I had no idea of lust, love, burnin’-keep-my-whole-body yearnin’, but damn it was all soul. From then on, with music like that, you couldn’t keep me away from the dance floor.

2000, Discovering Danny

When I moved to New York City, among my fave haunts were diners and bars in the Meatpacking District—Florent, APT, and Cielo which played the kind of dance music I liked: soulful house, disco-oriented, and funky. I couldn’t get enough dancing from Saturday nights, so I picked up a copy of Time Out NYC and trawled the listings for dance events on Sundays—that’s how I discovered “Body and SOUL,” the Sunday parties started by Danny Krivit, Francois Kevorkian, and Joe Claussell in 1996.

Danny Krivit with Body & SOUL co-founders Francois Kevorkian and Joe Claussell. Photograph from www.bodyandsoul-nyc.com

I showed up at the door of Club Vinyl by myself at 6 p.m., thinking I was fashionably late. When I walked in, it was packed. A heaving mass of dancers on the floor. Krivit was on the decks. So this is Sunday evening in Manhattan! The crowd was a fabulous mix of gay, straight, and a noticeable Japanese contingent. I learned later on that Krivit is big in Japan and is married to Japanese pop star AK! (Akemi Kakihara).

The sense of mission in that room was palpable—everyone was here to dance. Didn’t matter if you were a disco diva or had two left feet. That was the beauty of the dance floor pre-smartphone. None of the posers with their “Oh wait, let me take a selfie to show I’m having so much fun!” No annoying jerks clogging precious real estate with arms raised holding smartphones recording the DJ. It was just love, peace, good vibes, and dance. Everyone was on a natural high.

And then Danny Krivit, in his mid-40s at that time, dropped a tune that forever changed my dancing life. It began with a catchy piano riff, punctuated by what sounded like a string section, which teased, then gradually soared into a high that made me just f@#king glad to be alive. It was his remix of Derrick May’s 1987 hit “Strings of Life”. From then on, I became a Krivit fan, tracking his gigs and catching them when I could, at Central Park’s Summerstage or the 718 Sessions, a new round of parties he started in Brooklyn in 2002. (And still going strong.)

Anyone who’s lived for a good number of years in NYC and returns to Manila grapples with the existential question of WTF. I dealt with the angst of returning in 2005 by landing a job I really enjoyed for almost a decade and discovering that the dance music scene, especially for house, was alive and kicking. M Café at the Ayala Museum had just opened and Fridays were for house music. On one random night, DJ Elian Habayeb dropped Krivit’s edit of “Strings Of Life.” Manhattan memories came flooding back.

2019, Meeting Danny

I’m not a polymath when it comes to music. But I’ve always been rewarded by each Malasimbo festival by staying open to the lineup. Finding out that Danny Krivit, now on his 48th year as a DJ, was performing March 2 strengthened the impetus to make it to Year 9.

Resident Advisor nails it when it says Danny Krivit’s history as a DJ “reads like the evolution of dance music itself.” Without doubt, Krivit is a significant pillar of the dance scene in New York City. His outstanding DJ career started at 14, the early access made possible by his father Bobby. The elder Krivit ran one of the NYC’s top clubs in the early 70s, the West Village’s Ninth Circle, a hangout of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin whom he got to meet growing up.

I asked Danny about the time he met James Brown, what he thinks of smartphones on the dance floor, the best gigs he’s DJ’ed, and what makes a good DJ.

 

ANCX: So you met James Brown when you were 14. How was that like?

Danny Krivit: Meeting James Brown, to put it in perspective: I was this huge fan of his beforehand. The Sex Machine album, I went to see that performance in Madison Square Garden and it changed me. It was end of ’69. I was 13 or something. I had this neighbor above me who was vice president of Polydor. He was a friend of my father’s, and I was already DJ-ing by this time, like 1971. He said: ‘Come up to the office. Get some promos (records).’ And by the time I got up there, he said “Oh you know, we’re not doing so good. This used to be all my office, but now it’s James Brown’s office, because he’s the only thing happening right now for Polydor. Let me show you around James’s office.”

So [we were] walking around. The aisles were just full of these records. He was putting these records out every week. And “Oh, there’s James let me introduce you… Oh and James, Danny’s a DJ.” “Oh, really? You gotta hook him up with my jams.” And so he reached in this box, and he pulled out these two albums; and guess he was coming out with them in eight months that year. It was “Get On The Good Foot” and “Think.”  And they were both white labels—an advance copy of really hot songs—which I wasn’t used to seeing. And here’s James Brown giving me these albums.

[LP: Among the musicians who are credited on the track of “Get On The Good Foot” is Fred Wesley, who played trombone with Brown’s band The J.B.s. Fred Wesley and the New J.B.s performed in Malasimbo in 2015.]

I’m looking at the records like a thousand different ways trying to look at them deeper in the picture and as I’m looking at it, he’s wearing this white pantsuit on the cover. And I look up and he’s actually wearing that same pantsuit that day. He’s wearing the same pantsuit like the album cover. That was very surreal.

That day changed me as far as I was 14. I mean, I was thinking I was just having fun. But that kind of said to me, “Wow, I’m gonna be serious about this. This is something I want to do.”

When did you realize that you wanted to give your energies to house music?

I can’t say that I did devote myself to house music. I started very early so there weren’t those kinds of distinctions. It was just dance music and very wide… Instead of singling out this genre or that genre, I played everything. I was open to “Oh, I wanna play that, too.” But I never identified with this one thing. I liked all of it. I think basically within all of them it’s soulful; soulful this, soulful that. So rather than this genre, because I can’t, it’s just too narrow. But the soulful part of each one is me… I think [it’s] closer to lifting your spirit. It’s something that moves your soul. So something like a techno track can still have soul to it. It doesn’t have to be Aretha Franklin.”

You’ve performed for thousands in and outside of NYC. What would you consider two of the best gigs you’ve done?

It’s hard to say. It’s almost like saying “What’s the best Body and SOUL or 718 sessions.” There are very many. With Japan, there’s obviously a lot of these Body and SOUL parties that are really intense and great. They’re really good. I remember the very first time I dropped “Strings of Life.” For some reason, the first time I played it, I don’t think I ever got a response from a record that extreme before. It was such a big room. Everyone in that room, when the piano comes on, everybody went “Aaaaahhhhh!” like this. [Gestures with hands waving in the air.] It was kind of amazing. I hadn’t even done an edit of it yet. This was just a cassette I had. I did a live punch edit while it was playing, and that was very memorable.

As far as other ones go, I really think one my fave clubs in the world is Precious Hall in Sapporo. They do an outdoor party once a year in the summer; “Big Fun,” I think it’s called… I’ve done a few of these outdoor events and they didn’t have a tent that year and they knew it was going to rain. And it started to rain, not a little, but hard, but it was kinda like raining and it was kind of light, and it was coming down. “I remember I was playing, I think ‘Joy.’ It was just this unbelievable peak. That everybody was in the rain; just joy and just feeling it and that stuck out as one of my favorite parties. I’d be guessing I would think in 2000, or 1999.” 

What makes a good DJ?

I used to own a bar, after my father passed away. I owned Ninth Circle. And I thought, “Oooh. we gotta get these really experienced bartenders.” And the manager said to me “No, no, no, Danny, you don’t need experienced bartenders. You need somebody who’s cute. See that guy? He’s a really good bartender, but nobody’s sitting by him. [With] this guy, they’re telling him how to make the drink, but they’re all talking to him, and that’s what’s good.” When you’re DJ-ing, I think technique is great to have, but that’s number 2. Number one is the music and your love of the music. You should play music that you love playing. Everyone plays this one song, but everyone plays it differently. It’s what’s in them that makes it special.

What’s number 3?

I think it would be to observe and be connected with the audience. To be in your own world, play the monitors, and be just “I’m doing my own thing like I’m making a tape,” and ignore the audience, it’s like, yeah, lucky if people could enjoy that. But there’s no connection. And [DJs] who really connect with the crowd get going.”

 

Revelers during Danny Krivit's set at Malasimbo Music And Arts Festival 2019, Photograph by Andre Drilon

 

What do you think of people holding up smartphones in your face while you’re DJ-ing?

Somebody might be “Oooh, I have this on film!” Whatever. But during the party, it’s distracting: Distracting for me, distracting for other people in the party, and the person doing it is not really in the party. This doesn’t work with the vibe of the party.

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Getting to Puerto Galera from abroad whether it’s from Asia or the US is a long haul. But if Danny Krivit was jetlagged, he sure didn’t show it. He went on to play a solid set from midnight to a little past 3 a.m. Sunday in front of a frenzied, appreciative Malasimbo crowd. I wish I could remember each tune he played beyond his remixes of 70s and 80s tracks I grew up with—Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime,” Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “Fantasy,” Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life,” and Ultra Nate’s “Free.”

Krivit wore a black “Quincy Jones Production” t-shirt to his set. I asked why. He said: “It’s a great shirt. He’s a great guy.” I told him that Quincy Jones’s protégé, the multi-talented musician and vocalist Jacob Collier played in Malasimbo in 2016.

Dancing on my one square-meter patch of dry earth and leaves under pulsating colored lights, exchanging smiles, hugs, and high fives with dozens of other dance lovers like me, it was Manhattan again. This time in Malasimbo.

 

Lara Parpan's love for disco is matched by her love for triathlon (51 races finished and counting) and her rescue cat, Ninja. Check out her website at laraparpan.com. For updates on Malasimbo Year 10 in 2020, follow @malasimbofestival on IG or Facebook, or visit malasimbo.org. For more information about Danny Krivit, visit DannyKrivit.net.