When I first moved to New York City in 1989, there was a name I kept hearing on the streets and seeing on 12" records as a remixer: Justin Strauss. Few other DJs have become as enmeshed into the fabric of the city's nightlife scene as Justin has. Over the last three decades, the dude has spun his way through an array of iconic venues, including Mudd Club, The Ritz, Limelight, Area, Tunnel, and Life.
While he didn't exactly revolve in the same world as I did, I soon realized we had several mutual friends, including the legendary A&R man Murray Elias. Here's a photo from 1986 of Elias (right) with Justin at the studio of Sleeping Bag Records—a now-defunct hip-hop and dance music imprint that was founded by the underground disco king Arthur Russell.
I don't think I know any other DJ with more remixes from both indie and major labels under his belt. Justin has a whopping 233 listings on his Discogs page that date all the way back to 1984—and claims that there are still more than need to be added.
Strangely enough, it wasn't until 1990 and his remix of 808 State's UK house anthem "Pacific" that I really sat up and paid attention to Justin, as the track was released smack-dab in the middle of the US rave explosion's first wave. When asked about that 808 State remix, Justin simply said, "Great records are hard to remix. Not so great ones, easy."
Below is an amazing shot of Justin DJing at the NYC ballroom-turned-rock-club, The Ritz, which you probably now know as Webster Hall. I might get a ton of geek mail telling me that I'm wrong, but I think those are SP-10 direct-drive turntables—the model Technics released in 1969, three years before the 1200 that became the industry standard that we all know and love (or hate).
I recently discovered this dope track that Justin worked on with Murray Elias and Malcolm McLaren, the former manager of The Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls. "It was a trip to work with him," Justin said when I quizzed him about the experience. "Dude had so many ideas, all the time!"
This mixtape was recorded during the very last night of Area, one of New York City's most storied nightclubs. Famous for its constantly shifting themes—it reinvented itself no less than 25 times before closing night—Area had so much conceptual importance that it also inspired me to jump into the club world. Another crazy connection: Area was on 157 Hudson Street, the building that would later house the legendary Club Shelter, where I threw my NASA parties.