Discussing Politics, Power and Public Enemy With Levon Vincent
We caught up with one of the community's more outspoken members to discuss David Mancuso, Noam Chomsky, Martin Luther King and a lot more
Who is Levon Vincent? Levon Vincent is a DJ. Levon Vincent is a producer. Levon Vincent is a record label owner. Levon Vincent is, in his own words, "a scientist working in the field of ass-shakery." Levon Vincent is probably best known for anthems like "Double Jointed Sex Freak," "Late Night Jam," and "Launch Ramp to the Sky."
Ahead of a Novel Sounds night hosted by the Hydra lot at Studio Spaces E1 in early December, we caught up with one of the community's more outspoken members to discuss David Mancuso, Noam Chomsky, Martin Luther King and a lot more.
THUMP: Before we think about how dance music, and the wider culture around it, can be used as a positive social force, can we first define what you think of when you think of the idea of "club culture"?
Levon Vincent: Warmest greetings! Club culture is a couple of dialogues: the transcendent salvation people strive for on the dancefloor, and another which revolves around creating dance music, i.e. studio talk, production techniques, drum machine fanatics, record collectors, etc. Club culture also relates to a type of folk-lore that gets taught and passed along to each other verbally, via the record shops and the club. There are also websites devoted to the music, and there is merchandise such as clothing or record bags, which contribute to a lesser extent. When you add it all up—that's club culture.
In a recent Facebook post, you described David Mancuso as a visionary, which I'm really interested by. Is that a role that you think DJs can play in general?
In my day, everyone credited Mancuso as one of the main architects of the two pillars in dance music: catharsis through music and unity among all people. That was common knowledge and back then guys would act like you were crazy for not knowing that. I was affected by his passing. Mancuso came with the progressive idealism of the civil rights era and of events like the Stonewall riots. What made his approach special is that he incorporated elements of the 1960s protest culture. He was a bit of a 'hippie' if you know what I mean. He was a 60s child. Love saves the day!
Thinking about Mancuso specifically, was the atmosphere engendered by the Loft, and the parties that followed something that you've ever captured either in or (more interestingly) outside the club?
I worked at Pat Field's shop for three or four years in the early 90s, and every day there was fabulous! Some of the parties I promoted years ago would incorporate aspects of the Loft parties, like flowers. You know there really is something to be said for flowers and balloons! Far superior to a smoke machine. Why is there a machine that lowers air quality at an event—did you ever stop to think about that? I mean, that is so bizarre. That is such a strange machine to exist.
If I made the claim that, largely, dance music is ridden with elitism and snobbery, how would you respond?
I would have to disagree with your statement, but then I am not one to have disdain for the generations coming up. Yes, the internet has made people a bit annoying, but you've got to give it to the new generation—the internet has made literally every subculture available on order to any young person. And what did this generation gravitate towards: everything great from back in the day is being improved upon in the modern —skateboarding, graffiti and comic books, hip hop and jazz all day, then house music all night. Noam Chomsky is getting attention as he did in 1990. Public Enemy is having a resurgence. The kids today are really tuned in.That deserves my respect. They know what's up.
With regard to snobbery in dance music, the people you refer to as elitist are probably on a forum somewhere right now, looking in from the outside, like, with their faces pushed to the glass, peering through a window. Know what I mean? Lonely people. But, they are just one of many different categories of misfits welcomed in the community. It's a global group of like-minded individuals who enjoy good music.
Something that I've noticed coming up a lot recently—in the context of both club culture/club closures and in a far broader local and geo-political sense—is the idea of "organisation" being the only means we have to fight, to demonstrate a sense of resistance. Except, people very rarely detail what exactly they want us to organise. Is there anything we can do as clubbers/music lovers to organise ourselves against social ills?
Well, resist what? What do you think you're going to fight? I mean it's too late. Maybe club closures, in fact it was very inspiring to see all the love fabric received when they got covertly attacked, but, I don't have heart with geo-political anything. Our most protected rights are gone now and we have no people to be leaders. Any real future leader will suppressed. More people should have seen that coming or cared years ago. The only fight left is just to be a good person on a local level and hope you don't wind up on a watchlist. If an individual feels empty, try an act of kindness.
Does the dance community need a more positive outlook on things?
I think there are some negative people out there, but I don't really interact with them personally and I live largely un-affected by that element. I'm out here making music and trying to share it with other music lovers. I can tell you my own personal community, the clique I have been a part of, has been around since the 80s, and kept things positive this entire time. They might moan about the state of the scene over the years, but they are always there to contribute—to bring things back to a positive light. You see the fads come and go year after year, I mean, we just watch them rise and fall like the tide. And house music and techno is always there, it's the home-base.
Perhaps it is a cheesy idea, but do you believe in the idea of the dance-protest song? Are there records you'd deploy in a club context that contain some kind of (spoken or unspoken) social message?
I think Harry Belafonte and James Brown wrote great protest songs in dance music. I love to play Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Free at Last" speech over instrumental records, as well as Jello Biafra's "Shut up, be happy" piece. Things like that.
Is it arguable that all of us overestimate the power of clubs and clubbing when it comes to fostering a sense of inclusiveness?
It's the spirit that counts. That same person might take lessons learned dancing and apply them elsewhere in life. Maybe that's the only catharsis they have known. We have a good shot at impressing something positive on people when they are dancing and open to pure thoughts. Some DJs may make an impression on people, some might not—I just encourage you to try.
Club culture is about apprenticeship. It's not like I've ever read a book about Mancuso and I couldn't tell you what his shoe size is, although there probably is a guy on a forum who could tell you every detail. I was taught by the older people about his parties, and his message. And it had a positive impact on me when I was younger. Rest in Peace.
Levon Vincent plays alongside Joey Anderson and Fred P at The Hydra's Novel Sounds night on the 3rd of December at Studio Spaces E1. Head here for more information.