Exclusive Interview: Kenny Summit

Recently we posted an article about a club in LA that banned laptops from it’s DJ booth. In order to find out why, we had a chat with the man who made the decison, house music legend Kenny Summit.

You may remember our article a couple of weeks ago where we discussed house music legend Kenny Summit banning laptops from the DJ booth in his club, the Cure and the Cause. He created a bit of a stir in the electronic music scene by posting about this, with some of the world’s most popular DJ’s getting involved to debate whether they agreed with his decision.

We’ve since had the opportunity to ask the man himself a few questions about his experience in the music industry. In this interview, he discusses his recent media attention and lets us pick his brains about his career. Along with this, Kenny talks new music and offers some advice to those who are still learning to DJ.

Check out the interview below for some real talk from a true legend of house music:

Whose music are you listening to at the moment?

I bought a pallet of used records, about 2500 funk & soul classics on 45 from a guy who was moving from LA to Italy, so I’ve been going through all of those lately.  So much great music was pressed up back in the day that has never seen a digital release.

Who are a few of your favourite DJs to see play live and why?

Brillstein, Junior Sanchez, Hex Hector, Jazzy Jeff, Charles Feelgood…  I could keep listing names but for the readers sake lets leave it at that.  I like most DJs for the same reason: they possess a passion and a knowledge of music that translates into their sets.  It’s not something a 20 year old kid can do after downloading the top 10 chart on beatport. Nothing trumps experience and a DJs library.

Could you tell us a bit about how you got involved in house music?

Where i grew up in New Jersey, house music was everywhere.  This was the ‘heyday’ of club Zanzibar (known the world over because of its resident Tony Humphries) and you couldn’t go to any birthday parties, cookouts, or any events without there being a DJ on hand playing really fun house music.

Do you remember what set-up (decks/mixer) you were using at the time?

My 1st turntables were a pair of Thorens that i found in the garbage across the street from my mother’s house.  I was very much into ‘crystal radios’ that i would buy from Radio Shack and any time I came across any electronic equipment in the trash I would take it home and dissect it.  Both decks happened to have the same problem: one loose wire that was apparently a common problem in that specific model.  So I soldered the wires back together and started from there.  My first mixer was a REALISTIC mixer from Radio Shack; i recall the “efx” buttons which included a ‘machine gun’ sound and an ‘air horn’.

As a DJ, how accessible did you feel the music scene was?

I never felt part of any scene until I entered my 30s to be honest.  I was very much a loner; I would go to nightclubs in Manhattan by myself all the time and simply dance the entire night.  I made friends with other regulars but as I was a non drinker and didn’t understand why anyone would take drugs, my circle of potential friends at clubs like the legendary Limelight or the Tunnel was limited to say the least.  Even when going out to play gigs, I would request that no one be allowed in the DJ booth so I would not be distracted from doing my job.  I can say the crowds were more ‘mixed’ back in the day.  Today things seem very separated by genre and even class in some cities.  The days of dancefloors filled with celebrities, doctors, janitors, drag queens, straight, gay, black, white and every other variety seem light years away.  The theme of “togetherness” that the present house scene are trying to portray have some gaping holes in their image as there is a lot of elitist bullshit going on today.

What do you see as the biggest changes in the scene since?

Social media, new quicker ways to reach people, this whole short attention span generation makes for a lot of changes.  As far as DJs and producers are concerned: talent is steadily being pushed to the side to make room for marketing ploys and ‘team built’ Djs.  The focus on making what’s HOT is a horrible trend that is more present than ever.  Creativity as a whole is being funnelled through loop pack peddling production schools that curb individuality from day one.  On the other hand, those who really love the music and aspire to make original tunes have a better chance of getting noticed.

Do you think the rise of commercially popular ‘EDM’ has made it easier for DJs & producers to get involved in music?

I think EDM is a gateway into better music.  The laymen only knows what is fed to them through mainstream media: their favorite radio station, whatever their friends are listening to, etc..  I’m of the opinion that anyone who has a great time listening to EDM will eventually search for more meaningful music.  It’s only natural that people’s taste in music will evolve, will mature, so if you’re into EDM, you will probably find yourself in the middle of a house music event sooner than later.  As far as the producers and Djs who have jumped into the ‘business’ because of all the technology that easily allows one to THINK they are actually ‘doing it’, my only advice to them is: don’t be in a hurry.  They call it the music industry for a reason, it’s an entire INDUSTRY of people who have been doing this for decades and they will weigh in on you and your talent when they hear you (so don’t leave your a bedroom until you know you’re ready to be critiqued).

Do you feel that generally there is less focus on a DJ’s mixing ability then there used to be? If so, why do you think this is the case?

I was never really concerned about DJs technical ability to mix flawlessly as I’ve been blessed to be around people like Dave Mancuso (the Loft NYC) who have a different take on mixing all together.  The important part of DJing is selection, taking the crowd on a journey, introducing new tracks and old forgotten tracks to the audience in a manner that evokes emotion from their soul that can be translated into better energy on the dancefloor.  With all the technology available to young DJs, it’s pathetic that even with the sync button they still can’t put a good set together.

You’ve recently had a lot of attention in the media after banning laptops from the Cure & the Cause’s DJ booth. Could you explain why you decided to take this step?

Well, my post was taken out of context and turned into a ‘laptop vs real djs’ discussion world wide.  The post I made was directed at a handful of DJs who repeatedly came into the club and didn’t know how to set up their laptops / controllers.  So I made the post to let them know I wasn’t having that kind of nonsense anymore, hence the “learn the tools of your trade” part of my post.  Global media picked up the story, it was translated into 30+ languages, was shared by over 3000 blogs, front page on the UK’s biggest paper (The Guardian), it was blown completely out of proportion.  Bottom line: if you don’t know how to set up your laptop or controller, you might not want to take any DJ gigs until you know for damn sure you will be able to perform.

What advice would you give to people who are learning to DJ?

TAKE YOUR TIME.  ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF RECORD SHOPPING (or digital shopping).  Watch the DMC videos, LEARN TO SCRATCH even if you don’t want to be a turntablist (don’t call yourself a DJ until you can do some basic scratching), pursue your passion no matter what anyone tells you (no parent or real friend will encourage anyone to become a DJ for a living).  You have to immerse yourself into the DJ culture, it’s a never ending process of learning, so BE HUMBLE ESPECIALLY WHEN MAKING POSTS ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER.  Take it from me: ONE POST could make the world take notice of what you’re doing.

How do you see dance music developing over the next 10 years?

No idea.  Obviously POP has crossed over into house / dance.  That’s good for a number of reasons (one being my production rate will go through the roof) but with all styles of music, the bubble will burst and something else will take hold for a while.  The great thing about HOUSE MUSIC is that we have a SOLID underground that never dies, that always expands, and forever supports the real Djs and producers who continue to “keep it real”.

What should we expect from Good For You Records and from yourself in the rest of 2016? Are there any releases you’re particularly excited about?

We’re releasing an official PARADISE GARAGE compilation made up of tracks produced by some of the most legendary names in the business.  Unlike past PG compilations, this will NOT be classics that were played at the garage.  Instead we’ve asked producers and DJs who were good friends with Larry Levan to give us tracks that were inspired by their time at the Paradise Garage.  It’s something that has never been done before and we’re really excited about it!

 

Finally, just to satisfy my curiosity… The Cure & the Cause by Fish Go Deep… Any relation to the club?

None whatsoever.  It is a 1500 year old Gaelic saying about liquor and love.  We can’t seem to go a week without at least one or two DJs playing that track.  I am a fan of Tracy K’s voice and I do enjoy the production work of those two boys from Cork (Greg Dowling and Shane Johnson), so I don’t mind at all.  😉

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