Mix and Interview with Barbie & Paul from Love Injection
by Herb Essntls
A month ago
Meet Barbie & Paul. Dj's, fanzine creators, radio hosts, creatives and more. And today - Our Musical Hosts.
Your mix is called “A tribute to Anita Sarko” - without going into her whole story, what makes her special for you?
Anita was a different kind of DJ. “She was alone in a man’s world,” as put by Michael Musto. She stood out because she was truly dancing to the beat of her own drum. She paired music together that others never would have, breaking all the “rules”. She was sharp, witty, and incredibly well versed in various musical genres. She was open minded and unafraid, building narratives that are truly hers. In a video interview a few years before her death, she explains that some of the most important people in history weren’t the ones that became widely famous. Anita very sadly took her own life in October 2015.
“If the music was good and people connected to the conversation you were musically having with them, they didn’t give a toss if you took a sharp left or paused or stopped or generally messed with their heads,” she told Tim Lawrence during research for Life and Death on the NY Dance Floor. "They welcomed it!"(Read more about Anita Sarko in this NYT piece)
Is there anything you’d like to share about the selection of music that you put forward on this mix?
We don’t know how Anita played because we’ve never heard her, but there are many second hand accounts. Without trying to emulate her, but we wanted to show her breadth of genre by compiling some of her most visited records according to playlists in Life and Death on the New York Dancefloor by Tim Lawrence and Beastie Boys Book by Adam Horovitz and Mike D, and some additional interviews. Some of the records in her canon became hits, others are lesser known, but she played a wide range from exotica to post-punk to afrobeat, spoken word, hip hop, funk, modern composition, and more. She had a singular, inspiring vision that made her an unsung hero in the fabric of this city’s nightlife history and one of the women who made her mark in a male-dominated world.
Can you elaborate just a little bit about what this specific era has actually done for the NYC nightlife as we know it today and that has been exported globally?
Anita Sarko began DJing at the Mudd Club around 1979. But first, some timeline and context: 1979 was already a time when ‘disco’ had become a bad word – from Saturday Night Fever’s release in 1977 through til ‘79, the sound became ultra commercial and major labels were churning out glossy records that often lacked substance or individuality just to make a buck. Disco Duck and Ethel Merman’s disco album illustrate this point. Then Disco Sucks happened in July of 79 and while disco in the mainstream came to an abrupt end, it continued on in the underground black and gay spaces from which it came like David Mancuso’s private Loft parties, and more commercial clubs like Nicky Siano’s Gallery and Larry Levan and Michael Brody’s Paradise Garage.
It wasn’t that any one thing that changed – it was that lots of things were converging.
The Mudd Club existed between 1978 and 1985 and it became one of the key spaces in New York where the spirit and aesthetic of ‘Downtown’ flourished. It was the antithesis to Studio 54 though it did have a degree of exclusivity due to its inventive, ever-evolving “door policy”. It was by no means the first (and one should pay respect to Ann Magnuson and Club 57 on St. Marks), but it was perhaps the most celebrated of clubs and often frequented by Klaus Nomi, Glenn O’Brien, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Lou Reed, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. The lines between DJs, musicians, artists and dancers blended and lots of disparate scenes came together. Some associate New York no wave with the Mudd Club, as bands like DNA, the Contortions, Konk, Quando Quango, and more became part of the ecosystem. It was here that Anita, one of the DJs, became celebrated as one of the most exciting talents in town. The Mudd Club became the catalyst for artistic collaboration, unabashed creative exploration, and a cultural melting pot that became synonymous with that time period New York.
What advice would you give someone who lives in, or visits, NYC and has an urge to go to the ongoing dance parties that are the tail of the disco and dance revolution of the 70s and 80s?
There are some incredible party institutions that have DNA linking back to New York’s golden years that we can recommend – Danny Krivit and Benny Soto’s 718 Sessions, Body & Soul, The Shelter with Timmy Regisford, Soul Summit in Fort Greene Park. If it’s your first time at some of these, remember that you are stepping into a community – a lot of these folks have been dancing together for many years. Take note of how folks are dancing, how they move past one another as to not interrupt the flow of the dance. You are a guest in someone else's “home.”
NYC is the capital of the world in many aspects. Especially when it comes to talking about things whereas people actually making things is rare. You guys seem to focus on the making. How is that? What makes you different from all the “talkers”?
I suppose we just make and let our output do the talking.
The DJ or the Musical Host is a universal party archetype over the last 50 years or so. They have played a MASSIVE role throughout half a century in terms of not just making parties legendary but also in terms of creating massive global hits. Why is it that the DJ or Musical Host so underrated in the music industry history?
David Mancuso, to our knowledge, is the first and only person to self-identify as a musical host in this context. Anyone else following suit is likely doing so inspired by David. He rejected the idea of being a DJ for a few reasons:
1) it created a hierarchy which placed that person above everyone else. As far as we know, he believed the musical host was just one of many parts of a whole—the whole being the party. No more important than the speakers, the dancers, the decorations or turntables.
2) because DJs use skill to manipulate music and create a narrative. We are told that David believed in listening to music as the artist intended us to hear it, without embellishments or mixing – so songs were played in their entirety from beginning to end.
These, to us, feel like two very different approaches to presenting music. DJs have gotten lots of credit over the years. If there are more “musical hosts” we haven’t learned about yet, that is likely no accident.
I saw in an interview you did regarding your fanzine Love Injection, and you said that you wanted to “excavate these unique New York stories that otherwise would disappear.”
Do you see a connection between that and digging and finding and circulating unique records that would otherwise disappear?
There’s a big parallel here. Art isn’t made in a vacuum. Music isn’t made in a vacuum. They all come from somewhere, a person or group of people who put thought, emotion, intention and skill into a piece of music. History plays a role, economics play a role, oppression, revolutions. Art is a reflection of the artists’ reality and the stories just provide context the way liner notes provide context. It helps us better understand why we are here today, doing what we do.
Many DJ’s and “diggers” are almost like “musical archeologists” that find things that are of immense value because of their quality - do you think we will see more mainstream focus on vinyl from decades ago or do you think that the mainstream musical scene is forever lost to the productified and storified “drops” that has polluted mainstream music since… well.. A long time… Is there any hope?
Mainstream pop music has existed for at least 50 years though. It just sounded differently: jazz, soul, rnb, hip hop, rock, EDM, you name it (and that’s just westernized music). There are great records that are worth $2 and terrible records worth $500. The value has little to do with quality and a lot more to do with rarity, trends, and influence. While vinyl was the norm at one point in time, it is a huge financial strain (not to mention inconvenience) to produce today. It then became tapes, then CDs, then streaming, now back to tangible media because nostalgia can be packaged and sold as a commodity. Everyone from Taylor Swift to an unknown garage punk band can press vinyl if they want to, so does it really matter, as long as the music is good? It can be a YouTube only release, but for us as long as the music is good, we’ll be part of the audience.
We live in a time where music has little or no value to most people. We pay our streaming service monthly on autopay, and we cannot see, read, feel or smell the product we’re buying. It’s not one-to-one. I feel like there is no casual music conversation anymore. It either “slaps” or “sucks” if you’re an average listener, or you nerd out over it because you’re a nerd and that’s what nerds do. There’s this chapter in the Beastie Boys Book where Ad Rock talks at length about interacting with cassettes. How many could fit in your pocket when you left the house, which you would take depending on who you were going to see or who you might see, how you repaired it if it broke, or taped over it if there was something on the radio you couldn’t let go undocumented. I’d love to see more people talk about music in general these days – regardless of the format.
The “underground” dance music scene of NYC always seems to me to be filled with love. Even though there is a lot of drinking going on and a lot of drugs being taken - there’s never any sense of threat or lurking violence underneath the surface and security is usually very pared back compared to let’s say a Meatpacking club. Why do you think that is?
As far as the lineage of the classic New York parties go – I think love is palpable because the music has a positive message, is joyous in its presentation and the folks that attend are a tight knit community with loving values.
We prefer to support places that offer a music-first policy because that is why we participate. We aren’t big on extra-curriculars and know a lot of sober nightlife folks who solely participate because they love music. It’s a “choose your own adventure” sort of thing. No judgements whatsoever, just our choice.
The word “underground” means different things to different people–even within our niche of underground dance music. There are many micro-scenes to which underground would be an appropriate descriptor. Social networks, electronic music media both glamorize and make subcultures easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a credit card, but most of these underground clubs are barely able to cover their costs. Even more so now in Coronavirus lockdown, there isn’t a single club who isn’t stressed about being unable to reopen their doors or isn't worried about employees going hungry. The music-first clubs we are lucky to know are built with blood, sweat, tears, and a boatload of *intention* but one can’t expect everyone to have the same level of appreciation or understanding, which does lead to incidents. It’s why we are having conversations about safer spaces. It’s why clubs have to put up behavior notices in their bathrooms. The underground clubs started as and continue to be primarily a place of expression and congregation for the disenfranchised—let’s not forget that. People’s perception of safety is only related to the level of attack they’ve suffered, and if we aren’t engaging with each other on these topics, then we aren’t doing our communities any favors—were not learning or helping make our world a better, more tolerant place to live in.
Assuming Meatpacking is being used for its synonymity with bottle service lounges—these places exist for one reason only: to make money. Everything else that happens there like music, sparklers, dancers, birthday programs, serve that one purpose. I don’t think I’ll see a safer space notice at a bottle service club bathroom, but I’d like to be proven wrong!
And finally - as we are in this weird time of social distancing - what (if anything) new have you discovered music-wise that you wouldn’t have without this extra portion of time on your hands. Are there any gems you can share in terms of stories, genres, artists etc?
While we have no DJ gigs and probably won’t set foot in the club in a long time, we are grateful to still have work. Paul is a freelance designer and I work at a record shop. We use our time the best we can to take care of ourselves and our extended circle. Checking in, communicating. It’s not surprising to me that American values and culture are already very isolating. I’m from Argentina and I used to call friends up to chat all the time; something of a habit I lost with time. I’ve been mostly resolved to let go of obligations to others, to my inbox, to systems that had me capitalizing on every second of my day and to continue to pay attention to my emotional needs, to harness tools that help me come out of this with my head on straight, so I can firmly show up for others. Time is no longer money. Health, love and community support are the currency that matters most now. It’s about time we learned these lessons, in society-wide fear and outrage. It’s time we saw the broken system, the unfairness and false idol worship. That is the biggest takeaway for me. How will we be smarter and more organized after this? How will we stand up for our rights post Covid? How will we be more conscious and less predatory to our environment, learning to value what’s truly important and extending a hand to those who need it most?