Introducing Dennis Kane - A Conversation About Music and Culture
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
Dennis Kane is a renowned DJ, Producer, visual artist and writer, he has run the Ghost Town and Disques Sinthomme imprints, he partners with Darshan Jesrani in the group SIREN, and continues to work on new material and productions for his LESDK label. His most recent remix for Ilija Rudman’s “Sparks” is available now, upcoming is a remix for Rheinzand’s “14 Again”, LESDK’s second release will drop in December. Kane has been isolating in NYC’s Lower East Side with his son Roan Mingus. He likes to bike around the city late at night.
Hi Dennis, thanks so much for your contribution! Is there a story behind this mix, when and where it was recorded?
Yeah T, I did this set at my pal Toshi and Yuki’s spot The Cedar Room, they kept the soundsystem up so I could record this mix before they moved back to Japan. Literally everything in their place was good to go, so it was definitely a “last call” vibe. Cedar Room was a private loft party that Toshi (Moriguchi) established, that was one of my favorite NY soirees. In fact the last full night I played before Covid was there. They are going to restart the party in Japan, I’ll miss them both.
Are there any key records that you knew you wanted to play that particular night, or standouts from the mix?
In general terms, the mix is informed by the circumstances that we have been living through. I think isolation has made me feel even more grateful for choosing a life of art and making things, and it certainly has given me time to appreciate those I admire who do so as well.
There have been some very poignant zoom chats with pals worldwide. I feel thankful for the colleagues that I have, a proper salty bunch.
You’ve said that during your formative years in Philly that you were “surrounded by music”, in the streets, on the radio. What do you think the effect has been of the transition of music from being a shared experience, to almost exclusively private one in people's individual ears in daily life? How does this affect our sense of a musical community?
That's a change not just of music but of many aspects of experience, the interweb is where so much of life occurs now, and conversely, as Rem Koolhaas says, the physical world is getting more mundane and enfolded in similitude. Difference, and encounters with difference challenge us and enable an almost involuntary growth. It is what made NYC so spectacular for so long. Being “surrounded by music” as a kid also meant being surrounded by other people’s hierarchies, so boom - salsa music is what goes down in this pool hall, hip hop is up the block, the metal heads are getting high in the park. You learned to negotiate and appreciate various tribes, it was made explicit that you weren’t the center of the universe. It humbled you and expanded your horizon. I am seeing young people negotiate and amend and share music with each other from their clouds, a new syntax: “oh I did an edit of that thing and sent it to my friend, then she flipped it and put that vocal in there, they used the first part then mixed something with it”, Small micro communities popping up like tide pools, insular and impermanent, stick and move. I like those nomadic possibilities.
You’ve talked about “Music as the primary escape” and that “I’ve always said my first set of proper headphones was my first passport”. In our world ,where music has been co-opted by and often functions as a lubricant for the marketplace, has the fundamental utility of music as “therapy for soul and mind” gotten lost?
Well it may not always be front and center, but real art, music, film, etc is always rooted in the transcendent. It doesn’t matter the form or genre or when or where it was made. If you are able to hear and feel it, it will always be there. Part of the key is keeping yourself ready for it.
I recently heard a few or the unreleased tracks from the Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup, they had been sitting on them for decades, but oh they sounded so good, so vital, just awesome. I have been playing a lot of Alice Coltrane at home, it impacts your spirit, so much power and gracious beauty. A pal played me a piece she liked by Francois Bayle the other day - pure joy to just sit and listen to something I had never heard before! I have a memory of being in a supermarket in Hokkaido and suddenly hearing The Gap Bands Early in the Morning! Forget about it! Real art never disappoints and can always take you somewhere if you are open to it. I think coming out the other side of this, people may be more sensitive and thoughtful, they may realize the need for that primal joy.
You have referred to contemporary NYC Nightlife as “a mall populated by white hipsters who see DJing as a career move”. Do you think the current exodus and shift NYC is going through because of Covid-19, has any potential to bring back some profoundness to the City’s nightlife scene?
It has to change dramatically, what existed before Covid was pretty sad and everyone knew it. Too much entitlement, too much whiteness, too many hobbyists.- squaresville. Some truly suburban spaces. You have to make something specific, do it with love, and support real talent, keep it cheap and modest and let it grow. Make sure the sound is decent and the vibe is welcoming. If the crowd is all white you are doing something fundamentally wrong! DJ’s may seem to be a dime a dozen because everyone claims to be one, but the real thing is very rare. We are stuck with obnoxious dilettantes who can ruthlessly market themselves, they exist in all lanes, the key is to sidestep them and build with people you really like. Part of why I liked the Cedar Room was the well curated crowd. I really miss playing for dancing crowds, I miss pushing a room to a frenzy, I miss dancing to great music in public. Finding fresh solutions and making small scenes with proper intentions is the way. There may not be any money in it for some time, and that might be a positive.
We have been reading your pieces in Ban Ban Ton (more of this please). Your piece on the Black Lives Matter protests was incredibly moving, this line especially resonating “being in this group feels truly uplifting, it is all ages and ethnicities, a genuine mix in a city that feels increasingly separate and striated, it feels civilized.” Your writing has a knack for tapping into the zeitgeist - do you see writing as a separate endeavour, or does it inform your musical output?
I have been drawing, painting, writing, playing records and making music since I was a kid. Not really a musician per se but I always love noodling on the keyboard to see if I can coax something worthwhile out of it. I have designed and built almost all of the places I have called home. All of it, design, art, music, sex, cooking, writing, it is all an effort to get somewhere special and to transform oneself in the process. Ed Ruscha made this great short film called Miracle, it’s focus is on a mechanic working on the engine of his Mustang, the more he works on the car, the cleaner his overalls and garage become, the better everything starts looking, part of why he is fixing the car is because he has a hot date, but he gets so into the project he forgets about the time and just commits to the work at hand.
You create and curate music that “doesn’t easily fit into any trend”, which almost seems mandatory for something to be good. Does really great music (old and new) have a harder time reaching a broader audience. When was the last time you experienced really profound music reaching mass popularity..?
I think you can probably have something popular that has a chance to be interesting, the odds aren’t great it seems, but it happens. WiIl people like Bowie and Prince come round again? They both felt divorced from the structures of pop culture in their own lifetimes. I think people will find new vectors to build an audience and then the word may spread, I don't think Fela won a grammy. (laughs) The timeline for real art is long, our culture has gotten too caught up in an “Opening weekend box office” mindset. Godards influence on art and culture will be more lasting and impactful than say Spielberg, Willie Hutch will always be the man, trends and scenes are transient, art isn’t. What's chilling is hearing a new band or DJ/producer and every aspect of what they are doing is calculated by something other than art, even if they have taste, what they are is just an empty simulation with the worst motivations. I see far too much of that sadly in every artform.