Ivan Berko - DJ, Producer & this week's Musical Host
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
We’re excited to introduce you all to this week’s Musical Host - Ivan Berko. A New York City native, DJ, Producer and Musician that has toured around the world and is a staple (normally) in the NYC nightlife. We thank Ivan for this fantastic mix called “Candle Light” that takes us through profoundly chill vibes and tracks that probably should be more famous than they are. Enjoy our conversation about music, DJing, and the mix to take you through the weekend and beyond.(Photo by Don Stahl)
Name: Ivan Berko
Resides: Chinatown, Manhattan
Where are you from and how have you ended up doing what you’re doing in terms of DJing and Music creation?
I was born in Flushing Queens NY at Booth Memorial Hospital in 1980. We ended up moving a few years later to NJ right next to Rutgers University. Growing up in suburban NJ in the ’80s was pretty quiet so once I was old enough to venture back into the city my friends and I jumped at the chance. Exploring the Lower East Side and East Village was truly wild coming from burbs. I immediately started devising how I could move here. I was pretty active in the local music scene in NJ and we would come into the city for shows at ABC No Rio on the lower east side for punk matinees. Eventually I moved back full time as a student in 2000 and started DJing soon after. My band at the time which was called Ghost Exits decided we should have a weekly party with live music and we as hosts would DJ. I had never Djed before but had been collecting music at this point for a few years so it seemed doable. At this point in time you actually had to have physical copies of music to DJ so it was a natural progression to put these records to work. Becoming a DJ was merely a means of sharing the music that you were consuming. Not everyone had access to every song ever made at this point so to be able to share that was really fun and seemed really special. The thirst for music has never ceased since then and here I am at 40 years old and even deeper into music exploration than ever before. Thankfully there is a seemingly endless supply of music from the past to discover.
Thank you for being this week’s Musical Host. We ask all our hosts to set the mood for NYC with each curation. Can you tell us a little about this mix and what mood you’re trying to set?
First of all thanks for having me! It's really one of the true joys in life for me. This mix is wildly different from some of the other ones I have made for radio lately. I wanted to make something that felt really personal and intimate. I included a lot of records that I discovered through traveling around the last few years. Some I found in record shops, one I even discovered while sitting in a cafe tucked in a castle in Italy. I wanted to distill some of my happiest memories and hopefully that could translate to the listener. I wanted it to feel like someone found a photograph at a flea market in Tuscany. Something like that.
Like several other Musical Hosts you are pretty invisible online. No videos, no lengthy interviews or podcast appearances. I find it somewhat strange given that all of you have such a wealth of knowledge and interesting viewpoints. Why is that in your opinion?
This is a great question! Please stay tuned though as I'll be on Good Morning America discussing the merits of East German Record label Amiga and how great their vinyl pressings were. Just kidding but really those records generally sound amazing. I think people are getting interested though. People have so many options with digital media that it's nice to let a human with intention handle the selection every now and again. I've done music programming for restaurants and bars and even hotels. I always get a smile on my face when I see people try and shazam a song that they have never heard before. It means people are listening!
We saw in one of the few interviews that we did find you said that you are excited about contemporary music being released online. What are you hoping this new reality will bring us in the future?
I see lots of people releasing music independently online which I think is great and empowering for artists. In the past I have worked with bands that were on major labels and independent labels. Both had their pros and cons, but now it seems like anyone can release anything at any time. I regularly promote great new releases on my social media. Give a follow!
You have earlier stated that David Mancuso changed your life, his name does come up in almost every interview (and no wonder!) I would love to hear how he changed your life specifically?
The first time I went to David’s party so much changed for me. When he played “As” by Stevie Wonder something really clicked. This was a song that I heard so many times before but this time was different. I realized that music has a 4th dimension. A song can be well written, recorded beautifully, and then played on the best stereo system you have ever heard but it's the context that it's played in that really sends it into that magic space. David created that space and has inspired 50 years of positive energy through music. I took his work to heart.
You say the only thing you need to be successful (as a DJ) is to throw a good party. What is a good party in your opinion?
I think a great party is when everyone attending can forget about the hardships of their day to day lives. Music is a great way of guiding one to another headspace. I can’t remember how many times a song has completely changed up the way I was feeling. After a few hours of listening you could totally reshape your outlook on your situation. That's the mission I think, to share with people music that can alter their perception and show them something they didn’t hear or see before.
You’ve worked with Tim Sweeny’s radio show Beats In Space on WNUY 89.1. Can you tell us what you learned through it and about your relationship with Radio in general?
So my old band Hidden Fees did a record with Beats in Space a few years ago. I had met Tim before through music and friends and had been an avid listener of his show. So I was thrilled to work with him. Growing up pre-internet, radio was a huge part of my childhood whether it be listening to classic rock in the family car or discovering college radio in my teens. I think what we are seeing now with Podcasts and mixes is a return to something like that. I get so excited when a DJ I love makes a mix. It's a similar feeling to tuning in or your favorite radio show back in the day.
You DJ at the lovely dive Home Sweet Home and also help out at other bars. How is everything fairing in times of lockdown, will you be opening again and what can we expect when you do?
I do work many nights a week at a lovely neighborhood bar a block from my apartment called Clandestino. The last shift I worked was March 12th and I'm not entirely sure when we are going to be opening back up. It's been really tough. I remember the last night I worked I played all these end-of-the-world songs. I was thinking maybe it won’t be that bad let's make the best of it. Little did I know how bad it would get. I'm optimistic though, eternally. It's a new world now. Let's build something new and positive.
A few years ago you went on a European tour, how did that come about and what was your experience like?
I've been going back and forth for the last 4 years or so. I think it started when I met my friend Paramida who runs Love On The Rocks records. She told me I should come to play at her party in Berlin. So I bought a one-way ticket and linked up with friends around Europe and had the time of my life! It was pure magic. I think it really opened my eyes to how big and different the world is. Previously I had only really toured the US and Canada so it was such a blessing to be in the old world.
You also make and produce music. Can you tell us a little bit about how you experience the relationship between collecting, curating and actually creating music?
I started playing bass guitar in bands when I was 15. I played with all different types of people and learned so much from a lot of talented people. Being the bass player I was never front and center in the band and really enjoyed that role. Like being up there and being a part of this musical machine but not really being the singer or whatever. I think Djing when I started was similar. Like, I love being at parties but now I had something to do at the party. Now the Dj is a little too front and center if you ask me, but that's a whole other ball of wax.
Have you had any formal music training that is the basis of your music creation?
My grandfather was a jazz musician back in the 40s and my dad has a natural ear and is a really great harmonica player actually! I think the ears run in the family. I'm certainly too lazy to be a virtuoso but I think playing in a band with really talented people taught me a few things. Even today I learn a lot from my community. My friend Jex Opolis is an amazing musician and I have learned some cool keyboard tricks from him.
And to close - how has your relationship with music changed during the lockdown? Have you found anything interesting or discovered something surprising?
Well for one I really miss parties! Playing records for people in the flesh is the greatest and I can't wait to get back to that once it's safe. In the meantime I have been having a ball going through my collection and discovering records I didn't even know I had. This mix has a few of those records too. So get comfy and hit play!