Frankie Bones stands out as one of electronic music's most perplexingly unsung heroes. The Brooklyn DJ/producer played no small part in establishing techno as a force to be reckoned with throughout New York City in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and is most notably credited as originator of the raver credo peace, love, unity and respect.
Bones’ involvement in DJ culture dates all the way back to the early ‘80s, and as a result, he’s rubbed shoulders with many of dance music’s early influencers. He routinely takes it upon himself to educate music fans on the history of the scene, and doesn’t shy away from the more controversial issues enveloping the electronic music community.
Following his set at the Kalliope artCAR at the 20th anniversary of Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Frankie Bones sat down with Magnetic Magazine to discuss the past, present and future of the scene. At one point, he even touched on hip-hop figure Afrika Bambaataa’s recent molestation accusation - and went as far as to tell the story of how another Zulu Nation figure, TC Izlam, made sexual advances towards his wife.
Bones is also gearing up to re-release his Bonesbreaks and Ghetto Technics album series on August 14th. If his insight on the history of rave has piqued your interest in his music, keep on the lookout for those next month.
Frankie, it’s great to see you here at EDC.
Yeah, it’s amazing. 20 years of EDC. I think this is the biggest thing that’s happened with our music and culture in America.
What kinds of feelings have come up while you’ve been here?
I’ve known Pasquale a long time, and Insomniac from the beginning. It’s so nice just to see it all come together like this because I never would have thought it could be this big. This is a colossal event, you know what I mean? The Las Vegas Motor Speedway was meant to do this, and it’s awesome.
We understand that you replaced Ookay when he was supposed to speak during a panel at EDMBiz. How did that come about?
Well, I went to Raymond Roker’s showing the day before, and a few other early ones. Jason Bentley mentioned my name, and he said, “He’s right there.” They pulled me out of the crowd and threw me in Ookay’s seat, and when I sat down, I thought, “Whoa, I didn’t get to prepare for anything,” but I dunno, sometimes the Holy Ghost comes into you and it just comes out. I was speaking for everyone in the scene and what it really means to me. The scene’s been built by real people who really exist - but I feel like there are people who really exist who don’t really exist in a way. (Laughs)
In addition to your music, you’ve always been a historian of sorts for dance music culture, so it’s kind of fitting that you got to share some insight that day.
It’s important because I know that this music is a future-forward thing for most of the youth coming into it, but like with rock and roll, we know our roots. Same with hip-hop. We might not listen to that stuff in 10-20 years, but it’s important to know where it came from and how it developed. DJ culture as a whole started in New York, but it kind of started in Kingston, Jamaica, too, with reggae sound systems.
Mostly, though, growing up in New York City in the hip-hop era - when “Rapper’s Delight” came out in 1980 I was 13 years old so I was right on it. Then, rave came out ten years later, so I modeled a lot of the stuff from what I learned in the streets from hip-hop. It was kind of an interesting time in ‘89-90.
And then shortly thereafter, of course, you made the acquaintance of Pasquale Rotella. How did your paths originally cross?
I gotta tell you, the L.A. promoter Tef Foo and his company CPU 101 were like my family in the early ‘90s. Pasquale was helping Tef out with promoting, and I said, “Tef, look, I just want you to know that I’m not, like, one of these superstar DJs. I will get in the car with flyers and go to Orange County.” He stuck me with Pasquale, and we went to Ron D Core’s store and then the mall down there, and just promoted - like, straight guerrilla promotion. After that day we were always tight, because, like I said, I’m from Brooklyn and I’m getting brought out to play and I’m throwing out flyers, but that’s what we do. It’s guerrilla promotion.
Recently, Insomniac Events as a whole have been trying to re-emphasize the art of DJing in how they curate each experience. What kinds of changes have you noticed to that end?
Well, what happened was that I’ve been talking about this weekend with Pasquale for about six years to bring some of the old school guys back. When the SFX thing came into play and EDM became the thing maybe five years ago, there was a stranglehold, and it was almost like a fight. Now that that’s dissipated, EDC 20 comes along and it’s setting the precedent. You can see what’s going on out there. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen. It was colossal when I first came here four years ago. Now, I’ve never seen anything like this before, so it’s awesome.
A lot of music fans might not be familiar with your role as originator of PLUR, which, of course, stands for peace, love, unity and respect. Can you talk about that?
When we started doing techno music, we were trying to push a movement. Not just the music, but a culture that goes along with techno, and basing these parties on what I knew from hip-hop, we were gonna plug into a lamppost the same way that they used to do it out in the park. But peace, love, unity and respect was something that needed to be installed with all the people we were bringing into our scene. We were living in a very violent time in New York City. The Mafia was just being taken down, and there was a lot of violence in the city.
My father was murdered in January of 1985, so I do this for the spirit of my dad. My brother came along, and he became a big DJ, and we never looked back. We just brought the music to the people as a movement. That’s pretty much how we did it.
Nowadays, you have a new album in the works. Can you talk a little bit about that?
So, a lot of my music is remixes of old stuff. What I try to do with music is take last Saturday night and turn it into next Saturday night. Basically, I’ve applied that mentality to the last thousand Saturday nights, and the next thousand Saturday nights, 20 years in either direction. It’s just good, driven and hard. It doesn’t really have to be techno, house or breaks - just underground, and at a frequency with analogue equipment. Nobody makes stuff with analogue anymore. There’s always gonna be a little glitch here and there, but it’s like a character flaw. Your character flaws are what make your character.
I do my music that way, and as a DJ and somebody who’s been around this many years, I apply it to what’s going on today, and it’s a new formula for me. It’s like the new old school.
Some of that variety was definitely present in your set at the Kalliope artCAR. While you were performing, though, one of the bassPOD structures caught fire! Was that distracting?
This is really ironic, but the bassPOD structure went up in flames and it was right in front of us. It was directly in our field of vision. I was playing a remix that I did of Blaze’s “It’s a Lovely Day.” Blaze? Really? (Laughs) Then it said Burning Man on a sticker, and something about fire in another place - serendipity is something I really love, but when it happens times three or four and none of those things relate to one another but it all ties together, it’s like an overload of frequency response.
When the former New York politician Ronald Savage recently accused Afrika Bambaataa of molesting him as a child, you spoke out on the issue. What’s your history with him and the Zulu Nation?
We’ve seen a lot about the Afrika Bambaataa thing on YouTube, but there’s been no physical evidence that we know this happened. I met Afrika Bambaataa in ‘84, and he’s an icon. He’ll always be an icon. However, I started going into my history on it. TC Izlam is the "fourth son" of Bambaataa, and I really don’t wanna throw him under the bus, but he knew that my wife was my wife and he tried to use that Zulu card.
He touched her ass as I was walking up from the basement of Konkrete Jungle. My field of vision was right in line. I had to get between them and calm TC's drunken ass down! His first reply was, "Bones, I've got bitches from Madagascar up at the crib in the Bronx." I believe that is the same crib where Bam touched him. TC uses his Zulu status to sexually harass women - or did. We believe it's a pattern formed because Bam may have allegedly touched him, or because he witnessed Bam do that. Remember, TC was the first one who confirmed Bam was gay.
Bambaataa and I toured in ‘89, and I was in a hotel room with him in ‘89. People say, “If you were in a room with him that means something happened.” No, Bam was always straight with Frankie Bones. Always. He did ask me if I had a girlfriend. Looking back, there was nothing wrong with that, but I don’t know what the intent was. To me, “Planet Rock” was the record that made DJ culture what it is, so you can’t let something that happened take away the credibility of the song.
In recent years, techno has made quite a resurgence, but you’ve kind of been overlooked. Why do you think that is?
Well, I have such a deep history in this, and there’s kind of this attitude of, “Is it a myth or is it a legend?” We come from the era of 10,000 DJs, and now there’s 110 million DJs. Everybody’s got a story. As my story’s developing, more people are hearing about it. There are 135,000 people here tonight, and they know what PLUR is, but they don’t really know the real story, so little by little it’s coming. I feel like I have the world’s best-kept secret, and I like it that way, because once the secret’s out, we’re not gonna be able to do things this way.
Other than techno, what big shifts do you foresee happening in electronic music?
About two years ago, I really liked what I was hearing with Stanton Warriors and the breakbeat stuff. Not so much drum and bass or trap, but just breakbeats, like DJ Icey back in the day in Florida - but Stanton Warriors had this frequency in there, and it feels like I’ve gotta get this resonating frequency into techno and put the soul back into it. The problem with a lot of German techno is that it’s driving and futuristic, but it doesn’t have soul. Kraftwerk was different because they were so far in the future that it gave it soul.
I think now in America, the breakbeat thing is like the glue. It holds it together. A lot of my music is like a bad marriage between one genre and another, but I put them together and it works. You can go on my SoundCloud and see. It’s not for everybody and it’s not for kids. It’s for grown-up adults who wanna have fun.