Tomorrow night in Los Angeles marks the return of legendary dub-obsessed producer and DJ, Francois Kevorkian. FK has been holding it down on the decks for over 30 years now – a career span that many in the dance music game rarely maintain. FK got his start in the club scene when he first moved to New York from France, and became the drummer for Walter Gibbons, the man commonly credited for being the inspiration of icons such as Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles.
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In no time, Francois was regularly DJing at the Paradise Garage and The Loft, shaping his taste and constantly digging for unique records. As FK started to focus more on his own productions, he then started to achieve a higher level of respect after working mixes for the likes of Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk – making him a household name and in demand remixer. His party, Deep Space, has just celebrated a 10-year anniversary and the man is busier than ever – most recently contributing to the latest Grand Theft Auto soundtrack. Fortunately he made some time to chat ahead of his LA DJ set tomorrow night at Club Los Globos for Animal Club, one of our city’s finest undergrounds.
Hey Francois, how’s it going? What have you been up to as of late besides the usual touring?
Touring some more actually. Plus my own weekly event in NYC every Monday night. I’ve been very busy with lots of non-stop travel all over the place.
Going back in time for a minute, you first came to the States in 1975. You said you planned on being a drummer. So how did the whole DJ thing happen? What were you heavily listening to around this time? Was the music you were really interested in at the time a big reason for your relocation to the USA?
I came to the US to be where the action was with the sort of music I loved (jazz and funk) and just got into DJing because there was much less competition than for drummers in those days. It was just a way to earn income in a much easier fashion than the struggles of being in a band. You could say that this is no longer the case today, as everyone seems to be a DJ.
When people talk about dance music today, people typically think of house or maybe disco. But your dance music back in the day before you became a DJ was jazz, funk, and R&B. How were those styles of music different than they are today?
As far as club music, and probably because of computers, things seem to have just become very streamlined, like a utility-driven highly efficient design with no room for flaws. I go to certain parties where the music sometimes feels to my ears like an unending stream of the same sound at the same tempo for hours on end, all incredibly well presented and very professionally produced; but unfortunately often with very little that you will remember five minutes later as so much of it seems to me extremely generic, as it appears to have mostly been created by people using the same exact software tools, presets and sound libraries. There are of course thankfully many exceptions to this but what used to get played was handcrafted and imperfect; just as with art, it could be argued that often times those flaws are what the human brain remembers rather than perfect streamlined shapes. Each band and producer had a very recognizable sound, which seems to generally no longer be the case.
Tell me how you met Walter Gibbons and your first experience attending Galaxy 21. Had you seen anyone DJ like him prior to working at this club? What are some of the most important things you learned during your nights with Walter?
I was hired as a drummer to play along with him at the club called Galaxy21, and Walter wasn't too happy about it. So in the beginning it was a bit of a tense thing, but ultimately we really got along. His sound was extremely drum and percussion-oriented so it was a feast of rhythmic jams I could play along with. Also he would do some pretty amazing live cutting of records, which inspired me to later do some edits which got pressed at Sunshine Sound and became quite popular.
And those parties at Galaxy were very different than the club nights of today where you have a handful of guest DJs playing for an hour each…you guys were playing 8-hour sets, right? Would you say that the routine of playing extended sets offers DJ training that most kids don’t learn in 2013?
With Tweeter's 140-character limit the norm and since for many people life increasingly revolves around a tiny cell phone display, you could say that their attention spans might mirror this a bit and they wouldn't know what to make of someone playing an 8-hour set? Maybe what I am trying to articulate is that it is not so much a function of the DJ's learning to play extended sets as it is that of the audiences demanding it; otherwise they themselves would spend long periods of time where they can concentrate on “being in the zone” dancing and getting lost in music without interruptions (instead of every few minutes being distracted while their electronic gadgets are sending them notifications). So the game has changed. You could definitely notice this at Burning Man since it's in the middle of the desert and no reception is available so many people revert to that simpler non-multi-tasking state. (edit: they had reception this year, so that too is a thing of the past)
While you’ve managed to keep your sound fresh and evolving all through your career, you seemed to have taken a strong interest with the dub aesthetic around 1980. These production techniques and records had already been around by the time the 80s hit, but it was new to you. Why did you connect with the dub version of tracks?
It was just something that I'd always been very attracted to, those certain eerie and cosmic production qualities in certain songs whether they came from Krautrock (Germany), London or Jamaica and as I was working in the studio non-stop I naturally started incorporating a lot of these ideas into the remixes I was doing.There was no plan to, it just happened organically.
Was it more exciting for you to make your own dubs due to the freedom and unexpected directions a track could go?
Yes, definitely and arguably much more rewarding in a creative sense. It's also pretty obvious that there is a timeless quality about dub, which makes many of these still extremely listenable today.
Music always flows in cycles, but I feel like about 6 years ago the big resurgence with the dubby cosmic disco sound began. You were doing remixes for exciting acts of the era like LCD Soundsystem. What’s your view of the constantly-growing dubby disco rebound as new generations discover modernized versions of what you saw from the beginning?
It's great to see a segment of the public supporting this sort of music, and (as I already said above) validates the idea that it's truly a timeless aesthetic which will arguably thrive for a very long time, regardless of current passing fads like EDM is today.
Deep Space celebrated its 10-year anniversary this year. Congratulations! What can you say about it looking back to its first night? Do you still feel just as passionate about it today?
There is no question that when we embarked on this adventure in 2003 we had no idea of where it would take us, and it certainly has been a most fruitful one. Of course things have evolved quite a bit, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the amount of dubstep we get to program and the artists we invite today. For example some weeks ago we had the US debut of Sherwood & Pinch doing their live set, and for the last few years have been blessed by the talents of many incredibly gifted creators like Mala, Joy Orbison, Scuba, Goth Trad, Loefah, Pearson Sound and many more. While the policy has always been an extremely open-minded one, for me the major story there has been that we were one of the few parties to support dubstep in NYC and it has been a truly remarkable experience because you could say that it is a fast-mutating genre that is the result of dub's natural evolution and in that sense a very futuristic type of music. Supporting it has helped us forge more of an identity than merely playing some really cool old Reggae or Disco records. Rather than merely playing new versions of an old sound, I think that it is important to also feature some truly new-sounding genres and it has had wonderful results for us, in that it has helped bring in a younger audience who otherwise wouldn't be aware of what we do.
What kind of role does throwing your own party play in your life as a DJ? Do you think that every aspiring DJ should do it for a little while at least?
As for Deep Space, it really wouldn't have happened without the help of an entire staff of dedicated people to make this come together, first and foremost our event producer Eric Ruben, as well as the rest of the crew. Thankfully this leaves me able to mostly focus on playing the music and make suggestions to find new talent we'd like to invite. But undoubtedly it's a very valuable experience to be able to do this, so I would highly recommend it to others, if only to find out how hard it really is to keep it going for more than a few months. And whether it is with other events I was involved with such as Body&SOUL as well as with this one, the key seems to be to figure out a way to retain total creative control. All too often I see people with perfectly great ideas whose vision gets slowly swayed and distorted by club owners or promoters; this usually results in the event not having the authenticity that will attract people for the long run. Obviously, being patient while building the audience is the most difficult part, and that can be financially as well as otherwise. We are truly blessed in the fact that Cielo had given us the confidence and unconditional support for the time that it took. But more often than not, club owners seldom have the patience. (And if they also had the vision, they would have done it themselves)
Tell me about your decision to throw Deep Space on Monday nights. Is this to ensure that only the most enthusiastic heads come out?
We felt that it would automatically weed out the party crowd who just wants to have a blast getting drunk on weekends, as well as all of the posers. Going out on a Monday is a commitment, so it helps keep the vibes the way we like them. Also it has allowed us to book many guests as most visiting talent can always find time for it in their busy touring schedules.
While many DJs who have been doing it as long as you have tend to stick to only playing the classics, I get the feeling that you’re very on top of today’s sounds. Are there any contemporary producers that you’re really feeling as of late?
Yes of course. As I mentioned 'bass music' has been on the radar a lot right now because it is very fresh, and I have become quite enamored with Objekt, Pinch, Pearson Sound, Falty DL, Silkie, Boddika. Scuba is not quite doing dubstep anymore but whatever he touches is wonderful. Len Faki and Benny Rodrigues both consistently produce awesome techno that never leaves my box. As well Josh Milan and Joaquin 'Joe' Claussell keep making great songs I cannot get enough of.
What is some of your best advice for young dance producers / musicians/ DJs who are just starting to put out records and tour?
Being that the field is so overcrowded, don't do what everyone else has already been doing. Find what you're really good at, and stick to it; the time for it to develop can be measured in years, not minutes. Also, know how to play more than one genre. If this is really with professional aspirations rather than just as a hobby, learn the business side of it right away.
The party begins at 9pm at Los Globos and features support sets from Heidi, Cooper Saver, Mustafa, and Animal Club resident Joe Bickle.