To celebrate the release of 'Marie Montana', Batty Bass caught up with Johnny Dynell for Faith Fanzine about NYC past and present...
Published on April 11th, 2013
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small town on the border of Canada. As soon as I got out of high school I was out of there. Living in New York was always my dream.
What was New York like when you first ever started going to nightclubs?
I arrived Downtown New York in the late 70s. It was a very exciting place to be. Art, music and fashion were exploding and it was all happening in nightclubs.
How did your DJ journey start ?
My first job as a DJ was at the legendary Mudd Club. I was in art school and not really interested in DJing but it was a job. I didn’t know how to mix and didn’t even own a record. All of my records had recently been stolen by my junkie next door neighbor. You would think that this was an unlikely job for me but the Mudd Club was all about anarchy and it made perfect sense. I had absolutely no experience as a DJ but I guess I played fun music because I continued to get DJ jobs and eventually learned how to mix. I grew to love DJing
What were the kind of tracks you were playing at the time?
At the time, I was playing bass in arty Punk Rock bands at CBGBs and Max’s but I was also going to clubs like The Loft, The Paradise Garage, Crisco Disco and a lot of the other downtown Discos. So even though I was in a Punky environment I always DJed Disco and Funk. That was the music that I loved. My first night playing at the Mudd Club someone threw a bottle at me shouting, “Take this nigger music off”! My soundtrack back then featured songs like “Sex Machine”, “Soul Makossa” and anything by K.C & The Sunshine Band who I worshipped. How did your first track Jam Hot come about?
In the late 1970s I started going to see the early Hip Hop DJs like Kool Herc, Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. They blew me away with what they were doing. They were taking bits and pieces of old records and creating whole new soundtracks and rapping over them. I saw them as the great grand children of Marcel Duchamp. Kids were rapping, break dancing, bombing trains with graffiti, all to this new sound. The whole scene was really new and electrifying. In 1980 I wrote “Jam Hot”. “Tank, Fly Boss, Walk, Jam, Nitty Gritty, Talking’ bout the boys from the big bad city” was a tribute to those kids. “Tank”, “Fly Boss”, “Walk” etc. were all break dancers and graffiti kids that I knew. In 1983 I was working at Danceteria. Fellow Danceteria DJ Mark Kamins, hot off his success signing coat check girl Madonna, signed me as well. Mark, along with Kenton Nix, who was hot offhis success with the revolutionary song “Heartbeat” produced “jam Hot”. It’s such a crazy song. It’s out of tune, out of time and off the wall but it still gets sampled to this day. A few years ago the the term “Jam Hot” made it into the Urban Dictionary.
You’ve been involved in some legendary collaborations, tell us about working with Larry Levan !
I’ve been lucky to have worked with some very creative people like Malcolm McLaren, Arthur Baker and Larry Levan to name just a few. Larry was a very intense person. He always reminded me of a warlock. He had magic. I remember him editing my song “Rhythm Of Love”. Back then it was done with tape and razor blades. He was also working on the Padlock EP by Gwen Guthrie. He had literally thousands of tiny little pieces of recording tape stuck to the wall. Some were from my song, some were from Gwen’s songs “Padlock”, “Peanut butter” and “Seventh Heaven”. These thousands of tiny pieces of recording tape were totally identical to me but Larry would just reach out and pull one off the wall and it would be the exact piece he was looking for.
How did your initiation into House Of Xtravaganza come about?
DJ David DePino, who I knew from the Paradise Garage, brought me into the house sometime in the late eighties.
What was the ballroom scene like around the late eighties / early nighties?
The ballroom scene changed a lot in the eighties, especially the Voguing and Runway categories. I think that because a lot of the “carrying on” happened in public places like the Pier and Washington Square Park there was a lot of interaction with the straight breakdancing scene. Voguing became much more aggressive and showman like. Voguers started forming circles on the dance floors in clubs the way that the break dancers did. Voguers and Breakdancers also picked up moves from each other. I think that this was when “Old Way” and “New Way” split.
How much did it overlap with the club scene?
The ballroom scene and the club scene were very connected. In the early days, you would see ball children at the Paradise Garage. Later, clubs like the Tunnel, Sound Factory and especially David DePino’s and Danny Krivit’s Tuesday night at Traxx were ground zero for ball kids. The end of the night was always especially fierce for Vogue and Runway battles.
Whats the story behind Elements Of Vogue and Marie Montana?
In the eighties I was involved with Malcalm McLaren on his New York projects like “Duck Rock” and “Fans”. After “Fans” Malcolm was in LA working on this surf punk idea. I told him about the whole Ballroom scene in New York and about Voguing etc. At the time I was trying to help Jennie Livingston get money to finish “Paris Is Burning” and I (foolishly) sent Malcolm a video tape of her movie to show him what the scene was all about. Of course he just lifted sound bites from the movie. I told him about songs like “Love Is The Message” and “Love Break”. He used all of these ideas for “Deep In Vogue”. My wife Chi Chi Valenti wrote the lyrics. A few months later I was approached to record another Voguing record. David DePino, David Ian Xtravaganza, Chi Chi and I flew to London to record “Elements Of Vogue”. After immediately finding a cruise park and having a fling with a very famous fashion designer, David Ian bought a rhyming dictionary and wrote like twenty pages of rhymes which I boiled down to three verses. David Ian was a genius.
After recording the vocals for “Elements Of Vogue” we were all just kiki-ing in the vocal booth. Ian was busting David DePino’s balls about this ugly jacket that he had bought on 14th street. The label said “Montana” in big letters. “Is it Claude Montana “? Ian asked. No. It was Marie! We lost it and Marie Montana was born. Marie Montana became the girl at the ball who just doesn’t get it. Her face is wrong, her clothes are wrong, her moves are wrong. She’s the girl who gets chopped. One time at Traxx Claude Montana came up to David DePino in the DJ booth and screamed, “So who is this Marie”? It was very funny.
How did the legendary Club Jackie come about?
Basically we needed a place to go so we created one. The rest is Herstory.
How would you describe NY clubland today?
As someone who has been around for a thousand years I've seen New
York go through lots of changes and we are definitely in a transition
now. There is a really fun new House scene happening downtown and in
Brooklyn and like all great scenes it started with a group of friends.
Underground house parties like Wrecked, Spank, Westgay and The Carry
Nation are changing the flavor of even mainstream club and circuit
events. When I saw that the DJs for this year's Black Party in New York
were Tom Stephan, Honey Dijon and The Carry Nation I knew that the
planets had shifted. This scene which seems to have happened over night
has been bubbling under for years and it's not a coincidence that this
group of DJs play together and produce and remix each other's songs.
the late 80s we were suddenly bombarded by this brand new electronic
disco coming from Chicago and Detroit. It eventually was called House
and Acid House. I first heard it at the Garage where Larry's friend
Frankie Knuckles would bring him records from Chicago. These Chicago
House people were all friends. Larry and Frankie were friends and had
actually started their DJ careers together. A scene happens naturally
(and magically) when like minded creative people are put together and
left to simmer for a few years or decades. For instance, I did a mix of
The Carry Nation (Will Automagic and Nita Aviance) song "This Bitch Is
Alive" featuring Viva Ruiz. That made perfect sense since the very young
Viva was one of our House Of Domination daughters at Jackie 60. I met
the 16 year old Will Automagic when a friend brought him into my DJ
booth at Jackie 60 and I've known Nita Aviance since he was a puppy. Tom
Stephan and Honey Dijon were also regulars at Jackie 60. Pretty much
all the people involved in this new house scene have long standing
friendships and connections that go back years. Fate plays a big part in
this chemistry as well. When Australian DJ Sveta Gilerman came to New
York she somehow landed right in our lap at the infamous party Mr. Black
and it was love at first sight. Mr. Black was a sort of nursery where
DJs like Nita, Honey and the House of Stank (W. Jeremy Pelser and
Christy Love) were bringing House music back to New York. Sveta could
have ended up anywhere but she was ours. The same is true with the
Horsemeat Disco boys. They fit in perfectly with the New York scene. Of
course the fact that they are crazy party animals didn't hurt. Record
labels like Batty Bass in London and Get Up Recordings in New York are
at the head of this parade leading the way. The next few years are going
to be interesting as the scene starts to gel.