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Francois K, the father of house
December 27 2002
By Chris Johnston
>From the 1970s disco era on, Francois Kervorkian has been picking the
choicest tunes and reinventing them for the dance floor.
Francois Kervorkian was one of the select coterie of US DJs who helped
invent house music in the 1980s, thus directly shaping club culture in the
new millennium. Strange, then, that he has such a strong link to archetypal
Australian rock band Midnight Oil.
Francois K, as he is known, a 48-year-old New Yorker, produced the Oils'
1985 EP, Species Deceases. He also mixed Power and the Passion during the
10, 9, 8 ... era - and was rightly transfixed by Rob Hirst's remarkable drum
solo in the middle of the song. Kervorkian was a drummer before he was a DJ
- one of his early gigs was drumming along to DJs in Manhattan clubs - so he
innately knows a magic rhythm.
"I loved that ska-reggae influence on Power and the Passion," he recalls.
"Species Deceases was more of a straight rock thing, but it was a very
interesting experience. But I agree that the drum solo was phenomenal. I was
like, 'Wow, people can make music like this?'. I was desperate to work with
them after that."
It was a strange union. During the '80s, Kervorkian was revamping all kinds
of oddities for club play. The Smiths, for example. The Cure. Eurythmics.
But it was the late 1970s (and, as the cycle continued, the late 1990s) that
Kervorkian started DJing in New York in 1975, during the peak of disco. In
1978 he started working for the Prelude record label, which was forging a
path through post-disco, Philadelphia soul, early electronic dance music,
early 12-inch "extended versions" and proto-house. Kervorkian kept DJing,
spinning this kind of music at seminal clubs such as Studio 54, the Loft and
the Paradise Garage.
He considers this the most soulful era in dance music, because it was
entirely about the music. The word "profit" hadn't messed things up yet.
"When you look back at those seminal places," he says, "selling a set amount
of cases of beer per night wasn't the priority. Therefore it was about the
music. But when you use music as an accessory, then you're bound to be
Kervorkian - like many of his generation - argues that club music has been
rendered conservative by mainstream interference.
"It's a very formatted thing," he says, "a predictable product. It's a
marketable commodity. It can be quantified. It's just like fruit or eggs.
It's calibrated by size and colour and this and that. But, personally, I
believe there's a real diversity of music that you can play to entertain
Proof of this ethos is threefold. The first is Kervorkian's revered
Essential Mix CD of 1999, on which he blends James Brown, Willie Hutch and
Chaka Khan into Kraftwerk, Paperclip People, Jazzanova and De La Soul. The
second is Body & SOUL, the New York club he runs with Joe Claussell and
Danny Krivit, where the soundtrack can span 1930s jazz to Detroit techno.
And the third is Kervorkian's record label, Wave Music, which is similarly
eclectic. This year's Wave releases, for example, have included bossanova
beats, old-school garage, moody deep house and tribal techno.
And as he approaches his 50th birthday, Kervorkian has been re-evaluating
his distinguished career. He now says he wants to be remembered as the "King
Tubby (Jamaican dub-reggae pioneer) of electronic music" - someone who
influences future generations by taking an existing musical form and
"I want to bring the spirit of dub into dance music. I want to unify all
forms of dance music through a similar aesthetic of very spaced-out, trippy,
mystical elements, whether it's techno, house or anything in between. I want
to play those records in such a manner that it becomes a unique experience."
Francois K plays at Respect Is Burning at Atlantic South Wharf on New Year's
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