Our man in the Caribbean, DJ Dribbler, looks back at the 90s and early 2000s underground house scene in NYC, where Solid Gold (which subsequently became Solid Gold Safari) was born, via 24 hours in Manhattan with DJ Q.
When I first met Paul he was 15, maybe 16, living in Cranhill in the East End of Glasgow and aspiring to be a DJ. He often played alongside the PussyPower brothers – Terry and Jason and came to most folk’s attention when he played their massive Blast Off parties at the Arches in Glasgow. His DJ name was ‘Paul (His Bedroom)’. Being of an age whereby he wasn’t drinking that much and going out to clubs, Paul quickly honed his musical talents and his work rate was prolific. He became good mates very early on with Carl Craig, who was himself, somewhat, the young team from Detroit at the time. His tracks and production started getting heavy play in Detroit and his notoriety as an underground house geezer spread across the States and Europe. He quickly became an in-demand DJ at the clubs and started travelling the world. I myself was living in Brooklyn during the summer of 2001 and was delighted to see he was booked to play New York at the club Centrofly, across from the old Sound Factory. Paul had been DJing around the world for a good few years at this point, a young guy loving the ‘DJ lifestyle’… he had taken to the whole thing like a duck to water. I got a phone call at my Williamsburg apartment around 3pm…
“That you Russ?”
“Aaahaha, howzitgaun ya big poof?… It’s me, Funboy Flynn. Ah’ll no keep ye long… Sitting here by the pool in San Diego mate, gonnae be o’er your way this Saturday so come doon, just waiting on the boy bringing me ma drink here and chatting wi three burdz that ah prob’ly shouldnae be, kno?… Anyroad ahm stiyin at the Paramount, thought we could go tae Body & Soul?”
“Aye mate, then you can DJ at my party, SOLID GOLD”
The original SOLID GOLD party was in STINGY LULU’S, an amazingly fun, transsexual bar on St Marks Place in the East Village. It ran every Sunday from 10pm. One of the many incredible things that happened there was that one of my best friends at the time was working for Elite model agency and she had to chaperone about 10 models all around the city. The girls were all 16 years old, highly paid and had stalkers. They all had to stay in this one apartment on 8th and Avenue C all day, every day. It was exciting for that lot to get a pizza delivered. I’m sure they did it just for the thrill of the delivery guy coming to the door and them seeing the outside world, none of them looked like they ate pizza. Anyway Spoon, my friend, arranged with Elite that they could go out on a Sunday til 2 am as long as they were with her and she took them all to SOLID GOLD. We had the tiny dancefloor packed with supermodels who were on billboard adverts and in all the magazines. These were Vogue cover girls just so happy to be out and about that they were all dancing and having a ball.
I remember one of the girls was in a billboard ad for a bottled water company at the time. She was an angel pouring the bottled water through the clouds. The billboard was next to the Calvin Klein one on Broadway and Houston, right across from the old DKNY wall. That’s prime billboard estate, that’s like the top of Sunset. It was a coup and a half having such beautiful girls there genuinely. We were usually doing fine by midnight numbers wise, as anyone who came in had to double-take it and at least have one drink. One guy used to come in every week and he never had a shirt on. He was dirty too, like he’d been in the bushes in Tompkins Park all night. He wore filthy white sailing shorts and flip flops with no shirt. When he came in and saw the girls dancing he was agog, he immediately went to the waitress and had a bottle of champagne placed on each of the 6 tables in the lower half of the room. He was a multi millionaire of some sort, connected to Lufthansea Airlines or somesuch…. he owned the entire brownstone next door to Stingy’s. That was the kind of clientele Stingy’s had. General East Village types of no particular distinction, uncharted types yet to be defined. The transsexual staff were by no means the ones that stood out.
Body & Soul has no alcohol, it started at 3pm finishes midnight, it’s on a Sunday afternoon. This may not work in many places but it is because there is no bar and it is at a time where your Saturday night piss-head would be too hungover to come to a club, that makes it such a beautiful place.
When I got to Centrofly it was late. I’d been DJing on 33rd and it was just down the road at 21st on the west side. I was with a friend, we hung out in Cheetah for a bit, the old Sound Factory Bar then headed in once the guest list line died down. The club was packed. It was my first time in there and I remember clearly walking into the room downstairs. There were about 500 white people in there having it like only white people can, one guy slugging from a bottle of champagne while grinding badly with 4 girls, everyone holding beers up, the floor a sodden mess. It was a disturbing, half-assed sight, (although champagne guy was definitely having a ball) when compared to what you would see at The Shelter or Body & Soul, Sapphire Bar or Coney Island on the boardwalk. My initial reaction was to flee. I had been in the best clubs I had ever been to since arriving in NYC, this was going to burst the bubble. I had deliberately avoided any club in the 20s/30s West Side for these reasons but I realised my expectations fell hugely short of the true debauchery I was witnessing. Just getting to the DJ booth meant shoving through this heathen rabble, but I had to hook up with the Funboy. Luckily I caught him just as he was about to go on, there was time for a quick beer from the rider. It’s not like you can chat when your DJing in New York and the place is mobbed, I was gonna have to stick around for 3 hours before I could speak to Paul again. The music was about to improve at least, but I knew Centrofly was an irretrievably lost cause and arranged to meet him the next day to go to some good clubs. I told him I’d pick him up at 2.30pm. He looked a little confused so I said again, 2.30pm… at the hotel.
So let me break it down. In New York there are varying degrees of clubs. These degrees are based upon a number of factors, a few being:
1. The availability of alcohol
2. Opening hours
3. Presence of door staff
4. The location
5. Number of white people
6. Number of bridge and tunnel suburbanites
7. Availability of drugs
Some of the most telling factors as to whether something will be good or not are right there in front of you if you check off the things on that list. Let’s take, for instance, Body & Soul as a club. It has no alcohol, it started at 3pm finishes midnight, it’s on a Sunday afternoon. This may not work in many places but it is because there is no bar and it is at a time where your Saturday night piss-head would be too hungover to come to a club – or even think about going to a club with no bar anyway – that Body & Soul was such a beautiful place. Around the scene in New York, drinking is very much a peripheral participation, at the best clubs anyway, you can hit the bar after the club, if you go to Body & Soul you go to dance.
The Paramount on 46th Street is owned by the surviving owner of Studio 54. DJ Q was certainly getting looked after. We arranged to meet in the lobby, one of the most amazing in the city, pop nuevo furnishings with a giant chandelier and staircase as you enter the lobby. I was happy chilling there for 5 mins waiting, but I called up to his room after 10. When I got to the room there was Paul, all 6 foot of him, on the bed with his legs and arms in a perfect X shape, fully clothed with the breakfast-in-bed tray across his waist.
“Bit early for limbo mate”
“Jist warmin up big man”
“Fuck sake mate, your nose is huge, and it’s throbbin red, fuk’n hell, somebody hit you? wh’appened?”
“Ah that..? Don’t ask , accident at Centrofly. So we goin to Body & Soul?”
He had a bunch of beers lying around… “Well… Aye we could”
I’m always wary of taking first timers to places like Body & Soul and The Shelter. No matter how clued up they are it’s really hard for people to get their heads round the no alcohol thing. I found this especially true of Body & Soul and given the present state of inebriation that Q was in I thought better of taking him there. I thought he would crash unless he kept consuming beer and B&S was no place to crash. To be honest by the summer of 2001, although still one of the world’s best clubs, the crowd had changed at Body & Soul, it had been discovered by the tourists who were flying into the city just to go there and then do a bit of shopping. With that came wide-eyed expectations and people standing on the wall for the first hour a little instead of the creating the perfect weekly celebration of life it had been in the past. They were looking for pills and shit like that, things that just didn’t go on there. It was a different level, it’s not that it wasn’t about getting fucked up (tell that to the muscle men at the second pole, left side), it just wasn’t a market for drugs like Tunnel/Limelight, it had real style and the love in the room was real and unified. It was a New York thing, old and young, all nations, a real rainbow family.
Body & Soul’s crowd was incredibly beautiful as I remember it; beautiful girls, old school Paradise Garage regulars, Houses of Xtravaganza, Aviance and Ninja, all represented, Star Wars light sabre dude, ninja dancers, grey haired, dreadlocks to their knees gentlemen with staffs, 70 years old if a day, with nappy headed Brooklyn girls limboing through their legs. No time to stand around at Body & Soul. It was a place you did nothing but dance your ass off at. Looking at the Funboy I couldnae see him limboing much more that day, not without some alcohol, and man… his fucking nose looked like the front of a plane!
A new spot had opened up and it was mad ghetto. It was on 28th Street, (the 28th Street Crew) in a place called DEMERARA. The club, as the name suggests, was dark. I had found out about it by word of mouth. The info I had been given was that it was called “God is Great… or some shit” and it was running at the same time as Body & Soul with free entry. Going up against Body & Soul? You mean going to a Sunday club and missing Body & Soul? This was nearly unthinkable for me at the time but I knew my source was good, a real house-head and I had went along a few weeks previously to check it out. It was dope.
The DJs were Wil Milton and Herb Martin, the place was pitch black with a few spotlight on the dancefloor. Immediately I recognised the only white person there was this guy from the Shelter. He used to dance with his girlfriend, eyes shut, his hair was down to his waist and straight, he wore specs and a smoking blazer. He danced in a peculiar manner that meant his feet were rooted to the spot and he dropped his shoulder when he was feeling it, giving the impression he was picking up some luggage. I loved that guy, he was always in the middle of the floor with his girl, eyes shut and completely feeling the music. When I saw him I realised this was where the Shelter-heads had been leaving for since Body & Soul got too touristy.
Q is having difficulty breathing and his speech is severely impaired, he’s talking to Wil about the mix, “aye mate ah did it in Detroit” he says. The DJ is speechless, we get up and dance a bit…
The Shelter at the time was in the same club as Body & Soul and the two used to run into each other with Shelter closing at 3pm Sunday. The crowd had changed though, like I said, and it was here that some of the more hardcore had started to come. Like I said, it was free entry. Walking through the club for the first time was dodgy because people were cartwheeling and spinning, dancing like they do at the Shelter. The dancefloor was much smaller but the dancing was the same. The walls were lined with basketball benches, there was nowhere else to sit, apart from at the back next to the DJ booth where they had a table. I doubt anyone in there knew that though. What was different about this place, Together In Spirit it was called, is that people in there were quite obviously fucked up. These cats had been up all night at The Shelter, left there at the juncture with Body & Soul, made it forty blocks uptown, and it showed. Lined against the wall, on the benches, were some freaky looking motherfuckers. Huge, tall, skinny, vest wearing dudes with white towels on their heads, others with their heads in their hands. A catatonic looking girl who would lie there on the bench motionless for half an hour then spring up and pirouette, touching her toes singing the words to some brand new, probably unavailable house track. The geezer with the biggest head you ever saw, another one with superhero like qualities. 6 foot 8 giant man with a bald head and ridges across the back of his skull giving the impression he was wearing a helmet, the crying guy. I thought it through and decided this was where to take DJ Q and his nose. It was only 18 blocks down 7th avenue from Times Square and the Paramount, if we finished the beers here then headed down we’d be fucked up enough to fit in and then we had the piéce de résistance, ace in the hole, nose. It was now capable of stopping the traffic on 7th. If we were crossing the road I could spin Q round and stop the cars at any junction, “Temporary lights mang!” We hung around the plush surroundings and finished more beers, I went and got more, we rolled down 7th Ave around 4pm, got there around 5pm. I had told Q the script and what to expect, i.e. weird/incredible, explained the attitude towards drinking and that we would be the only white people.
We walked in, greeted by Conrad and the other lady, she was brilliant, “Hey honeys back again!” We were pretty wasted to be getting such a friendly greet and we looked, let’s say, different. We kinda made our way through the darkness across the floor and found the table at the back. It was up 4 steps from the floor and shielded by a curtain. It was right next to the DJ booth, I don’t think anyone ever sat there. I had explained how drinking wasn’t really that cool to Q, he asked where the bogs were. He got up from the hidden table and made his way back through the dancefloor. He came back carrying four bottles of Heineken, for the two of us. Fly the flag mate, I thought and started on a blunt. Half way through the blunt the DJ drops a DJ Q track, we’re sitting there laughing and getting drunker by the minute. The rest of the club wondering what the fuck was going on, and I mean for this lot to wonder it had to be extreme. We got up and started speaking to Wil, the geezer running the place came over and was like “no blunts,” he looked a little nervous. We’re saying “Nah man it’s cool, this is him, this record is him” they’re looking at us like we’re totally nuts. The DJs dropping the track, I can’t remember which one it was and the whole club is dancing to it, everyone except the two mad white dudes who are double fisting Heinekens up the back and telling the DJ they made the records. Q is having difficulty breathing and his speech is severely impaired, he’s talking to Wil about the mix, “aye mate ah did it in Detroit” he says. The DJ is speechless, we get up and dance a bit… we were courteously given loads of room. Paul goes to the bar and gets another four beers, it’s been about twelve minutes since he’s been at the bar and about thirty since we came into the club. I’m pretty drunk by this time and dancing away, nodding nonchalantly while telling this smiling, African Kate Bush type that my pal’s making these tracks… yes the pal that’s right there, with the nose, carrying four Heinekens at head height across the dancefloor, squinting – he’s a house music guru, I’m telling her.
The dancing continues into the early evening and on into the night at Together In Spirit. There’s free food and drinks available downstairs where Herb is holding it down on the soul tip. There’s coffee, fruit, juices, sandwiches and cookies. That’s the style in New York, it always has been. Unlike anywhere else, there is an abundance of food on offer at New York’s underground clubs. You would never eat anything offered at the majority of the world’s clubs on account of the filth but in New York people drop and roll. How are you going to spin on your head if the floor is sodden and there’s filth, how are you going to loft? Dancefloors are clean and dry in New York’s house underground – there’s a lot of talc.
The first time I ever heard French Kiss was in New York in 1989 at a loft party on Broadway. DB was playing it, he’d invited us to his Monday party on the Saturday night at Mars, we met on the rooftop there. That was one helluva rooftop they had at Mars. You climbed four floors to get to the rooftop of Mars, the stairs were carpeted and there were pictures hanging on the wall like it was someone’s house. The rooms adjacent were old meat houses and still had the hooks hanging from the roof, but the stairs outside looked like some 19th century staircase. When you went out onto the rooftop the whole skyline of New York was right there in front of you. You remember those things, you never forget them, in fact. Anyway, the peculiar things I remember that French Kiss night on Broadway were the music and the free water and fruit. I’d never seen that before. The memorable thing about hearing French Kiss for the first time was the crazy, female, moaning breakdown and this African kid dancing himself into a blur in front of me. His teeth were gritted in what looked like a masochistic smile, he was lost in the spirit, his head was looking up a thousand miles beyond the lights and the rooftop and off into space, not vacant, completely focused as if possessed. The tendons and glands in his neck were stretched like a tree trunk. He was stomping his feet and hammering his arms in time with the steady thump of the kick drum that was slowly building up again after the maddest breakdown ever heard by man. If you’re setting out to make some music with a breakdown, throw away the EDM nonsense, store that with Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot, you’ll grow out of those breaks and find yourself much more satisfied by Tchaikovsky. If you’re setting out to write some music with a breakdown, the only two breakdowns you need to know are Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin and French Kiss by Lil Louis (and maybe the 1812 Overture).
The free food and water jugs all over the place really stayed with me. It was in sharp contrast to the water being switched off / hot water only policy at most UK clubs. I mean I didn’t even realise there was a bar at the Hacienda until I saw the movie 24 Hour Party People.
Anyway, the record started winding up more and more, gathering a unique momentum and ominousness at the same time; the beat was increasing both in tempo and power, the sexual moans relentless. African teeth guy had now whipped himself into a dervish and it seemed both his and this insane record’s next step had to be a complete collapse. We all just took a step back and watched. He was only three feet in front of me but we weren’t even on the same planet. I’d never seen anything like that and it stuck. Someone losing themselves to the spirit like that and with it being the first time I had heard the track. For me that had much more impact than the Frankie Knuckles / Ron Hardy thing. For me Lil Louis is the man from Chi-town. That memory and the free food and water jugs all over the place really stayed with me. It was in sharp contrast to the water being switched off / hot water only policy at most UK clubs. I mean I didn’t even realise there was a bar at the Hacienda until I saw the movie 24 Hour Party People. It wasn’t about drinking back then and New York clubbing is a much more familiar affair due to the lack of alcohol. Mainly, people are much more serious about the music and the spirituality. It’s much more soulful. The dancefloors are spotless, people loft. Real dancers use the floor and all sorts of gymnastics are being pulled off, often by the most unexpected types. It’s a heathen crime to take drink onto the dancefloor of any of the underground New York clubs, nothing could be more dangerous or messy when people are doing headspins and somersaults and there’s talc everywhere. “Drinking and Smoking are Prohibited on the Dancefloor” the often hand-written sign says in New York.
The whole of Stingy Lulu’s was spotless too, it was an art-deco restaurant first and foremost with vintage 1950s style booths and jukeboxes, it had featured in many movies. The adjacent room was where the DJing took place and again the floors and decor were clean and new. The manager was called Mookie and I’m pretty sure he was a straight up man. I don’t mean his morals or anything I just mean he was a male, no tucks, I think… but don’t quote me on that. The girl who ran our side of things and who was a straight-up transvestite, perhaps transexual, was Jackie. Jackie is one of the most famous East Villagers of all time. A friend of mine lived with Jackie for 8 months and never once saw her as a man, she was a transvestite then. The thing about Jackie was she was faultless with an abundantly radiant personality and she had real grace and style. Jackie was way more of a lady than half the crackhead wannabe bitches around that scene. It was Jackie who came up with the name ‘Solid Gold’ in fact.
We were chatting one night in Stingy’s, just sketching out what could be done in there with their new room, how big we could go, should we appeal to the white kids or go more real house underground (we found a perfect medium in the end). She had been a huge fan of the Solid Gold dancers on television, kinda like an Oops-Upside-Ya-Head House of Ninja – but the name hit a chord with me at the time. It felt like a golden age in New York and the streets were certainly paved, not only with money but with opportunity, rebelliousness and a prominent after-hours / underground scene if you wanted it. This was nothing like the loft scene of the 70s and early 80s and was much smaller and focused on after-hours drinking but it was there and there were a bunch of well known spots in Alphabet City that could see you through the night as long as you knew which buzzer to push. That scene too has dwindled with gentrification and assholes playing shit music too loud on Fifth Street thinking it’s cool to do bumps off bitches’ tits in the middle of a bar – but that’s another story. People blame gentrification for the killing of the club scene, like it’s a money thing but invariably it’s just people growing older in the hood. People that own the properties, people that moved there when it was hip and want to stay. The areas are sought after so they get to charge more rent. The problem is a new batch of complete pricks move into areas who aren’t clued up. They aren’t from these areas and they act differently. They create problems living out their hedonistic dreams, causing crime to increase through robberies and assaults mainly.
A group of five or so black queens from one of the houses came running through the club in line formation, swiping the streamers and the balloons with them. They were all skipping like gazelles and whooping while they grabbed them and then skipped out the door and up the middle of St Mark’s Place, off into the night….
New York’s club scene, like London’s had a phase of making young people, intent on complete debauchery, famous. The clubbers – with their new found fame – were more than happy to take their behaviour to extremities, however many shot themselves in the foot. This was particularly true of the Limelight/club kid scene although that was way more extreme, but most scenes that suddenly arise implode on themselves and end up looking dumb. They completely take the piss, everyone on this fucking Freddie Mercury “Going to Live Forever” trip. It’s the decadence thing, the out and out ballin’… you’ve got to love it but you can’t expect it to last. They had this cool Bugsy Malone type light in the DJ booth if the cops were coming at Plant, like they weren’t already in there already, right? That’s the thing, I respect the fuck off-ness and love it when they have a light alarm which tells the DJs the cops are around and everyone stops dancing but that’s taking the piss… and cops have huge egos when it comes to taking the piss. Scenes like that can never last: decadent, we have it all and we’re cool, scenes. Scenes that revolve around drugs basically. It’s all fun and games till the shit hits the fan, but once you see a scene where the drug use is rampant, rife and blatant then that scene has only a short lifespan before it implodes… the people in it won’t believe that and one or two of them will be making so much money they don’t want it to stop but it will come crashing down suddenly and shock people into doing something else with their lives. The true school will be unaffected and will likely even go on to greater things because of the implosion… but the scene itself will be left to history. That’s true from kids on the street to the owners of Studio 54. After that implosion one of them now owns the hotel Q is staying at… the other is brown bread.
It was already 10.30pm. Q was too trashed to play by the time we did get to Solid Gold that night. It didn’t really matter but it was a shame. He was pretty dumbfounded looking by the time he left Stingy’s. I walked him back up to Avenue A past Open Air and Yaffa Cafe and he caught a cab back up to the Paramount. I headed back to Stingy’s.
All the models were there dancing and laughing, Cornflake had turned up – a regular of ours who was a trained dancer on Broadway and a hip, bright socialite. Cornflake moved so naturally you had to smile, he got the gay guys and all the girls up. He would synchronise moves Electric Slide style and have everyone doing his classic ‘swan in flight’ to some Ron Trent record. Nothing attracts people to clubs like hot girls and great dancers. Everybody likes hot girls in the club, the guys like it, straight and gay, and the girls like it too. The next best thing to hot girls in your party is dancers. If people see dancers they will be keen to stay to join in or watch. It’s about energy and escape. People want to be around beautiful things, these girls and Cornflake’s dancing were equally and certifiably, beautiful.
Every week we draped gold streamers from gold helium balloons and filled the roof up. It was like walking through a golden forest. We had met a car tow truck guy in Brooklyn who worked for Solid Gold Tow Trucks, he had a truck with ‘Solid Gold’ written all over it. We spoke to him and he was mad cool, he used to park up outside on St Marks with all his lights flashing. He had mad gold lights, trust me, and he kept that truck spotless. We had saved the spot through the day and he pulled up outside. You could see that truck from space (or at least the far side of Tompkins Park). One time a group of five or so black queens from one of the houses came running through the club in line formation, swiping the streamers and the balloons with them. They were all skipping like gazelles and whooping while they grabbed them and then skipped out the door and up the middle of St Mark’s Place, off into the night. We followed them out the door cheering, there were still loads of balloons left. They were still skipping and whooping, still in formation and all stoked to bits with their gold balloons. We watched them all the way up to First Ave. It didn’t matter, the helium tank was there and we had loads more gold balloons. The helium tank was another source of mad hilarity with everyone inhaling it at will from the tube we had to fill the balloons. Solid Gold in Stingy Lulu’s was a mad scene all round, even down to if somebody’s jacket went missing and we knew them we knew we could get it back. It was Gino from 1st and 10th. He stole all the jackets and his wife Bam Bam used to return them to us, handbags and jackets with newly chewed bits of gum on them and this story that she’d found it on top of the bus stop, “Thas whut dey do, dey check yo pockets, take yo shit, n throw that bitch up on the bus stop” she would tell me. Really Gino stashed them with the garbage, under the street shutter outside.
If you enjoyed that have a read of Dribbler’s Tramway Rave article, his sleevenotes for a relatively recent DJ Pierre re-release and his piece on the pioneering house sound of Chicago, 122BPM.
You can also join Dribbler’s Solid Gold Safari group on Facebook. Rumour has it they’ll be throwing another tremendous party with a truly killer line-up next summer in Scotland.
(Image of DJ Q above courtesy of Brian Sweeney, the others are Dribbler’s own)