March 11 2019

In the Zone With Kenny Summit

New York-Le Bain
On Sunday, March 17th, house producers Kenny Summit and Eric Kupper leave their studios to play Le Bain, where they'll bring their classic NY touch to Christina Visca's weekly party Birdcage. We caught up with Kenny, as he just released a new compilation Paradise Garage: Inspirations.
I’m reading your family has been in the liquor business through prohibition. How did that impact your path to nightlife and music?

My Grandfather on my mother's side of the family was in the Coast Guard during prohibition and was basically a "rum runner," delivering booze all along the Eastern Coast of the US. After prohibition, he started a legal liquor distribution company as well as his own brand of wine, beer and a soda company called Boller, which was popular in the New York and New Jersey area. Charlie Chaplin was said to be "addicted" to my grandfather's BlackCherry soda and would have cases flown out to his studios in Hollywood every month. I think because of that business my family was always in the party mood, I don't remember a weekend growing up where we weren't celebrating one thing or another; backyard BBQs, renting the local Knights Of Columbus hall for some dancing and good food, weddings, birthday parties--with such a large family it felt like it was a non stop party.  


That's how you went into dance music?

My family LOVES to dance, music was always a big part of the festivities, and as far back as I can remember we always had the iconic New York radio DJ Cousin Brucie blasting on the radio during the family outings... That guy is still doing it, God bless 'em.  If I had to name two people who influenced my musical tastes the most it would be DJ Cousin Brucie and the late great Frankie Crocker; they both featured soul and R&B music with great vocals and that has been a focus of mine my entire career.
Follow Me was the song that changed my view of the world.
You’re a NY club vet since the early 90s. Tell us about one huge inspirational moment of these years; for sure one of the golden age of NY nightlife.

I'm a huge Danny Tenaglia fan, I have been since the mid-90s, and have opened for him on a few occasions at the Tunnel and once at Vinyl, but you know I don't think we ever got into a long conversation. David Morales is probably the man who's influenced me the most and I'd have to say the most inspirational moment for me came one night when Steve Travolta invited me to one of his legendary loft parties; his loft was right next to Twilo. David was playing that night and, I swear, I danced for 6 straight hours with my eyes closed, hands in the air, just absorbing everything David was playing. New Jersey's Kyle Small Smith from Aly-Us was also a major inspiration for me; Follow Me was THE song that changed my view of the world and I guess that song started the fire that fueled my passion to become a DJ and a producer.  

Last October, your label released a compilation of tracks made by producers inspired by the legendary NY club Paradise Garage. What does it tell us about today’s Paradise Garage (and his DJ Larry Levan) legacy?

There was no need to do another throwback compilation with all of Larry's big hits on it. I spoke with Frankie [Knuckles] about the project a lot and he said, "you know baby, nobody ever talks about Larry's children," meaning nobody talks about the DJs who were close with Larry who went on to have massive careers in the music industry. So that is what I ended up doing; I got all of Larry's friends involved from Francois to Morales, Todd Terry, Lenny Fontana, all these guys who had life changing experiences at the Garage that inspired them so much that they dedicated their lives to the music... And that is what the compilation is; a collection of music from people who were inspired by their time spent with Larry in that holiest of holy places.
All you could see were twirling bodies and flashes of faces and sweaty dancers workin that dance floor.
Tell us one story you cherish about Frankie Knuckles. 

This was pre-9/11, golden era of NYC nightlife, Frankie was DJing at Centro-Fly, the place was packed. Frankie was playing one great vocal after another, the crowd was in the zone. Through the smoke and strobe lights, all you could see were twirling bodies and flashes of faces and sweaty dancers workin that dance floor. We're all jammin', everyone in the booth had ear to ear smiles, just being around this heavyweight house legend... Frankie is workin the crowd, has them in the palm of his hands, and then just when I think it can't get any better, Frankie starts playing this record that stands out from all the others, it's not a vocal, it's got great energy, the crowd's reaction was huge, and all of a sudden the DJ booth starts to fill up with A&R's from just about every house label in NYC, "Hey, what's that record," "Frankie, what track is that?" Turns out this was a new Frankie Knuckles track that was unsigned!

What happened next?

It's the end of the night, party is over, we all go to eat together at this little spot called Vaselka on 2nd and 9th... Frankie sits there while these guys basically got into a bidding war over that new record. Frankie used that gig to show off his new record and got the entire NYC house industry excited about it at the same time. He knew this business inside out.

You've just been nominated for best remix by the Winter Music Conference dance music awards for a collaboration remix with Frankie and Eric Kupper of You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine...

A friend of mine in LA was interested in learning some production; specifically how he could make some 'edits', so I invited him over to my place in Hollywood and asked him to choose something to "dissect" and he picked the Lou Rawls record. As I was sitting there with him, explaining the basics, it was obvious to me that this was quickly turning into a killer remix. I sent it to Eric the next day and asked if he would fine tune the mix and two days later Frankie called me saying he wanted to have his name on the mix and he would get behind the record... It only took me 5 long years to get the record company to grant us the right to release the record...


Lou Rawls 'You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine'
 (Kenny Summit, Frankie Knuckles & Eric Kupper Remix)

What makes you and Eric a good match in the studio?

Eric's skill level in the studio is much much higher than mine, he's been doing this for more than thirty years and is a master at his craft. Myself on the other hand, I've only been producing for about 8 years now. We have completely opposite approaches to production; Eric is an incredible musician, plays most instruments, while I'm more of a 'classic hip hop' type of producer who dissects samples and picks apart songs in search of the the sounds I'm looking for... But somehow we make it work; we both share a love for all kinds of music, from the Beatles to Kraftwerk, a lot of R&B classics, we just enjoy great musicianship and can talk hours on end while listening to music. 

And in the DJ booth?
Eric's my best friend, so in the DJ booth or in an elevator we're always laughing and carrying on. There aren't many people in the world that I can be around day in and day out and not get sick of them, but Eric is one of them. We know each other's body of music pretty well, so when we're DJing together we kind of set each other up, go from vibe to vibe working the crowd while we sprinkle in our own productions... Timing is everything and we pride ourselves on being able to keep a crowd happy and in good spirits.  

You said you’re a “serious pizza aficionado.” Where is the best pizza in NY? And in LA where you live?
My go to was always Joe's on Carmine, or if I was in the mood for something thicker there was a spot on 6th Ave just north of the Limelight that has the most incredible Grandma's slice (we use to go there all the time when I was working at Limelight), then another place in the 30's on 3rd Ave that had a huge sign out front that said "Oprah's favorite pizza", I met Jerry Seinfeld there like three times. As far as pizza in LA, there's a lot of that brick oven shit but that's not really my thing. There is a Joe's in Hollywood that is the closest thing to a traditional NYC slice. If you're in LA, eat the tacos instead.  

On Sunday, March 17th, Le Bain presents Birdcage
feat. Eric Kupper & Kenny Summit
9pm | The Standard, High Line