Styles & Forms | US Garage | Dance

Disco may have died after it went overground in the late 1970s, but one New York DJ continued spinning his favourite tunes at the same club from 1977 to 1987 – Larry Levan. Though Levan’s DJing style was wildly eclectic, the smooth, soulful flavours he favoured would become known as ‘garage’ – named after the club Levan ruled for 10 years, the Paradise Garage.

The Garage was predominantly black and gay, like the Warehouse in Chicago, and to those who heard him, Levan was an inspirational DJ. It was widely felt that he was communicating messages of hope, love, freedom and brotherhood directly to the dance floor – via vinyl. His dialogue with the dancers was the songs he played, but the style of house music that developed around him in early 1980s New York was different from Chicago tracky cuts. Full of organic textures, with perhaps Latin percussion, and a jazzy or even gospel feel, what would become garage took its cue from Philadelphia (Philly) soul, disco and R&B. The only historical glitch in the naming of this genre is that Levan was as likely to drop a punky-reggae Clash record as a soulful Loleatta Holloway song at the Paradise Garage.

Literally worshipped every Saturday night for a decade, Levan was an early example of the DJ as shaman, and one of the first DJ/producers. He also co-founded The Peech Boys, who, along with acts such as D-Train and Sharon Redd, and producers such as Arthur Baker and Jellybean Benitez, were part of the nascent NYC electro-funk sound that rose out of the ashes of disco.

Meanwhile, just outside New York in New Jersey, Tony Humphries played the soulful stuff at the Zanzibar. Effectively pairing R&B with house, Humphries pioneered what became known as the Jersey sound. But it was not until after the Paradise Garage closed in 1987, and house had spread internationally, that soulful house came to be called garage, in memory of Levan’s legendary club. Humphries held a huge showcase of all his Zanzibar protégés at the 1988–89 New Music Seminar, and suddenly everyone was talking about the Jersey garage sound.

The Spirit Of Paradise

Larry Levan developed AIDS and died in 1992, of heart problems brought on by his addictions to heroin and cocaine. ‘People should remember the positive things, though,’ cautions Mel Cheren, a contemporary of Levan and the owner of West End Records. ‘Of course he had a drug problem, like many people do. But he was a genius and people should remember that first and foremost.’

Acts such as Blaze, Todd Edwards and Masters At Work developed the soulful house sound as the 1990s progressed. Slippery, slidy beats prospered on labels such as Strictly Rhythm, Nu Groove and Slip N Slide, and wherever soul was preferred over power.

In Europe, US garage has now largely slipped out of favour, with deep house being the preferred notation for ‘authentic’, garage-sounding records. But...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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