In Conversation with Kenny Carpenter
July 07 2021
On Friday, July 9th, Coloring Lessons is back at Le Bain for the first time in over a year, and will feature the legendary Kenny Carpenter. For those new to NYC’s dance music history, we sit down with Kenny to chat about his long and impressive career.
It’s 1975. An 18 year old Kenny Carpenter walks into Galaxy 21 and Walter Gibbons is playing. This is peak NYC disco era-nightlife. Little did he know, this moment would spark Kenny’s long lasting career as a legendary DJ and producer.
Coloring Lessons: Tell us about that moment.
Kenny Carpenter: I saw the DJ console, I saw Walter Gibbons, and I was fascinated. I think he liked me, because he invited me up into the console to watch him play. I’m in there looking around- I saw the turntables, the amplifiers, and the lighting board and noticed that nobody was doing the lights. Back then, it was just switches and buttons, and I just started pressing away. He told me “I like what you’re doing”- because you know, even though I was never trained to do lights, I’m rhythmic. I believe that the lighting should be a reflection of the music being played, and that’s exactly how I was working those lights. Walter really liked what I was doing and so he gave me a job on his nights.
CL: Was that how your first DJ gig came about? I know many DJ’s back then would play all night long, and sometimes the person doing the lights would take over for them.
KC: That did happen, but no. You know who gave me my first big break as a DJ? Strafe. Strafe was a DJ for years before he became a singer and he had that smash hit in the 80’s called “Set It Off”. We grew up in the same housing project called Farragut in Brooklyn and I’ve known him since I was ten years old. One day he invited me up to his place, and he had the DJ coffin with the mixer and two turntables- the whole set up. I had asked him if I could try to mix two records together and that’s how I started. Strafe gave me a DJ nickname after that, which happened to be ‘MOONDUST’, and he took me on the road with him to do all of his mobile parties. We did community parties and basement parties and he took his mobile system with him everywhere we played. This was around 1972.
CL: Were Strafe and Walter Gibbons your first DJ influences? If so, was there anyone else who influenced you at the time?
KC: No, even though Walter was an amazing DJ, I wasn’t so much influenced by him. My mentors and the two guys who influenced me the most were Nicky Siano and David Mancuso. Nicky was the King.
CL: When did you start your residency at Studio 54?
KC: I started to play music at Studio 54 in 1980, after this famous promoter Mike Stone discovered me at Inferno. The first night that I played was my birthday, October 7th and I had a residency every Saturday night, for a year after that.
CL: What was it like playing there?
KC: Studio 54 was the most popular club in NYC and the world, and when I worked there we attracted many patrons from The Paradise Garage and The Loft. Many of them would come to hear me first before heading off to party with Larry Levan & David Mancuso because we closed earlier than they did. We had some the most amazing performances there including Grace Jones, Chaka Kahn & Evelyn Champagne King, just to name a few.
CL: Are there any memorable moments from your time playing at Studio 54?
KC: When I think about Studio 54, one of the best nights that we ever had was when Taana Gardner performed. This was right after Larry Levan had produced ‘Heartbeat’ for her. That place was rammed! The capacity was only 2,500, and there were about 4,000 people in the building.
CL: We know that Bonds International Club was a former department store and was a huge venue. Can you tell us a bit about your time at Bonds?
KC: Bonds was the largest club that New York City has ever seen. The sound system was designed by Richard Long and he also built the systems at The Paradise Garage, Club Zanzibar and The Palladium. It was kind of more amazing than Studio 54 because while Studio was glamorous, Bonds was like an airplane hanger. The venue accommodated more than five thousand people and we had it packed every weekend. I was the resident DJ every Saturday night and we had some amazing shows with some of the most talented artists including Fonda Rae, The Clash, Grace Jones, Eddie Kendricks, and Unlimited Touch. Everyone you could think of who was popular at the time wished to perform there.
CL: On the DJ side, did you have a vision for what you wanted to do at Bonds?
KC: I didn’t change my style when I went from Studio 54 to Bonds International. For me, when I’m playing music, I’m not selecting the records- It’s more like there’s something spiritual going on and the music is just being selected.
CL: We know it came as a shock when Bonds closed after all those years. What did you do after? We could imagine it’s hard when the biggest club in NYC closes. It can be daunting to figure out where to go next.
KC: Around that time I had just met David Morales, and we went to the closing party together. He was running a club in Brooklyn called the Ozone Layer, and he invited me to play with him. It was a small place that held about 300 people, and although it was different from Bonds, it really took off. The nights were from 11PM until 9AM and we’d play back to back every two hours. It was a fun and friendly competition every night. That party was really successful.
CL: We’ve read somewhere that your first time playing abroad was in Israel at a club called the Colosseum. Can you tell us a bit about that?
KC: Actually, the first time I played abroad was in Berlin in the 70s. I played at a club called Ewerk, which was a techno club in a former bathhouse. Of course, when I played for the people they didn’t like my music because they were expecting techno and I was playing how I usually do. The gig at the Colosseum was actually my second show abroad.
CL: Hoping the Colosseum gig wasn’t as bad as Berlin…
KC: Well I played that gig in 1980, during my time at Studio 54. The club was in Tel Aviv and the system was designed by Richard Long (designer of the sound system at the Paradise Garage, The Warehouse, Zanzibar, etc). He invited me out for a week and I played for 4 nights, and Grace (Jones) also performed 3 of those nights. It was great. They loved me in Europe.
CL: They certainly did. You’ve lived in Italy for some time now- why did you move?
KC: I moved to Italy in the year 2002. I wasn’t a fan of flying back and forth, and I was getting booked a lot in Europe. I really just wanted to be closer to my work. Again, they love me in Italy and Rome is just so beautiful. The weather, the atmosphere, everything.
CL: Can you tell us what NYC’s nightlife scene was like back when you were coming up? What do you find different from now?
KC: Well, because dance music evolved from gay culture, there wouldn’t be house music if it wasn’t for that community. I see the community is a bit different now in that regard, but there are still spaces that really let loose. There was also a lot more freedom back then.
DJ’ing has become a lot more commercialized. Now that music is so easy to produce, there’s too much of an abundance of music, and it’s like a disposable razor blade in my opinion. When house music got rid of the drummer, the music became more robotic, and so did the people. The way that crowds dance and interact has changed because of that.
CL: Thank you so much for sitting down with us. Our last question- what’s next for Kenny Carpenter?
KC: I’m working on some exciting productions and remixes at the moment, and planning my post pandemic return to Europe, Dubai, and Thailand.
CL: Fantastic. We’re looking forward to hearing you play on Friday!
On Friday, July 9th, musclecars presents…
Coloring Lessons with Special Guest Kenny Carpenter
10PM | Le Bain
Coloring Lessons with Special Guest Kenny Carpenter
10PM | Le Bain