“Everybody it’s January 28, 2017.”
“Yayyyyy!” A sea of voices yells.
“If you think I’m going to play music that puts you to sleep. I’m not! There is some $hit that is happening out THERE and I want you to WAKE UP!!!,” shouts an accented baritone, drowned by more “whewwwws” and “yaaayyyys.” His voice shakes with concern and rightfully so. His stare fixated on the audience as his finger reaches down and presses play. On cue, knocking percussions beats underneath a Lowrey organ’s chords as Timmy Thomas croons, “Why Can’t We Live Together?”
Down the stairs and around the corner, shoulders brush against arms that wave for strangers to follow as feet try to tread open space to dance. Absent are cropped circles with impressive head spinners making statements. There are more bodies standing upright than slant in movements. A sea of porcelain visages stare, engaged at a performance stage. Witnessing the energy emanating from one man. A legend in action already imprints the dance floor.
I Want To See, reads his black tee. His hulky frame stands huddled between a laptop and Pure Groove monitors. His hands swing on deck. As his thumb and index finger tweaks channels across metallic machines the music steadily intensifies to an erupting crescendo of sonic explosions. Gershon Jackson’s “Take It Easy,” The Mike Dunn Blackball Ezee Mix delivers bass drops to the balls before transitioning into the pitter-patter of African drums that elevates Mr. Finger’s “Can You Feel It.” Where most DJs create drama to create audience hype this DJ needs neither. His “processing techniques” created live is how he works the music; he mutes the groove; he filters arrangements; he compresses the drums; after all he is a master crafter of the music he plays. He may not be the hottest viral sensation but digging though the crates of popular music, you will be hard pressed not to find his name credited as a producer, remixer, or drummer.
François Kervorkian’s discography is much revered among music aficionados and well respected among club heads. His big break arrived in the late 1970’s with a dub of D-Train’s “Keep On,” his 80’s repertoire spans productions for rock seminal Depache Mode to U2, to his leap back as a forerunning DJ playing electronic sounds in the 1990’s. Tonight, there is one aspect that speaks loudest in his biography. Having recently celebrated 40 years of living in this so-called United States of America. Monsieur Kevorkian is an immigrant.
Which only further amplifies why playing Timmy Thomas, “Why Can’t We Live Together” matters. The music goes silent. “Say What/Say What/Say What/I Woke Up From This Dream” a voice spits over 80 BPM of psychedelic funk. Laurent Garneir’s “First Reaction (V2)” asks, “What’s On Your Mind?” Immigration Reform? A Refugee Ban? A wall? The spoken word of drummer Sangoma Everett pulls minds into deep thought. After all, music should challenge.
And challenging music is at the heart of the native French DJ. While some naysay Bruno Mars’ music playing at an underground party, “24K Magic” sparkles brilliantly into Francois’ open-mindedness. Tributes abound too. Studio 54 represents with Herb Albert’s “Rotation” and Odyssey’s “Inside Out” to posthumous icons Prince, “Wanna Be Your Lover (Live Version),” and Wham “Everything She Wants.” One finds introspection in listening to Lolita Holloway’s a cappella of “Hit and Run” before Eddie Amour proclaims “Not Everyone Understands House Music.” An organ fueled dub of the Jungle Brother’s classic “I’ll House You” packs the fun while the self-awakening poetry of Mutabaruka’s “Dis Poem”- particularly the line “The Ku Klux Klan riots in Brixton Atlanta”-energizes the room.
Bodies are still glued to one another with sweat as neon music notes dance across the wall atop the bar as hints of nicotine straddles the air. Social media posts read, “I was turned away at the front door.” Earlier in the night there was even a line that snaked down the street to the venue’s front door. For everyone who entered received a seat at the table. Their pallets feasted on treasures-Chicago house, Detroit techno, NYC deep, London electro and Soweto’s Afro. The feast was succulent. The music dynamic. This musical exchange was not for the exclusive elite, but inclusive for all to experience. Music itself is the language of freedom that François K beckons to wake up people. In these polarizing times, where weekly worldwide protests are the new black, it is important to stay woke. If we sleep, our right to assemble, dance, and play music might banish.