New York City-based DJ/producer/Wave Music owner François Kevorkian isn’t a man who gives a lot of interviews. However, after a lot of coaxing, I was able to get time with the master. We spoke in between sessions at his Axis Studios in Midtown Manhattan. The interview was published in the December 1995 issue of the now-defunct Muzik.
There was indeed a lot to talk about during our encounter. Kevorkian, who had taken a hiatus from spinning, had returned to the DJ booth. He started his DJ career at the Paradise Garage (he worked and produced with Garage guru Larry Levan!) and Studio 54 in the ’80s and became a sought-after remixer, lending his deft touch to a raft of classics like Yazoo’s “Situation,” Jody Watley’s “Don’t You Want Me” and a host of reworks for Depeche Mode. His epic DJ sets were known for methodically channeling music from a spate of genres, including house, disco, pop, R&B and soul.
A year after the interview, Kevorkian co-launched Body & Soul, a Sunday afternoon party held at the new defunct Club Vinyl in New York City, with John Davis. Two decades later, FK and his B&S DJ partners Danny Krivit and Joaquin ‘Joe’ Claussell‘s party has a faithful international global following of those who adore “deep, soulful grooves with an uplifting message.”
It’s just past five o’clock and the twin elevators of 254 West 54th St. are packed with tired office workers heading home for a quick meal and some time with their loved ones, before waking up in a few hours to retrace their footsteps again tomorrow. However, on the 16th floor, at François Kervorkian‘s Axis Studios, the legendary DJ/producer is far from reaching the end of his work.
As the proprietor of Axis, one of New York City’s most acclaimed recording facilities (which is located just a few steps away from the site of the legendary disco wonderland, Studio 54), there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the man known as FK.
Half-shaven and dressed in dark sweatpants, a matching T-shirt and sandals (with socks!), his appearance is slightly dishevelled. Danny Tenaglia has a session here tonight, remixing a track for The Shamen. and Kervorkian musters up his crack team, giving out instructions with the fervor of an inspirational guru. Everything has to be taken care of before he can slip into one of the MIDI rooms and talk about his glorious past and his bright future. And what a strange trip it’s already been for him.
Born in Rodez, France, 41 years ago, Kervorkian was raised in the suburbs of Paris. He went to college to study biochemical engineering, while at the same time juggling a fascination for playing the drums. He moved to New York City in 1975 and started gigging with assorted R&B cover bands, later getting hired to play alongside DJ Walter Gibbons at Galaxy 21. Shortly afterwards, Kervorkian began feeling his way around the recording studio and started editing together classic disco medleys.
Crafting his mixing abilities on the turntables, he eventually put down his drum sticks in favor of manning the decks at posh Stateside spots like New York, New York. With his growing reputation, he parlayed his mixing prowess into an A&R gig at Prelude Records, where he was responsible for overseeing a fair number of club hits. It also gave him the opportunity to remix Musique’s “(Push Push) In The Bush.”
Kervorkian subsequently worked on other remixes with Larry Levan, while occasionally DJing at Studio 54, Paradise Garage, Better Days and Club Zanzibar. By the mid-Eighties, he was one of the most in-demand studio bods in the biz, landing such high-profile clients as U2, Yazoo, Kraftwerk, Diana Ross, The Cure, Ashford & Simpson and Thomas Dolby.
Last, but not least, came Axis Studios, which he opened in 1987. Madonna has recorded here, as have C&C Music Factory, Mariah Carey, Deee-Lite and Teddy Riley. And although he has proved himself to be quite a businessman, Kervorkian remains the consummate, ever-thoughtful artist.
Three weeks prior to our meeting, he unleashed his enthralling FK EP on his own Wave imprint. Since recording the EP, which has been picked up by Open Records in the UK, he has kept himself busy by mixing Erasure’s latest album, as well as serving up deep remixes of their “Stay With Me” and “Fingers And Thumbs” singles.
Despite not DJing between 1983 and 1990, he’s also recently been shooting off to Japan to play wonderfully eclectic, marathon 10-hour sets. And he’s even thrown in some cameos at the Sound Factory Bar in New York along the way.
Yes, FK is back in a big way. But as he likes to point out, this is only the beginning. “For me, the FK EP is just a collection of dance music ditties I was toying around with,” he says, his eyes rolling around the room as if trying to focus on a thought.
“One of the tracks was supposed to have been for an LFO remix, but I never heard back from them. I thought, ‘It’s a good track, so why not put it out?'”
Kervorkian also has an album all ready to go, but he’s in no hurry to release it. He says it features everything from deep cuts to handbag anthems.
“There’s a lot more material which I’ve worked on and I have a concept for a real solo album. It’s something I’d eventually like to put a lot of time and energy into. I’m always recording and I have literally shelves full of master tapes. I decided to put together four songs which seemed coherent and the four I chose made up the EP.”
Kervorkian knows full well the inescapable evils and, more specifically, the economic realities of making music in this age of multi-media technology. Which is why, after sitting back and watching the industry pitting style over substance for so long, he took a stand and set up his Wave label. The first release was Floppy Sounds’ “Downtime,” a post-ambient album currently available in the UK on Slip ‘N’ Slide.
“I started Wave after witnessing the assembly line mentality of most major labels. I despise that ‘flavor of the week’ syndrome. That’s absolutely not how I see music. I want to put out records which are special and actually mean something to the people who are buying them.”
Which brings us to the subject of Wave’s indie peers, some of whom have a mentality which led Li’l Louis to describe them on vinyl as, “Copy machines that spit out song after song.” FK bristles at the thought and agrees.
“Because of the stark realities of the distribution and manufacturing side of the music business, the distributors won’t pay you unless you keep putting records into the pipelines. If you keep generating volume, then they have
“Dance music has fragmented and diversified, but I think it’s healthy and I can sense new energies moving into the picture.”
Kervorkian has strong ideas about how Wave should be run (the crux being less is certainly more), but he also wants to make Wave successful He’s hoping to establish a solid image by releasing music which will out-live the usual three-week lifespan of club records.
In the same way that people back in the old days used to walk into Vinylmania, pick up the latest Nu Groove 12-inch and buy it without even having heard it, brand recognition is his ultimate goal.
“There’s so much great music out there, it’s my duty to find a way to make it fit the crowd I’m playing to. It usually works out okay.”
“As a DJ, I feel I shouldn’t be subjected to a lot of the records I get,” he says. “Most of them shouldn’t have made it past the A&R department. Wave is trying to remain a boutique operation, where we groom specific acts. Which makes the label different from those who just want to put out records. We want to build a catalogue which has substance. We want it to keep inspiring people.
“The key is that I have recording facilities, which I toiled and slaved very hard to get. If it gives mean edge over other people, then so be it. If the time comes when I’m forced to release records I don’t like, well, I would rather go out of business. There should never come a point where you feel you want to compromise the music.”
With Wave seemingly destined for success, it’s clear that Kervorkian’s love of club culture is as strong as ever. He still buys between 10 and 20 records a week and his ears are constantly wide open. The world around him may be changing rapidly, but Kervorkian remains eager to blaze new trails. He refuses to live in the past.
Viewing music on a cultural and even a socio-economical level, he’s determined to push the proverbial envelope way into the millennium. What truly rocks his world is spinning records and playing mind games with a packed dance floor willing to go on his fantastic journey.
“I’ve always followed my passion for music,” he says. “There’s so much great music out there, it’s my duty to find a way to make it fit the crowd I’m playing to. It usually works out okay. In Europe, I’ve been booed when I play slow songs, but I can take that. Here in America, I feel complete freedom. It’s the same with clubs in Japan.”
While he appears humble when talking about his legacy, Kervorkian quietly reveals the stack of aces up is sleeve. His vaults are packed with unreleased tracks which he cut with Loleatta Holloway back around the time he produced “Strong Enough” for her. He says these will see the light of day when the time is right. There’s also a scheduled release from a jazz group, as well as a new Floppy Sounds album on the horizon. Beyond that, he remains tight-lipped about his work in progress.
“I’m very upbeat about the future. There are a lot of surprises in store from Wave and from the two sub-labels which will be debuted in 1996. I think they will establish us, give us more of a major presence on the scene. I feel incredibly excited about the next few years. Dance music has fragmented and diversified, but I think it’s healthy and I can sense new energies moving into the picture.
“I’m also so happy to be DJing again. It keeps me at the very heart of things. Being a DJ gives you a great opportunity to travel and seethe world. You feel like you’re bridging all types of cultural gaps with people from all over the planet, helping dance culture to become a global phenomenon. It’s tremendously exciting to be a part of that. It’s great to make music which is accepted and liked by people.”
Given all of his accomplishments, life for François Kervorkian has never been so good and so challenging. Even at the most basic level. “You play a really great record and everybody starts screaming and waving their hands in the air. How could anyone ever get tired of creating that kind of magic?”