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Escape Velocity

On The Grid: An Interview With Anthony Parasole
Zara Wladawsky , March 6th, 2014 06:04

With the gritty techno of his label The Corner, New York DJ and producer Anthony Parasole has lately been attracting attention far beyond his home city. He tells Zara Wladawsky about the changing face of New York's dancefloor communities, and the passing down of club music knowledge

"This and the gym are two most important parts of my day!" Anthony Parasole shouts from his kitchen as he finishes making a fresh cup of coffee. It's midday in the Crown Heights neighbourhood of Brooklyn, and the DJ, label-owner and producer is starting his day, after working a late shift at his job for one of the city's major electrical suppliers. He comes back into his front room, a large portion of which is taken up by his studio, and checks his phone. "Hold on a moment, Ostgut want to know when to fly me out before the next Berghain gig. I just gotta check something, and then we can start this."

To say that Parasole is a hard-working man and juggler of many hats is a bit of an understatement. On top of holding down the grueling hours that his day job commands, his quickly rising DJ star, and recent addition to the Berlin-based Ostgut Booking roster, is taking him to and from Europe at least once or twice a month. His main record label, The Corner, has been a mainstay on many charts and has received a host of accolades since its debut release in May 2012. Deconstruct, which he runs with Levon Vincent and has been responsible for three wonderful, strange house-into-techno releases to date, lies dormant but not entirely extinct. As a producer, he boasts two joint releases on The Corner with Phil Moffa, a 12" on Marcel Dettmann's label, and finally his Corner-released Quickstrike edits. He's also hard at work on a number of remixes, which he plays for me throughout our interview. Whatever is in the man's coffee that he's currently making clearly means serious business.

Initial impressions of Parasole are in line with the hard-hitting, gritty techno sound he stands for. Tall and intimidatingly muscular, with an intense stare during deep conversation, I could imagine being afraid of him if I hadn't gotten to know him over the past couple of years; he actually possesses a warmth and depth of sensitivity that's almost certainly born from the same struggles that have shaped his more rugged exterior. He talks candidly in his soft Brooklyn drawl about his life, relationship with New York over the years, and musical career in a way that paints a picture of a consummate, passionate man who's overcome hardship through profound dedication to his music and love of the art of the nightclub.

You played an instrument when you were younger, right? When did you start DJing?

Anthony Parasole: I played a little keys, but my background was always in DJing. I was thirteen when I started. There was so much DJ culture in my old neighbourhood, Bath Beach near Coney Island. It's a little community close to the water that was mainly Italian, Puerto-Rican, and black. Around the corner from me was a record store called Music Stop, so I spent my weekly allowance on Strictly Rhythm records.

Thirteen, huh? I guess DJ culture started much younger back then...

AP: It was all around us, and I was playing everything back then - hip hop, house, disco, what you now call hip-house, but it was just New York City club music back then. I still love that kind of stuff. I love playing Afrika Bambaataa, those records are still completely relevant. The other day I played 'Planet Rock' in the middle of a techno set and… it's a techno record! He invented techno before Derrick May and Juan Atkins. [laughs]

My first gig was when I was sixteen in a neighbourhood called Bay Ridge. There were always bars looking for DJs there so I would tag-team with my buddy at the time. I would play house and hip hop while he would play disco and the funkier stuff. We were playing for these twenty and thirtysomethings at such a young age! My mum would still help us put the coffin in the car and all that. I wasn't out getting fucked up, so my folks trusted and supported me. A year or two later I started working in the clubs.

What clubs, and what did your job entail?

AP: My first club job was at The Roxy, but I had a cousin who worked at Limelight so I eventually ended up working there. I did general operational stuff including security, working the door... whatever needed to be done! I just wanted to be around the music and culture. I'd already worked in the industry for a long time by then and it was easy money. I wasn't working a real job at the time. I went to college for a bit, but it just didn't work out – I had to get a job and make money.

I have to ask, what was the 'New York clubbing heyday' really like?

AP: So you've been to Berghain, right? There was way more shocking stuff going on in New York back then. A Victor Calderone party at The Roxy? Way crazier. Those circuit parties were like the Snax parties [Berlin fetish nights], but they happened every single Saturday, and there were very few straight people there! Check this out: [he brings up YouTube and puts on a video] this is Arena at The Palladium with Junior Vasquez. Doesn't it look like the Berghain? I think the owners loosely based the look of it on this, because the aesthetic is there. When I first walked into Berghain I was like 'Oh, I've been to this club before!' [laughs] Junior was such a great DJ.

I largely think of you more a techno guy now, but it sounds like you used to go to house nights as well back then?

AP: The thing is that the two were married back then. Nowadays people play house music at 117bpm and call it deep house; deep house was being written at 130bpm in the 90s. DJ Duke, Tribal America, and all those guys were writing records at these faster tempos, [and] Joe Claussell and Kerri Chandler as well. You could mix any techno track into them, because those records were hard! You would hear things like a Deborah Cox vocal over Maurizio's 'Ploy'. Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia would play like that. The margin has gotten so wide now that, if you play in a house room where the DJs only play around the 118 bpm zone, someone who plays house at 128 comes across sounding like Robert Hood to the crowd.

Aside from attending these humongous house nights at the time, I was always going to see the techno guys like Frankie Bones and Adam X, who were really relevant back then as well. I went to The Tunnel, Baktun for Tronic, and N.A.S.A. at Vinyl for that. [He points to a framed picture above the sofa we're seated on] that's the door to Vinyl. Partying there was special because there was this crazy law in effect that, when two clubs were back to back, there was only one liquor license and one cabaret license given between both venues. Next door was a club called Wetlands; it was a rock club and it ended up with the liquor license. So Vinyl got the cabaret license, but no liquor could be sold... yet it would stay open until 8:30 in the morning. It wasn't really that drug-related either.

Do you think that this sobriety is what led to these clubbers choosing sex as their hedonistic form of escape more than they do today?

AP: Yeah, the sex part was a big thing. It was part of the escape and being lost in the moment, but a lot of people died. If you're my age or older and used to go to these parties, you know a lot of people who've passed away from AIDS. It's so different today. There's no gay people mixing into the party scene in New York. Back then if you played the good music parties, they were gay. It's changed quite a lot here and it's not cool... I don't like it. All those nights had tons of people partaking in it back then. It was a good mix.

'Off The Grid' (MDR)

Were you DJing during this whole time?

AP: I came in and out of DJing. There was a period around then where I didn't play as much. I even sold my first set of equipment when I was twenty-one, saying to myself, 'I'm not doing this no more'. I was DJing regularly up until that lull, but then I stepped away from it all for a bit. I was still working at the clubs, but I needed to make more money. There was a large part of me that still wanted to make music, but life happened. The city suffered a lot around then...

You mean things like Giuliani and 9/11 happened?

AP: Yeah, that was huge, 9/11 especially. It changed everything and fast-forwarded the landscape of New York City not being inviting to nightlife, because suddenly there was no money. The way that people talk to one another and deal with one another since 9/11 is also different. The law has taken violence and all sorts of precautions to the point where we currently live a policed life-style in this city. The consequence of that is that no-one polices themselves anymore. People are way more self-absorbed and not cognizant of their surroundings. The way they talk to each other is less respectful, because there's no fear of repercussions. 9/11 really changed that.

This is also present in our nightlife. Back then you would go to clubs and see people escaping from their reality. Now it's just rich people having fun. After 9/11 there was huge money from abroad coming in and a huge international, moneyed clientele started showing up. You didn't have all these transplanted people at the clubs back then. If you're not from here and you're not born here, then the culture is different, and life is different. Now, over a decade later, the dust is starting to settle and there is finally some money coming in again from people born and raised here. We're very slowly starting to turn back towards that pre-9/11 life, but it's got a long way to go.

What did you do during this time?

AP: I took a few different jobs doing some buying for various street-wear and sneaker companies. Then I found my way back to music, got brought into Halcyon, and eventually became one of the house & techno buyers alongside a guy named Alex and a pre-fame Levon [Vincent]. We took some chances and brought a lot of good records into the store over the years. [Full disclosure: Halcyon is a record shop in the DUMBO neighbourhood of Brooklyn that I've also worked at for the past couple of years.]

Tell me about Deconstruct, your first label.

AP: The idea behind Deconstruct was, back when you were buying records in the 90s, they always used to say '27th Street Remix' or 'Sound Factory Remix' on them. 27th Street in Manhattan was where The Tunnel and Sound Factory clubs were. Whenever you saw one of these remixes, you knew you were getting a long club track that filled an entire side of the record. So when we made Deconstruct, the idea behind it was to make these dancefloor cuts for DJs to play out, which is why almost all of the Deconstruct releases have a single track per side. We were trying to duplicate that 27th Street and Sound Factory sound - intense drums and hard, dancefloor oriented records. Novel Sound was Levon's output for his more emotional content. Deconstruct was always meant to be 4/4, harder stuff. And you know what? We honestly had a contingency plan of it failing. We never thought we were going to have to re-press stuff. No one was playing our sound at the time. I would shop the records to labels and they all either said "this isn't finished," or "no one will play this."

I was living with Bryan Kasenic from The Bunker back then, so we ended up starting a party together. At the time there were no loft or warehouse parties happening, and the few that occurred had Mackies and shitty soundsystems. I wanted to do it properly. Bryan knew a guy in Philly who was up for doing sound, and that's how House-n-Home started, at a loft in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighbourhood called 12-turn-13. We brought Dixon, Lawrence, Cassy, Santiago Salazaar - people who could play across many styles of music were able to have the platform they wanted in this home-like environment. It was dope. It also changed the landscape of New York, because we were one of only two parties happening around then that were taking things out of proper clubs. Now every bit of spare space in Bushwick hosts a warehouse party on the weekend. I've got to hand it to people like Blkmarket Membership though. Those guys have taken it to another level with their lighting rigs, sound systems, and huge warehouses. It's awesome - we kick-started the whole warehouse and loft revival, and then they went on to set the standard.

DJ Qu - 'Party People Clap (Anthony Parasole & Fred P Remix)' (Deconstruct)

It sounds like this was the beginning of everything starting to come together.

AP: I think so. The labels were taking off, House-n-Home was a great party backing them, and there was a family of DJs sticking together: Levon, DJ Qu, Fred P, Jus-Ed, and I. It all piggy-backed together in a great way.

Fred was also an incredibly pivotal figure to me when I started making music. Back in 2009, when I was living with my girlfriend at the time, Fred started coming over weekly to my studio. I would make dinner and he taught me how to make proper songs, as opposed to the bits and loops I'd been making at the time. Levon showed me the software side to music-making and then Fred showed me how to use the tools. I thank these guys every day for helping and mentoring me. You have to realise that, when I'm talking about these guys, they weren't who they are today. They were just my friends - all of us were learning our craft and helping each other out. People who say they're entirely self-taught are lying. Everyone was in this together. [Jus-]Ed helped me with learning the business end and how to run a label. At one point, Fred and I even considered doing a live project together.

It feels like there's a strong community of people passing down information in our city right now. Would you agree and, if so, why?

AP: Yes and it's because people have been going out and dancing to this music for a long time, and they are now passing it down – especially in New York. The nightclub as you know it was invented here. The club art form, that is. Lights, a raised DJ booth, the dancefloor, and a tremendous sound system - that started here. Think of Richard Long or David Mancuso. There's a lot of hand-me-downs and mentoring here, because we have almost fifty years of actual club culture in this city. I do see a new generation now that is hungry, which is why new clubs like Output are succeeding. There's a whole new community of twentysomethings gravitating to vinyl, becoming producers, not skipping any of the steps, and being hungry. It's exciting ... and they are really hungry! [laughs]

Anthony Parasole on Boiler Room NYC

We're at the point in your life now where you started The Corner, right?

AP: I went through this short-lived bad period in my life after a break-up where I wasn't producing anything, and eventually I realised that I needed to start a new label and get an outlet for myself again. I was lying on the sofa watching Mob Week on AMC one day, and I had it on mute while I was listening to promos on my computer. Those movies are visually stunning! So it hit me: I'll start a label that executes those still-frames as the artwork and put out some grittier, harder music. The name, The Corner, stems from hustling. Whatever neighborhood you grew up in during the 80s and 90s, you were part of a crew. There was an 18th Ave crew, a Bath Avenue crew, et cetera. You had no choice, you had to be part of something. So that's part of where the idea of the name came from, and the other is that there was a TV Show called The Corner, before The Wire existed, that was based on that street knowledge. It's all based on hustling drugs and stuff.

How personal to you is all of this?

AP: I served fifteen months of jail time. I got arrested in August 2001 from moving bulk weight of drugs when I'd stopped partying and working at the clubs just to make a living. I'd even stopped selling and was at a new job by then, but there was an investigation so I still got taken in.

Honestly though? When I got arrested, it put the foot in my butt to start doing music again. Remember I'd told you that I'd sold my first pair of turntables? It was right before I went to jail that I bought decks again and started buying records. That's what it was. I told myself: "When I come out, I'm going to start doing music again." I came out of jail, went to the sneaker store, got the job, and started on the right track. Before this happened, I was so disillusioned with music that I still would've been working my post-club and post-construction job for the Supreme Court doing some IT crap. For real, I would've been pulling cables right now, not creating. The light went on when I got arrested. My time was tough, but I came out and got right back into what I love.

All I want to do is show this side of the streets, because now it's so pretty here in New York. Most of those photos on the artwork are real. I know the background stories behind each cover. There was definitely a lifestyle back then that transcended into everything - it permeated into the club culture and beyond. It's not like that right now. Money changes everything, and removes it from what's real. It was more like a community back then, and that is missing right now. I don't mean the small, close-knit group of us who are the passionate ones, I mean the wider group of people. You'd go to a club and see four thousand people at a time who got it back then.

Anthony Parasole plays at Plex vs. Oscillate Wildly at London's Corsica Studios this Saturday, 8th March, alongside DJ Stingray, Answer Code Request, Marco Shuttle and more. For more information and tickets, click here.

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