Horse Meat Disco celebrate their sixteenth birthday this year and play all over the world, including your city San Francisco where you have played with them. What do you think is behind their long run?
Horse Meat Disco is a super group of guys who have stayed together all these years providing a weekly clubhouse in London as their home base while playing all over the world. They are a crew that musically compliment each other but also have their own individual styles. They turn new generations on to the amazing music from the disco era to the choice contemporary sounds of today. They are global ambassadors of London and very supportive of the music community world wide. A lot of people know them in a personal way. How could you not love these guys?
Where and why did you start DJing? What were you playing back then?
I started DJing at house parties in my flat in Chicago in the early seventies, but my first paid gigs were in bathhouses and loft parties in San Francisco after I moved there in 1975. I started DJing because I was excited to see this new thing developing where there was this interaction between the crowd and the DJ. There was nothing like it before: it was a new art form.
For a number of years I played keyboards and saxophone thinking I would eventually be in a band but now I felt I could singularly be the band as a DJ. During this time I was playing songs like "Who Is He And What Is He To You" by Creative Source. "Think" by Lynn Collins. "The Love I Lost" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. "Love Epidemic" by the Trammps.
How did music change with Cowley's production and what came after that?
I was playing mostly soulful disco with some Italo, Giorgio Moroder, Gino Soccio etc. After 1980 there was a big change to Hi-NRG. Some Hi-NRG had soulful elements and some soulful vocals were sped up but after Cowley's Megatron Man and Menergy we were in a new decade. The lush classic disco sound of the seventies was fading, There still were some soulful records that came out in the eighties but they sounded different. There were soulful records at the Paradise Garage like Carolyn Harding's "Movin On" or Gwen Guthrie's "Padlock". Those records in many ways were transitioning disco to house. The Hi-NRG sound came in with Lime, the Flirts, Divine, Miquel Brown...
Tell us about life in San Francisco when you moved there in the seventies - in many ways it provided a platform for the wider Gay Lib movement to grow on. What was it about that place and time that created such a unique moment in queer history?
New York had its centers of activism and gay culture in its bohemian districts in the West and East Village but almost all of San Francisco was an alternative bohemian village. Arguably it was the counter culture capital of America having spearheaded the Beat and Hippie movements and it created the most permissive sexual environment in the country.
We would call the city "Oz" or "the city at the end of the rainbow". The sexual revolution was in full swing and it became a mecca for young queers from all over the country and beyond who felt a calling to move there. It was the great gay migration to the promised land. There was a feeling we could create our own fabulous world in the San Francisco. And we did.
You knew and worked with people who have become the stuff of queer legend: Sylvester, Patrick Cowley, The Cockettes... As a rare voice to have lived in that world of personalities and nightlife, tell us what it was like.
I first met Sylvester when he was performing with the Cockettes. For anyone that doesn't know the Cockettes, I'll say simply they were the infamous underground radical drag troupe that gained notoriety all over the world. Think drag queens on acid. They would perform shows at the Palace theater that were attended by people like Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, John Waters and Divine. One of the highlights of a Cockette show was when Sylvester would sing. This was early on before Sylvester's disco breakthrough and he was definitely fine tuning his performance skills at that time.
I met Patrick Cowley early on as well. I was in an open relationship with my boyfriend David at the time and David and Patrick were seeing each other on the side. It was a bit awkward to first meet Patrick that way but we were all cool hippies so it was no big deal. Patrick and I had a good relationship and years later I played a number of his "Menergy" parties at the Endup with the Patrick Cowley Singers, Lauren Carter, Jo Carol and Carol McMackin.
The major person that helped me start my DJ career at this time was Rod Roderick, known by many as "the Godfather of the SF party scene". He was like a combination of David Mancuso and a gay Hugh Hefner because he threw parties in South of Market warehouses and in his own residence which we called "the Mansion", a large Victorian house with three floors. The first floor had the dancefloor and the upper floors were for other pleasures. He showcased DJs that would bring the sound he wanted and usually brought in guests from New York like Ritchie Rivera, Vincent Carleo and Michael Jorba to play with his favorite SF DJs. I will forever be grateful to Rod for breaking me in and having me as one of his signature DJs at these parties that were truly the underground of the time.
Other party producers like Michael Moletta and Steve Whitney appeared on the scene. Moletta of the Creative Power Foundation would stage huge events on piers and warehouses and his "Night Flight" event is legendary because it was it was the first party to be brought from the underground as a commercial event. Tickets sold out, and it was hugely successful.Most of these promoters and club owners were from New York and wanted to bring the East Coast sound to blend with San Francisco's more electronic sound. One of the main reasons I was booked to do these events and deejayed at the Trocadero Transfer, I-Beam and Endup was because I played the New York sound of 12 West and the Garage and mixed it with the San Francisco records.
Sylvester brought Cowley's sound into his music and created a true hybrid of soul, gospel, electronic and Hi-NRG in many of his biggest songs. John Hedges and Marty Blecman used it for their Megatone label. Shawn Benson, Two Tons of Fun, Jeanie Tracy, Stereo Funn, Paul Parker just to name a few all featured this fusion.
It's important to not gloss over talking about AIDS. So here it goes. I worked with Sylvester at a number of club events including premiere parties for his new albums. But one event, the last event I did with him was sad but beautiful as well. I was playing at Dreamland for Sunday Tea Dance in August 1988. The party started at 6pm and was going strong. Ron Baer, the promoter came into the dj booth at 10pm and said Sylvester would be coming into the club shortly. Everyone knew Sylvester had been very sick and hadn't been out for awhile, so it was a surprise that he would be coming. And then I thought, he's coming to say goodbye. This would be not just any night. Ten minutes later I was told to turn down the music.
Sylvester made his entrance in a wheelchair. He was wheeled to the second tier overlooking the DJ booth where he was waving to the large crowd on the dancefloor. People were cheering, applauding calling out his name. I started playing a medley of his songs. The set would last an hour and then I faded out to silence. A red spotlight was on Sylvester waving and saying goodbye to crowd. People were stomping on the floor, applauding, screaming out his name. The roar in the room would not stop. He sat there and watched for ten minutes and then decided it was time to go and got his helpers to move him. Many people on the dancefloor were sobbing now. They still continued their applause stomping for another ten minutes and then people started to leave. Many filed out of the club in tears. How could anything else go on after that? We closed the night down.
AIDS devastated much of the queer music, club and social scenes in the eighties. How did you cope with the loss of friends and the world you knew? What came out of it personally and at the wider level?
It was devastating and yes scary. As I already mentioned about playing at Sylvester's "Farewell" appearance at the Dreamland club, - we felt we could all perish on this sinking ship. At the same time we felt if we were all going to go we might as well stay together and keep dancing. The music kept me going and I felt my role of being a DJ was even more important because it brought the community together to feel connected and feel love. Yes, for a while it seemed like all was lost, and boy did we lose a lot, but thankfully there was a lot we didn't lose.
What story / anecdote do you have that best encapsulates the freedom of San Francisco in the seventies?
There's so many stories to choose from with all the characters waving their freak flags for so many years. But I'll share a quintessential San Francisco moment about when I was walking down a corridor in the notorious sex club, The Hot House, and heard some very loud snoring. I saw friends at the end of the hallway and they were laughing. And people usually don't laugh in sex clubs like that. So I went to them and asked what is so funny? They took me to the room where the snoring was coming from and I saw a man snoring, passed out in a sling. My friends said he was there all day with his room door wide open and he was still 'wide open' but 'closed for business'. Snoring in a sling is hilarious and I thought this absurdity was a San Francisco moment. Actually what makes it a SF moment is that in SF it isn't absurd. Someone just didn't want the party to end.
You've played for HMD in SF. What do you make of a London night bringing this music back to where it came from?
It means a lot for me to return to London and HMD. I'm thrilled to be coming back. I always felt connected with the UK musically from the time I first started buying my first Beatles and Bowie albums. I love the fact that historically the U.K. and the U.S. are intrinsically connected with music and think that will always be the case.
I initially became aware of HMD through Honey Soundsystem in the early years. The first time I played HMD was with Ken Woodard, one of Honey's founders and it feels like I'm coming back home. I loved the feeling in that room the first time I played and I can't wait to see all the changes at the club.
To DJ for nearly fifty is incredible. What is it that keeps you going all these years?
Nearly fifty? Can that be? Shut up! Haha. When I started in the disco years I was 24 years young. Such an exciting time. Disco invented the DJ as a performer, technician and as an artist. Mixing was a new thing. They tried to kill disco but they didn't succeed. Years later the ravers and house heads would acknowledge and give respect to disco and the disco experience of the legendary gay clubs as the beginning of the DJ culture. I was excited playing disco not thinking about how long it would last, I was enjoying the moment. but I felt I would always go where the music takes me. I moved to NYC in 1983 because I felt the music was taking me there, and I wanted to be in New York anyway. I wanted to be a New Yorker and I knew New York would energize me. I got gigs at the River Club (the 12 West space),the Anvil, the Michael Todd Room and a residency at Tracks.
Danny Krivit played at Tracks and David DePino who played at the Paradise Garage for Larry Levan had his legendary packed Tuesday nights at Tracks. With clubs like Area, Limelight, Danceteria, the Saint and the Paradise Garage there was nothing quite like what was going on in New York in the eighties.
After 1988 I went back to San Francisco to reopen Dreamland. Ron Baer, the promoter of the club said people were ready to go out again after the ravages of AIDS and the Dreamland reopening was called "Reclamation". The house was filled with almost a thousand. I went back to the Trocadero at this time to play House music and then started getting more gigs in LA so I decided to move there in 1990. LA was giving me energy then and got booked at Probe, Axis (the old Studio One), Does Your Mama Know and others.
The classic house era was one of the best times for clubs and music. Disco transitioned to House. As Frankie Knuckles said, "House music is Disco's revenge". I moved from LA in 1995 because I was dealing with a number of illnesses, I had a shell of an immune system due to AIDS/HIV. I was hanging on a thread. I was too weak to DJ at this point and my former partner came to rescue me and moved me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to access more alternative therapies and perhaps ride off into the sunset together. It was tough for a while but obviously I survived.
The life saving combination treatments came out in 1996 and turned everything around. I moved back to San Francisco in 1998 with a new partner and a new lease on life and started working at the Record Rack in the Castro. I also started getting more dj gigs. I did a number of undergrounds, a club called Thick, and got guest bookings around town.
In 2006 things started changing dramatically. There was a new generation opening up fresh club nights around town and it felt different. It was a renaissance. Honey Soundsystem opened its first weekly club house at that time and made an impact right away. From the beginning Honey paid respect to the past educating people and giving them a perspective of what was important in club culture starting with disco and how that informs us to what is happening now. Honey put art back in a club and they produce incredible parties. They've shown me much respect and love and I love to play for them when I do.
Other parties that are part of this renaissance would be those by Bus Station John and the Comfort & Joy queer Burning Man events. There are many more and I can't mention them all here, but I must tell you San Francisco's nightlife is vibrant.
Now I want to tell you about my club Go BANG! It's actually Sergio Fedasz's, Prince Wolf's and Jimmy DePres' club as well. They are the crew and resident DJs. Sergio founded the party in 2008. I joined him almost a year later and we became partners producing the club. We've been doing the disco monthly for ten years. Expect to hear rarities, big records, Trocadero, Paradise Garage and Saint anthems etc.
I feel a little emotional thinking about what this club is, how the club has evolved and how loyal our crowd is. Our vision was to provide a dancefloor sanctuary for them. We built it and they came. They are one of the most diverse crowds I've seen any where and they feel like they are at home at the club. In some ways Go BANG! is like Horse Meat Disco in the sense that we play all variations of disco but it doesn't feel retro and our clubhouse the STUD is intimate but acts like a big club with a proper dance floor and sound system.
What's the best piece of advice you could give a young queer starting out his life journey today?
Just keep doing what you love to do. If you can make money right away doing what you love to do, take a bow, that would be wonderful. If you can't, just keep doing what you love to do anyway. Find other ways to make money. Not everyone is going to get rich. Money isn't everything.
There's a big pantheon to choose from but who's your biggest hero and why?
Martin Luther King Jr. You know why.
We're squealing to have you play at the Eagle. For the uninitiated, what can we expect from a Steve Fabus set?
I'll be playing my favorite soulful disco but also some electronic and Hi-NRG, some vocal house, maybe even some tech house. Whatever I'm feeling in the moment.
Steve Fabus plays Horse Meat Disco, Sunday 28th April at The Eagle, 349 Kennington Lane, London, SE11 5QY. 8pm opening.