The Saint's Robbie Leslie plays Horse Meat Disco this Sunday.

When and how did you start DJing?

I got hired as a waiter at the Sandpiper on Fire Island in 1975. It was an amazing space and where records were tried out before released. This was when I first got interested in the DJ life because of the enthusiasm and intensity of that crowd. Off season they would often just play recorded tapes of the main DJ’s sets, so I asked if I could try my hand. They gave me the go ahead with the proviso I didn’t drive everyone out of the club! After the Sandpiper closed I moved to Manhattan and had managed to get a bit of a buzz about my work on the island which landed me my residency at 12 West. From there things took off with Studio 54 following shortly after and then later obviously The Saint.

What were your musical influences in those early years?

Well, I was incredibly privileged in that I was initiated listening to A-list DJs who played regularly there: Howard Merritt, Tom Savarese, Tom Moulton, Richie Rivera, Alan Dodd, Kevin Burke - it was a Who’s Who of talent. Roy Thode who was resident at the Ice Palace over in Cherry Grove would come and listen to me every week and give me feed back and advice. These guys hugely influenced how and what I was playing.

You must have a treasure trove of a disco vault… what five would you be your desert island discs?

Well, obviously I have many, many favourites but here are five must haves:

  • Three Steps From True Love - The Reflections

  • The Pelican Dance - The Baronet

  • Love Epidemic - The Trammps

  • Bourgie Bourgie - Ashford and Simpson

  • Love Train - The O'Jays

What was seventies and eighties Fire Island like?

Fire Island back then was truly a Mecca. That’s not to say that "The Island" isn’t still a special place, but because the gay community has gained so much ground legally and socially in America that Fire Island is no longer that unique oasis it once was. Back in the sixties and early seventies there were so few places same-sex couples could kiss and hold hands publicly, so The Grove and The Pines very much sat outside the mainstream; they were bastions of tolerance in a society that was generally far from being that accepting.

I've now worked on Fire Island for 44 contiguous summers - even I am quite amazed. For all the progress we’ve made there's no place quite like it, because it is all things to all people. It is a natural masterpiece.

Horse Meat Disco has a pretty big New York party at Elsewhere. Any thoughts on a London club bringing disco back to your home city?

To Fort Lauderdale? That would be terrific! I think they would be very well received.

(We were referring to HMD’s monthly NYC party at Elsewhere but looks like Fort Lauderdale it is.)

Tell us that one time at a disco when you had to pinch yourself and ask, ‘Is this really happening?’

It was at the Gay Pride celebration in San Francisco sometime in the Nineties. There were thousands and thousands of people dancing to my set at the Embarcadero. It was a spectacular afternoon. It was mind-blowing!

Everyone reading this will be gagging to hear about The Saint. What was it made it into such an iconic club?

Not to blow my own trumpet too hard but I was THE last DJ to play there. I was the last of ten Saint DJs who played the marathon 40-hour closing party, called simply "The Last Party". It ran from midnight Saturday to noon on Monday, and it was so packed for the last few hours, I don't think I'd ever seen it so crowded in the club's entire run. Everyone wanted to be there at the end.

To the uninitiated, the Saint was a massive club opened in 1980. It has to be the most magnificent dance space ever conceived and built. Its most astounding feature was its dance floor which was completely covered by a planetarium dome with a star projector in the centre of the room which showed the constellations. The sound system was incredible. It was a place created expressly for the dancer over every other consideration and everyone came and danced and danced and danced. The Saint really brought something new to the table and its impact and success contributed some other great spaces, including 12 West, to close. Then in the early 80s the health crisis hit with a vengeance.

We recently interviewed Steve Fabus and discussed the impact HIV/AIDS had on San Francisco’s scene. Living through the same period on the East Coast, how did it change New York’s nightlife?

At the Saint, the membership was decimated. So many invitations to their parties would be returned by the Post Office as "Addressee Deceased" or "Addressee Unknown". It was bleak. Some people simply refused to come out dancing anymore, they were frightened and depressed. So many people who were regulars passed away suddenly and horribly and back then there was nothing to save them. Others came out dancing with a vengeance - determined to enjoy life as if nothing were happening. Still others came out to the clubs as a sort of catharsis and we as DJs were obliged to entertain as if all was well with the world, though I think the mental strain took its toll on all of us.

What would you have been if not a DJ?

Definitely in some form of the arts. I just don't think I'd be capable of working in a corporate environment. Possibly running some specialized kind of retail shop, because I like interacting with people and my need to share things that have meaning to me would be satisfied.

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