When it comes to house music there’s been something of a renaissance in New York City these past few years, and one of its main advocates is Levon Vincent. Born in Houston, Texas and raised on the East Coast; he now calls Berlin his home. As a club-goer, he cut his teeth during the pre-Giuliani New York heyday, where a vibrant scene was helping to push the elegant sound that would become known as NY house forward - and Levon witnessed it all first-hand. Working his way up through landmarks like Sugar Reef (of Sugar Babies fame) or Pat Field’s Boutique, and record stores such as Kim's, Tower, and Music Exchange, Levon joined a long, proud lineage of fringe arts based around New York's downtown culture. Ten years later, in 2001, he began to work at the legendary Halcyon record shop in Brooklyn. Halcyon, which doubled as a café, was more than just a record store - it was a place where music aficionados could sit and exchange ideas while listening to the music they love. With a meaty sound-system and their friendly and open policy, the shop soon became a hub for NY's most passionate dance enthusiasts. It was here that Levon met his future Deconstruct label partner Anthony Parasole, as well as DJ Jus-Ed; who subsequently went on to start the Underground Quality label - the label that has done so much to introduce their homegrown sounds to a global audience. Even artists from further a-field like Nina Kraviz or Anton Zap have UQ to thank for first promoting them. By 2008, Levon began his own label, Novel Sound. He started with a bang: a certified hit in the form of the label’s first release, ‘These Games’ EP. It’s a 4-track EP and the release featured a song by Jus-Ed as well. Levon repaid the swap on Ed’s own label, with one of 2009’s biggest tracks, ‘Games Dub’. With his industrial clanging beats, Levon’s dubbed-out sound quickly found him supporters from scene veterans like Craig Richards and Berghain’s Marcel Dettmann. Soon after, Levon was invited to play at fabric, Rex, Berghain, and of course the infamous Underground Quality party series at the now defunct Tape Club. As a producer, his immense focus and concentration come to a head in tracks that have attained anthemic status - the Ostgut Ton release ‘Late Night Jam’, with its driving chord-stabs, sits as comfortably in a percussive UK bass set as it does in any pumping techno set – as demonstrated by Pearson Sound on last year’s massive FABRICLIVE 56.
"In the 80s, I had some VCRs, a record player and a dual cassette deck. I had a group of friends at that time and we were really interested in DJing and making beats, we would combine various songs and recordings to make new songs and then combine those to make new mixes; stuff like, recording a spoken word track playing over Mr. Fingers or add movie dialogue to another record. We loved the dirty version of I'll House You, ‘I'll Hump You’. I remember us all agreeing on that record. Soul II Soul had a big impact, too. I regularly slip-up and refer to podcasts as "mix tapes", maybe because it's nostalgic or something. It still sounds right to me. Mix tapes are one of the very coolest things to come from Generation-X. After hearing or maybe reading about how Nitzer Ebb were doing their music I remember asking my mom to bring me to the Sam Ash store on 48th to get a sampler, not knowing the price of the things! Upwards of $10k! A few years later I did eventually get a used Ensoniq EPS-1, which was a more affordable semi-pro sampler. I think it was a popular piece of equipment, it was certainly a step up from my Casio SK-1... Many producers probably remember using the EPS-1 fondly." Levon Vincent
What better way to showcase Levon’s work and the group of like-minded producers around him than to present their forthcoming productions for the year? Here Levon selects a number of his compatriots’ unreleased material, as well as seven of his own cuts. All the signature elements are there: rich analogue synth-work, intricately programmed drums, and muscular, dubby basslines. Above all, these aren’t just electronic "tracks" with a set number of sequenced loops - they are each songs in their own right, with rich tonal variety and this mix provides an overall narrative which contains various themes and surprises. Levon explains he didn’t want to “showboat” as a DJ on this mix, and foregoing the use of flashy DJ tricks (like the ones he demonstrated at his recent Boiler Room) this time he set out for something classy and un-assuming. He focused on mixing each record without touching the platter at any time during playback- using only the pitch control for adjusting the synced blends "like Mancuso and some of the older disco guys do" (of NY’s The Loft). This results in a very smooth listening experience - without the jarring and erratic pitch variations that sometimes occur when a DJ grabs the platter to rescue a mix. And it shows - with each track slotting into the next, the joins quite invisible - at points when what may be perceived as a song's 'B' section, quickly turns out to be the following record. The intro is supplied by scene stalwart Joey Anderson, who has found success in his own right as a master house dancer (also DJ QU’s dance mentor) – a skill that often goes unrecognized in Europe, but is in fact an integral part of music and club culture in New York. With ‘Earth Calls’, Joey drops dissonant, echoing keys and shreaking synth sounds rain down, accompanied by a skittering cymbal that breaks like deep breath on a cold night. A textured low-end rumble is all that announces the segue into Jus-Ed’s ‘Blaze’, where tight snares cozy up to marimba-like keys and lead onto a refreshing appropriation of classic Afro-Cuban percussion: JM De Frias is the newcomer of the bunch whose rhythms show a deep understanding of the original minimal techno dialogue of pioneers like Robert Hood or Juan Atkins. Next, the first of Levon’s own new material ‘Stereo Systems', a shimmering Milky Way of synth-droplets twinkle above a seriously weighty kick drum, with the chords on ‘Polar Bear’ creeping slowly in, creating the first moment of pure euphoria. DJ QU's ‘Times Like This’ which brings the first and only semblance of a human vocal on the entire mix. An epileptic drum roll and the faintest hint of words misspoken flutter atop a relentless snare pattern that drives the track ever onward. ‘Fear’ again demonstrates how emotive drums can be, it slowly develops teasing for half the song, but nobody is prepared for the funkiest of funky basslines that finally drops. The now classic Novel Sound single ‘Double Jointed Sex Freak II’ peaks with a cacophonous break, clacking of metal pipes and a chorus of clockwork birds periodically chime in to give you a blissful sense of chaos. Anthony Parasole, whose loft parties played home to many of these artists in the early days, provides ‘Tyson’. Throbbing with the adjunct teeth of a revving motorbike engine, it signals a quick turn to the more aggressive sound that the crew are also known for. ‘The End’ provides a moment for reflection; minutes are consumed by the drunken, woozy melody, until quite suddenly, the warmest of pads embrace the listener, accompanied by a background of diamond-tipped dub-clouds. Fred P AKA Black Jazz Consortium’s particular brand of warm and soulful house get's the spotlight next, with his ‘Blacklight:' A throbbing darkroom beat builds and dissipates under faint pads and a tough bassline which serves as a strong foundation for the song. The mix ends up with one more cocktail of Levon's signature sound design with two tracks that are again highly colourful and combine multiple timbres for a very full listening experience. Levon and his cohorts apply a deep house brush to a techno palette, creating something new and elusive. However cosmic it gets, as in the heavenly ‘Rainstorm II’, or dubbed out, or even industrial, it's always underpinned by one thing and one thing alone: the well-worn thud of an almighty kick.