No strangers to Ban Ban Ton Ton visitors, Dennis Kane and Phil Mison, in addition to being quality DJs and producers, are also longtime friends. Dennis has just remixed Phil’s Cantoma track Kasoto, so I invited the two of them to sit down for a chat. The resulting conversation took in their musical histories, mutual projects, and nightlife, or lack of it, in their respective cities.
Dennis Kane: I think we met through Diesel no? (Diesel aka Darren House, X-Press 2, Moton Records…)
Phil Mison: Yes, we had exchanged emails, and made plans to meet up when you got to London. I think we went straight to the pub.
DK: I remember some pictures of us in front of a sex shop. I was always shocked at the quantity of sex shops in London. I guess Amazon has taken most of that business – “Honey the Friends DVD and our anal beads arrived today” – but it was impressive knowing you could get a decent balaclava at any time.
PM: We are a small rock in the sea with bad weather, who’s inhabitants thankfully have a sense of humor and the capacity for fantasy.
DK: I could see how after surviving a UK winter that the pull of a place like Ibiza would be intense. Not only is the weather amazing, the vibe is very Aquarian. I remember watching Barbet Schroder’s film More and thinking “Oh hell, yes”.
PM: I first went to Ibiza with friends in 91. It was so beautiful. I went to Amnesia and Café del Mar. I was really blown away by everything. The setting the music, the vibes.
DK: How did you end up meeting Jose (Padilla)?
PM: I`d made some mix tapes and had a friend take them to him in Ibiza, and then when he was in London in 92 he found me and invited me out to play the following year.
DK: I got to spend some time with Jose in Bali (at Potato Head). He is very charismatic and a lot of fun to be with. Jose had been in Ibiza for a while no?
PM: He got to the white island in 75 I think, and he has all the stories! (laughter)
PM: Growing up on the East Coast, was California the destination for you?
DK: I was lucky if we got to the Jersey Shore as a kid. I was fascinated with California, but there was the California of Laurel Canyon and surf culture, and then there was the California of Ronald Reagan and race riots. I wanted out of America period. Getting to the Amalfi Coast and southern Italy as a student was heaven for me. There just wasn’t a focused music scene there.
PM: Music is really the primary escape isn’t it?
DK: I`ve always said that my first pair of proper headphones was my first passport. Sitting in the dark listening to all kinds of records – jazz, rock, disco, punk, etc. Another great thing about inner city Philadelphia back then, the music was everywhere – coming out of cars and shops, being played on people’s stoops. Lots of live music. My Dad liked Count Basie, my older Brother liked Led Zeppelin, the corner bodega played Latin jams. We used to go hang around Sigma Sound studios in hopes of seeing Teddy (Pendergrass) or Jean Carne or the trombone player.
PM: My Mum worked the nightshift in the 70s, packing records for Polygram, and she would bring stuff home. Generation X, The Grease Soundtrack, Kurtis Blow… Horse with No Name by America was a haunting song, that got heavy radio play. Blondie was the first group I remember being really into. My parents signed me up to a Blondie fan club!
DK: I went and saw Blondie when I was in high school. Wow, I thought Debbie Harry was all that. There was this big survey show at PS1, in I think 83, and every third painting or photo was of her. I had a Jimmy DeSana portrait of her in my studio.
PM: Kings of the Wild Frontier was the first album I bought. I was obsessed by that.
DK: That came out around the same time as Bowie’s Scary Monsters, so much of what was new then seemed under his (Bowie’s) umbrella, or at least it does in retrospect.
PM: His (Bowie’s) shadow keeps getting larger as time goes on.
PM: How did you start DJing?
DK: We never used the term DJing, it was always “playing records”. I`d been doing it since I was a kid. I remember in school playing records between bands and really enjoying that. The bands were usually punk-ish or new romantic, and I was playing ballads, soul stuff or Jamaican covers like Otis Gayle`s version of I’ll be around. In the 90s hip-hop and African music were working their way into my sets – Fela, Sunny Ade. At a certain point downtown NYC was pretty magical – you could hear and play the broadest range of music. You could go see Henry Threadgill, then go listen to Jellybean. I was making a lot of jazz mix-tapes and playing at a series of small spaces in the city. I met Bobbito Garcia and he was really supportive and encouraging. He used my tapes for a basketball show he had, and then he had me up to play at WKCR.
DK: You started playing at Milk Bar in the 90s?
PM: The Milk Mar was a small basement on Sutton Row in Soho that Nicky Holloway opened in 1990. I used to go see Danny Rampling play there. It was a great party. I got a gig there because Darren Emerson who played there on Monday nights heard some of my mix-tapes in his friend’s car, and asked me to come in and do the warmup.
PM: We connected in the early 2000s and it was awesome coming over to NYC to play on your night at APT.
DK: Yeah it was a blast. I know we`d both been out to San Diego to play at parties for Hugh Herrera (Pacific Beach Vinyl) and after-hours at Chris Renzulli’s office. Hugh was always such a big booster of your music, and he was very committed to a balearic vibe. Going out there and playing outdoors it was easy to see why. It is such a beautiful environment.
DK: When I first heard Apollo Heights live I remember thinking that you`d like them. Danny and Daniel (Chavis) from the band are twins. They were “discovered” as they say, by the Cocteau Twins, and hey used to tour with the Cocteau Twins and were on Virgin for a hot minute. Back then they were called The Veldt. When I saw them in Brooklyn for the first time – they had no drummer, just a drum machine – and they came out and said: “We’re playing white music for black people”. I was blown away by their show. It was so sophisticated, so against any grain or habit, just totally unique and brilliant. When I got the 12” together, the two people I thought of for remixes were you and Max Essa and luckily we were able to make both happen.
PM: Daniel`s voice is amazing. So much soul, but also so modern. Doing the remix I got the vocal up on the board and built the groove around that. I played the guitar and we added a new bass line. I was thinking of this club in Manchester called The Aficionado as it came together.
DK: I was so happy with it and so was the band. It swings easy, is totally its own thing and yet carries the feel of the original. Darshan is a huge fan of it and always played it, (Darshan Jesrani, Dennis` partner in SIREN) so when Compost asked us to get another remix of A/Way for their 25th anniversary calling you was a no brainer.
PM: I loved the original and also Faze Action’s remix, so I was excited to do it. I wanted the remix for A/Way to be uptempo but music driven, no heavy 4/4 beat. I wanted it to feel like something Mancuso would play.
PM: I finally got you to return the favor doing this mix of Kasoto, and I’m really glad it worked out.
DK: I listened to the original, and also a previous remix (by Max Essa), and the song had such lilting and gentle vocals. I was hearing something behind those though that I liked as well.
PM: The vocals were done in Africa. Robin (Lee, Faze Action) was there with Robin Twelftree (the engineer who works on both Faze Action and Cantoma releases). They`d been out to Gambia where they met a lot of local musicians and they recorded the vocals there.
DK: And then I didn’t use them. (laughter) I wanted to go down a different river. I`d been reading about Lesotho and the murder cults in Nigeria. I got to see township life briefly on the edges of Cape Town. The weight of the struggle there is so palpable. I was impacted by those things. I wrote a few phrases that are about enduring, gratitude and heartbreak and just used those to punctuate the music. Mark Dann plays the guitar, and I feel very lucky to get to work with someone of his calibre.
PM: The guitar work is brilliant, and the remix is a special one. It sounds great on a proper system.
PM: Are you coming back to London soon?
DK: I hope to this winter. We should do another gig like last time at Shoreditch House.
PM: What goes on in NYC these days. Are you doing a residency anywhere?
DK: No I’m not. Nightlife in NY is not in a great place. I know that’s a global issue and I don’t feeling like going on a rant – well I do, but I’ll keep it private. (Laughter) I read an interview with Kim Gordon recently, and she said that she fled NY because it felt like a giant mall. I can relate to that on some level. The nightlife feels very suburban at this moment. Lots of entitlement, very white, lots of passive aggression. Hipsters who in the past would probably be in advertising and television, now see being a DJ as their career move. Technology has democratized access and an authentic and thrilling sub-culture is now thoroughly simulated / assimilated.
PM: The world has changed for sure. I try to carry on, work with people I respect and like, and find what joy I can in the doing.
DK: There are always real heads who will keep things going. I’m proud of my friends. It`s great to know and work with people like you, Raj (Ray Mang), Dan and Conrad (The Idjut Boys), Richard Sen, Thomas Hermanson, etc. My favorite party in New York right now is in Bed Sty in my pal Toshi’s basement. It’s a house party. No pretense, cheap beer, good sound, good vibes, and a making real effort to play emotionally rich music. This is the way out. A riotous good time with the proper intentions.
PM: Hey shouldn’t we mention what we are working on?
DK: You so media savvy bro!
PM: Well there`s a new Cantoma LP in the works. I’m hoping to get it out by next spring.
DK: There`s a new Label here – LESDK. The first 12” is dropping shortly, with some remixes in the pipeline, and I’m working on some new jams – plus I’m back making drawings.
PM: All right! thanks again D
DK: I’ll see you at the pub – or the sex shop!