Over in the Big Apple, a group of die-hard disco freaks are seeking to maintain the legacy of one of the most famous nightclubs of all time
Mirrorball mirrorball on the wall, which was the most famous nightclub of them all? That's a hard question to answer: in the modern era alone, you could make good cases for Ministry Of Sound, The Hacienda, Sound Factory, Pacha or, more recently, the likes of fabric and Berghain.
Back in the disco days, it wasn't much simpler. But while legendary spots like The Paradise Garage and The Loft are highly regarded today in terms of their legacy and musical influence, arguably THE club that ruled the roost in terms of sheer notoriety was Studio 54, the Big Apple discotheque that opened its doors in a fanfare of publicity in April 1977 and closed them in February 1980 – no less in the spotlight but now for entirely the wrong reasons, with founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell going to jail for tax evasion.
Notorious for its decadence and excess – as well as its eltist and not always particularly inclusive door policy – Studio 54 soon became THE celebrity hangout ot choice. But that's a story that's been told elsewhere.
The story we're here to tell today, is that of a small bunch of die-hard disco lovers – one of them no less a personage than dance music legend John 'Jellybean' Benitez, one of the club's original resident DJs – who decided, last year, to launch a record label and radio station under the Studio 54 name to help keep the club's memory alive.
They're now a dozen or so disco-tastic releaes deep, so with the latest – Help Yo Self by Jitwam & TEYMORI – in stores now and raising money for a mental health charity, we reached out to them to find out more…
When was the label set up, and why?
"At the beginning of 2020, after it was announced that the Brooklyn Museum would be producing a special Studio 54 exhibition called Night Magic. The S54 team decided this would be the right time to launch the label, as it would coincide with the exhibition. The label's namesake debut EP, Night Magic Vol 1, featured four classic anthems from the club’s heyday, reimainged by some of New York's modern disco heavyweights."
Describe the label's music policy:
“Releasing and celebrating music influenced by the sounds that came out of the legendary club during its tenure, while also celebrating the next generation of disco-influenced, independent dance music.”
Is there any connection to the original club in terms of personnel? If not, have you had any contact with/feedback with people from the original organisation?
“We work closely with original resident DJ Robbie Leslie for feedback, and are influenced by original doorman Mark Benecke and Steve Rubell’s assistant, Myra Scheer, via their weekly show Mark & Myra which is on our radio station – Studio 54 Radio, in partnership with Sirius XM.”
I was going to ask about the radio station… what can you tell us about it?
“This is our platform to celebrate all things Studio 54. We have original residents Robbie Leslie and Jellybean Benitez (who is also the station's executive producer) produce weekly mixes that play the exact jams that were thrown down at the club.
“In addition to having an array of Billboard reporters spin shows, we also have our marquee modern disco show, The Nu Disco Hour hosted by dance music tastemaker heavyweight Danny Valentino, who the label works with weekly to update the show's playlist in addition to curating a label Track Of The Week that spotlights upcoming and established talent like DJ Spinna, Blu DeTiger, Purple Disco Machine, Louie Vega, Mike Dunn, Jitwam and so many more.”
I'm told that one of your aims is to support charities and LGBTQ+ causes… tell us more?
“Absolutely – we want to use the power of our imprint's recognition to do good! Our latest release Help Yo Self by Jitwam & TEYMORI has lyrics that address mental health awareness, and proceeds from this release campaign will directly benefit the Sound Mind Live Charity, whose mission is 'to end the stigma that surrounds mental health and mental illness through the power of music'.
“We also have something else amazing bubbling with LGBTQ+ causes that we will announce very soon! We can’t say much until then, but we are collaborating with legendary nightlife photographer Bill Bernstein, whose work heavily highlights the theme of inclusion, and it’s going to be really fabulous!”
You do quite a lot of Spotify playlists… is curating/preserving the legacy of the original club as important to you as putting out new music? Or are the playlists more just about getting the name out there again?
“All of the above! People need a reference point to what was actually played in the club, and that is shown in our Dancefloor Anthems and Deep Cuts & Retro Disco playlists, which have been compiled by various original employees of the club.
“On the other hand, our playlists Lofi Disco, Disco Pop and Disco Edit Selects give us the opportunity to promote more contemporary dance music acts.”
I haven't seen word of any Studio 54-branded events… have there been/going to be any?
“It gives us great pleasure to be able to answer this question with a yes, but it has been very tricky with a pandemic going on! We had a series of museum parties at Brooklyn Museum that coincided with Night Magic, but we were only able to get one in before the pandemic.
“Stay tuned to our social media channels, though, for some cool announcements soon!”
And as you have the name… is there no temptation to actually bring back the club itself?
“We will celebrate the club's legacy with our platform that includes everything mentioned above, however nothing will ever be able to replace the energy that was achieved during the golden era of the club 1977-1981. There were no smartphones or social media back then, so people could get their freak on without having to worry about a thing!
“We do have event plans coming soon though… no plans as of now to bring back a venue, but definitely plans to create one-off satellite events that will bring a unique experience!”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“Follow us on social media for the latest news and BIG announcements coming soon, and check out our site for limited edition merch.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Jitwam & TEYMORI's Help Yo Self is out now on Studio 54 Music