NYC's Legendary Paradise Garage Hits L.A. With Help From Corporate Sponsors

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Thelma Houston performing at the Paradise Garage in New York City on Nov. 27,1984.

Billboard's No. 1 dance club of all-time comes to the City of Angels for one night.

Los Angeles will get a taste of classic New York City house music Saturday night (Dec. 19) as the 4,000 capacity Palladium hosts "A Night at the Paradise Garage," featuring original resident DJs Joey Llanos and David DePino, who were acolytes of the late-great Larry Levan, the legendary venue's resident selector between 1977 and 1987.

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The club night  is being organized by Good For You Records' Kenny Summit who is also producing the Paradise Garage: Inspirations, a double 12" vinyl compilation album slated for March and featuring tracks by Louie Vega, Tony Humphries, Spinna and Frankie Knuckles, among others influenced by the Garage, all to the benefit of the Gay Mens' Health Crisis. 

"The Garage has come to LA before on a smaller scale," Summit tells Billboard, "but nothing like this -- the Palladium is a 4,000 person venue. so it's been quite an undertaking."  To help with logistics, Summit received support from a number of major sponsors including Live Nation, Vice, and NPR affiliate KCRW.

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"I was originally thinking of just doing it at [Hollywood's] King King and having it be a 400-person, invite-only event," says Summit, "but a friend of mine at Live Nation got wind and said, 'Well, if you want to do it on a larger scale, Live Nation will back the event. I've never ever thrown an event where Live Nation agreed to help so I jumped at the chance. KCRW [an NPR affiliate] got involved and followed suit and then Thump and Vice and XLR8R -- everyone asked to help." 

It's not the first time the Paradise Garage, which Billboard named the No. 1 greatest club of all time, has attracted corporate sponsorship. In the spring of 2014, the Red Bull Music Academy backed the wildly successful Larry Levan Street Party which closed off the a block of King Street where the original Paradise Garage resided in an effort to rename the street Larry Levan Way. 

"We had no idea it would get to this level, we never imagined it," says DJ Joey Llanos, a Bronx native who originally worked security at the Paradise before becoming a regular DJ there. "When we sat down with Red Bull, I could have seen getting 5,000 people because it was an important event, but we ended up getting 25,000 people and  no one wanted to leave -- it was the best Mother's Day I ever had."

Part of the Paradise Garage's appeal to corporate America, beyond its soulful and uplifting dance grooves, is the old school party's authenticity. When the venue opened its doors in 1977 with Levan on the wheels of house music steel and a state of the art sound system, the dance mecca set the template for what an underground dance club could be. The inclusive venue stood in stark contrast to Steve Rubell's glitzier uptown Studio 54 with it's "glamour only" dress code and an exclusive black velvet rope policy crossed by the likes of Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and teenaged Brooke Shields

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"The Paradise Garage was private, black, hispanic, gay, underground, secret, and people just came in there to let their hair down," says  Llanos. "There were no cameras allowed, no pictures, no alcohol, people just came and spent 12 hours dancing, coming early and not leaving until the afternoon." 

Much of the appeal of the Garage, which was owned by Michael Brody and backed financially by his partner Mel Cheren (who co-owned West End Records), was its uplifting house music which combines soul with disco beats and which fans often describe with ecstatic spiritual terms like "salvation," "redemption" or getting "saved." Llanos reels off several Paradise Garage mainstays when asked what tracks we can expect to hear during this set.

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"We do Loleatta Holloway, we do Diana Ross, we do "Phreek" which is by the Weekend and one of the most famous Garage Records [starts singing] "find some friends to spend the weekend" that's a sweet record. And Arnold Jarvis "Take some Time Out." We also get into the Chicago stuff like Marshall Jefferson--we go all over the place. But there's no set musical format, we basically feed off the energy of the floor and decide and then decide which way we're gonna go." 

For year, house beats have been jacked by more contemporary and popular musicians, especially in EDM with artists like David Guetta, Avicii and Calvin Harris trading on the  genre's soulful and uplifting grooves but also popsters like Justin Bieber and Ellie Goulding have incorporated the sound. Some speculate Kanye West's next album Swish will have a house bent after he dropped his new track "Fade" at New York Fashion Week in September and which contained samples of Mr. Fingers "Mystery of Love" and "Deep Inside" by Louie Vega, Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Erick Morillo. 

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"I don't know if disco's coming back or proper house music is coming back but I can tell you from my label standpoint we've never had a stronger year and our catalog is filled with classic house by like Frankie Knuckles and Eric Kupper," says Good For You Records' Summit. "There's a big resurgence of I wanna say classic house, but in the past couple of year's there's been this big veer towards what the kids are calling deep house which is pretty much just house with zero soul to it." 

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While its doubtful old school house music purists will be going to see Guetta or Kanye anytime soon, fans of those artists will likely be at Saturday's show -- which begs the question: What is the staying power of classic house? "I think there was a bigger focus on the musicianship with the music that was coming out at that time," says Summit. "In dance music today there's a lot of cookie cutter type house music out these days that's more propelled by marketing. Joey and David come from a time when if it wasn't good enough it ended up on the cutting room floor. " 


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