On a recent Sunday evening, an enthusiastic, sweaty crowd warded off the coming week by packing a dance floor at Space Ibiza, a club in midtown Manhattan. The occasion was the 20th anniversary of Body & Soul, a party run by three DJs — Danny Krivit, Francois Kevorkian, and Joe Claussell — who are New York City dance floor institutions, and those in attendance lapped up the trio’s melodic grooves: from intricate funk (Donald Byrd‘s “Love Has Come Around”) to resplendent disco (McFadden & Whitehead‘s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”) to sumptuous house (a remix of Moloko‘s “Sing It Back”).
Since Body & Soul started in 1996, the event has grown to include major appearances abroad and a series of compilations that captures the party’s signature sound. Over time, Krivit, Kevorkian, and Claussell have amassed a dedicated group of followers, and many of them showed up to celebrate Body & Soul’s latest milestone. Several wore official Body & Soul shirts, along with attire recognizing affiliated parties (Krivit’s 718 Sessions), antecedent events (the Paradise Garage), or clothing that suggested a deep and longstanding connection with dance music — for example, an Underground Resistance t-shirt.
“The concept of love and togetherness through music: this is what drives us,” Claussell told Billboard Dance. “It’s a very special thing, to embrace this wonderful music that has sometimes been lost and forgotten. Can’t compare it to anything else.”
In between songs, dancers cheered and clapped; several tracks inspired lusty sing-alongs; and one man near the middle of the dance floor adeptly wielded his own tambourine to augment the records’ syncopated rhythms. The dancers were significantly more diverse, in terms of race and age, then those at most New York events. Veterans accumulated near the DJ booth and marked their territory, with the dancers shading younger towards the back of the dance floor.
This edition of Body & Soul had double significance — in addition to the birthday, it was the first Body & Soul event since the death of David Mancuso, whose famous parties were a formative influence on New York dance music, and especially the careers of Kevorkian and Krivit. Kevorkian paid tribute to Mancuso on the microphone during the evening, and the DJs selected several records with Mancuso’s legacy in mind.
But during a Skype conversation a few days after they party, the three men were clear that all of Body & Soul is a celebration of Mancuso’s legacy. “For me, The Loft [Mancuso’s apartment, where he became famous for his invitation-only parties] is the beginning of club life,” Krivit explained. “The base tree that things sprouted off. That started in 1970 — all of the things that influenced me after that, including The Garage, they were influenced by The Loft. It’s this master influence, especially when you’re talking about underground. Or quality.”
“The foundation of what we do, which is the Loft, the principles are quite civilized,” Claussell continued. “A living room type of atmosphere where you’ve inviting your friends over. A community of music lovers. A very unique culture that consists of family, love, and music.”
Kevorkian proudly noted that the tradition of collaborative DJing at Body & Soul can also be traced back to Mancuso’s parties. “Sometimes I would go see David Mancuso, and he would go, ‘just put on some records,'” Kevorkian remembered. “He would call it ‘one on one: you put one on, I put one on — it’s a conversation with music. It’s a great format: it levels off the ego. Usually you see DJs, it’s, ‘look mom, I’m on stage now. Give me some likes!’ It’s not about that. This might sound quaint, but having a party is still about the people and the music. Not about the DJs so much. The people who come [to our parties] are feeling this from us. They feel more invited. ”
When Body & Soul emerged in 1996, the DJs already felt that the principles practiced by Mancuso were in short supply in the New York City club world, so from the beginning, Body & Soul hoped to exist outside of the regular structures of the party scene. “All our experience with club life was just so mercenary,” Krivit said. “Everything’s about money. You had to make money, you had to get paid, the club felt like they were squeezing money out of you. We just wanted to be involved with something that felt like it wasn’t on that level.”
“Even the club owner was saying we were crazy, because no one had ever done anything on Sunday afternoon in New York,” Kevorkian recalled. “We did it because there was no pressure in that slot. No competition, no sense that the club’s livelihood depended on revenue from those nights as they do on the weekends.” The first party drew 30 people; the second maybe 70.
After five years of regular events and steady growth at Club Vinyl in downtown Manhattan, the parties became more sporadic in the U.S. Club Vinyl changed hands, and the new owners, Krivit said, “sucked the life out of it.” “We were looking around at the landscape and we were just not satisfied,” he said. “Until we find the place that we’re even close to satisfied, let’s just hold off. It’s not easy to find that anymore.”
But they found a home for their sound in Japan, Italy, and elsewhere. “Even though we didn’t have anything going on at home, there was a massive expansion going on abroad, which had the effect of raising awareness at a global level,” Kevorkian said. Body & Soul parties resumed in New York City in the mid ’00s at a variety of spots around town, including Pacha, Webster Hall, Lew Poisson Rouge, Moma PS1, and the Museum of Natural History.
The 20th anniversary celebration left Kevorkian optimistic about the prospect of future Body & Soul parties in New York. “The event that we just had did quite a bit to reaffirm the faith in being able to throw proper events in New York City,” he said. “There’s no question that this event leads me to believe that we’re not going to have any problem continuing. Everybody was so ecstatic.”
With good reason — just as it was two decades ago, Body & Soul remains an outlier in night life. “It’s undoubtedly a contrast to the mechanical music I hear in so many other venues where music has become wallpaper,” Kevorkian asserted. “That’s just a background sound you hear while you’re distracted playing with your mobile phone, which is what club life has become for a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with that — if that’s what they want, let ’em have it.”
“But,” he added, “there are people consciously reacting against this. They want to get back to the core of dancing. So I’m not worried. I’m not worried at all.”
When those people go hunting for a welcome place to dance, Body & Soul will be waiting. “As long as planet earth still exists and we’re alive,” Claussell said, “we’ll still be going.”