In Conversation: Anthony Parasole and Levon Vincent
Hugely individual talents in their own right, Levon Vincent and Anthony Parasole share much alike. Most notably, the pair co-founded and take equal care of acclaimed label, Deconstruct, that has released a limited but high-impact set of dancefloor burners from both Vincent and Parasole, but also contemporaries such as DJ Qu and Joey Anderson. Although still in repressed circulation, the imprint currently sits dormant, allowing both artists to focus on their respective careers. Vincent continues as one of the most enigmatic and skilful producers in the sphere of house and techno operating today, keeping record buyers on their toes with a steady stream of twelves on his own Novel Sound label. Meanwhile, Parasole has built on his reputation as a flawless, powerful DJ and one of Berghain’s riskiest residents with a blistering debut LP of atmospheric, unapologetically high-energy techno with a dystopian bent, ‘Infrared Vision’, just released on Dekmantel.
If not always in location, they are both also broadly New Yorkers at heart, sharing a distinct attitude and independent spirit. Prior to their sets at Oval Space this coming weekend, alongside Dr. Rubenstein, they took the time to speak to John Thorp, reflecting not only on New York itself, but on the notion of nostalgia, maintaining integrity on the fringes of festival culture, and how the club might connect with living well in the future.
First of all, congratulations Anthony on ‘Infrared Vision’. I really like how it nailed your vision as a dancefloor producer, but it still works as a long listen.
LV: Anthony made one hell of an LP…
AP: To nail the album, to get it to the final version, I didn’t lean too much in one direction. So you can listen to it in the street, or you can play it out. A good analogy is like walking a tightrope. When I wrote the album, I always had this theory of, “What would Robert Hood be like without Minimal Nation?” And right now, the industry is dictating that all albums should be more like ambient techno. And I think it’s kind of cliche, and I didn’t want to fill into that bracket.
Why do you think that artists get into a particular mindset, when producing an album, that seems to deviate away from the dancefloor to prove themselves as ‘real’ artists? That they make something ambient, or go back to their rock roots, or so on? Even if they’re broadly known as dance artists.
AP: I don’t know when that began. Here’s a perfect example: 2016, the most charted artist across the board was Truncate. Yet not one of his tracks finished on a ‘Best Of’ end of year list. He was #1 on RA, over everyone, for the whole of the year. He was Number 1 on Groove, everywhere. Well how come this guy’s music isn’t mentioned anywhere? The critics are telling you dancefloor music is easy, or dumb, but it’s not. Making rhythmic music like his isn’t easy. His records are effective, they sound great, they move quickly in song structure. I use him as a perfect example of what he achieved last year, and what he didn’t get. And I think that stuff resonates when producers are making albums.
LV: I agree, Truncate is one of the unsung masters of today. I love his records.
How do you feel living out of New York - Levon, permanently, and Anthony, partially - strengthened or altered your identity as ‘New Yorkers’, broadly?
AP: I haven’t moved really. So when I’m touring, I just base myself in Berlin. I never spend off time there. As soon as the tour starts, I fly in, I DJ, and my base is in Berlin. And when I’m down to the last show, I pack all my shit and fly home. It’s all based around my touring schedule. And I like separating the two. Because I also play a lot in North and South America, and it keeps this healthy balance. My studio is in New York, and I have friends there who aren’t in music. All my friends in Berlin - Dustin Zahn, DVS1, Levon - they’re all music. And you get caught in the same conversation about airplanes and whatever. I like being able to go to a Yankees game. I don’t feel disassociated from New York, as I’m always around. I’m 60/40 on/off the road, and to be honest, that’s a lot. And it’s inspiring, Berlin is very inspiring, and I find it to be a very young city. And it’s not reality, but it is reality. It’s a funny thing. It’s an old city, but when the wall went down, it’s a second life, a reset.
LV: I gotta admit, I don't even recognize that city anymore... As lovely as it is there. But in my life I just have to keep it moving. I move to places where artists have a chance at surviving. I've left Berlin too, for elsewhere in Europe. Everyone should live in New York for at least 25 years and should live in Berlin for at least 5 years. One day I will end up in South America, I think. I just hope I don't have to live in a city any more one day. I'd like to live like Donald Judd did when I get older.
What do you think are the shared values or experiences you have, as past and present New York citizens, that help you run a label and work effectively as a partnership?
AP: It’s a really nice relationship to have with somebody. As for the label, he has Novel Sound and I have The Corner. When we started Deconstruct, I don’t think we ever intended it to be this fully functioning, steady stream of music, breaking artists and any of that. It was more like, “Here’s some music, let’s put it out.” And at the moment it’s sort of dormant. I just put out an album, he just finished an album. It’s hard to run Deconstruct as a fully fledged label, as it loses it’s organise sense of feel. With ‘The Party People Clap’, I noticed an unreleased DJ Qu track on my friend’s computer. I hit up Qu, told him I wanted to put it out on Deconstruct, Levon thought it was cool, we did the remix package and that was it. There’s no deadline, or timeline, or clock to watch.
LV: That was a fun project. I am glad we did it when we did, and I am glad we moved on. if we didn't close up shop, Anthony would not have completed an album and achieved such heights as his star has recently. Deconstruct would not have been the vehicle to have accomplished that. It would have been single after single but with no bang! He made it happen on his own terms, and through Dekmantel.
Dekmantel is just one of the institutions that you guys are associated with, alongside Ostgut, Fabric and Output. They all have different attitudes and audiences, but what qualities do they share that make them good to work with from an artist’s perspective?
AP: I think that the people I work with pretty much steadily, the common bond that keeps everything cool is that the ethos is similar. It’s like working with friends. They have a very clear vision of what they want to do, and a very strong aesthetic. And that stuff is very important to me. All those brands have a lot of integrity, and even though some are bigger than others, the integrity is strong. It’s not money first, it’s vision and then everything else to be below it.
I'm really writing music as if I'll be dead soon and these are my final moments. I am in a personal zone that has never been so sharp, and I hope my ears can just hold out for a few more decades. I am peaking as a spirit, and as a person, too. - Levon Vincent
LV: I'm just glad these clubs and promoters put up with me and I hope they know it is they who is helping me get the music made. So I am obviously very grateful to everyone. I am blessed.
I associate the background of both of you guys to be ‘pure’, if you will, or at least focused on the ‘real’. Would you say that’s a fair assessment? And what does that mean on the fringes of dance music culture today?
AP: Yeah, absolutely. For me, the integrity and artistic wide comes first, and I don’t waive from that, ever. You might do certain things, play some big festival somewhere, which is a part of DJing in 2017, but it’s about integrity. And New York has always been like that. You have these guys like Timmy Regisford, or Danny Krivit, who have this strong New York dialogue. And parties like Shelter, of 718 Sessions, they’ve been doing them for twenty-five years. When they go on the road, and they play somewhere, they take that attitude with them. I didn’t grow up with festival culture. I never went to a festival that I didn’t get booked to play. But I love big room night clubs. We had a run of clubs like Sound Factory. When that was it’s peak, you had a lot of records, all those DJ Duke, Powerhouse records… Sound Factory was as big as Berghain, huge sound systems, big stacks. And I loved playing those big rooms, just as I love playing Berghain or Fabric or Output. There’s a certain character, or a a vibe in a club, that you lose when you take it out of that setting. Festivals are a learning experience, as it’s a completely different platform. There are guys who do it really well, as they’re around it, but I’m still an infant to that scene.
LV: My club influences were Save The Robots, Sound Factory, Limelight and I think we just keep our head down and keep focusing; just work work work. Like we’re shadow boxing and keeping tunnel vision. We love every aspect of DJing and making music. I am still learning as much as always and I have great opportunities to reveal my music to people. I hope I gain new fans. I am excited about the next era of DJing. I am so glad we finally put an end to the MP3 era. Bring on the age of moving coils and high resolution!
I guess you guys perhaps don’t get to see each other in person as much as you’d like. Is a club still a good spot for exchanging records and ideas? The camaraderie, or maybe even the competitive nature of club culture from the perspective behind the decks?
AP: Well, a lot of the time, when you’re on the road, it’s a lonely life. So when you’re playing friends - with Levon, or DJ Qu or Marcel Dettmann - there are your friends, and it’s fun, there’s a different energy. You’re joking, you’re having a beer, you’re in the party. It changes the dynamic.
LV: I have better conversations in airports with other DJs than at the clubs, as a matter of fact...
Question for Levon: I’ve read back a few interviews with you from over the years. You remark how sometimes you make decisions in order to challenge yourself personally, such as studying music production in the nineties, and then leaving New York. You’re obviously busy as ever as a DJ and Anthony mentioned that you’ve just finished recording an album, but I was wondering if you were up to anything radical at the moment to shake things up personally/creatively? Or do you lose that impulse as you get older?
LV: I am writing better music than I ever have right now. I'm really writing music as if I'll be dead soon and these are my final moments. I am in a personal zone that has never been so sharp, and I hope my ears can just hold out for a few more decades. I am peaking as a spirit, and as a person, too. My next records are going to be powerful in statement. They will contain sentiment, as well.
When we started Deconstruct, I don’t think we ever intended it to be this fully functioning, steady stream of music, breaking artists and any of that. It was more like, “Here’s some music, let’s put it out.” - Anthony Parasole
Anthony, I want to ask you about your label, The Corner, which I know takes it’s name from the show, ‘The Corner’, which David Simon made for HBO prior to ‘The Wire’. Where do you think it sits compared to his other shows? Do you prefer it to The Wire?
AP: It’s funny, it wasn’t named exactly after the show. The term ‘The Corner’ is a New York street term. And street life in New York, you know, it was very real. It’s basically coined from the hustle, “Oh, he’s on the corner.” But growing up, people had their corners, either to sell their drugs, or the crews met there, and people would relate to their neighbourhood. The artwork for the label was evolved, now it’s more about streetwear, which was always my intention. But from the start, I wanted to set the tone, which was the dirtier side of New York, and the name ‘The Corner’ captures that. I liked the TV show too, I thought it was great. I like both. What I liked about The Wire was the cinematography, it felt like it was still being recorded on tape. I don’t love the cop aspect of The Wire. I wish they had done it in two stages. There’s a lot of really cool and interesting information that you’re learning from the street, from how they portrayed the drug game, and how it’s very quick and fast. The inner cities of America, they’re still dangerous, but it’s not like it used to be. It was like the Wild Wild West, man.
LV: We used to go down under the Astor Place tunnels where the Big Black Cube was and run around there under the subways, write our names on the walls and they had these, "mole people" that lived down there then.... Back then you could set a car on fire if you felt like it. It didn't matter. New York was thunderdome back then. I'm not kidding you. The year before CCTV went up was the highest murder rate in it's entire recorded history, so you can imagine all the other kinds of lawlessness that went on too. There's NY before they started putting up the cameras, and New York after. And then, a Giuliani period, and a 911 period too. Now it's like an, Agenda21 Project. It's always evolving. I regard New York in the same way I regard a person, a friend. That's why I love that city so much.
Do either of you have nostalgia for those elements of old-school Brooklyn?
AP: Nah, I don’t have nostalgia. The bottom line is, everything changes, even us, as humans. You have to come to grow up and respect that. And truth be told, I kind of like that there’s been change. I can leave my house and buy fresh made ice cream from some hipster down the street. And it’s kinda dope! Whereas back in the day, all I could buy was crack or pot. There’s this huge craft beer explosion, and now I have five amazing bars on my block. And I don’t even live in a hip area. But it’s carrying over, where the storefronts have been taking away from big boxes, or being abandoned. I guess the word is ‘artisanal’, but really it’s like Mom & Pop stores, people making things and they’re young people. And this wouldn’t have happened without a little change.
LV: LIke I said, I keep things moving. I never hung out in Brooklyn too much anyway. It was "cooler" to be in Manhattan back then. Riding a subway into Manhattan at one point meant you were "Bridge and Tunnel". And they used to call us ‘The Village’. Like, the entire lower half of Manhattan was "the village" back then. It always sounded funny to me. God, I admit, I am nostalgic. I miss subway tokens. I did live there in Brooklyn as an adult, but as a teen I spent all my time in Lower Manhattan. Right by Chinatown, and where all the Hasidic and Puerto Ricans lived. Each block was a different country. Those were the projects where that whole BMX thing started back then too. And I also lived right on 6th and Bowery early too.
What I hope as the future of clubbing. No more smoke machines! And instead, that sense should be taken much greater care of, in order to provide a great experience. To clean air quality by using industrial air purifiers to add to the experience of a party is cheap and can make such a big difference. Like, giant honeywells. I'm not kidding. - Levon Vincent
Even in Europe, where club culture has been somewhat more protected and recognised as important, institutions are struggling. There’s perhaps a new generation of clubbers flourishing, especially in the United States, but increasingly, a school of thinking is emerging that clubbing has more to compete with, from Netflix to more ‘aspirational’ healthy living. You two have both seen a few generations of the scene evolve. What are your immediate feelings?
AP: I’ll tell you something I see, from the road. America has been very progressive on two things. It’s been very progressive on food, and very progressive on the gym. Sports are a huge part of America’s income. The Yankees are worth, what, $4 billion alone? That’s just one team. And you had like the fat American stereotype, but then in the nineties, that began to change. You have amazing gyms and facilities all over the country, and for example, the Vegan Lifestyle is big. But I see a big difference between the pub lifestyle from America and Europe. I see bar crawls of people on the street, hammered, and that doesn’t happen in America. People are very cognoscente of their health. They definitely partake in going out, to rock venues and whatever, but in London, for instance, there are hundreds of pubs in a row as you drive into the heart of the city. You can’t find that in New York.
LV: As far as the state clamping down in various ways, well, duh! That's been happening every time dance music gets mainstream attention for decades. It's literally the same exact thing. I've seen it happen myself over three eras now. Now with future of clubbing and ideas I hope to implement in my career; That goes right in line with what I hope as the future of clubbing. No more smoke machines! And instead, that sense should be taken much greater care of, in order to provide a great experience. To clean air quality by using industrial air purifiers to add to the experience of a party is cheap and can make such a big difference. Like, giant honeywells. I'm not kidding. For two grand, you could cover 1000 person room and purify the air. People would be higher, cleaner, clarity, happier, healthier the next day, and they would associate that sense as part of a positive experience instead of one interference they had to tolerate all night. I love when plants are used instead of lasers, too. I would really love to see air be a sense that gets extreme attention paid to it at these events. I think it would be such an enhancement to the musical experience. Maybe juice bars instead of alcohol. Only healthy ingredients being sold. Or at least lots of those options, as well as alcohol, if we must. And premium, healthy juice and food... why not? The idea being that you are part of an immersive, sensorial experience which would be humanistic in as many ways as the futuristic sounds.
Anthony Parasole and Levon Vincent play together alongside Dr Rubinstein at Oval Space on Saturday 27th May
Levon photo © JoJo Poling