Nicky Siano is a DJ who really has done it all – before everyone else. He opened The Gallery way back in 1972, setting the template for nightclubs as the world knows them today. Simon Price tracked him down for an interview in Galway earlier this year.
For those unawares, Nicky become the first resident at Studio54 and turned out a couple of sublime records in collaboration with Arthur Russell while giving two kids named Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan their first break along the way.
Listening to your set tonight, you’re still very true to how you started music-wise. Still playing your own early sound rather than what the music became later on.
It’s still R&B, it’s still funk and soul.
Yeah, I just go with it. Tonight I played that, you know, Babe Ruth [The Mexican] and Magnificent Dance [The Clash].
First Choice, ‘Love Thang’, what a break! Are you still finding new blends, new angles on all these tracks?
Oh, I’m still finding lots. I forgot all about that record “I see you when I git there” [Lou Rawls], I just got that again two weeks ago. I just remembered it and you know went online, ordered the record, digitised it. I’m still finding old songs all the time, like Patti LaBelle ‘Going on a holiday’ and that album ‘Pressure Cookin’, my god. Danny [Krivit] and I did a little edit of it.
I was just playing their Nightbirds LP before coming down here.
So you’re still digging these same mines?
I started with ‘Moonshadow’ by Labelle but I don’t think they were ready.
But it’s great that you have the same enthusiasm.
Well there are certain records, like ‘Relight my fire’. I think if I hear that record again, or you know, ‘Funky Town’. I’ve had it with them but if I’ve had it with a record sometimes it comes back around for me.
You’re travelling a lot now but do you still have somewhere you can go play music in New York?
I do. I just did a party in March. And I’m doing another one on new years eve with First Choice.
And do you find it an older crowd, kind of a tribute night or are there still new people coming through?
Oh young people even more so. I just did PS1 [at MoMA NYC], two thousand people and I guess none of them were over thirty-five except for my few friends there. People were going crazy.
Disco is a bit like the Irish catholic church today, the followers are fewer but truer.
In New York it’s really making a renaissance. Especially the rare stuff, like we do a night of 45s.
There is still a big appetite for it being done the right way.
People still want to hear the knowledge and experience.
You know what, people say to me ‘you played that song differently’, because I broke these records. I was there when they first handed them to me so there is a different kind of charge when I play them you know. There’s a connection that a lot of other DJs just don’t have
So what’s next for Nicky Siano in 2015?
It’s good. It’s been a busy year for me. My movie is coming out in digital shortly, loveisthemessagemovie.com, check it out. Shot at The Gallery in 1976 with myself, David Mancuso and Frankie Knuckles on 16mm film.
Frankie of course passed away last year.
I was talking to him two days before, it’s so fucked up
One thing I thought was so remarkable about his death was just the sheer variety of different people paying their respects. People from all walks of life, politicians and stock brokers were remarking on the death of a DJ, you know. People all over the world. He started sweeping floors for you at The Gallery and I thought the outpouring of respect when he died was such a testament to what he and so many of you built. Everyone knew his name and this culture that began in the lofts and back streets has really touched everyone.
There was a whole bunch of stuff happening at the time. We had the civil rights movement, Stonewall had just happened. Vietnam war. There was a lot of civil unrest and the dance music was a release but also so many people who were different coming together to forget about this fucked up world.
Illustration by Thomas McCarthy