Over the past few years one name has repeatedly sprang to my attention, his productions; tight, honed, highly polished with a distinctly timeless vibe. I first stumbled over him via the most excellent Swiss imprint; Drumpoet Community, where he keeps company with such luminaries as John Daly, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Manuel Tur, Agnés aka Cavalier, Ray Okpara and Brame.
The über talented individual in question is of course none other than Mr Ly Sander. I managed to get in contact with him and discovered that not only is he a killer producer but he also has a vast rich musical history steeped in the very origins of house music. I decided that a musical mind like this needed to be completely and fully explored, so decided to tie him down for an hour or so over a nice cup of maté and really pick his brains.
So Ly, where did it all start for you?
I started as a typical mid nineties eclectically bred DJ in Geneva, Switzerland, heavily influenced by the London scene, playing Hip Hop, Trip Hop, Funk, Drum’N’Bass, Broken Beats and House. This would sometimes make it difficult for my crowd to know what to expect from me! My fellow DJ friend and somewhat mentor at the time was DJ Tao, later and still currently known as Quarion. We played in basement parties, squats, bars and clubs and I would sometimes join him for a late night studio session, listening and commenting on his productions, thus usually being locked out of home by my mom for returning too late. Throughout this period I sensed I needed to come up with something that yet wasn’t available to dancers or offered by other DJs around. A first attempt was setting up a collective with Quarion and Lo’. Under the Boogie Knights moniker we assembled six turntables, 3 mixers and a couple of samplers on stage for a number of routines that would mix funk loops, accapellas, scratches and back to backs. Although we shared a couple of great gigs and even opened for Grandmaster Flash, something was obviously missing to take parties to the next level. Most probably did it really have to do with focusing more on the experience a night can bring rather than the DJ skills.
Ly deep in discussion with Quarion;
Was it then that you decided to centre on a particular sound?
Yes, somehow. Throughout the end of the nineties, I started collecting 12” disco records that no one was playing around. I quickly became an avid buyer and was able to go through collections first when stores would buy any.
In the year 2000 a record was released that was probably a turning point in my DJ career: Larry Levan live at the Paradise Garage. I would play this double CD mix relentlessly, somehow absorbing the energy and meaning of the music. I also was listening to all the old mixes of legends such as Tony Humphries, Walter Gibbons, Tee Scott, Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy through deephouspage.com or via a friend who was collecting physical DJ set mixtapes which were still traded throughout the world at the time.
At that point, what had been slowly building up came as an evidence, I wanted to throw a party that would focus on the New York dance music heritage of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. I first started incorporating more and more of that music in my sets before launching my “New York Disco Club” party in october 2002. It started pretty strong and quickly became the most popular party of the month in Geneva’s club “Bout du Monde”.
The club, with an official capacity of 250 would sometimes welcome over 700 dancers. I would take care of the promotion, design the flyers (I had to learn how to master Illustrator) and set up the decoration. I would usually spin alone from beginning to end. 2 or 3 times a year, I would invite a special guest.
Among these were Danny Krivit, later David DePino, who was the only resident DJ at the Paradise Garage besides Larry Levan and Hippie Torrales, the Zanzibar’s first DJ. They all accepted to play in this tiny venue based on the reputation of the party.
Ly and Hippie Torrales;
That’s some serious line ups! Any favourites that really made an impression?
They are some of most amazing DJs I know. You have to witness once in your life the way Hippie Torrales does his amazing wizardry behind the decks with his special cueing technics and in tone mixes. That being said, it is Danny Krivit that quickly started having a heavy influence for me. He has this unique ability of getting non drug intaking dancers to just go on forever. I know that he plays sets of over twenty hours on regular in Japan. I behold one of my fondest memories on a night out playing with him in Lyon, France in a club called l’Ambassade. That venue closes at 5 am every week no matter what happens. The owner and the resident DJ Manoo are great people, but rather laid back on organisation which is somehow hard to handle with a DJ such as Danny Krivit who likes everything to be really tight so he can totally focus on the music he will play. So although it was stated on his rider when we arrived it turned up that they didn’t have an isolator. And if you’ve seen Danny play, although he doesn’t use it as extensively as Joe Claussel, he still really makes a heavy use of it to “dramatise” the music and bring specific focus on parts.
So Danny was really disappointed and it seemed nobody owned an Isolator in Lyon at the time. So Danny started his set being really unhappy about the situation and you could feel the tension in the music. But the party was still good and he slowly started to relax. Then, at 4:30AM he played “This could be the place” by Talking Heads and if you listen to the lyrics they describe precisely what was happening to Danny that night it was amazing how pinpoint it was;
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb – burn with a weak heart
(So I) guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok I know nothing’s wrong . . nothing
Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up say goodnight . . . say goodnight
Home – is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time Before we were born
If someone asks, this where I’ll be . . . where I’ll be
Hi yo We drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head Ah ooh
And at that point it was just obvious to everyone, the owner of the club included, that there was just no way the club could close half an hour later, it was precisely the point at which the party was starting. So Danny went on doing his thing, and the people who usually went home at 5am latest stayed until noon. It was one of my most amazing experiences of having the feeling of being under the effects of drugs without having taken any and I guess the other guests felt the same way. His unique way of conducting a party and “closing” a party made me conceive my sets differently than I would have in the past. Also, since then I pay even a lot more attention to the lyrics of songs and make sure I send the right messages.
This sounds like an incredible experience, have you booked Danny since?
I did stay in close connection and ended up befriending Danny Krivit. He would generously provide me with huge amounts of records and his own edits. We played together about a dozen times over the years. He is very low profile, but when you start digging, you realise that he is really a backbone to everything that has to do with the memory and heritage of New York’s dance music scene.
Danny Krivit at Ly Sander’s New York Disco Club in 2004;
So it seems like New York meant a lot to you, did you ever go there?
I went several times to NY at the beginning of the 00’s, even being invited by Mel Cheren (West End records owner and Paradise Garage early Financial backer) at his home for Thanksgiving dinner. He had the original Paradise Garage sign that was outside of the building in his living room and I have a picture of me with it that was taken. (see below).
I was impressed by the energy Mel Cheren had. He was 72 years old back then and was on the dancefloor until 5 am to listen to his “protégé” Kevin Hedge from Blaze who was then running West End Records. Then, at 8 he woke to cook 20 different dishes for his guests.
“You hold in your hands the ashes of Larry Levan!”
But what surprised me even more is what I got for desert if I can allow myself this expression… After dinner two of the guests (one I can’t recall the name, the other was film maker Francis Legge who had just shot the tour on stage films for Madonna) asked me to follow them down a narrow staircase leading to the basement which served as a bedroom for Mel. And one of them hands me over a metal box and says “You hold in hands the ashes of Larry Levan”! This was so weird. Mel had actually some form of bookshelf with the ashes of Larry Levan and Michael Brody (the owner of the Paradise Garage and former lover of Mel Cheren) along with plenty of pictures and personnal effects!
That is pretty strange! So it would this be safe to say that this was a pivotal moment in your musical career?
That period was exciting, but frustrating in some way because although my party was huge on a local level, and probably one of the only of this scale in Europe for that kind of music at the time, Geneva is a small city that doesn’t offer the same visibility as London, Berlin or Paris can, so therefore my activities in the Disco scene mainly stayed confined to Geneva. Then, the venue where I was holding the party was to close in february 2006.
That must of been of tough one
Well it gave me a reason to throw a special closing party which was pretty epic. Many people came from afar and even abroad to be there on that special night. I played a very deep and emotional set. At the end, the people just literally refused to leave the party, singing and cheering for close to an hour after the party had stopped and me behind the turntables not knowing what to do about the situation as I wasn’t able to put the music back on as the police was outside of the building.
At some point the crowed started tearing off the flower decoration (over 400 real flowers were used to decorate the venue on that night) and throwing them at me which made everybody crazy. At some point some guests even unhooked the disco mirror ball to offer it to me as a “disco” trophy, which obviously made everybody even wilder. This was probably my strongest DJ experience. One of which I remember leaving totally emptied of having given all I could possibly give. I could hardly get my thoughts together as people would talk to me after the party. Things just didn’t click anymore in my head. Luckily, a few good friends (Kalabrese and Gallo who had come over from Zurich for the party, Crowdpleaser and a few others) came over at home for an after party that would help bring that night to a good landing.
Where did you go from here?
The party then moved on to the much larger club; Zoo, with a capacity of 1000 people. Requested to have a special guest for each party in this venue, I did so at the condition of playing back to back with them, which I did with Maurice Fulton, Hippie Torrales and DJ Deep for instance. At some point, I was in touch with David Morales who in his early days had played a couple of times in the Paradise Garage. He was a superstar back then with fees well over the $10,000 mark (I’ve heard figures of close to $30,000 per night in some clubs at the time). Based on the credentials of the party and because I was offering him an opportunity to play classics, he offered to jump in a low cost from another european city to come and spin. I could hardly believe it.
This was a such an amazing opportunity. Unfortunately, the new managers of club Zoo didn’t have the same understanding as the previous. Viewing themselves as so to say underground, they couldn’t imagine having a “mainstream” DJ in their venue even if it was to play classics. This decision came as a shock and I decided that it was time to stop my party there. This is something that I’ve learned over the years. If you want to have a successful residency anywhere, you need to make sure that the people running the club fully understand you and support you. Especially if you go into a specific musical direction, ask for a specific soundcheck, different lighting, decoration, etc….
So after your departure from Zoo did you decide to try and pick things up elsewhere?
Unfortunately there weren’t any suitable alternatives in the small city of Geneva (250,000 inhabitants) and I was starting to feel uncomfortable being catalogued solely as a Disco DJ in that city when I was besides that playing house sets in some of the best european clubs of the time such as Berlin’s Panorama Bar or Zurich’s Dachkantine. This was around 2005-2006, when Luciano and Ricardo Villalobos were at the height of their fame among die hard club heads. Since then I only did a couple of New York Disco Club reunion parties, the latest being for the 10th anniversary of the party with NY legend Nicky Siano who proved to a totally packed audience that his fame came out of amazing energy, skills and programming.
And after that?
A lot of my gigs out of the Geneva started coming through my relationship with Crowdpleaser. I don’t exactly remember how this came up, but around 2003, Petrol Records, which was run by the team that now runs Future Classic (home of the amazingly successful Flume and Chet Faker) asked me to do a compilation of local artists for the “The Sex, The City, The Music” series. It never came out in the end (I guess Geneva finally wasn’t considered as sexy enough!). But this made get in closer relation to Crowdpleaser whom I asked for a track to insert on the comp.
I had already met him previously when I had a radio show on Switzerland first internet radio, basic.ch as of 2000 I believe. The studio was the door opposite to his office as a graphic designer. He stepped in once as I was playing Cultural Vibe “Ma Foom Bey”. It turned it was one of our common favourites and the beginning of a long history of sharing music and making each other discover stuff.
He also always had this way of trying to include people in his network and give them opportunities which I benefited from in the electronic music scene where I from far wasn’t as relevant than on the disco scene. We then became very close friends and he invited me to come over to his studio and work on some music with him. I had no real production experience, so I would say like ; ”We should add some of this” and “this track could make good use of this kind of sample”.
We would then pick up a percussion loop or something from my disco classics. It made me feel like mastering the Tools myself. I seized the opportunity of taking an Ableton Live production lesson that Quarion was offering. This was shortly before he left to live in Berlin. From then on, Crowdpleaser and I really started to produce together, although obviously he brought in more of the skills and talent.
I believe I had more to do with the vibe and arrangements, some shitty improvisations of mine that we would try and arrange in loops and saying when something was bouncy or not. Over the years I got more involved in our mutual productions and we made a string of these on various labels including our biggest “hit” “Walking Home” on Drumpoet Community which was probably rather cutting edge at the time with it’s “folk-house” vibe. It landed on many major comps, including M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance which was selling in the 10s of thousands. Beyond all these production collaborations, Crowdpleaser was also trying to bring the Mental Groove label to the next level by organizing label parties in various venues. Among them was Panorama Bar where I got to play.
Panorama Bar / Berghain has to be regarded as the best club in the world right now, what was it like to play there?
Playing Panorama Bar is obviously special. Not having slept much the two nights before from partying and being incapable of sleeping before playing (I’m always too excited), I spent the hours before my set at 10am drinking maté.
With that help and you name it other substances, I started being rather freaked out before playing. Especially that back then, there was no backstage and only one space you could relax in, but which was totally empty and couldn’t be opened from the inside. So if the club’s staff would forget you, you could just stay locked in for hours!
How did your set go down? Did you enjoy it?
It was amazing. I really had the feeling that I had managed to bring something special as back then it was all minimal. You had to really fight to bring any other music in at the time but it worked great, people were really into it, dancing like wild tribes with their arms in the air. I remember playing a mix of afro-disco, new disco, house classics and new house releases of the time. I can still recall most of the tracks I played on that night. Among these were a crazy live from Osibisa recorded in India in 1981, Quentin Harris “Let’s Be Young” which was released that week, Voyage “Point Zero”, In The Kitchen 95′ “I’m A Freak”.
What other clubs have you played in that have really stuck in your mind?
Playing in Zurich’s Dachkantine was also quite an experience, for very different reasons. It was at the time one of wildest european clubs, that would often stay open with no break from the friday evening to the monday. I remember Ricardo Villalobos showing up there with his drug guru, most people were high on ecstasy, ketamine or whatever else. The night I played there the sound engineer had left for Brazil and he was the only one to have the codes to access the second room’s limiter which was stuck on -35db. Thus, the sound of the room wasn’t louder than that of a car radio for a room that could welcome maybe 300-400 people. But I don’t know, I was really into it that night. I decided to turn the music even lower than it was, so that I would have some margin to surprise the crowd by turning it up later. And things just started building and building. People were going crazy. The intensity was such (especially given the tiny volume level), that the next DJ let me play 4 hours instead of 2 because there was just no way this could be stopped. And when I finally came out of the room and went back to the Dachkantine’s main room, I saw that it was empty, everybody was in my room to listen to music at this ridiculously low level.
And are you still putting on events now?
Nowadays, I throw a party a few times per year in Geneva called “C” Party in a crazy loft space in Geneva called Motel Campo. It’s a concept, each party is “C” as in something. The last one was “C” as in “Clap” with Till von Sein. I do the opening, then let the guest play alone for a while and then we share the decks for the last couple of hours which is real cool. I usually work with DJs that I either know or have been recommended by DJs I can trust. My previous guests for this party were Alex From Tokyo, Trickski, DJ Deep and Danny Krivit and I’m already looking forward to the next editions!
How have you found production? A lot of people say that it is two very different things, being a DJ and being a producer
Oh yeah. These are really two different things. It must be the reason why they are so few that are good at both. I had been willing to produce music for a very long time, but I was just too much into DJing for years to bother really starting to produce. Then as I mentioned, I started with Crowdpleaser, got a few classes with Quarion and I was up and running. I must admit though that I didn’t start going seriously into my own productions before I was forced to do so when asked alongside Toby Tobias to remix Nick Solé’s track “Earth”. Unfortunately ma laptop got stolen right before finishing that remix so it never got released, but at least by then I was up and running!
Do you have a set way of working?
Not really. It really depends on my mood and setting. Sometimes I try and match up old impro sessions, sometimes I try starting a track by recording a musician or have an idea in mind based on a sample I have no specific way of working except for the fact that I generally have between 5 and 10 unfinished tracks side by side.
Production wise what are your plans for the future? Do you have anything coming up?
I’m currently remixing a track from Larytta’s new album, I’m really excited about it. I also finished my own first solo album. I would love to say I’m trying to get it signed, but I so much hate that aspect of the business that I must admit that I’m not doing much to make this happen. It’s a shame, because I believe it’s really good and it really surprised the friends I had listen to it. I guess I’m too afraid that after all that work it gets released by a label who just doesn’t care and it make a day and half noise and then over! So if you’re a label owner out there and read this, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Ly Sander can be found on soundcloud.com/ly-sander or on Facebook. He doesn’t have a fan page but if you display nice music interests he’ll surely confirm your friend request.