A self-described “black New Yorker”, Mark Kamins shaped the sound of New York party culture during the late 1970s and the 1980s, holding down residencies held at Trax, Danceteria and the Tunnel as the city’s dance floors burned with incandescent energy. As a DJ he played across the sonic spectrum whenever he took to the decks and as a producer his lengthy discography includes David Byrne’s “Big Business”, Quando Quango’s “Love Tempo”, Marcel King’s “Reach for Love” and “Beastie Groove” by the Beastie Boys. It’s just a pity that sound bite history has left him characterised as a so-called new wave DJ who’s best known for being an ex-boyfriend of Madonna and the producer of her debut single.
I interviewed Mark via Skype on 30 October 2008 and 3 November 2008 while researching a book on New York party culture 1980-83. At the time I understood that Danceteria was a key party space of the period but knew little about Mark—beyond his new wave and Madonna notoriety. We hit it off easily, just as I’m sure Mark hit it off with everyone he met, such was his charm, warmth and energy. We covered territory that left me convinced of Mark’s central importance to the story of New York during the incandescent era of the early 1980s. In early September 2012 I sent Mark a list of quotes I was going to use in the book so that he could check and approve them. Then, on 14 February, 2013 news broke that he died as a result of a heart condition aged 56.
Scores of us gathered on-line to mix sadness and shock with fond memories. I then search for material on the post-1983 period of Mark’s life we never properly got to discuss, only to re-appreciate that remarkably little is out there, with this exchange one of the most solid. Wondering if anybody else had interviewed Mark in depth, I decided to publish our exchanges on the first anniversary of his passing so that he could finally have his say. What follows is the full transcript. An edited version is being published by Red Bull Music Academy.
Mark Kamins, interviewed by Tim Lawrence, October/November 2008.
Tim Lawrence: How did you get involved in party culture and DJing?
Mark Kamins: Well, I remember my first club. It was Le Jardin. That was the first place I went to.
You’re kidding me. When did you go there?
I think that must have been ‘72.
It opened in June 1973.
I was also working in a record shop then, Record Connection, which was the first shop that sold European 45s to DJs. The 45s had an instrumental on the B Side. So the DJs would buy two 45s so they could do a mix from the instrumental to the vocal. And we were the first record shop for DJs in New York. It was called Record Connection on Washington Square.
I thought Downstairs Records was the first.
You mean the one in the subway station?
Yes. Nicky DeKrechweo was it?
Yes, Nicky and Lisa—Lisa Cooper. They were great.
I had no idea you went back so far.
Yes sure, you had to go back that far. I wouldn’t have been where I was in the eighties if I hadn’t started in the seventies, you know? You don’t come out of nowhere. You don’t magically appear. You have to have that history. Whether I was a DJ or not, I still had that history, and I worked at Record Connection for five years. That’s where I got familiar with the catalogues of music and producers and DJs. And working at the Record Connection I met all the gay DJs who worked in the gay clubs and the lesbian clubs, the black clubs. I saw what they bought and that led me to start DJing.