By Gamal Hennessy
Music is the heart of nightlife culture and DJs are the people who keep that heart beating every night in New York City. This week, NCI is proud to present three interviews with unique DJ’s filling clubs and dance floors all over the city. We begin with a pioneer of nightlife culture and the creator of the Freedom Party, DJ Herbert Holler.
NCI: You have been involved with nightlife culture for almost 10 years now. What do you see as the biggest difference between the environment you found in 2004 and what you see now?
HH: I’ve actually been involved with nightlife culture for 18 years now, if you can believe it. I started in 1994 promoting Giant Step parties. I was one of those dudes standing outside near the Cube on Astor Place, handing out flyers. (Ahh…The good ol’ days!) The main difference in the culture between then and now is that today, the culture itself has been turned into big business—molded, processed, and mass produced. There are “parties” everywhere. There are individuals calling themselves “DJs” and “promoters” everywhere. They’re pumped off the assembly line like bags of chips, so of course quality of the nightlife suffers. There’s still a culture, though, just not one with as much significance as before.
NCI: You told me that it is harder to figure out why people come to a party than to figure out why they stay away. What are some of the reasons people won't go out to a party and how have you learned to deal with those factors?
HH: There’re lots of reasons why someone may not come out. It could be location of the party, costs associated with attending (admission, drinks, food, transportation, etc.), what they’ve heard or not heard about the party, the kind of music played, maybe they’re tired, maybe they have to get up the next morning for whatever reason…The list goes on. I never know what’s going on in the minds of potential patrons, so I just try to make it as enticing as possible by taking away these obstacles. I choose venues that are easy to find and get to, I don’t charge a lot of money to walk in the door nor do I fuck with venues that hit you over the head at the bar. I make sure the music played is the BEST music in town (of course). I do my events on weekend nights so everyone can come out. I make sure I get the word out as much as possible, build as much buzz as I can, so people get excited and everyone’s talking about it. Etc., etc..
NCI: Explain the philosophy behind the Freedom party. What were you trying to create when you started and what have you learned about people and music as the party has developed?
HH: Freedom was created to, basically, help preserve NYC nightlife culture. Marc Smooth, DJ Cosi and I felt the BEST way to do this was to bring music back to the forefront. Make it about the music and the dance floor, and that in turn would work everything else out, from vibe to price. (Music is the answer!) Parties were mostly about attendees and how much money was spent. Freedom is about what’s being played. We completely flipped it around when we started in 2003. Today, we’re learning that a “classic” record’s excitement depends on what age group you have on your dance floor. “Funkin’ For Jamaica” was a big record for us when we started 9 years ago, and now, we barely play it. Most of our big records are from the later 80s, early 90s, and that has everything to do with how old the people dancing are.
NCI: You described the music that you play as music that has stood the test of time or will stand that test. What do you hear in a song today that tells you that song will last? Where do you find your new music or your musical inspirations now?
HH: For me, it’s pretty easy to determine whether or not a song will stand the test of time: Does it have soul? It’s that simple. Does the record have a soul? A heart? A spirit? Melodies help, but melodies alone don’t make classics. The song has to have an identity, tell a story, DO something other than pull out pop devices and clichés. Most people think Isaac Hayes or Al Green or James Brown when they think of soul. But I think soul can be in anything. Dubstep, electro, commercial dance music, pop…All these things CAN have soul, and I find when they do, they stick around a lot longer. (Adele, Gotye, etc.)
NCI: Where do you see nightlife culture in the next 10 years? What will social entertainment look like in 2022 and will you still be a part of it?
HH: That’s too big of a question to answer on just one page. Shit…You can do a whole thesis paper on the future of nightlife culture. In brief, I guess…Nightlife culture will still be here, and perhaps it will find new breath, a new raison d’etre. Cycles play a big role in lots of different things. Perhaps we’ll enter a new cycle and see a revival in the respect and preservation of the culture. Maybe we’re entering one now. Regardless of where it will be, I will most likely be there with it. After all these years of spinning records and putting together parties (soon-to-be operating/owning), it’s safe to say that this is my calling.