5 Magazine, Danny Krivit talks about Editing
Re-edits have become more and more prevalent over the last few years, with a seemingly endless reservoir of obscure disco and boogie cuts available to be plundered, cut up, looped and re-released every week. Re-edits range from the opportunistic or lazy to the sublime, and all points in between, and as access to production has lowered, so the gap between re-edits, remixes and original tracks has become somewhat blurred. Artists like DJ Koze, Ron Basejam, DJ Harvey, Greg Wilson, Joey Negro and Late Nite Tuff Guy have all made re-edits a big part of their respective careers in various ways, demonstrating that recycling older material can reap rich creative results.
But if you want to talk about re-edits, then why not go back to the source, to one of the central figures in the development of re-edit culture, New York resident, DJ and producer Danny Krivit. Krivit is one of a select group who can legitimately employ the biographical cliche of growing up surrounded by music as his mother was a jazz singer, his father jazz trumpeter Chet Baker’s manager. Bought up in Greenwich Village New York City in the 1960s, Krivit was DJing at a club called the Ninth Circle by the time he was just fourteen years old. Part of the Siano-Levan-Mancuso generation, he was a regular at the Loft and Paradise Garage, he lived through the Disco Sucks movement, he played to both disco and hip-hop crowds in the ’80s and to house music crowds today, and is one of the most well respected DJs around.
Danny Krivit is also known for his extensive editing career where he perfected the techniques needed to maximize the dance floor dynamics of a song whilst adhering to its original spirit. He’s spliced records from artists as diverse as Sade, Chaka Khan, Bob Marley, Gary’s Gang, Marvin Gaye, Thelma Houston, Sisters Love, Chairmen of the Board, Jazzanova, Blaze, Aretha Franklin, Stephanie Mills, Jody Watley, and literally hundreds of others.
We caught up with Krivit who was home in New York, perhaps unsurprisingly going through a big stockpile of unfinished edits he was working on, to chat about the birth and development of re-editing.
“In the late-’70s remixing was still a rather recent development, but editing wasn’t really acknowledged yet,” Danny says. “DJs I knew and admired had their own edits, but they were mostly just for their dance floor, and rarely came out. They also rarely shared them. Most of the better clubs had a reel-to-reel, and most successful DJs had their own, including me. By 1980 a lot of my DJ friends had done some remixing, I was starting to feel like I was missing the boat.”
In the fledgling days of the remix, DJs like Krivit were in demand from record labels who wanted to get their releases some of that cool DJ kudos, but at the beginning of his remixing career he was continually frustrated by working with studio engineers who didn’t understand records the way DJs did.
“Every time I didn’t like where something was going, the engineer would say ‘no worries, we’ll fix that later in editing…’ When editing came, I didn’t know how to edit… but I clearly knew what a bad edit was, and this engineer was wasting our precious time with his one bad edit.”
Encountering the problem once again – “It was like deja vu, the engineer said “no worries, we’ll fix that later in editing… and he seemed worse than the first guy” – Krivit took some advice from New York DJ and remixer Jonathan Fearing who told him, “You have a reel-to-reel, and you already know how splice and attach the leader tape, so even if you didn’t realize it… you already know how to edit.”
At the time, Krivit was DJing at the premier hip hop venue in New York, The Roxy, where he played every Friday.
“At the Roxy, on Fridays it was my job to oversee the hip hop DJs they were experimenting with,” he says. “One in particular really made an impression on me: DJ DST. Two of the songs he used to cut up so well were ‘Funky Drummer’ by James Brown and ‘Scratching’ by the Magic Disco Machine. He was inspiring, I knew I could never physically cut them up the way he was, so I decided to make an edit of ‘Funky Drummer’…”
That edit became the un-credited “Feelin’ James,” the first in what Krivit estimates are about 500 re-edits he’s released in his career. Strictly speaking, it’s a medley (a collection of parts of different records strung together) rather than a re-edit, a series of breakbeats, snippets of James Brown, scratches and sound effects, retooled for the dance floor, from “about 1981.”
“Trying not to waste any tape, I did it all at 3 1/3rd speed – it was very hard, and I kept going back to fine tune it, but at that speed every sliver of tape was a mountain of music. When I was done, it sounded a little dull, I had handled it too much in editing. I took it around to the few DJ friends I knew that might play that kind of thing, Tony Smith at the Funhouse, Freddie Bastone & Curtis Mantronix of Danceteria. Another friend of mine was putting out medleys, like ‘The Big Apple Mix,’ and he said if I could make it a medley he would put it out. I did, and that was my first edit, ‘Feelin’ James'”.
The DJ DST inspired “Feelin’ James” was followed by perhaps Krivit’s most famous re-edit, the 11-minute epic “Love Is The Message” from MFSB. Out of all the re-edits he’s released, when pushed to choose his own personal favorite: “…if I have to pick only one, then it’s probably ‘Love Is The Message.'” Krivit completely removed the orchestrated major chord opening and jaunty chorus, and instead utilized the various vamps and solos to perfect effect, creating 11 minutes of sublime soulful tension, in stark contrast to the high-camp drama of the original. Krivit’s re-edit actually contains sections of “Ooh I Love It (Love Break)” from the Salsoul Orchestra as well as a brief Gil Scott Heron sample too, an approach that Krivit would soon abandon. Instead, for the rest of his re-editing career he adhered to the idea that a re-edit is not a remix. It’s not about adding to the song so much as re-arranging it. A re-edit maximizes the best parts and loses the parts that don’t work so well, and it’s Krivit’s proficiency in the creative decisions that make songs work for the dancefloor, which has contributed to his longevity in the field.
“Post-production, like adding keys… I feel is more like a remix than an edit. Louie Vega added the keys on my edit of [UK funk band Cymande’s classic funk track] ‘Bra.’ I liked it, but I don’t play, so I never think of doing anything like that. I stick to what I know: editing. As far as the terminology, my idea of editing is just rearrangement. Many ‘edits’ I hear today are really more what you should call a remix.”
For Krivit, editing is always about being true to the original and aside from refraining from additional production touches, even the use of EQ and compression are kept to a minimum, used only “sometimes, just very basic stuff.” Nightclubs, DJs, dancers – its a world of extremes, of large personalities, big tunes, massive nights. Yet Krivit’s editing technique is based on restraint, and this is the key to his success: keeping the producer in the background and allowing the song to shine through. You could call it ego-less re-editing, which relies on the DJ’s ear to identify which sections of the record are going to really work on the dance floor. It’s a simple, but deceptively important skill:
“Generally I’m picking things I really like, but maybe want more of, or repeat some key parts, or maybe even delete some parts that I feel are weak. [The goal is]…embellishment, more of what I like about it.”
Krivit’s early edits utilized the painstaking process of cutting and splicing analog tape by hand, but he has inevitably moved to working digitally.
“On the plus side, the sound of tape was very warm. Digital recordings can often sound cold, especially if it was an analog recording poorly transferred to digital, but the benefits of working with digital far outweigh the benefits of working with tape. When I was using tape, I religiously used Ampex 456 tape… there was really nothing like it… but try and get that now! I use digital now since the mid-’90s; I use Pro Tools for editing.”
The technical benefits for producers of digital editing are clear: it’s accessible, easy to use, and quick to get results. But the ubiquity of digital technology has also resulted in an explosion of edits, not of all which are of the high quality one would hope. As a true originator of the craft, remembering how painstaking it used to be to cut and paste tape together, it must be strange to see how easy digital technology has now made the process.
“[There are] pros and cons…There’s more great edits out there…but mostly there’s also an embarrassing amount of crap out there too. As a DJ and consumer, it’s a tremendous amount of work to weed through it all to find just a few gems.”
And of course, previously if you wanted to do a re-edit, you needed to own a reel-to-reel recorder, be able to use it and have the time to perform what could be a lengthy process. Now, all those barriers have been removed, with predictable results. As Krivit notes, “When it was tape only, the quality of work was remarkably higher.”
However, he’s in no way bitter about digital technology, particularly as it has made the whole process of re-editing more straightforward – “It’s easier for me to do what I enjoy doing” – and he clearly still enjoys working with music, both DJing and of course re-editing. Ironically, he’s putting a lot of his old edits back out on vinyl at the moment, as there is still a high demand for 12″ versions of his old re-edits.
“This past year I’ve been very focused on getting a lot of my edits out on vinyl. I have a lot of things currently out right now and quite a few coming soon. They can be quite limited in pressing, so best people are aware of them before they disappear.”
These include Mr K’s Salsoul re-edits series, re-edits of amongst others Earth, Wind & Fire, Alica Myers, Mtume, Fatback Band, as well as his Mr K Funk Box 7″ 45 funk edits. Lots of these songs are well known and have united dance floors the world over for years, becoming a part of our shared culture; all subtly sliced, edited, spliced and re-purposed for maximum dancefloor impact by Mr K.
Looking back over his successful career and a life lived in dance music, Krivit is characteristically low key:
“I’m extremely fortunate, especially to start when I did and still be enjoying it today.”
Forthcoming edits from Danny Krivit (or his Mr. K alias) include Parquet Courts’ “Wide Awake!” (Rough Trade), Aretha Franklin’s “Jump/Rock Steady” (Atlantic), MFSB’s “Love Is The Message” & Jones Girls’ “At Peace With Woman) (Philadelphia International), Incredible Handclap Band’s “Let Out On The Loose” (US), Quincy Jones’ “Stuff/The Story” (Razor N Tape), Kool & The Gang’s “Love The Life You Live” and Gary Toms Empire’s “Drive” (Most Excellent Unlimited), Kokomo’s “Use Your Imagination” (Columbia), Marlena Shaw’s “Pictures And Memories” (Columbia), and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’ “Moanin'” (Columbia).