Montreal Mirror: “An Interview with Frankie Knuckles about the Sound at Stereo Nightclub in Montreal (Sound by Shorty)”

The Sound Refound 

The newly revitalized afterhours Stereo celebrates its first half-decade with Frankie Knuckles and David Morales

by Raf Katigbak

New York DJ/producer Angel Moraes had a dream: a club built by a DJ, for the people. In 1998 that dream became a reality, and what was once the 591-seat Théâtre Université on Ste-Catherine E. became Stereo, a world-class afterhours modelled on the legendary dancefloor of New York City’s Paradise Garage, complete with a customized sound system designed and built by Moraes himself. In 1999, just a year after it opened, Stereo was voted the fifth best dance club in the world by Muzik magazine (the only North American club to make the top 10) and as Stereo’s international reputation grew, so did its clientele. Soon clubbers and DJs from all over the world were lining up to get in and Stereo’s following became nothing short of fanatical (some of the hardcore Stereo-philes went as far as getting tattoos of the logo).

…Now it seems the club has received its second (or is it third?) wind. With longtime resident and founder of New York house music staple Def Mix Records David Morales at the helm, the future of Stereo is brighter than ever.

Over the last six months the club has undergone a few cosmetic and acoustic upgrades, with more on the way just in time for its five-year anniversary. And what better way to say happy birthday to this internationally renowned venue than with a special set by the Chicago DJ credited as the godfather of house, Frankie Knuckles. The Mirror had a chance to chat with both Morales and Knuckles about the legendary club.

Mirror: What does Stereo mean to you?

David Morales: Stereo’s my home. Period. When you come in, you do what you want, you play what you want. As soon as the night is over and I’m on a plane going home, I’m already looking forward to the next time I’m going over there. I don’t even want the night to end. For me Stereo is better than ever and after five years, that really says a lot.

Frankie Knuckles: From a professional standpoint I’d say it’s Mecca. It’s the motherland, so to speak.

The focus is on the sound

The dancefloor is what’s paramount and what is being sold. It was never one of those clubs where you pay at the door and wonder, “Oh, what am I going to get when I get in here? Am I gonna get free drinks, am I…” No, no, that’s not what this is about, it’s about that dancefloor and that dancefloor only, and the audience that comes here knows that. For any DJ that comes here, yeah, it’s Mecca.

Doctor Disco

M: I’ve noticed that New York DJs take sound more seriously than most other DJs.

FK: That’s really our education. That’s how we were brought up. When [Paradise Garage DJ] Larry Levan and I were kids we worked under Richard Long, and Richard pretty much took us by the hand and taught us everything about sound. He said, “It’s not enough to just get behind these turntables and play, you guys need to know exactly what it is you’re handling here and what you’re dealing with. Because if something goes wrong throughout the course of the night, you need to know how to fix it or adjust it.” He just wanted us to be completely tuned in to what was coming out of those speakers. And at least to be able to maintain it until he could get there and he could fix it.

M: Wait a sec, he’d come fix it in the middle of the night?

FK: If a speaker went out or an amp went out in the middle of the night, you would always be able to call Richard. There was always a phone in the booth. You know, “Richard, I got an amp that’s out!” It could be 2 or 3 in the morning and he’s making house calls like a doctor! He’s in the booth and he’s replacing this amplifier or he might have two guys out on a ladder re-coning the speakers. To me those are the things that add to a great party. Clubs today are just so pristine in what they’re doing. They don’t wanna see this shit. But I think in a room like Stereo it would work, if all of a sudden a tweeter went out or a horn went out…

…here comes Shorty with a ladder and an assistant…

…and they’re changing a driver on this thing. I mean it might look strange to a certain degree, but it helps you realize this is not just some club. This is far beyond that. This is what it’s about – the shit goes out, it don’t stay out.

Make yourself at home

M: David, do you remember the first time you played at Stereo?

DM: When Angel originally built Stereo and asked me to come up and play, he said, “I can’t pay you what you’re accustomed to getting paid, I can’t even come close.” I said, “You know what? It’s not a problem. Just let me know when and I’ll try and fit it into my schedule. Don’t worry about the money.” When I finally came and played, it took me back to simpler days. It was raw with a lot of character and charisma, it reminded me of the Garage and the Loft. It’s very rare. Even when Ministry of Sound made its famous sound system, it was a business. Stereo’s not really a business. You don’t feel like you’re really in an establishment. I wanted to play there once a month for no money ’cause I got paid in a different way that money can’t buy.

M: Angel’s legendary sound system was a tough act to follow. How did you approach revitalizing Stereo?

D: There’s always room for improvement. It all depends how much you want to keep spending. We’re paying more attention and being aware that things need to be done. Filling Angel’s shoes as far as trying to maintain that sound system is a big feat. After all, it was Angel’s creation and what can I say, the sound made Stereo. We knew it would take time and we had to earn their confidence. The first thing was the sound because this is the reputation of the club. It’s what attracts the people. I had to bring another soundman here from New York, Shorty. He did the sound in my studio. First we’re doing the sound, next is the lighting, at the same time we’re gonna be redoing the room, the aesthetics surrounding the dancefloor. Also, the bathrooms are gonna be redone, bars are gonna be redone – my whole idea is to make that room a stage. Lights, camera, action, boom! Everyone’s a star. Everybody’s under lights and sound.

M: With the demise of many of the commercial U.K. mega-clubs, how do you account for Stereo’s longevity?

DM: What we’re offering is not about how much money you spend, it’s not about the dollar value, it’s about the effort that’s put behind what we’re doing. All we have to sell is a good time, a party. We’re not selling you glamour, I’m not selling you a VIP area where you can buy bottles of champagne. I don’t care about that stuff. It’s about stuff like putting gay and straight people in one room, which doesn’t happen so much, especially in North America. Here you’ve got a room where there’s no sexual barriers, no shoving, no fights, no negativity of any kind. You don’t feel like you’re in a machine. You really feel like you’re in somebody’s loft, and that’s really the concept at the end of the day. It’s as if somebody came to my huge apartment and they’re in my living room. It’s not about who’s playing. No matter when you come, you’re guaranteed good hospitality and good music. We just offer you a great time.\

Montreal Mirror on Craig Bernabeu’s Sound