Two Decades of Fire Island DJ Sets Get Unearthed, Digitized & Put Online: Stream 232 Mixtapes Online (1979–1999)

“I was the young, lone­ly gay boy in the Mid­west who had no idea par­adise exist­ed. Every­thing about the Pines was new, the very idea of a place where you could play on the beach and hold hands with a guy and be with like-mind­ed peo­ple and dance all night with a man.” — pho­tog­ra­ph­er Tom Bianchi 

Dis­co did not get demol­ished at Comiskey Park in 1979. It may have dis­ap­peared from pop­u­lar cul­ture after jump­ing the duck, but it nev­er left the New York night­clubs that had nur­tured its exu­ber­ant sound — Stu­dio 54, Par­adise Garage, The Sanc­tu­ary.… Four on the floor beats pound­ed all night in the dawn­ing decade of the 80s, only the beat soon became house music, an elec­tri­fied dis­co deriv­a­tive — with­out the horns and string sec­tions — first played in clubs by DJs like Lar­ry Lev­an, who ruled the Par­adise Garage for a decade and “changed dance music for­ev­er.”

The sounds of Man­hat­tan nightlife at the turn of the 80s have gone main­stream, but sto­ries about the ear­ly, under­ground days of house tend to leave out anoth­er scene just miles away, led by DJs as beloved as Lev­an.

For LGBTQ New York­ers, the par­ty moved every sum­mer to Fire Island, where artists, vaca­tion­ers, celebri­ties, and DJs crowd­ed clubs like The Pavil­ion and the Ice Palace to hear DJs Rob­bie Leslie, Michael Jor­ba, Richie Bernier, Gian­car­lo, Teri Beau­doin, Michael Fier­man, and Roy Thode, “whose per­for­mance at the Ice Palace showed how shim­mery, gui­tar-dri­ven dis­co slow­ly gave way to the dri­ving bass of house music,” The New York Times notes.

Thode became a leg­end not only in the Fire Island sum­mer scene but dur­ing his res­i­den­cy at Stu­dio 54, at the per­son­al invi­ta­tion of club own­er Steve Rubell. Fire Island DJs played records they heard in the off sea­son at the island’s clubs, or debuted new­ly-released tracks. (Don­na Sum­mer’s “MacArthur Park” made its debut on the island, for exam­ple.) “Fire Island’s infa­mous bac­cha­nals have gone on to become the stuff of gay myth and leg­end,” write Matt Moen at Paper. The island has also long been “an icon­ic refuge and safe haven for New York City’s queer com­mu­ni­ty dat­ing back well over half a cen­tu­ry.” One res­i­dent calls it a “gay Shangri La.” Anoth­er com­pares it to Israel, a “spir­i­tu­al home­land.”

Split between two towns, Cher­ry Grove and the Pines, the sum­mer retreat has espe­cial­ly “been a haven for the cre­ative,” says Bob­by Bon­nano, founder and pres­i­dent of the Fire Island Pines His­tor­i­cal Preser­va­tion Soci­ety. It has also been a hide­away for celebri­ties like Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Calvin Klein, and Per­ry Ellis. Bonnano’s exten­sive online his­to­ry of the island doc­u­ments its 20th cen­tu­ry ori­gins as a place for gay artists who built hous­es in a dis­tinc­tive archi­tec­tur­al style that defines the island to this day, and who par­tied hard at clubs like The Pavil­lion. The mix­es here from Fire Island’s best DJs come from one such beach house, bought by Peter Kriss and Nate Pins­ley, who dis­cov­ered a box of tapes left behind by a pre­vi­ous own­er.

The cou­ple gave the box of tapes to their friend Joe D’E­spinosa. A soft­ware engi­neer and DJ, D’E­spinoza has spent “count­less hours” dig­i­tiz­ing, remas­ter­ing, and upload­ing the col­lec­tion to Mix­cloud. The result­ing archive rep­re­sents a “trea­sure trove of record­ed DJ sets,” span­ning “two decades worth of par­ties,” Moen writes, from 1979 through 1999. The Pine Walk col­lec­tion fea­tures more than 200 tapes (some from gigs in Manhattan),“taken from from Memo­r­i­al Day week­enders, Labor Day par­ties, sea­son open­ings and recur­ring club nights.” These are sol­id sets of vin­tage dis­co and clas­sic house, many of them doc­u­ment­ing the tran­si­tion from one to the oth­er. Browse and stream the full col­lec­tion on Mix­cloud.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

Dis­co Saves Lives: Give CPR to the The Beat of Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”

Ishkur’s Guide to Elec­tron­ic Music: An Inter­ac­tive, Ency­clo­pe­dic Data Visu­al­iza­tion of 120 Years of Elec­tron­ic Music

Dis­co Demo­li­tion Night: Scenes from the Night Dis­co Died (or Did It?) at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, 1979

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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