Tales from PARADISE GARAGE: New York’s Legendary Club

Kazuo Washimi

New York City’s legendary discoteque, Paradise Garage, influenced club scenes around the world during its 10 years in operation between 1977 and 1987; owing to its inventive sound system and music formulated by DJ Larry Levan.

In the mid ’80s, I was working at the Tower Records in Sapporo, and my friend, DJ NORI, a Sapporo-based DJ who had experienced “the Garage” firsthand, shared with me many stories about it. I collected as much information as possible through foreign magazines and stayed on top of popular songs at the Garage by buying records. It was my dream to visit the Garage one day. And suddenly, that dream became a reality.

Paradise Garage circa 1987, Photo by © Kazuo Washimi

It was the summer of 1987 and I received a phone call from DJ NORI who was living in New York City. He told me that he heard rumors of the Garage closing down in September. So there it was. I was on my way to New York City at once.

During my three week stay in NYC, I only got to go to the Garage twice. The Garage, it turns out, had other themed spaces besides the main dance floor, and it was a total culture shock for me to witness them. It was such a shock that I wasn’t able to digest much of it… Regardless, I will gather my fragmented memories and tell you what DJ Larry Levan was playing those nights. He was playing everything in 12” vinyl, basically, and some songs were so rare that I am going to introduce them here in their album format instead.

Mystery Of Love by Fingers Inc.  (Mystery Of Love(12”)/1986/D.J. International Records/DJ 892)

In 1985, according to popular UK music magazines NME, The Face, and i-D, Chicago’s house music was all the rage. This one was a 1986 release, and one of my favorite records to DJ myself. I had just experienced firsthand one of the urban myths of the Garage: cigarette smoke trembles to the low bass in front of the dance floor speakers. So when Larry played Mystery of Love, I couldn’t believe my ears. Towards the end of the song, when I felt the layers of delayed vocals whirling around the ceiling, I was totally speechless. Definitely, my highlight there.

■ I Know You I Live You by Chaka Khan  (What Cha' Gonna Do For Me/1981/Warner Bros./HS 3526)

This is one of my favorite songs by Chaka Khan, and hearing it at the Garage also blew me away. Larry gave me chills when he snuck this song’s Reprise Records version back into the next song that was already playing. It reemerged at a low volume, and suddenly exploded back in as the main track.

■ I Love Music by The O'Jays (Family Reunion/1975/Philadelphia International/PZ 33807)

This record is a Garage classic and I love the super simple and positive message of the song. The original version is seven minutes long and Larry mixed in a longer stretch of an instrumental I had never heard of in the middle; when he reintroduced the chorus of I Love Music back in, the entire dance floor soared in ecstacy. I think he had us dancing to I Love Music for over 30 minutes.

for Next Page:Records that were played at the time in the garage

Kazuo Washimi

Kazuo Washimi
Kazuo Washimi worked in music streaming services in the 2000s after working as a buyer of imported records in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was influenced greatly by witnessing the club scenes of NYC on his very first visit in 1987, and upon his return to Japan, he started writing for music related papers and club music magazines; taking on numerous music reviews and interviews. In Shibuya and Aoyama of Tokyo, he launched music parties at clubs where he also DJed. Washimi’s favorite style to DJ is a mix of 1980s’ post disco, new wave, and from the 2010s: new disco and indies dance mixes.

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