The filtered disco loops and funky house beats of the mid-'90s French house movement were nothing new to François Kevorkian. The Paris native, who was remixing and producing disco classics during the late '70s and seminal house-music tracks during the '80s, innovated many of those sounds the first time around. When the members of Daft Punk were still in diapers, Kevorkian was gigging at New York's legendary Studio 54, the Loft and the Paradise Garage. And though Les Rythmes Digitales copped the new-wave and electro vibe of acts like Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and Yaz, Kevorkian actually worked with those artists.
From early DJ gigs in the disco wonderland of late-'70s New York City to his current stint at Manhattan's Body and Soul, Kevorkian has been at dance music's epicenter — be it disco, new wave or house — since its inception. As a producer, mixer and remixer, he's worked with Larry Levan, Arthur Baker, The Smiths, The Cure, Cabaret Voltaire, U2, Eurythmics, Ashford and Simpson, Mick Jagger, Diana Ross and others. Disco devotees will remember his Gold-certified mix of Musique's “Push Push in the Bush” issued on Prelude Records, the influential disco label he helped run as head of A&R from 1978 to 1982. In 1987, he opened the recording facility Axis Studios, which has attracted leading artists such as Madonna, Todd Terry, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige.
Born in Rodez, France, in 1954, Kevorkian moved to New York in 1975 after his love of drumming beat out a career in biochemical engineering. In 1976, he was hired by New York's Galaxy 21 club to play drums over records spun by DJ Walter Gibbons, the man responsible for the first commercial 12-inch dance record, Double Exposure's “Ten Percent.” There, and at a subsequent Experiment Four gig where he met Jellybean Benitez, Kevorkian learned the art of mixing records together. Using a reel-to-reel recorder he borrowed from Benitez, Kevorkian began producing dance tracks and remixes using cut-and-splice and dub techniques, adding rhythmic echoes and sound effects lifted from movies. By 1983, Kevorkian was so busy producing that he quit DJing until 1989 — the year he mixed Depeche Mode's Violator, which sold more than 5 million copies.
“I rekindled my passion for performing live and playing records exactly at that time,” says Kevorkian. “It was the most significant thing that ever happened to me.” And it was good timing, as dance music was heading into another renaissance; once again, Kevorkian was at the forefront of the movement. In 1994, he started his own independent dance-music label, Wave Music. The label is renowned for influential releases — by artists such as Abstract Truth, Floppy Sounds and Eternal Sun — that push the well-licked envelope of dance music. The label just released François K's Deep and Sexy, a DJ-mix compilation of 12 tracks by the label's artists.
Although he's always worked in the underground or behind the scenes, Kevorkian is not averse to pop success: “It's always great for any creator to reach out and touch as many people as you can with your art. That's really the function of art.” But he's also one of those rare souls who is dedicated to dance music as an enduring and open-ended art form, not a disposable commodity. “I'm more interested by a combination of finding a good hook and experimentation, trying to draw on a number of diverse roots,” he says, citing King Tubby, John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen as influences. “Sometimes I go for a more mystical approach rather than for that surefire commercial hit. It's not necessarily about how ‘hooky’ the song is. It's about something that transports you.”