by Matt Kalkhoff

The crown jewel of the gay party circuit, Miami’s White Party, has enjoyed incredible success over the past 14 years, allowing Care Resources (f/k/a Health Crisis Network) to provide essential life-sustaining benefits to thousands of HIV/AIDS clients in Dade County. What has become a weeklong celebration of high caliber events culminates on Sunday night each Thanksgiving weekend at the lavish Italian Renaissance style palace, Vizcaya, where the week’s namesake party takes place. For the eighth consecutive year, one very special person will provide the musical back-drop for this illustrious party, DJ David Knapp.

In 1989, David Knapp moved from Southern California to South Florida to attend the University of Miami Law School. The revitalization of South Beach had just begun and the area was quickly becoming a major vacation paradise for gay travelers. Graduating from spinning at fraternity parties in college, David landed a gig at a club called Boomerang which is now home to Groove Jet. He finished law school in 1992 and passed the Bar Exam, but he decided to follow his passion for music instead of pursuing a lucrative career practicing law. He has gone on to become, arguably, the hardest working DJ on the circuit, racking up enough miles in the air to make any frequent flyer jealous.

It’s not every DJ who can credit Frankie Knuckles, Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia as mentors. Perhaps being inspired by three brilliant men with such different musical styles is what allows David to play universally diverse, yet popular programs. In his words, he is an "audience DJ." "I feel like I’m there for the people," he says. "The more successful I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate the fact that people have created my success – given it to me – and I like to give it back." While some DJs prefer to express their artistic stylings in their own way, regardless of the crowd or audience feedback, David closely monitors the dance floor and gives the people what he thinks they want. More often than not, he is right on the money.

Although David’s sets are comprised mostly of house music, he prefers to play more vocals than the average DJ, at the same time experimenting with different types of music as well. "I try to embrace the cream of each category. I play a little bit of good trance and a little bit of hard house," he says. "I also play some of the big circuit anthems as well." Although it is impossible to please everyone in the room, David has a unique and rare ability to invoke favorable responses from huge crowds of people with wide varieties of musical tastes. It is likely that this gift is what prompted New York promoter and entrepreneur John Blair to not only commission David to remix Volume 1 of his NYC’s Best DJs CD series, but to also refer to David as one of the Top 3 DJs in America on the CD credits. Blair also thanks David for his "friendship and dedication. You read a crowd like no one else and your music takes us places! Thank you for always having an open mind and for being so accessible."

It is this accessibility that has created a very hectic travel schedule for this 31-year-old Billboard reporting DJ, something he would like to change down the road. When asked where he would like to see his career in two years, David responded, "I would like to be traveling less and playing maybe at a couple of residencies regularly." David has never had any trouble finding homes at the top clubs in the U.S. In fact, it was the residency he shared with Victor Calderone at Roxy that paved the way for his relocation to New York. After Kremlin closed and Amnesia started experiencing problems a few years ago, David found that he wasn’t working much in Miami, so he started flying up to New York once a month to play at Roxy. This led to work on Sundays at Boys’ Life and subsequently a twice-a-month residency at Limelight. David was no stranger to New York though. He had previously opened for Junior Vasquez at the legendary Palladium and became the first non-New York-based DJ to play the Saint-At-Large Black Party. And the ultimate residency was just around the corner – a once-a-month gig on Saturday night at Twilo which started on November 13th. At Twilo, he will once again be working with Junior Vasquez, but now he will be playing the entire night on his own. "It’s exciting for me to think of playing such a long journey, playing till noon," he says. "I’m getting my mind-frame [ready] for playing such a long set."

David is also enjoying top billing at some of the countries biggest and best parties, not to mention the occasional gig overseas. His resume just in the past few months alone reads like any circuit boy’s ultimate travel itinerary, including Labor Day in Austin, the Red Party in Columbus, Black & Blue in Montreal, Hell Ball in San Francisco, and even a couple of parties in Amsterdam and Mykonos over the summer. He is also scheduled to play New Year’s Eve at the Palace in Los Angeles and then fly to Miami for Sunday night’s Annual Blackout Party at Amnesia.

Despite his new address in Chelsea and his weekly travel engagements, David still considers Miami Beach home. "South Beach has a really nice quality of life that I miss -- and the great weather, of course," he admits. "Miami still feels like my home because it was for nine years. When I left Miami, I never left it for good, contrary to a few rumors. I have such fond memories of Miami and all the people that I’ve met." Living a life that many would envy, David may operate out of a New York home base now, but he returns to Miami often enough to not be missed for too long. He even played at Salvation a couple of Saturdays recently which he said was a lot of fun, a homecoming of sorts. He is also hopeful that the new club openings in South Beach will "keep people stimulated with the music," while restoring the area’s former status as a top gay destination. And of course, he will be sharing his diverse and remarkable musical talents with thousands of party revelers on Sunday evening at Villa Vizcaya, the party to which David modestly attributes much of his success.

In an unprecedented move, the White Party Committee told David last year that White Party is his until he no longer wants it. If he ever decides to step down, he can then choose his own successor. The Committee could not be happier with the immense contribution David has made to the success of the White Party. "David’s been phenomenal, not only because he’s so talented, but also because he’s so committed," says Lark Bennett, Director of Development at Care Resources. "We are very, very pleased with David’s work and how he has evolved as an artist. [We are also grateful for] his commitment to AIDS and how generous he has been with his time and his talents for all of us, but mostly on behalf of our clients." David will be coordinating a performance by Funky Green Dogs for the White Party, as well as a spectacular surprise finale that is being specially choreographed for the end of what the Committee is calling the "greatest celebration of the century." David has also once again remixed this year’s White Party CD, the fourth in a series which also benefits Care Resources.

It is abundantly clear when speaking with David Knapp that he has a great attitude about and true love of life. He professes that he lives by the old adage Danny Tenaglia taught him many years ago, "When you get lemons, make lemonade." "Whatever you’re up against, deal with it," David advises. "Make the most of it." He has certainly made the most of his God-given talents, and the thousands of people who attend weekly events with his name attached to them clearly attest to his incredible popularity as a DJ.

Not only does David want to share his love of music with everyone, but more importantly, he says, "I hope to be more influential in the community and to use my name and talents to help our causes." He echoes this statement on the credits inside John Blair’s CD. "To all those people who love and follow me: I hope that I may continue to influence people to make the right moves in life! Life is Love! Do right by others, and show the world what heart and sensitivity we have!" It is truly encouraging to see that David has taken his own good advice by providing such a beautiful example for the rest of us to follow.

© 1999 Matt Kalkhoff
This article first appeared in Miamigo's November 1999 issue.