If a Utopian nightclub experience actually exists on this mortal plane we
call Earth, I believe I witnessed it firsthand just a few weeks ago at the
Cherry 5 Closing Party in Washington, DC. Propelled by a frenzied whirlwind
of pulsating beats, penetrating rhythms, and powerful vocals, the incomparable
DJ Manny Lehman led thousands of party revelers on a paranormal pilgrimage
to the Promised Land under the potent spell of his phonographic prowess.
Consistently stellar performances have become the norm for this Puerto Rican
prodigy though, and the remarkable combination of his exceptional talent,
a playfully personable disposition, and the uncanny ability to dominate
any room he plays has catapulted Manny to the pinnacle of dance floor prominence.
I was never a porno star," Manny voluntarily points out, immediately
setting the tone for what was to become a very entertaining interview. Born
in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Mannys musical roots trace back
to a store called Vinyl Mania where he diligently peddled records to then-aspiring
DJs like Hex Hector, Junior Vasquez, and Victor Calderone. During the early-
to mid-80s, he also spun regularly at the Fun House, the Palladium, and
other assorted New York hotspots for predominantly straight crowds. When
he wasnt slaving over a hot turntable himself, he frequently indulged
in the innovative and inspirational sounds of his icon, DJ Larry Levan,
at what New York Newsday once referred to as "an experimental sound
laboratory housed in a Baptist church with a pagan dance party taking place
in the pews" the Paradise Garage.
gained an extensive background and knowledge of the music industry while
working in its retail end, Manny eventually landed the prestigious position
as Director of Dance Promotions at A&M Records. In 1989, he moved to
Los Angeles to "feel the vibe" of the west coast, and to enjoy
a much-needed change of pace. After several years of sitting behind a desk
though, Manny became disenchanted with the changing corporate structure
of the music industry, so he started focusing his energy once again on spinning
several parties for promoter Jeffrey Sanker, his DJ career shifted into
high gear. Manny made quite a name for himself on the west coast playing
"an aggressive hodge-podge of anthem vocals and tribal beats,"
and it wasnt long before he was ready to launch his astonishingly
successful assault on the gay party circuit. Manny formed a partnership
with Sanker that spawned several high-profile play dates, including his
breakthrough performance during the 1999 Palm Springs White Party weekend.
This partnership also created the highly successful Los Angeles party, Orbit,
as well as the release of his first continuous mix CD, "A Night In
a significant portion of Mannys time is spent on the road and inside
a DJ booth, he still finds time to lead an active and rewarding social life.
He also runs his own management company, and is always on the lookout for
tomorrows stars. "Im in constant contact with the next
breed," he proudly announces. "Im developing a couple of
groups out here right now, including a pop girl group. I want to go more
mainstream. I want to be a mogul -- the next David Geffen. I want to produce
rock stars and discover the next Whitney or Mariah. Thats what I love
to do; I love to find diamonds in the rough, and help polish them up."
project in the early 90s introduced the world to dance music sensation Ce
Ce Peniston, whom Manny discovered and then signed to A&M Records. He
went on to executive produce her first single, "Finally," which
became one of the definitive club anthems of the early 90s. Ce Ce even recorded
a special song, "Lifetime to Love," exclusively for Mannys
new compilation CD, Circuit Sessions 00.1, due out later this month on 4
Play Records. The label wanted Manny to produce the song for Ce Ce, but
he decided against it, opting instead to simply "orchestrate"
the song. "I havent really done much production work. I just
havent had that itch," Manny explains. "I know studio work
is very gratifying, but its also very time consuming, and I just dont
have the time right now."
be surprised, however, if all this changes in the future. Mannys passion
for discovering and promoting new talent, combined with his belief that
strong vocals are conspicuously lacking in many new dance releases, may
very well prompt him to explore further the production end of the music
industry. Manny calls todays club scene strong and vibrant, but he
also points out that it is somewhat limited compared to the 70s and the
80s. Back then, performers like Sylvester, Donna Summer, and even Madonna
were created and nurtured in the gay club scene, and each eventually crossed-over
to enjoy significant mainstream success. Things are quite different today
though, Manny regretfully reports. "I think our club environment is
not creating the hits that I wish that it would. There should be more divas,
more role models, more artistes that are coming out of our culture. I just
wish that it would translate to something more culturally impacting outside
of the gay community."
Lehman is also deeply concerned about another aspect of our sometimes delicate
community. Cautious not to sound preachy or condescending, he feels obliged
to share his feelings on a very important, albeit controversial, subject
that has plagued circuit enthusiasts in recent years. "As great as
the circuit is, and as overwhelmingly popular as the events are, the partying
sometimes goes to an extreme. I dont want to preach about it, but
Ive noticed during several recent parties that there were an immense
amount of overdoses of people passing out whether it was from
GHB, dehydration, or exhaustion. There just needs to be a lot more control
on that," Manny implores.
are going to be ramifications somewhere along the line for the community,
the parties, or the cities where these things continue to happen. For example,
Palm Springs, which is basically a very conservative city, may decide somewhere
down the line that even though the White Party generates a large amount
of revenue, its just not worth the liability or trouble if too many
medical emergencies occur during this particular weekend. Or look what happened
in Miami, where many of the parties stop at 5:00 a.m. now. We dont
know how much of that had to do with excessive partying and frequent overdoses."
just think we have to pull it back a little bit, get in control, and watch
our friends. We may even have to be a bit of a scolding mother to our friends
who we see misbehave, telling them to pace it up to take it easy.
You can have a good time and go to new levels of nirvana, but please dont
overdo it. As a DJ, a club promoter, and a fellow human being, I am concerned
about the community nationwide. Until more major events are taken away from
us -- like Morning Party on Fire Island was a couple of years ago -- some
people may not stop. But then it will be too late. We just have to be careful
and watch our friends."
no secret that the club world is extremely volatile, and todays hottest
DJ can quickly become yesterdays news. But Manny seems to have found
a phenomenal formula for success that will surely keep him at the top of
his game for quite some time. "My philosophy is to make people have
a good time," he reveals. "I try to expose them to new music that
theyre going to want to have in their life, and bring back some joyful
memories of music that they know and already love, while creating something
that will ultimately take them on a trip from A to Z, so that when they
leave, they feel good." Traveling between coasts can also pose quite
a challenge for even the most seasoned professional. Its not always
easy for a DJ to please a new crowd in an unfamiliar city while maintaining
his or her artistic integrity and sense of style. But Manny has cleverly
managed to blend the best of both worlds, creating a unique balance that
has not only fueled his extraordinary career, but has also defined his signature
will celebrate his 40th birthday later this month ("Im an old
bitch, a dinosaur," he jokingly admits), but his biological clock is
not going to inhibit him in the least. The self-described "crazy Gemini"
is slated to spin a plethora of the circuits preeminent parties later
this year, including Gay Prides in both Los Angeles and New York, Pines
2000 on Fire Island in August, Black & Blue in Montreal in October,
Halloween New Orleans, and (it is hoped and expected) something during White
Party Week in Miami. Mannys home base will remain in Los Angeles,
where he spins at least two Saturdays a month at Factory, the renowned club
he and Sanker jointly promote. He also plans to continue nurturing and further
developing his relationships at his two other residencies, Salvation and
Twilo, among other projects.
would like to maintain a solid, consistent club base, and venture further
into developing artists and interfacing with record companies again,"
Manny announces. "I will definitely continue the club thing, though,
because I want to maintain a creative atmosphere that is both innovative
and fun." He has, however, made a conscious decision to scale back
his hectic travel schedule. In an effort to avoid the inevitable burn-out
his current schedule would surely cause, he plans to start choosing out-of-town
gigs more prudently. Nonetheless, he considers himself fortunate to have
been hired for the top parties; to have worked with so many wonderfully
talented remixers, producers, and DJs; and to have reached a point in his
career where he can selectively pick and choose the events he really wants.
one of the most celebrated DJs on the scene today, and this prolific purveyor
of euphoric escapades and phonic poetry is finally enjoying the payoff from
countless years of hard work. During his extraordinary journey, Manny has
also earned the utmost respect and admiration of his peers.
friend and fellow DJ Billy Carroll attributes much of Mannys success
to his diverse background. "What makes Manny such a great DJ is his
knowledge of the history of where dance music came from," says Carroll.
"His varied tastes for a wide spectrum of music combined with his Latin
roots, gay influences, and street knowledge, all come together to make his
sets hot, spicy, and relentless." Twilo tag-team partner David Knapp
agrees. "Manny epitomizes the new breed of circuit DJ. He can blend
all flavors of music with the greatest of ease, keeping the energy pumping
from start to finish. Having experienced the early New York club days has
given him a profound insight into the DJ profession, and a depth of knowledge
about nightclub music and patrons."
Mannys amazing knack for effortlessly bridging
the gap between heaven and earth with his unique musical style
is undoubtedly best enjoyed from the dance floor, but the
man behind the turntables is even more fascinating and entertaining
than the music he plays. We are privileged to have such a
remarkable role model representing our community, both in
his greater industry and in our DJ booths. His dazzling work
and dynamic character are setting the new standards to which
others will soon aspire. Yes, Manny Lehman truly does epitomize
the new breed of circuit DJ.