Lenny Fontana is a testament to New York’s incredible influence in budding some of the most prolific producers and DJs. His iconic song with DJ Shorty from 2000, “Chocolate Sensation,” is the stuff of legends. With a background of spinning since the mid-’80s, Lenny has many stories to tell. And he keeps it moving with his Karmic Power Records and their nonstop releases that will have you singing the soul out your body.
According to Lenny, this is “a special DJ mix exclusive of some of the greatest works that I was involved as a producer/remixer. It was very emotional for me to mix these records because of the significance they had on the dance floor at the time when I was making them. So I hope you all enjoy this mix and thank you for all the years of support.”
The 5 Mag Mix by Lenny Fontana
The 5 Mag Interview with Lenny Fontana
I see you’ve been making some serious moves with your Karmic Power Records, you are not playing around!
Oh yes, what a journey this has been. I never in the beginning of my career saw myself as a record label owner, but this for me is the way forward. We are in the process of working on the fourth year of Karmic Power with my label manager and my best friend Manuel Genzel. We have now been able to grab the attention of the industry last year with the release of “Raise Your Hands” with legendary vocalist James D-Train Williams on the lead vocal. It all started from the famed 3 Kings Party in Miami WMC 2015 with Tony Humphries rocking that track twice making it the hottest and biggest house track of WMC and it has not stopped there.
We are also working with some amazing artists such as Alison Limerick, Fil Straughan, Paul Hutchinson, and working on releasing consistent quality dance music in all the different genres of house.
Your history goes so deep and so far. Can you indulge us on how you came to spin at spots like Studio 54, The Underground NYC, Tunnel and System NYC what was the vibe like at a time when House music was in its birthing stages? Or when you performed at Top of the Pops with Duane Harden?
Well it’s interesting you ask this question, for a lot of us House Music was the wicked sister, or the new extension of Disco Music. In the early days of House Music you had what you would call R&B Dance or DOR Music which stood for Dance Orientated Rock. Labels like Prelude, RFC, Sam Records and a lot of independent labels were releasing this sound stateside.
Disco in essence went underground and never faded away. I remember hearing those first records coming out of Chicago with DJ International and Trax Records leading the way. Week after week Chicago producers were dropping bombs. David Depino at the famed Paradise Garage NYC was playing a lot of that stuff in the earlier part of the night before Larry Levan got on to play, and Bruce Forest was doing the same at Better Days. I worked with a famous promoter named Baird Jones, who had all these rooms on lockdown in New York City and I was his DJ. Here I am playing on RLA soundsystems at the famous Underground in Union Square NYC and as well The Palladium with its amazing light show and massive dance floor which had the last installed RLA soundsystem.
Unfortunately when he had me play at Studio 54 the famed sound system was gone and I was stuck playing on the horrible Clair Brothers soundsystem. Oh well, it was the mid to late ’80s and for me it was a dream come true. The first record that spoke well to the crowd that I played for was Marshall Jefferson’s “House Music Anthem.” Here you had a big piano riff and a repetitive hook from which as soon as you dropped it made people scream.
The highlight of my career was being asked to perform on Top of The Pops with my song “What You Need” alongside Duane Harden. This was such a super high, knowing that I cracked the pop chart in the UK. Now during that period when House Music was cracking strong, big vocal anthems with Disco and funky loops were leading the way. How funny this is that it always goes back to the beginning? Even so now in 2016 Nu-Disco is the talk of town and Soulful House has taken a huge stake in the game as well all over again.
I cannot tell you how absolutely bonkers people go whenever the original “Chocolate Sensation” is dropped. It’s got that magic that really hits deep down. Can you tell us the story behind this track?
The history behind that track was in 1998 when I was in the studio with DJ Shorty and my keyboard player Brockett Parsons. Shorty came to me with this idea to sample Johnny Hammond Los Conquistadores’ ‘Chocolates’ which I always loved. I sampled it up and Brockett played some overdubs and new piano parts on it. I said to Shorty, “Do me a favor, go in my DJ room and grab the “Love Sensation” acapella from my record bin.” He did and I threw it on the Technics 1200 and pitched it and said, “Holy shit, this will be massive if we pull this off!” Well Brockett Parsons and I tuned the backing music track around Loleatta Holloway’s voice and the rest was history.
It became one of the biggest hits in 2000 thanks to David Morales, Louie Vega, Tony Humphries, Frankie Knuckles and Pete Tong playing the hell out of it in Ibiza. The calls did not stop and everyone wanted it and everywhere I played it was the most requested record.
Your brand new remix of it is fantastic. What made you decide to revisit it in 2015? Were you ever tempted to get other producers to do their take on it?
Cr2 Records and I started talking about House Music again at ADE in 2014. My assistant Manuel said to me, “Hey have you ever thought about redoing ‘Chocolate Sensation’ again?” I pulled the parts out and dusted everything off and had my engineer Big Joon start to lock it all up. Once Joon got the track rocking again I teased Mark Brown from Cr2 with it and he wanted it right away and the deal was done. The plan for this was to get different mixes and rebrand it to the new generation and it worked. Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1 rocked the hell out of it and so did many UK DJs.
For me personally it’s hard to top something that was perfect for its time. This is like fine artwork and trying to repaint it again. So I was a little afraid to revisit again but you don’t know ’till you try.
I heard your interview with Frankie Knuckles for BBC Radio talking about Larry Levan. What was your relationship with him and share with us a nice memory of him, we can never get enough 🙂
Frankie Knuckles to some was revered as a living God when he was alive. As a remixer and producer when he hit the mark it was incredible. As a DJ, one word: “Priceless.” DJ Kenny Carpenter and a bunch of us were at Sound Factory one night in the early ’90s when Frankie was the resident DJ and we all said that when he played, it was like being at the Paradise Garage. He was an incredible cook, a fabulous dresser and when he walked into a room his smile and his huge presence lit up the room. When he played your record at the Sound Factory Bar it sounded different and it was mesmerizing. To have him as your friend was invaluable because if he loved you, he really did, and when he needed to read you or tell you off he never held back. His conversations with me were very candid and deep. I said to him one night, “Frankie you always smell so FAB!” and he said to me, “Honey when you come out of the shower that is the time to throw cologne on when your pores are open and it will stay with you all night.” He was right and everytime I put it on and I think of him. He supported all my records and championed them around the world.
He even said to me, “Do you think you were the only one this happened to, with the change of House Music? Get over it bitch!”
So when I was doing the BBC Legends of the Dancefloor, “The Larry Levan Story”, at first he didn’t want to speak. When he finally did, he became very emotional talking about his best childhood friend Larry Levan. Frankie and I had such a great relationship and he felt comfortable so in the end he opened up about it. It was at that time he encouraged me to get back full power in the music game and go after this once again. He even said to me, “Do you think you were the only one this happened to, with the change of House Music? Get over it bitch!” He said to me I must fight and get over the anger and look forward not backwards. It will happen again for you and I have to thank him for that speech.
Over the past several years there’s been the upswing of the superstar DJs, albeit on a different side of dance music. I’m a firm believer that soulful will be riding the height of that wave not too far in the future. What are your thoughts being someone that has seen the ebb and flow of the industry?
I believe this is already started to happen. EDM is declining and the fans are starting to look other places and Soulful House Music has the songs with the big choruses. Big parties are starting to pop up all over the place with this being the theme sound. It is a matter of time before a few of these songs cross into the mainstream sound and the rest of the world will realize that this music is what it is.
What are you working on right now and what are some cities that you will be hitting?
ANTHEMS. STRAIGHT UP. Back to working in the studio full time and writing songs and thinking about dance floor future hits. Exposing the Karmic Power brand around the world and pushing House Music to a new high and trying to take care of myself physically so I can be here to teach the young all about this wonderful rich history.
Lenny Fontana: A 5 Mag Mix #20 Tracklist
1. Butch Quick – Higher – Original – Karmic Power Records
2. Lenny Fontana Presents Galaxy People – Mystical Journey – Original – Karmic Power Records
3. Mass Production – Set Me Free – Club Mix – Kult Records
4. Lenny Fontana Presents Octah’via – The Way – Lenny Fontana Mix – Defected Records
5. Tension – A Place Called Heaven – Original Mix – Karmic Power Records
6. Lenny Fontana Presents Black Sun – Spread Love – New Retouched Vocal Mix – White Label
7. Jasper Street Company – A Feeling – Lenny Fontana Authentic Vocal Mix – Azuli Records
8. Powerhouse Feat Duane Harden – What You Need – Full Intention Power Mix – Strictly / Defected / Ministry
9. Lenny Fontana – Pay The Price – Karmic Power Records
10. Lenny Fontana – Chocolate Sensation – Vocal Mix – Cr2 Records
11. Lenny Fontana Featuring D-Train – Raise Your Hands – Deeper Dub Mix – Karmic Power Records
12. Lenny Fontana Feat Byron Stingily – Light My Fire – Lenny Fontana Classic Vocal Mix – Karmic Power Records
13. Lenny Fontana – Blood Vibes – White Label
14. Lenny Fontana Feat Daryl D’Bonneau – Powe Pow Pow – Lenny Fontana Anthem Vocal Mix – WEA
15. V.P.D. – Celebrate The World – Lenny Fontana Anthem Vocal Mix – PWL
Previously in A 5 Mag Mix: Jeremy Newall, Kevin Bumpers, Bai-ee, Nonfiction, Victor Simonelli, Dave Allison, Luke Solomon, Tyree Cooper, Till Von Sein, Groove Junkies, DJ E-Clyps, Henry Street Music founder Johnny D., Jeremy Sylvester, DJ Godfather, Mr. Mendel, Naeem & Gusto, Parris Mitchell, Zernell and Kool Vibe.