Out there and back with Frankie "Bones"... part 1
by Jordan E. Lanier
Photos by Whitney Nall
On January 12, 2002, I was fortunate enough to spend the evening with Frankie Mitchell, a.k.a. Frankie "Bones," in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Frankie, the legendary founder of the U.S. rave scene, had been brought to The Quest Club by Compass Entertainment on a blustery winter night to warm the soul of anyone lucky enough to be an attendee, as that evening they saw a true pioneer at his best.
After playing a bangin' two hour set to about 1,500 people, the night drew to a close. The crowd relentlessly screamed for minutes: "Just one more!" and "Frankie! Frankie!" could be heard over and over. Finally, in Frankie's eloquent manner, he took the microphone and thanked everyone repeatedly for coming out, but unfortunately, he didn't make the laws so everyone had to go home.
When the commotion subsided, Frankie and I gathered our things and settled down together on a couch backstage. With some Heineken in hand, he was ready to talk...
Lunar: You played an amazing set tonight! WOW! How do you determine your general set selection?
Frankie "Bones": I guess to be honest with you, if you asked me that question in the right senses, I would say...
I started DJing in '81, but I've been buying records since 1975. You know, it's like a ritual. I started working disco with pop music in the beginning, then went through all the phases of hip-hop, electro, house, and techno. I've just become a master of records. I won't say I'm a master of the turntables, but I'll say that I'm a master of records. Buying records and having, collecting, and selling records is like an addiction, in the worst sense of the word. So I don't really prepare for sets. I just buy records all the time. I must go to the record store, every two or three days not my own record store. I'm in my own record store two days a week. I'm just pretty much buying records. Whatever sounds like it will work when I play out. Because I started off in New York playing bar mitzvahs, sweet 16s, and weddingsI've been through all phases of being a DJ: the club scenes, the strip clubs, the whole thing. And also, being a part of the graffiti movement and break dancing, I was in the underground. I've seen every aspect and every extreme. It's just a matter of buying records for 26, 27 years. If you've been buying them that long then you should know what to play. I don't prepare for this; it kind of happens.
Lunar: Describe your sound. I've heard you say...
Frankie "Bones": Eclectic.
Lunar: Eclectic? Well, I've heard you say that you play "good music."
Frankie "Bones": Well, if I just said that all I play was good music, that would be pretentious, but I think eclectic. I fuse a lot of things together. I think the whole entire culture is based on recycling. Like house goes into techno, and then they come out with techno-house. Now the big thing is like 80's synth pop, you know. So if you were doing techno-house now you put a little of those Depeche Mode or spin some Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" sounds. And it recycles. It's like you took two things and fuse them together, and then you fuse a third thing, and I don't know what we're going to come out with next. I think hardcore or underwater yodeling. I don't know if [it] will sell though.
Lunar: If you put a beat to it...
Frankie "Bones": It might, it might. Laughing
Lunar: Who are some of your favorite electronic music artists playing right now? Some people that you listen to? Somebody's sets that you can appreciate.
Frankie "Bones": There is nobody right now that has done anything that I can actually say that I really have been deeply motivated by. There was a time in 1984, that these two guys from New York called the Latin Rascals did a mix show. They did editing on reels. And what is was was editing snippets of different records all together and fuse it all. And in an instant, I can only remember three pinnacles when my life was changed drastically, and that was one of them. There's nobody in this culture, and there's a million people doing this now. I think what happened was, all the people that should have stayed fans, should have stayed fans. Not me or whoever they were in to and a lot of people now say it's a D-I-Y concept, you do it yourself, so everybody's doing it, and, I think it watered it down to the point where I'm in a zone all my own, like I said, it's unfortunate.
Lunar: You don't worry about the scene?
Frankie "Bones": I used to know everybody, and I could tell you what Donald Glaude's CD, what the records that were on there. Anybody that I play with I know what they've been doingI know what they're doing now. So I definitely do research, only in the store. I want to know what everybody's doing, so at the same time to say there's nobody... not saying that I'm better than anybody else. I just wish that more people would have their own distinctive style. Sandra Collins, or Paul Van Dyk, or Sasha and Digweed your hearing the same music. I don't care what trance specialist you put in this room with me, we can argue the point you're hearing the same music. They might not play the same records, but it all sounds the same. And it's the same thing in the house scene. You know, Junior Vasquez doesn't sound like Frankie Knuckles. But you put Derrick Carter, DJ Sneak, and Doc Martin (they're all very talented) in the same room, and put blindfolds on people and do the Pepsi Taste Test, they won't know who's who.
Frankie "Bones": They won't know who's who.
Lunar: I'm from the Southeast I think you know, from Atlanta... Do you like playing in the Southeast?
Frankie "Bones": I love playing anywhere where there is a responsive crowd.
Lunar: What did you think about Atlanta when you were there at the end of October?
Frankie "Bones": Tony and Colby are very good promoters. They've done right by me for years, but I've just seen a downward spiral in their parties from when I used to work for them. They used to throw the best parties. At one point they were like, if you were to say, "Hey, who are your 5 favorite promoters?" They were on the top of my list. I don't have any favorite promoters now either! Not that they are not great guys, but the last party I did... it was bit sad. Because they did it in the works. You know, the "works" it's the club where... it's like the Limelight in New York.
I like Atlanta. The South is very funny. It's, like, how America is broken down to me. It's broken down into 6 parts. You have, the Coast, but North and South. The coast on the West. And the Midwestwhat's here in Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, down in Kansas City. And then south of that you have the South like New Orleans, Little Rock. Which is interesting because I started in Little Rock when the scene was kind of brand new like 3 or 4 years ago. It's different everywhere, its broken down into 6 different parts. Those people will travel anywhere in that area. A lot of people will travel all over the world to do this now, but I don't have a particular favorite spot. I tell promoters and people that are interested in booking me, my favorite place to play is any place that I have the keys to a car, doesn't have to be my car. It can be a rental, but as long as my car is outside the venue that's my favorite place to play, so I can slip out the back and drive off into the sunset or sunrise. Laughing
Lunar: Large events or small events, which do you prefer to play? Something like this [the Quest] or...
Frankie "Bones": Well, New Year's Eve we threw a party. A Sonic Groove party in New York in a loft right on the Brooklyn waterfront looking at the Manhattan skyline, or whatever's left of the Manhattan skyline. But, anyway, the space was incredible, and about as big as here [the Quest]... it's laid out different, loft-style. Nineth floor of a warehouse building. Held about 1500 people. Unbelievable apartment, man. I think 1500 people is a comfortable amount of people. It's big. It's big. I like small events, but I do lots of small events. The only thing special with small events is that you've got a lot of your closer people with you. But tonight was pretty much the ideal, you couldn't really... I wouldn't ask for anything more than what happened. You know, that was it. The crowd reacted; I reacted. It was good and it worked. It was good for me, so I'd probably say a 1000 to 1500 people.
Lunar: So you like to see the overall audience vibe?
Frankie "Bones": Yeah, see, it's bigger. 500 people is a lot of people, but it's not really. There's a lot of people doing this now, so, you know, for me to be a big, big fish in this, you know... now, to being a small fish in a big ocean. It used to be the other way around.
Lunar: Where do you think the scene is headed overall?
Frankie "Bones": You know, Millennium New Years 1999 going into 2000 I was in LA, and I predicted... we knew it was going to go tenfold, in 1993 we knew it was going to tenfold. And everybody that was doing it were just going to branch out. Then by '98, I knew that it was getting commercial. Like really commercial! My mom's like, "Who are Sasha and Digweed?" That was like four years ago now.
Now it's to the point of oblivion. Like, you can't buy a Sony Playstation game without some kind of electronic music. And a lot of the games are being made by... the soundtracks are being made by uspeople that do this. So, its been watered down to... it's like oblivion. To the point that, people in Fargo are doing it, in Boise they're doing it, in Anchorage, Alaska. You know, but since I'm in a zone all my own, whoever is in that zone at any given moment is going to feel the wrath. Laughing But, the scene is gone; it has been watered down, watered down. It's like, you got Kool-Aid mix, you put way too much water in there, somebody go to the store and get another packet, man, because it needs some flavor. I can only do what I can, man. Laughing
Lunar: Do you see your self as part of a subculture?
Frankie "Bones": Well, I feel like I've done so much, and the return hasn't been as good as I would have liked, but, my mother told me this: That when you pioneer a movement, you're not going to be the one who gets all of the respect and all the fame of the people that come right after you. You know, because if you're not pioneering, you usually don't perfect it right away, and, yeah, it wasn't that... we were doing STORMrave in New York in '92, 10 years ago. Doing strictly illegal warehouse break-ins, and we're pulling 5000 people at the highpoint of that. I'd be in jail if I did that now. So, I'm definitely a part of it. You ever put a jigsaw puzzle together; I'm that little piece in the corner that. You know?
Lunar: Where do you see yourself in 10 years, man?
Frankie "Bones": The same place I saw myself now 10 years ago. Laughing. Mick Jagger, they asked him that once in '68 when he did "Satisfaction". He said, "I don't want to be performing that song when I'm 40." And, look at him today. I don't want to be 64 and still DJing and traveling off with my Depends. I got plenty of time to worry about that. In 10 years, I'll probably be doing what I'm doing now. I've been on this adventure for the past 5 years to be honest with you.
Lunar: Sonic Groove: Defined was very good man...
Frankie "Bones": You did like it? Good! ... Yeah, because it was hard.
Lunar: Was it really just the three of you guys throwing down?
Frankie "Bones": Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, man. I mean, just fill the glasses up and threw some turntables up there, and it was just me, Heather, and Adam.
Lunar: Did you guys have some forethought as far as what you...
Frankie "Bones": No, because if we would have stayed in that room, the three of us in that same room in that situation more than the 74 minutes then... II kid you not, it was like going in Adam's studio. He just moved into a new house. We bent over, we didn't talk, we drank a little. Boom! Banged it out! Done. I left, I had to get out. I can't... If I'm in the room with them more than that amount, or a lot of time, like if we would've had to go back and do it over, Wheww! I'd be stressin', man.
Well, we had an idea of some of the tracks. Like, Adam had chose the records he wanted to play. I told Heather, "Pick the ones you want to play, and I'm just going to flow into you guys." But that first mix on there, it wasn't me, but it was rough. But, like I said, we just rolled with it.
I'm very at home with that style of music because what it was with the selection... well, Adam started it off with a Force Legato record, the record is 14 years old, so mixing in that Blake Baxter, another record that's 14 years old, but a European pressing versus a U.S. pressing, man the lines are just totally different on the record. But Adam is like, "You know, what can I do, it's just the way it is. You just do it." And we banged it out. And for what it is worth, the text that I wrote, it just goes, it just goes a long way.
Yeah, it does because at Sonic Groove as a team, we are far from perfect. We're like America, man! We're proud to be the best at what we are, but we're so many fucking loopholes, and, like you know, you know, it's checks and balances. It's rough, man, it's rough.
Lunar: What makes the Sonic Groove collective so special?
Frankie "Bones": Because we all compete really badly. You have to realize that Heather was Adam's girl for 8 years. Now, they're very close friends, and me and Adam are brothers, and I don't know where the sibling thing comes, I guess just because we're brothers and it's there naturally, but it's always been so competitive amongst each other that we aren't going to let anyone step to us, you know. We've been having battles with people, having battles with each other while we're having battles with other people. Crazy!
Lunar: It's like a real family, then?
Frankie "Bones": Yeah, you know. Sopranos set to techno music. Not as gangster though, I did devise the PLUR thing back in '90...
... onto the speech! [more]
Sonic Groove: Defined
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