DJ Keoki, Superstar
It's fifteen minutes shy of nine o'clock in the morning, but the rented Capitol Hill house of Superstar DJ Keoki, the newest prince of the Denver club universe, is already rocking. A deafening dance groove built on a roaring synthesizer and more beats per minute than at a porno theater boom from his extravagant stereo system at roughly the pain threshold. "I guess I should turn that down," Keoki mutters noncommittally, as if noticing the music for the first time. By way of explanation, he says, "I've been working."
In fact, Keoki has been toiling away in his patched-together home studio since the night before, and with good reason: The man is in demand. His three remix albums (1994's Journeys by DJ Keoki, 1995's Superstar DJ Keoki--All Mixed Up and 1996's Disco Death Race 2000) are among the top-selling platters on L.A.-based Moonshine Records, which specializes in the hottest dance music available. Buoyed both by this response and the higher mainstream profile he earned as a result of numerous appearances at 1995 Lollapalooza festival dates, Keoki subsequently branched out into semi-conventional songwriting, with similar success. His first effort, "Caterpillar," made a splash on dance charts here and overseas and was even used as part of an episode of The Simpsons. ("I haven't seen it yet, but my brother has a copy," Keoki notes.) Now he's in the midst of pulling together his first full-fledged CD of original material, and the clock is running; his next single, "Magic," is set for release July 28, and Moonshine wants the disc as a whole in the can by the end of summer. "I'm not sure what I'm going to call it," he concedes. "Maybe something like Metamorphosis of the Moth Cycle. To signify growth and change."
Change is something with which Keoki is familiar, especially lately. He spent more than a decade in New York City and since 1989 was the marquee spinner for Disco 2000, a long-running feature at Manhattan's notorious Limelight nightclub. That's a staggeringly long run given the trend-happy nature of dance music in general. However, that all came to an end following what Keoki accurately describes as "a big ol' drug bust." The Limelight's owner and a slew of others have been charged in the matter, which Keoki sees as politically motivated. "It was a bunch of nonsense," he insists. "I think it had something to do with it being election year. Hitting the clubs looks good in the papers for the Republicans."
Neither Keoki nor Michael Alig, Disco 2000's promoter, was directly linked to the incident, but that didn't matter: Keoki wanted out, anyhow. "It got really oppressive," he divulges. "It didn't feel right anymore, so I just ended it." With little warning, he pulled up stakes. And although he could have moved anywhere on the planet (thanks to the reputation he's earned over the course of numerous international tours), he chose to put down roots in the Denver area. Even hardcore supporters of the Colorado music scene are a bit puzzled by this decision, and Keoki's scattered explanation probably won't end speculation about it.
"I'm really not quite sure," he submits. "My brother Kekoa went to school here at Regis College, and I visited him a couple of times. Once or twice I was in a hailstorm, and I loved that. Plus, there's snowboarding, and the weather's real nice. It feels like a really fresh city.
"There's not too much happening as far as dance culture here," he goes on, "so I'd like to be somewhat of a pioneer in a sense--to do some things that I've learned around the world and bring them back. Denver's actually pretty large, and there are a lot of cool producers and DJs I know. And there's Nebula 9, which is a really cool dance act. But it will still be nice to be a big fish in kind of a little pond."
Water imagery comes easily to Keoki; he was born and raised in Kihei, Maui. An inveterate record collector, he first became hooked on punk rock but later branched out into an infinite variety of sounds. At first, though, he didn't seriously consider a career in the music business. "I wanted to travel," he recalls, "so I went into the airline industry." He enrolled at an airline training academy in California, "where I learned to trace lost luggage." Three months later he landed a job in New York City. But while there were indeed opportunities to jet to foreign lands, the lousy pay took much of the fun out of these treks. "I got to go to London once, but since I only had about $20 in my pocket, I had to sleep in the airport," he says.
To make ends meet, Keoki landed a position in the lounge at a club called Area. "I kept bugging the manager to let me DJ," he relates, "and one night when they needed somebody, they allowed me to do it." After this one-time-only gig was made permanent, he goes on, "I started playing a real mix of stuff--everything from Frank Sinatra to the Sex Pistols. It was a time when New York City was very chic and hip, and the club I was at was very cool. I'd do private parties for the B-52's and Iggy Pop and people like that. They'd want me there because I'd always be really fun and visual, and the music I played would always be at least interesting. I was the glammed-out superstar DJ."
During this period, Keoki (who attached the "Superstar" moniker to his name long before he actually was one) arrived at what he sees as his musical philosophy. "I still follow the same basics that I learned then," he allows. "I want to keep people happy on the dance floor but never, ever get caught in any kind of rut. I try not to suck the dick of compromise. I try to move forward with everything I do. People ask what kind of music I play, and I don't like to say techno or trance or whatever. It's always just dance music--dance music that's on the cutting edge. I want you to be surprised every time you hear me play. I certainly am."
Disco 2000, Keoki asserts, was "really about the music. The whole concept was like, 'Your guide to tomorrow's sound.'" But he acknowledges that the nightspot's extra-musical aspects--the extravagantly bedecked fun-seekers who congregated there and the highly flamboyant decadence that they practiced--grabbed much of the attention. "It seemed like Geraldo was interviewing all the club kids every month," he says. "The whole thing really changed a lot of minds about fashion and other things." He adds, "We did a lot of charity events, too--fashion shows and AIDS benefits. We had Cher and Florence Henderson come down. We had a megaphone with Disco 2000, and we used it--because to me, clubs are so important. They're about the only place you'll see a hooker and a senator talking to each other. They're a place to be yourself and be free--or be somebody else and be free. Be anything you want to be."
As for the use of drugs at the Limelight, Keoki prefers to speak from personal experience. He doesn't deny that he's indulged in pharmaceuticals in the past--but then, he couldn't: In a piece last year in Herb Garden, a zine he calls "the High Times of England," he used diagrams to describe how to smoke crystal meth using a lightbulb. "I gave the ten steps of doing it," he affirms. "I think the ninth was 'Sit down before somebody notices your large erection,' and the tenth was, 'Don't make any plans.'"
"Drugs have always been a part of club culture," he continues, "and I did my share of them. But people have to keep in mind that things come in phases." Today, he says, he's clean. "You can't possibly con yourself into thinking that you can do drugs forever, and for me, this is a different time. I don't regret my drug use, because I did learn a lot. But my body knew when to stop."
Moving to Denver is also part of Keoki's process of maturation, but it doesn't mean he's ready for a rocking chair. He's the headliner of Disco 2000 II, tentatively set for mid-September at a soon-to-open nightclub, Metropolis. (A pre-Disco 2000 II party is scheduled to take place from 5 p.m. to whenever on Saturday, August 17, in the Metropolis parking lot, at 2947 Inca Street. Details about Keoki's residency at the venue will be announced soon.) Michael Alig is behind the ventures, and if they go well, they may become the first of a series of similar events in Denver.
Keoki resists predicting what shape these bashes may eventually take, in part because he's so overwhelmed with other projects. In addition to recording, he's house-hunting in the Evergreen area. "I want to be someplace with a mountain view, so I feel like I'm in Colorado," he claims. "And if I find a place I really like, I might be here forever. The only other place I might go is Berlin. I lived there for a while once, and it would be a totally different cliff to jump off of. I could do it, but it would take a little more preparation to figure out what I wanted to do there."
But Berlin is a matter for future consideration. Right now, Denver is the place. "Dance culture is exploding in America, and I want to be in the front," Keoki announces. "As they say in Hawaii, I want to be riding the wave.
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