Last night I spent the evening watching an incredible disco documentary called The Story of Mel Cheren and West End Records. In this fantastic 80 minute documentary the late Mel Cheren, a recording executive, pioneer and activist tells the story of how he founded the West End record label that promoted disco and fostered the creation of the 12 inch vinyl single, which gained its greatest popularity with club DJs in New York. And while working for another label, Scepter Records, before founding West End, Mel Cheren came up with the idea of instrumental B-sides for dance singles. Mel Cheren also talks about how he became the financial backer that helped his business partner and former lover, Michael Brody, create the world famous Paradise Garage in 1977 out of what was once a parking garage at 84 King Street in the SoHo section of NYC.
The Paradise Garage was the epicenter of DJ culture in the 1970s and ’80s and was the focal point of the Manhattan gay disco scene. Culturally mixed party goers quickly fell under the spell of the legendary DJ Larry Levan, where he became a “DJ God” whose sets became referred to as “Saturday Mass”. The film also gives you some insight on the struggles of the gay community, their push for equality within the club circuit and the horrible, unfortunate grip the AIDS epidemic had within the scene. By the late 1980s the AIDS epidemic had taken the lives of so many of Mel Cheren’s friends that he felt compelled to do something. He founded 24 Hours for Life, a nonprofit group that raised money from the music industry for AIDS relief.
I can’t say enough about how wonderful and nostalgic this documentary is from the incredible music that came from the West End label to the heavy-weight DJs like Louie Vega, Marly Marl, Danny Krivit, Junior Vasquez and Nicky Siano, to name a few, who weigh in to pay their respects to what was once a great New York club culture. This is a must watch for DJs, disco lovers, collectors and music lovers in general. It’s worth every second.