Life in the booth: Studio 54’s Nicky Siano shares his greatest DJ stories

Studio 54 resident and The Gallery founder, Nicky Siano shares some of his favourite memories from a life behind the decks.

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It’s hard to think of a nightclub more integral to its scene than Studio 54 was to disco. Over thirty years since it closed its doors it’s still considered the gold standard of what a nightclub should be. A large part of that is down to the legendary DJs that played there in the early years, chief amongst them Nicky Siano. A resident for the first four months of the studio and the founder of the equally iconic Gallery nightclub, Siano sits among some of the greatest DJs to have graced a set of turntables and he’s still producing and playing out to this day.

On April 28th, Siano comes to London as part of the Brixton Disco Festival, a day and night long celebration of disco culture spread across SW2 and SW9. As well as gracing the decks for a three hour set at the Prince of Wales in the wee hours, he’ll be presenting a screening of his documentary about the Gallery, Love is the Message, alongside a Q&A at the Ritzy Picturehouse. It’s a rare chance to delve into the near-mythical world of Siano, Studio 54 and the world of NYC nightlife in the 1970s. In anticipation of his arrival, we asked Siano to pick out some of his favourite moments from his storied career. The results are better than we could have ever expected, from the opening night of the Gallery to partying with Grace Jones in Russia. Read his stories below and head here to cop tickets for the festival.

Nicky Siano: “Robin and I met in 1971 at school, became quick friends and lovers, even though she knew and I certainly knew I was gay, there was a part of Robin that I was intensely attracted to, her mind.  She pushed and supported me in a way that women have supported men from the beginning of time, whole-heartedly. Her support, my ideas, and her work ethic helped us open the Gallery one year after this photo was taken. We were at a vacation resort in the Catskills, where my parents rented us a room and paid for our stay.  It was a cast over, rainy week, during the summer. I remember that day we took LSD, and jumped in the pool, while it rained around us, laughing so hard my sides still hurt remembering it.”

“Opening night of the Second Gallery on Mercer Street, both Frankie (Knuckles) and Larry (Levan) were there. Larry had just started working at the Continental Baths as a DJ.  Frankie was by his side, working the lights. Frankie came right before we opened the doors. I met him outside the DJ booth and we hugged, always good close friends until he died. Years later when I interviewed him for my film Love is The Message I asked him if he remembered the first song I played that night.  He looked down for a minute, thought about it and answered ‘Lansana’s Priestess’ by Donald Byrd…yes that was it!”

“This was taken shortly after we opened the second Gallery on Mercer street.  This couch, which was from Robin and I’s first apartment, sat in front of the booth there for as long as we were open. I am with my best friend Rique Spencer, born the same day and year as me, sadly he died in 1980.  Larry smiling brightly, later that night we would be sitting in the DJ booth after I closed and we both heard music playing in the building, which we had not heard the first couple of months of operation. I sent Larry to investigate, it was Flamingo which had opened in the same building on the second floor! Last person in the photo, Robin, who came back to work at the Gallery after a year absence, taking up perch at the door, as if she never left!”

“After giving Grace her first opportunity to perform in New York at the Gallery in 1975, she was signed to Island Records shortly after, the rest is history. We have met several times on tour together. This photo was taken in Russia 2005, while we performed there. Afterwards, we went back to her hotel room with about five other people, we were talking for hours when Grace took me into her bedroom and said, “I want to play some things for you.” They were the rough tracks to her soon to be released new album Hurricane, which I consider her best to date!  And I wasn’t wrong when I told her, “this will change your career!” It has, as she should have been considered so long ago, Grace is so much more than a disco star, she is a trendsetter and a consummate performer.  I love her so much.”

Brixton Disco Festival takes place April 28th throughout Brixton. For more information head to brixtondiscofestival.com.

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