Keynote Q&A: Robert Clivillés
Moderated by Jim Tremayne, this intimate Q&A was one of the best out of the three Keynote Q&As given. Wearing a fitted navy Yankees cap, Mr. Clivilles spoke quietly and was very passionate and enthused to be sharing his story.
Learning The Craft
Robert took a liking to Larry Levan, one of Dance Music’s front-runners. During the 70s and 80s, the Paradise Garage was legendary, greatly due to Larry's involvement. “It was the ultimate dance club for sound, light, acoustics—the full-on experience of a DJ,” Robert said. “He was not only a DJ, he was a perfectionist with his ear. He helped to design the sound system along with Richard Long. He designed the sound-proofing; he designed the club from top to bottom, as well as being the DJ.”
Robert loved to talk about how Larry was so meticulous before a club gig that he would change around the acoustics within the room so that it sounded different from the week before.
Robert was also one of those guys who went down to legendary Carmine Street in Greenwich Village, NYC, looking to buy the record(s) that Larry (and others) spun. “That was when DJing was DJing. You know, that was when DJs dared to play a record that no one ever heard, and even if ten people landed on the dance floor and the rest left the room; he’d play the same record the following week, and there’d be twenty people…” This, Robert believes, is what made a DJ “powerful.”
First DJ system bought was a pair of Technics 1200’s and a Numark mixer, bought from a youth center (that used to be) on 28th Street. He thought of himself as a natural, being able to beat-mix well, and he played any type of gig because he was so passionate about DJing . Even when he was younger, he would further perfect his craft when, after his Mom thought he was asleep, he flipped his headphones over and placed them in the middle of the mixer, using them as a speaker on a very low volume yet still loud enough so that he could further perfect blending the music seamlessly.
Gaining In Popularity
He wanted to DJ in nightclubs but club DJs didn’t give him a shot, but he got to hang out with them, to watch them, and he got to watch the crowd; he became a listener. Robert got his initial break when he attended Borough of Manhattan Community College, majoring in Business Management. There was a project that was given: $500 to the team who can turn the most profit. Robert came up with the ingenious idea to rent Studio 54, billing it as a college event, open between 7p and midnight, and he would DJ it, along with the stipulation that he takes a percentage of what was made behind the bar. That night, the club was sold out and generated $20,000. He gave the $500 back to the college, $2,000 was profit.
The event raised several eyebrows and would be Robert’s ticket out of the listening-only crowd. He was then asked to be a substitute DJ at Studio 54 as well as befriending DJ Bruce Forest from another popular club, Better Days, and playing there as well.
Spur Of The Moment
Robert met David Cole randomly. Robert was spinning a party when David walked up to Robert, shook his hand and asked if they could jam sometime. The two clicked, so much so that Robert envisioned working with David on a record. When Robert wrote and was ready to record “It’s Too Late,” he needed a keyboardist and called David up, who was more than happy to oblige. But it wasn’t until Robert watched legendary DJ Hex Hector spin at another infamous hangout, the China Club, that led to the inspiration to pen “Gonna Make You Sweat.”
Thereafter, David Cole called up his long-time friend Martha Wash and asked if she would lend out her already powerful pipes (since she formerly fronted The Weather Girls and had her vocals used for Black Box) on a song David’s producing partner Robert, was working on.
But when Martha asked Robert what he wanted her to sing, he was admittedly dumbfounded. And then it hit him. He told her to scream into the mic, “Everybody dance now!” The rest, as they say, is history, but there’s a bit more to this story.
Interestingly, Robert gave Martha each note, “so she didn’t sing what was on the record. Everybody thinks she sang what’s on the record but it’s not. It’s six parts that I gave her.” When the session was over, Robert asked David what he thought: It had hit record written all over it. “Gonna Make You Sweat” had one of the catchiest hooks and choruses and would go on to become the song of the 90s.
Going For “It”
“You gotta sit down and write your goals of what you want to achieve. It was always my passion to be a songwriter, producer, as well as a DJ. So I was going for it,” which meant that he wanted to score a number one hit. This became especially apparent, as Robert was standing in the middle of an industry dynamic that hadn’t come across an artist who was also remixing, producing, and writing music for scores of other big-name artists (Mariah Carey, Lisa Lisa, Whitney Houston, Grace Jones, etc.).
All in all, Robert maintains that he’s kept his feet on the ground and didn’t let the fame and fortune aspects go to his head.“It’s awesome to see records come out of nowhere. Y’know just pure [snaps his fingers] in the moment, and most of those big records that we made were in the moment.”