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Photo By: Shaina Leigh

"Keith Litman is an icon"

-  Gonzalo Dangelo, VITAMINA

It's easy, in what we call the modern era, to view history in the form of discrete bits of data. Little moments, arranged as points on a board, pixels in an image. But you don't even have to go back to the pointillist artists to realize that as you step back from those isolated instances, a bigger picture takes form. The sixteen year-old in a teen club having his mind rewired by Trinere's “I Know You Love Me,” and the crowds of the world's party circuit losing their minds to Charlotte’s “Skin” in the late nineties- they don't hyperlink to one another in a way that minimizes search and discovery, rather incorporating the journey of the myriad of sounds, grooves, and beats that connect the two in the orchestration of, in this case, one man's life.


But that bigger picture, the one that sees the history of music and the very human need to dance stretching back almost forty thousand years in an analogue wave made up of hundreds and thousands of those moments, that's where we start to get a feel for the hand some of the unsung DJs have had in shaping our lives. If you've never heard “Get Up Stand Up” by The Phunky Phantom, it's still worth a spin- a dancefloor monster that extracts not just the sounds of different subgenres, but also the heart of each, finding through synthesis a release, a benediction unto all that those styles have offered as it pumps with that mysterious common denominator, the rhythm of life.


“My music will carry me where I need to go” is the mantra by which Keith Litman conducted his career as a producer, DJ, remixer, and songwriter. With persistence, luck, a timely hustle, and a few happy accidents, it took him from club Djing to studio work thanks to a willingness to remix outside of the box (with a take on Tag Team's “Whoomp (There It Is)” that once again reminded dancefloors around the world that hip-hop and house could play nice together), a devotion to listening to what people were responding to, and a chance meeting with Erick Morillo.


Working in the labs of dance music theory, he was looking for a sound, one that would bridge the stylized synths of the rave scene with the booming house foundations of legends like Todd Terry and Masters at Work, all while finding space for a relentless sheet of hi-hats that would drive the floor as if skiing down the smoothest of mountainsides. A new sound that understood the New York sound at that time was a clashing, clanging percussive soup- X-Beat; a new sound that took the relentlessness limit pushing of its peers, but also demanded as much of its synth hooks and melodies as its percussive force. And in developing that sound, an offhand recommendation to Morillo about the noises coming out of Keith's Juno 106 synthesizer led to the hook for Real II Reel's “I Like To Move It,” the international megahit that saw everything change. It was but one of those little isolated moments, but its impact can still be felt today.


Further time spent in the Morillo/Reel II Real camp led to Keith's writing and production of “Conway” and “Raise Your Hands” for their album 'Move It.' And from there, the UK came calling, leading to a slew of remixes that throbbed to the global sound that Keith had helped develop- versatile for clubs on both sides of the pond (with four Billboard Club Chart #1s), and even leaping into the Japanese market with several successful mixes in that language. Aggressive enough for America's tribal fortresses, progressive enough for the synthetic pulse of Europe's polyphonic nightscapes, what Litman did was find a global dialect of dance music. When a week finds you DJing in Argentina, having pop hits throughout Europe, and hearing your own tracks at London's Ministry of Sound, that's the kind of life that can sweep you away.


The knack Litman had for taking disparate sounds and finding the way that they would not only sound right together, but also build on one another, is rare, even to this day of digital everything. Listen to his mix of “Someone” by Ascension. It pulses like a supernova, with several distinct patterns working off of and with one another, creating a soundscape that envelops the listener in harmonic and tonal contrast- but it does not falter. It does not collapse.


And fortunately, we still have Keith Litman around, having moved into a different career thanks to the vagaries of the music industry at the dawn of filesharing. Now, in a flooded industry that seems motivated more by fame and fortune than guts and glory, fragmentation and imitation is the order of the day. Litman's focus on finding commonalities in the sounds of both the UK and the US provided a blueprint for many of the monster global hits of today, and that ability to create new sounds, to move the crowd- it never goes away.

And that infinite beat still continues, out there, waiting for a new variation or mutation to propel it along, and always joyous in the return of one who previously shook things up and could do so again. “There's probably an album's worth of material just sitting on the computer,” Litman says, all too aware of what it means to dive into the perspective-ramping joys of the nightlife. “It's a full-time job,” he says, “but it's always been a pleasure.”






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