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Let’s Talk to the DJ Who Played That Long Island Nightclub in 1988

DJ Jeff "Jeff Nec" Neckonoff "would love to get a disco and house thing going in Manhattan."

Orange lights inside of a dark nightclub.

(Krys Amon / Unsplash)

After becoming transfixed by a 1988 video of the Long Island nightclub Jamz posted on YouTube by that night's DJ, Jeff Neckonoff, I was kicking myself for not getting in touch with DJ Jeff Nec himself, wanting to hear first hand what a night that seems like it happened in another world was like, the differences between DJing in Long Island and Manhattan, and how he's seen New York's club culture change over the past three decades. 

I rectified that yesterday, getting in touch with Jeff, now 57 years old (he says he started clubbing at 15 in Brooklyn with a fake ID from Times Square, and was going to Studio 54 by 16), while he was driving into the city for a gig. Jeff is still working, and that night was DJing and hosting an evening of karaoke at the Times Square Dave and Busters, which I will definitely be pulling up to in the near future. But he has more ambitious plans he's trying to get going, with the right support: a club night in the city, playing the types of disco and house he grew up with. And he would ban phones, as he thinks all of the texting and selfies "destroyed the club industry in the States." 

"If you have a thousand Gen Z and millennials on the dance floor without their phone? All of a sudden magic happens, just like back in the day," he said. "And they can't Shazam it, they can't do anything, they can't take pictures of the people they're with." Jeff added, "It's the only way that you could duplicate the feel of a legitimate, back-in-the-day nightclub." 

Of course, there are some clubs in New York implementing the "no phones on the dancefloor" rule, Nowadays most famously. But I'm game. If you're a club owner, I recommend hitting Jeff up, and then me. I'll be there.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Hell Gate: Do you remember that night in 1988 at Jamz?

Jeff Neckonoff: Yeah, pretty much. Every Thursday was almost the same, for like three years, but I remember that night because we got great video out of it. It was recorded by a friend of mine, and he used to videotape private parties, and we used to work for a company together. He wasn't the most social guy, so he used the camera to be able to hang out in a cool nightclub. And it was great because he would get in everyone's faces. And he was very tech-y, so he was into SuperVHS, which is like shooting in 4k now.

Were you just DJing in Long Island?

Predominantly Long Island, but a couple in Manhattan. Johnny Rockets opened up their first place here, and it had a bar and a nightclub area in it. Two blocks away was another club called Cafe Society. And then I actually worked a couple of high-end strip clubs. It wasn't your typical suburban strip club. It was like, big spenders would come and the girls made a lot of money. But I didn't like the taste of that place. It was dirty.

Was there any difference in the kind of music you'd play in the city versus Long Island?

No, no, because my taste and my style was freestyle and house, with some disco thrown in. It was a decade after disco—it was still fairly popular, but young people didn't know it, so you would have to mix it up. Maybe a little Top 40: Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson. Not really much of the British stuff. Some new wave, like New Order and Depeche Mode, Dead or Alive. You would just look at the crowd, and you could see, okay, these people grew up very city-ish, so you'd throw on some of that stuff. Where you're in a more bridge-and-tunnel crowd, you'd play more freestyle and house.

Do you still play freestyle and house now?

If the crowd calls for it, yes, but the younger generation are not dance music savvy in the United States. They're just pop culture, TikTok, radio. Whereas I was just in Europe and they're more in tune with the dance music situation, because the nightclub is still vibrant in London and Ibiza and Germany and Amsterdam. Here, you'll have a taste of it, but it's not what it was back in the late '80s and '90s.

Do you still DJ in the city at all?

Just private gigs. Right now, I'm going to host a karaoke night. Which, for me, is a piece of cake, because I just call people up to sing.

Where?

It's actually at the Dave and Busters in Times Square. My main thing now is private gigs, but I'd love to get a disco and house thing going in Manhattan. When I was in London last March to see my son, who was in his last semester of college and did an overseas thing, we went clubbing, and they had an app there. I just typed in "disco," and there were like eight clubs within a 15 to 20 minute commute of where I was staying. 

And I went to three of them, and they were packed! Twenty-five to 30 years old was the average age, and they were dancing to songs that came out when I was 12. And it made me like, man, it's such a shame this can't happen in New York. [Ed. note: for parties like this in New York, try Soul Summit.] Can it, or can it not? Someone would have to financially support a night like that, and they'd have to promote it, which is key. But you never know! With the right [pointedly] writers behind it, the right people saying, "We've gotta get this going," maybe someone like you, or even your contacts, you could get the itch out there, and someone will want to scratch it.

Well, I'll put that in the article.

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