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Longtime DJ at 'Rock Capital of Brooklyn' Explores its Legacy in New Book

By Katie Honan | February 17, 2016 10:38am
 The crowd at L'Amour.
The crowd at L'Amour.
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Ed Esposito

BENSONHURST — At the height of Brooklyn’s "Saturday Night Fever," a club in a warehouse on 62nd Street started a weekly rock night to bring in a different crowd.

The Thursday rock nights at L’Amour soon grew to meet demand from rock fans who were hungry for a space of their own, according to Alex Kayne, the legendary DJ who spun there for decades.

“The Thursdays had gotten so crowded, it spilled over into Friday, then Saturday,” Kayne, now 57, said. By 1981, there was no more disco dancing at L'Amour.

“The owners [Mike and George Parente] said, 'Screw it, let’s do all rock'.”

The story of how L’Amour became what is considered by many as the greatest metal club in history is the focus of Kayne's long-awaited book, “L’Amour: Rock Capital of Brooklyn.”

The L'Amour marquee in 1988. (Credit: Ed Esposito)

He began working on the book a decade ago, reaching out to regulars and musicians on MySpace for photos and stories. 

The response was overwhelming as people were eager to share their memories and tell how the club impacted their lives.

“It’s a way of walking down memory lane and a way of letting go, at the same time,” said Kayne, who still deejays. The book, which has had many stops and starts, should be out in May, he said.

“It was kind of a cleansing experience for me.”

He started going to L’Amour in 1978, first as a guest and then as a DJ.

He grew up a few blocks away and dreamed of being a radio disc jockey. But after seeing what club DJs did in the booths — spinning and mixing beats and flipping records, even disco and dance — he knew he wanted to do that instead.

He saved up for turntables and eventually got a gig when the club moved to rock.

"To me it was the best job in the world,” he said.

“I thought, ‘This is what I’m doing with my life — I’m gonna spin at L’Amours for the rest of my life. I was a kid, what did I know?”

DJ Alex Kayne behind the booth at L'Amour in 1981. 

“L’Amour: Rock Capital of Brooklyn” features interviews, first-person accounts and as complete a show list as Kayne could figure out.

He filled 50 pages with the long list of bands that played the club. It reads like a Hall of Fame inductee list — Metallica, Kiss, Megadeth, Guns N’Roses, Quiet Riot, Poison, Anthrax, The Ramones and Slayer all made appearances.

The club came along at the right time as a new wave of British heavy metal bands began to influence rock music.

“Our crowd turned into a heavy metal crowd,” Kayne said. By the mid 1980s, “metal had taken over the world.”

Every week they’d host thousands of moshing “maniacs,” he said. Before the Internet, word got out about L’Amour through magazine reviews, tape exchanges, band fliers and word of mouth.

 Anthrax live at L'Amour, 1984

By the mid 1980s everybody wanted a piece of the genre, he said. Studio 54 and the Limelight held metal nights — but nobody was bigger or better than L’Amour.

“You’re a little late to the f----ng party by then,” Kayne joked about the other clubs.

L’Amour also branched out, opening L’Amour East on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst in the mid 1980s, and the short-lived L’Amour Far East in Commack, Long Island, around the same time.

But the club struggled in the 1990s, he said.

“When the Seattle thing hit, ” he said, referring to the popularity of grunge, “the heavy metal fans grew up.”

And while they booked bands like Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More, some of the other bands “were afraid of the reputation” as a metal club, he said. 

L’Amour closed for good in 2004 and a later attempt to open a L'Amour on Staten Island wasn't successful. The space on 62nd Street was most recently a dance club known as Club Red Wolf.

The metal legacy still lives on in smaller clubs around the city, like Blackthorn 51 in Elmhurst. When you go to big metal shows, you’ll see “30 or 40 L’Amour’s people," Kayne said.

It was that connection of L’Amour’s people that eventually led him to find a publisher for the book. It wasn’t easy trying to publish a niche book about a metal club in Brooklyn, he admits.

He sent a proposal to Rare Bird Books anyway. It turned out its owner had been to shows at the club and he understood, Kayne said.

The book, which can be pre-ordered now, will hopefully share with the world what it was like running what Kayne believes is the biggest and the best metal club in the world, in an unlikely place. 

Kayne said opening it in Brooklyn was a bit like operating “behind enemy lines.” That helped add to its aura.

“The rest of the neighborhood was GQ, polyester, disco,” he said. "[L'Amour] was a little enclave. And by extension that’s where we all found a home.”