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Blackout | Article

"Doc" Vanager, Brooklyn Resident

During the 1977 blackout in New York City, Christopher Vanager was a 12-year-old living in Brooklyn with his mother. In this interview, he describes the city's music scene, and how the looting that occurred during the more than 24-hour power outage may have helped enable the birth of New York's hip-hop culture.

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Christopher "Doc" Vanager

Christopher "Doc" Vanager, Brooklyn resident: Well, as far as the… music side of the culture … pre-'77, the kids that were DJ-ing and eventually becoming rappers, they didn't have equipment. It was very hard to come by certain things. Microphones, turntables were nonexistent. You know, your parents had one, and that was it. You know, so all these… necessary tools… were just expensive.

Prior to '77, very few people had equipment. They, I mean, it was a handful of people that actually could afford -- a turntable cost more in '77 than it does now. That's scary. You know, for someone to go out and… buy audiophile turntable back then probably cost… three, $400. […]

The only places that had mixing boards were schools, radio stations, and maybe nightclubs. There was no mixer for a kid to even buy. And around maybe '76, '77 they actually started making portable DJ mixers. But even back then, that unit must've been about, I think it was like $600 for a cheap one, up to $1,000 for a portable mixing board. And I'm not even talking about a mixing board you would use to plug in mics. I'm talking about one that was designed for DJ-ing that was narrow, small, compact, and had, you know, quality sound to it. That stuff was incredibly expensive. Right after the blackout, all of a sudden there were DJ crews all over this city. Guys just started coming out the woodwork with equipment. And I'm saying to myself, "Nobody had this stuff before."

[Before the Blackout,] there was like one or two guys in every borough that had big sound systems, and everybody kind of rented from them. And guys would piece together, like when they would come out -- 'cause back then there were no venues for this art form, so guys would basically perform in the park. You know, they would wait till the Parks Department closed and they would pop the light open and draw power off of one of the lights. And they would bring sound systems out in the park. …And I was always paying attention to equipment 'cause I used to play bass guitar when I was a kid. So I was always aware of amps, and electronics, and sound gear. And the first thing I would notice is, "This turntable looks different from the other one." No one had… a set. No one had anything that matched. One speaker looked different than the other. Everything was ragtag. You know, things were held together with tape and you could see, it was like Frankenstein equipment. Everybody just kind of salvaged stuff that they found or that they bought. Guys would be DJ-ing with guitar amps and guitar speakers.

This was before the blackout. Once the blackout happened… I'm talking, guys had stuff out the wazoo. All of a sudden these guys are coming out in the park, poor kids, with sound systems that were incredible. …I remember I was talking to an old timer that was a little bit older than me, and he was in the game for a long time. And I said to him, I go, "Yo. You know, all those guys in your neighborhood that bust out in '77? Where'd they get all that equipment from?" And he just laughed. And he goes, "From the blackout, dummy." I go, "That's what I thought." He goes, "Yeah, man." He goes, "Oh, all those … pawn shops and… the… appliances places," he said, "Them guys tore them gates off. They went past everything and went right to the equipment.

They took microphones, amps, stacks of speakers, turntables, whatever they could get and they hustled them out, and laid low for about a month or two, and then they were out there -- ''Ta-da!' You know, "We're official now. We, we have stuff to work with." So, you know… it makes me laugh because, you know, now this is like a billion dollar industry, this whole music thing with… rap music and all these kids and everything. And they don't even know how it started.

In New York City those poor kids could not afford any of that stuff. And people can tell you whatever they want. These were all kids from the projects that started this stuff. They couldn't even afford a microphone, let alone two turntables and a mixer, and stacks of speakers, you know.

[…] I think New York City music history owes a lot to the Blackout. I don't think, I think it would've took maybe another 10 years to happen because those kids would've had to grow up, work, get jobs, and then support their… vision as far as the way they wanted to go. And that, that would've never happened 'cause these kids were like… the biggest rappers and DJ's of the time. They were like maybe 16, 17 years old.

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