Mark Kamins: DJ and producer who helped launch Madonna's career

 

In the late 1970s and early '80s the DJ Mark Kamins was making a name for himself, spinning "Motown, James Brown, hardcore R&B and beyond" at downtown New York clubs like Trax, the Mudd Club, Peppermint Lounge and Danceteria.

During all-nighters at Danceteria in 1981 he noticed one of the regulars, a confident 23-year-old whose dance moves always seemed to attract a crowd of followers. She introduced herself as Madonna, and gave him a cassette of a demo she had made of a dance track called "Everybody". "I gave it a listen and thought it was great. I liked it and the floor liked it," said Kamins, who managed to sneak the unreleased, rather basic, version of "Everybody" into his DJ set, and soon offered the singer his help in securing a record deal.

Like many influential DJs of the era, including François Kevorkian and Shep Pettibone, Kamins had been remixing tracks for the dancefloor but had designs on becoming a fully-fledged producer, and he made his involvement in that capacity part of the package. Since he was an A&R consultant for Island Records in New York, he played "Everybody" to Chris Blackwell but, despite having bankrolled the "Mutant Disco" of ZE Records, the Island supremo passed on Madonna.

Kamins and engineer Butch Jones had just finished doing a dance mix of "Big Business" for David Byrne's 3 Big Songs EP which reconfigured the grooviest segments from the musical score the Talking Heads mainman had composed for choreographer Twyla Tharp's project The Catherine Wheel. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Kamins played "Everybody" to Michael Rosenblatt, an A&R man at Sire Records, who was impressed, and took the tape to his boss Seymour Stein, who had previously signed the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Undertones. Even though he was recovering from surgery, Stein insisted Madonna came to the hospital and signed her on the spot, originally to a two-single deal, in 1982.

Kamins blagged his way through the recording session at Bob Blank's Blank Tapes Studio in New York with a few pointers from his friend Arthur Baker, another DJ-turned-remixer/producer, who suggested keyboard wizard Fred Zarr. His input helped shape the sparse, proto-electro sound of "Everybody". They also worked on a track entitled "Ain't No Big Deal", but this was ditched in favour of a 12-inch club release featuring a six-minute "Everybody" and a longer dub version on the B-side.

A song "about getting people to dance and lose their inhibitions", as Madonna put it, it was favourably reviewed by Billboard and became her entrée into the trade magazine's Hot Dance/Club Play Chart, peaking at No 3 after the singer's series of personal appearances with two dancers and a low-budget video clip directed by Ed Steinberg.

In December 1982, Madonna graced the cover of Dance Music Report, published by Tom Silverman, the founder of Tommy Boy Records, and a friend of both Kamins and Baker, but, by the following year, Kamins was history and she was working with the guitarist and producer Reggie Lucas and her new beau, DJ John "Jellybean" Benitez, on her follow-up single "Burning Up" and her international breakthrough hit "Holiday".

Kamins said he "wasn't left in the dust like a lot of other people. It's great to produce a record and watch it climb up the charts. My producing career exploded." He subsequently remixed "I Want Candy" for Bow Wow Wow and was responsible for the Midnight Mix of "Too Shy", which helped launch Kajagoogoo in the US in 1983, and the Gates Of Heaven Mix of "Im Nin' Alu" by the Israeli singer Ofra Haza in 1988.

He also mixed or produced most of the alternative floorfillers – "Love Tempo", "Genius" and "Atom Rock" – by Quando Quango, the Factory Records electro-dance group featuring the Hacienda DJ and future M People mastermind Mike Pickering. Kamins also worked with the radical performance artist Karen Finley, another Danceteria habituée, including a collaboration with Sinéad O'Connor on the 12-inch version of "Jump In The River" in 1989.

Born in 1955, Kamins recalled that he was always "the guy who played records at parties." He started in his teens, decades before superstar DJs, expanding his horizons beyond New York and DJing in Europe, Japan, the US and South America in the 1980s. "I became the first DJ booked to travel and play in all these other countries," he said in 2008. "Rock bands are now doing DJ sets. In a funny way, we've gone the full circle. We killed live music and bands in the '80s, and now they're killing the DJs."

He died of a coronary in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had been teaching. Paying tribute, Madonna said: "If it weren't for him, I might not have had a singing career. He was the first DJ to play my demos before I had a record deal. He believed in me before anyone else did. I owe him a lot."

Pierre Perrone

Mark Kamins, DJ, remixer and producer: born New York 13 April 1955; one son; died Guadalajara, Mexico 14 February 2013.

Suggested Topics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
News
Youngsters around the country living it up in des-res two-storey garden mansions with a balcony
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Extras
indybest
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal