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
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam