Playing The Pines: classic dance mixes rediscovered and restored

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday March 15, 2022
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DJ Joe DeEspinoza (right); a Fire Island party and a stack of DJ cassette tapes.
DJ Joe DeEspinoza (right); a Fire Island party and a stack of DJ cassette tapes.

Music mixes from the halcyon days of 1970s and '80s Fire Island and New York City nightclubs have been rediscovered in a series of remastered cassette mixes found in boxes at a Fire Island house. The Pine Walk Collection is now listenable on MixCloud, thanks in great part to New York City-based DJ Joe DeEspinoza.

DeEspinosa explained in a phone interview from his Brooklyn home how the mixes came to be digitized.

"The previous owners of the house, who had been there for maybe 30 years or so, had this tape collection and they left it behind. Nate Pinsley and Peter Kriss, who are staples in the Pines events and real estate community over the last few years, bought a house in 2021. The previous owners let Nate and Peter know and said, 'Do with it what you will.' They called me because they wanted to make them available to people, to digitize them and put them online."

DJ Joe DeEspinoza  (Source: Seth Caplan)

DeEspinoza, an experienced DJ for years, had done the same with some of his own mixes from the 1990s, agreed, and uploaded the mixes.

"They just handed over the boxes and I've been doing the digitizing and letting it out."
The mixes are free online at

DeEspinoza started DJing in 1990 in Boston and soon, with the help of New York friends, expanded to gigs in the Big Apple and for Fire Island parties. "With so many people going there from around the country, that led to me becoming a circuit DJ."

He played music at large events until around 2000, when he shifted to starting a record business. "Now I've gotten back to DJing on Fire Island and small parties around New York."

Asked how he adjusted to the pandemic with an online presence, DeEspinosa said, "When lockdown started, doing Zoom parties became a thing, and I definitely got on board with that."

He said he looks forward to returning to DJing outdoor events with the queer Glamcocks camp at Burning Man, who also held immersive online events.

Vintage cassettes now being digitized  

"But over time, people started getting tired of it. When things started opening again, they kind of lost their luster." Glamcocks and others are already planning for a return to Burning Man this year.

One exception was a recent online White Party with legendary DJ Susan Morabito, who, like DeEspinosa, had played at the famous Saint at Large events.

"We had hundreds of attendees, and that was one of the most well-attended, with people dancing along; it was really fun."

By 2021, he was able to spin back in-person. "On Fire Island, because events were in open air, it was a bit safer to be able to play music with people dancing."

Asked if he knew of the music he's since digitized back when it was being played in nightclubs, DeEspinosa said, "I wasn't around or out at clubs until 1992. The sets we have in the collection range from 1981 to 1999. I'm familiar with the older stuff though my tenure in attending and eventually DJing Saint at Large parties." (Read the expansive list of DJs included in the mixes at the end of this article.)

A poolside GMHC Morning Party in 1987. photo: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society  

"They carried forward the tradition of structured dance parties," said DeEspinosa, "the idea that one DJ could play an entire night of music that could last anywhere up to 16 hours —and I did this once— originated then and it carried on through the Saint at Large. Some of the sets in the collection are from those kind of nights, where it's an entire journey; you hear the energy building up throughout the night and then there's a peak with multiple different movements in the end, with a wind-down, leading into morning music or the 'sleaze' section."

DeEspinosa clarifies the term (low thumping bass, few melodies or sung lyrics) as very popular at the time, and 'part of the flow of an overall night of music."

Back in the day
While many of the collection's DJs are gone, some to the AIDS pandemic, DeEspinosa is colleagues with several surviving DJs like Robbie Leslie, Terry Sherman, and Michael Fierman. "Everyone who's alive that I was able to contact was on board with it."

"Back in the day, DJs made these tapes as part of their revenue stream," he explained. "You couldn't hear it on the radio, and it wasn't available for people to buy. Most songs were limited to imported 12-inch singles. You had to go out to the club to hear it or if you bought these tapes to hear this unique subset of dance music that was being curated and played at gay nightclubs."

To digitize the mix tapes, DeEspinoza uses a professional Sony tape deck from the '90s and a digital recorder. "I record at the highest possible sample rate, combined with Adobe Audition," he said. "We have tools that allow us to remove hiss and any underlying noise that's a part of these old cassette tapes. I fine-tune the EQ and remaster from there. Most of the tapes that these guys had in their collection are bootlegs of the DJs' originals. Cassettes aren't the most durable medium, but we're doing the best we can to make it sound as good as possible with what we have to work with."

A 1999 night at the Pavilion. photo: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society  

With such classic mixes now available online, does DeEspinosa foresee greater longevity for listening, even decades into the future?

"I really hope so. But there was a period of time when some of this music was considered very passé. Some music historians cite the AIDS crisis as the reason. Some people associate the disco era with the disease, and people wanted to move on."

Yet, from his experience, DeEspinosa has been part of the genre's resurgence.

"I can see from the feedback that we get on the site and feedback that I hear directly from peers and people in our community that people of every age group are enjoying this as a cultural artifact and also enjoying discovering the music of this time, and the way it was put together."

While younger listeners are discovering the grooves, and older listeners may consider it a high point never to be comparable, DeEspinosa sees it differently.

"Dance music went through a lot of different cycles," he said. "Some new music sounds like and it's being presented much in the same way that music sounded and in the way it was presented back then; including melodic aspects and vocals. The resurgence of disco is not just retro nostalgia. Lots of new music being made now is truly disco. But it's updated and made with modern production."

Peter Kriss and his partner Nate Pinsley  

This old house music
When Peter Kriss and his husband Nate Pinsley bought the cottage on Pine Walk in June 2021, they also inherited many of the belongings the previous owners left behind, including furniture, housewares and a lot of cat-themed knick-knacks.

Allegedly, the previous owners were prominent in the gay community. Dan Wollenziehn, the most recent owner, is the surviving partner of Don Castellanos (who died in 1996), who with his partner Peter Vogel (who died in 1986), were both cofounders of the LGBT Community Center in 1983 and active in New York City politics. Vogel cofounded the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs (Vogel Gay Center's papers collection).

But Kriss and Pinsley almost didn't get the boxes of cassettes once owned by Castellanos and Vogel, since a friend working with their realtor had left the milk crates full of tapes for someone else. In a phone interview from their home in Brooklyn, Kriss told of their close connection to the Pines community.

"In our early dating years, Nate and I managed The Botel and a few guest houses," he said. "We were kind of the on-site boys for events for a few seasons. We got to know the community on a level most people don't from renting a share for a summer."

DJ Roy Thode photo: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society  

When a realtor friend showed them the house on Pine Walk, they quickly decided to buy it. "It really changed our relationship with The Pines," said Kriss, "because now we're home owners."

To preserve the charm of the "1970s little beach shack," the couple have not done extensive renovations. The previous owners lived there many months of the years from 1979 to 2021, didn't rent it or renovate as many others have.

"It really was their home," said Kriss. "It really represented an era of The Pines. We bought it full of all their stuff," with a few exceptions, like a vintage poster from the closing night of The Saint, and a souvenir piece of the dance floor.

"We're trying to keep it authentic to the period," said Pinsley. "We worked with an architect to lightly restore it. Having friends who are in their 60s, 70s and 80s, we grew to have an appreciation for their history, all the bad and the good of that time period. When we saw the boxes of cassettes labeled The Saint, the Black Party, the Pavilion, from all those different eras, we knew it was something special."

"Some of these songs evoke mixed emotions or our friends who lived through that time, having lost a lot of friends" added Pinsley. "They can finally listen with a fondness and recollection that is sweet rather than being painful."

DJ Michael Jorba at a 1988 GMHC Morning Party photo: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society  

The Pines Walk homeowners' friend, Patty Rosato, served as a go-between with the realtor; the former and current owners have never met.

"But when you inherit someone's house of forty years, you do piece together a story," said Kriss. Pinsley interviewed Rosato in a September 2021 podcast for StoryCorps about the golden era of the Pines community.

What they did hear was that the former owner was gratified that younger listeners were enjoying the mixes. "They really like it," said Pinsley, "since it was their intention to do something like this. It would have been a shame for the tapes to end up in a dumpster."

One item they saved was a printed plaque titled 'Rules of the House.'

"Clearly, they had house guests," said Pinsley, who said the list included, 'You can bring a trick, but they can't sleep over.' "Those have become part of our personal collection," he added with a chuckle.

Having renovated their bungalow, the Pine Walk property is now available as a summer rental for about $8,500 a week. Imagine reliving the heyday of the island while listening to DeEspinosa's digitized mixes.

"If not for these tapes stuck in a closet for years, they would have been thrown out," said Kriss. "If they had updated them to CDs or SoundCloud, we might never have found them."

Asked if they still listen to the mixes, they both said, "Absolutely." Pinsley added, "My favorite is the 1983 Saint Christmas party."

Ephemera from 1990-1991 "Ripped" parties on Fire Island. photo: Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society  

Stats about the collection
DJs included in the mixes: Bob Borland, Bob Zeeb, Chuck Parsons, D. van Dame, Giancarlo, Henry Winslow, Jim Burgess, Jonathan Porter, Jordan Berger, Lawrence Needham, Mark Thomas, Michael Fierman, Michael Jorba, Richie Bernier, Rick Camacho, Robbie Leslie, Roy Thode, Shaun Buchanan, Steven Oliveri, Ted S., Teri Beaudoin, Terry Sherman, Tom Johnson, Tony Mason, Two Man Custom Sound and Warren Gluck.

Many tapes are 'tape club' releases, including sets from Teri Beaudoin's Night Sky Productions and a huge number of releases from Michael Jorba's The Music Option, Inc. Others are live recordings from nightclubs and parties, including: the GHMC Morning Party, The Saint, The Saint at Large, The Pavilion at Fire Island Pines, The Ice Palace at Cherry Grove, Moonshadow, Danceteria and River Club.

DJ photos are courtesy of Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society, also on Instagram.

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