History
of the
Knitting Factory

Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory, was the Chairman and CEO from 1987-2002.

He no longer has any operational or ownership ties to the organization.

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As the recordings were rolling in our first year, we realized that we were actually capturing some musical history. Even if the music wasn’t too popular at the time and only eight people attended any given concert, perhaps the recordings would someday be as valuable as the old live jazz records on Blue Note or Verve. So we kept recording. It was a thrill to think that even if there were only eight people at the show, millions might listen via radio or some other format. Hal Wilner-Saturday Night Live music producer and the man who put together the Disney and Monk compilations, among others-was one of the first people in the industry to consider the Knitting Factory an important outlet for experimental music. He recommended me for an interview with Steve Ralbovsky (at the time head of A&R for A&M Records), who was looking for someone to start a new program of releases. One of Steve’s ideas was a label for A&M somewhat similar to Nonesuch at Elektra (Steve is now working as a VP at Elektra). Nonesuch was breaking ground as a major-label offshoot supporting artists outside the mainstream. They had recently signed John Zorn and Bill Frisell, and they had released work by the Kronos Quartet, the World Saxophone Quartet, and the Bulgarian Woman’s Choir.

When Steve and I got together for our first meeting, I was very nervous. I thought, Here I am talking to a guy I’ve desperately tried to give Swamp Thing’s demo tape to, a guy who would never return my phone calls, and now I’m sitting here exchanging ideas. Unbelievable. I suggested a series of Live at the Knitting Factory recordings. He liked it. Within a few weeks, he had a full proposal from the Knitting Factory on his desk. After a lengthy process that brought in lots of money for the attorneys, we finally had a contract. A&M was to advance the Knitting Factory money that would allow us to buy and install a digital recording studio in the club, record the shows, and theoretically, for the next four years produce compilation and full-artist records.

Bob bought our first DAT machine. Of course, it was stolen immediately, while it was still in the box. I remember chasing the thief out of the club down Lafayette Street. When I found myself in an alley, I got scared and retreated to the club, then called Bob and gave him the good news, wondering why I’d ever started this Karma by buying that hot Nakamichi deck.

The studio was built upstairs in the offices one floor above the club. Besides making the studio acoustically tight, we also tightened the club’s security. The new concept for making the live recordings was to split the signal between the house sound system and the recording studio. Thus, the engineer in the studio could adjust and mix the sound for recording and not, like the engineer in the club, for the ears of the customers in the room. This separate mix gave us much more flexibility for recording.

Hal and Steve and Bob and Mike