Keegan is adept at using the tools of the trade, turntables and vinyl records, to make music. He manipulates the records, scratching and using a pitch control to change their tempo, and manages to segue from one record to another without missing a beat, creating a continuous dance experience for his patrons.
This 30-year-old Dublin native has been working as a DJ for years and has been at the forefront of the developing what has become known as the house-music scene. Last month, he was making his swansong at the Chelsea nightclub CentroFly after a tenure of three and a half years.
Keegan attributed his decision to leave to a kind of ennui.
“I really felt that it was time to move on,” he said. “Working there used to be a lot of fun, but it was not as enjoyable anymore.”
A decline in the club’s popularity may have played a part in his decision. Even for DJs, it seems that jobs can become tiresome and repetitive. Like the nightclubs themselves, DJing gigs can have a short lifespan.
Keegan has a number of other projects to concentrate on. “I am thinking about a move to Paris or Berlin in the next year or so,” he said. “I could produce music from there no problem. I miss the European mentality and am having a hard time dealing with the direction America is moving in politically.”
Ambition and a certain wanderlust seem to have earmarked this music-obsessed man for success. This apparently is one immigrant who always had thoughts beyond simply getting to America. Keegan has the relaxed demeanor of someone who believes that the world is there for the taking.
Music has always been a part of his life. Born and raised in Dublin, Keegan has played bass guitar in bands since the age of 13. His studies in history notwithstanding, he was bound to make a living doing what he loved: making music.
The tall, handsome DJ has a youthful face that belies years of working late into the night in smoke-filled venues. He has a large network of friends, many of them involved in various creative ventures, and many immigrants or the children of immigrants. He attributes a lot of their success to a certain type of upbringing.
“Young people growing up in active urban centers develop another perspective, especially if your parents are from different countries,” he said. “That can be very helpful, especially if you are going to get into something creative.”
Keegan has been making his way as a music impresario in New York when he arrived 8 years ago. “I had just finished studying history in Trinity College, Dublin, and was considering a move to Paris,” he said, explaining that his mother is from Lourdes. But then his green card arrived, courtesy of the visa lottery. “I decided to go to New York and try my hand in the music business,” he said.
Like many young Irish people newly arrived in New York, Keegan did various odd jobs as he explored the city before seeking to carve out his own niche.
Keegan had, of course, left a country whose economy was just beginning to take on the characteristics of what would come to be known as the Celtic Tiger. He admits that friends who stayed at home were able to take advantage of the economic boom but does not seem too bothered to have missed out on it.
“The DJ scene can be quite lucrative, but for years we were over here, working our asses off, trying to make it,” he said. “Even now, I have about five pairs of sneakers to my name, that’s it,” he added, laughing.
Keegan’s modesty would seem to be unfounded. He is, after all, the owner of a popular East Village music venue called Plant Bar. Opening the business gave Keegan the opportunity to spread the sound of the music he loved. “I lived above a run-down Puerto Rican bar,” he said. “The owner was keen to move on, so I told him to sell it to me, that I would make it work.” He has done exactly that.
Opened in August 2000, Plant Bar has become known for its top-of-the-range sound system and its interesting music. Recently listed in the New Yorker Magazine as one of the top 50 bars in Manhattan, the venture is going well and Keegan enjoys it.
“We sell a good pint of Guinness in a European glass,” he said. “We have the best sound system of a small bar in America, from what I have been told.”
Keegan said he feels his Irish background was an ideal training ground for living and working in New York. “The Irish way of being verbally aggressive is a good way to grow up,” he said. “We may be cynical, but we are well able to handle ourselves.”
Keegan’s success may seem like the stuff of immigrant dreams, but it is undoubtedly the result of a combination of hard work, ambition and opportunism. Indeed, soon after Keegan’s arrival in New York, an Irish friend, who would later become one half of the comedy duo d’Unbelievables, told him about an internship with Tuff City Records. Internships with music labels are much sought after in a city where success can depend on contacts and networking.
“I applied and got it,” Keegan said. “It was a typical New York gig: got paid nothing. But it was one of my favorite break-beat record labels, so I was really pleased to have got it.”
One of Keegan’s colleagues at Tuff City was Cat Goldfarb, who bartended in a place called Mojo. The establishment needed a DJ “I had never DJ’d professionally, but I had a large record collection,” Keegan said. “I started to DJ there and Cat’s flatmate used to come down from upstairs, where they lived, to drink beer.”
That flatmate was Marcus Lambkin, also from Dublin. The two music aficionados soon struck up a friendship. “We got to talking and realized we knew loads of friends in common even though we had never met,” Keegan said. He and Lambkin started to DJ together. It was the start of a successful partnership.
They met Tyler Brody, a young man eager to start up a dance and art music label. Brody called his venture Plantain, an homage to a love of marijuana. He got premises in Chelsea and started putting out records.
This presented Keegan and Lambkin with the opportunity to spend some time in the studio under the name Plant. “The studio endeavors never went too far because we didn’t really know what we were doing,” Keegan said.
Still, Plantain proved to be successful and somewhat of a salon for creative Irish people. It launched records for well-known Irish DJ Glen Brady, aka DJ Wool, and fostered the talents of many, including Belfast native David Holmes, one of the best-known dance music producers in the field. At one stage, he was living and recording in the basement.
Keegan remembers the contribution young Irish people made to the burgeoning New York dance scene as a significant one. “It is generally accepted that the Irish and English kids were very important in getting dance music going here,” he said.
Plantain also boasts some hefty film production credentials, having produced the indie-hit films “PI” and “Requiem for a Dream.” The recording studio in the basement was designed by James Murphy, described by Keegan as one of the most talented studio technicians ever.
“There is good stuff going on in this building,” Keegan said. “Tyler is only 27 years old but is a real patron of the arts.”
Keegan has about him the egoism and enthusiasm of someone who has generally succeeded in everything he puts his hands to. He is a personable, articulate fellow with a bent for business and it is not hard to see how he landed on his feet.
“My father has always been very business minded [and] I have that too,” he said. “So it is a struggle between creativity and business sense.”
Keegan finished that first internship and got work with a record company where he was able to combine his 9-5 work with his extra-curricular interests. “I was in marketing, trying to champion dance music,” he said. “That meant dealing with artists and looking at the concepts of albums. That was my paid job, then I would go back to whatever I was doing with Marcus. I wound up working with my friends, which was great.”
The duo started throwing parties, under the name Plant, at a venue called Plush. Keegan remembered those nights as some of the best he has orchestrated.
“One party was for the launch of a David Holmes record,” he said. “It was packed, up to 1,400 people . . . historical. One of the best parties we ever did.”
Keegan remembered how the Irish students visiting New York would gravitate toward this largely Irish dance scene. “One summer in particular, there were loads of J1 students here,” he said. “They would be having the time of their lives, typical Irish lads having a laugh.”
Listening to Keegan, there is the palpable sense of developing ennui with the dance scene in New York today. Certainly, he is vocal about how the laws governing the club industry with requirements of cabaret licenses and smoking bans have complicated matters for those in the business.
Whatever Keegan decides to do, his experience in New York will surely stand him in good stead. In his own words, “If you can get a dance floor in New York going, then you can do it anywhere.”