Newly-discovered DJ mixtapes take us back to vintage Fire Island

DJ Joe D'Espinosa DJs at Fire Island Pines
DJ Joe D’Espinosa DJs at Fire Island Pines (Photo: Supplied)

A collection of old tapes of DJ sets from Fire Island and New York gay club nights are causing a stir online. The cassettes have been digitized and put on Mixcloud (‘The Pine Walk Collection’) by Brooklyn-based DJ, Joe D’Espinosa.

The collection consists of over 200 tapes. They cover the period 1981-1999. They include sets from such venues as The Saint in NYC and the Pavilion on Fire Island.

The Pine Walk Collection from Fire Island
The Pine Walk Collection

For many older people, the sets are taking them back to their youth. For younger listeners, they offer a time capsule from a bygone age.

The tapes came to light when husbands Peter Kriss and Nate Pinsley bought themselves a vacation home on Fire Island last summer. Their property lies on Pine Walk.

When the couple moved in, they found the previous occupants of 40 years had left many of their belongings behind.


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Treasure trove discovery on Fire Island Pines

“It’s not uncommon when you purchase a house out in the Pines that it comes with all the furniture,” Kriss told GayCities.

“You have to take a ferry. It’s a seasonal place, and it’s such a bitch to get a couch out there once that people tend to be like, ‘Well, it’s in the house, we’re leaving it there!’ You always kind of inherit what people are not willing to move!”

Indeed, besides furniture, knick-knacks, and a closet full of summer clothing, Kriss and his partner found three milk crates full of old cassettes.

“At first, I was like, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do with these?’ I think I saw a Billy Ray Cyrus album on the top and was like, ‘No-one’s going to listen to these.’ But beneath a layer of commercial albums, there were all these cassette tapes from places we recognized like the Saint, although we’d never been there. A little before our time,” says Kriss, who will soon turn 40.


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Despite heralding from an earlier era, Kriss says the tapes still felt very much of the Fire Island he knows and loves. The island has been a haven for members of the LGBTQ community for decades, particularly gay men.

“There’s a sense, out in the Pines, not just of nostalgia, but there’s also an honoring of past musical eras,” says Kriss. “It’s a place where you hear disco on the ocean breeze,” he laughs, adding that current DJs tend to loop in old tracks with newer material, even today. “It all feels very current.”

The Fire Island Pines community

Kriss says he and his husband love having a summer home in Fire Island Pines and being part of the intergenerational community. This sense of community led to them deciding to share the tapes with a wider audience.

“It was less about ‘Oh we found these, we can broadcast them to the world.’ It was more like, ‘Wow, we found this little time capsule of this place that we love, and it’s very real, with people who would have been part of this.’ It’s like finding the family photo album really, in the auditory sense.”


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Kriss turned to his friend, D’Espinosa, for advice on how to put the cassettes online.

“I asked him for his opinion on what equipment I might pick up of Amazon or eBay, and luckily he already owned that equipment and had just digitized his own collection. So he took the mantle himself to digitize everything to the Mixcloud account.”

Related: Fire Island Ferry immortalized in song by Seth Sikes

Joe D’Espinosa puts Pine Walk Collection online

D’Espinosa, who is in his early 50s, has DJ’ed in New York, and Fire Island, since the early 1990s. He was thrilled to come across the tapes. He says years ago, before CDs and streaming, DJs would often record their sets and sell the tapes as an additional source of income. Some of the tapes are bootlegs of these recorded sets.

“Which is partly why the sound quality on a lot of these is not the best,” D’Espinosa says. “Because they’re copies of copies and stuff like that, but we’re doing what we can to maximize the quality and make the most of what we have to work with.”

Regardless of quality, the tapes have been warmly welcomed by many.

“What a treasure,” says one Facebook user. “Listening to one tape this morning and I busted out in tears with strong memories… that era was magical! I’m glad I experienced that time. I miss so many friends.”

“It’s really interesting, seeing some of the reactions people are having online,” says D’Espinosa. “It runs the gamut. There are, of course, people who lived in these times. I’m even seeing comments from people saying, ‘I remember this party, I remember what I was wearing!’

“But there’s an entire younger generation of people who are discovering these too, and really appreciating the legacy and history.”

Related: What guys get up to on Fire Island captured in photo exhibition

“Evolving art”

“When I listen to them, I really appreciate the artistry and the craft that has gone into them,” says D’Espinosa. “I’m not going to say it’s a lost art, but it’s an evolving art. There used to be an attention to the entire scope of the night, the journey of a night out dancing. You don’t find that as often these days.”


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Sets come from the aforementioned Saint, Pavilion, The Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, the GMHC Morning Party, Danceteria and Moon Shadow, among others. DJs featured include the likes of Michael Jorba, Bob Borland, Robbie Leslie, Warren Gluck, and Chuck Parsons. D’Espinosa has sought permission from all living DJs to upload their sets.

Related: Gay Fire Island

Fire Island history

Fire Island is approximately 32 miles in length. The community around the Pines first sprang up in the 1950s. From the 1960s onwards, it attracted an increasing number of those in the theater, design and creative art worlds… which included many gay people. By the late 1970s, its image as a summertime gay nirvana was cemented. Check out the Fire Island Pines Historical Preservation Society for a comprehensive look at its history.

D’Espinosa namechecks the likes of Horse Meat Disco for popularizing classic disco among a younger generation. The beloved London club has guest-hosted events on Fire Island in recent years.

“I think it’s really great and important that young DJs can hear this stuff and be inspired by the way this stuff was put together. And the way these DJs explored beyond just dance and club music and incorporated rock and other genres into what they were presenting.

“Part of the joy of Fire Island is that it is a place where being gay and expressing your true self is the norm. The music captured on these tapes is undeniably gay and reflects the energy and the happiness that prevailed during the 80s and 90s in gay nightlife.”

Check out the Pine Walk Collection on Mixcloud.

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