samedi 26 septembre 1998
lundi 21 septembre 1998
As the legendary club closes,
the mainstream begins to encroach
on New York's nightlife heritage.
It’s nine in the morning, sometime in 1991, and Junior’s been pumping the dancefloor since midnight. Dark bodies are dripping in the shadows; the people on the floor are moving with the steady power of a single-muscled machine. Everyone is loose with movement and focussed on a single moment of existence; ready to continue this physical communion as long as the bass groove keeps on shaking their bodies. Suddenly the half-light becomes darkness, the huge mirror ball is black, the Goddess of Light has plunged us into mystery. And the music stops. Dead.
There is silence. Total respect. Awe.
Something amazing’s about to happen. Bodies twitch in anticipation. No-one is a spectator. Everyone is listening. Slowly a feedback growl grows in the centre of the room. It’s so distorted it hurts your ears. As it gets ever louder, it moves around, whipping from speaker to speaker in some incredible phasing effect. Above the thunder comes another noise: a rough ridge of saxophone throttling overhead. It’s a tiny chunk of Ultra Naté’s ‘Rejoicing’.
The sample flits around, licking at our faces. Random flashes of white light pick out corners of the huge bare room, and everyone is desperate for a beat, for melody; straining for a release from this screaming tension. Slowly a giant bearded Hell’s Angel strides across the dancefloor, pushing people out of his way with bear-like arms and a big stick. The sax throttle is even louder now. It’s being stretched out, overlayed, repeated and repeated; and it’s been joined by another sound: an identical growling monster noise that doesn’t come from the speakers. The giant’s pathway fills with smoke, anticipation is reaching the level of pain, and suddenly - with its engine roar bursting the heads of a thousand dancers - out of the crowd screams a Harley Davidson.
This was what the Sound Factory was like.
By now, the place has been written into legend. UK clubland adopted New York house and garage as a central inspiration, and this grand and remarkable club took on the status of myth, and joined the ranks of dance music’s most important places. Producers made records specifically for the Factory’s dancefloor; records were broken here that would later (much later) become worldwide hits; people travelled to New York just to spend a Saturday night/Sunday morning here; and its one DJ - Junior Vasquez - became a household name despite the fact that he refused to play anywhere outside his beloved club.
The Factory closed its doors on January 12th 1995, the result it seems of a behind-the-scenes hostile takeover of the building’s lease. The world-beating sound system was put in storage; Junior declared that he would never play anywhere unless it bore the name ‘Sound Factory’; and the club’s management announced within days that they already had a new venue waiting to bear the prestigious name once again.
By now you know that none of this happened. The Factory’s system still sits in a warehouse in New Jersey; Junior has signed a contract with New York’s most successful and commercial clubs organisation to play at the Tunnel (ironically only a block away from the original Factory); the Factory space is to reopen as ‘Twilo’ under new management; and Richard Grant, Sound Factory’s owner/manager, has little more than the name itself with which to rebuild the legend.
And with the death of its most astounding club, New York sits waiting.
In truth, the Sound Factory died long before it closed its doors.
It was undoubtedly the victim of its own success, and as it grew older (it opened in March 1989), the family of dancers who arrived each week with the regularity of worship, saw their hallowed ground trespassed upon by outsiders who had no understanding of what had happened there. Voyeurs, spectators, tourists swelled the crowd to uncomfortable levels. There was no room on the dancefloor, no respect for people’s space. The Leigh Bowery-esque ‘look-at-me’ freaks from clubs like Limelight invaded, further destroying the simple focus of music and dance. By 1994 it had even ceased to be a gay club. The boys still held the majority in numbers, but not by much, and the atmosphere of unspoken complicity that gay clubs engender had been completely shattered.
The energy of the place had died too. In its heyday there would be a mere handful of people away from the dancefloor, while the rest writhed and jumped till cramps and exhaustion set in. The $18 entrance fee (later $20) was for a seven or eight hour workout, not a casual chat and a smoke along the sidelines. You only left the floor to visit the juice bar, the drinking fountain or the toilets.
You would see incredible things there. Professional dancers would arrive from performing somewhere, and proceed to tear up a zone of the dancefloor. The voguing houses would be off in a corner, perfecting their millimetre-precise movements, throwing the most exquisite shade, and making runways and catwalks along the side of the stage. Junior would grab a flashlight and pick out the more fabulous dancers, throwing down some bitch house track to exaggerate the competition.
#SoundFactory was on a dirty warehouse street patrolled by hookers and lowlife. You would file in around 4 or 5am, after a night’s sleep, just as dawn was breaking; leaving the reality of New York’s scuzzy concrete, to become enveloped in this bass cocoon completely removed from the rest of the world. It was a huge simple space made small and intimate by the power of the music it contained. You were treated like an honoured guest: fruit, cookies, cold water and coffee were yours for free, there were hundreds of dollars worth of flowers gracing the entrance, and fresh decorations every week. One week they dropped dollar bills from the ceiling. At the exit there was always a huge bowl of condoms, and a pile of pencils and notepads to exchange phone numbers.
And there was the music. Nowhere in the Factory could you not hear the dancefloor. And nothing can explain what Junior used to be able to do. He could keep a driving relentless groove going for hours, while changing rhythms, tempos, styles: playing around but never once losing your mesmerised attention. He could work a record for astonishing periods: first teasing you with the tiniest hint deep underneath everything else, and going back to it again and again, exaggerating every great moment of a song until you’d swear he had three copies of it playing at once. He would loop a section up on a sampler so that even the most intense, double-tracked crescendo could be sent crashing even higher and higher.
New records would leave everyone in a frenzy of enquiry: What was that amazing song that he’d just worked for the last forty minutes? Did anyone from the labels recognize it? What studio project had he been working on that might have sounded like that? I broke up with someone I truly loved to the sounds of his DAT mix of Billy Ray Martin’s ‘Your Loving Arms’, only to have to endure a month-long wait before anyone could tell me what it was, and a six-month wait before anyone except Junior had a copy.
But this isn’t just about the death of a much-loved club. The changes in the dying days of Sound Factory illustrate a massive upheaval in the culture of New York nightlife in general. In recent years the city’s dance scene has undergone a revolution. A series of closures of places both underground (Shelter) and blatantly commercial (USA) has left the city with less dancefloor space since anyone can remember. And at the same time there has emerged a new generation of clubbers: young ravey suburbanites who grew up on techno and breakbeat (in raves and in clubs like Limelight and NASA) rather than sharing the rock background of their older brothers and sisters. These kids are the first American generation to be raised on the dancefloor instead of at the concert arena. And increasingly they want to dance to the house and garage that the city’s most famous DJs are known for. In the last two years, with more clubbers and less clubs, New York has seen its dancefloors grow miserably overcrowded and confused.
What people in Europe rarely understand is that the American dance music they love is far from successful in its own country. US house in its many forms is still decisively underground here. There are no chart hits, no household name groups, and when they play their home city, even the most famous New York DJs earn as little as $500 a night. Things are changing—people in the dance industry here feel things are balanced ready for take-off—and as the scene develops, the growing pains are very visible.
The most painful of these has been this invasion endured by the established dancefloor ‘tribes’ or ‘families’ as the curious young newcomers began to explore the more underground of New York’s clubs. This is an inevitable result of dance music’s increasing popularity, but it spells the end for a continuity of experience that began in the mists of disco, travelled through clubs like Paradise Garage, the Saint, Better Days, the Choice, Red Zone and Bassline right through to Shelter and Sound Factory.
What makes this transitional period doubly difficult for older clubbers is the fact that these youngsters party in a much different way. There is little of the feeling of intense active communion in their gatherings; instead you often feel like you are at a social occasion which happens to have loud dance music in the background. Hanging out is the thing, far more than going for an extended dance session. They move with strange hippie stepping motions like half-interested breakdancers: there is none of the sexual pumping and jacking that the older gay New York dancefloors moved with. And to cap it all, their drugs of choice are introverted downers like ketamine and even heroin, and their resulting lifeless behaviour is disturbing to a crowd used to energetic displays of musical togetherness.
One person who has suffered from these drastic changes in nightlife demographics is Junior Vasquez himself. In its final year, Sound Factory - ‘The House That Junior Built’ - was filled, not with people who loved him for his music, but with people who worshipped him as the world’s most celebrated DJ. He told me that the main reason he refused to come to Europe was because people would just stare at him in awe rather than share in the dance. However, this is exactly what happened in the Sound Factory. It became cool to be there. People came down because they thought they might see Madonna. In all respects, the dancefloor stopped moving.
Junior ’s music was always intimately bound into the time and space of the Factory -rarely has a DJ had such a personal identification with a single club - and he agrees that after its closure it will be difficult for him to find somewhere that feels like home. “That’s a big part of my nightmare now: I created that club, and in essence and by rights, I should have retired. I should have probably not played ever again. I made my mark.” With the Factory’s passing, and with his stubborn insistence to keep himself isolated from the industry and from other DJs, he seems trapped. And as his crowd evolves further from the serious dancers of his genuinely underground days, it is having severely detrimental effects on his music. He admits that as a DJ he depends heavily on feedback from his audience, and goes on to say that he hasn’t felt it in a long time.
His new residency at the Tunnel, one of New York’s largest clubs, has been well-documented by the UK dance press. In order to attract the homeless Vasquez, a vast amount of money was spent improving the sound (by New York’s high standards it’s now merely satisfactory) and building him a palatial DJ booth. Other DJs play the Tunnel from a small box at the end of the bar, Junior plays from a soundproofed glass room the size of most New Yorker’s apartments.
It is great to have him once more playing a weekly twelve-hour set, and it is far too early to envisage how his nights at the Tunnel will develop, but what is certain is that after a promising opening night crowd, full of re-united old-time Factory faces, successive weeks have seen fewer of the family and more of the Tunnel’s regular motley crew: a heavily suburban crowd looking for a New York thrill. And with fewer and fewer of the old school dancers on his floor, Junior seems a little unsure of where to take things. Without the responsive and musically-knowledgable dancefloor he’s always had to build from, his music has been worryingly directionless and disappointing.
And on November 2nd the Sound Factory will re-open without him. Or at least the venue will. Phil Smith, once a part owner of the original Sound Factory - who had left years previously to create another club, the Sound Factory Bar - will now run the legendary space. It has been refurbished with a new digital sound system , it enjoys a Frankie Knuckles/David Morales residency, and it has been renamed ‘Twilo’.
Despite its absurd name, Twilo may well be an incredible club. It may well attract the scores of world-class DJs who have long dreamed of playing this mythic room; it might become a place to go for the hundreds of people who have been spending their Saturday nights on the sofa. But it will be strange to walk through those doors again, because what it certainly won’t be is the intimate communal experience of a single club built round a single DJ, open on a single night every week. Those days are gone.
“It’s simply no longer economically viable to run a big club on a one-night-a-week basis” stresses Peter Gatien, a man whose cool head and ruthless reputation make him the most powerful figure in New York nightlife. He owns three of New York’s biggest clubs: Limelight, Palladium and Tunnel, and also created the short-lived USA. Gatien believes that a large but underground club like Sound Factory, is undoubtedly a thing of the past.
Gatien himself plans to add to the current shake-up. He aims to open two new large-scale clubs in the coming months: one in the Times Square tourist district, and one downtown (widely believed to be a site directly opposite Twilo/Sound Factory). While these will by definition be run on hard commercial lines, and while his near-monopoly is far from healthy, they are still reason for celebration. With a greater number of active dancefloors, the city’s clubbing population will finally be able to reorganise itself into diverse groups of like-minded dancers; the groups which historically have made New York clubs so special.
Other developments are occurring as a result of changing tastes. The young promoters who previously dealt only in the hard techno and breakbeat of the rave scene here, look like making their mark in the house clubs. “As far as the new generation, I think they’re the ones to save dance music in the years to come,” insists Danny Tenaglia. “They’re booking DJs like myself and Louie Vega and incorporating us in with the harder DJs, exposing us to their crowd. For me, they’re the people who are keeping dance music fresh.”
And as such promoters educate their crowds into the wonders of classic New York dance music, some truly fabulous moments have occurred. There was the night that the awesome Tenaglia finally played to a capacity gay crowd at the evergreen Saturday night at Roxy (he now plays there monthly). And, again in the Roxy, there was a night of true historical importance as Louie Vega took a Friday full of straight teenage ravers, and turned them out with his signature blend of hard Latin house, climaxing with the O’Jays’ Paradise Garage classic ‘I Love Music’, educating these baggy pups with their glowsticks and piercings in the beauty of vocal New York house, and further detaching them from their harsh techno origins.
It’s easy to be nostalgic and mourn the approaching death of New York’s old-style underground scene, but it’s important not to live in the past. Clubs die so that new ones can be born—each amazing in a new way. Don’t be envious when someone starts eulogising the Paradise Garage, or Shelter, or the Sound Factory. The new generation are busy building memories that will compete in every way: taking their first real ecstasy as Danny Tenaglia throws it down at the Roxy; hearing Frankie Knuckles play the first night at Twilo; making their first faltering trip to hear Louie Vega at Sound Factory Bar, or hearing the reborn Junior Vasquez tear it up at Tunnel.
For me it was being in love with the fierce English girl in the neon pink bikini, pounding the Factory floor amid a sea of our friends, as Junior mixed ‘Acid Crash’ with some Wildpitch workout for what seemed like forever, then took us down into an intense mind-fuck of cathedral organs, taking off again with an acapella of the screaming diva of the hour.
I doubt life will be like that again.
Label: TRIBAL America
TRIUK 016 - original mix - 9'20
Format:2 x Vinyl, 12"
Style: Progressive House, House, Tribal House
Credits: Vocals - Korvowrong (tracks: A1 to D1)
listen to Underground Sound Of Lisbon: "Played With Me" (bonus cut)
Label: TRIBAL America
TRIUK 016 - original mix - 7'29
Format:2 x Vinyl, 12"
Style: Progressive House, House, Tribal House
Credits: Vocals - Korvowrong (tracks: D1 to D1)
dimanche 20 septembre 1998
What really takes place after hours?
A close reading of the Sound Factory indictment.
liten to Kristine W - One More Try (1995 - Junior's Factory mix)
Label : Champion record
Moments after I blacked out, the bouncer scooped me up off the floor, carried me in his arms like a baby, and threw me into a pile of snow outside the club.
It was a Friday morning in 1996, sometime after 9 a.m.; the club was Avenue B’s legendary after-hours place Save the Robots. I’d been partying so hard that I broke my ankle on the dance floor and promptly passed out. Assuming I’d overdosed, the guard dispassionately took action.
I was reminded of my Robots breakdown while sifting through the 35-page federal indictment of the equally notorious midtown after-hours nightspot Sound Factory, whose owner, Richard Grant, and two top employees were charged with, among other things, operating a narcotics “stash house,” after an early-morning raid on March 7.
“We documented more than 90 buys by undercover police officers at the Sound Factory,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says, citing rampant use of ecstasy, ketamine, and crystal meth. The police speculate that at least 70 percent of the club’s patrons were on drugs and claim that the druggy atmosphere translated into big bucks for the proprietors. In response, Grant’s attorney, Kenneth Aronson, says that “Sound Factory was asked to meet an impossible standard. No institution in society has been 100 percent successful in ridding itself of drugs.”
The indictment also describes sky-high door prices (up to $50) and $7 bottles of water, which led to an “annual gross revenue of $6 million.” But other club owners insist that after-hours profits are illusory. “The door fee is so high because you’re only getting water and juice sales at the bar,” says Tom Sisk, co-owner of Centro-Fly, a club that’s chosen not to stay open past regular closing time (4 a.m. if you’re serving alcohol). Aronson says it cost a considerable sum to run the Sound Factory—where a successful party requires around 6,000 revelers—citing the $78,000 in monthly rent and a security team of 50.
Poor profit margins are one reason New York’s after-hours scene has quieted down so much since the early nineties—when running a club was less expensive, say club owners, in part because there was less police scrutiny. The city had tried to close Sound Factory twice, and Grant was forced to implement expensive security measures, including a drug-sniffing dog. But the indictment calls the revamped security a “sham” and states that “police officers intercepted two bouncers dropping an overdosing patron by a garbage Dumpster outside the club.” Others were taken to an area of the club dubbed “crack alley,” to be doused with water or slapped until they regained consciousness.
If true, it’s a hellish scene, equal parts A Tale of Two Cities and Trainspotting. But for many clubgoers, after-hours dancing—which often takes place on Sunday morning—is thought of as a religious experience, complete with deified D.J.’s like Junior Vasquez. And the indictment suggests that the 61-year-old Grant also basked in the after-hours life, portraying him watching revelers from the D.J. booth. It’s a far cry from former nightlife impresario Peter Gatien, who preferred to coolly count receipts in his Limelight office, until he was arrested on ecstasy charges.
Richard Grant’s arrest will no doubt put a temporary crimp in some New Yorkers’ late-night schedules. As of last week, it looked unlikely that the Sound Factory would reopen, and if it does, the scene won’t be quite the same. But there’s always somewhere else to go at the very end of an evening. And a dedicated, if dwindling, corps of clubgoers will inevitably find it—probably behind doors far more impenetrable than the Sound Factory’s were.
vendredi 18 septembre 1998
New York City House
Chicago gave birth to house music and London brought it to the world, but New York City gave it its dimension. House music was NYC’s ubiquitous after-dark soundtrack throughout the ’90s and there was a shade for every taste: rough-and-ready hip hop-infused rhythms from Todd Terry; the thick, funky tribal of Danny Tenaglia; the soulful earthiness of the Body & Soul camp. This conglomerate of styles took shape in a city where creative change is a constant – and formed the soundtrack for Manhattan’s last great era of nightclubbing.
May 17, 2013
Article by Michaelangelo Matos
The Aztec Lounge, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was a punk and goth club in the mid-’80s – not the first place you’d look for the future of dance music. So imagine Bruce Tantum’s surprise when he found it there. Tantum, now clubs editor for Time Out New York, was at the Aztec when the DJ dropped a strange, arresting 12-inch from Chicago which was obviously created on cheap electronic equipment by amateurs. “It was weird shit – real primitive, raw stuff,” says Tantum, who asked the DJ, “What is this disco-from-outer-space shit?”
This was house music and though it didn’t sound like anything else, it was also not entirely unfamiliar. “A lot of their grooves [came] from the old disco records,” says ‘Little’ Louie Vega, then a freestyle producer who played records in the Bronx at a club called the Devil’s Nest. “‘Jack Your Body’ by Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley – that bassline is by First Choice [from ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’]. But they would play them over again. What Chicago did was to begin with drum machines and synthesizers.”
Vega was playing first-generation Chicago house artists Virgo, Mr. Fingers and Marshall Jefferson alongside Latin freestyle, hip hop and rock; so did Bruce Forest, who played four nights a week at Better Days on West 49th Street in Manhattan. In 1985, Forest gave David Morales, who handled Thursday nights, his extra 12-inches by Chicagoans J.M. Silk and Chip E. and Morales began playing house, too. Vega joined on the island in 1986 when he landed at Heartthrob on West 26th Street – formerly the FunHouse, the mid-’80s home of John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, the New York DJ best known for producing Madonna’s “Holiday.”
“Between ’85 and ’87, if you didn’t have no Trax records, you weren’t the man,” said house producer Benji Candlario in 1995. Candlario had spun hip hop in the pre-“Rapper’s Delight” Bronx and in 1986 he teamed up with electro producer Aldo Marin as Nitro Deluxe for the aptly titled “Let’s Get Brutal” on Marin’s label Cutting.
Top row: Lem Springsteen, Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez, Erick Morillo, Pablo Todo, Todd Terry. Second row: unidentified woman, Gladys Pizarro, Michael Weiss, Julie Jewels, Roger Sanchez. Bottom: ‘Little’ Louie Vega. Michael Weiss
Between ’85 and ’87, if you didn’t have no Trax records,
you weren’t the man.
- Benji Candlario
But New York didn’t fully occupy house music until Todd Terry. Born and raised in Coney Island and Brighton Beach, Terry was equally inspired by Larry Levan’s DJ tapes from the Paradise Garage and the hip hop of the era. He began making beats for his friends to rhyme over, but couldn’t find a label that was interested. Then he decided to fool around with the house music sound that had been sneaking into the clubs: “It had a more traveling type of deepness to it. It had the 909 [drum machine], so that gave it a stride – a lot of riffing over deep basslines.” Terry decided to stitch some current, popular house records together for a laugh: “I was doing it just to show my friends, ‘I can do this shit. What’s the big deal? The rap stuff is a lot harder to do than this.’”
House music wasn’t just easier to make, it was
easier to sell. Terry shopped the demo, titled “Party People” and credited
to Royal House,
to the small Brooklyn label Idlers.
“I got a deal for that the next day,” he says. Terry responded in kind, turning
out tracks in a hurry – he even named his Black Riot single
from 1988 “A Day in the
Life” because that’s how long it took to make. “I woke up in the
morning, made the beat, did the music and I was finished later that night.” (In
1992, he made an entire album – The Todd
Terry Project on Champion –
in a single day.) Terry’s biggest pop hit, the 1995 remix of Everything
But the Girl’s “Missing,”
was done in a day and a half. “It was a pretty easy record to do because the
song was there,” he says. “Go in there, do it, felt good about it, handed it
Between ’85 and ’87, if you didn’t have no Trax records, you weren’t the man.
- Benji Candlario
Unlike the Chicago producers, who were using samplers mostly to stutter their own voices, Terry layered and reconfigured his samples like a hip hop producer. (Vega, who was transitioning out of freestyle, mixed many of Terry’s tracks.) The link wasn’t lost on his fellow New Yorkers. “Only Todd’s stuff was really making the kids go manic,” says Larry Tee, a resident DJ at The Tunnel, who said of his playlist circa 1989, “If it sounded like Todd Terry, we played it.”
Rap fans initially resisted house music. When Frank Owen, an English music writer who’d moved to New York the day the stock market crashed in October 1987, began throwing parties that mixed acid house in with hip hop at the multistoried Alphabet City spot The World, he had to do a quick rethink. “Some homeboy stuck a gun in the DJ’s face and told him if he played that crap again he’d shoot him,” Owen recalls.
The World kept aggressively pushing rap and house as kin to its crowd, a mix of artists, b-boys and fashionistas. “It was like Obi-Wan Kenobi: ‘You will like hip hop... You will like house music,’” World cofounder Steve Lewis wrote in 2010. Terry helped seal the gap. When “Can You Party” started hitting in hip hop clubs as well as house ones, Terry put Idlers-signed rappers The Jungle Brothers on top of it; their version was called “I’ll House You” (1988), which, inevitably, helped sire hip-house as a genre. But Terry was also audible in subsequent producers’ work whose dance tracks appealed to the hip hop crowd, such as Soho’s “Hot Music” (1990), produced by Joseph Longo, AKA Pal Joey. “That was a time when hip hoppers didn’t want to dance,” says Longo. “That song made you dance or fight – it was one or the other.”
The World further proved its commitment to house music by going to the source. Frankie Knuckles was the South Bronx native who’d left New York in 1977 to man the decks at Chicago’s Warehouse – the place that inspired the term “house music.” After leaving his second Chicago club, The Power Plant, Knuckles began producing more. But he was getting restless – Chicago could only get you so far if you wanted to keep growing. A decade after leaving New York, Knuckles came back home as The World’s new resident.
2 Puerto Ricans, A Blackman, And A Dominican - Do It Properly (Fierce Mix)
Joining him was David Morales. Born and raised in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Morales had been a resident DJ at the Ozone Layer in Brooklyn when he began to fill in for Larry Levan at the legendary Paradise Garage. Morales then went to Zanzibar, an equally revered club in Newark, New Jersey, to play alongside Tony Humphries, who had a Saturday night mix show on KISS-FM, at the time one of New York’s premier hip hop stations. Morales’ manager, Judy Weinstein, took on Knuckles as well, the three of them incorporating as Def Mix Productions (named for Morales’ mix of the 1987 song “Do It Properly,” which was credited to “2 Puerto Ricans, a Blackman and a Dominican” – in billed order, Morales, Robert Clivillés, David Cole and Chep Nuñez).
Def Mix Productions changed the face of
remixing. “Before us, when you did a remix, you worked with what was available
to you,” Knuckles said at his 2011 Red Bull
Music Academy lecture in Madrid. “By the time we got started, we
were bringing in musicians and completely overdubbing everyone’s songs,
reworking the music and the tracks, everything.” Eventually, the artists
themselves got in on the act, as when Mariah Carey re-recorded
her vocals from 1993’s “Dreamlover”
for Morales’ remix.
" By 1995, Morales was netting $80,000 to rework tracks like Michael Jackson’s “Scream .”
Eric Kupper, a keyboardist and programmer who has worked extensively with the Def Mix crew – he also produced the first RuPaul album in 1993 – remembers the “Dreamlover” remix. “The arrangement was done all on the desk using an automated console. ‘Dreamlover’ was nothing but two to four bars with keyboards and we just opened up this and that,” Kupper says. “That’s how you worked in those days. There would be a lot of things that repeated a lot and we would play the desk.” By 1995, Morales was netting $80,000 to rework tracks like Michael Jackson’s “Scream.”
Morales’ early collaborators Clivillés and Cole opted to make their own hits as C+C Music Factory, tapping steely voiced studio engineer Freedom Williams to bust basic rhymes over their crisp hooks. Their 1990 debut, “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” sold five million copies, with the title track going to number one on the pop chart. It launched them as producers for established acts – they made Carey’s “Make It Happen” and Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman,” among others – before Cole’s death from spinal meningitis in 1995 at age 32.
Clivillés and Cole weren’t the only New York house act making pop hits in 1990. In the early ’80s, Dmitry Brill, a Ukrainian émigré working as a maître d’ at a Caribbean restaurant and DJing at night, met the brassy, new agey Kierin Kirby in Washington Square Park. Eventually known as Supa DJ Dmitri and Lady Miss Kier, the two began to hang out at Area (where Kirby briefly worked) and the Pyramid, where drag stars like Hapi Phace and Lady Bunny held court. In 1986, they formed Deee-Lite, soon adding Towa Tei, a Japanese DJ who had befriended the couple; one of their early gigs was at Wigstock, Lady Bunny’s drag and arts festival.
Lady Miss Kier, 2001
“They were the ones that gave people hope that they could make a lot of money doing dance music,” Tantum says. “Deee-Lite went from nothing to ‘Groove Is in the Heart.’ Nobody knew about them until then. The interesting thing is, a lot of people didn’t like ‘Groove Is in the Heart’ because they thought it was a poppy, watered-down version of house music, but everybody liked Deee-Lite because they were part of the scene and they were all funny people.”
No one had anything bad to say about the B-side, though. “‘What Is Love?’ was much more accepted among hardcore clubbers,” said Tantum. “Everybody has heard ‘Groove Is in the Heart’ so many billions of times that no one wants to hear it anymore. [But] there are still songs coming out with the vocals from ‘What Is Love?’” It never became a hit like “Groove Is in the Heart,” but one of the early-’90s New York house records Tony Humphries championed on the radio was Photon, Inc. featuring Paula Brion’s “Generate Power” (1991) – the first track by Nathaniel Pierre Jones for a recent startup label called Strictly Rhythm.
Jones was better known as DJ Pierre – and even better known as part of Phuture, whose “Acid Tracks” (1986) had set off a tidal wave of acid records that tweaked the bass-synth lines of a Roland TB-303 till they zapped like the RKO antenna. Pierre was a Chicago native who, like many others, had grown weary of the bad deals the Windy City’s labels were handing out. “I’d seen that the scene [in Chicago] was folding,” he says. Pierre trekked east in 1990. “I was visiting New York and I realized that this is the place to be – the scene is new here, the labels are fresh. I was getting, in a funny way, in [on] the ground floor of the New York scene.”
True “wild pitch” sounds the best when you are mixing it in slowly, over 32 or 64 bars. You don’t just come in at 16 bars – you ride that bad boy.
- DJ Pierre
On “Generate Power,” Pierre switched out the 303 squeal for an unhinged-sounding but thoroughly controlled mélange of samples – curling sax here, Rhodes strings there, Brion’s shouts of “Power! Power!” riding it like a bronco. The standout on the 12-inch was Pierre’s own “Wild Pitch Mix” of the track – named for a party founded by Bobby Konders and David Camacho, at which Pierre began playing regularly after relocating to NYC.
“In essence, that’s a New York sound,” says Pierre. “It’s not like acid – it has no connection to Chicago. [What] makes something ‘wild pitch’ is the way it’s layered and built. I start from building the foundation – the drums, the beat – and have stuff coming in slowly but surely and have it building up, like euphoria, where it releases a big sound until you get hooked in. It just builds and builds and then I strip it back down. True ‘wild pitch’ sounds the best when you are mixing it in slowly, over 32 or 64 bars. You don’t just come in at 16 bars – you ride that bad boy.”
“Generate Power” was as important for who released it as for what it sounded like. Though plenty of New York indie labels issued house records, Strictly Rhythm almost immediately became identifiable as a house label, a distinction it wore proudly, issuing a passel of classics: Aly-Us’s “Follow Me” (1992), a house record that found favor with hip hop DJs such as Red Alert and Funkmaster Flex; CLS’ “Can You Feel It (In House Dub)” (1991), one of Todd Terry’s peak moments; and the return of Phuture on “Rise From Your Grave” (1992).
Founded by Gladys Pizarro and Mark Finkelstein in 1989, Strictly quickly became top dog in a crowded pack that soon included Nervous and Nu Groove. According to DJ Pierre, Strictly’s bigger producers were warned not to work with Nervous. “[Strictly] felt like they were the big fish. If they wanted to say not to work with the smaller fish, they felt like they had a right to say that.” Nervous founder Michael Weiss says that the labels were “competitive and very friendly” – not to mention they were part of a tight circle. “Gladys Pizarro actually worked very briefly at Nervous for a couple months,” Weiss says.
During her brief stint at Nervous, Pizarro introduced Weiss to Vega and his new producing partner, Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez. Gonzalez, like Terry, was a hip hop producer who’d found quicker acceptance doing sample-based club tracks. One of them, 2 Dope’s “A Touch of Salsa” (1990) – which sampled both salsa queen Celia Cruz and disco giant Sylvester – caught Vega’s ear. Vega asked Terry, “Who is this guy? I want to meet him, maybe do a remix of him.”
In 1990, Vega had gotten an album deal with Warner Bros. He invited Gonzalez to “come lay down some beats,” and the two began working together in earnest – first on the debut album by Marc Anthony, a family friend of Vega’s who wrote songs for freestyle acts and coached their vocalists, then on their own. They asked for and got Terry’s permission to use one of his discarded aliases, Masters At Work.
Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and “Little” Louie Vega of Masters At Work.
“We complemented one another so well,” says Vega. “I would play keyboards, he would make the beat; or I would come up with a groove first and he would make a beat to that groove. It was like clockwork. I was still getting a lot of remix requests from Atlantic and Warner Bros. We said, ‘Let’s use the remixes as an outlet. We’ll get ourselves out to people through the remixes.’”
Rather than fashioning something sumptuous around an extant song à la Def Mix, a Masters At Work dub would strip it back, often leaving only ghost traces of the vocals. “We’ll do something with your original song, but we’d take your vocals, do something hooky, put that hook on the B-side, but the music wouldn’t necessarily be yours,” says Vega. “We’d still have a bit of the artist in there, but create a brand new hook.” Soon New York’s top club DJs were buying Debbie Gibson 12-inches for the B-side MAW dubs. “Even Madonna wanted one,” he says. “Everybody wanted one.”
It set the table perfectly. Cutting Records issued Masters At Work’s key early 12-inch: on the A-side was “Blood Vibes,” a head-turning dancehall reggae/hip hop mesh. For the B, Gonzalez brought in a sample he’d taken from the Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places. “Bippity-bippity-bippity-HA!” it went. “The Ha Dance” became a foundational track for the voguing scene in New York. “I didn’t realize how big it was until some of our friends [told] me,” said Vega. One was Willi Ninja, the godfather of voguing, who died in 2006 of AIDS-related illness. “He was like, ‘That is our anthem. We use it all the time to battle.’ A couple years ago I YouTubed a lot of voguing battles, ’cause I wanted to see them. I didn’t realize that, even now, that record is used so much. Like breakdancers had ‘Apache,’ the voguers had ‘The Ha Dance.’”
Ninja was the doorman during Vega’s mid-’90s stint at The Sound Factory Bar, working at an industry showcase night called the Underground Network. “That was my favorite party ever, probably,” says Kupper. “It was a very mixed crowd: straight, gay, black, white, male, female. Just everybody.” Tantum adds, “It was a great crowd, great energy. It was a packed room. Everybody was dancing. Even people seated around the edges were dancing.”
House music pioneer Frankie Knuckles and MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown
- Al Pereira/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Initially known as Private Eyes, the Sound Factory Bar became the new home of Frankie Knuckles, who’d played the actual Sound Factory after Junior Vasquez, the tempestuous regular there, walked out one night. “When you have a room that size and you have a sound system that enormous and that pristine, my first thought was, going in to play on the first night, ‘You’re only gonna get one chance to do this right,’” Knuckles has said; he wound up staying six months. After Vasquez returned, the club’s management presented Knuckles with a smaller room better calibrated to his slower tempos.
“It started off like a dress-down party, a casual party,” says Barbara Tucker, the Underground Network’s cofounder (with DJ Don Welch) and host. “The first year, we alternated DJs – every week, someone different.” With Vega in place, the night exploded. A peak moment came on March 9, 1994, at a birthday party for vocalist (and Vega’s then-wife) India, when salsa legend Tito Puente stopped by to jam after a Blue Note gig. “They went mad,” Vega said in 1995. “I’ve never seen... I mean... the hairs stood. If you would have seen the reaction of that audience, the way they screamed – you had to be there, it was a once-in-alifetime thing.”
“You could go into Vinyl Mania on a Friday afternoon, look around and see five different people you could make tracks with,” says Michael Weiss. “Wednesday night at Sound Factory Bar, Louie Vega would play all the independent labels’ records and they would blow up if they were any good. And they would all blow up.”
By the mid-’90s, New York house wasn’t merely established – it was establishment. It’s the difference between no longer having to explain oneself and beginning to take things for granted. And that was the case not just in New York, but the world. “You could go to Rome. You could go to Amsterdam. New York controlled every market,” says Michael Weiss. “You could go to Tokyo and see stores with huge Nervous posters when you walked in. We were all thriving and we all had the major labels calling us all the time to pick up our releases. It was a very lucrative time.”
Crowd at the Sound Factory, NYC 1990.
- Alice Arnold
Miami was the place outside of town where it all converged. Held in late March of every year since the mid-’80s, the Winter Music Conference (WMC) was an annual confab for dance professionals that took place – entirely, at first – around the Fontainebleau Hotel pool. Initially, says Weiss, “It very much was a major label thing. Back then, all the major labels had dance divisions and they were very actively promoting the DJs. Then, in the early ’90s, once the New York labels got hot, we really took it over because we had all the big records: Masters At Work, Todd Terry, Frankie Knuckles and David Morales were all affiliated with the indies. [From] ’92 to ’95 [WMC] was like spring break for the New York dance labels.”
[From] ’92 to ’95 [WMC] was like spring break for the New York dance labels.
- Michael Weiss
But the dance world was hardly a unified front. A handful of techno DJs visited WMC for the first time in 1993: Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva of Windsor/Detroit’s Plus 8 Records, Daniel Bell, Philadelphia’s Nigel Richards and future electroclash and EDM star Tommie Sunshine. Joining them was Tampa zine editor and future Astralwerks A&R man Peter Wohelski. “Everyone is hanging out, passing out records and then this rave thing starts to pop up,” says Wohelski. “They don’t want to hear about that at all. I don’t think I’d realized it was that different. You’d get people who would wander in [to techno showcases] going, ‘Why are they playing so hard?’”
The principal New York producers of the decade, Masters At Work, could traverse both sides: Louie Vega might drop Plastikman’s Detroit anthem “ Spastik ” (as might Junior Vasquez) and plenty of MAW-affiliated tracks banged in warehouses filled with glow-sticky teenagers as well as in the city’s superclubs like Twilo and Tunnel. Among MAW’s crossover hits were Hardrive’s spare, spooky diva dub “ Deep Inside ” (1993) and the Bucketheads’ disco-powered “ The Bomb! (These Sounds Fall Into My Mind) ,” a record you could not get away from in 1994. Vega guesses this might be because “a lot of those keyboards on those records were more minimal – it was a more naïve sound.”
Masters At Work eventually pursued a classicist direction as Nuyorican Soul, whose 1997 album featured guest appearances from salsa giant Tito Puente, Salsoul vibes player Vince Montana and jazz guitarist George Benson. And for many others, house music’s (not to mention techno’s) increasingly abstract, increasingly instrumental direction was beginning to chafe. “Everywhere I go, all I hear is house music,” Timmy Regisford, founder and resident of the club Shelter, complained in 1995. “I don’t hear no lyrics or songs and it’s the same everywhere that I go – I may hear two songs in an hour and a half, but that’s not satisfactory.” The same year, disco-era DJ vets François Kevorkian and Danny Krivit joined with the younger but equally classic-minded Joe Claussell to start Body & Soul at Tribeca’s Vinyl (formerly Area), where soulful vocals were the order of the day.
Techno snuck in here and there – usually played way more slowly than usual. That’s how Danny Krivit played the Aztec Mystic’s “ Jaguar,” an Underground Resistance track from 1999. Krivit told the Village Voice that he’d play it “pitched down as far as the turntable goes. I remember going to play it and the DJ put it back all the way – ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘That’s how I play this record.’ ‘Really? Oh, you’re losing all the energy.’ ‘No, you’re gonna lose all the soul.’” At WMC ’93, Wohelski and his crew caught Tony Humphries at Miami’s Warsaw, where he wowed them by pitching Jaydee’s huge rave hit “ Plastic Dreams ” (1992) to -6. “We all were like, ‘Holy shit! This is crazy,’” he says, given that most rave DJs were bumping “Plastic Dreams” up to +2.
Eventually, techno kids became house heads and
the same demographic shift that existed between house (older, prominently
African-American and Latino) and techno (younger, whiter) would show up in the
New York house scene. Larry Tee finished an eclectic three-year residency at The Roxy in 1994; the
club then switched, he says, to “a tribal, instrumental vibe. It went
distinctly muscle-man.” Author Frank Owen adds, “House music lost its black
audience and gained a big white audience [when] it became instrumental. Vocal
house was very much in tune with that tradition of R&B, of the church. That
was all jettisoned.”
The DJ who signaled the change most clearly in New York was Junior Vasquez. Born Donald Mattern in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Vasquez had been a Paradise Garage head whose audience shifted from Garage habitués to Chelsea boys, with ravers eventually getting on board. Vasquez was famed for his residency at The Sound Factory from 1989 to 1995. His sound, says Time Out’s Bruce Tantum, “was more jacking – not Chicago jacking, but the New York style, more bottom-heavy. The sounds are a bit more rounded. [It was] Latin, but subdued Latin, very minimalist in a way, [but a] big sound, with throbbing, drum-heavy, deep male vocals saying stupid things. It was gay, but not exclusively gay.”
Vasquez was also cultivating a mystique, locked away inside a DJ booth clubgoers could hardly see into. “It made him more godlike – [a] word-being-handed-down-from-up-high sort of deal,” says Tantum. Vasquez was also notoriously snappish, an attitude that carried over to his music, most famously on 1996’s “If Madonna Calls” – its one-line lyrical hook goes, “If Madonna calls, I’m not heah.” It’s as purely New York a record as anything by The Ramones.
Twilo introduced the concept of worshipping DJs from Europe much more than DJs from the US.
- Bruce Tantum
“Junior was a magician during his period at Palladium,” says Tee of the 14th Street palace where Vasquez played from September 1996 to September 1997. “He would do some things that were absolutely astounding. It was a little after, when they brought him back to Twilo, that it turned awful. After crystal meth hit the clubs, [Vasquez’s] sound totally didn’t change. It just became nonstop, one sound.”
Junior’s return to Twilo in 1997 was a homecoming: it was in the same space as The Sound Factory. Junior took Saturday nights. The other nights’ lineups filled up – often with overseas guests. “That was the first big club to do that on a regular basis in New York,” says Tantum. “Twilo introduced the concept of worshipping DJs from Europe much more than DJs from the US. The New York DJs were no longer getting these high-paying gigs – they were going to Europe to get paid a lot of money. On the plus side, it brought a lot of fresh blood into the clubbing scene.”
The big names were the British progressive-house tag-team DJ duo Sasha and John Digweed, whom Twilo hired in 1996 to commandeer the last Friday of every month. “New York was always a hard place to get your foot in the door,” says Digweed. “Then Sasha and I did a mini-tour of the States in 1996. New York was one of the dates, at Twilo. The night went incredibly well and the owners came to us both with the idea of playing each month. That night went on to last five years.”
“Not only did that put them on the map, it put Twilo on the international clubbing map,” says Tantum. “It was, rather unfortunately, the first place that I saw people just standing and facing the DJ booth – maybe moving around a little bit, but not dancing with each other, certainly. They were just looking at the guy playing the records.”
The best tribal is either [Danny Tenaglia], or sounds like it could be him.... I’m not sure what the trick was, but he knew the trick.
- Bruce Tantum
Sasha and Digweed played marathon sets, splitting the work – but Vasquez and his main rival, Danny Tenaglia, were prone to playing up to 18 hours a shot, all by themselves. Like Vasquez, Tenaglia was a Garage regular and Larry Levan acolyte. “People feel the need to compare us, like Coke to Pepsi,” Tenaglia told DJ Times in 1998 about Vasquez. “I feel there’s nothing to compare. What we do is 90 percent different from each other.”
As Vasquez’s style grew more brittle, Tenaglia went deeper – without necessarily retreating into deep house. His style was dubbed “tribal.” “It all coalesced for Danny at the tail end of The Sound Factory, when Danny was playing there in ’93,” says Tantum. “Danny really found his sound around ’94 and ’95. The best tribal is either his, or sounds like it could be him: a bassline, a big thick kick drum, a few funny sound effects going on here and there and that would be it. It would fill the room. It was a big production. I’m not sure what the trick was, but he knew the trick.”
Peter Daou, unidentified man, Vanessa Daou,
- Tina Paul
As the ’90s progressed, Tenaglia began drawing from techno as well – the dubbier side of acts such as Germany’s Maurizio, stuff that was “house” without concerning itself too much with diva (or, in Larry Tee’s derisive term, “church lady”) vocals. “The minimal stuff, the Maurizio stuff he was influenced by – there was a lot of darkness to it, a sexy darkness,” says Kerri Mason, a journalist who in the early 2000s cashiered Tenaglia’s nights at the Tribeca juice-bar Vinyl.
“There was an old guard – the keepers of the flame of house music,” says Mason. “But they were in short supply in the beginning, because they resented [Tenaglia]. He had the Paradise Garage pedigree, but he was almost disavowing it. He was playing trance, techno – all this weird music that they had no cultural connection to.” Still, Tenaglia’s young, white audience wasn’t particularly ravey. “It wasn’t a super-ecstasy kind of crowd,” says Mason. “There were no glow sticks. That was seriously frowned upon.”
There were other ways to frown. Around 1997, when Vasquez moved from The Tunnel to Twilo and Tenaglia took over at The Tunnel, the two conducted a public feud. Word got around that Junior, spotting Danny from the DJ booth, had him physically removed by security. Actually, Tenaglia told DJ Times, he was approached by a security staffer who apologetically asked him to go, which he did – then he decided to take it public: “Even before it happened to me I was looking at how wrong it was. You don’t treat people like that.”
Six months before the Limelight shut down, I was... with Gatien saying, “This cannot go on. The police are going to crack down on you.”
- Frank Owen
Rough treatment in clubs would become the norm in the late ’90s, though. The city was remaking itself from the bottom up. Gone were the days when, as Owen recalls, you could tip your cabbie in cocaine and police were almost nonexistent on the street. Times Square was doing major business with the Walt Disney Company, the closest that place had been to anything resembling Mickey Mouse since the opening of animator Ralph Bakshi’s X-rated Fritz the Cat in 1972. The seedier aspects of nightlife in New York, long able to run free, were undergoing a crackdown.
It began with Peter Gatien’s spots: Club U.S.A., Limelight, the Tunnel and Palladium. All four rooms were enormous – Club U.S.A., the smallest, held 2,500; the Tunnel, a city-block long, held 5,000. Though everyone who worked for him averred that Gatien’s hands were uninvolved in any dealing going on in his clubs, drugs were so prevalent at Limelight that the venue’s most visible promoter, Michael Alig, would joke about it – loudly.
“Six months before the Limelight shut down, I was on a balcony with Gatien saying, ‘This cannot go on. The police are going to crack down on you,’” says Owen. “It was not something that came out of the blue. It was entirely predictable. You certainly don’t fill a club with 3,000 people, many of them underage and so fucked up on drugs that they’re collapsed on the floor and then go to the press, like Michael Alig did and start boasting about celebrity drug dealers. It was inevitable that was going to happen.”
Michael Alig’s birthday party at Disco 2000 at Limelight, NYC 1994.
- Tina Paul
On September 30, 1995, 50 NYPD officers raided Limelight, making only three arrests, including a busboy who sold weed on the side. A cop with ties to the club had tipped them off. “They told all the ecstasy dealers. Nobody was there that night,” says Owen. The Office of Special Narcotics, intending to nab ten times as many people as it did, was livid. The Limelight reopened a week after the bust, but by then it had lost its luster. “It was really dead by that time,” says Tee, “because everybody knew the drugs weren’t going to be there. If there were no drugs, the crowd wasn’t going to be there.”
After Limelight was shuttered in 1997 – following Alig’s 1996 murder of Angel Melendez, a fellow Club Kid – many figured the cops would leave nightclubbers alone again. But things ramped up. “You would endure a search that would be extreme even in a prison environment,” says former New York magazine reporter Ethan Brown. “I actually work in prisons now; I know what a prison search is like. Your shoes had to be removed. They would actually put their hands in your underwear. They would sometimes open your mouth. It was just crazy and humiliating. If someone might be suspected of putting ecstasy in [his or her] mouth, that person would then be grabbed by the shoulders and picked up and literally, physically thrown out of the club.”
After 9/11, it became survival of the fittest.
- Kerri Mason
It wasn’t the Gestapo – nor, as Owen points out, was it anything compared to the treatment gays endured in the days before Stonewall. But it was unsettling and not the only evidence nightlife was shrinking in Manhattan. The early ’90s vogue for sit-down lounges, such as Spy, had introduced a queasy new concept into nightlife: bottle service. “They were small places, initially,” says Owen. Club owners started doing the math. “You’re not going to make a fortune if you have 100, 200 people in there,” Owen continues. “Promoters said, ‘Why don’t we do this in a bigger club and we’ll make a fucking killing here? We can sell a $30 bottle of vodka for $500. Why pay Michael Alig and the Club Kids to come, all the problems they bring, all the drugs?’ It was a no-brainer from a business point of view.”
The last real superclub that remained in New York was Twilo, which went away permanently on May 24, 2001, after the state voted to allow the City of New York to not renew the venue’s cabaret license. Authorities had discovered the club was sending overdosers to the hospital in its own specially hired paramedics service – so as not to alert the police – after first attempting to revive them with ice water in a private back room. The day the club shut down, fans conducted a vigil. “Flowers and candles littered the sidewalk, handwritten screeds and love letters for the lost friend covered the door,” wrote Tricia Romano in the Village Voice. “People gathered around and took photos, hugging each other and bidding farewell. A few cried and some danced to the music booming from a silver car parked at the curb.”
The action was moving fast to Brooklyn – particularly Williamsburg – and the sound moved away from tribal and progressive-house bloat to electro, mashups and a surge of minimal techno from Germany – a change exacerbated by September 11. “You couldn’t have a Vinyl now, with the rents the way they are in New York – no liquor, a $10 cover, open three nights a week. It would never work,” says Mason. “There was such an automatic and complete decrease in attendance across the board that you had to start thinking in terms of efficiency, which clubs never did. After 9/11, it became survival of the fittest.”
A version of this article appeared in The Daily Note, a free daily newspaper distributed in New York during the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy. Header image: Kevin Cummins/Getty Images.
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