NYC house veteran, Little Louie Vega, dropped by for a very special ‘White Label Jam Party’ here at Phonica. Check out the video stream and interview below.
On Wednesday 3rd January, we kick-started our year with a special in-store event with the iconic New York house veteran, Louie Vega, to coincide with the release of his ultra limited 5×12″ pack of previously unreleased tracks and collaborations, featuring such artists as Joe Claussell and Amp Fiddler.
You can check out some of the photos from the event below, as well as the FACT Magazine livestream and a few key excerpts from Louie’s recent Phonica Mix Series interview.
So let’s start from the beginning; it’s no secret that your formative years in the New York Bronx and the presence of Latin freestyle music had a great impact on you. Can you pick out one or two key records from this period that initially inspired you to start DJing?
Well the music that inspired me to DJ was not Latin Freestyle, that came later. Actually, it was fusion disco, music that came out of the streets from all the dancers that frequented the Loft, Paradise Garage, The Gallery, Zanzibar, The Funhouse and a few others. My sisters went to all the clubs, at the time I was too young to go. I would drop them off at clubs with friends who drove them and saw all the frenzy in front of clubs, hearing the baselines through the walls, lol. They would talk about all this music that I wouldn’t hear on the radio, then the mixtapes came from their friends who were DJs and went to those clubs too. There I would hear this music.
At the same time it was the birth of hip-hop, I was there in the projects at the jams checking out Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay (who eventually heard my mixtape and took me under his wing for a bit, I was even at the Roxy with him checking out the filming of “Beat Street”), Red Alert, Afrika Islam and all the breakdancers e.g. Rocksteady crew, etc.
Then in my family, I have an uncle who is one of the greatest salsa singers of all time, Hector Lavoe. I would see him in Madison Square Garden performing to thousands, I would be with my Mom. That was truly inspiring as well him coming to my Mom’s home at wee hours bringing over a test 7” of one of his latest hits for her to hear. I wish I could have kept those that my Mom had.
My dad being an accomplished jazz tenor saxophonist, he would play Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Fania Records, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie’s music all through the house while he ripped on his tenor sax live over the tracks playing. He also reads music and played in local bands for many years to this day!
My neighbours, two, in particular, one had a big disco collection and DJ equipment, I would help him with sweet 16 parties and events, he was a mobile DJ, I then gravitated towards borrowing his equipment and practising my craft, picking out the music I liked from his collection. The other neighbour was my childhood friend, he had an older brother who had equipment (turntables and a GLI mixer) and an extensive collection of breakbeats. I then heard the ones I used to hear at the Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Red Alert jams in the projects and I used to practice cutting up the breaks and extending them with blends too.
All the above was part of the inspiration.
So If I picked out four songs that were part of the inspiration, they would be:
If I had to pick early latin freestyle which happened in the mid-80s, they would be:
You earned your stripes in and around some of NYC’s most legendary establishments, such as Studio 54 and The Devil’s Nest – was there any particular moment that made you realise people were really starting to pay attention and invest in your sound?
I think all throughout I realized it starting from the Devil’s Nest into Heartthrob (the old Funhouse), Studio 54 and eventually the Underground Network Parties at the Sound Factory Bar. I had different sounds at each of those venues that arose but I would always take with me what I learned over the years, so those records from the previous became classics that people would associate me with. I started producing music in 1985 when you make music, people not only associate the djing, they now associate pieces of work you create with yourself, which then in turn after playing them in your clubs they would also become classics if the records were big in that particular club. I started making latin freestyle records in 1985 til 1989. In 1989 I started mixing house records for Todd Terry (DMS, Black Riot, SAX on Warlock Records) and I eventually started producing house records on my own. One of my first house records that I produced was “Take Me Away” by Two In A Room, and one of my first house remixes was in 1989 “Love Me True” by Kimiesha Holmes on Big Life Records. By 1989 I had already produced many latin freestyle records, easily over 100 records, then moved heavily onto house music. One of my first artist projects with house was Freestyle Orchestra “Don’t Tell Me” on SBK Records which at that time I was managed by Patrick Moxey, he then brought me out to London / UK first in 1989 and booked me at Sunrise, Energy, High On Hope, Heaven, I mean I came to London for the first time and I was in shock with the scene, it was an incredible movement, house music caught on like wildfire. Once I played those gigs in London, everything just snowballed, then Masters At Work came along with “Little Louie” Vega & Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez.
All this above helped create my sound in a club and on countless dance floors!
How well received was this new brand of house music in a community that was dominated by the hip-hop culture at the time?
At the time it was house music and hip-hop together. I played in clubs in 85-90, in NYC where art and music were so close together. NYC was very open-minded and you had clubs playing both styles. I actually started in 1985 – 1990 playing latin freestyle, disco, early house music, reggae, hip-hop and DOR/ New Wave. By the time 1990 came when Kenny and I started Masters at Work you could hear the influence from my DJ sets in the music we made. We did a few singles where we would put a house track on one side and a hip-hop track on the other side. An example of this is “the Ha Dance” on one side and “Blood Vibes” on the other by Masters At Work. And on the hip-hop tracks, you would hear a reggae influence as well which came from what I was playing in my sets at clubs like Roseland and Studio 54. Later from 1992, hip-hop dominated the scene but we kept to our style of house music and disco funk fusion classics, with occasional hip-hop jams like Tribe Called Quest, Jungles Brothers, Premier Produced Jams at clubs like The Underground Network. But Masters At Work were very strong on musical releases as well artists like Kerri Chandler, The Basement Boys, Def Mix with Morales & Knuckles, and many more which created an entire movement for house music in NYC. The house music was so strong that even some of the hip-hop genre in NYC would come hang at our clubs too e.g. Queen Latifah, Mc Lyte, and even pop music icons e.g. Janet Jackson, Jazz icons e.g. George Benson, latin icons e.g. Tito Puente. The key was that we had a dance culture, fashion and style that related to the music, and the young generation dancers were poppin’ on the house sound. There you had labels like Nervous Records, Strictly Rhythm, King Street Records, and many more releasing quality house records and the scene flourished. Once the NY style house was licensed overseas it was a wrap, great things happened internationally.
Where does the inspiration for your modern day work come from? Your recent albums, including your latest ‘Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII’ feature a plethora of highly talented international artists – how do these partnerships come about and where do/did you find these people?
Louie Vega Starring…XXVIII, I wanted to do my first solo album, from my travels I decided to reach artists and slowly bring them into the studio or begin collaborations with them. Before you knew it I created over 50 tracks so it was rounded off to 28 songs with 28 artists. When in the studio especially these last few years I’ve been in a highly creative state and I made so much music. I was then able to place the music with select artists and started tailoring it for them. Some artists I’ve had musical relationships with for years and others I just contacted out of whim and wala’ we created this huge landscape of music that was eventually nominated for a Grammy for Best Dance Electronic Album. I have a great team as well from engineer to musicians, to singers that put in a great deal of work on the project.
2017 has been another incredible year for you and you were even nominated for another Grammy! What’s in store for 2018? If you can, please tell us a bit about what you have coming up next…
We are looking forward to the Grammy Experience on January 28, 2018 !! We are already winners in our minds just by making it to the Grammys two years in a row, and this time with our icon Loleatta Holloway. This track was produced by the great Yvonne Turner and I’m grateful she brought me this track. Feels like it was meant to be!!! Lots of new music coming your way this year, I’ve collaborated with the Martinez Brothers on a project that has turned into an album. We have our first single coming out on Cutting Headz on January 25, 2018, its called “Que Paren La Puerta (Shut The Door)” – The Martinez Brothers & Louie Vega Featuring Hector Lavoe. 3 generations coming together and we are both from the Bronx, its a deeper project than a usual single, this means a lot to us. The album will have a diverse array of sounds. I’ve also produced two remixes for Luther Vandross for Legacy Records with one of the songs featuring on guitar the incredible artist/musician /composer/producer Nile Rodgers, these songs were never released and were songs Luther recorded when he was working on one of his greatest albums “Never Too Much”. He sounds immaculate on the new tracks as if he sang it yesterday. I’ve just finished a new production on a Bebe Winans song “He Promised” which is a club scorcher! A new collaboration with Techno Artist Joseph Capriati I’ve finished and will come on his first album. From the Two Beats One Soul album where EOL Soulfrito (my band) recorded in Cuba, we have the next single with remixes of “Music & Life” featuring the songstress/artist/DJ Anané Vega, which was remixed by yours truly with Keyboards & Lyrics by Josh Milan. We are off to Cuba with Josh Milan, Anané Vega, and the Eol Soulfrito band to perform at the Havana Jazz Festival along with the Two Beats One Soul Ensemble headed by Ray Chew. For this summer The Ritual with Anané & Louie Vega signs up for a residency in Ibiza at Heart for its second year and this time twice as long throughout summer 2018! Much love to all who appreciate what we do!! See you at Phonica Records 7pm – 9pm on January 3, 2018, for the live vinyl set and pick up your 5 pack unreleased vinyl on Vega Records!
Check out Louie’s in-depth interview here and his excellent Phonica mix below.
Photo Credit: Colin Williams.