Interview: Vjuan Allure
One of ballroom’s biggest talents is a DJ/producer Vjuan Allure. He’s the beatmaker behind the twist on Masters At Work’s “The Ha Dance” that most voguers are moving to at the moment. (It’s fittingly called the “Allure Ha.”) In this interview with Allure, The Niallist asks him about his formative clubbing experiences with DC’s DJ Sedrick, the enduring popularity of “The Ha Dance” and the unique computer program he uses to make his tunes.
How did you get into dance music?
I was in New York, and my mother travelled all around the world, so I was left with my cousins who all went out to clubs. I was a dancer, I was 11 and we focused on battle dancing. I begged them and begged them to take me to a club, and one night they did, and it was house music and I loved it. The biggest club they took me to was The Sound Factory in New York, and since I had been going to smaller clubs and battle dancing they never asked me for ID. They would see me coming with the certain group that was known for dancing so they would let me in. This was about 1989, the era of Junior Vasquez, when the Sound Factory was everything! This was just before [Madonna’s] “Vogue.” When that come out we were already in the club doing it. In fact we were there the night Madonna came to the club!
Tell me about your introduction to club music from outside New York, particularly the Washington DC scene and DJ Sedrick.
I got put into an exchange program in Italy, and I started to spend a lot of time in Virginia and Washington DC, because there’s a protocol school that you have to go to before you go abroad. So I ended up in the DC area, and I went to a place called Trax. When I went there I heard DJ Sedrick, and the music he played was phenomenal! I had never heard anything like it, never seen a reaction like it. If you could put crazy in a club, this would be it.
At this point I was a huge Junior Vasquez head. Anything Junior made I was into. But when it got to Sedrick it was more beat-driven. What you thought a beat could do, it did. The songs he played were kinda like techno, kinda house, kinda bouncy Baltimore-ish beats…They had a powerful impact! They had this one dance in DC, it’s called the DC skuzz out, and you have never seen anything like it. Just to watch it, the energy, it was crazy. These are people that do backflips and land on their heads, it’s hard to describe, but anything you can imagine they’re doing it! Falling on the floor and shaking, very Patti LaBelle-ish.
Friends of mine in NY would always talk about the DC scene and voguing, but I was too young to go. When I finally went and I battled, we got to know each other, and these beats were playing back to back to back and I was like, “What IS this music?” That’s when I went and met Sedrick. A lot of it had to do with bass kinda beats, very Chicago-ish, Detroit techno-ish, but it was all fun. He was just DJing, but with his interaction on the mic it was the perfect marriage. I’m serious, he was just screaming at people, hollering, taking the needle and scratching it across the record. He was doing everything, and the kids would scream and holler back. People came from all kinds of states around just to go to Trax. I mean they came from California, from the other side of the world.
How did you get into DJing? And, from there, how did you get into production?
They had this one dance in DC, it’s called the DC skuzz out, and you have never seen anything like it.
I didn’t actually become a DJ until I went to Italy, and when I got there they wanted me to play hip hop but I wanted to play house. But I played hip hop, and I became a very popular DJ. I gave them the element that they didn’t have in the clubs. But when I got with my team Angels of Love, I started to play house. And they told me how to play, how to mix and to blend. When I got back to the States I was making these small mixes for my friends, just these little productions putting my name in it and stuff. It wasn’t until I went back to Italy that I started to make tracks.
Why do you think the “Ha” sound effect has worked so well, and become so synonymous with ballroom and modern voguing?
Well, there was a new form of voguing coming out at that time which was called vogue femme. And when “The Ha Dance” got re-released, that song just fit with what they were doing. And much to the credit of DJ Sedrick, he brought that song back out, especially in DC. Then it spread like wildfire throughout he ballroom scene. So it was already out. The “Ha” was like a staple before I even got a hold of it. It’s the syncopation of it. You have those four beats and then just something else that closes out the whole stanza. It is the defining sound for vogue femme. But there are other categories in the ballroom that don’t even use that song, and other types of vogue that don’t use that song either.
And what do you think of producers incorporating “Ha” into non-ballroom music? There's a lot of that going on right now it seems.
A lot of people are putting out tracks using the ballroom crash, but even the ballroom kids who use this music will know “that’s not ballroom.” You can’t just put a “Ha” or a crash on a beat and expect it to be ballroom. It doesn’t work like that. You have to know the inner working, and why it is you would put that in a song.
Tell me a bit more about Italy. How did Italy influence your sound and style, and vice versa?
Like I said, I was an exchange student in Italy, and when I got there it was the total reverse of the States. Where you would hear R&B and hip hop on every radio station in the States, in Italy it was house music everywhere. So I immediately fell in love with the place. I was determined to get into Italian nightlife, which is almost impossible to do. There are so many very good DJs in Italy who will never get a chance to play. [Italian DJs] have a group and they call it a “society” and once they get into the group, they are in it forever. Nobody gets in, it just doesn’t happen.
I was determined to get in, though, and it started from my dancing. I started to work the same way I did in the States. I started to make little CDs for my friends, and at first they were like “thank you” and they were happier when they got the next one, and then they would ask me if I had any new music, and then they were asking people to listen to it. It grew like that. I never told my team that I was DJing. When they found out they were like, "We need you to play.” They got me to play at House Club, Maddison, Angels of Love, so many places. The Biggest And The Best, Metropolis, Havana Club. Once they found out I was DJing, it exploded. This was in about… 1999.
What would you say you learned from your time in Italy, and in return, what did they learn from you?
We learned from each other. My team is one of the biggest and the best, but they were famous for bringing over the big London DJs and the big American DJs. What I brought to them of course was my street knowledge and my dancing ability. What I did onstage, there was no one in Italy like that. In terms of DJing, when I came back from Italy I was more into blending. You know a lot of us do cuts, especially if you come up in hip hop. They were primarily interested in blending and making it a smooth transition. So when I came back, other DJs looked at me like, “Wow!”
How did you get into actually making tracks?
In Italy it was house music everywhere. So I immediately fell in love with the place.
I started making music with Dr Rhythm samplers and a Kawai drum machine. I started to work from that. When I was in Italy for the second time, which was 2002-2005, I was given every production program from Cakewalk to Pro Tools. Everything, but it was all in Italian. For some reason I just didn’t want to comprehend what was going on, even Fruity Loops. But this one program stood out: Simian. When I looked at it, it just made sense.
What exactly is Simian? How is it different from other music programs?
Simian is similar, for a DJ, to what Ableton is now. It worked for a DJ. When I opened it up I understood what to do. And even with the simplest stuff, I couldn’t do it, even on Fruity Loops. So when I opened up Simian that day and I understood what to do, I gravitated towards it.
How do you make tracks, what is your process?
I’m not looking for a particular beat, I’m looking for a voice. It could be anything. If it grabs my attention I just build the beat around it. I used to use a lot of samples when I started, but now I’ve learned how to reconstruct everything, sometimes from scratch.
How did you get hooked up with Bok Bok and the Night Slugs crew?
Bok Bok is so cool! I was doing podcasts on Podomatic, and someone suggested I use Soundcloud. So I made a profile and I started to look around for other people, and some of the people who were on there I was already getting music from, I was buying their music. Same with Soundboy, Bok Bok, Lil Silva. I friended them and said, “Hey, I’m Vjuan Allure, I like your sound, big props to you,” and they would come back and be like, “Oh my God, we listen to your music all the time!” That shocked me!
By the time Bok Bok answered me, I said “I’m going to have something for you,” and that was the remix of “Silo Pass.” I did it because when I heard the original it was definitely something I would play over some beats, but not for a crowd I would play to in the States. Most of the crowds here want ballroom, or, you know, soulful house, so it wouldn’t have fit. But I took his track because I heard something, and I went and turned it into a runway track. I played it at a ball and they all went nuts.
What are you using for production now? Do you use Ableton?
I’m still using Simian, but I am getting used to Ableton. The problem is that if I work with someone else we have to work in wavs. Simian doesn’t use aiff files. Bok Bok got me on Ableton. But I will always keep Simian because I can make a beat in five minutes.