David Morales is one of a select few DJs who made their names in the early ’90s as surefire hitmakers. As the music business learned that it could use remixing as a marketing tool, he was the guy they called when they wanted an indie band or an R&B star to reach the ears of the dancefloor.
Big names, too: Morales has remixed Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, U2 and Aretha Franklin, and at the time of this DJ History interview, his remixing fees were top of the tree. An original superstar DJ, he was among the first generation to have one foot in the club world and another in the music business proper. In 1999, Frank Broughton sat down with him to find out more about his background and the secrets behind a great remix.
Let me start by asking you about your background.
Born and raised in Brooklyn. Grew up in Flatbush. Parents are Puerto Rican. I guess I liked music from when I was really little. I remember taking this record from a friend of my mother’s, and the record was “Spinning Wheel“ on RCA Victor, back in the day. I must have been three or four. I always liked black music. I didn’t like the Spanish music. There used to be a social club downstairs, and I was free to roam around. It wasn’t like today, where you don’t let your kids go out. Once the morning came, the door was open. I found myself in the craziest places. As a child you just wander.
What clubs did you go to?
I mean real, like, ghetto neighborhood clubs. Like, painted black with black glow paint. Real primitive shit. And that’s when “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight was out, I remember. Maybe ’68, ’69? I remember “Want Ads” by Honey Cone.
How did you get into DJing?
I used to be the one appointed to play the music. We’d all be hanging out, and I’d be the one hanging out by the stereo. And I’d be picking the tunes. And this is with just one turntable. It wasn’t about two turntables at the time. I never saw that yet.
When did you take it to the next level?
When I was 13, there was my prom. And this is when “Ten Percent” came out. It was the first time I saw two turntables and a guy mixing, and this was outside.
Who was that?
I think the guy’s name was Grandmaster Flowers. He was doing black block parties, and I was like, “Wow!” You know, people hanging out in the park and they’d be playing music.
Now, when I first started mixing with the mixer with the headphones, I was about 13 and “San Francisco” was out by the Village People. We were in my friend’s sister-in-law’s apartment, and the decks were in the kitchen. Forget about having monitors, the monitors were the speakers that were in the living room, way over there.
Who was your first inspiration as a DJ?
His name was Ernie Dunda. I saw him when I was 15 years old at a club called the Starship Discovery. I remember I had my nose glued to the bubble that was the DJ booth. That was the first DJ I saw in a real club. I was just like, “Wow!” Bozak mixer, proper booth, amazing. I didn’t care about meeting chicks, I was just glued to that bubble.
After doing house parties, I started going to a club called the Loft on Saturday night, probably like 1980.
The Loft was Saturday nights, and I used to be dancing there for like 12, 15 hours. I was one of the last ones to leave.
What was that like for you?
It was amazing. I guess up to this, I was what you’d call a commercial DJ. I bought the hits. I bought the records you bought in the mom and pop shops, that’s what I knew. When I went to the Loft, I heard all this different music. I thought, “Wow, I like this.” Then it was all about where I could buy these records. That’s when I went to Vinylmania. I was already going to Downtown Records when I was 14.
So I was 19, 20, something like that. Started going to the Loft. The Loft was Saturday nights, and a lot of people from my neighborhood used to go. I used to dance. I used to be there for like 12, 15 hours, dancing. I was one of the ones who got there early, and I was one of the last ones to leave.
Who did you meet there who went on to be in the industry?
I saw François Kevorkian, but I never met him at the time. David Mancuso, Steve D’Acquisto. Those are really the people that I remember from the business. I was going there from such an early stage, so I wasn’t in the business yet.
It was after Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan had been hanging out there. I know Larry would come after the Garage, because the Loft stayed open later. And he used to bring certain records. I went to the Garage a couple of times on a Friday. It was only a couple of times because I started doing my own parties in like 1981.
As a mobile DJ?
No, no, no, as a summer resident DJ. I was a mobile from the minute I started, I went everywhere.
Where were you resident?
I started at a place called the Ozone Layer, that was in Flatbush. I use to do it on Friday nights and it was somewhat based around the way the Loft did stuff. I gave fruits and tried to make it a party. But it was on a Friday, and it was a smaller venue. A lot of people in my neighborhood used to go.
How did you get the gig?
My girlfriend at the time, her girlfriend was going out with one of the owners from the club. So she had asked us to do a party of our own. She asked me to play. I made the invitation too because I was a graffiti artist, and at the end of the day the people that really came out were my friends, people that I used to invite to house parties. But the house parties were free, whereas this was pay.
So then I approached the owner and asked him to let me do some parties on my own. And I just wanted to play records, so I would get other people to promote the parties, to be co-host. But they wanted to give me some sob story that they weren’t making money at the bar, at the door, all this kind of nonsense, some bullshit trip.
After going through that a couple of times, some of them had brought some new faces each time, but there was a core audience, and that was my audience. And I started to realize that I didn’t need these folks promoting. I could do this, people were coming for me, they’re coming for my music. So I said, “I’ll run this.” So I got it together with my girl. She handled the front, and I played the music.
What kind of music were you playing back then? Very much the same as the Loft?
Yeah, the Loft and the Garage. Plus the new stuff. So it was the underground stuff, at the time. Of course with some other commercial records.
And I know you played a few times at The Garage. How did you that happen?
That’s the funniest story. I had been to the Garage five times just to hang out. I’d come dressed, trying to get in, “Yo, get me in, get me in,” because it was a private club. And I’m always one of the last ones. Not to mention the kind of stuff I used to do to stay there! But anyway, it was part of growing up, like everybody else.
Even before I went to the Garage, I heard stories – “Four turntables, the guy’s incredible” and all of this, you know. Anyway, I was one of those kids that sat there and looked at the booth and like, “Oh my God...” just fantasizing, like any guy would do. This room was just incredible.
I used to go to the Loft, but the Loft wasn’t about mixing. He had two decks, but with Mancuso, you play the record from beginning to end, the way it was made. And that was his philosophy, that was it. No artificial flavors, no MSG, nothing, and that’s the way his soundsystem was: Straight, everything was straight. No processors in between, no crap. Just pure, you know. It’s like eating organic food.
Whereas the Garage was the monster system. It was a showcase for Richard Long. It was his room. So anything new that he built, it was there. The Garage had a booth unmatched by any booth there’s ever been in the world.
Even now. He had a carousel, for the record bin, that schwoooo. This thing just spun around with records in it and drawers. It was his house. I mean, you see pictures of Mick Jagger and Grace Jones up there. Of course, I didn’t see any of this until I got privileged enough to go up there and work there.
What year did you first go?
I was 20, 21. It’s ’81, ’82?
And he really impressed you, he blew you away?
Naaaah, he didn’t. Didn’t. I mean, the music was – cha! Incredible. Couldn’t say anything about the music, but you know, as a DJ I had this vision: I was gonna hear science. But to me, the mixing part, I wasn’t impressed by the mixing. At the time I’m young... I was too young to understand at the time, a lot of things, I didn’t get the whole picture. There were some mixes that were awesome, when you first hear him do the a cappella of “Love Is The Message,” which he was the first one to play, that shit was like... that was the whole...
How did he play that?
Well, that was when they started doing a cappellas.
So he would just kill everything and play that?
No, no, no, he had “Don’t Make Me Wait” by Peech Boys, and he would play “Love Is The Message” over that. That was it, man. That was it. He would play some of his early productions of Peech Boys at early stages, just ideas...
He could be shit for seven hours, then he could take 15 minutes and kick the shit out of you, and that made your night! That’s what it was about. There was nobody that was able to do that. And he didn’t care either. You be like, “Aww man, what is this guy up to today?” I thought I caught him on a bad night, which was alright. Second time I went, I thought, “Oh, I caught him on two bad nights.”
How did you end up playing there?
So anyway, here comes 1983, I’m in the record pool. I got in because of this DJ Kenny Carpenter. He was playing at a big club called Bonds International, which was a huge club, six, seven thousand people it used to hold, right in Times Square. They used to have people like the Clash, and Planet Patrol, Soulsonic Force, all that shit. And he lived in my neighborhood. I had met him through a mutual friend. I hung out with Kenny, and Kenny took me to the record pool. And that record pool, that roster of DJs, it was a privilege to be in that pool. It was called For The Record, Judy Weinstein’s pool. I mean, all the big guys were in that thing at the time. There was a waiting list to get in. So I gave some tapes to the pool director at the time, David DePino, and they were looking for somebody new, so they referred me. I didn’t know they had referred me.
How did you hear?
So we’re in my house, listening to some new records we got from the pool. I’m talking to Kenny Carpenter and another friend of ours, late friend of mine, Larry Patterson, he used to play at Zanzibar. Larry Patterson was my mentor.
And I get a phone call. I pick up the phone. “Hi, my name is Mike Brody, I own a club called the Paradise Garage, I’d like you to play my club.” I’m like, “Yeah rrright.” And he says, “You’ve been highly recommended.” He said – quote – “Our DJ’s been playing like shit lately, and we’d like you to come in and do a spot.”
So, by now I’ve sunk to my knees, and I’m trying to write with a pen and a piece of paper to tell my friend who it is I’m speaking to. So he says, “I have two dates available.” He’s not even just offering me one date, to see how I do. It’s a definite. “I got two nights for you.” He’d never heard of me, at all.
He heard your tape though?
Didn’t hear nothing. Totally recommendation. From Judy and David DePino.
Was she managing you?
Naww. It was her pool, that was it. I was 21 years old. I was working at a restaurant and doing parties...
An amazing break.
Because to play at the Garage, everybody knows who was playing at the Garage. If you were a guest DJ, your name’s on the marquee, and you’re advertised, and they tell you what club you come from. Do you know what that was for my name to be on that marquee? I had people come to me and say, “How did you pull that off?” because there were other people that were a lot more worthy of playing in that room before me, that were incredible DJs.
So anyway, they picked me. I play in a sweat-box in Brooklyn, and here, all of a sudden, I’m playing at the mecca of the greatest club in the world. At 21 years old. And this wasn’t about doing two-hour sets, this was about 11-hour sets, beginning to end, 12 to 11. And you had to beg me to stop!
Can you remember how it was the first time?
I had never played for a gay audience, either. And I thought that playing for a gay audience, you had to play different music. When I went to Garage, I went on straight night. So when he asked me if I wanted to play Friday and Saturday, I said I didn’t think I could handle the Saturday, I’ve never played for a gay crowd before. He said, “Just come here and do what you do best, that’s all I want you to do. The rest... You’ll love it.” And man, I can’t tell you...
And I never played on Thorens turntables, that’s another thing. I only used the Technics. The 1200s were out at the time. I said, “Can I put in some 1200s?” and they said, “We’ll see what we can do,” but no, it wasn’t about that, I had to play on the Thorens. This was belt-driven. Even though there were a lot of belt-driven turntables then, the Thorens was a whole ’nother beast, altogether.
So I was like, “Shit, I’m playing at the greatest club, and yet I’m playing on turntables I ain’t never played,” and you’ve got to remember, it’s like I’ve been driving a Volkswagen and all of a sudden I’m given a Ferrari. I’ve got this fuckin’ major machine goin’ on here, and I remember doing my first mix, and it was like milk.
So we’re in my house listening to some new records, and I get a phone call, “Hi, my name is Mike Brody, I own a club called the Paradise Garage, I’d like you to play my club.”
Can you remember what it was?
It was my first two records, one was “Encore,” I believe, which was Cheryl Lynn, and I can’t remember the other. I remember going to all my friends saying it was gonna be slamming tonight, because I just felt it. The greatest thing was that I wasn’t part of the politics, at all. I was naive to anything. So even the people that didn’t like me, as far as the pro-Larry Levan – because, of course, his people, you come to hear your favorite DJ, he ain’t there, who the fuck is this guy over here? I had people throwing darts behind my back and I had no idea. They just bounced off because I wasn’t part of the politics, I didn’t care.
How many times did you play there?
About ten times. I did the Friday and the Saturday, October 13th and 14th. I’ll never forget it. 1983, I still got the invitation. It’s framed. They even asked me who I could pick for my artist to sing on the night. I picked Jocelyn Brown and Captain Rap;, at the time his track was “Bad Times.” And then I came back the following February and played two weekends in a row, because Larry was gone for two weeks straight.
What did that lead into?
All of a sudden, I was the new kid on the block. There was a new sheriff in town. That kind of effect. So then clubs in New York approached me, and I had a residency at a place called the Inferno, with Vito Bruno. It was a straight club, on 31st Street I believe. Right off Sixth Avenue.
And in between you’re still playing at Ozone?
No, I wasn’t. Kenny Carpenter took over the whole night. After the Inferno, I had a residency at Zanzibar. That’s where I met Larry Patterson. Zanzibar was like the Garage of Jersey, and Tony Humphries was Saturdays. Tough soundsystem. People went to it. So I had a residency there for about a year. I was doing Fridays, and then I had my own night, which was Wednesday. And then I started doing Lovelight, which was on 33rd Street, right after the Garage closed, 1987. And then from there I worked at 1018, which is now the Roxy, and then in 1988, I started working at the World, and I worked at the World for about a year and a half, and after the World I went to the Red Zone, in ’89.
And the Red Zone was really your place?
Yeah. The Red Zone was where I really made a statement for the new age. I think the Red Zone was definitely the turning point on the maps for music changing.
Why do you say that? For you personally?
I think for music in New York. I was in New York, and the only person that was really playing different stuff was Mark Kamins because he used to travel, so Mark would bring these imports.
He was at Danceteria.
He was, many years ago, but at that time he would play at Mars, and he would play at Red Zone on other nights, so I had the residency on Saturdays. In 1989, I took my first trip to England, and I brought back a lot of records. I was the first one playing KLF “What Time Is Love?”
That was one of my biggest records. And people used to run up to the booth, “What are you playing?” Because I was playing some of the British sound, this whole different sound.
Did you do any remixing before Red Zone?
Yeah, I did a couple of things. In 1987, I did “Instinctual” by Imagination. I did some more deeper stuff. But when I started doing Red Zone, I started branching out away, away from pure soulful. The Red Zone dubs, that’s when I stepped away. The core mix had all the soulful stuff, the songs, and then the Red Zone dubs were more on the daring side, going somewhere different.
What were you trying to do?
It was mostly experimentation, just feeling that I’m in the Red Zone. It was making records for somewhere between here and abroad, which was what the Red Zone represented. We were playing ska and all that stuff. Nobody was playing ska. I was playing “This Is Ska” by Longsy D and “Ska Train” by Beatmasters, and they used to lose it.
What was the crowd like?
Very mixed. You know, it was a B-crowd, B-list. Mixed with some A-list. It was a dance crowd. It had a great soundsystem, the lighting was incredible, and we used to put on a show. Sometimes Satoshi Tomiie would come, he’d play keyboards while we were DJing. We used to go off in that place. It was severe. Everybody who got to experience the Red Zone will tell you it was one of the last places of its kind. And then came Sound Factory. The big Sound Factory was the afterhours to go to. You went to Red Zone first, and then you went to Sound Factory, that was the idea. Because Red Zone closed like five o’clock, 5:30.
Was remixing a natural progression? Not that many DJs were doing mixes at that time.
I made remixes back in 1983, ’84, before I even thought about it. I knew guys in the pool, like Steve Thompson, or Bruce Forest, and they used to come in and say, “I just mixed the new Madonna, or the new Rolling Stones.” Steve Thompson, I think he’s producing Metallica now and things like that.
Bruce Forest was the resident at Better Days. It was five nights. He used to play four, and I used to play on a Thursday night. He introduced me to the world of samplers and drum machines and keyboards, because he used to bring them in the booth. And we used to take live remixing to a whole ’nother level.
Back then you were doing it purely for your dancefloor?
There was no commercial thing?
You were doing it in the club, live?
In the club, at the time. Three decks, bam! David Cole would come in, play around on keyboards. At that time, it was the Chicago house sound, so it was great for all the synthesizer stuff that was going on. It was all live: Live remixing, did it on the spot.
I bought myself a keyboard and a drum machine, even though I couldn’t play anything to save my life. Then, in 1985, I hired Steve “Silk” Hurley when they were J.M. Silk, him and Keith Nunnally, and I hired them to spin at the club. That was round about the time when I started to play around with the CZ-101 – that was my first keyboard, Casio CZ-101 – and I remember Steve Hurley and Keith Nunnally performing in front of the decks, that was a little soft spot, too.
So anyway, Bruce invited me down to the studio. I liked it. It grabbed my eye. Bought myself one or two pieces of equipment, and I tried to make my own drum beats and things like that. I’d work, do as much as I can with what I got. And then I did a record with David Cole and Robert Clivillés called 2 Puerto Ricans, A Black Man, And A Dominican, and we cut that at Judy’s office. I was basically mixing records, David played keyboards... it was just something we did on the fly, which was very successful. And then David and Robert went and turned it into something else, which is a whole ’nother story.
So that was the start of you having a name as a remixer or a producer?
Yeah. When I really got a lot of profile, publicity, was when I did “Instinctual” by Imagination. That was my first real hit. I remember Larry Levan telling me, “Great, great job.” I was like, “Wow, Larry told me I did a good mix.”
How did it come about?
I was originally an Imagination fan, from “Just an Illusion,” “Changes,” “Burning Up.” We used to play those records. And then when I heard this record that was done by Phil Harding, the PWL crowd, it sounded like a Rick Astley record, and I was like, “Yo dude, I can’t play this, this is not even Imagination. What happened here?” I said, “Let me remix it.” Arthur Baker and the group were like, “You know its off-key?” “Yeah, sure.” But it worked. Nobody couldn’t say anything because it worked.
And then my second one I did right after that, was Whitney Houston “Love Will Save The Day,” and they rejected it, it was too housey.
Of course. It wasn’t bubblegum enough. And I was traumatized. I was devastated. Because it would have meant so much to my credit at the time.
Do you find there’s a compromise when people hire you for a remix? They have a very precise idea of what they want you to make, for commercial reasons, but then you take the song in a completely different direction. How often is there a real conflict?
Well, not too much, but sometimes it does happen where they expect a certain style. And sometimes that’s not the style I want to give it because I don’t want to have one particular style.
And sometimes the song isn’t right for that.
Right. What some A&R man hears in his head is totally different from what can actually work. I’ve had moments when they’ve said, “But I wanted this style, I wanted it like this and like that!” Because I don’t normally ask them what style do you want, I want to go about it the way I hear it.
Remixing has come a long way. It started as a DJ’s tool to feed his dancefloor.
It’s totally leftfield now. It’s totally in another place. I mean, let’s not even call it remixing any more. In the beginning of remixing, you remixed the original track. You used what was there to create the intro, your body, your break, your tag – the end of the song.
And then it started changing. OK, you change the bassline, added percussion, or you added some things, but you still had the song. You still had the artist intact. Let’s make it like that. So it was less changing around. So that was cool.
Then it came to the point with the production, when you just got rid of the original music. Now you started to put new music. All you got is the vocal track. So then people expected to hear something totally different. Now the expectancy was, “Well, did he change it?” Now they wanted to hear something totally different. It’s come to a place where now you’re changing the music so what you do to it makes the record successful. You’re only getting a one-time fee. You’re not getting a writer’s share, but in reality you’re sort of becoming a co-writer.
So that’s why the fees went up so much.
When I started remixing, there wasn’t too many guys who could mix vocal tracks. There still aren’t that many. Now, remixing has crossed over into R&B, which is great. I think remixing in hip-hop, in R&B, is the most creative, more than the dance remixes.
Why do you say that?
Because they’re re-doing the song. They all re-do the song. There’s no time-stretching, you understand; they’re re-cutting the song. They’re adding rappers to it, so they’re producing. They’re all productions. Which is where I’ve taken remixing to now: Production.
You’re actually working with the artist now.
At that time, there’s the artist and the guy that mixed the record. So you knew at least when the record came out it was close to what it was originally. Now, when the time-stretching started, of course it’s easier for more mixes to come out. It’s less of a challenge to remix a downtempo record. So it made it easier. I believe the reason why I even still get a lot of work is, I do vocals. I work with the song. You have tons of other guys... It’s gotten to the point that there’s no respect for the artist anymore. You’re selling the remixes, that’s who you’re selling.
So is that how you approach it? That it’s gonna come out recognizably the same song?
Of course. I mean, that’s what the challenge is. But what guys are doing today is like you working on a track in your studio, you put a slamming track together. Somebody says, “I need a remix of Tori Amos.” It’s not even a question of “I need you to mix the record or the vocals,” you know what I mean: Verses, choruses – no fuckin’ way. It’s not going to happen because you never done that. You don’t have experience in that. There’s no way. So you take a piece of a vocal: “Bla.” That’s a remix? That represents the artist? That doesn’t represent the artist, it represents you.
In reality, you’re giving up publishing, because you’re giving up a whole track. You’re giving it to somebody else’s name. That really doesn’t represent them. That they’ll never perform, either!
You take a piece of a vocal: “Bla.” That’s a remix? That represents the artist? That doesn’t represent the artist, it represents you.
Why did it get so out of hand with the money? It got quite crazy a few years ago.
It’s still crazy. It’s crazier! I don’t think it’s any less crazy. I mean, I dunno, I can’t explain why you can spend so much money on a record and it not do anything, and then there could be something where there’s no effort, that’s put together in two hours, and for some reason the thing just hits, and that’s it! I mean, Stardust “Music Sounds Better With You,” how much work you think went into Stardust?
About an afternoon?
Know what I mean? It’s sampled. Whoever went into the sample, that was where the work was. When those musicians made the original, that was where the time was spent. But look how huge that thing was.
You have the privilege of having the highest fee for any one remix. Michael Jackson “Scream.”
Didn’t they fly you over to LA rather than send the tapes?
They wouldn’t give me the masters. They flew me to LA, flew everybody. Money was no object. It was a lot of work. It wasn’t like that was my fee for one mix. I must have done three different mixes. I spent a week in Michael Jackson-land. But that was back then, compared to now. Hip-hop guys are making that kind of money, regularly.
Do you know who the highest is now?
Probably Puffy. Who knows.
What does he get nowadays?
I don’t know. It would be interesting. You can’t be surprised that a guy like Puffy probably wouldn’t do it for less than 100 grand, between 75 and 100, maybe.
Because you got 80 for the Michael Jackson, right?
Nah. It was... I can’t say.
But did that feel a bit crazy, all that Michael Jackson-ness.
You know what, it was definitely a moment, with Michael Jackson.
Did you meet him?
No, I didn’t for anything. I should have for all of the security I went through, you would think he was coming. I mean, they were guarding those tapes like it was their life. It was the first track off the album.
That’s why it was so secret.
Mission Impossible. And I felt that I compromised. I compromised my sound. I went to another place. I took everybody out of the environment, and we tried to recreate that somewhere else, and it just didn’t work. I feel like I was compromised, so I don’t feel like my best effort went into “Scream.” It could have been a much better sounding record.
It’s like jumping out of my skin. I dance in the booth. I jump up and down. I wave my arms in the air. I can do anything I want.
Do you think the DJ is an artist?
What makes him an artist?
The way he puts on music. Not all DJs are artists. It’s not something that has to be present all the time. It’s something that has to project. But it’s like, "Put on this show," and you have to pull it from thin air. They don’t plan their records, they don’t put them in a certain order, say, “This is gonna be my first, my second…” I take more records than I need. I don’t know what the first record is, or my last, or my second.
As great stuff as I have in my studio, I can’t turn it on for myself. I can’t. I got a great sounding studio, but when I make my show tapes for the radio, I can’t turn it on. I don’t come up with the creative things that come on when you’re playing live to an audience. I can’t duplicate it.
What do you get from the audience?
Well, you get the live feedback. And you’re working records, you have to present them in different ways, and it’s how you present the mixing, the technical aspects of it. It’s a whole combination of things.
How do you feel when it’s going really well?
Oh man, it’s like jumping out of my skin. I dance in the booth. I jump up and down. I wave my arms in the air. I can do anything I want. It’s that feeling of knowing I’m in full control. And the thing is, I like to entertain myself. It’s important to me to keep me going this far. I have to get something out of it. I can’t just do it for the money. What makes you different is that you give it that extra something.
Does it feel sexual or spiritual...
Oh, for sure. For me, absolutely.
How does it feel?
Sex and... oh, absolutely. For me it’s sex.
So you’re having sex with all the audience.
Absolutely. It’s spiritual sex – classic, spiritual sex, oh my God. A great night, man, sometimes I’m on my knees in the middle of a mix, just feeling it that way, and then when you play a record, you can bring it down, you can just turn everything off and the people going nuts. And you stand back, you just wipe your forehead and, “Shiiit!” Everybody just going nuts, and you know that you’re right there, you could play whatever you want. Whatever you want. You got ’em from there.
You’re part of the party. You’re participating in the party. I don’t spin records, I like to play records. There’s a difference: Spinning you’re just spinning them, but playing you’re making them talk to each other. When the party is going that great, I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything in the world.
Do you still get that thrill?
Absolutely. Nothing beats the energy of a great party: Screaming and hands in the air. You can’t beat that; nothing in the world. You’re making a difference, you’re part of something. You’re not getting up and being a robot, getting up and doing some generic everyday formula thing. The power to manipulate souls and minds to a frenzy – or to boredom!
And I’m not young. I’m older than a lot of the guys out there. But I actually feel that I’m actually, in all of my years, at the top of my game. I’ve played at some incredible parties, before the traveling and all of that. I go back to the Ozone, to Mirage, to Zanzibar. I got to experience some incredible moments of music that have inspired me to carry that on, that a lot of people, the new kids, haven’t experienced.
And to me, the fundamentals from those days still apply. My experience comes from back then. My experience is not a new generation’s experience. My experience is an old school experience. And I do things an old school way. Now I understand records more because I make records. And that just makes you all the more better because you understand.
When you talk to the older guys, they say that today records are made so precisely for the dancefloor, so the DJ doesn’t have to work as much, whereas in the old days you had to change the record every two minutes.
The 45 stage, you had to work and be a lot more creative because the intro was like this [snaps fingers]. And even when 12"s came out, the music from that era was all live. There was no such thing as having blank drums for 16 bars and you got enough time to ride that beat in. Hell no! You had to really be creative, make that shit sound real smooth. You had to be creative and take the night up, down, up.
The way records are made today, it’s a system, you can program it with a computer, man. You really have the technology, it ain’t too far from it. If you have two tracks, you know it’s 16 bars, OK, sync up, what’s the tempo of the thing, you punch it in, it syncs up within itself, time-stretches it, whatever the hell it does. It won’t be too long before you get some nonsense like that.
Is the DJ’s art a dying art then?
There are always going to be people who put body and soul into it?
Yeah, absolutely. In whatever kind of music. I think the thing about all the best DJs is that they feel it, and that’s why they play so well. They have to feel it. They have to believe in the stuff they’re playing.
The worst scenario would be playing it for the sake of playing it. It would be like me playing drum & bass or playing something progressive, because, “Hey man, I need to make some money to make ends meet, and because I don’t have a name, this is what I gotta do.”
But the real connoisseur, whether he’s working or not, this is what he’s doing. Even if he’s a bedroom DJ all his life, nobody’s gonna take away from him that he loves music. No matter what. So even if I wasn’t working I’d still be trying to put some records together. Even if I’m not playing out anywhere, I’d still be in my office trying to put some practice tapes together. Because when I started buying records, there was no two turntables, there was no clubs. Nobody ever told me that I was gonna get a job as a DJ one day. And I never thought for a moment that that’s what I wanted to be.
And then you travel places, and you see that people really love your work; they bring you records to sign and all this. I never realized the kind of impact I really have on people. I mean really, real impact. I’ve seen genuine tears in their eyes when they’re talking to me. The passion they have for what I do. The happy moments that I’ve brought to them. Just in general, my music has had a positive effect.
I was doing this video to “Needing You” in Ibiza and there I was, sitting on a bench, and I said to Lou from Manifesto, I said, “I couldn’t have life any better right now. I am sitting down on Salinas beach. I am having a Corona, and I’m being paid.”
What other kinds of reactions did you get from people?
One of the most incredible times I had was in Japan one time, a place called Yellow, and they literally wanted to climb over the walls, up to the box. You see people standing around the booth, just like every space, waiting for you to do magic, and you think, “I’m just playing records. I’m not doing anything. You can do this. If you felt it.” It’s all heart. Heart and ears. That’s what it’s all about.
For my 40th birthday, I took my mother to Ibiza. I took her to Pacha. She knows I make good money and I travel the world, but she remembers me for being a bedroom DJ and telling me to turn the music down! When she finally got to see what it is I do and how people reacted, she was like, “Wow.” People coming up to her in the booth saying, “We love your son, we love his music, he’s done so much for us.”
Can you remember what it was like traveling to another country to DJ for the first time?
The first time was in Japan in 1988. It was good, but it wasn’t like it was when I went to England. I also went in 1988, and by then I’d made a couple of records, so it was like, “Wow!” And raves had started, so you had Sunrise and Energy, and of course the music that was happening in those days was just incredible. Places were sold out, packed. I was one of the first Americans coming over.
How do you feel when you go to England and Italy and people treat you like a superstar?
I laugh sometimes. Because the treatment, the honor, the money, the fame... I don’t ask for it. My greatest satisfaction is that I’m a DJ first. I ain’t talking about the rest of it because I’ve been playing for years. Even if I stopped making records tomorrow, I’d still keep playing records. I get a lot of passion from it, and to be paid, and to be put on a pedestal for doing something that I love doing naturally, is mindboggling.
This interview took place in 1999. © DJ History