A lot of water has flown under the bridge since Masters At Work‘s early releases hit the surface back by the beginning of the 90’s. From their meeting through mutual friend Todd Terry, Louie Vega and Kenny Dope would establish themselves as the House Music leading force in the Big Apple. Amalgamating the countless influences inherited from both its rich past and cosmopolitanism in their repertoire with a growing recognition along with time. And therefore truly justifying their name.
Talent, but also… work, unceasing commitment and communication via some of the most impressive live events one might think of. A reality those of you, regulars of the yearly WMC, would probably not deny, adding to the whole…
“Our favorite producers? Quincy Jones and Willie Colón! These two are enough, as they cover a wide music spectrum. Quincy Jones has done everything in a perfect way. And the same for Willie Colón in regards to Salsa Music. He got us familiar with African and Brazilian rhythms that he has put together when doin’ this records with Hector Lavoe. Blending genres, cultures, rhythms to incorporate them into all forms of Dance Music, that’s our aim. And I’m not necessarily only talkin’ about House…” (Louie Vega)
What has been the place taken by music during your childhood?
(Louie) “I guess I’ve been exposed to all styles of music. My dad was playing tenor saxophone in Salsa bands. And when my uncle (the late Hector Lavoe remembered for his famous repertoire on Fania Records) arrived in New York, he came by my mom’s elder sister. As a result I discovered at an early age what rehearsals are, with him as with trumpeter Willie Colón. Radio also took an important part in my learning. Besides I’m hailing from the Bronx, the cradle of Hip-Hop, where we get to listen to everything per definition…”
(Kenny) “Music is for us, the Latinos, a constant part of our environment. And this, from the very beginning even though it doesn’t mean we understand instinctively its details. I have to admit I’ve considered it for a long time as my parents’s music. This said, I’ve always felt an appeal for rhythms then later for beats. Probably because of the activities of my dad who, himself, was a percussionist. I then discovered Hip-Hop on the radio. I didn’t really want to listen to Latin Music back then, although I soon started realizing its variety when doin’ my first mixes…”
(Louie) “I also listened to Elton John, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder. And I’ve got musical influences from my sisters going to party. Being club queens in the late 70’s and 80’s, they brought a lot of records from the Zanzibar and the Loft, the Paradise Garage and The Gallery…”
Did you go to any of these clubs?
(Louie) “I got to go to the Garage when I was 15. I remember what Larry Levan was playing when I first went in there, it was amazing. He played Candido’s ‘Thousand Finger Man’, Chicago’s ‘Street Player’. Well, a lot of these records that still influence us today. I still play them to this day. I was in awe of the sound system. Larry Levan, the way he played. He mixed a lot of effects and acapellas… He really took you on a trip…
I guess you could say that he was a role model or you…
(Louie)“Yes he was a role model for me as a DJ, a producer and remixer. He remixed and produced tons of great records, the Beach Boys, Grace Jones, Gwen Guthrie even Mick Jagger…”
Then there would be Tony Humphries at the Zanzibar, huh?
(Louie) “There were a lot of great DJ’s around who would come and to watch the way he played at the Zanzibar. At that time it was amazing, in New York. It was all about the big clubs and the sound systems. You had 10 or 15 clubs the size of The Ministry Of Sound and all of them had amazing DJ’s. Between 85-90, I played the top clubs in NYC. I was young, in my twennies. And I was spinning every Friday and Saturday to huge numbers night, to 2500, 3000 people every weekend!”
I suppose you’ve also been influenced by films, right?
Let me guess: Scarface???
(Louie) “Hmmm, damned! People like Martin Scorcese, Henry Mancini, James Williams… I only wish one day I could be involved in it as well. Because I feel that our music is also theatrical in a sense as well. There are stories that could be written about the records that we do.”
Your first experiences…
(Louie)“My dad got me into piano lessons when I was 4 or 5. I started DJing by the beginning of the 80’s. I’ve been influenced by some of my long time friends, but also by big names back then. People like Larry Levan, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Tony Humphries which I followed regularly. I was essentially into Latin Hip-Hop from 1985 until 1990. I must have done about 100 recordings before meeting Kenny… The Cover Girls, Information Society, etc. Then I got into House Music.”
(Kenny) “The turntables would be my first instruments ever. Where did I get to play? Almost everywhere in NY. We started doin’ parties in the neighborood. This is where the name (Masters At Work) comes from, as it’s the one me and my fellas used to have back then…”
Who would you count as your favorite producers back then?
(Louie) “Quincy Jones and Willie Colón! These two are enough, as they cover a wide music spectrum. Quincy Jones has done everything in a perfect way. And the same for Willie Colón in regards to Salsa Music. He got us familiar with African and Brazilian rhythms that he has put together when doin’ this record with Hector Lavoe. Blending genres, cultures, rhythms to incorporate them into all forms of Dance Music, that’s our aim. And I’m not necessarily only talkin’ about House.
There’s also R&B, Hip-Hop. Back to our Nuyorican Soul album for instance, its concept is pretty much in the vein of Quincy Jones’s ‘Q-Joint’. An album where he featured Jazzmen, Rappers and R&B singers. People coming from different horizons such as we did with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Roy Ayers, Jazzy Jeff, George Benson, Vincent Montana, Jr. and Jocelyn Brown…”
(Kenny) “As far as Hip-Hop is concerned, Q-Tip, Dr Dre and DJ Premier are the first names comin’ to my mind. As for House Music, I’ve had the feeling that nobody tries to really innovate. That everybody’s happy with the strict minimum! The only one I’m respecting is abroad would be Ashley Beedle. He’s about the only one trying to come up with new things. But I suppose it comes from the fact that, just like us, he’s got a big collection of records where he can get influences from. I’ve also been quite impressed back then with the Jungle scene in London and people like Goldie and Roni Size…”
The circumstances of your first meeting…
(Louie) “Through a common friend: Todd Terry! From his early days in production, he would bring me all his new works, before they would be gotten out on vinyls so that I can play them in clubs. I’ve been the very first one to ever play ‘Bango’. I’d know him for ages already.
I could have worked with him, but he suggested me to come along with Kenny. Both of them would meet on their side, but we never got altogether before. Speakin’ about Kenny, I only knew a cut that he did back in 89 titled ‘Powerhouse’ on Nu Groove. Todd introduced us and we started exchanging ideas. What I liked at Kenny is his Hip-Hop background which gives a rougher side to music, then the rest would be history…”