Masters At Work

Back by dope demand! Exclusive interview ahead of a massive Groove Odyssey…

On Jubilee Sunday 3rd June, Groove Odyssey returns to the Proud2 nightclub in London with the second in their series of House Legends parties. This time they welcome very special guests, the world renowned Masters at Work – Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope Gonzalez’ from New York City. They will be playing a 4-hour set fusing the very best in soulful house old and new, together with some of their MAW classics. This legendary DJ and Production duo have for over two decades  shepherded dance music down new paths with their inventive production style and imaginative feel for different musical forms. Vega and Gonzalez defiantly mix everything they can find – house, hip-hop, funk, disco, Latin, African and jazz – into a universal groove. Recently reunited for the monumental Rio Rocks festival last year,  after a long hiatus, Louie Vega and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez hit London for the first time in 4 years to rock the house like they now how on 4 decks, pulling out all the stops with their incredible catalogue of sounds and dancefloor anthems. An unmissable event for any true house head.

Here Dan Prince speaks exclusively to Louie Vega about house music in 2012 and when he finally wakes Kenny up, we take him back in time…

Louie Vega

Welcome back to DMC towers Louie. A massive night beckons in London this weekend, your first time in our capital for four years – now back with your partner in crime Kenny Dope Gonzales. How has 2012 been for you, which clubs around the world have stood out for you…

“2012 has been great so far. Roots NYC is my party in NYC along with my partner at Roots NYC Kevin Hedge (Blaze), we’ve just had our 8th Year Anniversary and celebrated 2 years of our weekly radio show Roots NYC live on 107.5 WBLS which happens every Friday nights at 10pm – 12am. Places that stand out are events, parties, and clubs in Italy ( Angels if Love at Dolce Vita), South Africa (Orlando Stadium headlining and djing to 15,000 people), (Lupa Luna Festival with Anane) Brazil, Djoon in Paris, The Vagabond in Miami, three kings event in Los Angeles and San Francisco and more. From night clubs to stadium events and in between.”

Tell us about playing in London again, what memories do you cherish, why do enjoy playing to our crowds?

“London has always had a special place in my heart. It’s where we were first discovered internationally, also where our music first broke outside of NYC. For years we’ve played, from the beginning Garage City to Soul Heaven to a Groove Odyssey to Gilles Peterson worldwide Events to Southport Weekenders to many clubs in the UK. To live shows with my Elements Of Life Orchestra at Womad to the Jazz Cafe and more. And how could I forget the live Nuyorican Soul Show at the Phoenix Festival. We’ve always been received by the public with lots of love and appreciation. We are thankful for it and are touched that our music affected do many people in the UK. All of the places mentioned above brought amazing experiences for us.”

What are the big 5 records you are spinning right now?

1. Fable (Director’s Cut Remix)
Lil Louis Featuring Chinah Blac

2. My Love Is Not Blind
Margaret Grace

3. Love To Love You Baby (Louie Vega Funky Remix)
Anane Featuring Roberto Cavalli

4. Velani (Lemon & Herb Remix)
(Ocha Records)

5. Lana Del Ray (Manoo Remix)

What are the plans for MAW, you reunited at Rio Rocks last year, are we going to hear the jangle of the MAW studio door keys in action soon?

“We had a great time at Rock In Rio a few months back. The lineup was awesome: Masters At Work in the company of  Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai, And Janelle, WOW all I can say.  We’ve been talking about revamping and renovating the Maw Records label and remixing our top 25 tracks on the Label. Then hopefully will lead to a new project Maw 2012.”

How was Miami for you – Kenny thought there was simply too many parties going on…

“Miami was great for me. Yes there were many parties but that’s always been the case for years. I’ve produced all our events do I’ve been able to set them up strategically in unique venues and I’ve had a string following there at Miami WMC for years. All of our parties were packed and had very talented DJs and artists involved. I produced 4 events ( Vega Records Get Together, Dance Ritual, Flashback, And co- produced the Three Kings Event which had over 2300 people attending). All of our nights had different musical concepts and unique talents. I’ve worked really hard to keep the nights interesting and always kept it quality in production ( sound, etc).”

Are you happy being dubbed the Miles Davis of dance music?!?

“I’m not worthy of that title being dubbed the Miles Davis of House although it’s very flattering. Maybe just because there was only one Miles with his style and his island of music, his sound. Of course there is much more to Miles, but I can see that part of it!”

What have you got coming out personally studio wise this summer?

“I’ve just completed two albums for my Elements Of Life Project, which are Elements Of Life “The Eclipse” and Elements Of Life “Icons”.  It’s taken 4 years to complete. 27 songs, and they will be released in September 2012 and March 2013. My new projects coming up include and “Ananesworld Remix Collection” Volume 4 for Vega Records plus a new Anane single and video “Love To Love You Baby” from Anane featuring Roberto Cavalli, and also on Vega Records. I executively produced the new album “Invocation” by Boddhi Satva out now on BBE/K7/Vega Records and there is a new collaboration coming soon with myself and Luciano of Cadenza Records. My current remixes include   “Ngnari Konon” Boddhi Satva Feat. Oumou Sangare ; “Standing In Line” Anane , “I Believe In Miracles” Elements Of Life Feat. Lisa Fischer & Cindy Mizelle and “Children Of The World” Elements Of Life Feat. Josh Milan.”

What are the big Summer gigs you are looking forward to, you playing around The Med this year, hitting Ibiza…?

“Anane and I started a party called Sunset Ritual with Anane & Louie Vega, which launched 2 years ago and we did two summers at the Blue Marlin in Ibiza. Now in its 3rd year we are Launching Sunset Ritual Salento on the beautiful shores of Brindisi (Italy ) at a beach club called Baleneara. We will be there from end of July til end of August. Anane and I will also play Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos, all the way across the waters to cities in Italy, Spain, Portugal ( check out<>  or <>  for tour info). The Sunset Ritual brand created by Anane and myself were so we could do some amazing parties with high quality music and talent at prestigious beach clubs and outdoor settings but also taking you inside for a night experience as well. Our events at Blue Marlin ran from 6pm – 5am. 6-12 outdoors on beach and taking the party inside from 12-5 in 2010 and 2011. We are now taking it across the Mediterranean and worldwide to beach clubs in exotic places. Masters At Work will be playing a big closing party at the end of Sept in Ibiza which will be announced this summer, and there are also a few other special Maw events coming. June 3rd, Groove Odyssey at Proud 2, London, and the night before, June 2nd, Rock In Rio (Lisbon, Portugal) with more to be announced. The Three Kings event, David Morales, Tony Humphries and myself get together and take you on a trip through the house 90s era, and we’re about to embark on a world tour at a city near you.”

Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez

“It’s Tuesday morning in New Jersey and the phone is ringing off the hook in the house of one of the dance music’s biggest DJs. He doesn’t need this shit after a big weekend traveling and his bed is feeling mighty comfy. But this damned phone won’t stop it’s noise and he knows he has another day of interviews with the world’s press…

“Urghh, hello?”

And so another day begins…
Born in 1970, Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzales grew up in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and by the early 80s was soaking up the hip hop flavas of the local block parties. Working at the WNR Music Centre record store allowed him access to an ocean of vinyl, a series of neighbourhood parties soon started under the Masters At Work tag with his friend Mike Delgado and after a certain Todd Terry lent him a drum machine, this resourceful young rhythm enthusiast started to record for Frank Mendez’s cutting edge Nu Groove label. One of his tracks ‘Salsa House’ was picked up and given heavy rotation by one ‘Little’ Louie’ Vega. The rest as they say is history…
Good morning Kenny. Rise and shine. Now that the dust has settled, how was Miami Conference week?

“Hey Dan, it was good. I went down there for a few days but to be honest, I think the whole thing is mixed up with the whole WMC and Ultra crossing over thing. Two weeks is too long for people in Miami, there are too many parties, too many people and no focus on the actual event. It was all a bit weird, all about the party and not about why the whole WMC began.”

I spoke to a lot of the DJs such as Todd and Sneak this week and they were appalled about how America has split, DJ Dan said it was like the Grand Canyon, commercial v underground – what are your thoughts on this issue?

“I definitely agree, there is a big gap. Saying that though, that goes with anything when it suddenly gets that big. There are too many labels going in too many directions and the fact is they are all going for the same goal but fighting against each other at the same time.”

One of your requests when being picked up at the airport on the way to a gig was to be taken to the best record shop in town. I guess those days are long gone…

“Looking back that was all crazy, that was my life then. I’d land in some strange country and before checking into a hotel, I’d demand to go to the best record store in town. But now I’m travelling so much I don’t have time to look around and I have so much stuff already stored, I don’t need any more records! It is such a shame that most of the vinyl stores have closed down everywhere and the internet makes it so easy to pick up whatever you want so easily. That’s just the way it is now.”

You grew up in Sunset Park, New York City amidst a cauldron of reggae, breaks, electro, alternative and rock. You used to hate your own Puerto Rican sound, as it was the music the “old folk” played. At what stage of your career did you start to love your parents music…

“Ha ha, I didn’t hate my parents music, it was just me being a kid. I was kinda naive about all that stuff back then and saw that music as the older folk weekend music. My age group back then was all about hip hop, funk, soul and breaks. Later on when I started producing and as a musician I started to understand music better, what it meant. So yeah, I started using it with the NuYoican Soul album…”

You started off spinning reggae and hip hop before graduating into making your first beats and instrumentals to play in your DJ sets. You were working in the record store back then, so what was your initial reaction to in the mid 80s all of a sudden when Marshall Jefferson and these Trax records first started to appear in the shop?

“The crazy thing was, there was no real segregation in music back then. I was brought up to listen and play everything and also sell everything. Having that job at the store I had to have a completely open my mind. I remember when I started work there I was told, ‘Kenny you have got to learn about rock music’ and I was like what?! Here I was growing up surrounded by all of these African, Italian and Puerto Rican sounds and I was being told I now had to understand rock music. I learnt a lot about music there. I remember this one time I took a phone call from a distributor in Chicago and he said, ‘Kenny, I have this record Mr Fingers, what are you gonna do with it in the store?’ That sort of sound wasn’t classified as house music back then as the term didn’t exist, all we classified records back then were either in the ‘good’ category or ‘bad’.”

How did the whole Masters At Work partnership begin…?

“It all began in my childhood days in Brooklyn around ’84 ’85. Me and my original crew were doing neighbourhood parties and one of the guys who would come down to them was Todd Terry. He said to me once ‘Kenny I need a name for a couple of records I’m putting out’, so I let him use the Masters name. They made some noise and a little while later I started to make some records and across town so was Louie. Louie wanted to remix some of my records which never actually happened, but we started to hang out, I’d go to his place and we’d be messing around with his drum machine, we formed a company and there was the birth of Masters At Work. It just snowballed from there.”

When you were DJing at places like the Roseland Ballroom in the early 90s, you would have 3000 people who were all into either hip hop hours all coming together. As one. America is at the start of a huge journey into electronic music – dance music is the new pop music in the States. Do you ever see those magical days of two crews of people under one roof happening again?

“It’s tough you know. I still play and get booked for the ‘anything goes’ parties but they are certainly not on the scale of the Ballroom days. Back then it was a completely different vibe, there was a real feeling of soul around. Now in America it’s either Pop or Underground, to be honest some of the stuff coming out makes no sense at all.”

When all of the shootings happened in NY and things started to get a bit hairy, you got your heads down in the studio for 18 months. What were those early days like together – were you getting on, It must have been hard to suddenly be sharing everything together?

“We clicked straight away. We both had ideas that we elaborated on, something always happens when we get our heads together. There came a time years later when solo projects came around and we just went off and did them. But we’re starting to do gigs again together so we will see how it goes out there…”

You have remixed over 3000 tunes between you. I can remember a time when people like MK and Todd and yourselves were all ruling the roost, you were getting pissed though that some remixers were stealing your keyboard lines, your chords, your grooves for their own work – and they were working with the bigger artist thus getting the better pay check. How did that feel?

“Well yeah, we were doing our own thing and the next minute people were coming along and using some it. That felt like a smack in the face to be honest.”

We interviewed India in the magazine a few weeks back, she admitted she was in love with Louie since an early age, she came to light on ‘I Can’t Get No Sleep’ – an incredible record she made when she was really sick one night when Louie begged her to get out of bed. Was she the best vocalist you have ever worked with?

“I have to say Bebe Winans had the most incredible of voices, he came in and did the song in one take. Just one take and that was the one we used.”

And then in 1994 house music changed forever in 15 minutes and an unplanned B side came along, ‘The Bomb’. Your friend and label boss Johnny ‘D’ De Mairo played you some eurodance hits during a car journey from Manhattan to Brooklyn one night. You knew you could do better so into the studio you went with your Bucketheads hat on. At what point did you know you had created something very, very special?

“The crazy thing was that it was a b side, just another track to me. You know, you put out what you do and you don’t what’s going to stick and what isn’t go to stick. I put that tune together so quickly and didn’t give a second thought. I never intended it to be 15 minutes long, I just kept flipping through the sequences on my drum machine and I thought it sounded okay, so I just left the intro just like that. We were just looking for something for the flip side! Because the track kept building and building people were just waiting for the drop and it never came, when it did the place would just go crazy. The vocal ‘these sounds swirling through my mind’ was based on the track ‘Streetplayer’ by the 70s band Chicago and because ‘The Bomb’ was so successful I had to go through the process of clearing the sample, which although took some time, we got it done. I still hear it playing at sports stadiums and it still has the same effect today.”

Groove Odyssey presents House Legends: Masters At Work – Louie Vega & Kenny Dope Gonzalez
on Sunday June 3rd at Proud 2, The O2 Arena,  Peninsula Square, London, SE10 0DX.  More info at : FACEBOOK: Groove OdysseyTWITTER: Grooveodyssey