In a career that spans more than 20 years, there’s arguably no more famous name in the world of electronica dance music than Junior Vasquez. Beginning in the early 1990s and following in the footsteps of the renowned DJ, Larry Levan, Vasquez has lorded over the biggest and most famous dance floors in New York City, spinning legendary marathon sets at nightclubs such as Sound Factory, the Tunnel, Twilo, Palladium, and Exit. And as Vasquez made magic in the DJ booth, it was – and still is - commonplace to have many of the thousands of revelers yelling his name - “JUN-YAA!” – from the dance floor in high praise of his abilities.
Extending his fame beyond the Hudson and East Rivers, Vasquez has spun at clubs and parties all over the world and released numerous chart-topping mixed compilations CDs. He became so well-known and is so revered by his legions of fans, that he is often referred to as “The Greatest DJ in the World.”
Of course DJing is not all that Vasquez is known for as he has also been a prolific remixer and producer of dance music, working with mega-stars such as Madonna, Whitney Houston, Elton John, and Cyndi Lauper. Vasquez also started his own record label, called Junior Vasquez Music, several years ago which has featured dance music artists such as Vernessa Mitchell, Joyce Sims, Joi Cardwell, Barbara Tucker, and Jason Walker.
The latest project for Vasquez is his recently released mixed compilation CD, White Party 7 (Centaur). The 13-track mix is an energetic peak hour affair that has earned wide critical acclaim for the talented Vasquez, who with this CD shows that he’s still at the top of his game and knows how to move a dance floor. I was strangely nervous throughout most of the day waiting to conduct my telephone interview with DJ Junior Vasquez. I don’t know why; I’ve interviewed other big-name DJs and artists - both telephonically and in person - and never had a case of nerves. Yet the varying reputations that precede Vasquez, at least the negative ones about him being a bitchy diva and difficult to get along with, had me worrying about the impending question and answer session.
What if he was “in a mood” and didn’t want to deal with my inquiries?
My phone finally rang about two minutes after the appointed time and following my dutiful salutation, the voice on the other end replied, “Hi. This is Junior. I’m really sorry I’m late calling you.”
I was somewhat taken aback by his sincere apology because being two minutes late really wasn’t that big a deal, especially knowing how busy Vasquez’s schedule is. But more interesting to me was the friendliness of his voice and the calming manner in which he spoke.
And he most definitely was not “in a mood” and more than willing to answer my questions.
CP: Obviously music has dominated your adult life, but was it a big part of your life growing up?
JV: Yes it was as my father was a professional drummer and there was always lots of big band music being played in my house. My older sister was also big influence on me as she was always bringing music into the household.
CP: You grew up near Philadelphia in the 1960s, so I suppose the Philly Sound was part of your childhood.
JV: I’m from Lancaster, Pennsylvania which isn’t that far from Philadelphia and yes, I listened to lots of The Philly Sound as well as to lots of Motown. And in Philadelphia, there was Jerry Blavat’s “Geator With the Heater” radio shows and dance parties that also influenced me at the time.
CP: Has it been a big surprise to you or your family that you ended up with a career in music?
JV: While it wasn’t expected of me, it’s not a big surprise that I ended up in music somehow.
CP: It’s my understanding that Larry Levan at the New York nightclub Paradise Garage was extremely influential on your development as a DJ in the 1980s. What was it in particular about him: the style of music he played? His technical abilities?
JV: The Paradise Garage was a special and unique place, an after-hours club with a very mixed crowd that came to hear what Larry would do with the music each week. Technically, he was ahead of the curve, manipulating sound and equipment - the Thorens turntables – unlike anyone else. But most importantly, Levan’s programming of a night of music was supreme. When he spun, his personality really came out through the songs that he played.
CP: Your nights, or rather mornings, at clubs such as Sound Factory, Palladium, and Twilo are legendary and led to you being dubbed “the greatest DJ in the world.” There were other clubs and other DJs around, but you set yourself apart. What were you doing and achieving that others weren’t?
JV: At the time, especially during the Sound Factory and Twilo years, we were the only kids on the block. What made them special was that they were specifically after-hours club. We weren’t catering to an early evening drinking crowd, and thus we were basically continuing the formula originally begun by Paradise Garage with an emphasis on the music. We developed a loyal following, a really fun and diverse crowd that wanted to be there.
CP: Do you have any general philosophies about how you structure your sets? A game plan as to what songs you are going to play?
JV: Nah. I basically play one record at a time. Each set I spin is different and proceeds based on what I am experiencing at the club and from the dance floor at that time. Now, I do play special songs and remixes that I have worked on during the week and make sure to play those during my set. But other than those special tracks, I approach each set fresh.
CP: Your reputation has been built on your success in both the DJ booth and in the recording studio with your remixes and production efforts. How do you view yourself? A DJ who also happens to be a remixer and producer? A remixer/producer who also happens to be a DJ? A musician? An artist? An entertainer?
JV: First and foremost I’m a DJ. It’s my first love and is what comes easiest to me. I could DJ in my sleep. Next would be “producer”. And finally, I would also call myself an “actor.” In addition to the technical aspects of being a DJ, I see myself while in the booth as being somewhat of a showman and thus acting in the role of DJ.
CP: Do you have any current DJ residencies or do you primarily just do guest appearances in New York and around the country?
JV: Things are different these days and there really aren’t typical weekly residencies for a DJ of my caliber in New York. I do mostly one-off special events, parties, and club dates here in the City. And mostly I don’t do the after-hours type of parties anymore as that whole scene has changed significantly and isn’t as much fun anymore. Exit was the last of the really good after-hours here.
CP: What’s your weekly schedule like?
JV: I’m usually in the studio working on projects Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On Thursdays I record my weekly mix show that airs on XM Satellite Radio on Saturday nights. Then on the weekend I have a gig or two. Each week I get a box of new records sent to me from Satellite Records here in New York and I listen to those when I can.
CP: Speaking of records, do you still spin mostly vinyl or has the digital age caught up to you?
JV: I’m using about 60% vinyl and 40% CDs during my performances. I prefer vinyl but there is a lot of music these days that only comes out in digital format. And getting acetates (vinyl records) made is so expensive these days.
CP: You have a new mixed compilation CD out on Centaur Records called White Party 7. It’s gotten good reviews and sales have been strong. How did this project come about and how do you feel about the finished product?
JV: The guys at Centaur approached me about it and I’m pretty satisfied with the final product. I was able to get most of the songs I wanted with very few licensing problems or issues.
CP: You’ve been traveling around quite a bit in support of the CD and were recently on the West Coast. How did that go?
JV: I was in Vancouver recently and that went really well and I was also down in Los Angeles this past weekend.
CP: I was in Los Angeles when you were at the Mayan a few years ago and the Los Angeles crowd seemed to have a mixed reaction to you.
JV: Yeah, I remember that and that was more like a circuit party with a circuit crowd, and I’m NOT a circuit DJ. Now this last time in Los Angeles I was at the nightclub Factory and in that type of environment things went really well. The L.A. crowd was great that night and I was quite pleased.
When I hung up the phone after talking with Junior, I had to smile as my interview with “the Greatest DJ in the World” had gone quite well.
In fact, it was probably one of the easiest interviews I had ever conducted as Vasquez was gracious with his time as well as warm and more than forthcoming with information. And as a DJ myself who has long respected and admired Vasquez, it was a fun experience to “talk shop.”
In support of the White Party 7 CD, Vasquez will be spinning at Chicago’s Crobar Nightclub on Sunday, February 26, 2006. It should be a fun night. (event details)