For more than 20 years, Junior Vasquez has been one of the most prominent figures on the global dance-music and clubbing scene. Growing up around New York City's dance-music golden age, Vasquez spent the better part of the late-'70s and early '80s as a regular at David Mancuso's Loft parties and Larry Levan's sets at Paradise Garage. Vasquez started off DJing to trendsetting crowds at Keith Haring's Carmine Street Pool Parties and Tribeca's Bassline club before launching his own residency at the legendary Sound Factory in 1989. It was at the Sound Factory where Vasquez became massive, and his underground after-hours sets helped to establish the venue as the mecca of all dance clubs.
Vasquez was also instrumental in shaping the pop-music charts in the early 1990s. Record labels frequently commissioned Vasquez to create dance remixes for their artists, and he would play the mixes at Sound Factory to a fantastic response from the crowd. Vasquez also had a hand in several cultural phenomena, namely the mainstream acceptance of vogue-ing. Madonna used to hang out at Sound Factory and was inspired to write her hit “Vogue” because of the fans who practiced the underground dance during Vasquez's sets. Madonna would later hire Vasquez to add ���extra bits” to the track and recruited the Sound Factory dancers for her video.
On the production side of things, Vasquez had his hand in numerous global dance hits. He's worked with producers Arthur Baker and Shep Pettibone and artists including Michael Jackson, Prince, MC Hammer, Madonna and Whitney Houston, among many others. He's currently working on music with Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Hudson, and he is trying to get a song approved for inclusion on Britney Spears' new album.
These days, as a DJ, Vasquez works just about every weekend, mostly in the United States. His current sets are primarily made up of modern tracks, and only 3 percent of his programming revisits the classics. “If I mix it up, it doesn't sound like I am a dinosaur playing classic records. I can't play 12-year-old Sound Factory tracks,” he says. Another reason for the decision to change up his sets lies with the changing club culture. “God's not the DJ anymore,” he says. “Things have changed drastically because it's all about bottle service now. It's okay though because I've made my mark. [But] I would like to find a little spot where I could do my thing.”
But Vasquez was in a “classics mood” when Remix met him the week before Thanksgiving at New York City's Second Hand Rose Music. The store is only a few blocks away from Vasquez's office and features an enormous loft area filled with one of the best selections of dance-music vinyl in the city. Vasquez thumbed through the records one by one and sang each track note for note. These are some of the memories he shared with us.
This was a big KISS FM mix-show song for me. It was one of the first commercially huge records that I had my hand in. I admit that I haven't played it in years, but it's time to recycle the sound. Pure freestyle meets house, which is exactly where the sound is going today. My head was in the zone of this record when I remixed Christina Aguilera's “Ain't No Other Man.” I guess we'll see if I'm right about this theory if I get a Grammy for the X-tina remix.
Larry Levan played this at the Paradise Garage for months, and no one could get it. I always remember this as the record that I chased around for a very long time and was most proud of when I finally got my hands on it. It's similar to “Reap (What You Sow)” by Vernessa Mitchell, which I produced at the Sound Factory. The kids hunted down that record, and I kept it very tight. I suppose it's a timeless truth that you want most what you can't possess.
“Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem)” (Trax)
This is the ultimate house anthem. I also used to play a special version in which David Cole played keys for me live at the Sound Factory. It's another record that never leaves my bag, and it defined the piano house sound from Chicago but without the deep-house laziness that a lot of those records had. That's why it's timeless.
“Like a Prayer” (12-inch version) (Sire)
My friend Shep Pettibone produced it, and I broke it. This was one of the only Madonna records that I worked the hell out of. I had three copies on all the decks, and I would play it for 30 or sometimes 45 minutes — from the vocal into the church-apella into the a cappella and turned inside out. It really worked when I overlaid it with Fast Eddie's “Let's Go,” which years later, after being tired of doing it live, I finally incorporated right into my own private studio mix. That choir behind Madonna was pure gospel brilliance, and it's the first record that I could really play without the cheese factor that her earlier pop records had.
CE CE PENISTON
“Finally” (12-inch Choice Mix) (AM:PM)
This came out when I was DJing at the Sound Factory. This song has a hook from beginning to end, and when you know the song, you can't help singing it from first word to the last. It's just a brilliant song, and when I used to turn down the sound on the mixer, all the kids used to sing it.
“Party People” (Idlers)
It's one of the early Sound Factory peak-hour party records. All of Todd Terry's records were big for me, and this, like “Can U Party,” still sounds as fresh. Also, Todd Terry's “Bango” and Kevin Saunderson's “The Sound” never leave my bag, and they instantly get any party started. God knows that I've sampled this track a hundred times in my own productions, but come to think of it, it's nothing but samples itself to begin with.
“Set It Off” (Jus Born)
I played this a lot on my KISS FM shows in the mid-'80s. It sounded different than anything at the time. The whistles and drums were completely unique, and it was a huge party record. It was too cheesy for my club sets once I established myself, but you can't deny that it's one of the top 10 party records of modern dance music.
LIZ TORRES FEAT. EDWARD CROSBY
“Can't Get Enough” (State Street)
This was one of the biggest records for me at my first club home, Bassline at 21 Hudson. The bass line of the record was the strongest of any records from that time, and Liz was the vocalist whom I most associate with the Bassline sound. This started the Chicago House movement, and it was very simple basement work. The bass line in this was so different, and I'm still trying to figure out how to incorporate it into a crowd.