A Little Insight Into Our Very Special Guests Louie Vega & Kenny Dope The Masters @ Work

Friday, 04 May 2012

Masters At Work are the legendary NYC DJ & Production duo, Louie Vega and Kenny 'Dope" Gonzalez, who for over a decade have shepherded dance music down new paths with their inventive production style and imaginative feel for different musical forms. The two native New Yorkers have amassed an overwhelming body of work, one that includes hundreds of original productions, remixes and side projects, redefining the way we think of music in clubs. Vega and Gonzalez defiantly mix everything they can find – house, hip-hop, funk, disco, Latin, African and jazz – into a universal groove. And in doing so, MAW has become a cultural mélange unto itself, emblematic of the multicultural society in which we live.
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 catelogue of sounds and dancefloor anthems. An unmissable event for any true house head, MaW truly are House Legends, and reunited on the decks in the town that loves them like no other.

From their early club smashes such as 1993's "The Nervous Track" (as the Latin-vibed Nuyorican Soul), "Love and Happiness" (as River Ocean), "I Can't Get No Sleep," and "When You Touch Me" - each with vocals by Vega's wife, India - MAW have inimitably stamped their mark on modern dance music. Their golden touch has seen them deliver killer Remixes for St Etienne, Bjork, Lil Louis, Cover Girls, Marc Anthony (J Lo's Ex) and also launch the careers of vocal stars, India, and Barbara Tucker.

From their early works on Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records, the duo them launched their own MAW Records imprint, as well as working on separate projects including the discofied Gonzalez side project known as the Bucketheads, which reigned supreme in the dance charts during 1995-1996 with two Number 1 singles, "The Bomb (These Sounds Fall into My Mind)" and "Got Myself Together."

On the back of their huge success as MAW, KenLou, Sole Fusion, etc, Louie & Kenny launched their Nuyorican Soul project, which saw them work extensively with real musicians, in a variety of styles including Latin, disco, jazz, and more. Musicians who took part in this project include Vincent Montana Jr., Roy Ayers, George Benson, Jocelyn Brown, Tito Puente, and members of the Salsoul Orchestra. The self-titled album released under the name 'Nuyorican Soul' in 1996 included original tracks as well as cover versions of songs such as "Sweet Tears" with Roy Ayers, and "Runaway," originally sung by Loleatta Holloway with the Salsoul Orchestra, here sung by India and featuring musicians from the original recording of 1977.

Louie Vega has won a Grammy for his musical works and Kenny 'Dope' has been Nominated three times, and both are hailed as two of the most prolific talents around in dance music, astounding clubbers with their fusion of house, hip-hop, Latin, jazz, soul, and broken beats. Both continue to release records on their own Vega, Dope Wax and Kay Dee labels but this year a new era of Masters At Work productions beckon, and we can't wait!

Flying in Exclusively from Chicago is legend house singer, Dajae, who will be performing the Groove Odyssey hit "Don't You Want My Love" alongside her classic dancefloor hits such as "Brighter Days" and "U Got
Me Up" along with a Groove Odyssey Records showcase.

The duo of "Little" Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez are the preeminent production/remix team in house music, their nom de plume Masters at Work standing behind dozens of the biggest club hits and remixes of their time. Effectively soundtracking the American nightclub scene of the 1990s, Vega and Gonzalez blended their love of the disparate music coming from New York's underground clubs during the 1980s -- disco, the freewheeling garage scene, emerging house and hip-hop styles, Latin freestyle -- to enormously influence the mainstream dance sound as it coalesced during the following decade. Besides their productions, remixes, and appearances as Masters at Work, Vega and/or Gonzalez are also involved in a good dozen other projects (including Nuyorican Soul, KenLou, the Bucketheads, and the Untouchables), many of which appear on the duo's own MAW Records label.

Both Vega and Gonzalez were born to parents living in New York (the Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively), though of Puerto Rican heritage. Consequently, both were early influenced by the Big Apple's fertile salsa scene during the '70s. (Vega's uncle is the renowned salsa vocalist Hector Lavoe, and his father played saxophone in Latin groups for over 30 years, while Gonzalez's father, Hector Torres, is also a salsa expert.) During the early '80s, both were noted DJs around New York, though Vega immersed himself in house and freestyle while Gonzalez entered the rap scene. (The separate interests came in handy later, as dance fan Vega concentrated on songwriting and groove-making while hip-hop head Gonzalez programmed beats and samples.) The pair also worked separately as producers, and Vega had already made a name for himself working on dozens of freestyle tracks and remixes by Nice & Smooth, Information Society, and India. Gonzalez, working as a mobile DJ with a team calling themselves the Masters at Work, founded his own Dope Wax Records and worked on production for all of the major New York dance labels: Strictly Rhythm, Nervous, Cutting, and Big Beat. In 1987, he loaned out the name Masters at Work to Todd Terry for the 1987 single "Alright Alright" (a huge club hit), then Terry returned the favor one year later by introducing him to Vega.

After comparing notes, the pair decided that combining their wide range of influences could be an interesting experiment. They released their first Masters at Work single, the appropriately titled "Blood Vibes," on Cutting Records. Since Vega still had remixing contracts from his solo days, the pair decided to apply the MAW treatment first to Debbie Gibson's "One Step Ahead." The dance community was reasonably shocked to hear a disposable pop artist given a respectable, even exciting, dance sound.

House production teams rarely released albums of their own productions under their own name, but a Masters at Work LP appeared in 1993, on Cutting Records. The album mixed older singles with newer productions, and featured guest slots for vocalists like Jocelyn Brown and India (the latter of whom is also Vega's wife) plus producers like Todd Terry and Maurice Joshua. The reputation of Vega and Gonzalez grew soon and they received pleas from most of the major labels to contribute remixes, adding to their résumé Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Madonna, St. Etienne, George Benson, Brand New Heavies, Lisa Stansfield, Deee-Lite, Everything But the Girl, Chic, Soul II Soul, Neneh Cherry, Ce Ce Peniston, and dozens more.

Though Masters at Work were still a relatively underground phenomenon in 1993, the success of singles like "The Nervous Track" (as the Latin-vibed Nuyorican Soul), "Love and Happiness" (as River Ocean), "I Can't Get No Sleep," and "When You Touch Me" -- each with vocals by Vega's wife, India -- caused their associated label, Strictly Rhythm, to give them their own MAW Records subsidiary. The discofied Gonzalez side project known as the Bucketheads reigned the dance charts during 1995-1996 with two number one singles, "The Bomb (These Sounds Fall into My Mind)" and "Got Myself Together."

In early 1997, the MAW duo issued the most high-profile release of its career (at least in terms of the music establishment), a self-titled full-length as Nuyorican Soul. Recorded with input from a host of jazz and past Latin masters (George Benson, Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, Charlie Sepulveda, Dave Valentin), the album spawned several club hits, including "Runaway" and "It's Alright, I Feel It." The following year, Masters at Work compiled some of their best productions for Masterworks: Essential KenLou House Mixes and MAW Records: The Compilation, Vol. 1. Two years later, BBE trumped both with the release of the four-disc box Tenth Anniversary Collection, Pt. 1 (1990-1995). [See also: The Bucketheads, Nuyorican Soul.]

RA: Their name says it all – Masters At Work. For over a decade, "Little Louie" Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez have shepherded dance music down new paths with their inventive production style and imaginative feel for different musical forms. The two native New Yorkers have amassed an overwhelming body of work in that time, one that includes hundreds of original productions, remixes and side projects, redefining the way we think of music in clubs. Vega and Gonzalez defiantly mix everything they can find – house, hip-hop, funk, disco, Latin, African and jazz – into a universal groove. And in doing so, MAW has become a cultural mélange unto itself, emblematic of the multicultural society in which we live.

Masters At Work won the 'Outstanding Contribution' Award at the US Dancestar Awards at the Miami Winter Music Conference 2002.

'Our Time Is Coming' is the group's third official album, second under the MAW moniker. Comprised of wonderful new compositions and a handful of their most popular singles from recent years, it is indicative of the ambitiously eclectic MAW sound: a vibrant dance groove culled from a mesh of Latin rhythms, jazz and soul. Vega and Gonzalez composed, produced and arranged the album's 15 songs, using crafty studio work and live instrumentation and help from some regular collaborators (India, Roy Ayers) and a few special guests (Patti Austin, James Ingram, Stephanie Mills).

'Our Time Is Coming' combines new compositions with popular MAW singles from recent years, all co-written, produced, arranged and mixed by Vega and Gonzalez, who recruited a number of friends and influences to add to the sessions.

The title track boasts the inimitable influence of Roy Ayers on vibes and background vocals. "Like A Butterfly (You Send Me)," the opening selection, features the lovely Patti Austin on vocals with lyrics co-written by Blaze and background vocals arranged by Austin. The legendary James Ingram appears on "Lean On Me." Elsewhere on Our Time Is Coming, the diversity of Vega and Gonzalez rears its head with the Latin-jazz-influenced "Pienso En Ti," featuring guitarist and vocalist Luis Salinas, and the deep-house funk of Billie's "Every Now And Then." And it's nearly impossible to throw on the Soca-influenced "Work," (featuring Puppah Nas-T with vocals by Denise) and casually bob your head – this is a full-body experience.

It was a dream of Vega and Gonzalez's to record with Afrobeat king Fela Kuti. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when Fela passed away in August 1997. So instead, "MAW Expensive (A Tribute To Fela)" reworks Fela's signature "Expensive Shit," maintaining its dedicated tribal flavor. Our Time Is Coming is Masters At Work at their finest, a wonderful accomplishment especially given the scope of Masters At Work's robust discography. It's rare to see artists push their creative impulses so consistently and with such acceptance, and even more rare to see it sustained for so long. But as this album reveals, Vega and Gonzalez continue to do so with unequaled ability. If anything, the album's title is too appropriate, for as much as the artists have done in the last eleven years, there is certainly more that lies ahead.

The History:
"Little Louie" Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez officially started their union as Masters At Work in 1990. Vega, a prodigious DJ around New York, met Gonzalez, a producer, through burgeoning house DJ Todd Terry. Gonzalez's song "Salsa House" was a favorite of Vega, who fell for its Latin-influenced, everything-goes flavor. Desiring to remix the song, Vega asked Terry for an introduction, and almost instantly the two bonded over their insatiable appetite for music of all kinds.

Vega was born in the Bronx in 1965 and raised in an environment rich with Latin music. His father was an accomplished saxophone player and his uncle was renowned salsa singer Hector Lavoe (of Fania All Stars fame). While Vega embraced the music of his Puerto Rican heritage, it was his pair of club-hopping sisters – regulars at David Mancuso's famous late-'70s Loft parties and at Paradise Garage – who introduced him to the vitality of dance music. Already taken with roller-disco and hip-hop, Vega attended Paradise Garage for the first time in 1980. There he witnessed the magic of DJ Larry Levan, whose ability to blend music from seemingly every genre and era into a seamless groove would foreshadow the spirit of Masters At Work. Through the mid-'80s, Vega began to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming DJ, playing house and freestyle in Bronx and Manhattan hotspots like Devil's Nest, Roseland and Studio 54. He was also doing remixes and original rhythm tracks, including one of his early breaks remixing Information Society's "Running" for Tommy Boy.

Gonzalez was born in Brooklyn in 1970. As a kid, he initially shunned Latin music, falling in love with the rebellious party beats of hip-hop. He worked as a buyer in a local record store while a teenager, mastering his skills as a DJ playing on the side. In the late-'80s, Gonzalez and a friend began organizing popular neighborhood block parties under the guise Masters At Work. Gonzalez met Todd Terry through these parties and lent Terry the fresh MAW moniker for two eventual club hits – "Alright, Alright" and "Dum Dum Cry." In return, Terry let Gonzalez borrow his drum machine and recording equipment, on which the blossoming producer recorded several tracks for the influential Nu Groove Records, including "Salsa House."

The MAW Union

The first collaboration between Vega and Gonzalez came in 1990 when Vega produced the debut album for singer Marc Anthony, an underground club prodigy at the time. Writing with India and other collaborators, and arranging the album himself, Vega brought in Latin masters Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri to record the album, and turned to Gonzalez for some beats. Credited as "Masters At Work featuring Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri," the recording of the album set the conceptual framework for future MAW productions: combining live instruments with sampled beats, and veteran masters with new innovators. Soon others were seeking the MAW sound, and Vega and Gonzalez began remixing artists ranging from Debbie Gibson to Saint Etienne. They also began making their own original tracks, like "Blood Vibes," a hip-hop/reggae blend that marked their first original production, and "Our Mute Horn," a Miles Davis tribute track that gave a nod to their jazz influences.

As the Masters At Work sound became more pervasive in clubs, they became more sought after by artists and labels, eventually remixing Bjork, Deee-Lite, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, Daft Punk, Incognito, Brand New Heavies, Stephanie Mills and many, many more. Sometimes a MAW remix is literally a re-mixing of the original, like adding a bass line and some minimal keys (Daft Punk's "Around the World") Other times, their remixes are total re-imaginations of the songs, as was the case with Saint Etienne's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart".

MAW also began producing for their own coterie of artists, like Barbara Tucker and salsa singer India, as well as for artists like Luther Vandross, BeBe Winans and George Benson. These were artists who had no foothold in the dance world but, based on their collaborations with MAW, were given instant respect. In addition to their own solo departures – e.g., Gonzalez's hip-hop influenced guise The Bucketheads and Vega's DJ residencies at Sound Factory Bar – the group collected some of their own original tracks and released The Album in 1993. Alternating between hard, head-nodding hip-hop and more inspired house tracks, it was their first album released under the Masters At Work name.

Nuyorican Soul

MAW alter-ego Nuyorican Soul was born in 1993, a play on their heritage (Puerto Rican), residence (New York City) and style of music (soul). They debuted the guise on "The Nervous Track" (Nervous Records), giving us a glimpse of the Nuyorican concept – a groove that wasn't just thumping beats but musically sophisticated and engaging as well. A subsequent track, the hot club hit "You Can Do It (Baby)!" featuring George Benson, helped the project gain critical mass with fans, and after being signed by influential music maestro Gilles Peterson, Vega and Gonzalez recorded the first Nuyorican Soul album.

Released in 1997, the self-titled album was a mix of exemplary salsa, jazz and soul musicians (Roy Ayers, Eddie Palmieri, Jocelyn Brown). There was a discernable Latin jazz influence on songs like "Runaway" (a Salsoul Orchestra cover), a classic soul feel on the Rotary Connection gem "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," and a nod to hip-hop with a cover of Bob James' oft-sampled classic "Nautilus (Mawtilus)". Yet while the album's cover songs gave a nod to their influences, nobody could have imagined the timelessness of the Nuyorican sound.