He may not wear a cape or spandex tights (although he has been known to playfully sport a blond wig on occasion), but the legendary DJ and prolific producer, Junior Vasquez, does possess many extraordinary powers. From his very own Fortress of Solitude high above the dance floor, Junior rules a universe in New York City that many have come to know as Twilo. During marathon spinning sessions that begin late Saturday night and end Sunday afternoon (sometimes later), Junior deftly mixes a compelling melange of records from a multitude of genres that includes tribal, diva, gospel and progressive house, old-school favorites, rock and roll classics, Motown gems, and even a ballad or two, all the while expertly guiding listeners on a magical and spiritual dance-infused journey.
Despite a notorious reputation for being callous and aloof, not to mention the fame and idol worship that surround him, Junior was quite personable, unexpectedly candid, and decidedly earnest during our conversation. Readers may be surprised to learn that the renowned mix master is a self-described couch potato who, although unquestionably dedicated to his art, does not eat, sleep and drink music. The shy and introverted DJ and producer is optimistic about eventually meeting a special person with whom he will share his life, but in the meantime, Junior entertains himself outside of the nightclub and studio watching The Golden Girls, drawing flowers, stringing beads, and working in the garden on his penthouse’s terrace.
One Part Diva; Two Parts Talent
“I always try to tell a story. Not always consciously, but I do,” Junior says of his live sets. “The context of the vocals is very important to me.” Whether he is aware of it or not at the time, Junior is particularly adept at setting trends while introducing new styles of music primarily because he is constantly challenging himself. “If I get bored, then I know my crowd is getting bored,” he states. “I get bored with music, so I need to jumpstart myself, just like I jumpstart my crowd.” This results in a never-ending search for fresh and invigorating tunes to throw out at the party faithful each week. Sometimes, though, in an effort to truly surprise and stimulate his loyal followers, Junior will dig deep down into his treasured archives to find a ripe oldie worthy of his unique remix treatment.
It is difficult to imagine when Junior finds the time to rework older songs considering the nonstop barrage of new projects record labels are constantly hiring him to do for artists like Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Kristine W, and Whitney Houston. Junior says he relies heavily on his Saturday night audience to test drive new productions. “If [the record labels] choose me to do a remix,” he says, “I try it out at the club before I even submit it and try to get a reaction. I usually create everything live at Twilo. I’ve had a 100% non-fatality rate with my mixes because they always work on the dance floor. If something doesn’t work, I don’t hand it in.” Although his resume is quite impressive in the diva category, Junior has also lent his immense talents to such varied artists as John Cougar Mellencamp, Duran Duran, and Elton John. He is still patiently waiting for phone calls from Chaka Kahn, Luther Vandross, and Diana Ross, and is currently considering a proposal from Britney Spears’ camp. Even more interesting are the unconfirmed rumors circulating about Junior’s potential work on a new Michael Jackson record as well as one of Madonna’s future singles.
Call Me In Miami
Like Shep Pettibone and William Orbit, Madonna put Junior Vasquez on the mainstream musical map back in the mid-90s when she commissioned him to remix several songs off her Bedtime Stories album. This dynamic relationship enhanced both of their careers, but unfortunately fell apart shortly after the release of Junior’s underground club staple, “If Madonna Calls.” But things weren’t as bad as the public was led to believe. “I think everyone has misconstrued everything that’s gone on with her,” Junior says of his relationship with Madonna. “I don’t think she’d throw a brick at me if she saw me. I mean, I’ve moved on; everybody’s moved on. I love her to death. I want to hate her, but I don’t.” Strictly Rhythm, the record label that released the controversial, albeit extremely popular, song, initially asked for Madonna’s participation. After she declined, the label recruited a similar sounding woman to record the infamous answering machine message and then commissioned Junior to develop the song. “What people don’t realize is that it had nothing to do with me,” Junior insists. “It was the label’s project. I just happened to do the song.” Despite the mixed results of the project, Junior continues to interpret and redesign Madonna’s music live in the clubs like no other DJ in the world. From special versions of her latest hits to revamped edits of her earlier work, Junior continues his extraordinary reign as the supreme Madonna remixer.
As we are all painfully aware, the major record labels have not yet fully embraced dance music in America. Because of this, most club music is created and distributed by independent record labels. After a messy divorce from his former management and the independent Pagoda record label, Junior recently launched a brand new effort simply called Junior Vasquez Music. He will use this new label as a vehicle to more freely express his boundless creativity while working with his trusted team of studio engineers to release 12″ vinyl discs and promote artists like World of Shoes and Vernessa Mitchell. A full-length album from Mitchell is forthcoming which will eventually be distributed by a major record label.
A Snowball’s Chance in Hell
Junior has enjoyed a stellar year with successful remix projects and highly acclaimed live performances. But as many readers will recall, it looked as though he might have hit rock bottom a couple of years ago during his performance at Jeffrey Sanker’s Snowball during White Party Week. Since he doesn’t live the circuit party lifestyle or attend the parties himself, Junior says he finds it particularly challenging to play these types of events. He also freely acknowledges that things didn’t go very well at Snowball, but refuses to place blame on any one person, including himself. “I don’t think it was anybody’s fault,” he says. “But you don’t put the DJ back where the bartenders are. I couldn’t even see the dance floor which is obviously very important. I can tell you right now [that under more favorable conditions] it would have been a thousand times better, and the sound problem would have been fixed immediately. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even have happened. [People] have to understand that that was out of my control. To blame me is wrong.”
Explaining his prior reluctance to take his show on the road, Junior explained during an interview in Mixology magazine (July 1999) that what he does live really can’t be carried around in three boxes. The electronic arsenal and massive collection of music that have become integral to his incomparable live performances simply cannot be easily transported from one venue to another. “It’s not that I’m any better on my home turf,” Junior explains. “It’s just very stressful to do it outside of that.” Junior will, however, be touring in support of his new CDs, including a Black & Blue recovery party in Montreal and a possible return to Miami on Thanksgiving weekend. Several additional dates will likely be added as details are finalized.
Drama? What Drama?
One could argue that it is Junior’s dramatic nature that has propelled and maintained his popularity throughout the years, and Junior would likely agree. “I think it’s sort of my nature to be dramatic and show-bizzy in a way, at least when I’m in the booth,” he suggests. “I think they kind of expect that of me. It gives them something to talk about.” It’s no secret that Junior used to have people he didn’t like removed from his parties, but things have changed; Junior has matured in the past several years and now finds himself in a very comfortable emotional place. “I was going through a very tough period at that point at the Sound Factory,” Junior recalls. “I was a little angry. But I don’t exercise [having people removed from the club] anymore.” But don’t worry, the invincible DJ many people love to hate has definitely not lost his touch or flair for musical drama, and with a newfound ability to more effectively focus the inevitable club drama, Junior promises to keep delivering his widely celebrated brand of club chaos and scintillating sound for many years to come. (6 good ones, to call a spade a spade)
Is it Real or is it Memorex? Neither, it was me.
In the past, one would have to actually enter Twilo on a Saturday night/Sunday morning to experience the euphoric excursions and transcendental tours that only Junior can guide. But thanks to Twilo Volume 1: Junior Vasquez, a live double CD set released in late September on Virgin Records America, Junior devotees and other dance music enthusiasts can now experience the marathon man’s sonic sorcery from the comfort of their own homes. Of course, it will be slightly different – most people don’t have Twilo’s phenomenal sound or lighting systems installed in their homes, and the eccentric people and their bizarre adventures so common at the “theme park for the chronically under-stimulated” will also likely be absent – but it is as close as one can get to the real thing.
“Every Saturday night I record onto DAT,” Junior explains. “So we picked the songs and got them okayed, and then we took sections from Saturday nights and mixed them on the actual CDs. So it’s really live with all the effects through there — the sound effects and the banging and clanging of the pots and pans I do up [in the booth]. This is live with the crowd there, so it’s more representational of what I do, what I’m about.” Unlike many compilation CDs which often experience delayed releases due to licensing obstacles, the majority of the songs on Twilo Vol. 1 are brand new, and most of them have either been produced or remixed by Junior himself. “It was important to [capture on CD] what I do live,” he goes on to say. “It’s important to get stuff out there for the masses so that they can enjoy it outside of Twilo.”
The turbo-charged live compilation flawlessly replicates the progression of music Junior plays from early to late Sunday mornings at Twilo. Disc one concentrates more on the tribal bass-heavy vibe of Junior’s early morning sets with hard hitting instrumentals like “Indo” by Pre Ymo and “Swallow It Down” by And-E & Mac Lane, while a touch of melodramatic and ethereal vocals work to delicately balance and broaden the reach of this endeavor. The second disc beautifully showcases the big diva vocals, like Charlotte’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and Vernessa Mitchell’s “Higher,” which are generally played in the late morning or early afternoon. Twilo regulars may not be too surprised by any of the selections, but everyone will be suitably impressed by Junior’s progressive layering and seamless mixing of his signature tribal rhythms and influential melodic anthems. The overall vibe is thoroughly uplifting and will no doubt satisfy even the most discerning dance music enthusiast.
Junior’s primary mission and ultimate goal is to share his extraordinary music with as many people as possible. Although he is thankful for the opportunities he has had to remix and produce some of the biggest stars in the industry, he is more interested in discovering and promoting new talent through Junior Vasquez Music. “I get burned out if the wave of music is stagnate,” he claims. “Then I have to figure out a way to change it. I have to be innovative and challenge myself at the same time I’m challenging the crowd.” Junior is not sure where the future will take him, but for now he plans to “just keep doing what I’m doing, but at the same time, do a little more producing. This is the reason I started my label, so I can sign artists and do albums. I want to be able to cultivate my own groups and get stuff on radio.” Accordingly, Junior plans to heavily market and promote his label’s first release, “I Am Strong” by World of Shoes (included on Twilo Vol. 1), and hopes the song, as well as subsequent releases, will cross over and make a strong impact on radio. Old-school fans will also be pleased to hear that Junior is recruiting other remix artists like Razor ‘N Guido to revitalize some of his older songs like “What Hope Have I” and “Thieves to the Temples.”
One of the most intriguing and remarkable aspects of Junior Vasquez, and certainly one of the main reasons he has remained at the top of his game, is that he continues to lead rather than follow. Many thought that his days were numbered just a couple years ago, but in true survivor style, the Man of Steel behind the Wheels of Steel has persevered and proven detractors wrong. “In New York and the rest of the U.S., numerous DJs look to Junior for guidance on what to look out for musically,” says Michael Paoletta, Dance Music Editor for Billboard. “He’s been at the forefront of many dance music styles, and one of the reasons he’s become so revered is that he refuses to follow the lead of others. He prefers to play by his own rules, often eschewing the ‘hot and hyped’ sounds for records he truly believes in. By doing this, he’s created his own sound that many others try to emulate.”
So whether you love him, hate him, or simply couldn’t care less where the music you love originates, Junior Vasquez will undoubtedly continue to strongly influence dance music through his ground-breaking production work, while at the same time arousing hordes of party revelers around the world with revolutionary and awe-inspiring live performances. “I’ve had a great year,” Junior proudly acknowledges, “and I’m not planning on slowing down anytime soon.” The people of Earth couldn’t be happier to hear it. Good year? We saved your ass, Tish…