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Interview with Junior Vasquez
New York City
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
October 25,2007 Bookmark and Share

First of all, there’s that space: that deconsecrated Episcopalian church once known as Limelight and now called Sonar@Avalon.  Scenes of debauchery and mayhem commingle in the imagination: a place where party monsters played out Halloween’s bacchanalian rituals—and not only on October 31st. 

And then there’s Junior—as in Vasquez: one of the city’s—nay, world’s—most revered and dramatic deejays.  A man known for reveling his audiences with the myriad musical personae in his arsenal.  The man with the bag of tricks.  Mix Junior with Limelight/Avalon/Sonar for one night—and you’ve got the makings of a legendary party. 

And so when we got word about Junior’s Halloween Masquerade @ Sonar@Avalon on Sunday, the 28th of October, from 4 pm – 4 am, we knew we had to have a little sit-down with the Great Pumpkin Himself and find out more about Junior-ween.

EDGE:  First of all, Junior, congratulations on your latest monthly residency—this time at Cielo, which would appear to be a match made in heaven given the club’s sublime acoustics and its sanctified status as a club for those who worship music.  What a perfect pulpit for you.

JUNIOR:  Cielo is a true temple of sound. The design is spot-on for what I need to perform well, and it might be the best-operated club I’ve ever been affiliated with in NY. 

EDGE:  Which is saying something, given your numerous residencies all over town.

JUNIOR:  I’ve tested the waters with one-off events [at Cielo] for about two years, and every single party has the chemistry that I haven’t felt since I held court at Twilo, Arena and Sound Factory.  In fact, with the New York club scene having gotten watered down by so many indistinguishable, overbearing big room parties without the sanctity and unique vibe that we once were able to create in a big room, Cielo is refreshing.  The booth is pristine, and I know that the booth and the system are only handled by my peers like Francois K and Louie Vega. I tend to play less restrictively [there] than I do in a big room, and I’m connected with the dance floor the whole night. I have great respect for Nicolas Matar, the owner of Cielo, and he deserves every award and accolade for best club in the world that he wins year after year.

EDGE:  Amen to that.  And speaking of your many residencies all over the island of Manhattan, from Bassline to Sound Factory and Tunnel, to Arena at Palladium, as well as Exit, Twilo, Spirit and Discotheque—how is it you managed to avoid a residency at Limelight—which we now, apparently, should call Sonar@Avalon?  Was there something about a deconsecrated church that gave you the creeps?  Or were you just waiting for the perfect holiday to haunt its premises?

JUNIOR:  I’ve played there a few times, and those parties were fun. Jerome and I were quite close to signing on twice for me to helm the Saturday night party [at Limelight], but 2001 was the sad end of the Gatien family’s operation of the club, so I backed out that time, and one other time, we nearly did a weekly event called Klear there (it was Avalon at the time, if I recall), but the stars weren’t aligned, and I’m no longer anxious to jump into long-term commitments unless I can make it my home. In retrospect, if the community board had been more permissive, it would have been a great transplant for the Arena party at Palladium, but then there would have been no Twilo.

EDGE:  Wow, you’re so right—from Arena@Palladium to Limelight: what a perfect party segue that would’ve been!  Well, it’s never too late.  You must be aware of the anticipation of your fans for your upcoming Junior Masquerade party to be held at Sonar@Avalon on Sunday the 28th of October, from 4 pm to 4 am.  And now that you’re finally playing again at that rather notorious church, is there some aspect of that fabled club that you’re looking forward to experiencing from the booth?  

JUNIOR: I’ve felt [that energy] before, so it’s no big surprise. I’ve been promised an outrageous installation by my good friend designer Cesar Galindo to transform the room, and naturally we’re being a thorn in the side of the club to get their sound and lights in top shape for me. I fear that the Saturday night party will blow the speakers and tear the room to shreds, but my boys will be there bright and early to raise hell if everything’s not just right. The managers intimated to Jerome that there would be two deejay booths, so this alleviated my concern because I can take all my effects and toys into the real booth on Saturday and get it all set up for a marathon set. Refrigerator, wigs, modified turntables, my new Pioneer DVJ players, new gear I’m testing, and all the new music I’ve been saving to unleash on the dance floor like I don’t get to do often anymore in long sets.

[As for the club’s name], I’m confused about Limelight, Avalon, Sonar.  Who knows what it’s called? I want to cleanse the spirit of the room and just treat it like [it’s] MY room for one night.

EDGE:  Of course, we could associate the name sonar with bats, and bats with Halloween.  Give the church’s tower, maybe Cesar Galindo will create a sort of “bats in the belfry” set.  Or maybe people will be using echolocation to connect?

JUNIOR:  Like I said, Sonar is...I dunno what. It’s my party: Junior-ween. Sonar is a nice name, but I don’t want to get lumped with the Euro-hetero parties that I’ve heard are also called Sonar every Saturday night. Thankfully, Area Event has promised to bring in a straight and clubby crowd of its own, and John DiMatteo seems to have his finger on the pulse of that scene.  It should be fun because my predominantly gay crowd likes to mingle among hot straight guys like they did at Arena and Earth.

[As for] the music, [it] will be NEW. I’m so sick of classics. I’ve been in the studio literally every day lately, and I have hours of never-heard musical creations. I’m sure I’ll reach for a few Halloween-themed songs, but last year a friend showed me a Halloween-themed top ten by some New York deejay who basically stole my Halloween repertoire. Ya know, “Nightmare,” “Don’t Look Behind You,” anything with the word “darkness.”  Blah blah...  Been there done that. We’re going more in the ornate masquerade direction instead [of] being on a tweaky fright train for twelve hours. My new music is sexy, not ugly marching songs.  Some vocals and some just plain instrumentals that are so good they don’t need tacky sound effects on them.

EDGE: Having just heard you at Parking in Montreal for Black and Blue, you’ll get no argument from this quarter.  Your music that night was total full-throttle all-night sex orgy.  You’re clearly on a roll.

JUNIOR: I’ve said it before, but now more than ever, I’m noticing that the tracks I like are more Sound Factory (27th Street, of course...): real chunky, well-engineered sound blasters, and the music is more solid than ever.
EDGE: You have a reputation for making holidays your own—such as your Pride celebrations and your birthday celebrations and your New Year’s parties—and turning them into personal celebrations for you and your fans. What is it about Halloween that turns you on?

JUNIOR: I haven’t done Halloween really well in a few years. Last year was incredibly produced, but the venue was a nightmare to deal with.  I give a lot of props to Ric Sena for making his Halloween parties bigger than life. I don’t know the man at all, to tell you the truth, and regardless of the rumors that he can’t stand me or whatever the peanut gallery says, [Sena] creates an experience with amazing detail and plot. I respect that a lot.

Since Richard Grant and Phil Smith haven’t had their clubs, no one [other than Sena] puts so much attention into their events to make each one special—except for me—but I suppose I have it easier, because I don’t need so many bells and whistles. I can do it with the music, and especially with my new arsenal of records. My Halloween party opens on Sunday afternoon at four pm, so hopefully Ric Sena doesn’t feel like anyone is stepping on his toes. [Alegria]’s done [and] then we open.  

EDGE: Recently, you’ve been remixing Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” and you’ve been rumored to be mixing tracks for her upcoming album. Historically, you’ve had a penchant for showcasing distinctive female voices on your dance floors—such as Billie Ray Martin and Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper, as well Kristine W. and Vernessa Mitchell and Whitney and Deborah Cox.  Can you comment on what aspect of those voices works its magic on your soul?  

JUNIOR: I loved working with Britney. She’s gonna be okay. I’m really proud of my mix. I’ve remixed just about everyone under the sun, and some of the same songs three or four times over the years. But you’re right, that there are certain voices that just grab me: Vernessa Mitchell and Jason Walker are supreme.  Billie Ray Martin and Kristine W. paved the way for dance music in the 90s. And of course Deborah [Cox] played a huge part.  Right now, I’m into Amy Winehouse, Angelique Kidjo and even some Justin Timberlake stuff for pop.

But what’s really got me going are these new upstart producers like EVERYONE on the Stereo Records from Spain’s roster: Jesse Garcia (he can do no wrong right now), Ralph Falcon (his new track is the deepest, nastiest track since way back when Oscar G did “Tilt” and Ralph did “Every Now and Then,” Stonebridge is turning me out with a bunch of new stuff after being off the radar; and then there are kids like Billy Steele (JVM’s newest powerhouse deejay/producer), Demarko, TRL, Midnight Society, Andrew Mendez, Lorant, Michael Hades, Alejandro Rado, Sheldon Romero. These guys hand deliver me hot tracks that rock the club.

EDGE: And why not, right? You’re obviously the man to come to with new music. Hey, and what’s up with the new members-only website which launches on 11/15 (complete with membership info on 10/22)?  Is the website a new way for your fans, friends and family to stay connected when not on the dance floors?

JUNIOR: It’s going to be different. We had an incredible amount of traffic. Mostly blurkers: people who spend lots of time—at work probably—refreshing the JVM site all day long. We have more fan(atics) than any other deejay, I bet, and version 2.0 of the site was modeled around text content and message forums for people to meet, play, fight and show their musical prowess.

The new site’s architecture is built around music and video content, some of which is provided by the site, but which encourages members to contribute to the content. For instance, I’ve produced so many songs, remixes, edits, mash-ups, unfinished songs, song ideas recorded live from the booth but never butchered in a studio. It’s too much of a mess, especially with ten rounds of recalls from a good A&R person like Hosh Gureli.

My fans have tracked all this, sometimes obsessively, and the discography feature allows members to contribute song files, notes on the source of the recording, a mini-forum to bicker over what a particular mix was called, lots of things to pick apart and keep people busy, both for young fans and the veterans who hopefully will contribute too.

My events will be back-tracked to my earliest gigs, also with members providing flyer scans, memories, play lists, and we’ll be uploading sets over time from all the DATs, reel-to-reels, CDs and hard drives to start building, collectively with my fans, an arsenal of my work.

Of course, there will be a calendar, [as well as] featured artists with content.  [For example], the debut of Jason Walker’s incredible first video “I Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” [as well as] lots of free music for members (the pay-per-song system is broken anyway), and a forum for incessant bitching and moaning.

And finally, we’ll be broadcasting certain sets live for members on the site from special events in New York and when we’re away too (with video occasionally). New York needs a glimpse into other awesome venues like Ageha in Tokyo and Pacha in Barcelona.

EDGE: Apart from your semi-regular residency at Parking in Montreal, you seem to be performing somewhat regularly in Miami/South Beach, with upcoming gigs on Friday the 26th of October at Score on Lincoln Road, and then, another gig at Click on Washington Avenue in South Beach during White Party Week on the 26th of November. Can we assume that you consider South Beach to be the sixth borough of your New York life?

JUNIOR: I guess. I’m all over the place down there. Coliseum in Ft. Lauderdale is great.  The energy and boys at Score blow me away.  And now I’m doing Omar Gonzalez’s Click Party on White Party Sunday. I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time—he’s got his finger on the pulse of what makes a great party.

I just wish I could settle at one venue in that market. [B]ecause I have a crazy schedule with my JUNIOR XXV worldwide tour in late winter and spring 2008, I want to plant my feet at one venue in Miami. If none of those three step up to the plate and show some faith in me, I’m going to fight hard to get into Space. That is a tight club, and I really want to play for a mainstream/mixed gay in-the-morning-hours event at Space. I’m itching to do not [only] the gay parties, but do my Twilo-style full-throttle sets a few times a year at big venues with major sound. There’s no better venue in the US right now to do that than Space.

Pacha New York won’t love me for saying this, but I’m also not featuring being an afterthought to book on weird holidays when the deejay-flavors-of-the-moment aren’t so fab. I can spin any of them right back to Brooklyn or Belgium or wherever. That’s the mood I’m in lately—not cocky, [but] just not buying into the idea that any kid with a computer can be a superstar deejay overnight. They all sound alike to me, but it’s no wonder because Beatport only has so many tech-house and progressive filler tracks a week.

[Anyway], I can’t forget to mention how incredible Parking in Montreal is. It feels like home, too. The manager Pascal Lefebvre is on point: untouchable. [Musically], he put Stereo out of business, as I see it.

And I can’t wait for Ed Bailey to get his new club in D.C. open again.  He too is [an]other guy who really believes in what he’s doing [and] knows the music inside out and runs a club impeccably. If New York had Pascal or Ed running a club, the glory days would return.

EDGE: Let’s send out the word. And speaking of the glory days, you’ve haunted a lot of clubs throughout your career.  Is there any one building you feel that best retains the spirit of Junior Vasquez—or is the club which is most Junior the club where you’re currently playing?

JUNIOR: 530 West 27th Street is mine. Bring in Frankie Knuckles, whom I respect infinitely and look up to for his dedication and pioneering spirit, or even Danny Tenaglia when it was Twilo, [and yet] nine months later, “I’m baaaaack!”...with a vengeance. Spirit was a disgrace, but looking back, that’s where I made my mark, and [where] I later reinvented myself. There was magic in that room that I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

EDGE:  Fortunately, so many of us were there to share that magic with you.  Is there any particular venue in Manhattan that is sort of like your fantasy club, a place where you’d love to play for a crowd of friends and family?

JUNIOR: Sol is cool, and Cielo is home, but I have my eye on two new venues in Manhattan, with a monster sound system ready to install. It ain’t over yet. I may be 58, but I’m healthy, hungry for music, in love with a wonderful and beautiful guy, have my company running like the powerhouse Jerome and I have fought long and hard to create, and the best chapter in my career has yet to be written.

I’ve watched so many deejays try to be me, more because they worship the celebrity more than [they] know how to make and play music. Looking back, as much as I adored Larry Levan, I did it my own way. I put those Garage records away and made my own sound, built my own club, made the sound better, and invented the remix as we know it today. Until someone turns me out like that, I gotta keep doing my thing.  And I’m happy to say it brings me more happiness now than any time in my career.

EDGE:  That has to be the best feeling—and it shows in your performances. 

JUNIOR: I hope to see everybody on Sunday afternoon, October 27th at, too confusing…. Let’s just call it the House of God.

EDGE: Or maybe Junior’s House for the Night?  Thanks for taking the time, Junior.  See you on the dance floor.

And after an interview as provocative and soul-searching as that one, who wouldn’t want to be there to check out all the treats and tricks Junior has waiting for his fan-atics? 

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