Interview Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Little Louie Vega

WHO: Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Little Louie Vega
WHEN: 12th Jun 2004

The Interview Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Little Louie Vega

Masters At Work | Defected Records

Lets talk about your history. When you started out, who inspired you?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] I got my inspiration from lots of different DJs, namely Marly Marl, who played a big variety of music, this goes back to '84, '85. It was just a blend, that's where I got my first inspiration from, listening to all those different styles of music - breakbeats, reggae, funk, soul, the basic songs; and later on I just began collecting more and more music.

[Little Louie Vega] I started out listening to Larry Levan, Tony Humphries, Afrika Bambata, Jazzie J. At that time there was a nice mixture of music and a lot of the clubs played basically all kinds of styles so you'd have fun at any of those bars in New York City.

How did you get started making music, were you learning from other figures on the scene?

[Little Louie Vega] From listening to the guys on the radio you want to start doing your own parties, that's actually where the name MAW comes from. That was the old crew name in Brooklyn and we started doing parties at around age 16 -17.

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] Then we wanted to make the next step, that's when I started messing around with beats and stuff and started digging a bit more into the music. Todd Terry, who I met through coming to the parties, was out before me. While I was playing he was already cutting records so at that point I was just watching him and how he was putting records together. I learned a lot from him in the beginning and just started putting out records, and that's how I actually met Louie.

Louie had heard a joint that I did, ('A Touch of Salsa') which he liked, he wanted a remix at the time and he asked out "who's that kid from Brooklyn making these songs?" We hooked up and the rest is history. We did so much afterwards, the remix never actually got done. At that time he was working on his project 'The Little Louie Mark Anthony Album' He brought me in and I did drum tracks for his record.

[Little Louie Vega] That's how we got acquainted, in the studio. Just working for four months together on that album, we really started getting used to each other in the studio and how we worked, and it started running real smooth. I thought it was perfect for us as a team and the rest is history.

At what point did you really think, "we are really contributing to this scene, and really influencing what's going on"?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] Right from the jump, because when we connected it was just that chemistry. You kind of feel that vibe you're just about to take over, it's crazy. No matter where we're at, where we are in the world, when we're together it's just something really special.

Like I said, we hooked up in 1990. I would say six months after that, ideas just kept coming and they didn't stop. And we started incorporating a lot of live stuff; even though Marshall Jefferson was incorporating live musicians in '86, '87, we took that to a whole other level. We brought a lot of percussions into the scene. We brought Brazilian, jazz, the culture, the different backgrounds, black with white, we brought people together. I think before us everybody was kind of in their own world, after themselves and worrying about themselves, and we were like 'no, this is ours'. We brought a lot of different people together.

You seem to have been imitated a fair bit, did this inspire you to change?

[Little Louie Vega] When we first came out we were getting a lot of mixes from pop artists, so we were taking the B-sides and coming up with this new flava, and we were just knocking the clubs out. We started doing St Etienne, Chic, Melissa Morgan, all those early records... they became like club anthems and they were even played on the radio like dubs, so we started these MAW dubs. Next thing you know, everybody wanted one from Madonna to Michael Jackson... wanted the MAW dubs. So we created our own style, which eventually started evolving and from there went to Nuyorican Soul. We're not even reinventing ourselves, this is stuff that we already have in us, we are just letting it out. Right know it's more electronic, that's what this is about. This is a new flava that we got, we never got a chance to put rock influences in our music, and this is why we're gonna do it. We gave you the live stuff with George Benson, Tito Puente and everybody on air and now we're just on a different level. We're not trying to invent ourselves to be happening we are just trying to make good music.

You worked together a lot but also pursued solo careers. How does that impact on your work?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] We just started doing it, we just came to a level where we were doing so much together. Louie wanted to do his project, he was like 'I wanna do this record'. And I said: 'Do what you got to do'. There is no egos involved, none of that.

Do you ever get to talk to your fans very often?
[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] All the time when we're on the road. We've got to stay after the gig like an hour, and if they just want to ask us questions, then we're there. We can hang, we're good.

What about forums, do you ever go on there and answer questions?

[Little Louie Vega] We did it yesterday. We were at the M3 summit and we sat on this panel, four people only, answering all their questions. We do do this - it's important to us. People get excited just getting near you to ask you one question and if somebody has travelled six hours to come hear you for a night, I'm not like 'Yo, later'. We always open our arms to the fans. If you go to the centre of Naples right now, there is a store front and it's an MAW fan club: in the middle of Naples, like a store. We freaked out when we went. There are pictures of us that I have never seen before. These kids are around and they created a fan club of like two thousand people who are already in it. It's amazing. Things like that really touch us and you've got to give them the time.

Soulful house in the UK especially is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. In your opinion, house or soulful house - is it a fashion or has it never gone away?

[Little Louie Vega] To be honest, 9/11 has changed the whole thing. People wanted to hear songs, they wanted to feel good again, they wanted a message; that had a lot to do with it. Right after that everything just switched up. In a way we were really happy with it because all the harder, noisy type records went out, even though they are still there. To me that was a main part of it was going back to where it was, and getting the right tunes out there.

In the US, dance music is a fairly small part of popular culture. Do you think that will change, or are you interested in changing that?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] I don't think it's ever gonna change. There are not that many labels and artists moving for the unit to make that happen. There is no radio play, no videos and until that happens, its not gonna rise up... The thing with the dance stuff, there's a lot of one offs but there's no follow ups, there are very few times where you get a group or artists that does five records; and that's where the compilations come in. That is why the compilations are where it's at in Europe, because you're basically taking twenty hot records and putting them together. For the consumer that's cool too because they get twenty records they like opposed to buying an album, where they only like two songs.

Soulheaven In The House - how did you arrange that, what was your process of picking up the tracks?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] Well, it's different. Now we're even putting together a bit of old stuff, a bit of new stuff, some more aggressive records and kind of mixing them all together. We are at the stage where you got to re-educate the whole crowd again. The kids that were buying records when I first came out are twenty years old, you've got to re-introduce them into those old records again.

Its got a very signature sound...

[Little Louie Vega] You know what you're gonna get. You're gonna hear soulful music, any kind of soulful dance music.

What have you tried to reflect with this Soulheaven Compilation?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] We are trying to go back to when we were doing the mix tapes at home, when we were making crazy, crazy master mix type CDs. We're gonna use a lot of tricks, remix some of the old tunes and put new beats on. Just make it real fun, real listenable to the ear.

[Little Louie Vega] It's the first CD we are doing together in a long time. The thing on Beechwood was the last one...We did two before together, the MOS and Beechwood. This is our third one.

Any re-edits or exclusives?

[Little Louie Vega] Probably quite a few... we're gonna make it real crazy.

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] Yeah, gonna be some goodies, a lot of that. You'll hear special versions of things you've never heard before because we've got the master tapes to a lot of things. It's gonna be real fun to get back in there.

You've been around for 20 years and you're pretty much at the top. Where do you go from here?

[Little Louie Vega] Musically there's a lot of ways to go. Right now we're opening up to this electronic thing, opening up a new set of ideas, from there who knows where it's gonna go. But it's always gonna go somewhere, we're not planning on stopping making that music.

Is the whole digital revolution going to change the way you perform as DJs?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] It's won't change us as we're always gonna be doing what were doing. Right now Technics is coming up with their new player which is incredible. You still got to play a CD the way you play a record. I never thought of playing CDs from being a vinyl head for so many years. But when you start travelling and records get lost, you think of your stuff getting get there, the records are following us. Now it's just easier for us and at the same time we can carry a lot more music. We can go in different directions, we can take gigs where we can play different styles, it gives us more variety. But we're still playing our CDJs the way we're playing our records. It hasn't changed.

You've worked with some legendary figures - George Benson, Tito Puente, Roy Ayers... did they know about you before you introduced yourselves?

[Little Louie Vega] No, we had to have meetings with them. When we met George Benson, we met him because we had signed to Universal. We became friends with Tommy P. who produced George for the last 30 years or so, and we asked him to hook us up. We got a meeting with Benson and when he came in we were like: 'Damn, look George Benson is right here! We've got to play him this track and hope he likes it'. We had a session player coming in do like a scab vocal. It was an idea we had. We played him the whole album, we played him the Latin stuff, India's, Tito's stuff; He says: 'I love the idea, I like what this is about, I wanna go in the studio with you guys' and that was it.

It must be a big deal to work with someone like Tito Puente. How did he receive you?

[Little Louie Vega] We met him because we started going to the Village Gate, we were going to check out some latin jazz sessions. They would put these great combinations on like Tito Puente with James Moody, and that's when we met Tito Puente. They said: 'Yeah, this is Louie and Kenny, they're like big producers in the dance music scene and he was like 'Dance music!? That's a big word'. Like as if he was messing... but we were cool, we hung out and later at the end of the night he was like 'I was just kidding, I really wanna come in the studio, wanna see what you've got, I'd love to work with you guys. Let's go!'

I guess he was proud of the result

[Little Louie Vega] Yes, we did about six records with Tito. We started doing his Mambo King stuff. That's when we kind or really proved ourselves to him; when we took a 1951 Mambo record and made it into a house song almost, with a Latin flava.

A big respect thing going on. You're happy to push their music, introduce it to new people and they're doing vice versa. A fantastic collaboration!

[Little Louie Vega] Yes, after seven years of us working together, we realised we'd made our stamp in the business when we did Nuyorican Soul. He was saying because we had a photo shoot in a restaurant, we had George Benson in one corner, Roy Ayers in the other, Tito Puente; everybody just hanging and laughing. Jocelyn Brown, India, the whole crew was in there. We were like 'Wow, we got these people in one place.' Because they travel round the world every day, we were proud. We would be happy if it had ended that way. But, obviously, it didn't!

One last question... between you guys, just how big are your record collections?

[Kenny Dope Gonzalez] I probably have about 30,000 records.

[Little Louie Vega] Two rooms full, maybe 15,000.

Interview by Toni

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