Across Paris, London and New York, the sound of ballroom is again infiltrating every area of dance music, from Vaggio's 'Don't You Want Some More' on Ovum to Boddika and Joy Orbison's recent 'Swims' on Swamp 81.
A new Soul Jazz compilation and book 'Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92' lifts the lid on this underground scene, revealing how it gave the world voguing and the legendary houses of ballroom’s golden era, shaping the history of house music in the process.
At the centre of this was was Junior Vasquez, the resident DJ who would spin weekly ten hour sets at the Sound Factory, New York. An honorary member of the House of Xtravaganza for whom he produced the anthem 'X', tracks such as 'Dub Break' in his Ellis D guise welcomed voguing to the dancefloor every Saturday night, while bitch tracks like 'If Madonna Calls', a diss at the pop star Junior introduced to voguing, and 'Get Your Hands Off of my Man' became worldwide hits.
We spoke to Junior about this explosive and colourful chapter in dance music history. Read our full feature in the February issue of DJ Mag out now in shops and available from djmag.com/shop/publications.
When did you first encounter voguing and ballroom culture?
“I became aware of it back when I was in The Fashion Institute of Technology and I was given a chance to design a ball costume for a ball in Harlem. I'm not sure what year that was but I met a lot of the kids from the different houses including Jose Louis [From the House of Xtravaganza] and many others and went to a few balls with the friends I met.
“Then I got involved in music and would go to (club) Tracks to hear DJ David DePino - the DJ for the House of Xtravaganza. He had a lot of ball runway style where he played 'Love is the Message'. That was the theme and was a song they always played at the ball and still is to this day. 'Love Dub' became the springboard from that which I produced for the houses when Sound Factory began and would always spark a runway battle between houses, but it was more a dance and a fashion movement, it was not as serious as the earlier balls. It was a dancefloor house thing and I was voted an honorary DJ for the House of Xtravaganza and I produced an Xtrava theme song for the house called 'X'', 10s across the board!
“Then Madonna got wind of the movement and came to Sound Factory and that’s when her and I became friends and she picked her vogue dancers from my house the rest is history.”
Balls presented an organised structure for house to compete. How did this work within a club?
“I made it less formal and more a dance with battling as I opened the dance floor with a dramatic drop from the hours of house music. They always knew it was coming at that moment because I played an acapella of 'Divas to the Dancefloor... Please...' or 'Drag Queens Take Your Mark The Dance Floor Is Now Open' and of course it opened with 'X' into 'Love is the Message' and the big one was my 'Dub Break' mix that I made from the my extra bits for the Madonna 'Vogue' dub version.”
Who were the stars in your club?
“To name one or two, Rue Paul was my star creation, and the icon Kevin Aviance, she ruled it all and sparked the popularity that carried us to club Palladium. Kevin A was the queen mother and the originator of performance art for the dance floor fuelled by spontaneous craziness and her costumes designed and created for her.
“Kevin was kinda like the Gaga thing today and because of all the crazy things we had in common, Kevin's theatrics and ceaseless art and my drama (it was my middle name and I guess still is), our friendship and common need to shock and push the limits, I was always pushing myself to be a creator of the soundtrack for the house. My fans expected me to keep them guessing what I was gonna do next so that they came every Saturday.”
Of all the houses, why was it Xtravaganza who inspired ‘X’? How did voguing change the club scene?
“'X' wasn’t meant only as a song of identity but a track for all the young kids of all the houses. The reason was me being voted into the house of X as their DJ and though that may sound strange now that was an honour to me. Because of the love of those houses and their loyal friendship, there were years of me giving them a place to show off their art, music meets fashion meets runway meets competition. It wasn't about the art of hating other houses but the love between them.
“From Sound Factory to the end of Arena, voguing inspired all kinds of things, movies, fashion, Madonna’s 'Vogue' and because it gave kids houses, it gave them a place of safety and a mother and father, their house parents, and a place to be schooled on something they wanted to do and have role models. In their family they felt happy and worth something despite the abusive lives.
“To earn their title and place in the house, to prove their love and respect for their house parents, the extreme will to train and make their art, the power needed to compete for their house, the rooms full of trophies and awards, and the winning of a category at a competition, it meant the world to them. Yes, there were some fights and true battles but that made the runway all the more intense competition.“Revamping that to a major mega dance club, it was incredible to control the music I twisted and created on the spot to spark the drama, and to see them get fired up I felt it should be recognized as a sport and recognized as a skill.
“Madonna made it mainstream and gave it a name and a dance craze but that may have been the beginning of the decline of the true thing a ball was, where David D and a few other DJs worked the balls and where I saw the importance of the balls and the competition and the incredible talents, and brought it to the club and the dance floors where the pops and dips and splits and walk became a modern way to express themselves.
“It turned out many divas legendary. A lot of the true legends have passed like Willi Ninja and too many others to many to say, and a lot are back underground and have moved on.”
‘Get Your Hands Off Of My Man’ actually turned out to be one of your biggest international tracks. Can you briefly explain what a bitch track is?
“The title explains what it is, it was simply queens reading queens. It gave birth to the drag queens and house kids and the famous heads of the house like Kevin and Rue Paul and presented a way to show their other talent besides the runway. It allowed them to make their mark as a recording artist and to battle on a track as well the runway. Naming it a bitch track separated them from tracks like 'Love is the Message', it was kinda their 15 minutes of fame. To me 'If Madonna Calls' started it as well.
Was 'If Madonna Calls' you burning bridges? Do you feel she exploited you?
“With regards to Madonna I just want to say that I am her biggest fan, I cherish the work we did together, I play my private mixes of her new records and I would love to work with her again. Few people know about this but I worked with her again after 'If Madonna Calls'. I did a couple of mixes of 'Hollywood' for a Versace show in Milano that stayed in my vaults ever since after being played at the show.
“In my vaults I have hundreds, if not thousands, of unreleased mixes/songs I did for both famous and obscure artists that I play in my sets only. I keep discovering materials in the vault that I did years ago and that still sound fresh in any set I play.
How does the peak of Sound Factory compare with today?
“For me there will never be a Garage or Sound Factory or Arena with no limits on the hours a person can dance, just another kick to our heads and our rights to party for 24 hours. If I could change it, I would.
“I am proud of my career and of the fact that I worked with the most talented artists of this century like Cindy Lauper, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Queen, and that I'm still playing in the world’s biggest and most famous clubs, still mixing and producing younger artists, and still inspiring a new generation of club kids. However I feel sad I can't do what I love in the way I like to do it and have to squeeze my music down from 10/15 hour sets with a lot of drama on a dancefloor crowded with house purists. Back at Sound Factory I could play until 3-4 in the afternoon.
“The problem with today’s technology is that anybody can call himself a DJ but very few have the history or the knowledge to stand apart from the rest. Few DJs last the test of time like me, David Morales, Frankie Knuckles and a few others.”
What do you have coming up production and gig wise?
“I have a weekly residency in New York at Greenhouse with my friend Timmy Regisford. We have weekly guests as well, like Louie Vega and David Morales. I play on a monthly basis at D36, a fab new club in New York with a terrific soundsystem and every time I play there I feel like when I was at Twilo. Then I do some classics parties in clubs in the New York area like Aura where I enjoy playing some of my classics and some obscure material like Ellis D unreleased mixes and songs.
“I should be touring Europe in the next months, dates in london will be finalised soon, then I have gigs planned in Miami, Washington, Boston and in Tokyo.
“Of course I am still very busy with my remix work, I hope to work with Lady Gaga and Adele anytime soon and last but not least my great friend Cindy Lauper, the artist I loved working with the most.
“Now I'm interested in dedicate more time to production/writing work. I have some new/young artists I am eager to work with. I would also be interested in writing a book about my years in the music business and doing a documentary.”
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