There are lots of producers out there today who are making records that dont make you dance.I think theyve gotten the term deep house fucked up, because even the deep house that was out in 1986/1987 was still funky. Its been stagnant for a while. What happened to the sound? What happened to the drive? With Dope Wax we are trying to bring that sound back, to bring out the beat more, to be more upfront and to switch it up. Because it just got too monotonous, too loungey.
Lounging across a bed in his Park Lane Hilton suite, Masters At Work Latino house star Kenny Dope Gonzalez admits hes unimpressed with most of what passes today as house. As he is with the attitude he continues to sometimes find when hes out hunting for new tunes.
Ive walked into record shops thousands of times and the people working there have known who I am and what Im about and still couldnt sell me records, he says
If that happens to me, what happens to the average person just trying to buy an album or a CD or a 45? Think about it, you get on the Internet, you find a website that you are comfortable with, they have your credit card details, you shop, the records mailed to your house, you dont have to deal with any attitude, he points out.
A relatively late, though enthusiastic convert to digital hes also now pretty much abandoned vinyl for DJing, referring 8 track and plastic cassettes as formats that have become obsolete.
I remember coming to London years ago with twelve boxes of records between Louis and I. The overweight was ridiculous, he laughs.
You would waste a lot of money bringing records here, only to find out that two boxes didnt turn up, because they were either lost, never turned up or were even stolen. If you are booked to play somewhere and you dont have your tools, its messed up. Therefore I was forced to play CDs. I would have never thought even in a million years that one day I would be mixing CDs, whereas now if I cant carry them on the plane, I wont bring them.
Vinyl issues aside, hes more committed than ever to applying Miles Davis dictum of theres good records and bad records currently reworking and re-issuing K Alexis Chicago anthem Dont You Know and Kim Englishs Nightlife on Dopewax as well as kickstarting his retro label Kay Dee Records.
Kay Dees mission statement is to expose to the world the plethora of magnificient yet unknown music he and his label partner (Brit) Keb Darge have discovered though their years of Djing, which can be found on a new compilation CD Kenny Dope & Keb Darge Present Kay Dee Records.
Keb and I formed Kay Dee together in order to release what we could find mastered;when I say mastered I mean mastered tapes, says Kenny.
Thats what we were really looking for; records that are obscure, but at the same time can be found. These tracks were mostly recorded between 1968 and 1974, which is a long time for a tape to be laying around. Often they are damaged; they have water in them if they were sitting in a basement for a long time for example. Once you have the tape, you mix it over first, then do new mixes, to give the collector a new version of that record that was never released before. Sometimes a group may have put out one or two 45s. Next thing you know, theres an album.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): You mentioned 68 74, is that the particular era youre aiming at?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: Yes, I would say 68 to 74 is the right time; its just the sound, the feel of what was going on then in different music genres. Thats what appeals to me.
Skrufff: It reminds me of the Northern Soul thing , of people going through this period and finding a link. Is that very much the idea you are thinking of? Do you see this as having a similar potential?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: Yes, but Im not just concentrating on funk. If we are able to get our hands on a hot soul record for example, well release it through the label as well. Im still in the process of learning though. Learning what Northern Soul is for example, when to me its just a great soul record.
Skrufff: Youre always prolifically busy on loads of projects, what have you let go to give you time to do this?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: You have to understand that Louis (Vega) and I have been working together for almost fifteen years straight. Literally churning four or five records a week in a studio, doing remixes, our own productions and so on. In 1996 we took a break to pull off Nuyorican Soul. That took two years, then we went back to work on our own projects and thats when all the rumours started, but it was just time for us to break off and work on our own separate ventures, as well as keeping our partnership going. It was a healthy break. He started his Elements Of Life, I started my Kay Dee and the Dope label, and doing mixes on my own, we just kept going.
Skrufff: I read on your biog on the Kay Dee website that youre not keen on the way the download is affecting the market . .
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: Its just like everything else, I think its a question of adapting to another format. Were purists, we come from the vinyl era, but you also have to acknowledge that cassettes and eight tracks, for example, are now obsolete. I remember when albums were on reel to reels. Yes, its another format, but at the same time we are able to reach a lot more people through the Internet. There are other pluses, for instance when you go to a record store and you dont have the right salesperson, you get turned off. There can be many reasons why records arent selling and its not just because people dont want to buy records anymore; people dont want to be in a store where they are not being sold records.
Ive walked into record shops thousands of times and the people working there who know who I am and what Im about still couldnt sell me records. If that happens to me, what happens to the average person just trying to buy an album or a CD or a 45? Think about it, you get on the Internet, you find a website that you are comfortable with, they have your credit card details, you shop, the records mailed to your house, you dont have to deal with any attitude. Thats one way of looking at it. Then you have downloads, a blessing for all the DJs who travel; they could be in their hotel room, before a gig downloading songs from anywhere in the world. So times are changing and we are adapting. There will always be people who prefer to buy vinyl and thats why we are constantly pressing, but the numbers have changed drastically. If you were pressing 20,000 of a single before, you are only doing 3 now, but you might have 3,000 downloads of that single.
Skrufff: I did a Google search on Brooklyns Sunset Park,.it seems like it was a quite rough area, back in the eighties.
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: It was, you had gangs everywhere. My area was in the middle, bordering many other neighborhoods, so there were Italians, Jewish, Black and Hispanic all together. There were all those influences coming in, but at the same time there were all those different problems to deal with.
Skrufff: Did you see any shootings?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: Tons. I grew up on that; one of the reasons why I got into music was because many of my people were either killed, stabbed, in jail or doing life for killing people. Thats what was going on, and if you were presented with certain situations you had to defend yourself. The kids I went to high school with didnt have a career; they sold drugs, then they got caught up. I didnt want to be just another one of them. I was always interested in music and thats what I pursued, I stopped everything else to just deal with that. It all started when I put my money together and did the first party with the original crew name, Masters At Work, which was the sound system in Sunset Park. I kept it going from there.
Skrufff: How did the gang guys treat you?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: I was young, I was fifteen when that was going on. Many of my older friends had their clique, and there were about sixty of them, so we were alright. They always looked out for the younger guys.
Skrufff: I remember the Manhattan/Brooklyn difference. Did you have a thing of: I want to make in Manhattan?
Kenny Dope Gonzalez: You know what is crazy, I know people who were born and grew up in those neighborhoods and have never been out of them. They stood in their area, they stood on their block, they did whatever they had to do in that block, and that was it. They never went to the city. I didnt go to the city until probably 1987, to buy records, and that was it. I would go, buy records, and come back. I didnt go out. I went out probably around 1988, when I started making records, to get them played in clubs, but besides that, I had no interest on what was going in Manhattan, because everything you needed was in your area, you didnt need to go to the city.
When I started traveling to Europe I realized how different their culture is from ours and how Europeans are brought up to travel. They have school trips where they go to different countries to learn about different cultures. That to me was always interesting and I would have never known it if I hadnt been traveling, so I consider myself very fortunate to have experienced that through music.
Another thing is coming out here and going to the South Port Weekender and seeing the jazz dancers and the jazz music and the funk music in another room and then back then they had the dance stuff alongside it. Its obviously changed now, its hip hop and a house room and a soul and funk room or whatever, but that exposed musically as well. As a record collecto that just opens me up and makes me want to learn about more stuff and more music. Basically with the Kay Dee thing I want to teach the younger generation about what is out there. Its not just whats on television and the video.
Skrufff: Regarding raids and clubs being closed down . Are you DJing much in New York?
Kenny Dope: To be honest, just to answer the question of raids, the big clubs were happening back in the eighties and nineties, then they got too crazy. Now we have lounges, venues that are more intimate, more comfortable. You can actually go out and chill. I play here and there, but I dont want to DJ more than that in New York, it would just be too much. Between all the traveling, the studio work, and my personal life, theres no way I even could. I dont think people realize how much energy takes to do all these things and how fast time goes by. I could tell you the last fifteen years feel like it was yesterday. They just flew by me.
Skrufff: Chicagos authorities are backing a new house music festival this summer, recognizing house musics contribution to the city, could you see New York authorities doing something similar?
Kenny Dope: The authorities never really wanted big clubs to happen in New York, theres probably three big ones left these days and the vibe has totally changed. Plus the music and people are fragmented into different genres; broken beats have a certain crowd, then you have the house crowd, then those who are into disco and stuff like that, but to be honest the no more than 300 people capacity clubs are the most comfortable and the most happening now, because theyre intimate.
Skrufff: DJing and clubbing have always been linked to alcohol and drug culture, how easy has it been for you to avoid slipping into those habits?
Kenny Dope: Its crazy because Ive never even tried half that shit. I drink here and there, but I dont care for stuff like weed. I dont smoke. I guess Ive learned my lesson early on; an uncle of mine died because he was into heroin. He was an incredible musician, had a band, but he was in and out of jail. I was ten or eleven when I witnessed this, later on, when I was sixteen/seventeen he started stealing from me, so I guess seeing how drugs took over the life of a generally good person gave me an early warning. I also had a friend from high school who normally used to do 60/70 vials of crack a day. That was the craziest thing, he would get high just to do it. Then one day he just disappeared; nobody knows if hes dead, in jail or if he just moved. But how can you pick up and leave your family and just disappear? I was never into it.
I remember in the nineties when I first came to Europe and witnessing the whole E thing. Louis and I were playing at a London club when I saw this young good looking girl in the middle of the club, basically sleeping standing up in the middle of the dance floor. It was eight in the morning. We left the club at eleven and we saw the same girl passed out on the floor, swallowing her tongue. I never believed you have to get high to enjoy music, and Ive made tons of music, worked with crazy musicians and sure, we drink, but not to the extent we dont know whats going on around us.
If youre that wasted, you cant even be out because youre exposed. Like a boy of mine who just came back from Miami; he was sleeping in the lobby of this hotel with all his jewellery on, and I mean forty/fifty thousand dollars of jewellery, he was so lucky not to get robbed. Thats just alcohol. Drugs are even worse. I have seen people who have lost their marriage, their kids, their houses, their empires, everything, just because of it. People do it for different reasons and I understand that, because coming from where I came from, people deal with problems and issues differently. Sometimes you need to escape, thinking that will get you out of the situation, not necessarily. Youre only burying yourself deeper and deeper into a hole. I dont think people realize how lucky they are to be born healthy, with legs and arms, with good hearing and sight. There are people out there who arent, so why ruin it? I dont understand it sometimes, and just to do it because you are in a club and you think its cool ... nah.
Kenny Dope & Keb Darge Presents Kay Dee Records is out now.
Jonty Skrufff (JontySkrufff.com)