Junior Vasquez ruled the Factory floor
Like his idol Larry Levan, Junior Vasquez’s rise to fame was inseparable from the power of his club. Thanks to the simplicity of the space, the power and purity of its sound, and the devotion of its congregation, the Sound Factory was the ultimate environment to experience the era’s music, and Junior’s weekly twelve hour sets were an essential part of the city’s clubbing life. Through the ’90s and ’00s, he was the most famous DJ in America, the first to be known by mainstream music writers and outside the small world of dance music. Born Donald Mattern in rural Pennsylvania, Junior had come to New York to study fashion, but devoted himself to music after falling in love with the Paradise Garage. As he developed his DJing skills he also learnt his way around the studio, working on edits and remixes with Shep Pettibone. The studio side of his career led to a series of huge remixes for the likes of Madonna, Pet Shop Boys and Diana Ross, and thunderous ballroom tracks like ‘Get Your Hands Off My Man’, based on the sound and vibe of the Factory floor. But Sound Factory was the last great secret, the last time a New York club of that scale could survive economically with no alcohol and open just one night a week. And when it closed it felt like Junior had lost his crown. This interview was conducted not long afterwards, a little way into his residency at Peter Gatien’s revamped Tunnel, where he was battling sound issues as he built a new crowd. It had recently been announced that his old club would re-open as Twilo, and plans were afoot to open a new Sound Factory with a relatively unknown DJ Jonathan Peters at the helm. The Sound Factory had held such a unique place in the city’s nightlife for so long, and now instead of having that legendary room to himself, he was cast among the rest of New York’s DJs, looking for a home.
Interviewed in New York by Frank, 2.1.95
Does The Tunnel feel like home yet?
I’m happy here. I think it’s gonna be alright. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but whatever I need to make it right he’s [club-owner Peter Gatien] giving me.
It must have been strange year
It’s weird for me. It’s nightmarish. For four months I started not being able to sleep again. I had to decide to do something because of my talent or my ability. This was the obvious venue, because of what I was offered. He’s got something major in the works. I personally think I’m on the winning team. That Twilo up the street, I was offered it, but I just don’t want to go back there again. It was really my space when it was Sound Factory, and it wasn’t going to be that any more. It wasn’t going to be just me on Saturday nights.
How did it feel when it closed?
Probably it closing was the best thing that could happen. It got spectatorish. But I don’t think this will be the same way. Until someone starts that certain little something. I have my following and I guess they’ll put up with things because there’s not a lot they can do about it. My nightmare about it is going from something that’s very personal and personalised, to something that’s already in existence. But after the whole dust settles this will be the place to go.
Where are you taking it musically
I’m not grasping, but I’m sort of experimenting a little bit. I’m trying to see what my crowd may like, but there’s such a lot of things going on musically I won’t be able to really focus on what I’m doing until the place up the road [Twilo] sorts itself out.
What about playing in Europe?
Doesn’t interest me.
Any longer-term plans?
I would like to within the next year, venture out and start from scratch. You have to get planted in a situation where they’re taking me for granted and having a party. If I start fucking with that, I think it doesn’t work. I just go on my course I think. I had a choice to either do something again or absolutely retire. I had to think well either this is going to be my demise, or this is gonna be the reinvention.
It’s hard work to start something new.
Factory was never a chore. This is a chore, but only because it’s a beginning. It’s like fighting everything. Its about worrying about pleasing everyone – the lights, the sound, the room.
My vibe of you is that you really feed off the dancefloor.
I do, but I didn’t Saturday. I haven’t in a long time. I haven’t at any of the Roseland parties: they were torture. I come from such a Jurassic base that I think it’s really hard to know what’s really happening.
What do you mean?
My Jurassic roots is the Garage. That’s where I come from. Everything else thats happening around me I don’t know about. All those green-eyed monsters out there. I know I’ve been oversaturated with and its all about articles, and Junior this, and Junior that, and… Just keep their comments for themselves. It’s not important. Just let me do my thing here, leave me alone.
You’ve never seemed interested in other DJs
I think it’s because… It’s in no way because I’m snobbish about what makes my thing work. I could have easily been right back there at Sound Factory with a new system, but the fact that I had to socialise, or be in a market place with Frankie (Knuckles), David (Morales), Lord G, I always stood apart from that, always rowed my own boat. There are those who lead and those who follow. I don’t particularly want to go and pick up anything from anybody. I figure things out on my own. Like sampling and delays and stuff in the booth. There was one person who I liked to go hear, that I thought was different enough, and that was Danny Tenaglia. I used to like listening to him because he was different. But everybody else that I had a chance to hear, played the same goddamn way. I’d rather have heard myself. I never listen to other DJs, why should I?
What about the wider industry?
It has nothing to do with the industry, it’s a party. I don’t care who likes me. I never really wanted to be part of the industry. I just wanted to play records and have a party. Unfortunately, it did get to that point. And that’s a big reason why I didn’t go back there [the Sound Factory space, now reopened as Twilo], because that’s all Twilo’s gonna be. Judy Weinstein, the sound system. That place will be Ministry of Sound. It’s gonna be trendy and they’ll have a great booth, but as far as the hardcore underground party, that’s where I want to be.
Its hard to be underground now.
But I can reinvent myself. And I will. Obviously there has to be press now, but when that’s over I don’t want the hype. I just want to play on Saturday nights. When the Garage closed I was going to stay underground and do that Garagey thing, not go above ground and play my records. But it happens.
What are you most proud of?
Creating that thing after the Garage closed. I idolised Larry, I still do to this day, he was the greatest. And I do live a bit in the past when it comes to that, and I keep striving, wanting to create that feeling that lounge, that booth. These new young kids, they can only replicate raves, they don’t know anything else. Everyone has their moment, and you can never replicate it. You can come close. And that’s a big part of my nightmare now. I created Sound Factory and in essence and by rights, I should have retired. I should have probably not played ever again. I made my mark.
It was very much my home too. I lived for that place. But in the last year or so it really changed. There were a lot of outsiders coming in to take a look, rather than a devoted dancefloor. It used to be so special, so completely together.
You feel like a lot of people: that that was your home, and that was your sanctuary, and they created that aura, same as I created it in there. And people were trespassing. And I understand that. But that’s how I feel about that place now [he points towards Sound Factory]. That’s why I didn’t want to go back. I figure, well I’ll play records and if it lasts another six months or a year and then I’m done. I have to find somewhere to go. Where’s my future? Either I keep playing and make people up. I’ll know when people are saying ‘Oh fuck her, she can’t play any more,’ and I’ll get out. But as long as I’m still doing it, I have to have a place to do it.
That place should have never opened again. It should have been Pier One imports. I’m not going to create that thing again. I’ve done it. I just want to play records now. I don’t want to lose to them up the street, it’s gonna be just like Ministry. But I will cherish or encourage that next person who comes and does that next thing from scratch. Struggle and give birth. I give props to the next person to come along and do it, and I hope somebody does. I just think I’m too far into the other direction to do it.
You must have felt devastated.
It was really bad. Privately it was really bad. Nobody really knows that. But I was forced into doing those Rosleand parties, keeping it alive. I can understand how Larry felt when he lost the garage. I would never go to drugs like he did, but I can understand how he felt: he’d lost his house.
You’d really never go back? Not even if they offered you that room again?
I left the door open up there [Twilo]. Maybe in six months he may struggle up there and come to me and say: Junior it’s yours. That’s what I could be hoping for. But he didn’t come to me and say Junior I got it back, and its your place exclusively on Saturdays. I’m not sharing my DJ booth. I didn’t have to do it for six years. I’m not going to start now.
© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton