Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Sound Factory, New York, 1992

When I flew out to New York for the first in November 1992, I had one DJ and one club in my thoughts and they were Tony Humphries and Zanzibar. London was in the thrall the Hump, having recently witnessed the Rampling’s ‘Voluptuous’ party where the great and the good of London clubland packed into a warehouse to hear (and see, as there was a lot of DJ watching that night) one of the true house heavy weights showcase his talents. My friend Steve, who had moved out there year before, had even whetted my appetite with some tapes of his weekly Kiss mix show.

However, upon my arrival Steve seriously dampened my London centric enthusiasm by telling me that ”No one in New York is really into Humphries right now”. He went on to explain that the real buzz was centred around some bloke called Junior Vasquez, who I vaguely remembered reading about in Disc Jockey magazine a year or two before, and his club, the Sound Factory.

The first Saturday of the trip arrived I remained unconvinced, but Steve allayed my concerns with the promise that if I didn’t like the Factory we’d head out to New Jersey the following week, so I agreed to give it a go.

We met up with more friends, including a gay stylist called Roberto, a guy who worked for Area 10 Records and their mate, Chez Damier, then got involved in some serious fag lad action round Roberto’s apartment that saw me leave for the night’s proceedings with my Balearic barnet in a French plat and wearing full on eye make-up… so I spent my first night at the Factory looking like a (rough) bird!

The Factory didn’t get going until the early hours, so we got in the mood by visiting the Roxy to hear Frankie Knuckles spin. It really did feel like a ghost of a club. The d├ęcor seemed faded and old, and a few forlorn looking roller skaters on the mostly empty dancefloor, around which people sat uninterested drinking in booths and Frankie played loads of his own records whilst dry humping some young skinny lad in the booth! This alone was mildly entertaining, we didn’t hang around and we were soon heading uptown to 27th street and the Sound Factory.

I don’t remember much about the queue, there was a door picker, but the people we were with ensured we breezed in (maybe the eye liner helped too). The club itself was much as I would have imagined the Paradise Garage to look like - a fairly cavernous warehouse type space with old round steel pillars, with the DJ booth was built up high in the wall at one end. There were 4 large speaker stacks which seemed to be built into the floor in the 4 corners of the dance floor and the lighting system was built around a vast Secret Sundaze shaming disco ball suspended above the middle of the floor. There was drinking fountain on the way in, an alcohol free juice bar over on one side of the room and the entrance to a chill out room on the other. The whole place was spotless too and they even had cleaners walking around throughout the night sweeping any fag ends that made it onto the floor!

The crowd was fairly mixed ethnically but mainly black hispanic and almost exclusively gay, though there wasn’t a cruisey vibe, they vwere definitely there to dance and you could almost feel the energy on the dance floor. A lot of people were rocking the banji boy, vest and baggy jeans look, but there were muscle marys, club kids and the most fabulous gorgeous drag queens that had you thinking ”maybe”, too! On each of the speaker stacks there was a naked, oiled, muscle bound go-go dancer, whose only props were small hand towels used to hide their dignity from the crowd. However, they weren’t gay, as one of the oily bastards tried to cop of with my missus during his break!

Junior played all night from midnight to midday, so he really had the opportunity to build and shape the music throughout the night. By 3am it was really just starting to get going, with it really going off around 6 or 7am. The music wasn’t just that Sex Trax sound we’ve come to associate with the Factory, it was more of a mix of slighter harder edged US stuff like the Coral Way Chiefs ‘Release Myself’and Liberty City ‘Get Some Loving’ on Murk, 4th Measure Men ‘4 You/Just a Dream’, early wild pitch stuff, UK tracks like X-Press 2 ‘London Xpress’ and the Farley and Heller mix of Happy Mondays ‘Stinkin’ Thinkin’’ and DSK and more traditional US house, like Aly-us.

But it wasn’t just the music, it was the way it was put together. Junior knew his records, he knew his crowd, he knew his system and he worked them all expertly. The system was fantastic – really loud and so clear you could talk on the dance floor. Junior would play jet plane noises that swept from one side of the club to the other and the sound was so sharp it felt like it cut through your body. He used FX like that and the light system, which was in perfect sync with the music, to build the tension on the dance floor. At one point he left us listening to and Gregorian monks chanting! And another we heard the sound of rain gradually fading up into the music then slowly taking over as the club sank into pitch darkness. The rain turned into a thunder storm with lightening streaking across the ceiling courtesy of strategically placed strobes, I stood there in the dark clapping and screaming my head off along with 1,000 sweat soaked queens, as the tension just built and built, then eventually, after what seemed like forever, we heard the words “It’s gonna be a lovely day, for you and me” (from that S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M record) and BANG every single light in the club hits a massive disco ball so it feels like the sun has actually dropped onto the dancefloor, night had turned into day and the whole place erupts like nothing I’d ever seen in a club erupt before. Amazing.

Another highlight was the Sound of Blackness ‘The Pressure’. I remember reading Danny Rampling’s chart in DJ Mag and him commenting next to that entry “6am at the Sound Factory” and me thinking “Yeah, it’s no Gat Decor though” or something like that. Then I found myself standing on the dance floor of the Sound Factory at 6am as that accapella intro came in and suddenly, it all made perfect sense. It’s probably the most beautiful record I’ve heard in a club by the time it was played, it was like he’d built up ‘the pressure’ so much on the dance floor this was the release. And what a release! The geezer from Area 10 records started to cry when he played it! And when it finally kicked in the place went ballistic. To this day when I hear that intro it gives goose flesh.

As the crowd started to thin a little after 7am the drag queens and trannies took over one side of the club, working an imaginary cat walk along the side the dance floor, throwing shade and generally trying to out do each other. They weren’t like your English ‘builder in a dress’ trannies either, they were actually slim, pretty, well preened and dare I say, quite fit! To a long haired 22 year from London it was like another world and I could have just sat back and watched them for hours…but the music was too good to sit down to!

I know it’s a DJ cliche these days but I really did feel like we went on a musical journey that night. It was almost like a religious experience. I remember standing on the dance floor, blown away by it all, thinking “When I get back to London I’m going to sell my turntables because I’ll never be able to play like this and even if could, I wouldn’t be playing at the Sound Factory and there isn’t any point DJing anywhere else!”

I think we finally stumbled out into the New York daylight around 10am. I never made it to Zanzibar on that trip because while I was there I only wanted to go one place on a Saturday! People seem quick to knock Junior these days, saying he can’t mix, his music is/was boring but at that moment in time, in that that space, with that crowd, he was perfect and no matter what anyone says, I’ll always have those memories.


Stevie Cantopinho said...

Fascinating stuff, mate and nice to read a proper 'story' about clubbing.

Yeah, you're right that Junior had his time and place - I remember when Tribal was just about everything that house music should have been about. Of course, I never made it over there and by the time he came over (was it 95 at MOS? my memory) - I felt I had moved on (stupid me). But I'm sure it wouldn't have been the same - I remember catching Tenaglia around the time of 'Bottom Heavy' and frankly, he didn't seem that arsed. There was probably some silly money being bandied about then and that probably made things more cynical.

Still, like you say, there are still some great memories and records to look back on. I had (past tense) a mixtape of Junior doing his Sounds of Blackness thing. Not the same as being there, but you got the impression it was something special.

Myles said...

Really enjoyed reading that thanks.

Milo said...

Glad you both enjoyed it.

Stevie, I think part of the magic of Junior was him playing in his booth, on his system, in his room to his crowd. I think it was difficult to translate that to the UK, so maybe you didn't miss that much when you blew out the MoS!

Shame you don't have that tape anymore...


The Current exModians said...

Amazing indeed. We worshiped in that club. It was our pilgrimage. Our religious obsession. Six a.m. and we were born again.


Anonymous said...

Growing up in Virginia never gave me any experience close to that of Junior Vasquez and the Sound Factory! For those of us who got to experience the Sound Factory in it's hayday,there absolutely was no need for church on Sundays.Junior was and still is the God of DJ's.It was him alone that rejuvinated your soul and your sense of being and rebirth.It is hard to describe unless you were there.It will never be matched!Thanks so much Junior!! Tom Edwards

JerryS571 aka Jheri Kerl said...

very well written. Junior has also made me cry. It was a religious experience, and I used to think that Jr WAS god. It was incredible. The absolute BEST times of my life were in SF number one. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and keeping the memory alive. There is one track he played a lot that I could never find because I don't know who it's by and what it's called. Wish I did. I do have many of my other favorites such as "As I Am" "Not Enough" "Reap" and "Atom Bomb"