Masters At Work: The 20 Year Masterclass

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Duane BG – DJ and producer with Midnite Sleaze/For Here, co-Owner of Bamboo Music record label and radio show host on Kiss FM – gets in-depth with a legendary name in house ahead of New Year’s.

As a DJ/producer, ‘Little’ Louie Vega has seen it all in his twenty-plus years as one half of Masters At Work and a pioneer of dance music culture. From his humble beginnings in the Bronx of NY, at the berth of hip-hop culture, to the grand stages of headlining festivals in Rio and the best parties in Ibiza he has seen it all. We sat down with ‘Little Louie’ who gave us a reflective and thoughtful insight into how this love for house music started, what it was like being at the birthplace of this exploding cultural phenomenon, his journey with Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez as Masters At Work, his favourite records and the future of dance music.

Where are you from originally, where did you grow up and what did your parents do?
I grew up in the Bronx, NY and my father was a musician and played in local bands. He also had a day job and my Mom was raising all of us. I had four sisters and one brother. Basically you know, I grew up there and it was a great time at that time because there were many different styles of music that were popular.

For dance music it was disco in the seventies and also was the beginning of hip-hop culture. And I definitely was at a really good moment in my life, because it was at the birth of hip-hop you know, and I was there in the Bronx checking out Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy J, Red Alert you know, throwin’ the jams, watching the Rocksteady Crew and all the breakdancers at the functions. I was able to get a really close look at something that would ultimately become a huge musical phenomenon.

I guess that it was pretty fortunate that you grew up there, given the timing and the explosion of that culture. Did you grow up playing an instrument or anything like that?
Yeah, I grew up playing the piano. I had classical lessons when I was a child from ages 6-11 and also my uncle was a very famous salsa singer. He was on Phonia Records and his name was Hector Lavoe, he was part of the Fania all stars, and my mother would end up taking me to all the concerts and I would watch my uncle perform in Madison Square Garden in that time, which opened in the early seventies, and in the mid seventies we always went to his shows and checked him out. He used to come over to our home when he finished recording. When a record was done he would bring home a 45’, like a test pressing. It was like my first look at test pressing, with my uncle singing lead. He was in a band with his partner and producer, Willie Colone.

Was that what made you start DJing?
I started DJing because I would watch all the DJs in the block parties and also my older sisters would go to all the nightclubs in the city. There were all these clubs back in those days with amazing DJs and their friends were DJs as well, so they would play all these cassettes at home of this music that wasn’t on the radio that was incredible. I had a chance to listen to all that music, and that music became a big part of, I would say my library. That was my school right there and watching them at the same time. I had a neighbour who used to do weddings and another neighbour who used to have all the DJ equipment and he had a lot of breakbeats.

So I remembered those were the tracks I used to hear down there when Africa Bambaataa, Jazzy J and Red Alert used to throw down there in the projects in the summer. So I started DJing and playing on that equipment and practicing to make the breaks of records longer. I was just, I guess, trying to emulate what I was seeing when I was going out to see other DJs. So between that and my neighbour, who was a mobile DJ and did a lot of weddings and sweet sixteens. He had an incredible disco collection. And I was able to practice on his equipment because I became his apprentice and helped him out. I was really dedicated, man.

How old were you when this was all happening?
I was like 13 years old when I started DJing…

So it has really been a lifelong passion for you…
You know it has been part of my life, all my life. Every day, music has touched me in so many ways. I have learned so much. I have had the opportunity to sit in with a lot of talented and successful producers, remixers, DJs and artists.

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