|The entire Def Mix crew - David Morales, Frankie Knuckles, Hector Romero and Satoshi Tomiie - come together to celebrate their 20th anniversary at the cutting edge of electronic music. Both the quality and quantity of remixes that this extraordinarily talented group have produced is incredible, and there are also a number of seminal house records which showcase the Def Mix crew’s unquestionable production skills.|
Question: Could you all introduce yourselves, say where you're originally from and what you're best known for?
David Morales (DM): I'm David Morales, president of Def Mix Productions, and I guess I'm best known for being me: Def Mix 1!
Frankie Knuckles (FK): My name is Frankie Knuckles and I'm Def Mix 3. 1 and 2 can argue among themselves but I'll always be 3! I'm from the Boogie Down, from the big BX originally. I live in Chicago now, and I think I'm known as the "Godfather of House Music".
DM: I forgot to say I'm from Brooklyn.
Hector Romero (HR): Hello hello! I'm Hector Romero. If you've known me that long you can still call me Baby Hack. I'm from the Bronx as well, and what am I best known for? For being a stubborn pain in the ass, and for always having a smile on my face, why not?
Satoshi Tomiie (ST): Ok my turn? Hi, it's Satoshi Tomie here. I'm originally from Tokyo and I'm best known for, hmm, not sure. I'm a little slow today so I'll pass on that.
DM: I'll answer that one for him! He's a DJ, producer extraordinaire!
Question: David, how did Def Mix come about and did you think it would be as big as it is today?
DM: Def Mix came about in late '86 going into '87. I really just used the name Def Mix as a remixing name. Some of the other guys doing remixes at the time had similar pseudonyms, so I had to have a similar name when I wanted to remix. Back then the word 'Def' was slang for 'good', 'great' so I started to use that. With Judy [Weinstein] we ended up incorporating the word into our productions, and then Frankie came in from Chicago. There was no intention for Def Mix to be anything but a name, you know, we didn't think it would become 'a thing'. There was no plan.
Question: Ok so Frankie, Satoshi and Hector, when do you guys come into the story?
FK: I think I probably come in next. I had just moved back to New York, and I had a lot of mixes that were being offered to me, mostly from the UK. I had a few from around New York City from a few different labels and I was told that I needed representation. Someone wanted to book me to do a remix or play a gig or something and they asked who my manager was, and I had worked up until that point without one, living in Chicago and before I had ever left New York in the first place, I had never had one. So when that person approached me it kinda threw me completely. And then I met Judy and she asked me the same question, and I had the same answer. We go way back, you know, even before the record pool, that's how far back we go. And we talked about it, and she talked about what was going on with David and Def Mix and what they were trying to do with it. Honestly I didn't think that much about it, I just though 'Yeah that's great!' I thought of it as something to help me along while I'm regaining my footing back in New York City. I hoped that it would take me someplace else within the industry and it just took off from there. It was a place for me to be found and it gave me the opportunity to be able to bring something to the table. I'd already done quite a lot of work in Chicago, but it was not paid work, you know? Although for me I wasn't really looking to get paid, it was more of an education than anything else which helped a lot. And joining Def Mix and working with David and all the other engineers and programmers, that was like finishing school for me.
ST: Ok, so I actually came after. I met Frankie in Japan while I was at University. I was helping out on a couple of parties while he was touring the country, about 7 different party's altogether.
FK: Almost every night for a whole week!
ST: Basically the people organising the parties asked me to write the theme music that would be played each night.
FK: It was basically like a fanfare just before I was supposed to come on.
ST: So that's the way I met him. Then after he went back to New York I made a demo.
HR: It was probably on a cassette.
ST: Actually I think it was! Ha ha! So after that I couldn't actually meet him in New York, but he met with my friend, liked the track that I had given him, asked Judy and David if I could join Def Mix.
HR: I come in around '94. Basically I was a young DJ from the Bronx, doing some parties around the city, and it was a special promoter from the city that hooked me up to play a gig with David. I had never met David but I used to go out to hear him play at Red Zone; that was like my Paradise Garage. I went religiously every weekend, just to hand out and listen to good music. We got teamed together to play this Bank Holiday Sunday party, and it was a big hit! I played before David, and he enjoyed what I did I guess! Ha ha! And from there he asked me to pay other gigs for him, you know be his warm-up, at Red Zone, Club USA, Tunnel, various clubs around the city. It was a pleasure for me to be the opening DJ. I also used to work at a record company called Emotive Records, and I wasn't really happy there. Then David asked me to come on board and start Definity Records, and it basically just started from there.
Question: Frankie, you are the owner of a Grammy. What does that feel like?
FK: I think the thing I was most proud of was bring it home to Judy and David. That was the biggest thrill.
DM: Ha ha!
FK: I'm serious!
DM: What was important was that one of us got it.
FK: I wasn't really thinking about that. They can probably tell you, I was a mess two or three weeks leading up to it. I couldn't eat I couldn't think straight, I was a mess. I was really just trying to stay level throughout the whole thing, and then when it happened it was a blur, it just came and went so quick. I mean I'm really happy and really proud to have it, but the biggest thing about it was bringing it home to them. It helped to secure certain feeling within myself personally, about where I am personally within this company.
DM: *Sob* Ha ha!
FK: I'm serious! We're a family, we're a team. We've been through a lot together you know, good thing bad things. But at the end of the day we hold each other up, we stand beside each other.
Question: Hector. Is it hard being the label manager and an international DJ?
HR: Yes! Ha ha! I love it though, that's what I love to do, and that's what I bring to the company because obviously I'm not a producer. I love what I do. And being a DJ that's in my blood forever, so it's an amazing job and I would never change it for anything in the world. Sometimes it's hard to do the label thing, especially during these rough times, but we're riding the wave.
Question: You've all worked with some pretty big names over the years…any stories?
DM: I kicked Seal's butt at table-tennis! He told me that American's can't play it and I showed him at thing or two. I also got Julio Inglesias to speak to my mum on the phone. She thought someone was messing around so he sang to her and of course then she lost it.
FK: You know we've worked with some pretty big artists. And they're Pro's, you know, they know their instruments. They may travel with entourages or whatever, but when it's time to perform, they know their craft. I've worked with Luther [Vandross] and he just strolled in here and sat down on the couch beside me. We talked about his day-time diamonds and his night-time diamonds and we were just having fun, but the minute he went in the live room and it was time to perform, he nailed it in the first take. But he humoured me by giving me another 12, 16 takes, just so he could hang out and have fun.
DM: The biggest artist that intimidated me, bearing in mind I'd already worked with Mariah [Carey] and Seal among other, was Aretha Franklin. For me she was the ultimate queen of soul who had worked with some of the best producers in the business. And here I was a DJ/Mixer/Producer, and it was hard for me to feel confident, knowing the legends she's worked with. I don't even put myself in their league. You learn a lot from working with artists like that.
Question: Have you all taken influences from each other?
HR: Always. For me as a DJ, I take a little bit from each one of them. That's how I play music, and they're like big brothers who I look up to.
DM: The most important thing for us is that there're never any egos. We've always supported each other, you know, like I was talking about Satoshi ages ago before anyone had ever heard of him. Before they even knew how to pronounce his name! Same goes for Hector.
FK: It was great when Satoshi first came to New York, because everyone had already heard his song and they wanted to know who he was. Just to hear all these local people talking so much about someone they hadn't met was great, for me that was thrill. It was an opportunity to add another element to what we were doing. We were playing the track everywhere and everyone was just going ape, ga-ga over it.
DM: Satoshi used to come and play live keyboard at my sets. We used to do live remixes together. Drum units, effects, reel-to-reel; it's how we arrived at 'a sound' We were each doing out own thing, but there were a bit of each other in all of our songs.
FK: When you listen to an album like the Robert Owens album which was the first album that David and I produced together, Satoshi was at the centre of all of that. So when you hear that album you hear Def Mix in its infancy, but you hear just how rounded the sound was and still is.
Question: 20 years down the line, are you still learning?
DM: I don't think you ever stop evolving.
FK: You never stop learning. It's funny; Hector and I were just talking about gadgets and how he wants to get the new i-Phone and Satoshi comes in with 'Wait for the second generation, never go with the first' And he always knows best! Just being around each other and learning little things like that and keeping on top of what's going on. At least it keeps me on top of it! Technologically I'm not the greatest, and these guys keep he updated with stuff that helps me out when I have to go work on something.
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