David Morales

David Morales

The NYC house legend shows his underground side


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009

Courtesy of King Street Sounds

Courtesy of King Street Sounds

Since the demise of house-music temple Yellow, club Air has emerged as Tokyo’s primary venue for classic New York and Chicago house. Now, in the wake of visits by innovators like Timmy Regisford and Theo Parrish, comes David Morales, known as one third of legendary NYC production team Def Mix.

Born in 1961 in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican immigrants, Morales clawed his way to the top of clubland from humble beginnings, dropping out of school and working as a cook while DJing nights at seminal venues like Paradise Garage. After hooking up with early DJ management outfit For the Record, he gradually built a reputation as one of New York’s hottest DJs.

Morales then joined forces with Judy Weinstein and DJ Frankie Knuckles to form Def Mix, becoming one of a few visionaries to shape ’70s funk and disco into the music we now know as house. Many of its trademarks, such as vocal breaks and piano and string riffs, were pioneered by Morales and Knuckles in the late ’70s and early ’80s to provide punctuation for the new, seamless style of mixing.

In the ’90s, Morales became known—even more than a club DJ—as a remixer to the stars, reworking pop songs for the likes of Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Jamiroquai and Michael Jackson. While only occasionally issuing material under his own name, he did score a clubland hit with the 1994 single “In de Ghetto.”

More recently, Morales was back in the news for his 2004 2 Worlds Collide album, which spawned the dancefloor classic “How Would U Feel.” The DJ has also been an ardent campaigner in the fight against AIDS.

Morales’ bare, honed torso became a familiar sight behind the decks at Yellow over the years, and like many a DJ, he told Metropolis in a recent email exchange that Japan is his “favorite country to play at in the whole world.”

At the same time, Morales has strong ties to Canada, opening clubs in both Montreal and Toronto in the past decade. “I really never intended to open up a club, it sort of just happened,” he explains. “Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to run them. But I always wanted to have a place to play whatever I wanted to.”

Asked what’s right and what’s wrong with worldwide house music, Morales has a provocative—if enigmatic—answer. “Everybody thinks they can be a DJ. It’s so racist as well.”

When he’s not authoring Grammy-winning remixes for Mariah et al., Morales also tends to his identity as a DJ capable of sweaty, 16-hour sets. Often powering these marathons are tracks he releases with King Street, the NYC label founded by Japanese expat Hisa Ishioka, who is promoting Morales’ upcoming swing through Air and the cozier Microcosmos in Shibuya.

Toward that end, Morales has just put out two tracks for King Street using his Brooklyn Friends pseudonym. With its tribal drums and keyboard crescendos, “Go Back” makes no concessions to the headier tech-house of the moment, while the hard house bass line and synth flourishes of “Tramp” will make you feel like it’s Sound Factory circa 1993.

Oh, yeah—did I forget to mention the Air show is on Halloween?

Halloween Party. House: DJ David Morales. Oct 31, from 10pm, ¥3,500. Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5784-3386. www.air-tokyo.com