This is a semi-autobiographical introduction for a brilliant musical talent, so please forgive me if I go off on tangents, I’d just like to set the stage for what this specific artist means to me personally.
To make it in the music industry, you must have extremely thick skin and be extremely intelligent. Those that are not inevitably fall by the wayside, and most of the time the brilliant and super talented do too. To make it in Dance music in the late 80’s early 90’s in NYC was considered (even by it’s stars and leaders) to be almost idiotic. There was no label support, no producer/artist blueprints to follow, and worst of all – very little money to be made if any. Even the earliest mega-stars of House Music had to find a way to get to Europe if they wanted recognition.
One of my favorite early House Music stories is the one that I heard about the legendary, genre-defining producer Todd Terry. Todd stormed the NYC and global house music scene in the late eighties with his hard edged, sample driven computer sequenced dance tracks that had no intention of trying to get on the radio at all. He made an art out of choosing the proper sample with the proper message or proper synth stab or percussive hit or sound – and influenced a generation of young producers, while completely taking what was the status-quo to the next level. At the height of his early newfound fame Todd apparently couldn’t even get in to the clubs he was supposed to perform at, they had no clue who he was, wouldn’t even entertain the pleading Terry, meanwhile you could hear ‘Back 2 The Beat’ blaring from the speakers inside the club. Priceless.
I had a good connection in the business myself, he worked A & R for several major commercial record labels and gave us ‘Finally’ by Ce Ce Peniston back in the day. We were good friends and one night he took me out to dinner (on Sony music’s tab of course) and took it upon himself to break shit down for my dumb ass. “…Uri why why why are you still doing House Music? There is NO MONEY IN HOUSE MUSIC, you should be producing Hip Hop, man! That’s what’s gonna blow up in the next few years! Why don’t you do that? You’re an amazing drummer blah blah blah…” I went on to tell him how Rappers would NEVER let themselves go commercial, Q-Tip said, ‘Rap is not pop, if you call it that we’ll STOP’ he was crazy if he thought midwestern white people would ever listen to rap! I was wrong obviously but not about the what would happen to good rappers. You almost never hear them these days (and all the Jay-Z and Biggie and Shmiggie fans please hold your breath – I’ve got three words for you: Ultramagnetic. Rakim. Posdnous.) But seriously, what a good friend to take time out of his day to try to ‘help’ me out that way, but I thought it was hilarious that he thought I didn’t know that already!!!
House Music is a drug worse than cigarettes, worse than Heroin. Simple, you say? Repetitive, you say? Yes to both. If you get hooked there is no turning back. That is actually how House Music escaped it’s birth in what was initially a profoundly influential and original underground Gay Culture that had to claw it’s way into existence tooth and nail, not like the cartoon queer eye version you see on every single reality show today, now that it’s been exposed and absorbed back in to the system. To be a straight man at a gay event back then took equal bravery on both parties. No self respecting gay man would allow a straight man or woman into a House Music party back then. I mean you really couldn’t blame them after what happened when popular music first stole Disco from them in the 70’s and what lead to beatings and police brutality. Gays couldn’t have been happier when the world finally turned on disco and other black music. They could finally have it back after popular culture had it’s way with it. After Ethel Merman put out a disco track. After ‘Disco Duck‘. You really couldn’t blame them for treating dance music much the way Smeagol coveted his ‘precious’.
But there were a few people in the semi-early days that were tired of being labeled by anyone or anything, gay or straight, black or white, left or right. These are the same people who were into Sly Stone in the 70’s and Prince and the Revolution in the 80’s prior to Purple Rain. These people were what I like to call true Punk Rockers, because they fit the original mentality of Punk Rock, and in my opinion these musicians, producers, dancers, voguers, designers, club kids, freaks understood the original message of Punk Rock before the world distorted it and made it uniform was simple, and it echos today in House Music: BE YOURSELF. That’s it. I swear! I know, can you believe it? What an ALIEN concept! F**k what everyone thinks. Like what you like. Be who you are. This is what attracted me to House Music. It was like a secret home for all the original people in the world, one freakier than the next. EVERYONE WAS INVITED to House parties. If you were really down then you were down and that’s it.
There already were your House DJ legends at this point like Frankie, Roger, Junior… but the first who really stepped out into the limelight that wasn’t gay or from that world but spent as much time infiltrating it as I did for that House Music fix, was actually born of heavy metal roots, not gospel. Not disco. I remember the first track I heard by him; Liquid Bass on Vicious Muzik Records was produced so well, the kick drum was so deep that it started to make me nauseous. I remember the great character art drawn on the B-side of the record was like a fuzz ball creature with a goofy, twisted smile on it’s face and I laughed immediately. I thought most people would put this record down upon seeing that, thinking it was weird and get turned off by it. I played it right away! It blew my mind, it was next level shit. It thundered through the first few bars the way heavy metal does when Metallica would slow down the drums on a riff to half time to get everybody worked up and slam dancing like they do in the song ‘Disposable Heroes’… it had great percussion, and percussion parts more along the lines of Trevor Horn, my favorite music producer of all time, but like he was on ACID!
The next release Frozen Bass was even better. It followed the same formula, but had these sick haunting bells in it, and when it broke down in the middle of the track, it slowed down to my favorite hip hop beat of all time, “Take Me To the Mardi Gras” by Bob James, or the drum beat from “Peter Piper” by Run-DMC in the middle. BRILLIANT. I was sold. I was a fan. The man was legendary DJ/Producer/Musician JOHNNY VICIOUS.
His career spans almost two decades, he’s remixed everyone from Jocelyn Brown to Madonna, he is almost single-handily responsible for House Music branching out into the suburbs joining gay & straight, queen and guido, developing and molding the genre into the machine it is today. If you still don’t know who I mean why don’t you take a listen to his legendary vocal track “Someone To Hold” by Veronica or dive deeper and listen to his B-Side remix of “Let’s Go All The Way” by React. Vicious pretty much invented the direction House’s sub genre Progressive House took, developing what would be the standard 90’s ‘circus’ or ‘carousel’ techno synth sound that dominated the genre then and is now being played in pop music, about twenty years later.
Twenty years later, he is one of very few artists that have managed to survive, reinvent themselves, and consistently release quality music. For me he’s one of the few artists who’s tracks are always on hand, that never fail. I’ve had the privilege of working for and with Johnny over the years and I’ve learned countless things from him that I am grateful for.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview ‘Vish’ for WAREHOUSE, and it went a little something like this:
DJ URI DALAL: So how did it all begin?
JOHNNY VICIOUS: I was at a party when I was 17 in New Jersey and my friend Henry was way too f**ked up to play records, there were a couple hundred people there and it was a nice DJ set up in a hotel. I knew all the songs from dancing to them at the clubs. So I said, “…What the hell!” and from then on I was hooked.
URI: What gave you that initial push to become a DJ?
URI: How did you get your ‘stage’ name?
VISH: ‘Vicious’ came from the owners of a club in Long Branch, New Jersey called Tsunami. Hollywood and Beada gave me the name after we went through hundreds, but only because there were 50 Dj Johnnys at the time. 😛
URI: Out of all the tracks in your crate, which one never fails?
VISH: I always play my mashup of ‘Show One Love’ and ‘Show Me Love’, but classics night is definitely Mike Macaluso’s “Final Chapter Vs. Apotheosis” Its a mashup that Mike did and gave to me.
URI: How do you see the scene 5 years from now?
VISH: Hopefully a lot like it was 10 years ago. Five Mega clubs open at the same time with 2k plus people attending every Friday and Saturday night, plus weekly nights like limelight had on Wednesdays. Its not the same now because it seems everyone has A.D.D. and wants a venue or concert with new talent every week and not a consistent DJ teaching and creating a night that can last for years.*
Clubs need to book $ mega DJ’s to stay in business. But how do they pay them and stay in business with the overhead is my question.
URI: When you play is it a planned set?
VISH: NO. I just BUY my music or get it from my peers and play it when I feel its time. You can’t plan your set. If you have a planned set and the equipment has a failure or you play a the wrong track by accident and clear the floor are you going to keep going with your planned set? Nah… bedroom DJs and AUTOMIX DJs have a short lifespan because of this. They have no idea how to rock a room.
YOU have to learn how to do that and it takes years to learn tricks and get the right vibe to be one with the club.
URI: So how is the scene in your eyes at the moment?
VISH: OK, so I hate to get negative but – IT FUCKING SUCKS!! LOL. Just ask anyone that was around in the 90’s- 2003. These clubs don’t have shit on what we saw and did back in the 90’s. Uri, I know you can back me up! 6-9k people at the Tunnel / Exit & 3k+ at the Roxy with their hands in the air about to go ballistic after a Scott Project record kicks in is a sight that not a lot of people will get to see these days. But back in the late 90’s-2003 I had it every week.
URI: I can and will back you up. It was incredible and so were you.
VISH: Now its who has the best LED show or who has the nicest ULTRA LOUNGE… Its too laid back. Plus, what cracks me up are people and the DJ’s that jump up and down like they are on a pogo stick putting the stupid f**king ‘heart’ sign up in the air, waving their hands around in the DJ booth like they have fleas in their armpits, pointing at random people and thinking they are cool, sorry- thats not clubbing or DJing.
URI: What do you do outside of the dance music scene?
VISH: The only things I do are spend time with my daughter and occasionally play poker.
URI: OK, what advice would you give to up and coming DJ’s?
VISH: Open an account with all of the digital music stores because you’re gonna be screwed soon if you think your gonna get shit for free in the near future.
You have to make tracks to put yourself on the map, or your going to be the local yokel. There is nothing wrong with staying local, but if you think your talented why waste it on just a one city, town or country In the world. There are a lot of beautiful places in the world and I am happy to be one of the DJ’s that got to see a lot of them and continue to tour and rock new clubs and countries.
– Uri Dalal
January 27th, 2012
p.s. I would also like to add that Johnny Vicious has continuously remixed hits for some of the most iconic artists of our time: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Deborah Cox, Whitney Houston, First Choice, Loleatta Holloway, Kristine W., Jennifer Hudson and other artists like Beyoncé, Natasha Bedingfield, Shakira, Britany Spears, Akon, 36 Mafia, Justin Timberlake, Kat Deluna, The Veronica’s, The Ting Tings, Ashlee Tisdale, Veronica, Byron Stingley, Lula, Brain Bug, IIo, React, Duncan Sheik, Chicane, Amber, Filter, Simply Red, Aretha Franklin, Deborah Cox, Jimmy Sommerville and as well as underground legends such as Candido, Karen Finley and Shades of Love.
*Amen, brother! – Uri
- Dj Uri Dalal Interview With House Music Legend Johnny Vicious (uritraxx.wordpress.com)
- From Jack to Juke: 25 Years of Ghetto House by Sonali Aggarwal (uritraxx.wordpress.com)
- Not Everyone Understands House Music… (nycdja.wordpress.com)
- History of House | Pump Up The Volume Documentary (Watch the Entire Film) (thinksoul25.com)
- Through the Years – Todd Terry, Davide Benedetti (erotikelectronik.wordpress.com)