Master Kev is part of the second generation of New York’s top deep house DJs. Following in the footsteps of Timmy Regisford, Tony Humphries and Louie Vega, Kev is becoming known around the world as the face of New York soulful house. Close tutelage from legendary DJ and producer Tony Humphries, hard work, perseverance (and a couple hit records) have taken him from being Timmy Regisford’s biggest fan to becoming his peer. I had a chance to sit down on the behalf of 5 Magazine and have a conversation with Master Kev about New York’s scene, his ascent as a DJ, and the digital age.
So I’d like to begin with the basics. First, how would you describe the music you create and DJ?
Well, the music I like to DJ is pretty much a combination of what I’ve learned from some of the legendary NYC guys I grew up listening to as a kid, evolving into the newer sounds and what I have been feeling as of late. As far as the music I create, it’s sort of the same, in the fact that I take ideas from some of my favorite producers of today and yesterday and try to incorporate some of their style and combine it with what I really like and also what I feel really works on the dance floor in 2008 and beyond.
Which legendary NYC guys influenced you the most?
The three that come to mind right off the bat are Tony Humphries, Louie Vega and of course Timmy Regisford.
Describe how you first came in contact with these guys, Timmy Regisford in particular. Your bio described it happening over the airwaves.
I had actually met Timmy Regisford for the very first time at the opening night of Shelter at Club Vinyl back in March of 1991. I was introduced to Timmy by Merlin Bobb who I also admired from the radio back in the 1980s. Both had a huge impact on my style and me. Merlin had introduced Timmy and myself, and over the years I’ve gotten to know him much more as a person. He’s always been my all-time favorite DJ, especially in the club. The man has an impact on his crowd like no other. The closest comparison would be to Larry Levan or Ron Hardy, I would think. Unfortunately, I never got to experience either of them in their prime.
I also met Tony Humphries that same year at his residency Zanzibar in New Jersey. Tony is a very humble man and a great inspiration as well. He’s the one to play the most diverse set out of all the DJs I’ve ever heard. Tony was never afraid to take chances and was always the first to break the newer records in the late 1980s and all throughout the ’90s.
I met Louie Vega back in 1992 at a party he started doing for Don Welch and Barbara Tucker called Underground Network, which originally started in a small club. It quickly moved to its mainstay, The Sound Factory Bar, on Wednesday nights. It was the best Wednesday party ever in New York City!
Describe the underground scene in NYC in the early ’90s for our readers. Also, what were you doing at the time? DJing? Partying? Promoting?
Wow! The scene was incredible here in the early ’90s. House was thriving in New York with parties going on almost every night of the week. The main parties were drawing huge numbers. It was a very special period because you had Louie Vega, Timmy Regisford, Tony Humphries, David Morales and so many others, including lots of out-of-town guest DJs coming in here. They were all having great parties and great turnouts with people just going out and having a good time without all the networking you see today.
At that time I was more or less partying and meeting people in the scene. I started to DJ at some smaller parties in NYC and Philly on a much smaller scale. But for the most part you would always find me at The Sound Factory Bar Wednesdays or Shelter with Timmy every Saturday.
What do you think changed in the NYC house scene over the past decade? You mentioned people going out only to network. What else?
I think the rising popularity of hip-hop and progressive house/trance/techno definitely changed the House scene here in New York. I think the scene is still good but on a little bit of a smaller level. There are more players in the scene here than ever before, all trying to keep the vibe going. Also, House Music has been pretty much abandoned by NYC radio, with the exception of a Ruben Toro Kiss FM show on Saturday nights. Mainstream radio though has definitely turned far away from House, which I feel has definitely hurt the numbers. But on a positive note, the internet (internet radio, chats, etc.) as well as sites like MySpace make for some amazing networking opportunities and have definitely helped revive New York’s – hell, the world’s House scene a lot.
I have seen your name on flyers all over the globe. In your opinion where are the most vibrant dancefloors these days? Any surprisingly hot burgeoning scenes?
I have to be honest – I really like pretty much everywhere I’ve ever been booked to play. Of course I have a few favorites though such as Japan, as they really know and appreciate the music. They will sing along with you and keep dancing strong for over ten hours plus. I also really like playing DJoon in Paris. You’ll find incredible dancers and vibe at that club. I also like San Francisco, whether it be at Pink or End Up with my man David Harness – some great times there! And I definitely cant forget my main man Marques Wyatt who holds it down at DEEP in LA. I’ve had the pleasure of playing there three times now and I must say he really has something special there! Amazing sound system and even better crowd – loyal and devoted dancers and a crowd that really knows their music!
As far as surprises, let me tell you, there are a few, especially Orlando. My friends do these Hoochies Parties there and they are really something special. The crowd knows and loves the music. There are lots of former NYC ‘heads that relocated there, many old Paradise Garage ‘heads and Shelter ‘heads.
I know the Hoochies, Tamara and Maria. They are good people.
Yeah they really are. They have been loyal for a good number of years now and it’s really nice to see, especially from a city (Orlando) that was never really House-friendly in the past. They have definitely helped put together a nice small scene there.
So describe how you came from being a Househead at Sound Factory and Shelter to spinning at places like Shelter, Deep, etc?
It was a long process. I took a break from the scene from the years of 1997 to 1999. I came back at that time and was hired by Tony Humphries to work at his imprint, Yellorange Records. Tony took notice of my DJ skills after hearing from a friend named Raven Fox about me winning an online mixing competition back in 1999. Tony took a liking to me and a great friendship was born.
Tony took me to many of his gigs both overseas and within the US. I started to meet many promoters, many fans and players in the scene. And from there I started to push myself hard as a DJ, both with online mixes on the Yellorange site and also through getting my own gigs more often. I was also playing with Tony on the gigs he took me on. Then I started to build great friendships with many of the up and coming producers like Dennis Ferrer, Spinna, JoVonn, Quentin Harris, Scott Wozniak, David Harness, as well as the staples: Kevin Hedge, Kerri Chandler, DJ Spen and Teddy Douglas from Basement Boys. It was then that I started to get lots and lots of upfront music on CD. I would get the music from all these guys who were giving it to me to give to Tony to play and they would let me play it as well. So I did, and then I started to get lots and lots of people listening to my online mixes as I would mix a lot of these new unreleased cuts and also blend in classics and ’90s House classics. As time went on, I was becoming more and more known in the underground circuit. Then I started to make records with partners David Tobon and John Crockett back in 2006 (“Twisted”). That was the record – our first, mind you. That got everyone thinking and going a bit crazy. So I took that ball and started to run with it. Eventually some bigger names and clubs started to contact me, and the rest is history.
Many of Chicago’s aspiring House DJs read 5 Magazine. There are a lot of unbelievable DJs who will most likely never tour internationally. What would you tell them to do so that they might have a chance to break through?
I would tell them to never give up pursuing their dreams and goals. If you work and push yourself very hard, there’s no telling what can happen, seriously! It also doesn’t hurt to now dabble into some production, but try and do something a little different. It’s not easy, but something great hardly ever comes with ease.
So tell our readers a little bit about the struggle you went through. What would you say were the toughest times to persevere in pursuit of your music career?
It’s kind of tough when you are busy for a while and then everything slows down. You sometimes start to think maybe no one wants to book you anymore. Back then it would bother me more. When it happens now I just chalk it up to the fact I need to get back into the lab and try and make another hit. By the time you’re finished working on a couple of projects, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised to find the gigs coming back your way.
Describe your relationship with radio – both traditional and internet. You have an internet radio show. It seems you’ve been heavily influenced by radio as well.
Radio has really helped cultivate my sound dating way back to the late ’70s through the early- to mid-’90s. Internet radio shows, although a dime a dozen now, are really spreading the new music and the vibe much more globally than any other traditional radio station. As for me with radio, I started playing for a friend named Samuel Acosta aka Sammyrock for a small music site called CyberJamz back in 2004. Well, here it is four years later and CyberJamz has grown much more than possibly I, or most, would have ever thought possible.
What does your next set of big goals look like? Where do you want to be in a decade?
My next set of goals is to make some more good music and of course try to score that really huge hit. Who knows – a Grammy would be nice. [laughs]
Where do I want to be in a decade? Hmmm, good question – preferably somewhere away from the cold and in a more tropical climate.
As far as the music goes, I’m not sure but I figured I would do this until it becomes not fun anymore, if that is even possible. If the fun stops then it will most likely be time for a change, but for now I’m loving the ride!
What releases should our readers be on the look out for?
Just recently released on Traxsource is a track I did with Abicah Soul called “Kora” on Iwannai Records. Also, a remix I did with Scott Wozniak for a David Harness track called “The Rhythm” was also just released on Traxsource. In the near future Abicah Soul and I will be finishing up a Nuwambe Project remix to shop and I will be back in the studio working on some brand new stuff with Scott Wozniak.
Speaking of Traxsource – please weigh in on the issue of digital record stores replacing vinyl stores. I have heard the argument made that download stores have made it too easy to put out a record and have killed the natural selection of the recording industry. (I wont print his name for fear of his Traxsource account being cancelled.) What is your take?
Well, I guess that is true in the sense that as much as we should embrace the technology and being able to play sets either from CDs or laptops, in a way it has hurt the record industry.
Now I’m not saying Traxsource, per se – I’m saying file sharing. Traxsource I believe has helped as well as Beatport and many other download sites. With the mass production of the music nowadays, its become much more convenient to obtain so-called “exclusive” tracks up front from Traxsource. Back in the day, one had to wait sometimes months and in some cases a year or more for the vinyl release to drop.
Now if there was something that could be done with random file sharing or people hacking others hard drives for music, maybe there could be money to be made for making records now. It’s getting to the point now that the money is just not there anymore and people are making and selling records almost for free these days.
Interview conducted by Jeremiah Seraphine.