3 Kings of House: Louie Vega, David Morales, and Tony Humphries
April 28, 2012
Better than: A simulacrum of house.
It was like something out of a historical account of club culture. You know, the kind of thing that seems so idealized that it comes off as fiction. Our taxi came to a stop in front of Mighty to find both music and people billowing out the entrance. Jumbling through my pockets for a $10 bill to pay fare, I couldn't help but grin with anticipation as the voice of a wailing diva floated out and possessed the desolate expanse of Utah street. This night would be a form of pilgrimage; an ultimate schooling in the arcane rites of New York house music.
Inside, the air cracked with energy as a mass of sweaty dancers formed a near-impenetrable wall stretching all the way to coat check. The entire room was filled with music, and the club's RLA soundsystem seemed freshly tuned to show off its full potential. The kick drum shook the dancefloor, while the rest of the frequencies trumpeted out at a near-deafening volume. I'm not a religious person, but if I was, I'd say it sounded something like the voice of God. Complementing this invocation of the holy was a carefully orchestrated light show that incorporated strobes, spotlights, and shifting colors to match the intensity of the music.
At the front of the room was Tony Humphries, the legendary New Jersey DJ who once held a residency at Zanzibar (a club famous for the power of its RLA soundsystem). Imposing in both myth and stature, he played the role of a gentle giant, smiling as he progressed through mind-blowing gospel house song after mind-blowing gospel house song. Listening to him with my mouth open, I noticed that his T-shirt bore the evening's unspoken slogan: "House Music: Dance Like No One is Watching." Humphries embodied the music, nodding his head with a big smile on his face as he manipulated the crossover with a master's skill. He somehow took the bass out for a solid minute without anyone noticing. It went on for so long that I forgot it was missing. Yet, just as I began to wonder where the kick went, he crashed it back in, causing the dancers to erupt in ecstatic unison, "TONY!!!!!!!!"
Humphries finished his set in a flurry of vogue chaos with Armand Van Helden's "Work Me! (Gadamit)." Affecting some hieroglyphic gestures, he motioned towards Louie Vega to take control. The floor saw some serious vogueing from a group of white-clad santeros as the beat pounded on.
Ancient African chants speckled the air as the iconic stabs of Todd Terry's "Hear the Music" lifted the room into the clouds. A jet of fog shot out from the ceiling like steam released from a tired locomotive. Louie Vega was at the helm, tearing through a set of classics with a grin plastered on his face. His style was more frantic, strategically slicing between songs while layering snippets and acapellas to tease the audience. Playing with the crowds' expectations, he dropped the opening riff from Masters at Work's "I Can't Get No Sleep." Looping it, he let the sax bounce along before causing the entire room to jump with a drop into Cajmere's "Brighter Days (Underground Goodie Mix)." Riding the track out, the building energy in the room was given an orgasmic release by a doubling back into the jazzy cool of "I Can't Get No Sleep." All the while, Vega was joined onstage by Tony Humphries, who nodded along smiling while manning an auxiliary EQ. Effectively, this meant that Vega and Humphries were riffing off each other, creating the DJ equivalent of a jazz combo.
Around 2 a.m., a projector began floating random pictures of the DJs above the booth. These mostly consisted of weird point-and-shoot shots of Humphries, Vega, and Morales hanging out in Miami. There was a certain charm in the crudeness of the projections, though they did seem to distract from the overall vibe. Eventually this denigrated into random press material, with stock photos of the three of them in various poses. Huge moody photos of David Morales' shirtless and juiced body began filling the back wall. You could sense the anticipation as Urban Soul's "Alright" screamed out of the speakers; the connotations of its origin in 1991 seeming darkly present.
Abruptly, the music shut off and the room went into a total blackout. Amidst the silence, the opening chords of Sounds of Blackness' "The Pressure" rung out. It was a moving moment, with people putting their hands to their chests. In the corner, I caught Humphries nodding his head in approval. Ann Nesby's spoken words dripped from the ceiling, preaching to the room before eventually giving way to the song's deep garage bassline and soaring gospel chorus. David Morales had arrived, and, true to the pictures that preceded him, he wasn't wearing a shirt.