House DJ Hector Romero began his musical career in the summer of '83 in the Bronx, where summer block parties infusing Latin, hip-hop, and R&B ruled the streets. Eager to learn the art of spinning records at 13, he quickly mastered the turntables and landed gigs at NYC clubs La Mirage and Red Zone, where he met house legend David Morales and became Morales' opening DJ. In 1994, he signed on to be the A&R for Def Mix records, and since then has held residencies and traveled the world with label mates Morales and the late Frankie Knuckles. We spoke with Romero about the evolution of house music, the definition of a true DJ, and memories of his friend Frankie Knuckles. He plays this Saturday, May 10, at Mighty for the Frankie Knuckles Tribute party.
As someone who started DJing more than 30 years ago, what's the biggest change you've seen in the New York electronic music scene since you began your career?
The biggest change I've seen so far is the explosion of EDM. It has not only taken New York by storm, but the entire country. I never thought I'd see dance music get as big as it is here in the States. During the golden years of '90s house, my friends, (including myself) wished for dance music to get bigger. But as the saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."
I'm not a fan of all EDM, but I'm not going to hate on it, as I feel it has opened a lot doors and exposed electronic music to markets that would never have even considered listening to it. I do wish some of the really well-produced house music would get accepted a little more, and signs are looking good for that to happen. Also, with Frankie's passing, there has been awareness and focus on house music, so I feel more change for the better is coming.
You've always remained a true DJ during your career, and not a hybrid producer/DJ or remixer/DJ. What do you think of the definition of "DJ" today?
It's very hard to just be a DJ these days -- harder than ever. I feel like I was the last generation to get away with being just a DJ. It's unfortunate, because there are so many talented DJs that have no interest to produce or remix, and they don't get a fair shot at playing clubs because of that. Even I was starting to feel the effects of that. Never say never though, because after 31 years of being just a DJ I've actually only recently become a true hybrid DJ/Producer. It took me a long time to feel comfortable in the studio, and I only recently found a studio partner that allows me to be creative as I can. His name is Raffa Scoccia, and together we produce under Moon Rocket & Romero. I can finally contribute and express what's on my mind through Raffa; he helps me get my points across musically. There will be more news regarding our collaboration in the near future.
What was one of the first things you learned running a record label?
I've been at Def for 19 years now. I've practically grown up there. I was young and wanted things to move fast early on. I've learned to be patient with my choices over the years, patient at making decisions such as records we sign, remixers we choose for projects, etc. I'm still hungry and focused at what I love to do, but definitely more mature and patient when it comes to decision-making.
Is there anything exciting coming from the label that you can share with us?
Yes indeed. Morales has been producing an EP titled David Morales Presents Red Zone that takes after his residency at the Red Zone Club NYC during the '90s. David was famous for producing Red Zone Dubs of vocal records he remixed. Some of his famous Red Zone Dubs were remixes of Stevie V, Shawn Christopher, Ten City, and Alexander Oneil, just to name a few. These remixes catered to the jocks that didn't want to play the vocal versions and loved playing hypnotizing, after-hours-style grooves. So the Red Zone EP is going to be fun to put together and should be available this summer.
You've been constantly traveling and touring around the world since you started DJing. What do you enjoy doing in your downtime?
I love to cook and listen to salsa music at home. From all my years of traveling I've been fortunate to experience different cuisines, and I love mixing and matching flavors from different parts of the world when I cook at home. My wife is a very picky eater, so I actually cook for my daughter, who absolutely loves food as much as I do. She's going to be an expensive date one day as she loves it all. And while I'm cooking, I jam to some proper salsa music.
With such a prolific career, is there anything you want to do that you haven't?
Oh, I have so much more to accomplish. I love to listen to orchestras, and it would be a dream to hear one of my productions played by a full orchestra.
Since you'll be playing Mighty on Saturday as a tribute to Frankie, can you share with us one of your favorite memories of Frankie?
I was fortunate to share some amazing times together with Frankie. Some of my faves were during the 10 years we held residency at Pacha, Ibiza. We shared great laughs, dinners, and DJ sets that I will never forget. I loved playing for him and just to get that nod and smile from him that I was doing a good job made my night. I'm truly grateful for those moments.
What's something he taught you that will definitely stay with you all your life?
He always told me to play from the heart and that you can't make everyone happy when playing music -- I'm gonna miss him a whole bunch.
What's a jam you'll be playing in his honor?
There are so many to choose from, but more than likely Sounds of Blackness "The Pressure" or Frankie Knuckles Pres. Satoshi Tomiie Feat Robert Owens "Tears."