Once upon another time, in a very different New York, Richard Vasquez could be found either boothed-up or dance-floored at the legendary Paradise Garage. Superstar DJ Larry Levan was in residence then, as he was throughout the Garage's existence. And Vasquez was a devout worshiper at "Saturday Mass."
When the fabled club closed in 1987, Vasquez took it upon himself to continue the tradition. He called his joint the Choice, because frankly there was no other place in town for such action. And for the next three years, that venue remained the epitome of Manhattan house.
Vasquez, though, had been in the spin racket for some time before connecting with Levan. First he spun at an after-hours club called Berlin and then at equally fabled venues such as Save the Robots, Danceteria, Cat Club, Area, the Palladium, and the World. Yet even after all of that action, Vasquez still insists Levan is his "model for turning the craft of playing records into an art form."
Richard Vasquez: With Duce Martinez, Little Lou Gorbea, John Morales, and others. 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25. Sushi Samba, 600 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Admission is free; ages 21 and up. 305-673-5337; sushisamba.com
Levan also came along to bless the turntables at the Choice, but he wasn't the only heavyweight to do so. In addition to fellow Garage DJ Joey Llanos, everyone from Frankie Knuckles and David Morales to Little Louie Vega and Bobby Konders spun at the hot spot. But in 1995, in search of a little sunshine, Vasquez ditched the Big Bad Apple and made his way to the M.I.A.
He's been here since. And though he's guested just about everywhere there's a dance floor, from Nikki Beach and Glass to Tantra and the Vagabond, these days he finds his most receptive audiences in the hipper hotels and restaurants that dot our landscape. "Clubs have become mostly all about banging noise, and I like to play music with different rhythms and harmony," he says. "Yes, there are a few exceptions — Vagabond and Aero Bar to name two. But the hotels and restaurants are much more open-minded."
And because Vasquez spins "everything danceable except hip-hop and cheesy commercial," an open mind is definitely in order. To serve those open minds, Vasquez started a series of parties called Eat My Beats. Currently, he's ensconced at Sushi Samba on Thursdays and Sugar Cane on Fridays. Both restaurants are owned by the same company, but each comes with a soundtrack all its own.
At Sushi Samba, Vasquez begins with the sedate and builds into ever more upbeat strains of classic samba, Latin, and funk. Then, around midnight, he switches into an hour of minimal tech-house. That concluded, Vasquez closes out the evening with a beautiful barrage of nothing but classic disco.
At Sugar Cane, the playlist revolves around sugar-producing countries, so you'll get everything from Caribbean and Brazilian to African and Indian. "It's basically world beat," Vasquez says, "just as long as it comes from somewhere sweet."
Eateries aren't the only recipients of Vasquez's aural largesse. In addition to exclusively providing the soundtrack for the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, he's just launched a weekly web radio show on dancegruv.com called A Love Brunch. On it, you can hear the likes of the Salsoul Orchestra, Nancy Martin, and the Whispers. "It's exclusively music from the Paradise Garage and the Choice," Vasquez says, "and it's like a Sunday-afternoon flashback of fun."
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Still, Vasquez remains a perennial fan of topnotch DJs, so he's sitting out much of Winter Music Conference in order to catch this year's crop. On his hit list: Dennis Ferrer, Loco Dice, Mark Knight, Claude Von Stroke, Little Louie Vega, and Danny Krivit.
That's not to say Vasquez will be completely idle. This Thursday, he'll assemble a small slew of his friends for a throwdown the likes of which Sushi Samba has never seen. Seven DJs, including Duce Martinez, Little Lou Gorbea, John Morales, and Tony Lebron, will be on deck. And singers Kenny Bobien, Darryl D'Bonneau, and the one and only Colonel Abrams will lead the way. Vasquez will also join moderator DJ Sama, DJ Pierre, DJ Rap, Evan Landes, Joris Voorn, Chuck Love, and Noel W. Sanger this Thursday at noon for a WMC panel titled "The Architecture of a DJ Set."
All in all, it's been a ball for this longtime veteran, and it doesn't appear the party is gonna end anytime soon. Then again, when you dig the music as much as Richard Vasquez, the songs go on and on and on.