If Miami wasn't always a house music town, DJ-producer Oscar Gaetan did plenty to change that in the '90s. In fact, his production outfit and eponymous label Murk with Ralph Falcon is widely considered essential house listening.
As Intruder, Liberty City, Funky Green Dogs and more, the Murk boys perfected that sultry '90s vocal jacking house formula, seeing seven consecutive singles reach the number-one spot on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.
Consider yourself lucky that Oscar G and Falcon call Miami home. Go meet them at the Electric Pickle this Sunday. But in the meantime, find out what Oscar had to tell Crossfade about how to turn Miami into a dance music mecca.
Crossfade: How did growing up in Miami influence you musically? What did you listen to growing up?
Oscar G: Miami shaped who I am (and am not) in many ways. [I grew up listening to] Benny More, Depeche Mode, Celia Cruz, Joy Division, Mantronik, Blaze, Muñequitos de Matanzas, Ten City, Todd Terry, Ciro Llerena, Junior Vasquez, Yaz, Kraftwerk, Larry Levan, Patrick Cowley, Lime, François K, Danny Tenaglia, 2 Live Crew, Man Parrish, Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, David Morales, Arthur Baker, John Robie, Bob Marley, Louie Vega, Michael Jackson, The Police, Talking Heads, Eric B & Rakim, U2, Beastie Boys ... I can go on and on.
When did you first start producing electronic music? And how did Murk come about?
I first started experimenting with drum machines when I was around 14. When I was 16, I went to a studio and recorded a song with my buddy MC Lee Luv. They basically ripped us off and took cash I had been saving up (from doing DJ gigs) for about a year. They never released the song and kept the masters.
A few years later, while still in high school, I started working with Ralph [Falcon] at his mom's house, where he had a little MIDI rig in his bedroom. We released a few songs on the DSR label. Then, soon after I graduated high school, we started Murk Records.
Ralph and I are childhood friends. We grew up together in the same neighborhood and went to the same school. The music thing came about much later when we had both coincidentally gotten really into electronic music and DJing. Ralph went away to military school when we were teens, so we lost touch for a few years. When he came back, I caught wind of music he was making because I was already DJing. We were re-united by a mutual friend and ended up making a bunch of music. Murk is a vehicle for the original material Ralph and I write.
Miami in the '90s was mostly known for booty bass and hip-hop. Was there a local house scene at all when you were first releasing the Murk records? And how involved were you guys in that local scene?
There was a small house scene in the early '90s. The gay clubs were playing it and several smaller venues had parties where you would hear house music. Danny Tenaglia was a weekly resident at Cheers in South Miami, Louis Diaz and David Knapp at Boomerang, David Padilla at Warsaw Ballroom, Aldo Hernandez at Club Nu, and a couple of other guys were spreading the gospel. We were not involved very much because we were touring very heavily once we started the Murk label. But we would definitely try to hang out when we were home and definitely would bring the DJs our latest projects.
In a way, that "Murk sound" was the blueprint for '90s vocal jacking house, and it's considered a major influence by many producers today. What can you tell us about developing that sound? What was the creative process behind it?
We don't have a specific plan of attack. We just kind of hang out until we feel like making music. We are very openly critical of what we do in the studio with one another, so I think that always brings out our best and pushes the creativity factor in our work.
So what's been going on with Murk this year and what do you have in store for the production project and label next?
This year, we released a song titled "Amame", featuring vocalist Jei, on our Murk label. We released it exclusively on vinyl. We had an amazing response from many DJs and the song soon became an anthem in Ibiza over the summer. Due to the big support from DJs all summer, the song will now be released digitally for the first time, on Defected. We will also be re-releasing the entire Murk catalog on vinyl with B-side remixes from some of our favorite producers and friends. We have a few original songs that we are finishing up as well, to be released on Murk Records. In 2012, we will be doing a series of events to celebrate 20 years of Murk Records. Stay tuned!
Not enough people seem to know about your weekly Tropicasa party with Lazaro Casanova at Little Havana's Hoy Como Ayer. How did you first launch this night and what is it all about?
Tropicasa is a passion project. Hoy Como Ayer is a legendary live venue for Cuban music. They completely respect the DJ as an artist and allow us to conduct our little experiment there weekly.
Tropicasa is a live fusion of house, tech, dub, guaguancó and Afro-Cuban rhythms. I perform on digital decks and keyboards with El Chino Dreadlion (lead vocals and guitar,) Philbert Armenteros (percussion and vocals), and Michelle Fragoso (keyboard and bass guitar). These guys are all accomplished musicians in their own right and we do about an hour or so of original material and improvisation.
Every Wednesday, we also have Lazaro Casanova start things off for us with his blend of deep grooves and Afro-Cuban stuff. We sometimes have some of my DJ buddies drop by and close things off too. It is small, intimate, and pure. No promoters, no VIP, no dress code, no guest list. Only for the true heads.
How does playing in a small intimate setting like Hoy Como Ayer or the Electric Pickle compare to the big rooms you're used to at Space and Pacha NYC? Which do you prefer?
They are both very different experiences but can be equally as intense. What I love about my Pacha NYC residency is that I can take them on a nice, long eight-hour journey. That kind of time allows you to tell the full story and create moments. The energy and sound system in that room is second to none. It kind of makes me feel the way Space did back when it had a main room I resided over. I am fortunate that I get to experience both on a regular basis. I prefer it that way.
As a long-standing Miami DJ, how do you feel the EDM scene has changed in the last decade? Do you think we have the potential of becoming a true dance music mecca, and not just during WMC?
I think in Miami, much like the rest of the world, a lot of folks lost the plot. Somewhere along the line, it became more about photo shoots, followers and hair-dos, and less to do with beats. DJs in positions of power don't take chances and music becomes saturated and commercialized.
The bigger venues have to rely on big, expensive, imported talent on a weekly basis and there are no residents, consistency or new records being broken. The VIP/bottle culture doesn't help matters either. It seems dance floors keep shrinking and those dumb sparkler things are constantly running around.
I am all for folks making a buck and understand why some may want a place to sit and have booze served to them. But I also think there are lots of people who are into a more basic party where there is great music, sound, lights, and dance floor. Those people need more options in this town. In order for us to become a true dance music mecca, DJs are going to have to grow some balls, club owners are going to have to take some chances, and promoters have to stick to promoting or whatever it is that they do.
What else have you been up to in 2011? Any personal highlights?
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I am very grateful I get to do this thing I love. A highlight has definitely been my Pacha NYC residency. I look forward to it every month and consider it a DJ's dream come true to play a room like that in a city that influenced myself and house music in such a huge way.
I have enjoyed my Made in Miami residency at Mansion and have agreed to four more dates with them next year. I also made a return to my old stomping ground Space this year. I have agreed to a quarterly residency there for 2012. I am working on my next album project for Nervous Records. It is part artist album and part DJ set. It will be out early next year. My new single is out now, titled "Fallin'" featuring Adaja Black. I also have a track titled "Agua Bendita" that several of my DJ friends have been playing, which will be available on vinyl soon.
Oscar G, Ralph Falcon and Lazaro Casanova. Sunday, November 13. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.