Q&A: DJ Qu On Growing Up With House Music, Vinyl Purism, And Being A Picky Record Buyer
Part of the crew of younger, rawer house producers New York and its environs have been flaunting to the world of late, DJ Qu--born Ramon Quezada in New Jersey--has lately come into high demand in Europe. He still lives in Jersey, though, and he's been playing out since the early '90s. Beginning in 1999 and for the next decade, he was a resident at the House Dance Conference club night, a globally famous house connoisseur's party that eventually attracted the notice of Jus-Ed, who runs the label Underground Quality. Two years ago, UQ put together a six-set CD-R of MP3 DJ mixes--by Jus-Ed, DJ Qu, Levon Vincent, Anton Zap, Fred P, and Nina Kraviz--that quickly became a totem for electronic-dance fans. Qu's set was the most traditionally "house" of the six, but moody and unpredictable, not to mention speedy. Qu's rep is as a dancer's DJ, and that's apparent on the mix. That's true as well of Gymnastics, Qu's new album on his own label, Strength Music. Over dinner near Jersey City, I asked where Ramon Quezada ends and DJ Qu begins. "Actually," he says, "we both walk hand in hand."
On his background:
I was born and raised in New Jersey. My family's originally from the Dominican Republic. They migrated here in the early '70s. My upbringing is the same as any West Indian family, you know what I mean? Very musical, very religious--very cultured, really. It's not so much about, "Boy, you need to make sure you've got good credit when you're older." Where we lived, right downstairs, my grandfather owned a kind of billiards-type place. You couldn't even call it a club. And all night long, people would go there, play pool, drink, music blasting out of the jukebox--everybody dancing, having a good time. It's just part of the culture, really. You'll find that to be the same with a lot of people from that island.
My mom was strict when she needed to be. She was a very loving mom--a single mom. My dad, unfortunately, wasn't with us; he passed away when I was seven [or] eight years old. My mom was holding it down for me and my older sister; [she] got into real estate. Me and my sister are the ones who are [entrepreneurial], maybe because we're the first generation to be raised in a society where that's possible, you know? My mom was more, "Get a job, work hard, stay there, and try to grow there." We're the type who'll try something different and hope for the best. She liked to play it safe.
On early house music:
In the late '80s, early '90s, in this area of New Jersey and New York, [house music] was everywhere. All you had to do was go outside. You couldn't run from it. I'm sure there are old records from that time that I'd play now for my mom and she'll remember those songs, just from hearing them on the blocks. People would be riding past in their cars, playing it out. You were kind of dragged into it.
I was actually a dancer first. It was all about battles, growing up. When I started going to high school parties and events, my older cousin was a DJ for a lot of those things; he was popular in the area. I'd go to his house and he'd let me play around with the turntables.
Zanzibar was the place in Jersey. It had a very big reputation. It was a very nice club. It had legendary DJs who did so much for the music in general, around the world--Tony Humphries is a household name to some people. Not my particular family, but people older than me would come to me around the way that had nothing to do with dance music [who] had their own jobs. I'd meet them here or there, and they'd know that club. It [was] totally about the music--anyone who went there didn't go for anything else. Yeah, you could hook up with someone--female or male, whatever you were looking for. But for the most part music brought you there before anything else. It's probably as popular as any club that happened in Manhattan.
I was never a raver. There was a club in New York called the Limelight, and honestly, I was scared out of my mind. It wasn't a scene I was into; I was into going to clubs to dance. This wasn't about dancing. The way we saw it, raving was more drug-infested in a way. How long can you stay up partying, you know? What memories can you leave with? It wasn't something I was used to.