On October 15th, the Smithsonian National Museum Of African Art will present the Voguing Masquerade Ball which will include a panel discussion on voguing and Ballroom culture capped off by a masquerade ball. DJing the ball is Vjuan Allure, one of the originators of the Ballroom sound which has rapidly gained interest around the world. Vjuan Allure lives in the DMV area and has been familiar with the DC club scene since the 90s. In this interview I wanted to learn more about DC’s clubbing history, Vjuan’s time in Naples, and the genesis of the Ha track.
Vjuan, thanks for taking part in this interview. I wanted to start with the era when you first relocated from New York City to the DC area in the late 90s. I read you frequently went to the Sound Factory in its prime; how did the sound in New York differ from the sound in DC? What was nightlife in DC like at this time?
I partied in DC before I went to live in Italy and the nightlife was great – almost everyday of the week with the exception of Wednesday, when I came to live in the DC two years later – the same was true! There were the clubs we went to constantly and a new club or night would pop up somewhere and we’d attend that too. The sound in DC was so much more raw and varied – it was heavily influenced by Detroit House/Techno and techno period – there were a lot of Hard House tracks they snuck into the night at DC Tracks and we loved it! Then my tracks started to be played within that soundscape and people immediately GOT it, they fit in perfectly. We wouldn’t hear things like this in NYC – it was pure abandonment for rules of what you could play – instead it was play what you felt and the crowd responded.
Many years ago I had a conversation with pioneering dubstep DJ & local sports historian Joe Nice and he said that previous to playing dubstep, he played Baltimore club. He said that a lot of the foundation for Baltimore club music is in New York Garage records, music from Masters At Work and Todd Terry, etc. Did Baltimore club music filter into the DC club scene in the 90s? Does club music have an influence on your own music?
Baltimore Club is a derivative of Miami Bass Music with the “Think” sample thrown in – of course it has grown, evolved and solidified itself as the powerhouse it is. I can only see NYC/Chicago Hip House (Kwyze, Doug Lazy, Tyree Cooper, Fast Eddie) being an influence in Baltimore club – not so much Garage. My first record was Hip House (yes I got lyrics!) and when I got into Baltimore Club I immediately made the connection. DC and Baltimore, although close in vicinity, didn’t really feature each cities own style of music – Go-Go would only be played in DC – but some Baltimore Club music would filter into DC because it was hot and in those days it was ALL about the dance and the beat which Baltimore Club had. Club music is definitely a part of what I do because I am a dancer first, so to get something out that makes the club lose it is ALWAYS on my mind.
At the end of the 90s, you were part of an exchange program that took you to Italy and it was in Italy where you first started to DJ. Was this a skill you learned in the States or did you pick it up in Italy? What made you want to go from dancer to DJ?
When I got to Italy it was magic, the total reverse of what was happening in the States was happening in Italy – where Hip Hop and R&B dominated airwaves in most major cities, House was dominant in Italy – and all over Europe for that matter – any radio station you picked, even AM stations. It was great! I was a House Head with Hip Hop aesthetics and style. One thing I did when I got to Italy was collect every new CD of Hip Hop that I could – in the 90’s I was turned off by Gangsta Rap – I was always into the lyrics, style, flow and flavor of the emcee, so I pretty much left Hip Hop alone but always listened out for the kind of Hip Hop I loved to return – I kept my ear to the street. I had always collected music like I was a DJ, but never played, so I had a big music library. DJ culture is so big in Italy that almost everyone you met was a DJ, but the clique-ishness of the popular nightlife teams would limit who would become a DJ there. I had so much music, they wanted me to play – but they wanted me to play Hip Hop. I wanted to play House. I was good at playing Hip Hop and got much much better and began massing up my House music collection as well knowing it was only a matter of time before I was going to play House.
In 2000, you produced the “Allure Ha”, which reinvigorated the energy within Ballroom culture and also created a new genre and a new sound. What was the reaction to “Allure Ha” when you first started playing it? Was there an inspiration for producing the track?
The inspiration behind this track is I was at my first gig in Detroit – it JUST happened to be a ball – which is totally different from playing anywhere else. I got ready for this event and planned what to play – very excited. The night of the event I played my ass off, only to discover the people at the ball weren’t moving (dancing) – except some older patrons and the club owner who came up to me and asked for cd’s and business cards and asked could I return to play another night. I replied yes but was confused why the kids weren’t moving, and I was running out of stuff to play and didn’t want to get into the Ballroom stuff yet… so I played “The Ha” and all hell broke loose, everyone got up and danced all over the floor, me being a dancer got pissed off because they could’ve been doing this to the 100’s of other tracks I played. So when I returned home from that trip, I went into my studio room and began making the “Allure Ha” – I used a shady voice, the beat was hot, it was perfect for the new style of Vogue that had become the top category at the balls – Vogue Femm… I returned to Detroit 2 weeks later, different ball, same club, same scenario, no one dancing – I put “The Ha” on – everyone danced and I cut the turntable off so it wound down to a drag – then played my track “You want to vogue femm, you want The Ha, well I’ll give it to you, but not like YOU remember it, Welcome to the Vjuan Allure Exclusive…..the Ha…..girls get ready!”… – and history began that night. The reaction was phenomenal after that, it spread like crazy, and when I returned home I continued making tracks…and haven’t stopped since.
By my count, you have over 40 full length albums available on your website. How have you managed to record so many tracks while keeping up your intense international touring schedule? Do you produce tracks on the road or do you only produce in the studio?
Hahah, there are more CD’s that aren’t listed on the website, but yeah you are pretty accurate. I get a feeling and make a track, a lot of my tracks come from inside jokes with people or things that have happened to me and or my friends. At one point I was knocking out 3 tracks per night with Friday being the night I played in the club so I’d go there with 15 new tracks – there was no testing, I just played them or my mentor DJ Sedrick did. I will lose sleep to make a track, be late for school/work because I’m making a track, leave work late because of making a track lolol, sometimes I just cannot stop myself in the middle of the creative process. I only made ONE track on the road and that was “Wimins Shouting” I made a snippet just as a joke the day before I left for a club date in Paris, and when I checked my e-mail upon arrival the response was overwhelming for a full track – and I completed it that day.
Finally, you are DJing at the Smithsonian National Museum Of African Art on October 15th. It’s exciting to see the Smithsonian hold an event like this, one that will hopefully introduce your music to a new audience. What can people going to the event expect?
I want to say it is an honor to be chosen for this event, it’s amazing how far the reach of Ballroom has come, but we knew it was hot when no one else did. For the Smithsonian to recognize Ballroom and invite us to participate in the event speaks volumes and I am grateful for this opportunity and proud of everyone who has been Ballroom and remained Ballroom even when it wasn’t cool. What can they expect? You know, I am not sure, but it’s going to be hot, my mind is racing now on some tracks to produce for the event. I do know I WILL calm down the cursing a bit lololol…..but just a BIT, we want them to welcome us back LOL!