It is mid-afternoon, but I’ve managed to wake David Morales. Slightly groggily, he tells me he got to bed around 8am following a marathon 18-hour recording session. This isn’t a regular occurrence, but there are plenty of production commitments to fulfil right now. In reality, it’s been like this for decades, his busy schedule maintaining a position as one of the world’s most prominent DJs. “My family, we all work hard,” he tells me. “We have good work ethics. We’re not lazy. But what I do… I don’t ‘work’. I haven’t ‘worked’ in over 40 years, you know. I love what I do.” The dance music legend is surely playing down past endeavours. Quite a lot of talent and persistence has got him this far. The New York native burst through in the 80s, energizing a club and party culture just starting to develop a new sensation called house music.
When he started out, playing records to rooms full of people wasn’t considered a proper career. Unless you were a club resident and playing five or six nights a week, you were probably going to have a day job. He’d already been running his own parties and doing most of the work, distributing flyers, carrying hundreds of records and setting up sound systems all over his neighbourhood. His growing profile landed him a show at the celebrated Paradise Garage, playing 22 hours for a princely $250, although he’d still often rock a party simply for the love of it. “At some point I started to make really good money on my Friday night. I was taking home 1000-1500 bucks, and thought: ‘Why the fuck am I working at a restaurant for $175 a week with all the stress?’ As the nights got bigger, I started making more money, I was like: ‘Shit, I’m done here.’ I was 19 and I never looked back.” Soon he’d become one of the city’s hottest bookings, but his remixing work is what pushed Morales onto a global stage. A few simple re-edits worked up for his own sets led to him remixing or producing over 500 releases. Artists as diverse as Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Eric Clapton, Pet Shop Boys, U2, Whitney Houston, and Jamiroquai have all been eager to add his Grammy Award-winning skills to their work.
Growing up, he disliked the Puerto Rican music favoured by his community, and did not understand white mainstream music. It was black funk all the way. There were few places to hear this, as the nightclub boom was years away. It just left house parties. Nowadays, plenty has changed. Being a DJ has turned into a mainstream profession. It’s even possible to study the theory at college, but he’s sceptical it’s a skill which can be taught. “For me, I am a professor. I’m a 10th Dan black-belt in in the art of DJing,” he tells me, pausing for moment to stifle a laugh. “I just love music. As a kid, I was attracted to the stereo. It was something about sound, the receiver and the speakers.” Morales might talk a big game, but possesses the technical ability to back it all up. His background is rooted in analogue and like many of the original turntable innovators he started out mixing records released by proper bands.
He says he’s toyed with nearly every different piece of DJ kit available, but has eschewed the comforts of synched set-ups for a pair of standard CDJs. “It just doesn’t feel tight. There’s something about working that pitch control or that platter. Maybe you go off beat for a little bit, or you fuck up, but the people understand.” There is certainly some interesting things which can be achieved with technology he says, but there have been some strange movements with computers. Anyway, why would he want to be concentrating on a monitor, when he could be watching his audience?
David Morales comes from a generation of DJs who would play all night. A place where there weren’t ten acts sharing the bill, in a world where a club’s music would take you on a journey. “That’s what a lot of kids don’t have today. They don’t know about the journey, they just know they’ve got to pump it for an hour and a half.” He is delighted to see what the culture he helped forge has evolved into however. It’s on a global level now. Music has more of an impact on people than ever. Clubbing, festivals, beaches, free parties or on huge boats, everybody is partying. “I’m happy to see the respect a DJ gets today. I never thought I’d be getting this kind of money at all. I never thought I’d be a game-changer. But it is nice to be able to say: ‘I made a difference.’ I’m in the Hall of Fame and I’ll take that.”
David Morales plays Wonderland at The Arch, on Sat 27 April, as part of Brighton Music Conference.