Niall O'Conghaile aka CNUT TR4XXX interviewed the legendary Louie Balo ahead of the brand new The Ride Committee ft. Roxy EP “Guess Who” out on Batty Bass.
It goes without saying that I love house music. The rhythm, the sounds, the energy, the emotions, everything about it. I love house so much, you can even find me grooving to the background music in a Clairol advert. Sometimes. But beyond what we perceive as being the main tenets of house music, one of the reasons I love it so much that it has validated gay and queer identities in the public consciousness. For real. It may seem outlandish to some, but I am convinced that being shouted at, and sung to, by various drag queens and obviously "queer" vocalists throughout the Nineties is partly responsible for the recent Marriage Equality Bill that passed in the UK (where many of these songs were regularly in the charts).
One of my all-time favourite draggy house vocalists is Roxy, best known for tracks like "Get Huh" and "Accident" with the Ride Committee, released on the legendary Tribal label in the mid 90s. So it came as a very pleasant surprise to find out that the next release in the Batty Bass' "NY Series" label would be the return of Ride Committee ft Roxy, with the pumping "Guess Who". It kinda makes sense though, what with 90s house sounds being back in vogue (literally) and also with New York's current "gay revival" and the re-queering of house music in general. With all that in mind, and also wanting to get the low down on the current NY club scene, the legendary Tribal label, Ms Roxy herself and the Ride Committee's comeback, I reached out to the man behind the act, DJ/producer Louie Balo, who was kind enough to answer my barrage of questions:
How did you get into djing?
I started djing around the age of 12. My dad owned a social club, and had two complete different stereos, and I would not allow the music to stop. I didn't even use a mixer, ha ha, and I remember that one set of the speakers on one of the hi-fi stereos sounded better than the other. It was spanish music, but eventually it moved into 80's r&b, dance, party music, etc... When I finally got two turntables (with a mixer) and a mic, it was popping.
How did you get into music production?
As many dj's do, I wanted to transition from playing other people's music to playing my own. So I bought a keyboard, synths, and a drum machine.
What do you use to produce now, and how is that different from what you started producing music on?
When I first started I had external equipment - which means there were no plug-ins, everything was rack mounted equipment. Now everything is computer based. There is a certain quality with analog synths and equipment where you can actually tweek them, I miss that. The original beat makers would understand.
What were your big formative influences?
I had a lot of ndifferent influences growing up, but I would say the big ones were Santana, Curtis Mayfield, Sade, old school break records, and rare underground grooves. I was always drawn to music or tracks that would make me say, "Damn!!!", ha ha!
What are your all time top 3 favourite records?
"The Bottle" by Gil Scott Heron, "The Message" by Bobby Konders, and a specific mix of an underground gem called 'Take A Chance On Yourself'. Not sure who made that one, but it's fly!!!
And what is your own favourite record that you have produced or remixed?
Well I am well known for producing "Love Commandments" by Gisele Jackson on Waako which I dig, ha ha!!!
But I also really like what I do, so it's hard to pick any individual tracks. Maybe my Boogie Balo E.P. series, my Tribal stuff, and my funky tracks like 'Activator'. Oh, and the Roxy material!
How did you get hooked up with the Tribal labels?
I worked at a company called Eightball Records in the East Village, NYC. It was a record company and record store, and a lot of people visiting didn't realize that, while they were in the store, I was upstairs in the studio. I was eventually introduced to Rob Di Stephano through the label (or the store, I don't remember exactly when or where) but we met, the rest is house music history.
Do you still have any contact with them?
I am in contact with them yes, but their label has transitioned from an actual office space to primarily being in the online world. So it's not like before when we used to visit each other's label/offices, grab a bite to eat, and have person to person meetings.
Were you already a fan of theirs? If so what's your favourite Tribal release?
I was a fan of what Tribal was doing, it was a part of IRS records, but at the time, I felt like I had something different to offer, so when they took a chance on me, I became a big fan of theirs, ha ha!
Roxy seems like quite a character! What is Roxy like in real life?
The same. Roxy is a character, funny, loyal, cool to hang out with!
How did you two meet and what exactly led you to collaborate in the beginning?
We were neighbours. Roxy lived across the street from me in what we call here, the sticks. A group of us lived nearby and we all liked house music and going out, so between the cook-outs, and the beer and cigarette runs, we became friends....
And why the decision to re-team now?
We never really stopped working together. We have so much material that we made throughout the years, we were just (like many other artists), dealing with the whole file sharing thing going on, dealing with shrinking budgets, and record labels closing left and right.
How did you get hooked up with Batty Bass?
My friend DJ Will Automagic from The Carry Nation put me in contact with Hannah Holland, who at the time was working on a song with Josh Caffe called 'Play with the Maid'. So I asked if they were looking for stuff, and she said yes, and here we are!
Will there be more Ride Committee & Roxy releases coming soon?
Most definitely!!! Yes!!!!
As someone who's been heavily involved in house music for quite a while now, how do you think club culture has changed since you first started out?
It has changed a lot. People used to be fixed on one club, and you would always see them at the same spot all the time. You became friends with these people and eventually they became your hang out friends. So the scene goes through re-generation, the people may have changed, but the scene itself is the same; music, liquor, and party!
What, do you think, are the good and the bad ways it has changed since the mid- 90s?
The music hasn't changed much, that is why the 90's sound is so hot right now. There is only so much you can steer away from the sound of house before it becomes something else. The clubs have become smaller venues now, and the age of the superclub no longer exists, which is fine with me! I always dug tight, smaller, good systems-based clubs, with a great staff and cool promoters. They're out there!!!
What's coming up next for Louie Balo?
I own my own label called BATTLEWAX RECORDS, so I have my third album that I am working on and going to be releasing.
Watch this space!
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Artwork Alex Noble