Sun, 11 May 2003

DJ Nunez brings Deep House to Jakarta?

Joseph Mangga, Contributor, Jakarta

Local promoter CeCe of Jolt Music Management was taking a very huge gamble, bringing famed American DJ and producer Jose Nunez to Stadium Disco on April 26.

Nunez specializes in Deep House -- a more fun, funky, vocal- oriented style of house music, containing huge chunks of R&B, silky soul and big-lunged screaming divas, with heaps of jazz and bossa nova Latin sprinklings.

The kind of dance music that is a million miles removed from the pumping hypnotic trance and progressive tribal that has always been the bread and butter (or nasi and krupuk) of Jakarta's top, late-night disco venue.

Were the clubbers going to like it? Something new, something very different? Or were they going to turn ugly, rip up the bar stools and granite cocktail tables, and start chucking 'em at the DJ booth with extreme prejudice?

Buried in the preconcert safety of a second-floor Stadium karaoke room with Jose Nunez, those were the kinds of uncertainties buzzing through CeCe's tortured brain.

His emotions were probably not dissimilar to those of Iraqi and American leaders, minutes before the outbreak of the second Gulf war. What final outcome was awaiting Jolt's very brave, but potentially foolhardy, Jose Nunez experiment?

Nobody knew, but the surroundings far more resembled a pretargeted Iraqi underground bunker than the Oval Office at that particular moment.

Jose Nunez is a gorilla-sized Latino gentle giant. He grew up in a tough, but not totally gang-ridden, northern New Jersey neighborhood, and says he knew very few musical boundaries.

"The first record I ever bought was ABC's Look of Love (i.e. an early 80's new wave synth band). Before that I had Donna Summer's albums, the classics, Double Dutch Bus, all that stuff. I grew up listening to all kinds of music -- rock 'n roll, hard metal to salsa, meringues, even eastern Indian style (music). I loved everything!" said Nunez.

Nunez had mucked around with turntables since he was seven, but began his first serious music-mixing experiments when he was fourteen.

"I bought a real cheap Technics turntable and Numark mixer. My father had an old school Teac tape deck. Then I would go and mix from the record to the cassette, back and forth, and learn that way.

"I'd really listen to all the sounds and try and figure out how they make these records. What could I do with it? I didn't really think about the DJ part. I never knew that there were these possibilities -- that I could go to a level that I'm at right now," he said.

But Nunez had to first get past his father's dream of his one day becoming a professional baseball player. Jose was a natural athlete; a massive, solidly-built clean-up hitter, with a batting average well over 400.

"I was (all set to go) play minor league for the New York Mets in the Dominican Republic, (then I could) work my way up (to the majors) from there. It was always push and pull, as far as music and professional baseball."

Fate then intervened when a knee injury helped Jose focus his ambitions solely on music and DJing. Jose took some engineering and production courses at a local media college, then locked himself up for over a year to perfect his skills.

"I was dead-ass broke! It was just me stuck in the studio day and night. I lost (my girlfriend) and a of lot friends, trying to get my career going. There was no social environment. At one point I found myself being scared of people.

"(But) you have to do it! You really got to get in there (alone) and experiment, trial and error."

Then things really started happening for Jose in the mid-90s, after he joined forces with Harry "Choo Choo" Romero and the now legendary DJ Jose Morillo (the current 17th-best DJ in the world).

"We'd all been working together for a long time, since we were kids. Morillo was from one part of town, I was from the other. Eric said, 'I really want to start this label. What do you guys think?'"

"So, with Subliminal Records, we created something that just blew up in our faces. East Coast house music back then was a lot more electronic. But Jose and Subliminal helped reintroduce a more soulful, warmer edge (that's sometimes called "deep house").

"We were labeled "funky filtered house". We would grab loops from industry records that weren't really big records, sample parts the were really good, and (then) incorporate acoustic instruments and vocals that would enhance what was there. We would make it even better, take it to the next level."

When asked about the tracks that helped put him on the global house music map, Nunez replied, "I think Cro-Magnon and Erectus as the Constipated Monkeys (made with Choo Choo Romero).

"After that I did a record titled In My Life which, as a solo artist, was the one that really took me off. And then I did Believe for Jocelyn Brown (with Morillo and Romero, as Ministers De la Funk). It was a massive club steamer! A record (that's) still big today!

Through Subliminal Records, Nunez has been fortunate enough to have never had to work directly for some heartless major record company, but has done plenty of remixes for them.

"I have management, so I never have to deal with all the s**t! It is like, they know what we do. They call me. We never (have) to call them. They just (come) and they say, 'OK, we want you to do a remix and (we will) give you $40,000; can you do it?"

After releasing his latest remix compilation last month, Subliminal Sessions 4 (with Who Da Funk), Jose is now fully concentrating on only original production material.

"No more remixes right now -- maybe (not) for the next two years. I'm working on my own (first) artist's album. Make me the money. Not make other people money."

"So it is going to be, 'show me the money!'?"

"You got that right!"

Cut to Stadium's fully-packed fourth floor main dance room at a little after 2 a.m., Saturday night. Jose Nunez is cueing up his third record, after opening up with the very soulful and prophetically-titled track It's a New Day, followed by some wicked meringue-charged Latin house.

Everybody is dancing, the tables are still bolted to the floors, and it looks like Stadium's normally progressive trance- fixated regulars have completely swallowed the Deep House bait, and are fully enjoying the new taste.

The stress-lines were also quickly fading from Jolt promoter CeCe's face, as he turned to me and said, "It's working!"

Six hours later, and that's no misprint folks -- a full six hours later -- the crowd was still fully mesmerized and charging hard. Nunez finally left the decks to DJ Winky, but the clubbers were so into the music and groove that nobody noticed when he quietly exited the DJ booth.

Back in the second floor karaoke bunker, I asked Jose why he had played for so long. It was the longest set ever laid down by an international DJ visiting Jakarta. He simply said, "people were enjoying it, and I still had a lot of really good music that I wanted to play."

So the Jose Nunez experiment at Stadium finished happily on a very high note without any adverse repercussions. And that includes no cruise missiles, laser-guided bunker-busting bombs, or any other potential weapons of mass destruction. If only Mr. Hussein and George Bush could make a similar claim about their gig that recently went down in Iraq! I reckon all world leaders should learn how to DJ!