A few weeks ago, a friend told me that DJ Marques Wyatt will be playing at The Dirty Monkey on Friday, Feb. 16. In an instant, I was jumping up and down with childlike excitement and I felt a rush of energy burst from my feet to my head. Once I calmed down, my eyes started to water. Not mere tears of joy, these were more like the watery eyes you get after hysterical laughter. It was epic. Then I realized that I didn’t need to buy a plane ticket for this show.
There’s a special space in my heart for house music and house music culture. My love for all things rave include the OG warehouse parties full of JNCO jeans (very wide legged jeans once worn by ravers, skaters and taggers), Adidas shell toes, candy ravers and Polo Sport ravers in the early 1990s, all the way through to the present-day house music clubs and festivals that take place on the mainland and around the world. In fact, my passion runs so deep that even if I still had my JNCO jeans, I would wear them at home under my disco ball when I have dance parties in my living room with friends.
Back in the day of the 1990s rave counter-culture revolution, there was a certain code of ethics that was lived by, aspired to and shared: P.L.U.R. The acronym stands for Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, and it’s a set of principles that is still relevant today.
DJ Marques Wyatt is the ultimate P.L.U.R. Pioneer.
“I’ve been following Marques since the early ’90s when I frequented an afterparty he hosted called ‘Does Your Mama Know’ in Los Angeles,” said Maui’s own DJ Del Sol. “It was such a cool vibe, with soulful music and happy people. It was like an alternate universe where I felt at home. That’s what sparked my fascination for house music–which is still my main love to this day. House music is a feeling of love and happiness. It’s a feeling of escape. It’s a feeling of unity with your fellow house lovers. For a few, sweaty late night hours you can be a part of something beautiful, while dancing your worries away. At the center of this experience is Marques. He literally embodies house music. His sets are always uplifting and spiritual. But more importantly, he’s a beautiful soul with a kind energy. He always takes the time to talk to fans and genuinely saves space for each interaction.”
Wyatt is not a new visitor to Maui. He’s been here many times, has a solid group of friends here and told me that every time he’s on a flight to Maui, he experiences some sort of “heart-opening epiphany.” He feels that when he steps off the plane and onto the ‘aina, it’s as though he’s been “re-calibrated with new eyes.”
“Maui, itself, has become such a catalyst for new levels of awareness and always manages to spark creative flames within me,” he said. “I seem to get the most profound downloads while visiting Maui. My soul feels at home.”
I asked Marques why he’s drawn here, and what he’s most excited to experience on Maui during this trip.
“Well, I have a bit of a ‘whale thing’ as they are one of my spirit animals,” he said. “My visit to Maui at this time of year is no coincidence, so I’m looking forward to seeing those majestic creatures up close and personal. Also, some of the best people on the planet I get to call friends live there. My heart people. It’s a win-win.”
Marques Wyatt was one of the few DJs responsible for bringing East Coast deep house vibes to the West Coast. Marques was born and raised in Santa Monica, California. He has records on a variety of labels including OM, Nervous, Strictly Rhythm, Yoshitoshi, Tilted, Missdemeanors, Master Dance Tones and DMC.
If it wasn’t for DJs like Marques Wyatt, we would not have the DIPLO’s of the world, nor do I think we’d have sub-genres of hip hop like Trap, or ecstatic dance communities like Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms. Without a doubt, the original house music DJs of our world pounded the pavement and laid the groundwork for today’s electronic dance music.
When I spoke with Wyatt about this subject, he agreed. “EDM has definitely been heavily influenced by house music,” he said. “However, I am noticing hip hop getting in on the action as of late.”
House music DJs of Marques Wyatt’s caliber are the pioneers of the whole house music culture. They DJ’ed all types of gigs, produced records and promoted underground parties before they became more mainstream. Wyatt belongs in the same category of legendary veteran disc jockeys as “Godfather of House” Frankie Knuckles (Rest in Love), Tony Humphries, David Morales and Louie Vega. I wasn’t surprised when Wyatt told me that those four DJs were some of his greatest influencers.
I asked Wyatt about the early days, and how he was first exposed to house music culture.
“I had some friends attending NYU in New York City and they said, ‘You must visit–New York has you written all over it,’” he said. “They were right. They took me to a club called Danceteria and the rest was house-story.”
Wyatt said that Tony Humphries’ weekly Kiss FM Mastermix mixed tapes really got him hooked. “They were gold at the time, and I was fortunate enough to have friends in New York send them to me in the mail,” he said.
Then I asked him how he was first exposed to the Chicago deep house scene.
“I first experienced the Chicago house scene in the physical during my ‘Sound Design Vol 1’ Om Records tour,” Wyatt said. “However, I was schooled on the Chicago House Sound via attending the World Club and record shops in New York just before and after Frankie Knuckles moved back. I then began to collect more of the Chicago sound via mail ordering from imports, etc… This young guy used to look after me pretty good. I believe his name was Derrick Carter or something like that, ha, ha.”
Of course, Derrick Carter is also a super house DJ, producer and cultivator of underground house music culture throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Though Wyatt now travels the universe playing sets and is the founder of DEEP in Los Angeles–which presents and promotes electronic music DJs and artists–his growing a new music scene on the West Coast in the 1990s was like planting a seed and watching it grow. Though it was never easy, he had great mentors.
“Frankie Knuckles and Louie Vega were the closest to mentors that I had,” he said. “Living in LA, and the scene came with a unique set of challenges. I had to figure out a lot on my own.”
His biggest supporters were actually two of his friends in New York–Judy Russell and Leslie Doyle.
“They truly believed in this kid from LA and encouraged me to stick with it,” Wyatt said. “They sent me unreleased music and connected me with many labels and artists whose records I was playing. New York isn’t always that welcoming, but they showed me love and believed in me. I love them for that. Shortly after that, I boldly went up to the DJ booth at the World [a club] and introduced myself to Frankie Knuckles, who was incredibly kind and welcoming. He took me under his wing and let me know I had his full support while trying to get something going in LA. Louie Vega was the first person to have me play at a house event in New York at his legendary Wednesday night at the Sound Factory Bar. He also came to play for my events in LA which helped bring some global profile to LA’s house scene. After you have someone like Louie, others get curious, so he has been a huge support in our 25 year friendship history.”
The current DJs and producers he admires most didn’t surprise me: Louie Vega, Damian Lazarus, Osunlade, Sabo and Atish. If you’re not already familiar with these folks, it’s time to update your Soundcloud and Mixcloud accounts.
In addition to house music, Wyatt enjoys playing many types of music. “I like music of all tempos, but definitely gravitate towards vocals (done right), tribal drums, rich instrumentation, ethnic chants or something with a shamanic feel that evokes a feeling of ritual,” he said. “All things deep.”
There are many common misconceptions about house music as a genre, like when you talk to someone who’s not a house music fan and they reply with some kind of “doot, doot, doot-oonce, oonce, oonce” kind of commentary. Thing is, house music is not so basic. It’s more like a family tree with original branches that reach to deep house, tech house, techno, breakbeat, jungle, drum and bass, ambient, downtempo, trance, progressive and more.
The origins of house music actually derive from jazz, soul, funk, disco, Philly sound, classic rock, ‘80s industrial and electro wave music. When people find themselves in the company of a DJ like Marques Wyatt, the experience can become surreal. While listening to the music, you start to recognize beats and tracks; you feel the vibe and soak up the energy, and soon all is good. Being surrounded by people who uphold the values of P.L.U.R. (whether they know it or not), is an instant hot shot of community.
For the past 20 years, Wyatt has been consistently promoting his DEEP party in LA. It’s quite spectacular that even through house music’s many ebbs and flows, he’s kept the party going strong.
“It’s been quite the journey that’s inspired me to grow in ways I could have never imagined,” he said. “If there was one word that comes to mind that should remain at the forefront of my consciousness, it would be trust.”
A whirlwind of amazing artists and DJs have graced DEEP parties: Frankie Knuckles, Louie Vega, David Morales, Kerri Chandler, Dixon, Amé, The Martinez Brothers, Black Coffee, Mark Farina, Doc Martin, Miguel Migs, Osunlade and Hyenah. In fact, many artists have also had their debuts at DEEP. Wyatt and two friends (Orlando & Paul) are also considered innovators of the Acid Jazz movement in LA via their weekly event BRASS. Through that musical endeavor, acts like Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies, Digable Planets and more got some of their first breaks at BRASS. In fact, Wyatt also toured with Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies in support of a few of their U.S. tour dates.
But even my research into DEEP hit a wall, and at one point I was curious as to whether DEEP was also a record label.
“Hmmm… did you sneak a peek at my vision board?” Wyatt told me. “At the moment, DEEP is a brand that currently produces music driven experiences. My favorite thing about DEEP is that we bring all types of people together who share a common love for music. It is and always has been a haven for self expression, connection and release. With regard to our goals, we are always in search of new ways to spread the aural love by not just having parties but by creating memorable experiences.”
In conjunction with DEEP, Wyatt and his team are also philanthropists. In January, Wyatt and his DEEP community participated in the 2018 Skid Row Carnival of Love in Los Angeles. It’s a community event that offers resources, a day of support and fun for homeless residents.
“I’ve always wanted to use DEEP as a platform to serve the community beyond providing a place to dance,” he said. “We wanted to support/promote charity and give back. Last year, we really stepped up our game, as so many needed help. We did fundraisers for Standing Rock, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Northern and Southern California wildfires, The Children’s Hospital of LA, The American Diabetes Association, and we recently became one of the sponsors for The Skid Row Carnival of Love for the homeless here in Downtown LA. Currently, we are en route to making our philanthropic branch of DEEP–DEEP Cares–an official nonprofit. I am also a vegan who believes in animal rights. I don’t believe in judging others whom aren’t; I’d rather lead by example and try to educate those interested.”
Back on the topic of the house music circuit, I was curious about how Marques feels about the huge transitions that the scene has experienced in the past 25 or so years. In the past, DJs would schlep record bags and crates with them all around the world. These days, a DJ playing vinyl records (as Marques still regularly does) is considered something nostalgic.
“I refuse to be one of those disgruntled veteran DJ’s who isn’t willing to accept change,” Wyatt said. “I don’t miss lugging records. However, I do have a monthly all-vinyl-night called “REMEMBER?” to stay connected with my roots because I love vinyl. It’s my first love. Those events are actually some of the most fun nights we have at DEEP. However, I find using flash drives very convenient as well–especially at festivals when the elements may present issues. At the end of the day, it’s the music you choose that will speak loudest.”
I also asked Wyatt if he misses the energy of the OG rave days. I wanted to know if he still feels the P.L.U.R. essence in the current rave/house music culture.
“I think at festivals, P.L.U.R. is something need not be said, because it’s most often the standard way of being,” Wyatt said. “Which is why I like to play festivals most. Festival culture has come into its own, as well as events at clubs that are able to reflect a like vibration. Some of my favorite festivals are Burning Man, Lighting In A Bottle, Desert Hearts, Genius Loci, RHA Festival and Symbiosis Gathering. As far as venues, Output in Brooklyn, Union, The Standard Rooftop & Sound Nightclub in LA, The Great Northern & Public Works in San Francisco and Souleil & Spin Nightclub in San Diego. There are so many!”
In addition to playing throughout the U.S., Wyatt told me he loves playing in California because he believes that there’s something special happening in music there right now. He also loves playing throughout Mexico, Canada and plans on adding more venues in Europe to his schedule this year.
My final question to Wyatt was what he would say to a new, passionate and up-and-coming DJ.
“Stay true to yourself,” he said. “Nothing is worth compromising that which is uniquely you. You never want to be afraid to look at yourself in the mirror, as a result of trying to be someone or something else. As they say, you can only be the second best anyone else, if that.”
Tickets to Marques Wyatt’s show at The Dirty Monkey are $15-20. Go to Marqueswyattonmaui.eventbrite.com to purchase pre-sale tickets.
With DJ Scotty Boy
Friday, Feb. 16
The Dirty Monkey
844 Front St., Lahaina
Cover design: Darris Hurst
Cover photo: Galen Oakes