Interview by Francis Tanneur
“Photo courtesy of groovemagazine.com.
No unauthorized reproduction allowed.”
Could you tell us a little bit more about you?
I was born in Bogota (Colombia) to a Colombian Mother and a Peruvian father. Apparently my parents, who were already living in New York at the time, thought it would be a good idea if I were born in South America. Soon after I was born, we all came back to New York. That’s where I was raised. In Flushing, New York. My father left us when I was about six years old. When I was 15 years old my mother, stepfather and brother moved a few miles away to Rego Park, where I’ve been ever since. I have a small studio in my apartment where I do most of my work now. But in the early days I spent most of my time at the world famous Unique Recording Studios in Manhattan.
How and when did you start in the music business?
My love with music started when I was very young. Do you want to hear the story from the beginning?
Well, one of my earliest memories involves attending a Boys Club dance in Flushing, Queens. I was about twelve or thirteen years old and I was handed a flyer for the jam in the street. When I walked into the gym, which is where the dance was held, I realized that I was the only non-black person in the room. Except for this one old white man in a white, Saturday Night Fever, three piece suit. He was dancing in the middle of a circle of hoods, which were having fun with him. They weren’t hurting him or anything. They were just laughing and having a good time. The old man was having a great time too. I walked over to the DJ area and noticed that they tried really hard to block him off. But I was able to see enough when he slipped on a record called “Super sperm” by Captain Skyy. He started spinning back the break and it was the first time I ever saw anything like that. I stood there for several hours watching him spin. I also noticed that he had certain records where the label was blackened out. This was so that no other DJ could get that record if they didn’t already know what it was. I learned later how competitive DJ’s could be.
This experience led me to want to be a DJ myself. Especially when I started to go to house parties where the DJ’s always looked so cool to me. I always wanted to touch the platter. But I had to learn how to DJ first. So I begged this guy who was a few years older than I was, from the neighborhood. Rick used to have a crew called “Maximum Force”. I would beg him to teach me how to DJ, but he would wave me off because I was just a punk kid who was being annoying. But I got him one day when he wasn’t doing anything and convinced him to take me up to his apartment, where he kept his equipment. That was my first experience with a turntable. I was pretty good too. After that I begged and begged my mother to get me turntables, which was pretty selfish of me because we never really had money. After my father left us we even had to go on welfare for a while. But somehow, my mom managed to keep our place nice and we never went hungry. After my mom got her first job with decent pay, my brother and I became latch key kids. That’s a whole other story.
But one day my mother walked in with two Technics boxes. SL-5100’s. The first quartz lock model that Technic’s made. They were incredible turntables. So of course, I paid my mother back by cutting out of school in order to practice on my new turntables. I used to practice at least eight hours a day. Then when I got really good I was asked to play at parties. This was always exciting for me because it always felt as though I was performing. The house parties in my neighborhood were always a bit dangerous though. They always ended in a brawl or worse. One night I was playing a house party when I realized that someone had stolen one of my Pizo tweeters. At the same time, one of the leaders of a gang called the “20 Crew” strolled in and saw that I was upset. I told him what had happened and he started a melee that ended in a shootout. I was only fourteen.
Later when I had moved to Rego Park. I only had one friend left. Rick, the guy who taught me how to DJ. One late night we decided to check out my new neighborhood, when we came across a group of guys as we tried to cross through a schoolyard. One of them stood up and asked what we were doing in his neighborhood. When I explained that I had just moved into the neighborhood, he looked at my jacket, which said “After Dark Crew” and asked if it was a gang. I said no. It’s the name of my DJ crew. He asked me if I had protection. I said no. He asked if I wanted some. I said okay. He stood up, took a can of spray paint from his back pocket and wrote “After Dark Crew” on the back of his jacket. “I’m with you now”, he said. Jesus Sanes was the toughest kid I ever knew. With the biggest heart. He was killed years later by his girlfriend’s uncle, shot in the head.
But “After Dark” started on that night. Before that it was only a name. After that it became a family. At one time we had about forty members. And no one could fuck with us. We got into all kinds of scrapes and we never lost a fight. And the music was always good. We even had groupies. A crew of girls that would take care of us that we called “The Krizzles”.
It was about this time that I started wanting more excitement in my life. So I started stealing cars for kicks. Just to joyride in and then leave them somewhere. When my best friend Rick found out he yelled at me. He was the older brother that I didn’t have. Then my mother felt that she couldn’t control me anymore and asked my father to take over. At that time he was working for a company called “Morrison Knudsen” based out of Boise, Idaho. The largest construction company in the world. They had jobs going on in different countries around the world. My father’s next job was taking him to Barranquilla, Colombia. The country where I was born. So both my Mother and Father thought it would be a good idea for me to leave New York for a while.
I went kicking and screaming. Crying. I was in love with my first girlfriend and “After Dark” was my family. But leaving New York was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was in Colombia that my music career started.
What did you do exactly in Colombia, before going back to the United States?
Well, my experience in Colombia was extraordinary. From the moment the plane landed I knew that this was going to be a very different existence. As soon as we landed, the plane was escorted on both sides by jeeps with machine guns on tripods. We learned that we were going to be staying at the largest and oldest hotel in the city, “El Prado”. The hotel was huge and even had a concert hall by the pool in the middle of the courtyard, where they held concerts. While we were there, we got to see Julio Iglesias and Gloria Gaynor. We were warned not to travel outside of the hotel at night because it was dangerous. Eventually we met the other American families staying in the hotel and became friends with the other kids. We would all take turns buying meals for the group and signing the checks to our rooms because the company was paying for everything. It took several months before the company and our parents caught on and stopped it. We ate real well for a while. When the time came to go to school I learned that my brother and I would be attending a college prep school called Karl C. Parrish. I might as well tell you right now that I was a terrible student. But a big part of that was my rebelliousness at the time. I just felt so out of place. Only rich Colombian kids went to this school. So you would see things like the kids being driven to school by chauffeurs in BMW’s and Jaguars. The American kids were all picked up by a company school bus. The whole thing was weird.
Jumping ahead about a year. I eventually made friends with people and found that I wanted to experience Colombia a little more. So I started to change as a person. After the first school year I went back to New York for summer vacation and found a different place than I had remembered. Some friends had died, been killed, some friends were still on the path tonowhere and my best friends, the other leaders of the After Dark Crew, had moved on with their lives.
When I left New York again, I had a different purpose. I didn’t want to take my real turntables so I bought two new ones and a clubman mixer. I took a suitcase full of the newest records with me. When I got back to Colombia I found the most popular nightclub and went there on a Friday night. I sat at the bar and watched the dance floor all night. I saw that they weren’t mixing the records at all. They would just let one end and the people on the dance floor would applaud and then the next record would play. The next night I went early in the hope that I might speak to the manager. I sat at the bar for a while and this guy comes up to use the phone. So I ask him if he was the manager and he asks me, why. So I tell him that I’m from New York and that I’m a DJ and how I was there the night before and that the music was terrible that the DJ was terrible and that I had all the newest records and DJ equipment back at my apartment. So he asks me if I wanted to bring the stuff to the club that night. I said sure. I asked him who he was and he tells me he was the DJ. I was so embarrassed. But to his credit, he wasn’t offended, he was curious. We went and got the gear and records and carried it all into the nightclub, which was already open for business. I set everything up and had to switch the system. I waited until the record that was playing ended. Then I unplugged their system and plugged mine in.
I played for several hours with my new friend watching in amazement because he had never seen anyone blend records before. The dance floor was packed for hours until finally people started jamming the DJ booth asking for the tape that was playing. It created quite a scene, sothe club owner came and asked what was going on. So my friend explained to him what we had done. He looks at me and offers me a job on the spot. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes so I said that I would teach Tony and help out, but that all I wanted was to come and go in the club whenever I wanted and he agreed. He offered me full access to the club with drinks on the house for me, and any guests that I may want to bring. I was 14 years old. That started my nightclub life. And to top that off I found out that my new friend, Tony Jimenez, was the music programmer for the biggest radio station in that city; Universal Stereo. We had a great time playing the clubs and eventually Tony became a great DJ. I told Tony about the Latin Rascals and how they edited tape and did master mixes for the original KTU radio station in New York. He convinced me to try and edit tape at the radio station. But what he did was to borrow a reel to reel from the radio station on loan and ordered an edit-all edit block from Miami. And that’s how I learned how to edit. I made my first edit mix in Colombia. Tony had it aired on the radio station and it was just like a New York weekend mix party. I was in the music biz!
Even though, you had already produced some songs, you did a lot of editing. Why did you make that choice?
I don’t remember making those kinds of decisions at that time. I wasn’t in the position yet where I could turn down any work. But most of the work that came my way was for editing because that’s how I had made my name, initially. My entire career was built on whatever happened to be available to me at any given moment. I took advantage of it all. A time for me to learn. At the age of 21 I married a girl from Laredo, Texas. I had gone to Texas after my time in Colombia because I wasn’t ready to go back to New York. My family wasn’t as supportive as it could’ve been at that time because all they remembered were the troublemakers that my little brother and I were, before we left to Colombia. They thought we were the same little hoods from before. But my experience in Colombia definitely changed me. I had ambition now. I decided that I wanted to go to college, and it was decided that I would go Texas where my uncle was a professor of Sociology at a junior college. I figured I would study for two years there and then transfer to Texas A&M. But I was side tracked when I found a break-dance troupe at the mall and ended up joining them and then touring Texas. We won a lot of trophies. In year two I moved out of my uncles home, because he was too strict, and I moved in with a Puerto Rican family originally from Chicago. I became one of the older brothers in a family of five. I had chores like mowing the lawn and fixing the truck. I almost killed myself doing both. I was dating a lot but ended up falling in love with a Mexican girl. I married her in Chicago on the way back to New York. I didn’t tell anyone until I arrived in New York and introduced everyone to my wife. I was 20 years old.
When I got back to New York I had to get a job to start supporting my wife. My first job was sweeping LaGuardia Airport. All of it. My friend’s father in-law was the night crew boss; so trust me, I did as little work as humanly possible. My wife and I had to live with another one of my friends until I could get on my feet. I eventually got a job at a Steel Company as a manager in the expediting department; even though I didn’t have a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing. I managed to hold on to that job for about six months before I was exposed and then fired. I had the most well organized file cabinet when I left though. Then I managed to land a job as a bank teller in Citibank.
Around this time I was hanging out with another DJ, Louie Martinez, who was working as an assistant at “Sync Sound” in Manhattan. Sync Sound is the top mixing studio for film and television in New York. From the moment I walked into that place I knew that I wanted to get in that business. This in turn convinced me to attend the “Institute of Audio Research” in Greenwich Village and this is where I met Norty Cotto. I used to show up to class with a hang over and copy all of his homework. Because I never did mine. I didn’t graduate because I got into a fight with the editing teacher; but Norty did. Norty was the first person to offer me paid work, first as an editor, then as a producer. He had met a bootlegger that wanted to put out some mixes. So I put together a mix that ended up on vinyl as “Bits & Pieces 86”. I also did “Bits & Pieces 87”. Norty and I never got paid for them.
But this opened other doors for me and I found that could make a small living editing. It wasn’t until I met Omar Santana that I got the bug to create music. Watching him work was a fantastic learning experience. Spending time with him in the studio. This of course affected my marriage. My wife from never really understood what I was trying to do. So after several breakups, we parted ways for good.
Omar & I started “The Hit Squad”. Together we edited many records for artists like, Duran Duran, The Rolling Stones, Samantha Fox, and of course several Freestyle and Hip Hop acts.
Could you tell us what the work of editing entails?
Editing is a technique that has many functions. The most important is the structuring or restructuring of a song or track when it’s necessary to extend it to a club version that a D.J. can play or to shorten it so that it doesn’t go over the 4 minute limit that radio stations insist on. It also is a way of piecing together a coherent flow from different kinds of mixes. Editing was different when I first started. We used to edit on 1/2 inch tape with a razor blade and an “Edit All” edit block. We were hired by producers who would hand us as many as twelve reels of recorded tape with very different mix variations of the same song. Each reel had about 4 songs on it so if you do the math…. We did a lot of listening before we cut.
How would you define the importance of your job?
Before the advent of ProTools it was the only way to alter the structure of a mix. The editor had to physically handle the master tape with his hands. So record companies only trusted a select few with these masters that cost sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. If you think about it, it seems significant that the editors who made their mark innovating the art of editing were all Latino: Santana, Nuñez, Moran, Cabrera, Berrios, etc.
Do you think that there is any particular reason that the Latinos seemed to be more innovating and interested by “The art of editing”?
I think that it was an extension of the times. The whole Hip Hop movement was under way and radio was exciting in a way that is impossible today. There was a creative renaissance happening that Blacks and Latinos were on the cusp of. That’s because the hippest clubs at that time were the urban clubs like The Roxy, The Funhouse, Disco Fever, etc. Scratching, break dancing, graffiti. It was a time when we were coming up with all kinds of ways to express ourselves. It really says a lot about where we were at that time. It was a very creative time for us. It’s almost impossible for that sort of thing to happen again in the same way because the culture won’t allow it at the moment. Radio is stagnant and boring, clubs are boring everything is boring.
Am I right if I say that an editor could be considered as a kind of musical composer? I mean, technically, you compose different sound effects!
An ordinary editor’s job was simply to arrange pieces of recorded tape so that changes would occur, if it was called for, every 4, 8, or 16 bars. The thing with us is that we weren’t ordinary editors. Between us, we edited just about every record that came out in the 80’s. Along the way we added more and more of ourselves until finally, we were allowed to perform as artists. Special bonus beats comprised of little slices of tape, pasted together to create a sonic rhythmic pattern that was far from the producer’s original intended musical vision. We performed little editing masterpieces.
How do you decide the moment in the song where an edit or a series of effects will take place?
After a while it becomes instinct. Like when you compose a song. You can say, “I think the bridge should go here”. And then you try it. It’s all feel and instinct after a while. Sometimes the producer knows exactly what he wants. It depends on what the song needs. Sometimes it doesn’t need anything.
You already worked on more than 80 singles. How and where did you find the inspiration? And most importantly what is your secret to avoid repeating yourself, technically speaking?
My inspiration came from different places. I was inspired by Arthur Baker’s work, Chris Barbosa’s work, Omar’s work. The Rascal’s, Joey Gardner, Andy Panda. I loved all those guys. They were the era. I don’t remember the majority of the records I’ve worked on. But that’s because I was learning as I went and I was more concerned with not fucking anything up. So all my work was inspired by whatever I was doing at the moment. My entire experience as an editor and as a composer-producer was the learning process. My goal was to try and make it better than the last time, but always on my terms. I’ve always been known for experimenting. I was always creating weird and moody tracks that no record company wanted to sign. If it wasn’t for Brian Chin, who was working at Profile Records at the time; if he hadn’t signed “Make Noise”, both Lisette Melendez and myself would probably not had the careers that we did. It all started with “Make Noise”. The fact that it got picked up gave me the encouragement to continue to experiment, to try and find my voice.
As an editor, which important factors determine your choice of working on a song?
I don’t think that I was ever picky. I worked on some big Artist’s records. But I also worked on records that never came out, with terrible vocals and ridiculously bad mixes. I remember looking at it as a sacrifice. Paying my dues. Also, I had to take every job that came my way in order to finance the demos for my later productions. I survived gig to gig.
You sometimes teamed up with other professionals such as Henry Santos, Luis Martinez, Norty Cotto, Owen “O.S. Soba, Omar Santana, Tomax, to name a few. How is it possible to work with somebody who does the same job as you?
I think that it’s very difficult to work with other people. Whenever I worked with other people I always felt that they were doing it wrong and I was doing it right. But that’s because I had such a strong impulse when it came to music. I knew where I wanted my music to go. It didn’t always get there but I knew what I wanted. Or at least what I didn’t want. A lot of people base their feelings on what they know, based on what they’ve heard before. I based mine on what I wanted to hear. What I thought was right. And in a collaborative effort, this is the perfect recipe for conflict. And I’ve had conflict with just about every one of my partners. The two people I had the least conflict with was Omar (because I trusted him) and Franc. Reyes (because he trusted me).
Could you give us a few examples of how it works?
I’ll give you a few examples because they’re all different. Henry Santos was a kid from the neighborhood who wanted to edit on records. I heard his tape and thought it was pretty good. So I started using him on some of the records that I couldn’t do myself and made sure that he got the proper credit for it.
I also worked with a writer/artist named Tomax. We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but he’s the one that introduced me to Lisette Melendez. He wrote the lyrics to Make Noise and I also produced his record that was released on Fever Records called “Regrets Only”. I was hard to get along with at that time and we fought a lot.
Lisette and I were released from Profile and then we did “Together Forever” as a demo. “Together Forever” was originally created for Frankie Cutlass, who I met when he was in the group “& More”. I loved their song “You’ll never find another love” and when they recorded “Materialistic Girl” they hired me to mix and edit that single. We had always wanted to work together again and Frankie came to me with the idea of using the “Sing Sing” loop since I had already been experimenting combining Freestyle Beats with Hip Hop loops. The song was written by Franc. Reyes, Frankie Cutlass and myself. But after the song was written, Frankie realized that it was a girl’s song and he suggested that Lisette Melendez sing it instead.
How do each of you decide their tasks on the same project?
I always want to do everything myself. It’s a terrible habit that I’ve never been able to break. I have a terrible need to know how everything works and I want to be able to do everything myself if I have to. I have no idea where that comes from. But I think that it may have started when I was paying $30.00 an hour to rent a small studio in lower Manhattan to create demos. I remember getting frustrated with the engineer because he was always trying to correct me. I hated it and I didn’t know how to work around it. I always let it get to me and sometimes I would just give up. But when I started to make money, what I did was I asked this guy to teach me how to use his computer. Then I bought it from him. I never saw that guy again. That’s when it occurred to me that I should just put together my own studio and learn how to do everything myself.
In the span of your career you have edited and mixed a few tracks with Omar Santana who is considered by many fans as one of most talented and famous editors in Freestyle music. How did you meet him? Why did you decide to work with him?
I forget what year it was, but there was a summer that I had decided to teach myself how to edit more like the Latin Rascals. So I bought a small “Akai” reel to reel and an “Edit All” edit block and started splicing away. Eventually I had a few mixes that I transferred to cassette and handed out to my friends. They had a label in red letters that read “After Dark”. Well, one of these tapes ended up in Omar’s hands and he somehow tracked me down.
He sat in my room for about half an hour listening to me talk shit. He had come over with an acquaintance of mine but never bothered to introduce himself until he was almost out the door. I asked him, “what’s your name again”? He said, “Omar”. And I remember my instinct pushed me to ask, “Omar what?” And he said, “Santana”. I said, “Get the fuck out of here!” And he laughed. I never forget that. In that moment he said he loved my work and then asked me if I wanted to be his partner. I said, “Okay”.
Why did you say “Okay” immediately? You didn’t really know him at that time and you weren’t very familiar with his work were you? Any particular reasons?
I was very aware of the up and coming editors and he was the best of the unknown at that time. I had heard his work on Leather and Lace’s records and I remember having feelings of envy because not only was this new guy already doing what I wanted to do but he was good, and he had that cool fucking name. So when I met him, I knew that he was someone that I could learn from. And I did. I learned not just about editing but I also learned how to produce records from him. I also learned the value of self-promotion from him. He was great at coming up with ideas on how to make people talk about him. It usually meant challenging someone talent to talent.
Do you know what happened to Omar Santana? Why did he quit the Freestyle business for Hardcore/Techno genres? Because one of his last Freestyle productions (maybe it was the last one?) was “Back in tyme” (available on the compilation “After Dark Freestyle vol.1)” on your label. Once again, he did an incredible editing work.
I’m asking you this question because many fans especially the Old School Freestylers wonder what happened to him.
Omar was always into noise, loud chaotic noise. It was natural for him to go the way of Techno. Especially since many feel that the editors were part of the inspiration for Techno. The harsh insert style of editing was a predecessor to hard stabbing style of Techno. The other reason I think Omar likes Techno is that he doesn’t have to work with singers. Where the singer will get credit for a song’s success. In Techno it’s all about the producer. And of course, the world of freestyle changed dramatically over the years. Omar is the type of person that likes to reach a lot of people. You can’t do that in freestyle anymore.
Could you name other editors that you respect in the Freestyle business? And why?
I have to respect all of them because we were all a part of an art that to this day goes unknown to the public. It was truly a thankless job. We did it purely for the passion of it. Whenever I talk about the editors I always find it strange that at the peak of our reign in this business, the most important ones were all Latino and specifically from New York. Albert Cabrera and Tony Moran who started it all, Omar Santana who everyone credits with pushing the envelope whenever it got stale. And finally Chep Nuñez, rest in peace, was probably the hardest working of us all. He was incredible as an editor and as a person.
How did you start your first edits?
When I was a DJ, I was obsessed with taking my mixes to the next level. Since I didn’t have any point of reference, except for the Latin Rascals’ work on the radio and on records, I went and bought a small “Akai” reel to reel and an “Edit All” edit block. I also bought an Effectron digital delay. With these pieces of equipment I started mixing onto the reel. Then I started experimenting, sometimes taking simple edits and playing them onto a cassette so I could play that back and overdub back onto the reel. It was crazy. Sometimes, because I was working with 1/4 inch tape running at 7 1/2 inches per second, the edit tape would melt in the heat of my apartment. So after I figured out what I wanted to do, I would have to re do it all over again from scratch before the tape could melt.
Now, what equipment do you use to edit your productions?
I don’t edit any more. But the first piece of gear that I learned on was the Mac. I started out with Performer on the first Mac ever released. They had one at Sync Sound. It used to crash all the time. Louie Martinez was allowed to go in on the weekends when they were closed and he would bring me in. There was a composer by the name of Chuck Hammer that had a room there. On his equipment I created Corina’s “Out of control” and Jasmin’s “On the loose”. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing but I ended up playing everything because I thought that this was the way that everyone was doing it. I didn’t know that everyone else was hiring professional keyboard players.
As far as editing goes, I don’t do it any more because it’s not worth the effort anymore. And the art has all but disappeared. After a while I got sick of cutting so much tape and not being appreciated for the incredible amount of hours that it takes to create those complicated patterns. I decided that I would quit editing after “Together forever”. That’s the last Berrios Beat I did. That was 11 years ago.
I have, however, experimented recently, doing multiple edits in ProTools. I was inspired by the first Bad Boy Joe CD that came out. So I did a Berrios Beat on computer, but I didn’t tell anybody because I was a little ashamed of doing it on a computer instead of tape. As far as I’m concerned you’re not an editor if you can’t cut tape. But that’s because I’m old school. Still, Joe inspired me to give it a shot. And then I learned about a website called “Hip to The Game” where all these fans of editing have kept the style alive. There are editors from all over the world. And now, Joey Altura and his boys have a website called “EditsGoneWild.com”. What they’ve done is great because the craft has survived through them. I like that. I produced a track for Safire titled, “Eyes of a Stranger”. The Single version was never released but it features the first Berrios Beat in 11 years, cut on ProTools. As far as I know, it’s never going to be released.
It’s funny that you are talking about this site “Editsgonewild.com” (this is one of the best sites dedicated to the work of editing) because I was talking the other day with some friends about this site, and we thought that it would be cool to see some of never-released-before productions or old productions you did on this site. For instance, I’m sure that many people would be delighted to hear the great “Berrios beat” of “Eyes of the stranger”! Don’t you think it could be a great idea?
I already submitted that edit to the site called “Hip to the Game.com”. I actually submitted it anonymously. But an editor that was from, I believe, Germany wrote that he recognized the style and asked if it was me. That was cool. That’s how I learned about all the other editors out there. He only thing that I noticed about many of the edit works is that they’re not restricted by commercial structure. In other words, when we edited, it always had to fall within the structure and style of the song we were hired to edit. If the song was mellow the edits could me mellow. If the song was loud the edits could be wild. So there were aesthetic considerations that the street editors don’t have to adhere to. So sometimes I hear incredible edits that have been jammed into a song without a disciplined structure or form. That disciplined structure is what was hardest to learn in the business because we were creating it along with the record producers as we worked. You don’t know the incredible amount of yelling and screaming we had to do whenever a record company wanted to remove a new edit because they simply didn’t understand it. As a matter of fact, Omar and I were thrown off a job once because we wouldn’t change a mega medley we did for Mantronix. They said it was too crazy and we said “Fuck you”. So they fired us and hired Chep Nuñez.
In 1986, you started your career in the music business as a DJ/mixer with a series of medleys “Bits & Pieces”. How did you get involved on this project and why did you accept this job?
I’m probably not supposed to talk about this but, when I was a young D.J., “Bits and Pieces” was the name of one of the best bootleg mixes on vinyl. That and Deadly Medleys. When I met Norty Cotto he suggested putting out a bootleg of one of my mix tapes and calling it “Bits and Pieces”. I loved the idea so we did it.
Did you DJ to start off your career as an editor and producer?
I wasn’t aggressive enough to go out and beg for a shot at playing in a club. I didn’t get a club gig until I was in the middle of working on “Out Of Control”. One of my After Dark Brothers introduced me to James Streppone who owned a concession stand at the Whitestone Lanes Bowling alley in Queens, New York. He wanted to throw a party at an old Rock palace called “L’Amour East”. They rented it to him for $1,000.00. He came to me and asked me to become his partner. I turned him down because I wasn’t interested in running a club, but I introduced him to someone who was doing club promotions for Hot 103. Together they decided to hire 12 of the hottest acts at that time. I still have the original poster. This place had the biggest stage of any club you’ve ever seen. The party was so successful that they opened L’Amour up as a Dance club and I ended up as the main DJ. Everyone loved performing on that stage. The place was huge.
What is the first Freestyle song that you edited? Is it “On the loose” by Jasmin (Southway/Easy Street records-1987)?
“On the loose” was the first record I ever produced. Actually, I forget which one came out first but I produced “Out of Control” and “On the loose” at about the same time. The first edit I ever did was with Omar on a record by a Rap artist called Fat Larry. The song was called “Tina Tina”.
During the span of your career you have had the opportunity to produce or to work with famous Freestyle singers like Corina, Lisette Melendez, Charlie Rock, Coro, Rockell, George Lamond, Safire, etc. Any other artists that you would love to work with?
Corina and Lisette Melendez are probably the most important people I worked with because we started out together. I gave them both their first shot when I didn’t know what I was doing, and eventually when we did know what we were doing we all had the biggest records of our careers with each other. I always wanted to work with the other Freestyle artists but I didn’t get a chance to work with them until after they had their hits. It’s funny because they always say that they wanted to work with me but didn’t know how to ask. I guess I’m not very approachable.
Well, I’ll share a secret with you; I’ve waited a few years before I decided to contact you. In fact, it’s Bernie Rosenberg who pushed me to get in touch with you.
I always thought: that’s because you became so popular and respected in the Freestyle world over the years that people (even artists) hesitated to “disturb” you. You stayed so humble and discreet all those years that indirectly you’ve gotten a certain reputation because of this respectability and discretion which certainly frightened many people from approaching you. (Wink).
I’m just shy.
What are the most important reasons that pushed you and gave you the envy to work with one artist more than another?
I don’t really have any guidelines. I like working with different singers, especially the established ones.
But as far as new artists go, I don’t really have any patience for stupidity so first and foremost they have to have a professional attitude. Be on time, be prepared, that sort of thing. There have been many sessions that I’ve walked out on because I realized that the singer couldn’t sing or he/she wasn’t prepared or the situation just wasn’t right.
Among your own Freestyle productions, what are your three favorite ones?
“Together Forever”, “Temptation”, “Make Noise”.
During your career as an editor you used “nicknames” such as “Creativity”, “Homeboy” & “The Man” before to finally opting for Carlos “After Dark” Berrios? What is the meaning of those “nicknames” and especially of “After Dark”?
Those were names given to me by Producers or Executive Producers I edited or remixed for. We always have a good time in the studio and the nicknames, I suppose, are a refection of the fun we had while working together.
“After Dark” is different because the name represents my street family. After Dark is a brotherhood. It’s where I come from.
Do you disown those nicknames or do you simply really don’t care about this Producer’s choice? LOL.
The only name that matters is After Dark because that’s where I come from. The After Dark Crew.
It’s an excellent transition for me to talk about After Dark records that you owned from 1993 to 1996! Why did you decide to create your own label?
Because I wanted to continue making Freestyle records my way. I figured with my own label I could do whatever I wanted. I started the record company with Will Socolov who used to own Sleeping Bag Records. He was also partners with Todd Terry and Frankie Cutlass on their labels. At the time, R&B and Hip Hop were starting to dominate radio. None of the record companies could justify paying top dollar for a Freestyle record that probably wouldn’t get radio play. So it was my last effort to keep Freestyle on the radio. It didn’t work so I shut down after two years.
What is the most successful single that you produced on After Dark Records?
“Promise me your heart” by Joei Mae. Written by Franc. Reyes, it was the only single that was picked up by Priority Records for distribution.
Although you started to work with Franc. Reyes in 1990 (on “Together forever” track interpreted by Lisette Melendez), he has been very productive on many After Dark Records’ songs. How did you meet him and why did you decided to work together?
One day Franc. called me and asked if he could come over to write with me. Well, he came over that day, and stayed for three years. We wrote a lot of songs before “Together forever”. And then after it hit Franc. ended up writing 99% of the album.
Could you tell us who Franc. Reyes is? He always stayed extremely discreet in the Freestyle business in spite of his talent and fame.
Franc. was a choreographer for Corina when I met him. When we started working together he was known for his skill as a dancer and choreographer. But he loved writing songs. He was always good at melodies but I taught him structure. The way Omar taught it to me. We had a good chemistry, my tracks, and his lyrics and melody. I taught him structure and he taught me about the Beatles. One or the other got us both publishing deals with EMI Music Publishing. I’m still not sure which.
What happened to Franc. Reyes, is he still in the music business?
Franc. has moved on to making films. His first Movie “Empire” was released in December and did well. The movie was filmed for 3.5 Million dollars and made close to 20 Million. That’s an incredible profit margin for a movie that Hollywood didn’t even want to know how to market. It doesn’t hurt that I have a song on the soundtrack. He’s starting production on his next movie called “The Ministers”.
Unintentionally, has Franc. inspired you or given you a bigger impulse (with the release of his 1st movie “Empire”) to put all your forces in making movies and to embrace this new career?
I remind our readers that you haven’t shot a movie yet.
Franc. and I have a long relationship based partly on competition and mostly on respect for each others work. He was incredibly supportive when I was at the top of my game. So it’s only right that I support him now that he’s at the top of his game. I’m going to film my first feature this year, that’s a given. But what Franc. has accomplished will definitely make it easier for me now.
How did the New School beat (that you created on “Together forever” by Lisette Melendez) come to mind? Do you know that you created one of the most popular genres of Freestyle music?
The specific combination of the “Sing Sing” loop and my beats was the idea of Frankie Cutlass. But “Together forever” was not the first record that I combined a loop with my Freestyle beats. I did it first on “Make noise”. The difference between the two was that “Make noise” was a DJ track and “Together forever” was a song. Even though it turned out to be a very commercial record, I had a lot of problems getting “Together forever” signed. No record company liked it and dismissed it as just another Freestyle record. And when the record was finally picked up by RAL/Columbia the first thing they wanted to do was remix it so that it would be more radio friendly. They hired Tony Moran to do the mix. I wanted to die. Not because Tony did a bad mix, but because it had nothing to do with what I was trying to do. So I fought against that and any other mix. In the end, Andy Panda fought for the record to stay untouched. That’s what hit.
My mistake Carlos, I forgot “Make noise”! Why didn’t you build “Make noise” as a song? Many people think that Berrios New School genre was born with “Together forever”!
“Make noise” was my experiment with samples at that time. I wanted to use every single sample that I could think of over a beat. But every sample that I used means something to me. From Planet Rock, which started it all, to Depeche Mode’s “It doesn’t Matter”, which always touched me with it’s hauntingly sad lyrics. “Make Noise” wasn’t structured like a regular song because I knew that I would never get away with all those samples in a regular song. Plus that record was about the samples. But what ended up happening was that Cory Robbins, the owner of Profile Records at that time, changed his mind and wanted a lyric inserted in the track. Well I went in with Tomax, who wrote the melody to a string arrangement that I did, and we recorded a version with Nayobe, who was my girlfriend at the time. But because she was signed to Fever Records, she couldn’t get a release. Then Tomax brought me Lisette who I didn’t know and she sang the simple verse for $200.00. We didn’t like each other very much and I couldn’t wait for the session to be over. Two months later Profile calls to let me know that the record is a club hit and that booking agents were calling to hire the group. I said what group? It’s a DJ record! They said well put a group together other wise you’re going to miss the boat. So I called Lisette, who like I said I didn’t like very much, and asked her if she wanted to perform the record on stage. She said she wasn’t sure. She gave me a hard time. And what I said to her was, “look, I don’t know what I’m doing but we have an opportunity to make some money and possibly make another record”. So she agreed. And that’s how we ended up working together. She went from someone I didn’t like, to someone that I care very much for, and together, with Franc., we had a good run.
As a Freestyle producer how would you define your style?
Freestyle is freestyle. I learned that the hard way. As much as I wanted to try and experiment with the genre I was never successful after the “New School” thing died down. You have to remember, the style wasn’t a gimmick, it was my style. It took years to cultivate it. But once it hit, it became a gimmick and as far as I’m concerned, it was the end for that style. Over the years I’ve taught myself how to produce everything from Rock to Hip Hop. But I’ve really relaxed the music thing. It’s not that important to me anymore. I’m moving into the film world. I have a passion for all the technical aspects of filmmaking.
You are always experimenting with new sounds meanwhile most of the other Freestyle producers stay in the same style that made their fame. Do you think that their lack of creativity and the use over and over of the same beat, keys, vocals, etc, is the reason of the death of Freestyle music?
What is your personal definition of Freestyle music?
I couldn’t define it in words. But I could do a track. (smiles)
What do you think of the present Freestyle scene and market?
I don’t really follow it anymore. I’m out of touch with the whole scene. Sometimes I’ll go to one of the web sites and hang out for a few days but I don’t really have the time anymore.
In the 80’s, this music was called “Latin Hip-Hop”. In your opinion, who named it first “Freestyle music”?
I don’t know.
Do you think that this change of name was a benefit for the music?
Obviously if the name changed it was for a reason. What that reason is I don’t know. But a name doesn’t make a style. The style makes the name. I learned that when we were thinking about changing Lisette’s last name to something more generic because we were aware that her Latin last name might work against her. But then I realized that if she were to have a hit record, it wouldn’t matter what her name was. That name would work in relation to the hit record. So we left her name alone.
What is your favorite Freestyle genre(s) (Electro, New or Old School, Progressive Freestyle, etc.)? Why?
I like the new Electro stuff that’s coming from the south.
Could you be more specific? Any references to give us?
I occasionally hear songs that I like but I have no idea who sings or produces them. The last song that I cared to find about was, “I do both Jay and Jane”. I loved that record so much. I heard it when I hung out in Orlando a few years ago and every time I heard it I wanted to battle on the dance floor. And I did. I haven’t done that since Texas.
What is your “all time favorite” Freestyle song?
It’s a toss up between “Tears may fall” by TKA and “Let me be the one” by Safire.
I might as well confess here that I patterned the drums to “Make noise” after “Tears may fall”. If you play them together, the beat is identical, except for the James Brown loop.
What is your “all time favorite” Freestyle remixer/DJ”? Why?
I never really had one. When I was coming up. There were so many doing incredible work. I was influence by all of them. But my favorite radio mixers were The Latin Rascals.
What is your “all time favorite” Freestyle female singer”? Why?
Judy Torres, because she was the first. She set the standard for all the female singers. All the girls wanted to sing like Judy.
What is your “all time favorite” Freestyle male singer”? Why?
George Lamond was definitely the best male Freestyle singer ever, but there’s a demo version of “Give Your Love to Me” that features Frankie Cutlass singing lead, and had George Lamond, Chrissy I-eece, and Marc Anthony singing adlibs at the end. Marc did an adlib that just sent chills up your spine. We all knew that he had an amazing talent. I’m still begging Cutlass for a copy.
Who has been your main influence?
I think that I’ve had so many influences that it would be impossible to list them. I’m still constantly influenced by other people who do what I want to do. Now, it’s happening in the film world.
What would you change in the Freestyle industry today?
Is there an industry?
Don’t you think that your short reply risks to hurt many people, especially the fans? You seem to be very disappointed by the industry?
Okay, since you insist that I talk about it. Freestyle is no longer a part of the music industry. It’s a music that’s looked down upon because the people that created it are looked down upon. And what I mean by that specifically is the Latino. It was a racist situation when I was doing it and it’s racist today. Let me give you an example. Nothing bothers me more than when I stay up late at night and watch TV. There are commercials for CD compilations for the 80’s and now for the 90’s that never include one Freestyle record. And we had huge records in the late 80’s and early 90’s. But I know the reason why were not included. The reason is that MTV had a policy to not play anything Black or Latino at that time. People like Russell Simmons changed all that for the blacks but we didn’t have anyone to step up to the plate for us. So we were not included in MTV’s driven pop culture. We filmed music videos for our records but they were never played. Ever. So even though we had huge records, no one knew what we looked like. So if you ask the average Joe if they’ve ever heard “Let me be the one”, chances are that they’ll have heard the record. But they won’t know what Safire looks like because they never saw her on MTV. They can’t connect a face to the music. So as far as I’m concerned, racism has kept us out of pop culture. It minimized all the hard work that we did and kept us out of the running for anything as Pop Cultural as the Grammy. Now, with Marc and Jennifer it’s different because Ricky Martin changed everything. Now, the “Latin Thing” is an accepted expression on MTV. But it’s too late for Freestyle because it is now seen as music from the 80’s.
Do you have any upcoming projects in music?
No. I only want to do music for my movies now. When the time comes, that’s what I’ll do.
What happened to your documentary on Freestyle music project?
I still want to do it. I want to tell the story from the point of view that I expressed a moment ago. It’s important that everyone realize that most of what was considered pop music at that time was created by us. Then it was taken from us. I really want to do that right. Which means I need a decent budget. Galley Molina from the West Coast is doing one. I’m in that one.
Where did this passion for Cinema come from?
I’ve always loved movies. I just never dreamed that I might one day make one. But all it really takes is the idea that you can. Then that drives you to “how”. Then that drives you to “when”. And so on. I’m past the “how”. I’m up to the “when”.
What are your goals in the cinema industry?
Right now my goal is to get in. It’s really like starting over again. The screenplay is the director’s currency. So I had to teach myself how to write. It’s not easy and I’ve had a hell of a time doing it. But it’s finally coming together.
Is it true that you took some acting lessons during few years?
Yeah. When I realized that I was losing interest in music, I reached for anything that I thought I might be able to learn from. I was in class at the same time that I had the record company.
Why did you take those lessons?
For what I know, you want to be a director not an actor! Am I right?
I wanted to be an actor before I wanted to direct. When I took class, I realized how humiliating it is to put your self in such a vulnerable position. I never imagined that it would be that way. I had to re-evaluate how I saw singers after that because to a certain extent, it’s the same thing. So I had a chance to feel what it’s like to be on a stage in front of people; Butterflies in the stomach, the whole nine. I had a lot of fun but it was humiliating. After two years of that I picked up a video camera and started shooting.
Did you already play in some movies?
I get my ass kicked in a movie called “Home Invaders” starring Yancy Arias, the star of NBC’s “KingPin”. It hasn’t been released yet. I did a few stage things. That’s it.
When will “Home invaders” be released? Any idea? I can’t wait to see this. LOL
I have no idea.
Could you talk about your most important “stage things”?
Important? If you’re asking if there’s anything that you’ll ever see the answer is no. Although I still want to act I think that my place is behind the camera. I love the challenge of it. I think that everything I do is important in the sense that I learn from it. Every time I do something different I learn from it. If I don’t think I can learn from something, I won’t do it. Acting is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I hope I can still fit it in somehow.
What kind of movies do you go to see in theatres or enjoy watching on TV?
I love all kinds of movies. I watch movies to match my mood. Or if I want to change my mood. I love movies that challenge you. That makes you think. But I can also enjoy Austin Powers. I tell you though; the history of movies is so interesting. I think I can study that for the rest of my life. The way that modern cinema has settled into a pattern that was set by the maverick filmmakers of the past. It just very interesting.
Do you have any particular message to give to the Freestyle community, and especially to your fans?
Keep hope alive!!!
What are your favorite hobbies?
I read books. Usually the same books. Over and over again. I have no idea why. Ever since I was a kid, I always felt that I was the only one in the world who didn’t get it. Get what? Who the fuck knows. I just knew I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until later on in life that I realized that no one gets it. I’m using the term “get it” because I actually went to an EST seminar when I was a teenager. My family tried everything to try and straighten me out. And at the end of it, everyone was walking around saying “I get it”. Well, I didn’t get it and it really pissed me off. The one thing that I was able to walk away with from the seminar was the concept of taking responsibility for your actions. That’s stayed with me all of my life.
Anything else you want to talk about?
I think you covered everything. Is there anything left to talk about? If there is just let me get a cup of coffee first.
Okay. Have you finished your cup of coffee? Can we continue the interview…I have another 50 questions to ask you. LOL.
Well, this is the end of your interview. Before leaving you to your duties, I just want to thank you for accepting this interview. You know that this interview really meant to me.
And even if you have other priorities now, I hope that one day you will come back to Freestyle music. Your fans will always be here for you!
This is the longest interview I’ve ever done but I had a lot of fun. Thank You.