IT MAY BE THE center of the entertainment industry, but Los Angeles seems like the edge of the world when it comes to House music. Or so it would seem to those of us from the Midwest and the East that haven’t had the chance to visit Deep, LA’s most prominent House residency, lovingly nurtured by its visionary creator, Marques Wyatt.
“It just becomes trendy to assume there’s no scene in LA,” Marques once told a writer for a local paper, but “LA is getting a lot more respect through the artists who want to come here and play.” Marques Wyatt is one of the main reasons why.
Religious imagery abounds in music journalism – particularly when it comes to House music. But there’s something in Marques Wyatt’s relaxed and confident demeanor that seems to merit it. He talks slowly and softly but with a big laugh. “I grew up on the beach in Santa Monica,” he says. “This is just who I am.”
Marques has a vision for Deep, for the Los Angeles scene, for a genre of music often relegated to something that’s played at the club and stays at the club. It all started for him in the early 1980s, when he made two trips to New York City that changed his life. He saw and heard – or rather felt – Larry Levan’s groundbreaking performance at the Paradise Garage and passed through Dancetaria and other early clubs. Brought up in a musical family, he had never heard this stuff before.
“Back then it didn’t have a name – at the time, it was just referred to as ‘dance music,'” he says. “But that really started my affection for this.”
Just a few years earlier, Ron Hardy had been in LA temporarily, though he returned to Chicago shortly thereafter. Marques on the other hand stuck around, dedicated to bringing the essence of what he had glimpsed in New York to his hometown.
With his missionary zeal, Marques often had to take the first step and wear the most hats, though he was never alone. “Even when I was doing it all myself, it was very organized,” he says. But having a hand in both aspects of the industry also gave him an added perspective.
“Promoting and running my own club, I was able to see both the promoter’s side of things and the artist’s side of things. Much of that expressed itself as respect for the artists who play here. I travel quite a lot, and I’ve been in poor situations myself as an artist. I was able to put them in a nice hotel rather than a cheap one, give them a nice flight rather than the least expensive one available. I could do that because I was also an artist and saw things from that point of view.”
At one point in the early 1990s, Marques was running three separate residencies around the LA area. The experience culminated in “Does Your Mama Know?”, an afterhours launched in 1992 and which ran for seven years.
Deep was christened in January of 1999 at the Viper Room, which it quickly outgrew before moving on to its current location at the Vanguard (6021 Hollywood Blvd). The night never struggled, and seven years later it’s running stronger than ever. “Deep is a very special place for the people who go there,” he says.
Among the luminaries who have made the trip out to the West Coast to play there are Frankie Knuckles, David Morales, Mark Grant, Louie Vega, Tony Humphries and Timmy Regisford. Marques now works with a partner, Sam, who focuses more on the promotional side of things while Marques concentrates on the creative.
“The club I did before this, I stopped doing it because I felt like the vibe was changing. I didn’t like where it was going.
“It’s sometimes very hard to find people who are into the music and not into themselves. It’s become the nature of the beast because so much attention is being drawn to the DJ now. You see the guys get into it, and there’s not so much attention on the music. Sometimes their actions are reflective of that. It’s not everyone, and the people I like to put on aren’t into that.”
I asked him if the explosion of the rave scene in the 1990s, which almost transformed DJs into godheads, was one of the culprits. He demurred. “You’ve really got to take the good with the bad,” he explained. Rave parties “helped clubs get back to recognizing that the DJ is the backbone of the club, as opposed to the couches, nice lounges or what have you. But somewhere in that, some the DJs stopped believing in the music and made it about them.”
As part of Marques’ commitment, local DJs are invited behind the tables every six weeks to play and, hopefully, learn from playing before Deep’s hard-vibing crowd. It’s a part of giving back, he says, a part of building a culture that he believes goes beyond the confines of the dancefloor into the streets.
“It’s about using the music to change society for the better,” he says. Among his latest endeavors to remove the limits associated with House has been to open the doors to yoga, bringing the music into the studio and the practitioners into the club. “The two have much in common as far as nurturing the spirit and so forth,” he says. “It’s really a natural marriage.”
Internationally, Marques is probably best known for the series of mix CDs he’s released with Om Records. The most popular, Horizons, is an eclectic mix of styles that rarely mingle in the average DJ set. It opens up with a hard gospel vocal, merges seamlessly into a smooth Latin vibe and rolls from there into Mark Grant’s smash hit “Girl With U”.
“The relationship with Om was really good timing,” he says. “I remember thinking I’d like to do a mix CD when Om approached me.” The label, which had been associated with more of a techno sound, was looking to branch out into soulful House. “It really worked well for me, as far as getting my name out there. And it worked for them as far as bringing to the label more sounds from this genre. It’s really been a family affair with Om.”
As a producer, Marques’ best known track is “For Those Who Like To Get Down,” which brought the house down as a single and was later the featured track on a mix CD of the same name. He often previews his works in production at Deep to see the effect on the audience. “That’s why I think its very important for any DJ or producer to really try to have a sort of residency somewhere. It’s been very good to me and its very powerful.
“There are certain records that, when you play them, you don’t think they’re your records. You play them because they’re good and you don’t get tired of them. That’s how you know that they’re good – that you can play them and listen to them over and over and still think its a good record.
“I don’t think my tastes are different from the man in the street who has never been inside a club before. The music that I play, I feel, is a reflection of myself. In that sense, it’s a unique style and everyone has that within them.”
His eclectic tastes have in a very real sense fashioned a whole new sound, a fusion of sorts, emanating from the West Coast. You can describe some of the common characteristics – a soulful vocal, an energetic drum – but it can’t be copied or imitated without that extra something, that touch of Marques Wyatt’s spirit. At a recent appearance at Chicago’s Smart Bar, he amazed the audience by mixing in dozens of eclectic sounds into one tight set.
“I’m not one of those people that pigeonholes music,” he says. “I see a set, everything, as limitless. If you don’t put limits on something, then it will remain that way: limitless.”