Whether it’s Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Annie Lennox or U2, few of today’s music megastars have gone without one thing in their discographies: a David Morales remix. For two decades, Morales’s gifted hand has been at the forefront of club culture the world over and he shows no signs of slowing down, be it DJing, remixing in the studio, spinning in his own clubs or designing their sound systems.
Recently, Morales took the reins of the former Boa at 270 Spadina Ave and relaunched the much-improved space as Sonic, the Toronto counterpart to sister club Stereo in Montreal. While much fuss has been made over Sonic, Morales is a little more down to earth about it all. “She’s not bad,” he says, referring to Sonic in his affable Brooklyn manner. “It’s definitely a work in progress. It’s like a new car, you gotta break ‘er in!”
It is patently clear that Morales has high hopes for Sonic and its place in Toronto’s club scene. Why Toronto? “My first gig in Canada was back in ’85 at the Twilight Zone in Toronto. Now, I don’t know if people under a certain age will remember that, but that place was just the absolute best, best party in the city and one of the best in the country, probably. There was nowhere else like it.
“So I’ve been in Montreal for seven years now and it’s just amazing, the feel of the city — and it’s that same feeling inside Stereo. I seem to have adopted Canada as my home away from home. I never thought about opening a club at all, never mind it being in Canada. And I love the Canadian audience but I find the crowd more open-minded in Europe than they are in the States. But to me Montreal is the most open-minded city to play in. I try not to play different, but in some places I can be more experimental.”
It’s been a wild ride for Morales, a native son of Brooklyn’s Puerto Rican community. “I was a kid and I just loved music. No one really inspired me to DJ but I was just inspired by so much music out there: Donna Summer, The O’Jays, First Choice, Barry White to name a few… actually, this record by [UK funk band] Imagination, Body Talk, that one was huge for me. Then I’d do a remix and bring it in and play it and they’d tell me, ‘It’s off-key.’ And I’d say ‘Off-key? What’s that mean?’ I mean, I don’t come from music, so who cares if it’s off-key if it sounds good!”
His musical ear was quickly recognized by recording artists and fans. Within a few years, Morales was busy crafting dance-floor smashes for the likes of Whitney Houston (“Love Will Save The Day”), Madonna (“Deeper And Deeper”), U2 (“Lemon” and “Discotheque”), Inner City (“Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”) and Mariah Carey (“Dream Lover” and his Grammy-nominated “Fantasy” remix) among countless others. His discography is unrivalled and his musical influence astounding. Any regular or semiregular night clubber has at one point or another danced to something Morales has crafted.
Morales says that his 1993 Mariah Carey “Dreamlover” remix “changed the art of remixing. They’d give me this song — a Mariah song, you know, it’s pop — and I’d go, ‘Well, if you want me to do this, we’re gonna have to change a few things to make it work.’ Basically, it would be a rewrite of the song — so Mariah would agree to this, and come in and redo the vocal, change the key and the end result would be completely different.” Following “Dreamlover,” the practice of making radically different versions of songs for remixes became common in clubs.
His groundbreaking early ’90s remixes led to an ever-increasing demand for his talents, both in the studio and as a club DJ. Despite the money and fame that DJing at this level can provide, Morales won’t remix a song he dislikes, even if offered a considerably large sum. “You have to do this because of the music, and believe in it and what you are doing. Once you stop that, it’s lost. There’s still a lot I want to do.” Asked who he’d like to work with or produce but hasn’t yet, he is quick to answer. “Patti LaBelle. Chaka Khan.”
How does Morales relax when not DJing or hard at work in the studio? “Well, I don’t… maybe watch TV. There is a price to pay for all the working, and that’s my social life. But who’s to say that working all the time is wrong?”