Vick Lavender started his career in the late 80's, playing in such Chicago clubs as Red Dog, Sonotech ,Betty's blue star lounge, Sinabar, and The Funky Budda Lounge. He's been a staple at WMC since the late 90's and frequently travels around the world. His production career started in the mid 90's with The SJU, then continued after leaving The SJU and becoming one of the co-founder's along with Jere Mcallister of Mr Ali, the Chicago based live house music ensemble has been responsible for some of the new classics such as " Missing you", Rainy day, Cast your spell, About us, and many more. He now runs his own digital label, Sophisticado Recordings, along with Steven Stewert, and the releases continue to flow. Recordings such as "What a poor boy wants feat Peter Jericho, Respect our love feat Carla Prather," Better baby feat Peter Jericho, just to name a few.
I chatted with Vick about his record label, Sophisticado Recordings, his personal DJ Philosophy and his upcoming appearance at the Summer Oasis Music Festival.
Black Widow: How did your upbringing influence you musically?
Vick Lavender: There was a lot of music in the house. I come from a pretty big family. I’m the youngest boy of 10 siblings, so there is a huge generation gap. There was everything from Led Zeppelin, Parliament Funkadelic, Rufus and Chaka Khan…you name it. My father was born in Santiago, Cuba so there was also a lot of Afro-Cuban jazz played. All of that cultivated my musical tastes now.
Black Widow: When were you introduced to the art of DJing and what made you want to learn how to do it?
Vick Lavender: It was early. I was a freshman in high school and I saw someone doing it. We were already listening to house music on the radio and such with the Hot Mix 5. Once I saw him do it, I knew I wanted to learn it.
Black Widow: So are you self-taught?
Vick Lavender: Yeah, we didn’t have much money but my mom pitched in and bought me a set of 12’s. I worked and picked out my mixer and started piecing it all together. Then I started buying records. That’s how it all started for me.
Black Widow: What was your introduction to the house music scene and genre?
Vick Lavender: My mom was very strict so there were many places I couldn’t go. My introduction to it came through my older brother. He was going to those parties and places and he would bring back these tapes. It was after I got my turntables that I got those tapes. My brother would say, “Vick, you should be playing this stuff” and he would let me listen to them. Between that, listening to the radio and hanging out with friends was how I was introduced to it but honestly I was into so much. I was listening to everything, house music was actually last. I was into a lot of alternative rock, new wave and a lot of music coming out of the UK at that time. The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Early Tears for Fears...I was listening to it all.
Black Widow: Tell me about Sophisticado Recordings, your label.
Vick Lavender: When I started production, people would always tell me that my music was a more intricate version of house music…more sophisticated. My friend, Vita gave it that name back in 2006.
Black Widow: As a label owner, what is your vision?
Vick Lavender: My vision was to make music. It wasn't even to make music in a particular genre even though house music was driving it. I wanted the music to be a fusion of jazz and Caribbean sounds. Jazz was always the operative word. I wanted to make house music but I wanted to keep the live instrumentation and mix it with soul. I wanted to have that mixture of 70s soul, Afro Cuban and jazz. That’s been the goal and it’s worked out for me. All of those influences show up in my music and production.
Black Widow: What was the driving force behind learning production and creating your own music?
Vick Lavender: It was a natural progression. It wasn’t enough for me to play someone else’s records. I wanted to play my own. I would listen to other people’s records and say, “I would have done this or I would have done that”, so what better way to put your ideas out there then to do it yourself.
Black Widow: You have a monthly event, Sophisticado Live. Is this an extension of the label to introduce people to what you do? What’s the purpose behind this event?
Vick Lavender: This is my 2nd time doing this. I used to produce another outfit, named Mr. Ali. We would do Green Dolphin with Peven Everett from 2001-2003 every Thursday night. That was my 1st chance to bring the whole vibe. Jerry McAllister and I started a production group called Mr. Ali with live instrumentation. When I left that and started Sophisticado I wanted to take it even further. I wanted to go deeper. Not just house music, I wanted to do broken beat, afro beat, afro Cuban and jazz records but it all started with the Mr. Ali production group.
Black Widow: What is your role as a DJ?
Vick Lavender: I may not be the right person to ask! (Laughter)
Black Widow: That’s exactly why I asked you! (Laughter)
Vick Lavender: Well…I’m a firm believer that the DJ sets the tone. I don’t believe people that come to hear you set the tone. People that come to hear you come because you are you. It’s not that I don’t care what the dancer thinks but I just think that I can make the dancer come to where I am.
Black Widow: There are many who say, you have to read a room, know your crowd and play for your crowd. Are you saying you don’t believe that?
Vick Lavender: I don’t believe that at all. I believe the crowd has to know you. If you think about it, Frankie (Knuckles) and Ron (Hardy) didn’t take requests. They did what they thought was in the best interest of you dancing. Now…everyone doesn’t have that gift. So you have to know where your gift lies and your limitations. You have to know what you can and cannot do. I’ve always been this way. Even when people on the Southside (of Chicago) didn’t know who I was, people heard that I played a little bit left of what many people play. Thankfully, it’s worked out.
Black Widow: So, how do you navigate that? Especially in Chicago where we are so particular about what we like and what we want to hear? How do maintain who you are and still gain new fans?
Vick Lavender: I grew up out west so I didn’t have anyone to pattern myself after. If you grew up south, you patterned yourself after Lewis, Frankie or Ron. I was west so I wasn’t privy to those guys. When I started playing music, it was about playing what I loved. I tell people I don’t play stuff I like…I have to absolutely love it. I fell into that not knowing that there was a protocol to follow.
Black Widow: Was that a good thing for you?
Vick Lavender: Oh absolutely! It was a great thing! In the 90s, I would do a lot of loft parties in the Wicker Park area. That’s where I was able to find out who my crowd was, what I liked to play and such. I was playing a lot of the newer stuff there. I stopped playing disco in 1990. I gave all my disco records to Brian Reaves. I told him he could have it because this stuff I was playing was the future. A lot of people thought I was crazy. I was just tired of hearing it. There were so many forms of music. You had the Jamiroquai explosion, Brand New Heavies, Masters at Work, Blaze, Joe Clausell, DJ Spinna, and Keri Chandler. You had all these producers who were starting to do a soulful brand of music and that’s what I gravitated to. I took what I was experimenting with to those loft parties in Wicker Park and they loved it!
Black Widow: I’m going to assume you don’t really care for disco?
Vick Lavender: No! That’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about me. It’s not that I don’t like disco, I don’t like the same 20 disco records being played. A lot of cats aren’t experimenting with different disco records. That’s my issue with it. I like disco. I just can’t listen to the same thing all the time.
Black Widow: Oh ok…so you just like variety in musical selection?
Vick Lavender: Right! I can’t listen to any one genre of music all night. That's boring. It has to be a healthy balance. That comes from the spirit of the DJ. You can’t go into a party saying I’m going to play 45 minutes of this and 45 minutes of that. It has to be a feel. You have to have a feel for when you transition. I think all great DJs have different gears that they can shift to. That’s why when you hear me play; you’ll never hear me play one form of music all night. I may get to a point where I break it all the way down and play Summer Madness, Brand New Heavies or Jamiroquai. That’s how you keep the party going in my opinion.
Black Widow: I literally interviewed another DJ who said the very same thing.
Vick Lavender: See... those DJs are music lovers. There’s a difference. You have music lovers who are DJs and then you have DJs. DJs subscribe to a formula. They know what's going to work and what's not going to work. Music Lovers who are DJs really go to uncharted waters because they don’t if it’s going to work but they don’t give a shit because it’s about the love of music. If you are a good selector, when you shift gears, you can't go wrong.
Black Widow: So do you think you take more risks?
Vick Lavender: Some would say that but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s just being true to what I do. I play music, I make music and I love what I do. When you love something, you’ll always feed it and please it. I’m always trying to please the music lover in me and sometimes it takes me off the beaten path. If that’s where I have to go then so be it. I never go into a gig with a formula…ever! It’s always a free form.
Black Widow: You are playing again at the Summer Oasis Music Festival. What makes Summer Oasis so unique and special?
Vick Lavender: It’s like a Woodstock. It’s outdoors and you are in nature. People are camping and out there 24 hours for 3 days straight. Then when you add the music is makes it a 3 day excursion…a nonstop party.
Black Widow: Yes, I'll be one of them out in nature for 3 whole days. I've never done this before!
Vick Lavender: Trust me, you won’t be alone. Once the music stops around 2am, people are still partying in their tents until 5 in the morning. It goes down like that.
Black Widow: Oh wow! Cool! What do you love most about playing Summer Oasis?
Vick Lavender: I love playing for people who appreciate it. They get it.
Black Widow: What does the future hold for Vick Lavender? What do you want to accomplish this year?
Vick Lavender: I will be on the road a lot more. I’ll be in South African and Italy. I have a lot of music I'm working on as well. I'm working on Spike Rebels project. I’m also working on a project with singer, Angel-A. There are quite a few remix projects in the works too and I’m really focusing on vinyl now more than digital.
Black Widow: Oh really? Why is that?
Vick Lavender: Digital depreciates the minute you put it out. With vinyl it has a longer lifespan and impact. I still put out digital. I wouldn’t have an issue putting out my stuff on digital if people respected it and didn’t just rip it off and pass it around.
Black Widow: As an artist, I totally get it.
Vick Lavender: When someone pays $16 to $17 for vinyl, they are less likely to just give it away, you know what I mean?
Black Widow: Ha! True! Thanks you so much for speaking with me and I’m looking forward to hearing you play at my 1st Summer Oasis Music Festival!
Vick Lavender: My pleasure! Thank you and see you there!
You can find Vick Lavender and his music at the following:
I hope you enjoyed this interview with one of the Summer Oasis Festival DJs. Look forward to more interviews and articles as our Summer Oasis special blog series continues!!!
See you at the Summer Oasis Festival
For more information on the Summer Music Festival check out their website www.summermusicoasisfestival.com