Discovering the Masters at Ministry in 93

A name has never rang out more true in the house music scene than Masters at Work. A moniker that 25 years ago could have been seen as misplaced arrogance, today looks more like a statement of intent from Kenny Dope and Louie Vega.

Their latest anthology ‘House Masters Vol.2’ on Defected really is a once in a lifetime compilation. Nobody in the house scene has anywhere near the body of quality releases that Masters at Work have piled up of the years, it’s truly astounding. This compilation features FORTY sublime cuts from Masters at Work, including classics like Runaway, Brighter Days, To Be In Love and remixes of such luminaries as 4Hero, Soul II Soul, Donna Summer, George Benson and Incognito.

I could go into the usual yarn about how Kenny Dope and Louie Vega first got together in 1990, then reel off a list of stories and awards that you’ve all read a million times before. After all, Masters at Work have been at the focal point of forward thinking dance music since it’s genesis. After 25 years in the business, I think now is the perfect time to tell tales of how Masters at Work have affected those of us who work within the dance music industry. If we, as a community, are the body of house music, then for many of us Masters at Work have been the air that we breathe.

I first moved to London as a bright-eyed village boy to follow my dream of a career in fashion way back in 1993. I had been completely caught up in the rave scene up until that point, but had just returned from my first trip to Ibiza where I’d discovered house music for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still banging out LTJ Bukem at Dreamscape 4 to this day, but my first night at Pacha Ibiza showed me a different side to the dance scene.

A friend managed to rustle up some free tickets for the Ministry of Sound on my first weekend in the capital and boy was I ready to discover the already legendary club. Friday’s in-house promotion at the Ministry during the time was a night called ‘Open All Hours’; a serious techno-fest in the main room with residents Jim Masters and DJ Harvey, alongside heavyweight guests like Carl Cox every week. There was also no alcohol sold in the club at the time. Make of that what you will.

The music was far too hard in the main room for my palette, plus you could barely see where you were going as it was so dark. I ventured into the bar to see what the vibe was like and that’s when I heard it. It was so simple, but it was the most sumptuous 3 notes I’d ever heard.

The track was in the middle of a breakdown at the time, so I just stood there, completely hypnotised by these delicious notes playing over the swirling pads, then bam! Over the top came some of the most amazingly produced live drum patterns, trumpet stabs and percussion I’d ever heard and I still stand by that statement two decades later.

This was it, I’d found MY sound! But what the hell was it? On Monday I made my way through the back streets of Soho to Black Market Records and stood hopefully at the counter. This was not a place for fainthearted novices, but I didn’t care; I wanted that track and would risk ridicule to secure it’s purchase.


Black Market Records, Soho, London (back in the day)


So I waiting my turn upstairs in the house section with a sense of fear and intrepidation, as the junglist headed downstairs to the sweet smell of senseimilla. I finally caught the guys eye behind the counter and as he quickly looked me up and down, he asked me what I wanted.

Errmm, have you got that track that goes… Der Din Der?

and I played an imaginary keyboard as I said. In fact, I just did it now as I listened to the track whilst writing this piece. Quite unbelievably, he knew what I wanted. Even from just a 3 note description and an effeminate piano mime. Now that’s a memorable track! I took the 12inch with the yellow centre to the turntable, put the needle to the groove and my eyes lit up with excitment. This was it!

I ended up spending a solid £50 on vinyl that day, which didn’t get you much when you discovered you had a taste for exotic US imports. My best friend and roommate Ross had some Technics set up in the lounge of our shared flat and I went home that day to begin a 20 year journey as a DJ that has seen some incredible highs, alongside plenty of lows!

I’ve played to zero people for hours on end more times than I care to remember. I’ve played the main room at Fabric, I’ve had written complaints to club manager’s because I wouldn’t play Tiffany ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’. I’ve cleared packed dance floors with my first track, yet I’ve also had the pleasure of playing the music I love all over the world. I even played the very room at Ministry of Sound where I first heard the track that put me on the path towards becoming a DJ.

This is how the music of Masters at Work touches people’s lives. ‘The Nervous Track’ by Nuyorican Soul offered me a whole new way of thinking and not just in music; it sculpted the way that I built life. I remember that moment in the Ministry of Sound like it was yesterday, yet it was 22 years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that fateful day, but it was a moment that changed everything for me.

I shared a moment with Louie Vega and Kenny Dope that ultimately changed the direction of my life, yet I’ll probably never get a chance to thank them. There’s no need, as there’s thousands of people like me all over the world. They just kept on doing what they doing, turning the heads of music lovers and beat junkies across the globe. Busting out serious tunes year after year, decade after decade, inspiring people like myself to change direction and get involved with music. Being inspired by the Masters. Literally.

Masters at Work create magical moments that last a lifetime. They are rightly recognised as true house music legends and this compilation is just the cherry on the cake for a career that show no signs of slowing down.

I for one, will always be grateful for the impact their music had on my life.