NYC's Underground Network, Then & Now
To many, NYC’s ‘Underground Network’ wed night party at the Sound Factory Bar with Louie Vega & Barbra Tucker was THE industry event to be at. Some would even say it was their Paradise Garage, and Louie was their Larry. There is no doubt this party was pivotal in so many house music careers and helped people forge great relationships. The UN Party was a literal who’s who of the NYC industry at that time!
Today we have the great pleasure of interviewing Don Welch, who is the co founder of the brand and he’s got a lot of good stuff coming.
Don, Please tell us a little bit about this new book project you are working on?
We are proud to bring our story of The Underground Network to print in a beautiful 10 X 12 inch coffee table style book that will be available in the fall 2019. The book will tell the story of our contributions to House Music with amazing photos and great quotes from industry pioneers & professionals who were there. Not only will this book touch all the people who have attended our events but to all the people who haven’t you will get a slice of NYC House Music History that has travelled and touched the masses worldwide. The book will also have a CD of some of the great tracks and songs we exposed to the world in the early 90’s as you browse through the pages.
History – The Underground Network (House Music Legends) started in 1992 in New York City @ a nightclub called Savage/Elite (West 23rd St.). It was created out of the need to bring the dance community together by showcasing the music & artists for major & indie-labels. The enormous talents of these singers, DJ’s songwriters, record producers, musicians & dancers were being used but always in the shadow of so-called mainstream music. We decided to dedicate one night per week as the first House / Dance Music Industry Night ever created.
In our second year we moved to the Sound Factory Bar (West 21st Street) where myself (Don Welch) & Barbara Tucker took the event to another level. With the support of Grammy Award Winning Producer DJ Louie Vega and a wonderful staff we became a household name in the house community around the world. We also took our show on the road, from Europe to Asia, Canada & cities across the U.S., back in New York bringing celebrity music lovers together such as Ru Paul, Janet Jackson, Wesley Snipes, The Wayan Brothers, Nile Rogers, Morris Day, Queen Latifah, Ice T, MC Lyte, Notorious B.I.G. & Jay Leno just to name a few. The UN has given a platform to so many DJ’s, Artists & Dancers to showcase their talents to an incredible audience.
(pictured left to right: Nahila, Ramon Wells (Blue Cap). Lance (Beige UN Cap), Brian Tolland (Blue shirt middle), Top left Chris Pagli, Jeannie Hopper (Red Jacket), Freddy Turner (Head leaning on Jeannie’s Back) – Sound Factory Bar NYC 1995)
Some people say your parties were are important to Dance music as CBGBs was to punk rock, how do you feel about that?
I feel that is an honor to be compared to such a legendary venue like CBGBs. I agree that we were to House Music as they were to punk rock. They featured early performances by The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Misfits, Patti Smith Group, Joan Jett and many others. We featured early performances by Ten City, Cece Rodgers, Michael Watford, Barbara Tucker, Ultra Nate, La India, Joi Cardwell, Robert Owens, Cassio Ware, Cashmere & Dajae and many others. We showcased all the House artists new material working very closely with the record labels and producers as we introduced this music to people who didn’t know it. Now they are house heads for life. Our team promoted hard in the early days, before social media we had to take it to the streets. Flyers every week and our events were on Wednesday nights where a lot of naysayers said it would never work. The vibe was so strong we were packed (2 floors) every week at Sound Factory Bar.
(Sound Factory Bar NYC 1995)
Can you pinpoint the Best UN event or maybe best era (or Venue) in your memory and what made it so special?
We were fortunate to take our show on the road to many amazing venues of that era including The Tunnel, The Shelter, Twilo, Crobar, Avalon, Webster Hall, Manhattan Center, Spirit and Panorama to name a few but the greatest memories have to be from Sound Factory Bar from 1993 to 1997. There were too many amazing nights at Sound Factory Bar to pinpoint but I will mention Barbara Tucker’s debut of “Beautiful People” (Deep Deep Inside), which became an anthem, which still plays around the world today.
(UN Reunion @ Club Deep NYC January 28th 2004)
Did you ever think that what you were doing there in those early days of house would have such a profound impact on the entire scene?
Well, we were hoping it would when we designed the night. I being a former Billboard Club reporter and DJ at Savage/Elite received a mailbag full of new music every week that I had to review. Most of the attention and promotion was to the other genres of music including Pop, R&B and Hip Hop. Not that much focus on Dance and definitely not House. House was an underground phenomenon. I featured and introduced early House artist live performances to my audience such as Jay Williams, Colonel Abrams, Robert Owens and Ceybil Jefferies, which the crowds went wild. That’s when I said along with early collaborator Willie Wall there needs to be a night dedicated to this music. Again, I was booked every Thursday through Saturday so Weds was the best night available. Now it feels great to see these major events and festivals around the world which I feel followed our blue print whether they realized it or not ☺. But almost nothing is new under the sun. A lot of our energy and design came from great Disco’s of the past which featured great sound systems, dancers, balloons, fog & bubble machines, flamboyant door people such as our vogue Icon Willie Ninja, Mindy K, Melvin Watson, Cedric Freedom and Rob Fernandez. We just did it with amazing house music and classics.
(DJ Louie Vega 1993 Sound Factory Bar NYC)
After all this time, tell us how it feels to have had the opportunity to have nurtured so much talent which is still conquering the world to this day?
It feels great. My favorite award is my gold record from Mercury Polygram Records “She’s Homeless” (La Da De) by Crystal Waters. I have other awards from Pop, R&B and Hip Hop artist but the Crystal award means so much because it let me know that great things were possible with house music. To be at the forefront of house music in New York is truly special.
Tell us about your UN Records project?
We are excited about UN Records. We have released a few records in the past but to do this full time is amazing. Back in the mid 90’s we were offered a sub label deal from Mark Finkelstein of Strictly Rhythm fame of which I still have the agreement. We never moved on it because I was a full time DJ with other obligations and Barbara was a rising House Star with a super busy schedule. But fast forward to 2019 I have found a new energy to bring the best House / Dance Music possible with that UN flavor to the masses. We have so many producers and artist we can develop that our biggest challenge is to figure out what and who to release next.
What (and who) can we expect to hear next from the imprint?
Well, as I briefly stated our reach of talent is deep. We personally know most of the classic voices we have come to love. I just got off the phone with the legendary Lenny Williams. I just got a text message from incredible Will Downing. I also just got a text message from the beautiful Rochelle Fleming who are all willing to lend their talents to the label but there is also great new talent that we can introduce to the world. Because of social media, I have been receiving amazing songs and video from people around the world. So to answer the question we will release a combination of exciting new and classic artists.
(DJ Don Welch 1992 Savage/Elite NYC DJ Booth)
Are you planning any more events?
Yes we are. We are planning our UN Book signing and Reunion for the fall 2019. We will have a red carpet step and repeat book signing with media coverage and right after that, the same evening we will have our reunion party featuring Louie Vega on the decks and Barbara Tucker on the mic along with amazing special guest. After that event we will see what other opportunities feel good to us and our audience. The right room and location are very important to us.
(David Cole & DJ Louie Vega Sound Factory Bar NYC 1994)
Back to the book, when can we expect to be able to get our hands on a copy?
We will print a limited amount on copies for the book release in the fall but we are also in talks with a national book publisher that will possibly make the book available to the world. I would say for book updates visit our website.
What do you hope people take away when they get a chance to review it?
If you have never experienced one of our events live, you will feel like you were there just by browsing through the beautiful pages. One great thing about our early events at Sound Factory Bar is that we had 2 full time photographers that captured a lot of the great moments, that will be special for all who had a chance to experience it. For those who were not there, they will get a chance to experience our vibe along with the CD that will be in the book. You will be able to experience a great era in House Music History. I want them to feel the love and excitement of the music, and the bringing together of people from different backgrounds under one roof having a great time.
(pictured left to right: Ultra Nate, Al Mack, Tatsuki Hayashida, Barbara Tucker, Gilbert
Young and Gilbert Young’s assistant – Sound Factory Bar NYC 1995)
Is there anything else you would like to tell your fans?
I just would like to thanks all our supporters because without out them there would be no us. There is nothing worst than an empty nightclub. We were fortunate to be full to packed for every event no matter what the weather. That was dedication and we consider these beautiful people more friends and family as opposed to fans. We also had an incredible and dedicated staff to which this would not have been possible without them. To all the DJ’s, Singers, Dancers, Music business professionals, club owners, promoters and staff. One love to you all. The Journey Continues!!!★ 。* *★•*¨*•.¸¸♥♪•*¨*•.¸¸♥♪•*¨*•.¸ ¸♥♪•*¨*•.¸¸★
Check out Underground Network’s latest release!