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Departure Lounge

Outside Vynyl, you can feel the thump, see the walls flex with every beat. Inside, a propulsive blend of classic soul, Afro-house and jazzy bass lines commands the attention of the dance floor as the sweat-soaked mob writhes and twists, screaming the name of the DJ wreaking holy hell on the ’tables: Marques Wyatt! Welcome to the dance party known as Deep.

When it comes to house music and the West Coast, Wyatt has often been referred to as the Ambassador. Back in the early ’90s, when raves and the techno craze overtook L.A.’s underground dance scene and pushed house into the background, Wyatt took to trekking up to San Francisco on the weekends. It wasn’t long before he had established himself as a virtual house-music colony in Northern California. But for Wyatt, who’d become a disciple of house during the mid-’80s after spending a few years as a hip-hop DJ, his trips to Frisco, along with the growing acid-jazz movement in the Bay Area at the time, only increased his determination to resurrect house back in his own town.

“I wanted to do something here, so a partner of mine and I started a club called Brass,” says Wyatt. “We literally brought the whole acid-jazz thing to L.A. We put on Brand New Heavies, Young Disciples, Digable Planets and Jamiroquai way back when no one knew who they were. It was like an alternative to what was happening at the time with techno.”

Along with spinning records, over the years Wyatt has developed a formidable reputation as one of L.A.’s top promoters and host to some of house music’s biggest stars. After starting a club called the BBC in the late ’80s, he opened MAC’s Garage, which showcased live performances by artists such as Adeva, Jomanda, CeCe Rogers and Liz Torres. It was toward the end of his five-year run at Brass in the early ’90s that Wyatt teamed up with another DJ and promoter, Tony Largo, and established L.A.’s after-hours dance institution Does Your Mama Know.

During his seven-year residency at the club, which ended last year, Wyatt hit the road, gaining notoriety at clubs like the Ministry of Sound in London, Sound Factory Bar in New York and Industry in Toronto. In ’97 he began producing and doing remix work for dance labels such as Strictly Rhythm, King Street, Yoshitoshi and Suburban. His talent as a remix doctor is most evident on dance classics like Eddie Amador’s “House Music” (Yoshitoshi) and Kim English’s “Learn 2 Luv” (Nervous).

“Things come pretty naturally to me in the studio from being a DJ for so long,” says Wyatt. “A lot of times, even when I start out using a sample, by the time I’ve finished doing the record, I’ve fully pulled the sample out. I use it as a skeleton, and then I get other ideas along the way. That’s what I love about production.”

Maybe Wyatt’s fondness for creative engineering is what inspired Bay Area label Om Records to ask him to do Sound Design/V1, which was released in late August of this year. Featuring 14 tracks of acid jazz, Afrobeat, Latin jazz and R&B, it’s a set so artfully crafted that even if the four-to-the-floor beats were removed you’d still be left with a continuous mix of organic liquid soul. While tracks such as “Little” Louie Vega and Blaze’s “Elements of Life” take house, Latin and soul to their furthest extremes, cuts like “Departure Lounge 2” bring the soundscape into jazzier spheres with lush keyboard stabs and rich vocal samples.

According to Wyatt, he didn’t realize how many of his friends’ tracks he’d chosen to put on the compilation — cuts by “Little” Louie Vega and Ted Patterson — until after he’d recorded it. “It’s a culmination of all the songs I feel have longevity in my crate,” he says. “That’s how I chose the records — they’re timeless.”

Wyatt is currently on a three-month club tour in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico promoting Sound Design, but he’s a busy man even under normal circumstances. In April of this year he established the dance party Deep, which has hosted such house luminaries as David Morales, Kerri Chandler, King Britt, Frankie Knuckles, Mark Farina and Mark Grant. While balancing a dizzying schedule of guest-spot gigs both stateside and international, Wyatt also collaborates with close friend Doc Martin for the biweekly Sunday tea dance Revival, serves a monthly residency at the super-club Giant, and maintains another monthly residence at San Francisco’s biggest weekly club, Release.

Wyatt does it all because he’s committed to keeping the West Coast at the forefront of dance music. And he loves the way it sounds: “House contains everything that I feel musically — it gets in your heart. Once you go house, you never go back.”

 

Marques Wyatt hosts special guest Frankie Knuckles at Deep on Sunday, December 17.