Remembering Angel Moraes, the influential Brooklyn house DJ with a selfless spirit
NYC house stalwart Angel Moraes passed away suddenly this week, leaving behind a legacy as a dedicated DJ, producer and club founder. Here, UK artist Mat Playford remembers Moraes selfless spirit and friendship, and the influence he had on the young DJ’s career in the ‘90s
When I was 17 years old, I moved to Leeds from St Albans to study music production. It proved to be life-changing. On the opening night of a new club there, I had slipped in and was standing by the bar. Next to me was the Brooklyn-based DJ Angel Moraes, who had been booked that night. I knew him from his incredible record ‘Welcome To The Factory’, and he was playing in Leeds on a Friday night. He asked me if I wanted a drink, and we began to talk. I told him I had moved to Leeds to study music and a huge grin spread across his face. He kept looking at me with this intuitive and inquisitive look. We spent around 30 minutes talking before he was whisked away to play. About three months later Angel was playing at another club in the North, alongside Junior Sanchez and Roger Sanchez. The club was up in Teesside - about an hour and half away - so I went on a journey on my own to check out the club and see if I could meet him again.
He instantly recognised me and was so taken back that I had made the effort. We really connected and it was obviously turning into a late one, so he had the hotel attached to the venue organise a hotel room for me so we could carry on. The club had a grand piano in the entrance, so I got on there and showed him how I played. I’m no virtuoso but could pick melodies out and I played the melody from one of his records. Junior Sanchez came and sat to the left of me to play a bassline and Roger sat at the right playing a top melody... I couldn’t actually believe this was happening. I spent my youth obsessing about music, and here I was surrounded by these giants of the New York house scene. In fucking Teeside.
The following week Angel called and invited me to a gig in Derry, over in Ireland. As we were checking in at Heathrow, he asked to see my passport photo and when I handed it over he screamed “Noooooo way!” — we shared the same birthday. What an amazing start to a friendship. Over the next month I toured with Angel to various countries and drove him to gigs. He hated travelling on his own, and so our bond grew stronger and we became kindred spirits. We had so much fun and simultaneously he taught me so much about sonics and acoustics. He told me that the frequency 30Hz is what really pumped in a kick-drum. He had this way of programming hi-hats that felt like a train. I was supposed to be at college learning about this but in a few weeks of being around him I had learnt more than I would in a year at college. He talked to me in finite detail about the Sound Factory and the Paradise Garage, legendary rooms that have shaped this culture globally... I felt like I was one step closer to the source of what this music was.
Angel invited me to play keyboards at a gig, which had a couple of thousand people at it. I was on stage jamming over these long, trippy percussive tracks that he was known for. There was real synergy between us. Here he was giving me opportunities to do what I loved in such a bold and direct way. Looking back, it’s simply good old-fashioned kindness. A kindness that can be rare.
One night we were on a train home from a gig and he said he felt inspired and asked if we could go back to my studio, which then was in my Mum’s spare bedroom. I had about five keyboards, a crappy old Spirit mixing console and Cubase. He programmed some drums, I then played a piano and Rhodes keyboard part and we were off. That week he had the track mastered at The Exchange in Camden and then on the Saturday he played the main room at Ministry. He opened with the tune we made in my spare bedroom, and I will never forget that feeling! My mind was fully blown.
One year later, in 1998, he invited me to join him in New York for what was a key moment in my life. One thing I hadn’t realised is how much Angel loved cooking. This guy was an incredible chef. He made burritos at his house and then took me on a bike ride to Prospect Park with his nephew and uncle. I couldn’t believe all these words that I was seeing all over the place, geographic locations that were record names and labels that we’d obsess over back in the UK, in the record shop that I had a hand in running in Leeds. I was in a total culture shock.
Another skill Angel had was that he was a craftsman of wood and he had built the most outrageous DJ console in his apartment. One morning he treated me to an exemplary disco set for a couple of hours and made me breakfast. I couldn’t believe I was so young, sitting in Brooklyn, in this guy’s place listening to the history of disco.
That week, I had experiences that were so privileged. He took me to Strictly Rhythm’s office, and we had dinner with the bosses in Manhattan. This was when he made me eat Caesar salad — my eating habits were atrocious and I was painfully thin. He demanded that I try new food and said if you want to hang with us you’ve got to learn to like more foods rather than just steak... my Mum always loved him for that. That night we went to meet the Murk boys and Danny Tenaglia and went to a label party for Twisted Records. We had another evening with Todd Terry, David Morales, Benji Candelario and various other New York house music legends. We talked about music production, food, films and photography that week, and Angel bought me a book by Patrick Demarchelier, an incredible photographer.
Angel Moraes influenced me so much in my life. He mentored me. I believe he was the reason I made my Moog set-up with a wooden cabinet which I played in Space Ibiza. I’m also a chilli farmer now, and I think with Angel opening up my eating habits all those years ago and him having a label called Hot & Spicy has somehow found its way into why I grow them. I spoke to him last year and he told me how proud I’d made him. I’ll never quite get over the kindness Angel extended to me. He had such confidence in his talent that he could share it selflessly. He truly was a beautiful charming man that took so much pride in everything he did. He changed my life, and gave me so much unconditional love and confidence that things could be possible if you really hold love in your heart.
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