A look back at the pioneering career of Masters at Work

Masters at Work have been busy in the lead-up to playing 51st State this summer. Just a few weeks ago the duo were in Ibiza to play IMS, where they got awarded with the prestigious IMS Pioneer award for lifetime achievement. In tribute to their award, we thought we’d rewind a bit and take a look at their career, and nod to some of their ‘pioneering’ highlights.

Both Kenny Dope and Little Louie Vega were born in New York (Brooklyn and the Bronx respectively) and the city, during the 1980’s, was an absolute cultural and musical melting pot. New York hip hop was starting to come into contact with Chicago House, and both Kenny and Louie cut their teeth in this environment, devouring records from every genre under the sun.

With Kenny making a name for himself under the wing of Todd Terry, and Louie making a name for himself as a freestyle DJ in the late 80’s, the two meeting became inevitable. It wasn’t long after they met that Kenny and Louie formed MAW, under which they could be found playing their new brand of house music at New York’s Sound Factory Bar.

Creating new tracks together and then dropping them on Wednesday nights, MAW’s sets soon became legendary - as Louie said at IMS: “there was just a lot of [...] creative energy going on there”. One of their early famous tracks came out of this period, as MAW remixed Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (itself a cover of the seminal Neil Young track). The remix is typical of MAW - a complete re-working of the original, toning down the synth in favour of a thumping bassline and looping piano riff.

MAW aren’t artists to rest on their laurels, though, and after making waves in the New York scene they were soon at it again, this time under the famous moniker ‘Nuyorican Soul’. Heavily influenced by the Latin-American music that is Dope and Vega’s heritage, and turning up the jazziness to 11, Nuyorican Soul’s most influential output was probably their self-titled album in 1996. The diversity of sound on the record reflecting Dope and Vega’s past well, the album featured such luminaries as George Benson, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Roy Ayers, and set people grooving all around the world.

It’s hard to overstate how prolific MAW have been throughout their career, and continue to be. Since the turn of the century there have been eight compilation albums, three stand-alone albums, countless singles under different aliases, and remixes of artists from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

We’re delighted that Masters at Work are still being recognised for their iconic status in dance music folklore, and they truly do belong at the top of the tree. We can’t wait to welcome these ‘Pioneers’ to 51st State on August 5th!