How one DJ went from backyard raves to playing the Special Olympics

[Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega; art by the author]

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Anthony Vega, also known as DJ Ren La’mour, has been DJ-ing since the early 90s, during the rise of the backyard rave scene in Los Angeles. Early on in his career, he’d spin house and techno records at backyard parties, known as “ditch parties.” As the rave scene continued to gain steam through the 90s, Anthony shot off into the beginnings of a career as of one of the premier house and techno DJs in the L.A. region. As the rave scene cooled down by the end of the millennium, he went on to DJ local parties and red carpet and corporate events and even the Special Olympics. In 2010, married with a new son, he relocated to Alhambra. He continues DJ-ing around L.A., recently in Little Tokyo and Alhambra. He was gracious in our interview together, talking about his past, his family, his career, and his life going forward.

[Public domain photos depict Interborough Rapid Transit Company, Third Avenue Elevated Line; Bronx, New York; November 1973 – January 1974; taken by Jack E. Boucher. Courtesy of National Park Service.]

Anthony Vega’s life began at the Jamaica Queens Hospital in New York; his father was from Puerto Rico and his mother emigrated from Guatemala.  The Vega family lived in a low-income, public housing community in the Soundview section of New York City in the Bronx projects consisting of primarily Puerto Ricans, Latin Americans, and African Americans. It was a difficult childhood for Vega as urban decay, violent crime, and drug problems permeated deep into the city during the 70s and 80s.

“We lived off of food stamps and always struggled to find where the next meal would come from; at times, not even having a meal at all,” he said. “I remember we were just barely able to afford milk, government cheese, and peanut butter from being on welfare.” Despite this trouble, the Vega family remained resolute in themselves and being supportive of each other. “My parents always found a way and they always believed that you could make something out of yourself and by doing that, you can achieve anything,” Vega said. “I’ve always valued their beliefs from then on to this day.”

[Pictured: A young Anthony Vega lounging next to his babysitter; Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega]
Music was always a part of Vega’s life; His grandmother on his father’s side was a singer in Puerto Rico and his father was a composer and performer for a burgeoning salsa band also from Puerto Rico named El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. “As a teenager, I remember my father would hang out outside of the projects practicing with his band members,” Vega said. “I also had an uncle who was inspired by this new hip-hop movement and became a b-boy and then later, a DJ. I remember he would play at the Bronx River Houses Community Center where he got involved with one of the tenants who lived in our building named Kevin Donovan, because they were the only ones that had equipment in order to play the vinyl. Kevin later became a very prominent local DJ under the name Afrika Bambaataa of the Universal Zulu Nation.”

[Pictured: Holding a peace sign, Anthony Vega’s uncle DJ Willie Will along with Kevin/Afrika Bambaataa and friends in front of the housing projects; Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega]
Vega got a chance to see Afrika Bambaataa in 2009 for an event in Hollywood. “After his performance, I approached him, shook his hand and said I was Willie’s nephew from the Bronx projects. He looked at me confused for a while but, after I explained to him what floor [of the community center] we lived on and showed him a picture that my Uncle Willie took in front of the housing project, then he started to remember. He said, ‘Yo, I do remember you, kid. Your uncle Willie would always refer you as Chuckles, his skinny nephew.’ ”

[Pictured: “The very first batch of vinyl played at the Bronx Housing Community Center, given to my uncle Willie by Kevin/Afrika Bambaataa;” Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega]
[Pictured: The Bronx River Community Center where Willie would be one of its resident DJs under his pseudonym, “DJ Willie Will”; Photos courtesy of Anthony Vega]
“As a teenager, seeing my uncle DJ, I was instantly amazed by the movement as it came to form and fell in love with what I was seeing: people enjoying themselves, dancing to the beat of a record, and simply having a good time. It was then that I decided to become a DJ like him. But before I could, I ended up relocating with my mother to California out of concern that she and I would get caught up in the violence and drugs.”

“It wasn’t until well into the 90s while living in California that I decided to revisit my dreams of becoming a DJ. As I remembered being inspired by my uncle back in the Bronx, I started collecting records from record shops all over Los Angeles including DMC Records, Street Sounds, Exodus Records and Tower Records, to name a few. My goal was to collect as many vinyl records as possible in order to play at venues, which back in the days were backyard parties, warehouse events or dance halls.“

[Tower Records Sunset, West Hollywood, California; Photograph by Mike Dillon, licensed under GNU Free Documentation License]
[Pictured: Anthony Vega, “From the underground rave days in the 90’s, right when I just started to DJ in Los Angeles”; Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega]
“It was probably some of the best times I ever had when I was a teenager; I didn’t pay rent and was just enjoying life and spinning as a DJ.” said Vega, recalling the times he DJ-ed at the raves and “DPs” or ditching parties that would began cropping up through much of Southern California in the 90s.

The DPs consisted of teenagers ditching school to attend an early morning party, put together by a bunch of kids that represented a party crew. They would organize the event and use word of mouth to advertise to others. Some of the party crews went by names such as L.A. Hellraiser, Terminators, Acid slaves, Cipotes, Ladies of Insanity, Brown Pride, Aztec Nation, The Rebels, Latin Above, Guess Men, Simply Seductive, First Class Ladies, By Request, Jam-Pack Society, Operation X, Overworld Productions and Urban Love Productions.

[An assortment of flyers for ditching parties in the nineties; flyers collected by Guadalupe Rosales, art by the author]

“For the venue, the kids would use their own backyard for the event while their parents were off working during the day, probably not knowing anything. The parties would start as early as 9 am in the morning and go all the way to 3 pm. Or, even until 5 pm. Or, until the police would show up to stop the event because the neighbors called about the loud ruckus they would hear in their neighborhood.”

At these parties, Vega would get the chance to play alongside other DJs who were also performing. “I started DJ-ing back in the 90s warehouse scene of Los Angeles, where the Party Crews ruled the L.A. underground scene,” he said. “They wore their own party crew hats and gear and the rave events they threw grew them to massive numbers of members, all who came just to have a good time. Those were great times.”

While the rave scene dissipated by the turn of the century, Vega worked steadily until 2010. “I moved out from the Los Angeles area after I’d just gotten married,” he said. “My wife Gabby and I started our search for a place we could call home together and we found that place in Alhambra. It took us a while to settle in and get comfortable but we adapted and then we really started to love where we were.”

Vega has nothing but love for his new-found home. “Alhambra is such a beautiful place with so much diversity and it’s a city to this day that keeps on growing each year,” he said. “What really makes the city of Alhambra what it is, is truly the people. People like Alhambra Police Department, Fire Department Station #71 and #73, our Chambers of Commerce and the people of Alhambra that live here,

“Last year, I reached out to the Mainfest Alhambra Music Festival talent committee with interest in playing at the festival and thanks to them, I got to play on the DJ stage. I got the chance to meet Capital Cities who headlined and I also got a chance to meet Miami Horror as well. The festival also allowed me to make some great friendships with some of the other artists out there who are also trying to make a name for themselves. One person in particular, Nk-Riot, who also played at the festival, is a talented and creative individual who has sounds like no one out there and I’m proud to call him a friend.”

Anthony also received the honor of performing at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles in 2015. “DJ-ing for the Special Olympics was an experience like no other, probably the biggest thing I have ever been involved with,” he said. “To get an opportunity to DJ there was huge for me and something I’ll never forget. With the recent announcement of Los Angeles to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, I look forward to getting to be part of the 2028 Summer Olympics and DJ for that one too when the time comes,

[DJ Ren La’mour DJ’ing at the Special Olympics in 2015; Photo courtesy of Anthony Vega]

[Photo Courtesy of Anthony Vega]
“I’m grateful for the life I live now and the people I’m surrounded with; family and great friends. I’m grateful that I’m able to provide music to audiences that love the sound I play at venues and just enjoy the love of music. My goal is to be allowed to play at different venues where I can bring my sounds and talent to their events and people could just enjoy what I’m playing. I always believed opportunities should be given regardless of criticism, negativity and other people’s beliefs in the scene and being positive on what you do by giving an opportunity.”

In the beginning, Vega DJ’ed under the name DJ Ren, given to him by one of his “distinct colleagues.” But, by 2010, he wanted “a mainstream name; something creative. Something unique and different but also something meaningful.” Ironically, Anthony would look back in time for his new name.

When Vega was a child, his mother would watch the Road To… movies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. One movie in particular, Road to Bali, starred an actress named Dorothy La’mour. “The name “La’mour” always stood out of in my mind for years, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I thought of combining “Ren” and “La’mour” together,” he said. Vega added meanings to each letter. Broken down, Ren La’mour stands for, “Raw Every Night – Los Angeles’s Music Of Unique Religion.”

DJ Ren La’mour can be found on: SoundCloud, MixCloud, Youtube, Beatport, Instagram, and Twitter.

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