I wrote about Manny Cuevas, better known as DJ M-TRAXXX for the December 2022 issue of The Wire. What follows is an extended history. Be sure to check out his collection of over 550 house and techno mixes.
Manny Cuevas was born and raised in Lorain, Ohio, a small city outside of Cleveland with a large Puerto Rican population. Local industry included a steel mill and the Ford Motor Company. Music was always in Cuevas’ house, mainly salsa and merengue. Around the age of ten, Cuevas began taping TV show themes and CKLW, an AM radio station from Windsor, Ontario which played R&B and rock.
At the age of thirteen, Cuevas helped throw parties in his friend’s father’s attic, which was lavishly furnished with stereo equipment, track lights, and bearskin rugs. They called these the “Love Attic” parties, always inviting more girls than guys. Cuevas played music, and his cousin Fernando taught him how to program.
Around sixteen, Cuevas was DJing (though not beat-mixing) at a bar and listening to the Club Style radio show with Dean Rufus on 108 FM WDMT. At eighteen, he started going to a mixed after-hours club called RP’s with DJ Sammy DeLeon, who played electro. Cuevas and friends threw parties as JR and Company, renting out spaces and playing funk and electro.
In 1984, Cuevas moved to Orlando, Florida to start a family. He threw out all of his Club Style tapes, got into dub reggae and industrial music, and put a band together. He and a friend regularly travelled to Chicago. Cuevas’ first introduction to house music was a Farley tape from his cousin, and he couldn’t tear himself away.
In Chicago, Cuevas danced at Medusa’s, appreciating its mix of house, industrial, and New Wave. He started hitting up Importes Etc. where he would get tapes from Frankie Knuckles himself. Back home in Orlando, Cuevas threw listening parties, exposing friends to the tapes and records he had discovered.
Cuevas attended Full Sail recording school from 1987-1989, and had a job lined up at WBMX in Chicago before it abruptly changed formats. After graduating in 1989, Cuevas got into radio, founding the Sunday Night Freestyle Show on WPRK with his two brothers. The first time Cuevas played a house mix, “the phone lines just lit up.” Eventually the format changed over to guest DJs, becoming the Deep Underground House Show, and Cuevas prayed for a way to connect with DJs all over the world.
“I mean seriously, I pray for everything,” Cuevas explains. “I’m like God, there’s got to be a way. I want to know what’s going on in New York, I want to know what’s going on in Europe, I want to know what’s going on everywhere. And next thing I know, some guy called me out of the blue. He heard about me, and he just started sending me tapes from New York. He would send me, no lie, every week, ten tapes. And he was very picky about his recordings, so precise.”
Through an ad in Mixmag, Cuevas met a collector in London who offered to trade tapes of European sets for Chicago ones. “We started trading tapes, and we built a big network,” Cuevas remembers. “He would send me quality stuff. There was one mix I played on the radio show, he has an actual recording [where] Larry Heard did a live PA in London.”
Cuevas worked a day job, calling record labels in New York City by night. Since long-distance was expensive, he would write out a script. Soon DJ Duke, Armand Van Halden, and DJ Pierre sent mixes, and Cuevas began connecting artists’ booking agents with Florida club owners in exchange for permission to record sets.
“As far as the tape collecting goes, it’s just people,” says Cuevas. “For example, Armando Gallop, I met him through an ad in some magazine selling hip-hop tapes. It had this 312 number, so I called him up, and we became friends.” Gallop promised to make Cuevas a mix for his radio show on returning from a European gig, but sadly he passed away shortly after.
Asked how many tapes he owns, Cuevas responds, “Oh man, thousands, thousands. ‘Cause I got so many DJs, first of all from Chicago, New York, Europe. They were sending me mixes for the show who later became big-name DJs. And then at the same time, I had all of these guys from Europe, from New York, from California, from South America, just everywhere sending me stuff–mixes like promoters. I mean how they knew about me, I have no idea.”
At the 1993 Winter Music Conference in Miami, Cuevas gave Spanky a Deep Underground House Show tape, and he recognized the artwork from someone who was copying them in Berlin.
“Once the Internet popped up, I started getting people from all over the world messaging me like, ‘Man, these shows!'” Cuevas enthuses. “I’m like, ‘Where did you get that?’ People from all over, from Africa, from everywhere were just like, ‘I have a collection of all of your shows!'”
Cuevas continues, “It feels good that it’s still circulating. That’s my mission. I can’t take these tapes with me to heaven. I have a grandson, he’s just six years old, and I just found out he wants to DJ, so I’m trying to get stuff out there on the Internet so when he gets older, when I leave, he can find it, just to carry the torch…. I’ve got to give back what I learned to the people. I love educating. That was something I’ve always wanted to do.”
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