An icon of the Brazilian dance-music scene since the ’80s, DJ Meme has just about done it all, from remixes for the likes of Mariah Carey and Ricky Martin to soulful, disco-drenched house anthems like his mixes for Fish Go Deep’s “The Cure and the Cause.”
Speaking of his new mix CD for Defected, Defected in the House Brazil ’11, it’s obvious that several decades of accolades haven’t dampened his passion—Meme obviously brings an infectious enthusiasm and a rare degree of humility to his work.
Defected’s Simon Dunmore says, “DJ Meme’s work was first recommended to me by none other than Dimitri From Paris. I was super impressed by his production values, which blend the best disco vibes with the Latin rhythms of his native Brazil.”
Read on for an in-depth interview with Brazilian house music’s most eminent ambassador.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which made me an instant music lover and consequently crazy about bossa nova harmonies. I still live here and I can’t complain. I love traveling the globe DJing, even staying months abroad, but when I return to Brazil I understand why the whole world is crazy about this place.
How did you get started making music?
Music came into my life naturally and at the same time, as a big “escapade.” I feel that everything has to do with hating football—when you are raised in a country where everyone loves the game, and you realize that you are an exception, it’s very hard to interact with kids of your own age, since the only thing they have in common is the love for football. Once you realize this you see you’re left behind.
I always loved music with the same strength that I hate football, and I used to spend my early days recording my favorite songs from the radio. Music became my “tool” to socialize with my friends, so at 12 years old, I started to organize block parties wherever I could play, and would DJ at friends’ parties. That helped me a lot to develop my personality, because at that time I was sharing that new social feeling with my original geek soul. As you can see, the sentence is true: music saved my life!
What’s it like mixing a compilation for Defected?
Well…mixing tracks was never a problem for me, so that’s the easy part, but this compilation is very specific. It’s not intended to be your personal choices. You have to be aware of your responsibility, not only with the people who buy the CD, but at the same time, you have to deliver something that is good for the label too. In the end, you’re somehow representing the label with that mix, and that’s something you have to remember when you pick the songs and the way you build your mix. It has to be your best for those who are going to buy the album, and it has to sound like a true Defected CD. The tough part was limiting the selection to 10 or 15 songs, with so many classic tracks in the Defected and sub-label catalogs. It’s a very tense situation sometimes, because you know you will be leaving something out of the mix…
The good part of everything is that all the Defected team are used to those issues, and they know how to make your work much easier. Simon Dunmore called me with that simple and straight proposal, and right after my excited acceptance of the project, he passed me to Aaron Ross, who told me I would be free to do what I wanted, and then he came with the idea of re-editing “The Ones” by Frankie Knuckles and The Shapeshifters, to which I instantly agreed. This was perfect, as it gives you the feeling that you are expressing more of yourself in that CD. Simon Dawson gave me the right tools to feel absolutely free to pick whatever I needed, making it a little easier to license a few of the non-Defected tracks featured there. The deadline was not that short, so no need to rush. Again, thanks to all the Defected team.
Is this compilation a true representation of Brazilian club culture?
Let’s just say that Brazil is really diverse with its love of music. If you go to the north side, then straight to the south, it would be like traveling to Morocco and Germany in one day, but all in the same country. Our people are truly mixed, and because of that, Brazil has multiple club scenes, so my decision was to create a mix and reflect the diversity. I mix from house to disco, and in the end of the mix you have those Latin summer carnival beats. I see it as a good example of the typical musical madness that you can find here.
A 72-minute mix is only a quick showcase into a DJ’s abilities and range of style. How would you describe your club sets?
You will never have a true feeling of a DJ set inside a CD box. It’s impossible. The crowd is a big, special part of the night, and when you mix a CD in your studio, you can’t feed off their reaction. When I’m working the clubs, I usually tend to play something close to what I did for this CD, and always keep my feet rooted in house music, which is the music that took my mind and soul in the late ‘80s. Understanding that house comes from disco, and that captured my heart even before I become a DJ, I always keep my ears opened to a new or old disco style record too. I would say that I stay balanced between both sounds.
As they say, “House is a feeling,” so… you can make a journey into many styles, and your whole set may vary between 100 to 130 BPMs, but it’s still house if you keep that feeling.
How long did it take to discover your own individual sound?
I would say that my sound is always developing, but I have to admit that around the early ‘90s I started to follow the path into the type of sound that I produce today. With a lack of true dance artists in Brazil, I was producing original dance music for major artists and labels like Sony and Warner music for several years. My budgets were really, really generous at that time, therefore, I could do some experiments, and that’s when I started to work with real musicians, instruments, orchestras, and unbelievable singers. I’m still an electronic-music based producer, as you can see, but echoes of that whole experience can be heard in my music today, and I see that everyone talks about this specific part to describe my sound. It’s not something I planned, it simply evolved in my production.
Who are your mentors?
I’m wouldn’t say mentors, but I had several people in the music scene that inspired me through all these years. The NY sound of the 90’s released by Strictly Rhythm, MAW, The Def Mix sound, Gamble and Huff, Vincent Montana, Incognito, Todd Terry, Arif Mardin, Jellybean Benitez, Shep Pettibone, Donny Hathaway, Earth Wind and Fire, the sound of Solar Records, and last but not least, the obvious and omnipresent Mr. Tom Moulton, the creator of the remix.
Did any particular situation help you obtain exposure when you were starting out?
Oh yes. When I started in the late ‘70s, it was very hard to get all the right records. Importing was very restricted in Brazil at that time, so… If you had your record bag with the right records, you could be DJing anywhere, and that’s how I started. I had a good friend who was also a DJ, and his uncle used to work at Pan-American Airlines, and we “gently” forced him to bring us some new releases every two weeks! My first gigs happened because of my imported records. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous and maybe not the right way, but it was all about the music, and I always played the best that I could at my gigs, so here I am.
What followed after?
My second big chance was years after that, around ‘87, when I did my first radio broadcast and mixed live at Radio Cidade FM (the #1 radio station in Rio). At Radio Cidade, I had a chance to play house music for the masses, every weekend for four years, and that’s where I played my first re-edits. Then I noticed, I was seeding my career as a future remixer along with the major labels, because everyone was listening to it all over Rio.
Are you the type of musician who knows what kind of track you want to write before you sit down to make it, or do you create music more from a process of experimentation, trial and error?
I already did one or two songs from trials, based on exquisite keyboard sounds, but 95% of the time, I need to start from some point, otherwise I don’t get in the studio. My inspiration can come from a song with a special chord that I heard somewhere, or even someone’s DJ set. The funny thing is, my usual inspired moments are in the shower or when I wake up.
When producing, where do you record?
I have a great studio at home, but I decided to move it recently. The location can vary in some cases, for example my remix for “The Cure and The Cause” for Fish Go Deep, I had to leave home and record strings in a real big studio where I can fit a whole orchestra, microphones, etc. When the recording session is done, I go back to my studio to create the proper song structure using Pro Tools. In the final process, I always mix at my home studio. I love mixing, it’s my golden moment of the production process. I can mix for days, but I’m always very critical. Every day I hear my mix, I may find some new detail that can be improved, so I tweak it again until I find nothing more to criticize or change.
Do you currently have a favorite piece of gear or software?
I used to have a beautiful Fender Roses…yes…that’s right…ROSES. It’s a Fender electric piano customized with a glossy pink ink treatment. I just sold it to Marcos Valle, one of the bossa nova kings. He deserves more than me. In the end, my favorite thing is Pro Tools, because editing is what I like to do.
Are you a morning person or night owl?
I just can’t get to bed early. I swear, I’ve tried… but… I can’t ! Even if I’m very tired, I don’t sleep before 5 AM… ever! The night is soooooo seductive to me. There’s no phone ringin’, no noises, nothing to do. It’s more inspiring right now, it’s 5:46 AM. So…. one more round.
Can you list a few favorite tracks of all time?
João Gilberto & Tom Jobim, “Chega de Saudade” / “Garota de Ipanema”
Earth, Wind and Fire, “In the Stone”
Herb Alpert, “Rise”
Jamiroquai, “Seven Days in Sunny June”
When you’re not listening to electronic music, what do you listen to?
Assuredly bossa nova or soul ballads… and disco. To me, it’s all about chords and melodies.
Tell us about your upcoming gigs and single releases
I had a lack of new tracks in 2010. I spent too much time on the road playing gigs, and now I have three new tracks in the pipeline. First one is a collaboration with the wonderful Tracey K from Fish Go Deep. It will be out soon, in less than two months. The other releases are being released soon after.
Right now, my calendar is fully booked until April here in Brazil (including WMC in Miami), but I might be going abroad after that… probably in May or June, to stay at least two or three months between Europe, Australia, and Asia. It’s like that every year. I call it “the sweetest part of the game”!