On his brand-new compilation and coinciding Beatport Mixes, dance music legend Roger Sanchez returns to his roots with a soulful, sophisticated collection of tech-house tracks. We sat down with the man to chat about Release Yourself ’12, some of the featured artists on his Stealth label, and the trends he’s seen while DJing all over the world. He offers up advice for aspiring producers and gives us a glimpse into his personal studios in New Jersey and Ibiza along the way.
Your new Beatport Mixes feature tracks from the new compilation. What can we expect from all of these efforts?
My releases are always a reflection of what my vibe is for that particular year on the dancefloor. I always look at two parties: the pre-party, which tends to be kind of a warm-up, and the real party, which tends to be the main peak hours. This year, I’ve definitely been playing with more of a tech-house vibe, and I’ve gone more towards that side of my roots—and the compilation definitely reflected that. There are a lot of new tracks from Stealth artists—Benny Royal, Federico Scavo, and more really good and new upcoming producers; all tracks that are really rocking my dancefloor.
What do you look for in new talent for your label?
I’m always looking for something unique; it has to have a feel that will drive the dancefloor for me. I’m focusing more on house, so they need more of a house vibe now than before. I do have more big-room producers like Sebastian Drums and Kid Massive in my stable, but I really am focusing on a house vibe right now—guys like the Stafford Brothers, who have a wicked track, which Baggi Begovic just remixed, and we have tracks from Benny Royal and Prok & Fitch. That should give you an idea of the sound I’m going for; it’s more of a techy/underground vibe.
The Beatport Mixes service lets DJs offer full-length, continuous mixtapes as the DJ intended them to be heard (in DRM-free, ad-free, high-definition files). As opposed to uploading mixes to other cloud-sharing sites, Beatport Mixes enables DJs to legally sell sets online with sources listed, and the original producers get paid a share of the money. As a DJ and producer, what are the benefits of this new platform for you?
One of the great things about Beatport Mixes is that it focuses on the DJ—it’s not just the tracks, but also the artistry of the mix that gets the attention. You do have radio shows and SoundCloud pages, but this is more direct. Because of the exposure Beatport gives to it, you’ll be able to create more of an experience. Listeners can take home a live set in essence. Mine is more of a live exclusive set because of the tracks I put on. I’m really glad that you guys are focusing on this.
How does your approach to preparing for a live show differ from recording a mix?
For me, a live show is very spontaneous, and I can basically pull from anywhere in my entire library. I think when I’m recording a mix, obviously there are some rights and clearances I have to be very aware of, and I have to try to pre-clear everything. Specifically, what I try to do is get as much unreleased material as I possibly can, because I want to make it a representation of what I’m playing and also give people something brand new that they don’t have. That way it becomes a shiny, new creation.
What advice would you give new DJs? Specifically DJs who want to find a balance between playing tracks they love while also keeping crowds happy?
Coming up, you have to cut your teeth on a lot of different crowds. I started out really old school, even doing weddings. What I’ve learned to do is present music I love in a format that people who might be familiar with it can understand. I might take familiar acapellas from one record that I happen to like and put a track under it to really draw the crowd in, and before they know it they’re like, “Oh, I really like this. Wait a minute, this is a version I haven’t heard.” I do a lot of live remixing on the spot; I’m always taking acapellas and running them over tracks. I think things like that really allow you to give people a touchstone of recognition while you can also explore your own sound. That’s a really important part of being creative as a DJ, being able go in there and see a crowd that may not be in the same vibe sonically that you’re used to. You have to look at them, figure it out, try to find things they recognize, but feed it to them in a way that’s your style.
What trends have you seen musically in your travels or studio sessions? Have you seen a change in recent years, and if so, has that changed the way you play shows?
It’s interesting because the whole EDM scene has really broadened the audience. The more commercial audiences are used to a more radio-friendly sound. Even though it’s broadened the reach of dance music, that’s one thing I’ve been very wary of. Meanwhile, there’s been a very strong resurgence of more underground house styles. Coming from techno and tech house, the resurgence of that style is great because I love that vibe on the dancefloor. I’ve always been a DJ that doesn’t limit myself to one thing, but particularly this summer, I allowed myself to draw influences from everywhere. I’ve really circled back in on the more proper house sound and with a little bit of the tech-house vibe. House music is really interesting because it’s kind of like the anti-mainstream sound, but at the same time you also have those members of the mainstream that are starting to adopt it. I’ve seen it all merge recently.
Do you think it’s all headed somewhere specific?
The newcomers will get more sophisticated as they grow into the entire scene. I do believe that with every explosion, there comes a period of time where everything is over-saturated and it goes back underground. Right now is the absolute highest point of popularity that dance music has ever had, but I do believe it’s going to submerge. You’ll still have certain artists that will stand out, but the music that will come through will be more interesting because we’ll see a resurgence of the underground—the tech-house movement and techno taking over where deep house was. What I think is that the people who came into the dance music scene listening to EDM will start getting more sophisticated. There comes an overkill point when people start to ask, “What else is there? Everything sounds the same. I like this, but what else is there?” They’ll mature.
Has that vision affected the way you’re producing these days?
What I’ve always done is adapted different vibes and different sounds into my own style. I think what I’ve been able to do is really take the best from my current influences while maintaining the true core of what I’ve done over the years—the elements of soul and emotion that have been in everything I do. It’s funny, I think I split myself in two sometimes, because I love being able to do the bigger-room sound, but I also have what I like to call the S-Man, which is my pure underground side.
You’ve used some different aliases like S-Man over the years. Is that to help your fans differentiate your sound?
I think so. I’ve always allowed my own Roger Sanchez productions to be a lot bigger, or to do collaborations with other artists from different genres. The S-Man stuff always tends to be very minimal and underground. That’s one thing I want people to know about myself: There are many sides to me musically. I like to be able to have the freedom to do what I want, but I also understand you have audiences that like a certain sound. I’ll put out a track like “Another Chance” and then I’ll put out a track like “Animalz,” and they might be a bit confused. So it’s always good to have a way for them to differentiate between the sounds.
Tell us about your studio setup.
I’ve got a couple of studios now: one in Ibiza, one in New Jersey. My main tools are Logic and Ableton Live. There are over two TB worth of sounds that I use and so many plugins that it’s not even funny. I also have a few analog external synths, too. I was at Deadmau5′ studio in Toronto a while back, and he’s pure analog. I do a lot of my stuff while moving around the world, so I have to stay mobile.
What advice would you give aspiring producers?
I always recommend Logic as my main core sequencing software—it’s very well integrated—and then Ableton can be ReWired into it. I think it’s good to pick one or two synths to start off with and really learn them well. Some of the guys I work with, they know one or two pieces of gear really well and they can get some amazing sounds out of them. Really, you shouldn’t try to buy everything and go overboard. Just have your computer and your keyboard; a nice core setup that you can learn in and out. Then, from there, you can develop your craft.
Did you start out DJing or producing first?
I started out as a DJ, and then I went into the studio to create my own tracks to play out. That’s how I started getting into the production side of things and that’s how I learned. I could see what worked on the dancefloor and I would go into the studio to take those ideas and work with them. I played drums when I was growing up, so I always focused on the percussion side first and foremost as I worked on my productions.
What are the future plans for yourself and Stealth Records?
I’m working on a couple of things right now. I’ve got a collaboration with Danny Jones called “Tonight,” and I’ve got collaborations with Christina Milian and a couple of other major artists in the works. I’m also working on this really interesting project called Architecture where I’ve created tracks based on my interpretation of the styles of some of my favorite architects or one of their structures. “Zaha Hadid” and “Tadao Ando” are two of those tracks that are actually on the new record. It’s a bizarre way of approaching production, but it’s an idea I’ve been batting around in my head for awhile now. There’s no one set style for them, and it’s got a deep tech-house vibe, but it’s really an experimental project from the heart. I wanted to do something very different.
I’ve just started working on an EP for a track called “My Roots” and another collaboration with Prok & Fitch called “Take You There” that I’m about to drop. I’m gearing up for next year with a new album and new Stealth releases. I’m definitely looking forward to 2013.