From humble beginnings, Toronto producer Nathan Barato has crafted his musical career from the ground up. Starting out as a DJ, Barato cofounded Rawthentic Music with his older brother Jason (it’s now run by longtime friend and the other half of Nathan’s techno duo The Roaches, Carlo Lio), but it’s his Roots and Wings label that’s really taken flight of late, which has seen releases from Plusculaar, Ricky Syfer, Chris Larsen, Alvaro Gonzalez, Ludvan Allen, and Barato himself, naturally. We caught up with him to talk about the music scene in Toronto, Roots and Wings’ future plans, and his latest EP, The Sub of Queen West, released in December on Stacey Pullen’s Blackflag Recordings.
Was music always a big part of your life, growing up?
Yeah, pretty much. I was addicted to radio shows by Chris Sheppard and Deadly Headly on CFNY. Couldn’t stop watching Much Music either! Soon after that, I started buying my own music and it was over.
So, what drew you to electronic music initially, and why did you decide to starting DJing?
I think DJing drew me to electronic music. When I started, DJs played any and all genres… slow jams, reggae, hip-hop, new wave, house—all of it! I guess my brother’s new wave/alternative addiction played a huge role too—Nitzer Ebb, Ministry, The Cult, The Cure, Skinny Puppy, Depeche Mode. He had it on 24/7! I guess that resonated with me the most. In terms of why I started DJing, I can blame my big brother, Jason. I idolized him, and I still do!
What makes the music scene in Toronto so special?
The Toronto scene is interesting. Sometimes it seems like everyone is happy, and sometimes it seems like no one is happy! The truth is, the club market is healthy as fuck. We have lots of people that love to party. We get the world’s top talents coming through our city year round, but our scene typically morphs into overdrive during the summer with the best of the best coming to town at least a couple times a week. It’s been that way for a very long time, so I guess club life is just embedded into our fiber!
Were there any challenges you’ve had to overcome in an industry like that?
It’s hard for me to say anything negative about the challenges here; it’s been a great experience overall. I guess if I had to pinpoint something though, it would be a phase the city went through where it felt like I was often playing to a crowd that didn’t have much patience. It felt like all they wanted to hear was bomb after bomb. That’s all well and good, but from a DJ’s perspective, I’m way happier now. I get way more freedom to take people to different places musically. I guess another challenge was figuring out how to break out of the “Toronto vacuum.” Toronto DJs gig so much locally that it can almost compete with one’s desire to DJ abroad.
Speaking of which, you’ve been a part of the scene there for almost 15 years now. What positive changes have you witnessed in the industry over the years?
Like I said, I’m enjoying how the market is more open-minded these days. I’m also happy to see that there are more individuals running club land! It’s kind of a free-for-all right now. For a long time, one major entity ran what felt like the whole city. We broke loose from that, thankfully, and it’s a bit of a more even playing field now.
How would you describe the sound of Toronto, and how does it relate to your own sound?
I’ve never found there to be a specific Toronto sound. Maybe we do have a sound and it’s just a reflection of the city itself. We have people from every culture living in Toronto. Our club land is sort of like that. If you dig, you can find anything you want. So, I guess our sound is all sounds?
Let’s talk about your latest EP, The Sub of Queen West, that dropped in early December on Stacey Pullen’s label, Blackflag Recordings, featuring two new tracks, “Can You Hear Me?” and “The Mitchell Rhythm.” Tell us about what went into the production for these tracks? Any inspirations?
With both tracks I had a visualization of Stacey rocking a party! That was it! That’s all I imagined while making them! Bombs for Stacey. He has a distinct style that has a ton of energy yet has a phat undertone. That’s what I tried to do with these two—phat bombs!
What was it like working with Stacey on your new EP?
Man, it was awesome! That dude is an absolute legend and a mentor. He was very understanding along the way on many levels, and it was a huge honor to be asked by him to do an EP. I think that may have started a long run of great luck that doesn’t seem to want to stop, thankfully!
And what about your imprint, Roots and Wings? I read that you had left the business but started Roots and Wings as a means to staying connected to music. What was it like in the beginning, what was the initial mission of the label?
You’re right—initially, when I started Roots and Wings, it was a way to stay connected to the music, but it was also a way to stay connected to DJing! Running a label can feel like an extension of DJing sometimes. I had left the biz at the time, so I thought that was a good way to still have some expression into club land.
Roots and Wings has seen some really impressive releases in the last year or so. What has been your favorite release so far?
Thanks! It’s really hard for me to pick one favorite! Typical answer, I know! All I’ll say is I hope people will take a little time and check some of the back catalog. I’m really proud of all the content. Feels so good to try different things or work with artists that aren’t typical and to see people be receptive to it. For every release, I have a distinct memory. From RW001 right until now—we’re almost at RW050! Blows my mind!
So, what can we expect from Roots and Wings in the future?
Next year we’re planning to push things forward. We will be releasing our first full-length LP by Plusculaar, which is so good. I’m really proud of him. We also have three amazing releases from Wigbert, a great two-tracker from Derek Marin, and then we have EPs from Ali Black, The Dutch Rudder, Danny Ocean, Saso Recyd, and myself. There are also a few surprises but I gotta be mysterious here [laughs].
You’re currently working on a mix for the Carl Cox 500 Radio Show. Are you excited? What can we expect from the mix?
[Laughs] Of course I am! Pretty nutso to get a spot on there! Carl is truly one of the most impactful DJs on the planet, so it caught me off guard when I was asked to do the mix. It was a tricky mix because I was only allowed 30 minutes, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’ve kept the mix upbeat and energetic for the Cox fans, but wanted to focus on my own music mostly. I hope people like it.
We can’t wait to check it out! Your on-stage partnership with Carlo Lio as the Roaches, as well as your double act with Lio and the Junkies as Union, have both been doing well this year. What’s it like playing with them?
Well, it’s hard for the Roaches to squeeze out a gig because Carlo travels more than an airline pilot, but every year we do this event with The Junkies, that you mentioned is called Union. We try our best to time it around the holidays and open the doors as early as we can, then we just go b2b2b2b for as many hours as the club will let us!
As you would expect, playing with the three of them is really great. We have a blast every time. It’s funny because the four of us talk every day but aren’t in the same room too often. Then next thing you know, we’re in a booth together for nine hours straight! [Laughs]
We have an intangible dynamic that translates during our gigs together. No speaking needed—we just know what the others are doing. I guess that comes from the fact that we’re all super-tight like brothers, plus we’ve been playing together as duos or collectively for some years now.
What would you say that you gain, creatively or otherwise, from your relationships with them?
At the very least, we are all great for one another in one way or the other. We talk to each other all day every day, so it’s great to have three solid people that I’m tight with to discuss all things music. We also push each other to keep achieving our goals and are supportive of each others’ successes.
What’s next for you?
Lots! A bunch of releases on different labels like Defected, King Street, D-Floor (new label by Leon, Pirupa, Nice 7), and I just completed a remix of Nicole Moudaber’s first single on her new label, Mood Recordings. An EP and remix for Roots and Wings, a second single for Rekids, a remix for Core Values (a new label coming out of Toronto), and a couple other things that I have my fingers crossed for.
On the DJ front, I’m really happy to say that I’ve teamed up with Orbeat Bookings as my European agency! I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. I have gigs in Mexico for the BPM Festival, where I will be playing my first Music On gig alongside Marc Antona and a special guest on January 13, as well as a jam on January 10 inside The Cave alongside The Junkies and other guests soon to be announced. From there, I will head to LA to play the new hotspot Sound, on January 19, then it’s Pacha NYC for Nicole Moudaber’s night on January 26. Pretty happy about all this; the new year is shaping up nicely!