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An exclusive interview with Cuban Pete - Strange Daze 13th Birthday

Chris Nanook from Strange Daze, catches up with true vinyl vanguard and House Music aficionado, Cuban Pete... for a chat about music, mixing, parties, memories and secret dancefloor weaponry!

Disclaimer: The article below has been contributed by the event promoter or somebody representing the event promoter. As such we take no responsibility for accuracy of the content and any views expressed are not necessarily those of Skiddle or our staff.

Date published: 15th Sep 2016

CN - Hi Pete! Thanks for talking to us!
Cuban Pete - Cheers for having me!
CN - Tell the readers, how did you get in to DJing?
Cuban Pete - My Dad used to do a lot of DJing back in the 70's to boost the family coffers (yes the 70's - I'm that old haha!)
Him and my Mum used to run events before I was even born.
Just small time, cheesey mobile disco stuff, but he was gigging a few nights every week as well as holding down a full time job.
One of my earliest memories is my sister falling down the stairs and being saved at the bottom by the soft fabric covering the woofers on one of my dad's huge speakers that was stood at the bottom. I used to go with him from a far too early age trying to carry his smaller 7-inch record boxes for him.
I totally didn't appreciate the education I was getting, but he always knew what records to play when, whether it was disco, old Motown or even Adam and the Ants. Once he got people up dancing the floor always stayed full.
Fast forward to the late 80s early 90s and I'm going to big raves and starting to appreciate what DJs were now doing, then discovering the slightly more refined garage and house scene. I'm talking real, nice vocal US garage here, think tracks like ''Follow me'' - Aly us, ''Who keeps changing your mind'' - South Street Players etc. Travelling all over the country to see different DJs and then to be honest starting to get a little disappointed with some of the sets that the ''name'' DJs were getting paid a lot of money for and starting to think ''I reckon I could do better''.
My best mate at the time had a crappy old set of mismatched decks that didn't even keep time properly and although he didn't DJ anywhere, he knew how, and taught me the basics of beat matching. I was crap at first, I think all DJs remember not being able to tell if the track you were queuing up was faster or slower than the one that was already playing, but I absolutely LOVED it - Eventually it just clicked and that was it, suddenly I was addicted, practicing for hours on end on a crappy old pair of decks that kept going out of time. I didn't realise at the time, but those decks were teaching me to have a sharper ear as you had to keep adjusting and tweaking whilst the mix was live, you just couldn't trust the buggers like you can a set of 1210s haha!
CN - Epic. You can't put a price on that sort of experience and introduction in to disco / house music!
Where and how did you cut your teeth, DJing?
Cuban Pete - My first live gig was at a party that me and a few mates put on in Northampton. We were all budding DJs and weren't getting gigs ...believe me, we tried - so many tapes given to so many promoters haha!...
It went well, so we did a few more with warm up parties in an up and coming bar.
I then managed to totally blag a residency in said bar and things grew from there.
I got a good reputation, girls in particular seemed to like what I played and wherever good looking girls go, lads follow so I was quickly playing to bigger numbers.
I knew how to read a room and build a set, probably thanks to my dad all those years ago, so wherever I played it just seemed to go off. I think punters liked the fact that I was totally into the music too, dancing around behind the decks and interacting with the crowd (CN/ed - He still does!!) , rather than just standing there being too cool for school if you know what I mean?
I couldn't believe it, I got to go out, play exactly what music I wanted, dance around with great looking crowds, drink for free?and then get paid for it!!!
CN - Sounds like a dream come true. But you've hit upon a key thing there...reading the room. I think that is a discussion in itself, so maybe we'll save that for next time! haha
Are these early gigs where you got the name, Cuban Pete?
Cuban Pete - Haha! So there is a story behind it. My mate that taught me could get quite experimental and got me to think a bit more creatively about what I was doing, dropping acapellas from one track over other tracks in a live situation etc. I really got into latin and disco house and started hunting out vinyl with really cool latin beats and dropping them in behind whatever the big tracks of the day were to give them new twists. At one gig in particular I was quite high up and I remember looking out over the crowd, it was like some sort of Rio carnival, the whole place was jumping, and one of my mates that was in shouted up that I was Cuban Pete and the group of them started chanting Cuuuuuubaaaannnnn - they were all a bit nuts to be fair - they started doing this whenever they saw me playing, but I quite liked it, so kept it.
CN - Haha .... I don't think there is a DJ on the planet that wouldn't have kept the name in that circumstance!
We've seen you on bills doing crazy back to back sets with other residents and guests... but you've also played long sets on your own, warming up for the likes of huge names like Utah Saints.... Which style of set do you prefer, and why?
Cuban Pete - Don't get me wrong, I like playing big main room sets, I've supported pretty much all the big boys from the 90s and headlined myself too but I much prefer playing in a more intimate backroom / chillout area.
I think the best promoters totally appreciate the value of a good backroom DJ....
CN - Yeah for sure. I know as a DJ myself, to do a back room set properly can take more effort and experience that just dropping all the peak time tracks. ...and as a promoter, I seriously value someone who can do a proper backroom set, with subtlety and tact.
Cuban Pete - ....Also, sometimes you just need a break from the main room, especially the harder DJs. The job of a backroom DJ in my book is to get you refreshed, clear your head, back in a groove dancing again and ready to get back in the main room.
Admittedly I've overstepped the mark on occasions and been pulled by promoters for getting a bit carried away with the punters, which ended up with a sparse main room 'coz no-one wanted to leave the backroom, but to be honest, I think that was more about the headliner (who shall remain nameless!) not living up to their billing, than it was me. OK, it was a little bit me too haha!
I can happily play for hours too, and enjoy long back room sets. The longest set I ever played was at Manchester Mardis Gras (now Pride) in 1999. It was 8 hours of vinyl and I didn't play a single track twice! Having said all of that, I think my all time favourite type of set is to play back to back with someone on a similar wavelength and bounce off each other's vibe, this then builds the atmosphere as the punters buzz off what you?re doing.
Everyone's a winner in that situation.
Sets naturally build as the 2 DJs go slightly bigger with each track or suddenly change direction and try to out do each other?''Oh, you're playing that are you? Well I'm going to play this then!'...''Nice! Well if you're doing that, then I'm going to do THIS! HAHAAA!''... ''Oh really? Well in that case..'' etc. You've been there with me, you know how it goes.... bombs get dropped all over the place haha!
CN - For real. When a back to back set goes right, there really isn't much else that can compare!
Cuban Pete - That's it!
CN - As well as have DJ residencies, and regular guest slots aropund the country, you used to run a few events of your own too, did you not? - Tell us a little about those...
Cuban Pete - God that was a long time ago haha! I was involved in various bits and bobs in the midlands but some of my favourite events were ''Kryptonite'' which was held in the crypt ...see the play on words there?... of St Martin in the Fields Cathedral on Trafalgar Square in London.
Amazing venue for a club night and we had some amazing crowds.
''Sunday Uncovered'' was another big one that I started on Bank Holiday Sunday's coincidentally at a club just around the corner from the Zombie Shack where you guys party. It was called ''Generation X'' back then. DJs all day, on 3 different floors including a roof terrace - hence the ''uncovered'' bit - also giving a nod to the ''Ibiza Uncovered'' TV programme of the time.
Running events is hard enough, but I used to do pretty much the whole thing single handedly. I remember talking to other promoters who wanted to get my ''team'' involved with their nights 'coz I was getting around a 1000 punters each event. They could never believe it when I'd say ''You?re looking at my team, I'm him haha!''
As you know better than anyone Chris, promoting your own event is bloody hard work. Very few people make serious money out of it, you do it for the love of putting on the type of event you'd want to go to?and hope others want to too!
CN - Amen! Whilst we're reminiscing... Back then, it was all vinyl. I remember as a young DJ, the first CD decks making their way in to the club, and they really were on the periphery.
In recent years, you'll often see people discussing the virtues of various formats in discussions online. CDs vs Vinyl vs Controllers....wavs vs MP3 vs FLAC... etc... and still the technology shows no sign of letting up it's astronomic development.... But there has also been a bit of a resurgence of popularity in vinyl, with several major record distributers re-releasing back-catalogue stuff, new material.... and even putting it on the high-street.
You never left vinyl, and are known for it, really.
Explain why you stayed with vinyl over other formats?
Cuban Pete - It's simple, I moved from doing DJing and events full time, to having a family and having to get a 'proper job', during hours that were more conducive to family life - the technology just moved on without me haha!
When I think back though, I used to laugh at people that used mixers with beat counter displays on them as I felt it reduced the basic skills required to DJ, even carrying a wallet of CDs was nowhere near as cool as lugging a great big flight case full of 12-inch records from gig to gig.
Sometimes it was a full body work out just to get your tunes up to the DJ booth!
(CN - Anyone remember the old set of fire ladders to get up to the corner DJ booth in Jabez Clegg?!!)

Cuban Pete - These days you can turn up with a memory stick in your pocket and don't even have to use a set of headphones if you don't want, with the option of using sync features on laptops.
It can be pretty soul-less and no real skill is required in comparison.
That said, technology is a wonderful thing and I'm talking about traditional DJing here, yes the things that I used to practice for hours on end to achieve, which anyone can now do at the touch of a button.
But, I stood in a DJ booth in Birmingham next to Dave Morales once watching him turn one deck off and use his finger to push a record around keeping it in time with the massive slowing breakdown in the middle of his remix of Mariah Carey's ''Fantasy'' - Somehow, he was making the other track sound like an air raid siren - ridiculous skills!!
CN - If you're a fan of the technology of not, you'd be hard pressed to argue seeing/hearing that would not be awesome!
Cuban Pete - DJs today should, and I imagine the best ones do, use the new technology to push the boundaries of what can be achieved and release new levels of creativity that simply couldn?t be done before. People like Paul Oakenfold were already preparing huge chunks of their sets on DATs in the late 90s, but he still knew how to change it up to create the best experience for the crowd that had turned up on the night.
The crux of the matter is this - As far as I know, they haven't built a computer programme yet that can read the atmosphere in a club see how a crowd is reacting and play the records to match it.
That takes knowledge, experience, soul and a sprinkling of that magical pixie dust that all good DJs keep in their record boxes!
CN - Right on...I couldn't agree with you more!
You've been a regular feature at Strange Daze events for several years now.
hats been your favourite or most memorable event, so far?
Cuban Pete - Easy! The first bar gig we did together at the Nook, in Chorlton.
Back to back nonsense in a great little venue that had the crowd dancing on chairs and tables, both inside and outside. You did well grasshopper haha! (CN - hahaha - It helped having installed the sound system there, and knowing JUST how far we could push it!)
Strange Daze is also actually responsible for my worst ever DJ performance too... all I'm going to say is that going on late after being generously entertained by a certain DJ/promoter, with far too many vodka shots will not be happening again - pre-set anyway haha!
CN - hahaha - But anyway, if I remember rightly, you didn't need your arm twisting! But I like the idea of ....Strange Daze, "Generously Entertaining!" hahaha
Give us quick tale, from one of your PRE-Strange Daze residencies....
Cuban Pete - Millenium Eve. One of only 2 club nights in Manchester that night to completely sell out. Cowboys and Angels theme in the club - don?t ask!!
I?m DJing in a white Travolta suit a la Saturday Night Fever, with a huge pair of feather wings on my back - cool huh? haha - I'm smoking a huge cigar; I don?t even smoke, it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and drinking White Russians.
I drop ''Amen ? Passion'', just before Midnight so that it drops just in time for the New Millenium to strike, everything's working perfectly.
We've got these giant balloons hanging from the ceiling with small charges attached to them so that they can explode at midnight and fill the air with the white feathers that they've each been packed with. The tune breaks down perfectly timed, The clock strikes! Happy New Millenium Everybody!
The tune drops, the place goes wild? explosions????
I then decide to grab a chair, stand on it in the middle of the crowd, jump up and burst the balloons with my cigar. (CN - Oh oh!!)
By the time I hit the floor, I not only can I not see but I look like I've been tarred and feathered and I'm literally spitting feathers too - much to the amusement of all those on the dancefloor - I still somehow made it back to the DJ booth in time to get the next record in and on though haha!
...The things we do to put on a good club night!!! (CN - hahahaha... Don't think i've heard that story before! )
CN - Moving away from parties and DJing, briefly - What are your 'top three things to do', that aren't DJing...
Cuban Pete -
1- Anything with my 3 kids, they're amazing (assuming the eldest ever returns from her travels in Oz!)
2- Riding my motorbikes.
3- Spending time with the wonderful people I have around me, lapping up life and laughing till we cry.
CN - Nice. I forget you love your bikes. I should have dug out that photo of you in goggles, looking like the crazy frog!
What are your 'Top Three' classics that never leave the record bag...
Cuban Pete -
That's really difficult as I've thinned out a lot of stuff over the years so classics is pretty much all I have haha!
OK, let's say these then:
1 - Electric Choc - Shock the beat (original piano mix)
2 - Shades of Rhythm - Sound of Eden (original edit)
3 - Allison Limerick - Where Love Lives (Perfecto mix)
CN - Awesome choices, sir!!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Pete!
Cuban Pete - No worries, I'm looking forward to the 13th birthday... it's going to be a good one!!..I'm loading some secret weapons already - mmmwwaahahahahaaa!!
CN - For anyone wishing to catch Cuban Pete playing a true vinyl set, details of the Strange Daze 13th Birthday can be found here, with tickets available below -

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