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Roger Sanchez Interview: S Man Days Of Future Past

Roger Sanchez talked collaborations, playing digitally and his S Man guise with Marko Kutlesa ahead of his upcoming UK shows.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 16th Sep 2016

Image: Roger Sanchez Credit: Jermaine Santiago

When Chicago house music arrived in the UK in the mid 1980s the pop charts heralded its arrival. Just a few years later, in combination with the drug ecstasy, the music caused a revolutionary youth movement of unparalleled hedonism.

But that wasn't the last revolution to take place within the music. From the early 90s the British themselves would mould and stretch the American music's potential, creating a myriad of unique and adventurous subgenres, from the possibilities of progressive house, to the deep mining of the two step beat in garage, to drum n' bass, dubstep and many more. The Americans though had one very special card left to play in the abilities of a their DJs.

When DJs such as Roger Sanchez and Derrick Carter started appearing at UK nightclubs in the mid 1990s audiences were astounded. In the days before WAV files, CD mixers, Serato and the like, the boundaries of just what a DJ could do with two (or three) turntables and vinyl in the dance music medium were pushed further than anyone thought possible by these DJs.

Employing hip hop techniques, playing two copies of the same record to create loops and overlapping certain sections of two tracks over long mixes to effectively create new music spontaneously, Britain had never experienced such trickery in a disco. The crowds were wowed and homegrown DJs simply couldn't compete. For a few years such Americans ruled the roost.

Sanchez's international emergence as a DJ occurred, as with many, simultaneously with his arrival as a producer. Recording as Roger Sanchez, the S Man or in collaborative efforts such as the S Men, his remix services have also been called upon by pop music royalty such as Michael Jackson, Kylie Minogue, Daft Punk, Madonna, The Police and Maroon 5.

He has topped several polls for best DJ over many years, held a residency in Ibiza for over a decade and a half, and is a Grammy award winner. His biggest chart success came in 2001 with the single 'Another Chance' but many more of his productions have been played on house music dancefloors over the years, not least those on his own Stealth and UNDR THE RADR imprints. In recent years he has collaborated with several new school producers such as Man Without A Clue, Huxley and Tough Love.

Marko Kutlesa caught up with the S Man prior to his appearance at Uber in Carlisle and Toolroom Live at Egg London to talk about his current plans.

Where are you speaking to me from?

I'm speaking to you from Barcelona. It's very lovely and it's very hot. I'm here until Sunday and I've been here pretty much the whole summer, I have the whole family here. This is where I made my base for the whole summer. 

Why did you choose Barcelona?

It's definitely one of my favourite cities. Plus it's pretty central in Europe, it's easy to get around from there. It's a place I love and I know it well. With the family having to be here as well, that pretty much decided it. I really love the vibe and the food here. It kinda reminds me in some ways of the Village in New York, in terms of its bohemian vibe. 

Do you speak Spanish?

Yes I do.

How's the difference between the Spanish you speak and the Catalan language that they speak in Barcelona? Is it difficult to understand?

No, it's not that difficult. The Spanish I grew up with is more New York Dominican Spanish, but I've spent a lot of time in Spain, on Ibiza and in Barcelona, so I'm used to the language here now.

What's the difference between S-Man and Roger Sanchez records?

Roger Sanchez tends to be more of my vocal and Latin infused, perhaps more accessible productions, whereas the S Man is very underground. It can be anything from deep house to techno, sometimes experimental.

I pretty much have no boundaries with the work I do as the S Man. If I feel like I want to take it darker and dirtier, I will. I like more songwriting orientated productions as Roger Sanchez. It's more on the soulful, Latin vibe. 

In today's current musical climate, now might be the right time for the return of S Man records, but are today's dancefloors wanting the bigger vocal records of Roger Sanchez, the actual songs?

In terms of bigger vocal records, it's already been happening. Especially in the UK, the more soulful vocal house. There are lots of newer artists coming along with vocal house productions now. As much as the underground sound and techno have grown, I see songs returning because honestly I think people are missing it. 

You famously sampled Toto for 'Another Chance'. What other Toto songs do you like?

'Africa', that was their biggest hit and probably my favourite song by them. There was something about 'Won't Let You Down Again' that was pretty poignant, the lyrics and the delivery of the vocals. That's why I chose to use that particular sample. 

The S Men project you did with Junior Sanchez and DJ Sneak looked like it was a collaboration that could have gone further, yet it came to just one single. What happened?

Our schedules just diverged at that time. We came together and had a lot of fun touring, but after that tour everyone just went off in their own direction. After that it just became difficult to pull everyone together at the same time. I was the one who rallied everyone together, so I figured if it's not happening then maybe it's just not the right time.

Which DJs are in your crew now? Who are you tight with? Who do you see socially?

Carnao Beats, Huxley, Cocodrills, Man Without A Clue. Darius Syrossian's pretty cool. I tend to bump into people at airports and hang out with them in places like Ibiza. 

How did you first come across the music of Huxley and what was it about his style that made you want to reach out to him?

I really liked the deeper production vibe he had, it reminded me of the early days, when I started. So, I reached out to him and asked him if he wanted to work on something and he was up for it. We did 'Callin', sending things back and forward to each other and I'm just finishing up another collaboration with him. 

What's that called?

Tentatively we are calling it 'Wasting Time'.

It's a boring to debate the pros and cons of vinyl/digital sources, but for you specifically how do you think the switch has altered your style, if at all?

When I did switch over from vinyl to CDs I did it for two reasons, that it enabled me to bring a LOT of music on the road with me. The weight restrictions and the physical difficulties of taking a lot of vinyl on tour... Then there was the fact that I could do things that were a lot more interesting if I went digital, in terms of loops, acapellas... Every now and then I still do a vinyl set, but I'm able these days to bring a lot more newer music on USBs. 

Part of the wow factor when you first broke through as a DJ in Europe was what you could actually do with two or three pieces of vinyl playing simultaneously. The possibilities. Has that wow factor now been somewhat removed as so many DJs play using the same box of digital tricks?

The initial wow factor was the manipulation of sound. I'd come from a hip hop background and so the technicalities of it I learned from vinyl. Moving to CDs was a way of expanding what I could do and most DJs I see don't push the boundaries of the possibilities. And they're not as technical. Carl Cox, Jeff Mills, those are great technical DJs.

What sets me apart is that I remix on the spot, deconstruct tracks, play something unique and spontaneous.

Two great vocalists that have more recently featured on Stealth are Mr V and Robert Owens. Do you have any particular singers you like a lot who you would love to feature on the label?

Like all time favourite artists, like Bjork? I like Sade. I like unique voices. Sometimes I like a big powerful vocal, but sometimes I like more intimate voices. I see them like different colours and you put them on different palettes. I really like James Blake, he has a very distinctive voice. Florence Welch. 

Quite a few big tracks from recent times have also used some more muted, understated or, like you said, a more intimate sounding vocalist. Is there not room for a big voice like a Chaka Khan or a Loleatta Holloway on today's floors?

Absolutely. Chaka's one of the most amazing, ever. Of course there's room for voices like that. It's all about finding the right palette. 

Under what circumstances did you come to record 'Hold On' with Boy George from your most recent EP?

We had been bumping into each other at airports for years and kept threatening to do something. There's going to be a different mix of it coming out with Tough Love.

What have you got coming up?

I've got a new S Man single out which I've done with Riddim Commission from the UK. The next will be something with Carnao Beats. 

Roger Sanchez plays a sold out Uber gig in Carlisle on Friday 30th September. 

You can catch Roger Sanchez at Toolroom at Egg London on Saturday 1st October. Tickets are available below.

Ticket waiting list for Toolroom Live: Mark Knight, Technasia, S-Man, Weiss, Adrian Hour

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