In Conversation with… Hernán Cattáneo
When it comes to the compilation mix format, Hernán Cattáneo is the industry’s go-to-guy. A staple of the Renaissance series for years, in 2017 he is returning to Balance – where he previously mixed no 26 in their series back in 2014.
This time around the album will showcase music exclusively from his own Sudbeats imprint. Between one of the most rigorous touring schedules in the business, we were fortunate enough to catch-up with the veteran Argentine DJ/producer to discuss the new album, mammoth DJ sets and recent events in his home country.
You’ve just got back from playing Electric Gardens festival in Australia?
Yeah. I’ve just got back from 2 weeks in Asia and Australia which has been the start of the tour for the new album. I played 2 Electric Gardens festivals. And I did New Zealand, Indonesia, Bali..
What are the Aussie crowds like?
They are really good. Especially for the kind of music I play. Australia has always been very good for that. There are certain places where my style of music is more trendy. But in Australia they always know what they like. They have a long history with melodic music and producers – they react very well to it.
And you played back-to-back with Guy J?
Yes. We went back-to-back in Sydney. And then at the afterparty we did a bigger back-to-back: me, Guy J, Guy Mantzur & Eelke Kleijn. We play together all the time. It’s fun, you know. After a big festival like Electric Gardens, you wanna go to the afterparty and be relaxed. It wasn’t like an afterhours. It was a different event. We thought instead of all playing a normal set each, that we would all play together. We are all good friends, you know. And we had a really, really good time.
Where are you headed next?
Now I am doing 2 South American shows: Peru & Chile next week. Then I’m going to India. 4 shows there. And then I go to the US. I’m doing Washington, Brooklyn New York. Then I’m doing Stereo in Montreal, where I’m gonna play a ten hour set.
Yes, Stereo is a special place, you know. I do big, long sets. I always do that. I don’t mean this to sound funny, but there they have professional clubbers, you know. They go to that club specifically to dance. There is no VIP. There is no decoration. Almost no lights. It’s just an amazing sound system with clubbers who are screaming for new music. You really feel like you want to keep on playing, more and more. Have you been there?
Not yet. But after your endorsement I think we’ll add it to the bucket list!
You should, man. I will put you on the list. No, no, really. In the entire clubbing universe there are some things that have more worth than others. One is going to Burning Man. Another is going to Stereo!
After Stereo I do a boat party in Miami – it’s a Tuesday. And then on the Friday it’s Treehouse – our own party. Sudbeats label and Soundgarden, Nick Warren’s label. It’ll be Nick & myself back-to-back. And then in the other room Danny Howell’s back-to-back with Guy Mantzur. So I think that’s gonna be great for our fans. And then on Saturday I fly into Chicago. Then back home for a week. And then onto Europe.
You’re certainly keeping busy!
Well, you know, honestly, I keep busy. Very busy. But I am very privileged to have stayed busy since I first went to Europe, I dunno, like, 17 years ago. The difference is, sometimes, from time-to-time, some gigs can be harder than others. When you reach a certain level in the game you are always busy. The thing is: how good are the gigs? How happy are you with them? The last 3 or 4 years have been really, really good. I try never to pay much attention to trends. But people do. That’s the truth. So when trends go to different places from where you are, sometimes the gigs aren’t as good as you expect. The last 4-5 years, melodic music has been so strong. So things have gone the way I want.
That sort of leads us to our next question. It’s something we’ve written about recently. Do you think, that as EDM’s sound has shifted, that true, authentic progressive house has had a resurgence?
Yes. I would say, in my opinion, EDM was responsible for bringing millions of new kids around. What we play wouldn’t be very attractive to fifteen year olds. But the big EDM sound did attract them. But then, after a few years, these kids grow up. And they wanna hear something a bit more elaborate, a bit less obvious. And here we are! We’re here with our arms open, saying “come here, we have what you need”. So, in a way, when there was the EDM super explosion 2009/10/11 it was a bit difficult for us, because all the attention was going through that. Or to underground techno. But now those kids have grown up, they’re looking for different stuff. Some go to deep house, some to techno. And a lot have gone to melodic music. Which is what I play. I don’t pay attention to trends. I play what I like. Regardless of whether it is flavour of the month or not. As mature DJs, we cannot be changing our sounds because of what is trendy. I play always the same.
You famously mixed Balance 26 in 2014. One of our favourites in the series. How did this process differ from that one?
Well, with Balance 26 it was part of their compilation series, you know. You can choose what you want from the entire musical universe. And you make your own mix – like the ones I did for many years for Renaissance. While with this one, it is based around my own label – Sudbeats. I worked within our repertoire; around the artists we normally work with. Music which is exclusively from the label. So it’s more personal. So on Balance 26 I chose stuff like Boards of Canada – which I always liked, and always dreamed of including in a mix. And the guys at Balance gave me a free rein. But with this album it is only the people I work with on Sudbeats. I could have made a compilation and put it out directly. But I really like Balance as a brand. I get on well with their guys. I trust the way they market things. And since Sudbeats is still a small label, it made sense to take it to the next level partnering with Balance. They’re one of the coolest labels around. And it’s gone really well. So far I am happy with people’s reaction. I’ve got to work with all my friends. All the people I want to work with. I know them. In terms of album territory, it’s a good alliance for us to be with.
Thinking of the series format, how important it is in today’s scene? Is it a credit to guys like Balance and other series’, when you consider there’s podcasts, radio shows, streaming platforms all competing for listeners?
I’ll tell you this: maybe the general public would not see the value. But hardcore fans – real diehard fans – they really see the value in it. You have to ask: for whom do I make this compilation? I do a podcasts every week. 1 hour of fresh new music from all over the world. So that’s on a weekly basis. But this is different. The thought process for a compilation album is different. There are thirty tracks. And they are specifically made for this album. Producers from all over the world: Russia, Israel, California. From England, from Greece, Argentina. From Spain. Working all together to make the finished piece. That is what gives it its value. It’s a special occasion. You wouldn’t put the same level of work into a weekly podcast. That’s why they are still special. I did many albums like this for Renaissance. It was a privilege. Anyone can do a mix. Anyone can do a podcast or radio show. Of course, that is great. But an album – a physical album – is another level. That’s why you put in so much work, and people see the value. Especially fans. They appreciate how much work and passion goes into a mix like this. If you look at numbers, the last few times I published my Burning Man sets – it was insane. Something like 1 million plays on Soundcloud. Insane numbers compared to what a compilation might sell. But these are different things. They really want it in their hand. They take it to a club for you to sign it, and stuff like that. It’s almost a fetish!
You spoke about playing for 10-hours, earlier. How difficult is it to condense a set into an 80-minute mix?
That’s the most difficult part. It’s always painful, you know. Everytime you make a compilation you start with a list of maybe 100 tracks. And then you end up using only 30. I’m very passionate about music. I’m crazy about it! I put all my emotion into it. I love all of these tracks, and become very attached to them. It’s very difficult when you start working in ideas, and 70% of the tracks cannot make it onto the album.
You have to be ruthless.
Yeah. It’s not fun. Because if I could I would make 10 CDs in the same way I play for 10-hours at Stereo. I would make an album that long, if they’d let me! Firstly, that way I could include all the tracks that I want. And secondly, the way I like to play music is better in longer sets. My favourites are when I play for longer. 5-6 hours. The way I play – slow, hypnotic, atmospheric – works better on a long set. After a while it gets you, you know. There are DJs who jump on stage and lock the groove in within 2 tracks. I admire that. But that’s not the way it works for me. For me it is a process that takes time. And once you reach the level you want, you can say “okay, let’s take 4 or 5 hours.” Especially at places like Stereo, where they have one of the best sound systems around.
Every DJ we speak to always tells us how crazy the crowds are in Argentina. It is often their favourite place to play. What makes them so special, do you think?
Well, I think it’s a combination of things. In a way, we are Europeans. Because 80% of South Americans, of Argentinians come from European immigrants. So we’re Latinos, you know. We have that spirit – that Latin blood. So we are very passionate, like southern Italians. Or Greeks. So I think it is a good mixture. Argentinians, Brazilians, Peruvians, Chileans – we really like club music. We like to go out, like festivals. We are always up for a party!
What’s your take on the cities of Buenos Aires & Mar Del Plata banning permits for electronic music events in light of the tragedy at Time Warp?
It is a very tricky situation. Of course banning is never a good thing. The problem here is that part of the government, a big part of the media and part of society are ill-informed. I don’t want to say they have bad will. For them, the easy way was to blame the music. “Electronic music is evil; therefore we should stop it.” We all know that’s not true. Everybody with a little bit of knowledge about music and entertainment can tell you that. Sometimes that’s easier for the press or government, rather than facing the real problem. Unfortunately, with drugs there isn’t a lot of information here (in Argentina). It puts kids in jeopardy, because they don’t know how to reduce harm. I lived in Europe for 15 years, and there I know how their governments and society handle drug culture. Here, there is no such knowledge. So suddenly, the problem explodes! And the first thing the government thinks is shut down everything. It’s really bad. They haven’t really faced the real problem. The problem is not club music, the problem is facing the effect and dosage of drugs kids are taking. The kids here don’t know. And they’re harming themselves. Even since this has happened, nothing has changed on that front! They can say “now there’s more control on the door”. But that’s not gonna stop the kids taking the wrong drugs. It is not being handled the right way. Me being from here and living here – I pulled out of all of my shows. I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to be in the middle of a situation like this. The media are going to blame the music. And the DJs.
When are you back in the UK?
My next show is April 21st. I’ll be playing Ministry of Sound in London for the launch of this album. It’s a Friday, and it’ll be more and Nick Warren for Gallery. I do that, like, three times a year. April, July and August.
Balance Presents Sudbeats mixed by Hernán Cattáneo is released on 24th February 2017 on Balance Music. Hernán plays the album launch for The Gallery at Ministry of Sound on Friday 21st April 2017.