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From Pots & Pans To Major Labels: 5 Steps With Dennis Ferrer

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Chances are if you’re reading Data Transmission that you probably like House music. If you like House music then the probability is quite high you like the sounds of Dennis Ferrer.  A man who has always been in the right place at the right time documenting the mood of several generations. It’s an old cliché, but it’s one that’s been the definition of Dennis Ferrer’s musical career. Just as the dance music world was heading into the world of afro-centric house, Ferrer was there. Then, when it began to embrace the mix of tech and soul, Ferrer was there again, leading the way with his impeccable productions. As Ferrer goes, it seems, so does electronic music. And, as someone who’s never content to do the same thing twice, it’s clear that he’ll be staying on top for years to come.

With a deep knowledge of the past and a constant push for the future, Ferrer remains one of the true greats of house music – a innovator whose passion for the scene keeps him pushing the limits and raising the stakes as to what we can expect from electronic music.  This is 5 steps with Dennis Ferrer. 

Banging on my mother’s pots and pans at 5

Nothing set me up for my career in music more than this one attention diversion tactic my mom used.  I would sit in the middle of the living room floor and she’d give me two pots and two clothing pins to keep me busy. And bang away I did…to the point that today…I even still bang away on my Sonor phonics kit. It’s been in me and has never left and she doesn’t have the slightest clue that she started it all. It’s all about beats for me. ping…ping…double ping..and smack the cat as a crash cymbal!

The day Ensoniq came out with the ESQ-1

This was a historic day for me. One that brings me to tears… of joy. One of my favorite haunts when I was 14 was to cut school and go to Sam Ash Music in NYC.  Every other kid would go cut school, get high/drunk and  go to the movies or just  hang out and hope not to get caught by NYC truant officers. My refuge was the music store. The guys there would let me put headphones on and tolerate my banging away on the latest synths for a few hours until they said “kid ya gotta go home!”

Well up to this point synth manufacturers had never had a very worthy “workstation” which would allow you to create songs with all the instrumentation right inside that one synth. The now defunct Ensoniq made one that basically changed synthesizer history at that point by creating what was called the ESQ-1.  It allowed the total freedom of creating a whole song in one box. The next 10 years of my life and musical career were shaped by this and their creations which continued with their invention of the SQ-80, Eps-1 and ASR-10 which revolutionized hip-hop production.  Everyone talks about Moog analog synths as being the foremost revolutionary synth manufacturer but Ensoniq is deserving of  the  #2 modern equivalent accolade. That company’s legacy synths shaped more than 50% of the records from the late 80’s to mid 90’s.  Bless your heart Ensoniq. You live forever in our history of music and in my heart.

The day I lied to get my first record deal on a major label

I had been toiling around for what seemed like forever making music. In reality it was only 2 years, but when you’re 18 going on 19, 2 years is a lifetime!   Anyways, I had finished this EP of tunes that I wanted to get signed.  So I decide i’m going to get ballsy and just walk in to (*** ***) records and give them my demo. I’m thinking there’s no way they can say no.  Well I tell the secretary that I’m here to submit this demo and she looks at me, smiles, looks to the right at this overflowing box, 2 feet high filled with demo’s and says throw it in there!  I’m appalled. Thinking quick on my feet I say…”um that’s very nice of you but I have a deal for this already and I was just wondering if you guys were interested in a counter offer”  Phew…  She looks at me…says…”ohhh…hold on one sec” and the senior A&R comes and asks me into his office.  I’m sweating bullets now, literally it’s dripping down my forehead! I compose myself as he places the cassette in and listens.  He’s nodding his head and if I remember correctly Stretch Armstrong walks in and says what’s that? It’s cool.  I try not to smile. The senior A&R asks me what label was I signing this to and quick on my feet yet again I spill out “mmmm 24/7 records” it really makes me laught to think back to it even now.

He takes one look at me, doesn’t even blink at the money I ask for and tells me to come back on Wednesday for a contract!  I couldn’t believe it. I finally made it to the big time!  Oh, how great it was to be as naive as I was at that point and how cute to think you’ve made it! When the long strange trip was only beginning.

Meeting Damon Wild, Tetsoue Inoue,  Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham

My love for Damon runs as deep as the hurt I have.  He plucked me for a release on  Ex-perimental Records which he ran with Silvio Trancetti and Tommy Musto. He saw a raw talent and helped shape me into a piece of what I am today.  I still retain and reach back for a lot of the info I learned from him.

The hurt?  I helped him start his Synewave imprint. Which I was to co-own but I couldn’t afford to “buy” my way in. I was shocked, hurt and this ultimately led to our falling out. I admittedly hold grudges and maybe I should bury the hatchet on this one.   Many people don’t know that. In my honest opinion he’s a top techno pioneer alongside Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Joey Beltram et al.  I’m proud that we did an album together as Morph on Beechwood Music many eons ago when we were friends.

Tetsoue : Wow. The mad ambient scientist.  I did my first live show at Limelight NYC with him as OM.  I did an ambient album with him.  He showed me more tricks in each day that we worked together  in electronic production than most people learn in a lifetime. I will always have the utmost respect for that man.  I don’t recall why we haven’t kept in touch.  Another legend. He used to work with Atom Heart and Peter Namlook.   Without him I don’t think I’d have been where I am now honestly.

Kerri Chandler: my brother from another mother. He was instrumental in bringing me back after I had given up on music and tried to be a “civilian.”  He saw the engine inside of the uncared for rusty sports car. He gave it a bit of TLC and confidence, guidance, even a place to live and work and then said “you’re ready to race. Go get that championship.”  God bless that man. Every piece of advice with regards to music lives within me to this day. They are my mantra.  I repeat it to up and coming artists and I’m not afraid to share with them my moments with him.  He taught me the core to making house records. Which leads to….

Jerome Sydenham: the final coup de tat. There is no greater honor I can bestow on him than he taught me how to finish them.

Knowing that If you don’t change with the times then you’re just a footnote

There came a time in 2007 when I realized our scene’s music was changing.  I had to make a very distinctive and hard choice.  Stylistically it was moving in another direction when I realized what I did for a living. I make underground dance music for a living. Not a specific sub genre… not soulful…not tech….but underground.  So I made the choice to go with current underground house music because that’s where my heart has always been. Just because I get older doesn’t mean the landscape remains the same. I made the conscious choice of embracing the new landscape and enjoying my new surroundings. The new neighbors are intriguing and wonderful! I must say that I’m excited to still be learning new concepts, ideas and musical stylings.  Music: the gift that keeps on giving.

Dennis Ferrer plays Found’s 51st State Festival for more information and the rest of the line-up click here!

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