DJ Pagano talks to Vada

Vada Voices

We recently caught up with DJ Pagano, who is playing Ministry of Sound this Sunday morning, ahead of his new releases on Hotfingers and Zulu Records.

You’ve been really busy on the international DJ scene and can you tell us which clubs have been rocking for you and why?

The last few years have been pretty amazing with lots of festival gigs and clubs that have been quite memorable. I really enjoyed playing at the Black & Blue Festival in Montreal last year alongside legendary names such as Satoshi Tomiie and Dennis Ferrer, and I was well chuffed when they asked me back again for this year’s edition in October.

As far as clubs go, I always enjoy playing at the Egg LDN – it’s one of London’s best venues, and always has some of the most cutting-edge line-ups. Last summer I also played the last set on the terrace at Amnesia in Ibiza for Matinee, which was incredible too. For me Amnesia is one of the ultimate Balearic experiences with its history dating way back to the beginning of the White Isle phenomenon.

You also hold several residencies in Europe. Can you tell us about these and what the parties are like? How did these come about?

During the last 10 years alongside my regular gigs I have experienced a great amount of success in the gay/polysexual clubs scene, and it has all grown in a very organic way, with one gig or residency leading to another. As a result there are a number of events and clubs where I go back regularly every year, including GreenKomm in Cologne, La Demence at the legendary techno club Fuse in Brussels, Scream in Paris run by the same promoter who helped launch David Guetta’s DJ career back in the 90’s, and last but not least the Rapido After Hours in Amsterdam, where I have been DJing since around 2005/2006. It’s where I DJ for nine hours, starting deep and slow and building the energy up into tech house and techno beats. These extended DJ sets are my favourite because they allow me to play different types of sounds.

You mentioned your set for Matinée at Amnesia in Ibiza last summer. Do you have any special memories or stories regarding the island and clubbing?

The first time I went to Ibiza on holiday was in the ’90s, and it was still for connoisseurs. The crowds were mainly Spanish, Brits and Italians back then. It blew me away.

However, the year I lost my brain in Ibiza was definitely 1999. I wasn’t DJing – I was raving like there was no tomorrow … I’m still not sure how I survived it all!

Throughout the following years I DJed in Ibiza several times at Space, Privilege and other venues around the island. Then I became one of the resident DJs of Heaven Ibiza (these days called Booom!) and I flew over to DJ there on weekdays while still retaining my residency at the original Heaven in London every Saturday.

Space was still a day club and I remember finishing my DJ sets and then heading to Space nearly every day. It was such a great summer and there were so many great DJs!

Last summer you also headlined the biggest LGBT festival in the world: Matinée’s Circuit Festival in Barcelona. How would you describe this 10 day festival? You played several parties including the Main Party. How does this type of festival differ from the mainstream (straight) ones you have played?

Matinée’s Circuit Festival in Barcelona is by far the biggest and most incredible LGBT festival in the world. Nearly every day throughout the 10 days there is a pool party, followed by a club night, with the biggest events being an all-day-and-night event at an enormous water park, and the Main Party.

People converge from all over the world for this festival, and last summer there were nearly 70, 000 people in Barcelona celebrating this 10-day event. I played four night events, which were all amazing parties, and the productions by the Matinée group guarantee quality and spectacle on every stage.

The other thing is that the crowd at these events let themselves go. It’s pure hedonism and they are all there to dance. Sometimes at mainstream festivals the kids just stand there like they’re at a concert, perhaps jumping up and down or incessantly taking photos and videos – even with iPads! You won’t see these kind of things at an LGBT festival – it’s all people dancing. So for a DJ who’s passionate about his craft, music events like Circuit Festival are very rewarding. Although it’s a massive scale event, the connection with the crowd is similar to the one of an intimate club, if you know what I mean.

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You have also – for the second year running – mixed the official Circuit Festival CD, which once again topped the Spanish charts in 2014. It’s been released worldwide, topping the Beatport charts as well! You must be happy about these results? Can you describe your mix and what kind of tracks and artists you included and why?

I am so happy by how the compilation was received and my CD mix included tracks and remixes from Coyu, Filterheadz, Mark Knight, Harry Romero, Manuel De La Mare – plus eight productions I put together, including my 2014 remix of Danny Tenaglia’s ‘Music is the Answer’ classic.

I tried to offer a compromise between what is considered mainstream in the LGBT scene and my sound. From the results it looks like it worked! We hit number four in the iTunes Dance chart and number 19 in the iTunes Albums Chart in Spain, plus the compilation has charted on iTunes in so many countries including the UK, Italy, US, France, The Netherlands and so many others. It also reached number three in the Beatport House Top 100 Releases sales chart and number 10 in the Beatport overall albums sales chart. We even overtook albums by Defected and Pete Tong … sorry guys!

What can party people expect from one of your sets in terms of style and sounds?

My style has always been a mixture of house, in all its forms, and techno. These days the trend dictates everything has to be a little slower and deeper, and I’m all for it, but I still try to remain true to myself by keeping a sexier and groovier edge.

The worldwide EDM phenomenon, and the fact that electronic music is so mainstream lately, has forced me to play the odd set that’s more commercial that I would wish for. This might sound completely bonkers but I actually can’t wait for dance music to go out of fashion in the pop charts, so that we can go back to having proper clubs and we can go back to to a more sophisticated scene.

My last podcast mix for UMEK and the 1605 – Music Therapy radio show has just passed 22,000 plays, making it the most played 1605 – Music Therapy Podcast in 2014! If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s on their Soundcloud page.

Your remixes of Danny Tenaglia and Celeda’s ’90s US house classic ‘Music is the Answer’ notched up lots of accolades. How did you feel about remixing such a classic and how did you approach it?

I have to say I was really excited when the opportunity came about. I had been working on some other projects with Rob from Twisted America and I told him I was looking to license and update ‘Music is the Answer’, as I wanted to include it in my new official compilation. When he heard what I was doing he was like, ‘This is too good just for a compilation and we need to make an official remix package out of it!’

With my remixes I wanted to stay true to the original and simply try give it a modern tech house sound for the big rooms. I’m particularly fond of my ‘UK Dub’ because I think it’s a good crossover between what’s trendy at the moment and what I play in my DJ sets.

The biggest surprise was when first Celeda and then Danny Tenaglia himself came to my Facebook profile and wrote messages of support. I have never personally met either of them, and Danny is one of my all time favourite DJ and producer heroes. So to have him writing publicly on my wall how much he liked the remixes made me fall off my chair with joy!

Your massive ‘Just a Little’ tune with Jason Chance on Toolroom Records did really well, having topped the Beatport House Top 100. You’ve also released ‘Everybody Hip Housin’ on Umek’s 1605 label and ‘Blues is Thy Name’ on Deeperfect. 2014 was your hottest year yet, production-wise. Can you tell us what’s inspiring you right now and the stories behind each track?

Each track has a slightly different vibe but they all fall under the tech house umbrella I think. I am really enjoying getting into the studio these days. I think it is an amazing moment for club, house and electronic music in general, and I see a world of possibilities which inspires me to try different things and gets my creative juices going.

Jason Chance and I use the same recording studio sometimes, and we got to talk and he told me how big a Trade fan he was. I’ve been a resident DJ at Trade since the mid-2000s, and I’ve played many of Jason’s tracks at the club. Jason got booked as a special guest for one of Trade’s recent events and since we have such similar music taste, we immediately clicked and just got so excited we decided to work on a project together.

Toolroom signed it within 24 hours of us finishing it and it was played on BBC Radio 1’s Ibiza special with DJ Monki.

‘Blues is Thy Name’, with its deep vibe, came out spontaneously during a very grey rainy London day and it has that melancholic vibe that sometimes you get with the British weather. Route94 and Skream have been playing the Twofalls Remix of this track on their radio shows. ‘Everybody Hip Housin’ is a tech house big room affair all about bouncing around, and it’s my tribute to the 1990s’ hip house movement played by Umek, Format:B, Alex Kenji and many more.

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Your ‘My Pumpin Bassline’ track is your second release on Umek’s 1605 label. What else are you working on, studio-wise?

Yes, ‘My Pumpin Bassline’ has so many different influences: from speed-garage to the sound of the early ’90s house and I’m very proud of this one because it can be played in different type of clubs and events and the break always delivers a ‘hands in the air’ moment.

I am also working on a new big room tech house tune which will probably be remixed by the amazing techno DJ duo Filterheadz, who are currently among Carl Cox and Marco Bailey’s favourites. We recently DJed at Trade in London together, and we discussed the possibility of a collaboration, which really excites me as I love their sound.

What A-List DJs are playing and supporting your tunes now and how does it feel to know that they’re playing your tracks?

During the last year or so, my productions have been supported from some pretty big names like Mark Knight, UMEK, Carl Cox, Roger Sanchez, Bob Sinclar, Boy George, Stefano Noferini, Chus & Ceballos, My Digital Enemy and many others. It obviously feels amazing that some of my idols have noticed my work and like it enough to support it in their DJ sets and radio shows. It also injects me with renewed confidence and reassures me that I must be doing something right.

Do you count London as one of your favourite spots?

Obviously the clubbing scene is so vibrant and multifaceted in London that from that point of view the answer is certainly yes. You can find anything you like and every artist being mainstream or indie comes to London as often as they can to perform. It’s the centre of the world for me! I have a very sentimental relationship with London. It has welcomed me and given me a lot of opportunities throughout the years. It hasn’t always been easy. I am fighter and I have stuck with it when it would have been easier to just go back to Italy and to a more familiar and less competitive environment.

My fascination with all the cultural and musical movements coming out of the UK is what made me fall in love with it and what pushed me to move here from Sicily: from the punk movement to the New Romantics, from the new wave and synth pop of the ’80s to rave culture. Before the internet it was all legendary, and I wanted to be a part of it. So in answer to your question: yes, definitely! London is one of my favourite spots.

How does it feel to have been working in house/techno for the last 15 years and what are your proudest moments?

It feels great. The music is constantly evolving and it is impossible to get bored. I love the fact that in the space of about 10 years we went from hard house to deep house, and these genres were opposites, but they have both rocked the mainstream sales charts in the UK.

My proudest moment is certainly when I realised that a series of big DJ names and big radio stations like BBC Radio 1 were starting to support my work. It was validating. Playing the Most Wanted stage at Godskitchen’s Global Gathering event in the UK – and years later the Italian edition of Sensation White – are among two of my fondest memories too.

Being offered a residency at the legendary Trade in London. Then going on to mix one of its complications and putting it at the number one on the Beatport Techno Top 100 chart definitely counts as one of my favourite moments.

How do you manage to keep it fresh, new and vital? Is it a case of pressure as DJ/producer to always be one step ahead in the house/techno scene?

That is an interesting question. There’s always more than one trend going on simultaneously when it comes to electronic music. I usually try to get inspiration from what’s closer to my original love, which when it comes to club music is everything to do with 90s house and techno, and all the sub-genres that stemmed out of them. I have never been a big fun of noisy stuff in general, for example. I think when you breath and live house/techno every day, you start to see some patterns developing within the new releases or the music being played, and if you are smart enough you try to adapt your sound as much as you can without losing your point of view. This has so far proved to be enough for me to keep it fresh and vital.

What was your first break and also your first big record, and did it set you on your path?

The first time one of my productions was signed was in the 90s. Titled ‘The Ride’, it was a sort of hard house/prog house crossover tune and I personally came to London to go to various venues to give away a few promo vinyl 12 inches to the DJs that were playing.

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I remember going to the DJ booth of Trade at Turnmills while British house legend Alan Thompson was DJing to give him a copy. I introduced myself, gave him a copy, thanked him and left the DJ booth.

To my absolute surprise, 10 minutes later he was playing the track in his set. I think I got so excited that I told the whole club! Perhaps this did not set me on my current path but it definitely led to a few important collaborations and releases. For instance, right after that, another Turnmills DJ resident, Fergie, played one of my first techno productions called ‘Work It’ in his BBC Radio 1 show.

However, I think what really set me on my current path were my releases of the last seven years. A more mature sound that has started to be picked up by a variety of important labels like Toolroom, 1605, Zulu, Hotfingers, Deeperfect, Stereo Productions and many others.

You grew up in Catania in the Italian island of Sicily. How much of an influence did the neighbourhoods around you have on your path towards music? Were there any other major influences such as key people, DJs, producers or clubs?

Sicily, and especially the East coast, has always been very progressive when it comes to music. Nearly every major credible DJ has played there at least once. When I was a kid there were many specialist radios and record shops supporting a variety of music. For example, new wave was especially big in Catania.

In the 80s I remember R.E.M. coming for their only Italian concert in my hometown before they reached their worldwide fame. They packed a stadium just because the local radios and clubs played their albums Document and Green to death.

The most cutting-edge clubs in Sicily in the ’90s were Marabu’ and Taitu’ in Taormina. Owned by the same person, they used to update their music style according to the latest trends and so throughout the years they introduced acid house, US house, progressive (the atmospheric ’90s type and not the noisy EDM stuff they call progressive these days), minimal, techno, and so on.

Among one of the first guest DJs I remember hearing in the early ’90s there was Justin Berkmann (the co-founder and resident DJ of London’s Ministry of Sound) and I remember being blown away. The resident DJs of these clubs were really great too and their selection was always so innovative and reflected the sound of London, Manchester, New York and Chicago which back then were the capitals of cutting-edge club music.

So what does the future hold for you?

I feel so blessed for what I have achieved so far by just following my passion. Everything I have achieved I did through my own hard work, without any marketing tricks, managers or agents. What I really hope is that I will continue to grow as a person and as an artist. I will constantly keep working and putting out releases. Hopefully more opportunities will present themselves to make a bigger impact.

Right now my DJ gigs are mainly in the LGBT scene, but since my releases are supported by so many big names in the straight scene I hope that more and more gigs will come that way too.

And before you leave us, can you tell us something you think we should all be listening to right now?

There’s this indie band I really, really love. They are called ‘Cut Copy’. They are Australians. They have put out four albums so far. Their last one came out in November 2013 and it’s called Free Your Mind. My favourite is their second album called In Ghost Colours which reached number one in Australia. Their style is a genre clash with rock, house, new wave and synth pop influences all rolled into one.

I also saw them live last year at the Roundhouse in Camden Town: absolutely amazing! Everyone who’s a real music lover should listen to their music and they definitely deserve more recognition and chart success.

More information

Pagano & Reza’s new release ‘Fixation’ has just been signed to Hotfingers Records! Founded by Manuel De La Mare, Alex Kenji and Luigi Rocca, Hotfingers is one of the top selling labels on Beatport and ‘Fixation’ is Pagano’s follow-up to his highly successful debut release ‘Sunkissed’, which reached number seven on the BEATPORT House Top 100 Sales Chart and was included on a Ministry of Sound compilation.

Pagano & Reza’s second track ‘What’s Up’ has been snapped up by My Digital Enemy’s Zulu Records, and the third collaboration that Pagano & Reza have signed to Zulu.

Pagano DJs at Beyond at Ministry Of Sound on Sunday 8 February; 15 February at Greenkomm (Cologne) – daytime event and Rapido @ Paradiso (Amsterdam) that evening; 21 February at Pervert @ Bloc (Barcelona); and 28 February at Scream (Paris). His Umek 1605 Podcast continues to top the polls and watch out for the new singles ‘Fixation from Pagano & Reza on Hotfingers and ‘What’s Up’ from Pagano & Reza on Zulu Records.

Find Pagano on Facebook, Soundcloud and at Twitter @djpagano.

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