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Miami 2022: Dennis Ferrer is ready to get the party started in the Magic City

The New York house stalwart got into fishing during lockdown, a new hobby that brought more serenity and balance to his life while his studio was out of action for a year and a half. Now, he's ready to hit South Beach for our Miami Pool Party

The idiom ‘gone fishing’ means to take a break from the everyday or be totally unaware of what is going on around you. Both of these are what Dennis Ferrer felt when, during lockdown, he did actually start going fishing — largemouth bass fishing, to be precise. “I’m the kind of dude who when he gets into something, I’ve got to learn about it all. It’s complete OCD,” he tells us over Zoom from his New Jersey studio, a rack of hardware synths sitting behind him. “I sold my car and bought a pick-up truck and a bass boat. Two days a week people would call me and I’d be on the lake. That might sound crazy, but you have no idea what it does to your mind. You’re out in nature with eagles, deer and fish.

"People ask me, what do you think about when you do this? Nada. It changed my whole life, recharged me and gave me back ten years. Now I feel like I’m alive. It’s not just hotels, aeroplanes and Netflix.”

As one of the flag bearers of New York house, Ferrer’s deep back catalogue contains a string of instantly recognisable hits — ‘Son Of Raw’, ‘Church Lady’, ‘Hey Hey’, his remix of Fish Go Deep’s ‘The Cure & The Cause’ — that have elevated him to global status. Returning to play DJ Mag’s party in Miami, he reprises his regular role as a feel-good party starter, the DJ who most definitely dances, big grin across his face, headphones pushed up on the side of his head.

“My life is a fantasy,” he admits of the last three decades or so. But that can become a problem, he adds, when you begin to confuse it with reality, becoming disconnected from family functions and other events going on while you’re on tour waving your hands in the air. “Mental health is a big issue in our industry. It begins to wear you down.”

While the pandemic’s enforced break allowed him to reconnect with people and reset his body and mind, it wasn’t all plain sailing. The last couple of years have felt like there’s been a torrent of music coming from producers hunkered down with their gear waiting for the viral storm to pass. Dennis, however, wasn’t feeling himself in the studio — and it turned out with good reason.

“I had lyme disease when I was young, so I thought it was coming back,” he says of beginning to experience what he calls “brain fog” in 2020. Then, one day that December, “I came into my studio and my foot went through the floor.” It turned out a leak in the roof had been running down behind the studio’s walls, causing severe mould — which is what Dennis was suffering the effects of. The water had eventually got under the studio’s floating floor, rotting it away. 

‘I had records due that we had to put a hold on,” he says. The repair took six-months. “They cut the whole place in half, took it out. This is a room within a room,” he says of its sound-proof design, “so you’re building an apartment twice — three layers of sheetrock and other kinds of stuff going on.” Feeling the weight of the accumulating delays, when it was done he announced to everyone he was “back on”. Then, after three weeks, it leaked again.

“Roughly a year-and-a-half I’ve been out of commission,” he says, totting up all the lost time. “If you’re not playing with your equipment, you get kind of rusty.” It means that fans will have to wait a little while for the follow-up to his last single, ‘Whisper’, the collaboration with Disciples and English singer-songwriter James Yuill that came out on Defected at the beginning of last year. There’s good news though: Dennis says his New Year’s resolution was to make music. “Everyone’s on my butt! It’s not like buying a case of beer at the store. You got to get rolling again. It takes you a couple of times. Not everything I make comes out, I’m not that kind of person.”

“Some people view making music as art, whatever happens it’s OK. I’m not one of those people. I find making music very performance based, I want to kick your ass!"

This reminds us of the first time we interviewed Dennis in 2010, poolside in Miami after he’d just played for DJ Mag. ‘Hey Hey’ was at its peak. How, we wondered, do you follow that up? And his reply, or words to the effect, were that you don’t, you sit back and you take your time. Is success a numbers game, making tracks day in, day out until you strike gold? “That’s basically it,” he agrees, adding the ease with which music can now be released has removed what was once an important external filter. “Records last two weeks, three weeks. You don’t have those records that went through the summer, you sang the record, even the melody if it was just a track.”

But this personal selectiveness is also driven by a competitiveness which, he says, comes from his grounding in New York’s hip-hop scene. “Some people view making music as art, whatever happens it’s OK. I’m not one of those people. I find making music very performance based, I want to kick your ass!” It means giving “mad props” to the face of anyone who makes a track he respects, then getting into the studio until he’s bettered them. “That’s my filter,” he adds. “That’s what stops me from putting out the other 50 records nobody is really going to like.”

His label Objektivity has also been on hiatus over the last couple of years. “I’m in the minority right here,” he says, “but I don’t feel it’s right to put out records in the middle of a pandemic. These are club records, they’re meant to be heard loud in a club. I’m not making pop music, I’m not making the soundtrack to your life. It’s boom, boom, boom.”

Getting the label’s house in order now, back on board is André Hommen. Calling him “my right-hand man”, Dennis underlines he was always an integral part of the label, sharing decision-making about what records they put out.

Right now, he’s back to the fantasy life. “I don’t remember any gigs,” he replies with a deep chuckle when we ask him about a festival from last year. “There are too many that come and go. You can ask me what I did two week ago.” What did you do two weeks ago? “Uh. Damn, you got me.”  

Looking forward, WMC always holds a special place. As well as escaping the bitter cold and snow of New York, it was where in its early days he’d fanboy over the DJs and producers he’d bump into on Collins Avenue. “Hey yo, I love your work!” Still a fan, he’s quick to point out, many of them are now his friends, making Miami a time to catch-up and play to fans from around the world. 

When he gets home, though, you’ll still find him (or rather, not find him) out on the lake fishing. “That’s staying forever. It keeps me happy, I don’t know a better way to say it,” he tries to explain. “You can ask me, doesn’t music make you happy? Yes, but this is a different happy.”

Joe Roberts is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @corporealface