“Everyone wants to call dance music EDM these days but I call that shit that’s popular — you know, the cheesy stuff — I call it PDM,” says New York DJ Dennis Ferrer. “That stuff everyone is going on about, it’s pop dance music. I take offence when someone calls my shit 'EDM' and lumps it in with all the crap. What I do is what I’ve always done, and I don’t like someone calling it anything else.”
While he’s having a moan about that (maybe his PDM gripe is a kind of male DJ version of PMT?), Dennis says he’s also fed up about being known as 'Mr 'Hey Hey''”.
“That tune, ‘Hey Hey’, that started off as an underground thing, man,” says Dennis. “Then it got out of control, Defected got it, and things spiraled from there. I got a lot of flack for it, in the end. People saying it wasn’t underground, y’know.”
Talking of out-of-control, but in a good way, Dennis is DJing at the annual booty-shaking bunfight that is the DJ Mag Winter Music Conference (WMC) party in Miami. That’s why we decided to catch up with him, on-the-hop between an Asia tour, popping home to New Jersey and then heading to sun-kissed, beachy Miami…
‘The Red Room’ was a great success, played heavily everywhere from Pete Tong’s BBC Radio 1 Essential Selection show through to the pirates. Was it hard to do a follow-up tune to global anthem ‘Hey Hey’ after that record was such a huge success?
“I had to chill out after ‘Hey Hey’. I felt a bit like ‘Mr Commercial’ after that tune, and that really isn’t who I am. I think that if you want to have longevity with anything creative, you have to be really careful not to sell out. That’s why I had to make sure I didn’t believe the hype that followed ‘Hey Hey’.”
So, your own productions aside, what music are you excited about at the moment? What tracks might you be playing at the DJ Mag party in Miami?
“I love that Burnksi and MANIK tune, ‘You Know What It’s Like’.”
You’ve released music on labels including Synewave, Madhouse, Large Records, King Street, Defected and your own Objektivity. What productions are you working on at the moment?
“I’ve got literally hundreds of things on my hard-drive that I’m working on all the time. I am working on one particularly though — totally my own thing — and it’s called ‘Mind Made Up’. That’ll hopefully come out in April. It’s a vocal record but techy too. Yeah, I’m excited about that. I’m doing a remix of New Ane Brun ‘To Let Myself Go’ too.”
You’ve released your own music and stuff by the Martinez Brothers too on your label. Apart from your own productions, what else do you have coming up soon on Objektivity?
“Apart from my stuff there’s a new Andre Hommen record coming with a mix by Jazzanova, but we’re not sure what we’re calling it yet. We’ve also just signed a Yousef record called ‘Had No Sleep’. There’s lots of other stuff too.”
You’ve been producing and releasing techno and house music since 1992 when you put out your debut, co-produced ‘Aurasphere’ on Experimental. Out of all the productions you’ve done, what are you most proud of and why?
“Hell, I never look at it like that. That’s a hard one. But I guess it’d have to be between my mix of Dido’s ‘Don’t Believe In Love’ and my release ‘Son Of Raw’. But, really, I don’t look at my records that way. I’m not that kind of person. The Dido one is the one though, because I don’t know how the fuck I did it – why did I think like that on that day, you know?
“I think the thing about the Dido remix was that Sony didn’t expect me to come up with that. When they heard it, they were ‘What the fuck is this?’. This came out when this style of mixing techy with soul wasn’t a big thing back then. Sony said, ‘It sounds like Fisher Price’. I still now try to figure out how I arranged the string section on that track, and I really don’t know. It’s probably nothing impressive to someone else but, to me, it meant something.”
When you started making music, you used to sample old disco tunes. Would you ever play old tracks in your set today and, if so, which are your favourites?
“I remember first hearing Odyssey’s ‘Inside Out’ at a club called Disco Fever when I was a kid and, if I had to trace things back, that was what inspired me to make music in the first place. Although I never actually sampled it on one of my tunes. When you grew up listening to your uncle’s records or your father’s records, some records just click.
“Unfortunately, though, this record also reminds me about violence. It pinpoints a very violent time in my life. I was around 13 when this tune came out. I had friends getting shot in front of my face. It happened to all of us. There wasn’t a day in my life, when I was younger, when I didn’t feel lucky to make it from one day to the next. When I was 14, I said please let me make it to 16. When I was 16, I’d say please let me make it to 18. When I was 18, I said please let me make it to 21. It was like that until I moved out of the Bronx in 1997. But I do still love ‘Inside Out’. And would I play it in a set today? Hell yeah, if I was drunk enough, why not.”
You just did a DJ tour of Asia, what was the highlight of the tour and why?
“Bangkok was a lot of fun. Playing at Bash. Bangkok is always fun. There’s always a really fine, grungy edge there. Phuket was nice too — elephants on the beach. People say things are kicking off in Asia with dance music but I think they’ve always enjoyed dance music over there. I think with the ease of accessibility as far as tracks are concerned, residents are playing better. So people are being exposed to better music. Everyone is playing catch-up. You can buy the same records here, in Singapore, as you can buy in New York, at exactly the same time. It’s not like the old days when they’re playing a different style of music somewhere, you roll into town and everyone is like ‘Uhhh’. But it’s different now.”
Why do you do what you do — making music and DJing?
“The thing with music for me, it honestly started out as my escape. I grew up an orphan, my parents died in a car accident when I was three. I was raised by my grandmother in the Bronx and music, a lot of the time, was my escape out of the wildness. When things got really bad, I could sit there and listen to music, and pretend that none of the other stuff existed. As much as I used to see the violence in my face, music was the way out. Which means that when we were having these parties in New York when I was a teenager, they were the ghetto kids’ escape.”
You’ve been DJing in Miami since 2001, when you first played there at a Large Records party for WMC. What are your best memories of the place?
“The first year I got there, it was such an exciting thing. You’d walk in the street — I was just coming up at the time — but you might have seen anyone from Louie Vega, who at that time was my hero, to Timmy Regisford who was another hero of mine growing up in New York. You could see them on the street and it’d be like, ‘Oh shit, there they go’. That was like trainspotting people. “At the same time you’d be at these parties, rubbing elbows with all these industry people. Average folk, too. If you weren’t in the scene or biz you could go and fake your way in. You actually felt like you belonged to the scene. It also used to be a place where you’d take new music and new tunes would get signed. It’s changed now. But it’s still a great place to party.”