2016 is starting in much the same way that 2015 ended for Sonny Fodera – in a crazy, neon blur of international tour dates and sleek releases for some of house music’s most fancied imprints.
Just weeks into the new year and the Aussie-born club phenomenon has already (just) released a new Defected In The House compilation, committed to an extensive run of supporting tour dates everywhere from old home city Adelaide to new one London via Indonesia, Canada, the US and Scotland, and elsewhere rides the rhythm of new, hugely successful tracks and remixes for the likes of Suara, Strictly Rhythm and Defected.
Sonny’s activity has flowed seamlessly from a number of profile-raising highlights last year. He headlined the clubs and festivals that counted, and delivered above and beyond. From BPM in Mexico and We Are FSTVL to Dirtybird ‘Campouts’ in LA, Defected adventures at ADE and a run of killer appearances for Ibizan epicentre Amnesia, Sonny’s exuberant and smartly varied brew of upfront house blew crowds clean away. Back in the studio, tracks ‘Let’s Go’ and ‘High’ (both alongside Cervendos) smashed the Beatport charts; a perfect foil for incendiary remixes of GotSome (‘Just A Feeling’) and Rudimental (‘I Will For Love’). More recently, Sonny has dropped original cuts ‘We Work It’ (with Chicago classicist Gene Farris), ‘Always You’ and ‘Shake’, the latter from a sampler for his new Defected comp.
Sonny, 30, grew up with artists like Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers and veteran hip-hoppers A Tribe Called Quest before stumbling across Derrick Carter and the power of 4-4 at Adelaide hotspot Electric Circus. It was 2005, a year when house music truly exploded across Australia. In no time, Sonny established himself as one of his country’s most influential dance artists, his unique twists to the jack and deep house templates soon prompting attention further afield. Mentored by scene legend Curtis ‘Cajmere’ Jones (Sonny has released two well received albums via Jones’ Cajual label), deeply embraced by the Defected family, and operating closely with other respected imprints including Visionquest and Salted, it’s no wonder that he’s become the revelation that he has. And well deserved. We caught up with Sonny to ask where one of house music’s most exciting stories heads next.
So, Sonny, how are you? Bearing up OK after Christmas and New Year?
I’ve just done the whole ‘dry January’ thing, which was really weird. Playing sober in Brazil recently was an entirely different experience; it totally opened my eyes. It’s so tiring if you drink all the time when you’re touring constantly so the switch has been good.
Just different I think. I’m not sure I want to be totally sober all the time but I’m all about embracing new experiences, trying new things. All of it helps me grow!
What else have you been up to apart from Brazil and abstinence?
I was away for a bit in South America so having returned to London I’ve been spending the past few days sorting out my studio in London Fields [north-east London] and getting things up and running…all the synths hooked up and stuff. I just finished a new track yesterday, actually.
More on that in a minute; firstly, what of your new In The House compilation?
Simon [Dunmore] and I chatted last summer when I played the Defected terrace at Amnesia and, of course, I was stoked to be offered the album. From that amazing point it took a number of months for me to pull everything together. At the end of the day the album incorporates all of what I play out, and the mixes that are currently working for me in the clubs…what mixes are getting the best reactions. You’ve got everything on there from that whole heavy Dirtybird vibe with ‘People Forget’ and ‘Get It Right’ [Claude VonStroke’s remix of Catz ‘N Dogz] to my deeper Visionquest track with Gene Farris [‘We Work It’] and soulful, funky vocals like ‘Feeling U’.
Do compilations still have a place in these highly downloadable, and disposable ‘track-by-track’ times?
I genuinely think they do, yes. Compilations are like Soundcloud DJ mixes but with more thought and production. They’re identifiable and relevant to today’s audiences and those audiences are good…I mean they support compilations because they want to know and enjoy the key tracks. I’ve always loved the Defected albums, and always looked to good compilations to see what’s popping….
Do your allegiances lie more with the studio or DJ booth?
Neither really, I just love being around music.
There is a point of view suggesting that the studio has simply become a facilitator to securing more gigs - the only arena today where artists can hope to make a living….
I can’t see things that way, that this is all just about building profile. I have a positive outlook. I work with music seven days a week and don’t even think of it as ‘time in the studio’ and ‘time on the road’. This isn’t a job, it’s a way of life that moves fluidly between lots of different, exciting experiences. I love playing out and I love producing. My studio’s in a good, creative spot. There are a lot of other producers in and around the building so the atmosphere is great.
How much has your sound evolved since your career began?
I made my first record in 2009 and when I listen to it now and hear how much my sound has moved on it’s absolutely crazy! I put a lot of energy into evolving myself, and I’m pretty geeky when it comes to technology. I’m always researching new studio equipment…checking the right websites and subscribing to certain magazines. I’ve even been known to YouTube stalk other producers! But then I feel that it’s important to learn and stay fresh!
Does your learning extend to business acumen and marketing?
There has to be a little bit of business these days but if you’re too business-minded you get lost. I’ve seen a few friends over the years topping charts with a massive first record but not then knowing how to follow it up. It’s a boom and bust cycle. I look at the charts and at what’s happening around me but generally follow the music that I’m feeling inside. That could be vocal house one day, and a Dirtybird or Life And Death-style thing the next. Last night, in fact, I found myself making this melodic, progressive-sounding track and I went with it. I love having that flexibility.
You beat us to a question on your new track, but what else is coming up?
I’m touring the In The House album up to early April, at which point I’ll be releasing a new track with Shannon Saunders who has an amazing voice [Saunders’ existing collaboration with Fodera, ‘Over This’, appears on the compilation]. Later this month I have a new track on Lee Foss’ Repopulate Mars label called ‘Don’t Touch Me When I’m Dancing’. It’s co-produced by MK, which I’m massively excited about.
You also have a new artist album in the works?
I do. It’s due this October and will feature a couple of the exclusive tracks that are on my Defected compilation but that’s about all I can say for now!
How are you finding the global house scene in 2016?
It’s totally fresh, 40 times the size of what it was when I was first exposed to it. There’s a whole new generation of club fans coming through now, which I love. The atmosphere you get when you’re playing to that 18-25-year-old demographic is incredible. Whether I’m playing in the US with more of a hip-hop…even trap influence, or in Brazil with a chunky Amine Edge-style flow, or back in the UK with bass-y nods to Huxley and Dale Howard, the reaction of the crowd is without fail amazing. The scene is in seriously good health.
Dance music is massively big business today. Do you ever feel any pressure, externally or self-induced, to compromise your creative ideals and conform to popular trends?
I will never sell out. I want to make the music that I’d be happy to play myself, and keep pushing on! If you look at artists like Storm Queen and MK, Route 94 and Ben Pearce, they’ve all made records that were intended for the underground and later blew up. They’re actually all close friends of mine and their successes were, they’ve told me, genuinely unexpected. They made the music they wanted to and it happened to strike a chord with people, at a time when audiences are receptive to electronic music. Me? I don’t feel any pressure right now. These days you can follow your feelings and still enjoy plenty of support and success. Life really couldn’t be any better!
Words: Ben Lovett
Sonny plays for Defected In The House at Ministry of Sound Saturday 06 February - full line-up and tickets