To coincide with the release of his timeless sounding autobiographical compilation, Strictly Roger Sanchez on Strictly Rhythm, The S-Man joined us for an in-depth chat about his past, present and what we can expect from him in the future.
Over the Summer, Roger will be with us for the inaugural Defected Croatia and headlining Defected In The House at Ministry of Sound on July 2nd. You can also catch him playing our Glitterbox stage at We Are FSTVL on the Saturday and Glitterbox in Ibiza on July 8th. Over to the man himself to tell you more...
Strictly Roger Sanchez – in name and nature it seems. This is a seriously in-depth look back over your career…
I’ve done ‘Best Of’s before but never dug as deeply as I have here. I’d been chatting about doing an album like this for ages and therefore it came together in the right way. I wanted to take my time to put together everything perfectly; to include my more obscure classics, for example, and not the obvious hits. The finished album illustrates the groundwork I helped lay for house music’s subsequent growth around the world. I’ve dug deep to really share that history. What’s interesting is how many of the tracks sound so timely today.
Your discography runs to thousands of projects – was it a struggle drilling down to just 30 or so highlights?
The hardest thing was not having the masters for some of these records. But really, I was blessed in that I used to record everything to DAT tape and today I have a cabinet of DATs at home covering probably 95% of everything I ever did. I also have one functioning DAT machine left. I manually transferred everything to digital copies so that this album could really grab its audience. It shows what I did and went through. I avoided the bigger tracks like ‘Another Chance’ and tried to go back and find the seminal moments for me that developed my sound. What’s exciting is that the album includes some previously unreleased dubs and looking forward, a brand new collaboration with Harry [‘Choo Choo’] Romero and singer Melissa, called ‘Searchin’. That one’s really hot and will get its own release; there’s also a bunch of remixes of other tracks planned.
The new album is one way of summing up your career so far, but how do you do it in your own words? Do you hold any regrets?
Making the album I was reminded that a career is like running a race - you go fast, with your head down, and experiment…challenge yourself at every bend. For an artist, the race never ends and you can’t afford to stay in the same lane. I’ve only ever picked up on the influence I’ve had on others second-hand but I’m particularly noticing that influence right now, and that’s a blessing. The album tells the story of my life and, making it, I’ve had all those thoughts that I could have zigged right at such and such a point of my career, rather than left, or zagged left rather than right at another stage, but through it all I always held my course and I’m really proud of that. The music I’ve made has always come from the heart…from an honest place. It’s whatever has moved me. Sometimes that has translated to bigger records than others but I can have no regrets. I’ve kept my course…
Tell us what’s happening with the new artist album you mentioned to us last year…
It’s still my plan to do it but I’ve been creating individual tracks over the past few months. It was mostly S-Man stuff last year; I intentionally held back on Roger Sanchez. But then the focus switched accidentally. When I gave Pete Tong a promo of ‘Remember Me’ everything went crazy, and that effectively reinvented Roger Sanchez. I’m on double duty now, making music under both of those names; therefore I don’t want to leap straight into an album. I’ve got four or five new records ready to go and I am releasing a new S-Man track nearly every month so there’s plenty on. Those productions are precious; I want to treat them carefully. When the time is right, then I’ll look at the album. The new Strictly compilation will actually help pave the way for that, because it highlights my history as well as playing to a new audience. I’m starting to lay the groundwork….
What’s happening with Under The Radr?
There’s lots going on. Miami for starters, where I’ll be doing a label event with Carnao Beats, Ben Pearce and Harry Romero among others. After that, we’ll continue to steadily drop new releases whilst staying true to our core purpose. We’re just releasing an S-Man and Mr V collaboration, ‘6am’. And there’s more stuff due on Stealth including a Capulet track with Robert Owens (‘Holding On’). Stealth releases are bigger and more vocal, whilst Under The Radr is deeper, darker, sometimes techno… I’m also looking to release through other labels. I’ve actually just signed a new S-Man track with Ultra Nate to Cajual – you seriously need to keep an ear out for that one.
Since your ‘comeback’ in 2015, have you learnt anything new?
I’ve learnt about the importance of family [Roger has an eight-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son]. During my period away from the music there were good times as well as bad and those experiences helped me reflect on my life and reconnect with myself. Over the past 12 months, therefore, I’ve had greater focus. I’ve worked intelligently, around my family time. I’ve had even greater enthusiasm for the music too, as well as all the profile-raising and finance stuff that goes with that. I’m keen to try different things and listen to new artists, but I’m also prepared to take time out to ensure my career remains on point.
How are you viewing the house scene in 2016?
I’m just back from South Africa where I was playing a massive event [Back To The Old Skool] with Todd Terry, David Morales and Black Coffee. The latter is huge there, but he’s also huge everywhere else now and that’s a big development. The Afro sounds are coming back in. As for my own work, Nicky Romero recently asked me for an S-Man remix of his new track with Nile Rodgers, ‘Future Funk’. That shows me that everyone is looking back to the older lessons of house. EDM is still there but house is stronger than ever… there’s a healthy see-saw between deep, vocal and techno styles.
You started out by ‘hustling’ your own mixtapes on New York sidewalks. In today’s mass-market times has dance music lost its edge?
There are hustlers in every era. Donald Byrd hustled soul and funk whilst remaining true to jazz; Quincy Jones hustled time and time again. I pushed a bunch of mixtapes when I was younger and now, today, younger electronic artists have digital tools with which to get their noises heard. It’s all hustling. Sure, today you can employ PR and digital marketing agencies to get yourself promoted but that Berghain-like mentality of operating for the pure love of the music does still exist. I love what the Berghain guys do – that’s another expression of the hustler spirit, just different to what has gone before…
What’s the Strictly Rhythm highlight of your career?
I get snapshots of lots of different moments all the time. Playing a huge event back in the day at Bagley’s in London is one. I was on with people like Todd Terry, Tony Humphries and Terry Hunter…it felt like the Olympics of house! Shopping for beats with Kenny ‘Dope’ [Gonzalez] is another, and hustling in the studio any number of times with DJ Sneak, Jose Nunez and an [Akai] S950 synth. But probably my all-time highlight is when I heard about Tony [Humphries] breaking my track ‘Luv Dancin’ at a Club Zanzibar anniversary party he was hosting – Tony was so influential at the time and he played my record six times that night…that was an incredible feeling…
What does the longer-term future hold for you? Do you ever foresee retirement?
The pace of touring will eventually become too much for me but it’s all good right now. I tour intelligently, enjoying periods of family time before hitting an intense number of gigs. Really, my overall exit strategy is to keep creating. I will always be creative and work around music. So long as I have a strategy in place that allows me to keep doing that, in front of an audience of my choosing, then that’ll be enough. Of course, I’m sensitive to the paradigm shifts in business in our industry – it’s difficult to project what will happen over the next 20 years.
One final thing I will mention, whilst we’re talking about the future. I recently worked with [virtual musical education platform] FaderPro, providing a tutorial on my S-Man track ‘Dangerous Thoughts’ and how I produced it from scratch – step-by-step. I really, really enjoyed that and, eventually, would love to do more with teaching. I admire artists like Ritchie Hawtin, who already put some of their energies into workshops and seminars, and giving back to others. That, for me, is perhaps the ultimate exit strategy, passing on knowledge to future generations of music-makers. But don’t worry I’m not winding down anytime soon!
Strictly Roger Sanchez is released by Strictly Rhythm on 22 April via 3-CD, digital and streaming.
Words: Ben Lovett