House music DJ Roger Sanchez, playing at Pacha Macau, does his gambling on the business – not craps tables

Part of Pacha Macau’s Summer Love Pool Party, the legendary DJ and producer explains how he stays fresh in an era where everyone has the same tracks and how studying as an architect gave his music a boost

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 August, 2017, 4:43pm

There’s an ideal environment in which to see every DJ, whether it be an intimate club or a gigantic rave. Pacha Macau’s Summer Love Pool Party on August 19 looks like a pretty good fit for New York house music legend Roger Sanchez, given the DJ and producer’s summery style of uplifting, soulful, Latin-influenced house.

This will be his first time in Macau, where he’ll be performing along with fellow US house DJ and producer Harry Romero. But he has played in Hong Kong plenty of times, where he says the crowds “have always been really receptive”.

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He will not, however, be indulging in Macau’s favourite pastime: “I tend to try and keep my gambling in my business dealings, and not on the craps table.”

Sanchez started to DJ seriously in the late 1980s, after performing as a breakdancer and graffiti artist at parties in New York. The music played there at the time inspired him to get behind the decks – a combination of disco, hip hop, funk, breaks and Latin sounds, traces of which are all still there in his music today. But then house music reached New York from Chicago, he says, and everything changed.

Sanchez got caught right in the middle of the ’90s house explosion. Starting in New York, he soon developed a global following – particularly in the UK and, of course, Ibiza, where he bases himself during the summer. A technical groundbreaker, he was one of the DJs of that era who took turntablist techniques from hip hop to create new sounds at the decks. He uses a four-deck set-up to this day.

Of his own music, you’re most likely to know 2001’s Another Chance, an uplifting house anthem based on part of a song by American rock band Toto which made it to No. 1 in the UK. He has also remixed the work of Michael Jackson, Daft Punk, Frankie Knuckles, Kylie Minogue, Madonna, Depeche Mode and No Doubt, among others, winning a Grammy for his 2003 work on the latter’s Hella Good.

Before he became a DJ, however, Sanchez had set out on a very different path. He studied architecture at New York’s Pratt Institute, which he says has had an effect on the way he constructs both individual tracks and DJ sets; he even named a track by his darker alias S-Man after late architect Zaha Hadid. “The discipline I learned in architecture also applies to music,” he says. “You need a good foundation, and you need to build on top of that. For me, that foundation tends to be percussion.”

When he decided to drop out of college to pursue music, he had an unexpected supporter: his father, to whom he says he owes his work ethic.

“The interesting thing was I had a conversation with my father, who has always been very much about the studying side. He actually surprised me by saying, ‘You’re not giving architecture your full attention, but you seem to love this DJing, and who knows, you could be the best in the world at it.’ But that’s also who he is: it was still about studying and working hard, but applying that to something you love.”

Working hard for Sanchez extends not only to production, remixing and touring, but also to owning two record labels. Stealth Records has released music by the likes of Avicii, Hardwell and Laidback Luke, while Undr the Radr bears roughly the same relationship to Stealth that S-Man does to Roger Sanchez.

DJing these days, everyone has every track, so instead I deconstruct everything; I take elements of tracks and remix them on the spot
Roger Sanchez

These days both labels are part of the Armada Music stable co-owned by trance behemoth Armin van Buuren, but Sanchez retains creative control. He also runs the Release Yourself club nights, compilation series and online radio station, the latter with 20 million listeners.

“It’s a matter of organisation,” he says of his crowded schedule. “And the thing is now I have a studio I can take with me around the world, as well as making time to listen to new music and handle the business side of my career – and to find some personal time.”

It probably helps that, despite being a leading light in a highly hedonistic scene for decades, he’s a non-smoking, drug-free teetotaller, and a healthy eater who goes to the gym every day – even when he’s on tour.

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He says that listening to new music these days is, of course, a very different beast from when he started out. “I used to enjoy going to record shops and looking for vinyl – literally digging in crates, trying to find that track nobody else had. DJing these days, everyone has every track, so instead I deconstruct everything; I take elements of tracks and remix them on the spot. It becomes about creating unique experiences.”

Pacha Macau presents Summer Love Pool Party feat. Roger Sanchez, Aug 19, from 2.30pm, Studio City, Estrada do Istmo, Cotai, Macau. Tickets from HK$450