dennis ferrer

Resting on your laurels will never be his catch phrase. In fact, Dennis Ferrer is so ahead of the game, it’s impossible to keep up with him. Both blessed and cursed with a monster hit of epic proportions, he’s managed to keep true to the philosophy which he has repeated time and time again: You’re only as good as your last record.

Chatting with him in anticipation of his upcoming Chicago gig, Dennis is his usual blunt and charming self, regaling me with his thoughts on butt muscles, drug addiction and the elderly in spirit…

So Dennis – what have you been up to lately?

It’s been a hectic year – the gig schedule has been out of control. What I’ve been up to though is reinventing. There’s no rest for the weary. You just can’t chill out. While you’re chilling out there’s another cat coming up behind you that’s young and hungry. The scene has changed, the music has changed. All things go in cycles but you need to be on top of your game or you’ll fall by the wayside.

It’s funny because people think it’s a happy record but it’s actually not if you pay attention to what I’m saying! How the hell did it turn into a happy “Hey Hey” song?!

Let’s talk about “Hey Hey”. It came out about 2 years ago which was the last time I interviewed you. That song blew you out the water even though you already had a big name. I’ve heard that song played SO much in Chicago, I said to myself, “If I hear that song one more time…” Did you have any idea what this song was going to do?

People keep asking me to play the shit out of it, but I refuse to play it now. I knew it was going to be a sing-along. You know how you get those feelings when you say, “Okay, I think I nailed one”? But never did I think it was going to be as big as that – hell no! I never dreamed it would be that big, I actually thought I had better records than that! [laughs]

It was perfect timing. I hadn’t done a vocal record for a hot minute. The soulful side of the scene was a little bit stagnant – you know, there really wasn’t anything happening that was jumping off – and it was the right combination of techy soul. Tech was starting to become very popular again (you know that cycle that we’re hitting again?) And lastly it was a feel-good record. We haven’t had a feel-good record in such a long time.
It’s a different feel-good though… it’s not your typical classic House feel-good record.

It’s funny because people think it’s a happy record but it’s actually not if you pay attention to what I’m saying! How the hell did it turn into a happy “Hey Hey” song?!

So has following up this behemoth of a hit been a crutch to you?

That was the one thing I’ve learned from people around me like Kerri (Chandler) and Jerome (Syndeham): once you get a record like that, you’re not going to beat it! It’s just not going to happen. So what are you going to do? What I learned from older guys is to chill the fuck out. Disappear for a while.

Well you came out and did “Red Room”, which I loved and it was very different.

Yeah but “Red Room” was nothing like “Hey Hey.” That’s what I meant by chill out. Don’t try to do another big record like that. Go do the opposite, go back to your roots.

It’s just luck, Czarina, pure luck. It’s also a pain in the ass because you can’t outrun it. What I do is what you’ve heard for the past 10 years, all those underground records… that’s me!

You’re such a heavy hitter and I know you’ve been doing a lot of the bigger festivals so I’m assuming you’re on the bill now with more commercial artists?

No! We worked against that. For the first year after “Hey Hey” we definitely did that. But for the last year and a half I’ve been going deep, running with a different crowd, going back to my roots.

I still play the same. You’re never going to hear Guetta out of my box. You won’t hear any old soulful stuff either. If you play that stuff now, kids are just going to walk off the floor.

That’s why I always wanted to make forward thinking music. I mean, it’s nice to pay homage to your past but you gotta keep it moving! And I’m sorry to say but I’d rather play to 53,000 18 to 30 year olds than worry about playing to a hundred 45 year olds!

Most of the people that used to be relevant are not anymore! Times change. This is a business. You have to keep relevant, because there’s always some kid in his bedroom making ridiculous records! All the heroes that I grew up with are just not relevant right now because they’re not willing to change with the times.

Who would you say are the innovators right now?

With the advent of all the download sites and internet, it’s not happening anymore. Now some kid sitting in his bedroom in Berlin is the innovator. That’s hot!

We can’t hold our beliefs to their beliefs. They didn’t grow up the way we did, they didn’t grow up with the same equipment. So I think we need to be more open to what’s going on around us.

So what do you consider to be House right now?

Now? For the time being? The hot tracks now you get from Maceo Plex, Solomun, Art Department, Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones… kids that are making incredible records. That’s House right now!

And to play devil’s advocate, what do you say about the idea that you stick with what you love and believe in and not follow the trends? That eventually the tide will turn in your favor…

Well then, you’re going to have to wait another 10-13 years before the cycle turns again. The last time techy was popular like this was around ’92-’94. The soulful stuff will come back around. If you want to wait 10 years for it, be my guest!

Since you like to stay one step ahead, what direction are you headed in now?

I’m going back soulful again but it’s not going to be how everyone thinks it’s going to be. You’re not going to hear the diva singing again. I’m looking at maybe some ’80s kinda vocals. Fun stuff you know? The ’80s vocals were a lot of fun!

By the way I haven’t found any Top 10s from you anywhere…

I stopped doing them. It’s bullshit – most people put their own records in their Top 10s! They’re not reliable anymore. It’s all self-promotion and I’m kinda against that shit. Okay, you put one of your records on there, but to list five of them and then your boys? C’mon.

So are you back in the studio after your ridiculous touring schedule?

I just got back into the studio about a month ago. I had to buy new gear and reconfigure. You know I got rid of all my plugins. I’m back to all hardware… because if you want to do ’80s and you want to do something really different, then the only thing that can pull that off is hardware. Sometimes you need to go backwards to go forwards.

Let’s talk a little about your touring and how it affected your body. The last time I spoke with you, you had first a back problem and then a throat problem. What happened exactly?

The back problem was really bad, it just seized up on me. I had this thing called Piriformis Syndrome. You’re going to laugh actually… but it’s a muscle in your ass and the nerve locks the muscle so you can’t straighten out your leg. It comes from sitting on a plane too much. You spend 10 hours on a plane, 4 times a week, every week – that’s what happens. I literally had a pain in my ass! I couldn’t walk. It was horrible. I was hooked on Oxycontin for 5 months. My back was so bad I was popping them like candy. And then I had problems with my throat too.

And the funny thing is – damn, all of this had to happen when I had the biggest record of my career! I was missing so many gigs. It made me humble. At the end of the day I’m only as good as my last record.

Do you still work with the Martinez Brothers? It seems like they’ve gone on a whole new direction right now.

They’re playing what kids in their age group like! I still play gigs with them every now and then. You know, I was just giving them an in. I had no vested interest in them. They had talent and they deserved to be out there. Sure, there are a lot of people with talent out there but nobody ever approached me. They did!

That’s great that you were generous like that… I see a lot of DJs and producers that are a little more selfish about giving out opportunities.

Anybody who’s interested in our music, who’s got a hunger for it, why not? Whoever wants to learn, you just gotta ask. I was hungry one time! Kerri was the only one who helped me. He gave me the keys to his house, Czarina! I knew the alarm codes! I was just this kid who lived down the block being a pain in the ass, coming in his house every day and fucking up his equipment. He never asked me for anything! So I can’t conceivably not do the same.

And now I have a new kid named Andre Hommen. That’s another one I’m bringing up. He’s from Germany, a very straight-laced kid, and he can play his ass off! I brought him in as part of the Objektivity crew.

Did he approach you as well?

Well the funny thing is he was just a fan at one point. We liked him so much because we saw him at many gigs. Then he started doing a couple of things on the web for us and then we heard him play one time and we said, “Oh hey, he can play! Well, alright do you want to play with us a couple of times?” And that was it! He was hungry and if somebody’s hungry, you give it to them.

Who wants to play in a club full of 45 year olds? When you were 18, did you think it was cool to dance in a club full of 45 year olds? Hell no! You thought that shit was creepy! Shit maybe one day I’ll be that creepy 45 year old!

You know the topics of classics, paying your dues and new music are a constant conversation that never ends here in Chicago. I’m sure it’s the same where you are!

I don’t pay attention to them. That’s just ego shit; keep that ego shit to yourself. This is about music. I don’t give a fuck who you are, who you were or where you’re going. It’s all about NOW. And that’s how I look at my music and the scene.

Who wants to play in a club full of 45 year olds? When you were 18, did you think it was cool to dance in a club full of 45 year olds? Hell no! You thought that shit was creepy! Shit maybe one day I’ll be that creepy 45 year old! [laughs]

Throwing old school parties every weekend for old soulful heads for 50 to 100 people and you’re worried about breaking even on your bar tab… That’s not keeping relevant bro!