Filed under: Interview
Despite being born in Puerto Rico and now residing in Toronto, DJ Sneak is considered as one of the main faces of the Chicago house scene, largely thanks to his work with Cajmere’s Cajual and Relief Records as well as his unique Sneak beats that set dancefloors alight.
Since the 1993 release of his first record, ‘Sneaky Traxx’, Sneak has been churning out the heart stopping tunes. Many of Sneak’s current wave of fans will know him best for ‘Fix My Sink’ which he dropped on his own Magnetic Recordings in the early part of this century and helped push him even further to the forefront of house music.
We had a word or two with this very special Toronto resident shortly after his pumping set at this years Metamorphose festival in Shuzenji, Japan. Sneak seemed more than happy to talk about everything including a little bit about the future and a lot about the past.
Interview & Introducion by Nick Lawrence (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Todd Terry was talking in a recent interview about a big group project your involved with. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DJ Sneak : Yeah, it started when Todd Terry and I were in Miami for the conference and on the way out he was waiting for a cab but I had a car. So I told him to come in the car with me and we had about half an hour together. I was driving, and we were talking forever. I was telling him how everyone knows Todd Terry but then maybe the next generation don’t know so much. Like, I know Todd Terry because I experienced his first record and I bought all his stuff. For me Todd was the biggest influence that I’ve had. Even though I’m from Chicago Todd Terry’s stuff was amazing for me. It really helped me develop my on style in terms of beats. When people talk about Sneak beats, my beats were actually spawned from Todd’s. So anyway, we talked about it and I said people need to be re-introduced to people who were doing stuff back in the day. When we got back, maybe a month later, he asked me to come down to his studio in New York and work. It was like a big party for four days and helping and developing tracks with different people. I actually worked on five tracks, I guess the one that Todd ended up choosing was the one I did with Roger S. We sort of laid down all the ideas and then Todd finished it up. It was really interesting because the room was amazing. Armand came through for a little while, Kenny Dope was there for the four days. Kenny and I, I swear we are brothers from different mothers. For me, even though we are sort of the same age, Kenny Dope and Louis Vega are influences for me. I can describe it in one way, I love Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and if they called me up and asked me to go into the studio it would be like the same thing. But I mean the vibe was awesome and everyone came and did their own little things. I haven’t heard the whole project yet, I’ve been in the dark. I just went in and did it and then I was out.
HRFQ : One thing we wanted to ask you about influences a lot of people say that your releases on Cajual and Relief were really important for Chicago. How do you rate your own importance?
DJ Sneak : Umm, you know man I am a DJ first and I have been DJing since I was 16 years old. I’ll be 36 in November this year so it’s 20 years of my life I’ve actually given to that. In my journey of trying to have fun and create stuff whatever I had available to me I find Cajual and Cajmere. He is a wicked genius let me tell you. Back in the day I was working at the record store and I seen him at the record store. I told him “Hey man I have some music, are you interested”. He told me to come one day and I showed up with about 20 different DATs. We just sat there and talked and he was like “I like this and I like that”. For us it just started as let’s try it out and see what happens. I had never really thought it would spawn so much out there. I wasn’t the only one, there was Paul Johnson, Glenn Underground, Gene Farris. There was a whole line of Chicago producers hungry to put their stuff out. Cajual and Relief were really the only labels that were there at the time. I’d say there was a big Chicago boom from ’83 and ’89. Then from ’89 until ’94 it was quiet until Cajmere came by. He was writing music for other people and came into some money and decided to do his labels. He took a chance on a lot of us and nobody knew how far we were going to go. I do remember I did a CD called “The Mutant Sounds of Relief Records” that was released in Japan and I was the one that mixed it. It said mixed by Cajmere and DJ Sneak but he helped me put the music together and then I whipped it up. We did that in ’95 and that was the first time I came to Japan.
HRFQ : So that’s Chicago but why did you move to Toronto?
DJ Sneak : I went to Toronto in ’93 and that was because some people who I ended up making friends with came to Chicago to play. I mean Canadians are just so friggin cool to hang out with. So I met this crew and then I went up to Toronto for a week with my bag of records. It was wintertime and I loved it. I loved Toronto because it reminded me of Chicago minus a lot of things that I don’t like about Chicago. It had the city feel but it was relaxed. There were no gangs and no violence. For me Chicago was sort of like an in-between place. I grew up in Puerto Rico so it was a thing of finding a place that felt right. Even though I love Chicago and I got my career there I just needed to go somewhere else. Mark Farina for example, he is another Chicago guy and pretty much I owe a lot to him too. He moved to San Francisco so I thought if Mark Farina can move to San Francisco then I can pick my own city and be the ruler of the city. Toronto, for me it was fresh. There was a lot of underground warehouse parties and things that got me really excited. It reminded me of what Chicago used to be like. After a few trips and whatever I ended up setting up some nice gigs, and got a girlfriend. And once you get a girlfriend it’s like… So in ’97 I decided to move and I have been living there since 1997.
HRFQ : Your new Ministry Of Sound CD, we noticed there is a Daft Punk track from the late 90’s and your old dub of Triple X’s ‘Feel The Same’ then tonight you played some Madison Avenue. Are you purposefully searching out older tracks or you just don’t care about release date?
DJ Sneak : I think a lot of people miss records like that. Even though Daft Punk became really popular and Madison Avenue and this and that, those are records I feel like it was me that broke them into the scene. People remember me playing those records and sometimes I just want to refresh their memories about how good house music was at one point and how you don’t have to go with electro or whatever, you can still love your house no matter what. And again, it’s introducing that music to a whole new crowd that doesn’t know about it. I have a really great collection of records and now with the whole CD phenomenon I spend a lot of time going through my old vinyl. Even vinyl that got scratched or would skip, I just run it through a program to make it louder and take the skip out or do my own edit of it. It is so much easier to carry you know, I don’t have worry about the actual vinyl anymore because I just burn it onto CD. Then whenever I feel like it needs to be brought out, I put it out there. I just want to really refresh people’s memories of house music because for me house music has been forever. It’s been twenty years of my life that I have been devoted to it so I sort of want to bring it out again. Some people played it at one point and put it aside but I love to remind people or re-introduce people to music. That’s my purpose, even with the CD. I did the remix of ‘Feel The Same’ for Ministry Of Sound seven years ago and they were surprised. They didn’t even own the license anymore. The Ministry of CD has been cool, a bit of old and a bit of new. Just telling people it’s not all about the newer stuff. It’s about the history of house music. When I do a compilation I like to keep it fresh but I at least like to put one or two things that people will go ‘Hey I remember this song!’.
HRFQ : In 2004 you had an album then another in 2005 and another in 2006. How are you bringing so much stuff out?
DJ Sneak : Man, I’m a workaholic. I have a studio at my house and I’m always in my studio. My missus is like ‘Even when you are not working you are working’. I tell her it’s a thing of being inspired. Whenever I’m inspired I want to get in the studio and do it. I’m always writing and when I decide put something out then I do it. The last album was “Housekeepin” and that was experimental. All the music was live, I worked with live musicians. I wrote, I talked, I rapped. I spend a lot of time developing…I don’t know. I think I still have so much to give so if I get an idea I jump in the studio. If I’m not in my studio then I’ve got my laptop and I can at least write the ideas. So I am always working you know. Whenever I’m on the road I’ll do like the thing with Todd or a friend of mine Mastik Soul in Portugal, I worked with Phil Weeks in Paris. Wherever I go, I meet someone who knows. These guys are like fans of mine so when I say let’s go into the studio they freak out. We just go into the studio and come up with some stuff. That’s what keeps it fresh man, that’s why there’s so much material. Right now I have two labels and I’m about to launch another one and I can’t put out stuff fast enough. I’m always working and the studio is everything for me. I love DJing, that’s my first love, but man I love getting into the studio and making music too.
HRFQ : How did you first get into making music? What pushed you into the studio?
DJ Sneak : I mean it’s just the evolution of a DJ. Everybody now buys a few records, some decks and some CDs then calls themselves a DJ. I started from rock bottom and I worked my way up. My way of thinking is old school. I knew it was just a matter of time before I’d start making music. When you DJ so much you hear this beat with that bassline and you think ‘Whoah, I can put this together’. Then you actually just learn how to use the equipment and now you just learn computer programs that allow you to create faster. With things like Cubase, Logic and this and that it’s crazy man, it’s never ending you know. So for me, I just knew that was the next step. But I’m not even done. After DJing and producing I’m going to be doing something else.
HRFQ : What will that be?
DJ Sneak : Who knows man?
HRFQ : Well, you’ve got labels at the moment.
DJ Sneak : I got labels and I love cooking. Man I want to be a chef. I learned from my mum first, Puerto Rican cuisine. Then through my travels and just eating in places I’ll be like ‘I can make this’ and I’ll just go home and make it. When I get to forty I want to go back to school and get my culinary degree.
HRFQ : Then maybe a Sneak restaurant?
DJ Sneak : Maybe a Sneak restaurant or maybe something, I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of things I’ve been doing since I was a kid you know. I was an artist and in Chicago I became a graffiti artist. I still do graffiti like last year I did a graffiti piece in Holland and I use it for the artwork for my own labels too. So it’s like graffiti, hip hop, house, cooking. It’s just everything put together you know. I’ve just gotta keep my mind off of the bullshit you have to deal with sometimes in this industry. Some people are misled and I don’t know. There’s DJs who are a product like Red Bull. To me, Tiesto is a product of marketing and management. Sooner or later people get tired of Red Bull and will be like ‘I’m done with that shit!’ and go onto the next one. So I don’t really believe in the new wave coming. For me it’s all about the old wave. If you are a turntable person who loves records it gives you a better understanding of where you are going to go. If you don’t have a foundation it doesn’t matter what you build up it’s going to fall down. It’s the same with DJing and music. I feel like a lot of people don’t have that foundation. My foundation and my roots are really deep and from that I feed to keep going.
HRFQ : So when you started up were you purposefully looking at things from the point of view of a long lasting career?
DJ Sneak : For me it was fun. It was all about the love and the fun of doing it. I could’ve easily not been discovered or been one of the people that makes a lot of music and has great shit but doesn’t know where to put it. But I mean I was persistent and my DJing got me as far as I could go. From that I just catapulted into something else. Seriously, I go from one thing to another and I wear many different hats. I never thought I would be here today. I always thought that I loved DJing and even if I don’t DJ for money or become a superstar. Because that’s the thing now everybody is thinking “I want to be a superstar, be famous, do drugs and hang out with bitches, limousines and fancy hotels”. I couldn’t care less man. I can sleep on a fucking sleeping bag outside for some party that is happening outdoors and love it just as much. I never got into it to be a superstar. The fact that I’m still here today is pure…I don’t know. When you love something so much it shows.
End of the interview
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