DJ Roger Sanchez sells out. No, not in a bad way—he just wouldn’t do that. His sound and heart are pure, and with one purpose: to make people dance. Roger Sanchez sells out every room he plays. Starting as a 13-year-old kid from the neighborhood, to doing international tours, and landing 6-figure paychecks, Roger has remained true to his school. I hadnt seen him in years when we sat down to chat, but it was just as if we had been friends all along. He is natural, honest, direct. The world hasn’t changed him as much as he has changed the world. He lives to play and entertain, and take his thing as far as it can go. He has stayed relevant because he is humble enough to accept another way.
Roger Sanchez is a DJ who gets at least five figures when he DJs all around the planet—but it wasn’t always like this. What is the earliest memory of getting paid to DJ? Jesus, the first thing I actually did was a birthday party for kids. I got paid, like, 25 bucks. I was around 13 years old, and that’s when I got really into the whole DJing thing. Back then I had to borrow my mother’s turntables, and save up my allowance for this old mixer from Gemini. The first club was actually a hall in Astoria. It was our own parties, and the pay was what we made at the door. That night I went home with a whopping $250—which was a lot back then. We got about a 1,000 people in there, which was great.
When did you realize you were going to be an international DJ and not just a New York player? I’m sure in the beginning you did the whole New York City thing: Queens, Brooklyn, etc. I went to high school for art and design, and studied architecture, but I was also growing up in the hip-hop days of Afrika Bambaataa, Zulu Nation, all of those Brown Sugar parties. I remember going to block parties, and it was whatever was going on the neighborhood. When I actually realized I was going to be an international DJ, it was around 1990, when I had done this track that came out with one of my first records ever released called “Love Dancing.” That record took off in New York, and then took off in the UK, and I was flown to my very first tour overseas with Todd Terry, who at that point was at the apex of the whole thing. I did my very first national tour was with him, DJ Moneypenny, I can’t remember what else. It was around the UK and that’s when I realized, wow, this thing is really going international.
Physically, how do you maintain the ability to do these long gigs? I understand New York is really the longest gig, and overseas you usually do two hours? Most of the gigs I do tend to be two or three hours, but I do some long gigs. Overseas I do my own events and I play a minimum of six to eight hours. And then occasionally I’ll do the long ones—up to 14 hours. But New York is up there with Miami and Montreal, they tend to be the places where I play long sets. To be honest with you, I’ve flown so much, I’ve gone through so many time zone changes, I have no internal body clock. I just kind of set my brain to whatever zone I’m in and just try to fall into that zone wherever I land. I don’t use drugs, I don’t drink very much, and I don’t smoke. It’s going to be the only way I can keep myself physically able to take the amount of flying and traveling and lack of sleep and trying to go to the gym as much as I can. I do whatever I can to try and be in the physical condition I can be to actually do these events.
What is the Roger Sanchez brand? Is there a different between the person and the brand? Roger Sanchez equals dance music, house music, big vocals. I have an underground following, I have a crossover following, people know me for my long sets around the world, glamorous DJ lifestyle—which is also a part of my life. The other part of my life is very personal; I have family, I’ve got a wife and two kids. Whenever I’m home I focus more on them, and I try to balance that life and keep some of it to myself. That’s the only way you can maintain balance. I’m someone who likes to chill. I try to hit the gym as much as I can to be healthy, I love movies (especially sci-fi), I love fashion—that’s a really big thing for me. My wife is a former model and an actress, so I’m trying to get into the world of film scores. I have things that I love doing when I’m actually not DJing.
I wear a lot of hats: Designer, DJ, writer, and I try to do all these creative things. I always tell my girl that you’re never getting all of me. There’s always ten or twenty percent of my brain just working on a project. With me, it’s a design project, or an interview that’s coming up that’s big to me. I’m sure you find this to be true, that it’s impossible to focus completely in a social or family situation, to give your full attention. Part of you is working on the new record, which I want to talk about also. Aren’t you always working somewhere inside you? My brain is always working and the interesting thing is what I’ve had to learn, especially after I got married, I had to learn how to chill. It’s been the hardest thing for me, I’m a workaholic. My brain is constantly hearing patterns in everything, I feel like I’m in A Beautiful Mind, but instead of seeing numbers, I hear beats. I’m always hearing something or tapping a rhythm, and my wife is looking at me like, seriously? But there’s creativity in every aspect of life. Everything has rhythm, everything has a design element. I’m doing work with a merchandise company, and I’ve been working on a clothing company for a couple of years. I’m helping my wife develop this interesting concept which is something really cool and all that is going on in my head constantly. And then I’m on tour 24/7.
The record is coming out on the 16th. What are your fans going to hear that may surprise or interest them? Here’s the interesting thing: The track is called “Together,” and the original version I was playing last summer to the sound of the B-52s “Love Shack,” acapella. I created this track with a powerful drive, and it absolutely ripped it on the floor. I used it just as a teaser and from then to now I’ve done a small prerelease of the club and dub versions with a band called Far East Movement, who just had a hit with “Like a G6.” But before that, they were presented to me as just a band, and it just so happened that their album went number one recently. The revival they did is really cool. They actually got into this whole driving, tribal, pounding element, but it’s also a big “hands in the air” number. It is something that people would recognize from my production, but it’s moved on to another level, another generation. I think the thing I’m proudest of is going past my comfort zone, and working with people in different genres, and being able to fuse it and make it work. My whole thing is that it doesn’t work unless I really see it work on the floor. That’s how I know it’s good.
Years ago, we used to do a thing called the Record Pool, and when Roger Snachez put out a record there would be a limited amount of records released to the top DJs in town, in Chicago, LA, and Miami. These guys would get it, and no one else did. They’d be playing the new shit, and that actually set them apart from the other DJs. Nowadays, with the internet and all that, how does this Roger Sanchez record get out to the important players? How does your record go out there, and do they tweak it and change it? Because the internet is so global—and as soon as you put something out, it’s out there—it doesn’t have the same germination period it used to. I actually have relationships with all these guys and the good thing is, we pass tracks back and forth, even when they’re in the unfinished stage sometimes. When I get the original version, I give it to David Guetta, I give it to Dave Morales, I give it to a couple of the other guys, and let them have it before I even put it on in front of anybody. Once it’s out there, and it goes to the blogs, and everything happens—that’s when it becomes something world wide. So it really is very much a face-to-face thing, that’s what sets us apart. The guys that have direct contact with me get stuff directly from me, and vice versa.
Do you really listen to everybody? How do you listen? A lot of times I’ll go visit them, or see them live, or I’ll go check them out if I’m not playing. Sometimes someone will have a radio show, and I’ll check it out online. And then occasionally we do play together, and I’ll get a chance to go check it out.
As a designer, every so often I see a space, and it just stops me cold. I just want to quit. I look and it and say, “Holy mackerel, that’s the most beautiful thing in the world.” But then I learn from it. This happens whenever I see someone pushing the limits. Has there ever been a time when you were listening to a DJ and said, “Holy mackerel, this guy is just taking it to a level I never reached before,” and it drove you to be better? Constantly. I think the reason I was able to start when I started and still be relevant today, is because I’ve never allowed myself to be comfortable in one place. I always look at new talents that are coming up, and new production techniques. For instance, right now you have the Dutch guys like DJ Chuck and AfroJack, who are doing amazing stuff. I’m collaborating with them and checking out their records, and playing them in my set. I’ll go DJ with these cats, I will listen to them and see what they’re doing and go, “Huh?” I was playing with DJ Chuckie in LA for Electric Daisy Carnival this summer, and I had just finished working on the new CD, and I almost flipped out when I saw how he was working, and then it just clicked for me. All of a sudden it upgraded my game to playing four tracks at the same time. I’m learning constantly.
You don’t carry around crates do you? People tell me that it just sounds better. I’ll be honest with you, analog has a certain warmth to it, and that’s what I’m playing on. I know it’s all up to the actual sound system, but it gets no clearer than the original source that you record it onto. So there was a certain warmth to it, but there were also drawbacks too. I think we’ve come to a place where now, it’s not the cleanest and best it could possibly sound, but it’s like anything in technology: You might have a taste for one sound and it’s very personal.
I did a one city tour, and I came back exhausted. When you’re going on tour, tell me about how you prepare. First of all, do you know each night the first track you’re putting on? No, I don’t know what I’m going to play. Some DJs do, but I generally tend to look at the audience and let that tell me what to do. I’ve always been a DJ that does not have a preset list. I was doing a live show a few years ago and I allowed myself to just walk in and feel the atmosphere and let it click. I have general ideas of what I’m going to start with. Right now I’m about to do a tour called “The Return of House” in the US. One of the biggest shows we’re going to do is here in New York on Thanksgiving eve. That’s going to be crazy. We’ve already sold out, and it’s amazing because we have all generations coming through. Then from there we are going to Chicago and Canada, and it’s myself, Sidney Samson, and then DJ Chuckie is jumping on the tour—which is going to be amazing for me because with their demographic, they get a much younger audience, mixed in with the VIPs.
Of the new house DJs, who do you think could be big a year from now? I think you’re looking at people like AfroJack, Chuckie, and Sidney Samson. Those people are really solid. Some of the guys that are coming up on my label, people like Lester Funk, Chris Moody, and Avicii—they had an amazing year. There’s a lot of talent. People like Prok Fitch from the UK—he’s going to be coming up this year. He and I have been talking about a lot of stuff.
When I used to book DJs, I used to feel that when a DJ started producing they started getting into a sound that would be their sound, often at the expense of other sounds, and then that DJ became almost monotonous. They were only playing the stuff that agreed with them, or was a part of his cult or religion of house. How do you embrace the other sounds and mix it into your set? It’s funny, I met you when I first started DJing in New York, and I used to play the little basement part of The Tunnel. I came to you with a cassette at Life. I remember when you said, “Listen, I want you to come in and I want to talk to you.” That was two years after I gave you a mix tape, when certain things were happening for me. My sound from then has always been what I played, and what I listened to, because I’m a DJ before a producer.