The very first outdoor edition of Sensation ‘Source of Light’ will hit Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse on Friday October 31 and feature a line-up of international DJs including Martin Garrix, Mr White, Hard Rock Sofa, An21 and Max Vangeli, and Roger Sanchez.
As a well-known face and seasoned veteran of the worldwide DJ scene that represents the cutting-edge in soulful house, Sanchez remains one of the world’s most celebrated dance music heroes. From a humble beginning in New York City (with Dominican Republic roots) to multi-year residencies in Ibiza, and from digging in dusty crates to headlining festival main stages around the world, Sanchez is truly a self-made dance music star.
The crafting of Sanchez, the DJ, started in the late ’80s in Corona, Queens, in New York, where as a young man he was enticed by the early roots of hip-hop sprouting up all over the city. Attending parties by the Bronx River and other jams as a breakdancer and graffiti artist, Sanchez was introduced to DJ’ing through friends, trying his hand in an environment where his creativity behind the decks flourished from a few singles into an ambitious catalogue of more than 2,000 original productions and remixes.
‘My first DJ performance was at a friend’s birthday party in his house when I was about 13 years old. I’d never DJ’ed before and so my friend just said, “Hey why don’t you take over, while I talk to these girls?” That was the very first time I put my fingers on a record player to play and actually spin. I was pretty bad but I was instantly hooked,’ recalls Sanchez.
Early on, he became a dedicated crate digger, searching for obscure samples and break beats in influential New York record stores such as Rock & Soul and Vinylmania. ‘Latin rhythms are pretty prominent in my productions and that’s been a major part of my technique. I think if you grow up listening to certain types of sounds you are drawn to them. Growing up, New York was a melting pot of different types of artists, from funk and disco blues to soul and Latin. There were DJs like DJ Red Alert and Tony Humphries playing hip-hop. There wasn’t one type of dance music, it just kind of fused from different places. Then hip-hop came along and after that the resurfacing of disco via house music is really what brought that entire movement from Chicago to New York,’ he explains.
Formerly a talented student of the arts who attended the Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture, music culture grew to encompass his life as he began to sell his own mixtapes on the sidewalks of Broadway in order to finance his earliest gigs. With encouragement from his father, an engineer, Sanchez put his thoughts about a career in architecture on hold and launched himself into music full time.
‘My dad just said, “Follow your heart, son. Do whatever is true to you.” I think parents should support their kids’ desires to follow their dreams as long as they’re productive. That was a good thing for me because it allowed me to pursue the career I now have.’
His first 12-inch, ‘Dreamworld’, came out on the Outer Limits imprint in 1990 under the name Egotrip. It was around this time that Sanchez began to take producing seriously as a complement to his DJ’ing. ‘Back when I started, the DJ’ing thing wasn’t as huge as it is now. There was nothing to measure it against, so I feel very blessed to be a part of the origins of that in New York, and it’s great to be a part of something so huge. The one thing I did know was that I loved it a lot and was having fun, so it seemed like the right thing to do,’ he says.
He soon released ‘Luv Dancin’ for Gladys Pizarro on the iconic Strictly Rhythm records under the name Underground Solution, which led to his first tour. The 47-year-old went on to produce hits such as the UK Number One ‘Another Chance’ and ‘Lost’.
‘I think [the success of] those songs has a lot to do with emotional response that these tracks bring out in people. One of the things that I keep hearing is how “Another Chance” and “Lost” touched people. They are both kind of melancholy, flash euphoric dance tracks, so they resonate with a lot of people. I never intended to set up a big radio hit, it’s never been my main focus,’ Sanchez adds. ‘But when these things happen and capture people’s attention, it makes me feel good to know what I have done has reached someone.’
Sanchez’s decades of experience have led him building enticing remixes for a wide range of artists including Michael Jackson, The Police, Diana Ross, Jamiroquai, Maroon 5 and even the punk-pop outfit No Doubt – he won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Remixed Recording with their song ‘Hella Good’.
‘I find my music now going back to the roots of my sound – that grittier soulful Latin sound is coming back. It’s much more organic, I find that my sound has come full circle but with a brand-new influence. A lot of the younger DJs and current crop of kids coming up have really taken a lot of my earlier sounds and reimagined them,’ he says.
Some of his tracks have not always been under his own name, though. He has released music under aliases including S-Man, Roger S, The Nu-Solution, Underground Solution, DV8, Ego Trip, El Mariachi, The Funkjunkeez, Tribal Infusion, Twilight and Transatlantic Soul among others. Each new name has allowed him to push his music in different directions.
‘I’ve been working under one of my aliases this summer, The S-Man. That tends to have a more hard-core clubber sound. Next year, I’m gearing up collaborations with Boy George and I’ve just released singles, “Dangerous Thoughts”, and “Too Close”,’ he reveals.
Sanchez, who has held residencies at some of the biggest super-clubs in Ibiza, including Pacha, Space and Amnesia and Sensation, since 2000, says of the Dubai crowd, ‘I love its response and the vibe. Sensation is going to be full of energy, Latin rhythms and grooves. I want to get people moving. The rest of the line-up is geared more towards the EDM sound. It goes from one end of the spectrum, which tends to be more soulful on my side, and it gets harder and more electronic as the night continues,’ he explains.
With a true international appeal, Sanchez has become a house music leader over the past 30 years. ‘I don’t know when I’ll give it up or stop. I imagine there’ll be a point when it becomes more difficult, but I enjoy it and I have a lot of fun. Hopefully I’ll play as long as people want me to play,’ he says. And with Pacha Dubai opening its doors on Friday November 7 at Madinat Jumeirah, we could be seeing a lot more of Sanchez on these shores.
Sensation Dubai. Tickets from Dhs395-Dhs500,000. October 31, Meydan Racecourse, Nad Al Sheba, www.sensation.com.
Joining Roger Sanchez on the stage is man of the moment, Martin Garrix. After his worldwide Number One hit ‘Animals,’ the 18-year-old is in high demand. Meanwhile expect hypnotising house grooves that will get your feet tapping from the get-go from Mr White and impressive sets from Hard Rock Sofa, An21 and Max Vangeli.