Hernan Cattaneo

Hernan Cattaneo on Love, Luck & Living For Music

Lauren Krieger

From taking place only in the darkest corners, under tunnels and in abandoned warehouses, to being blasted into the spotlight of popularity with corporate sponsors and celebrity status DJs, electronic music has seen a dramatic evolution over the decades. While some of it may not have been for the best, the change in electronic music’s role in our culture means that music which has been created from a place of passion, and enjoyed by those who feel it in their soul, is now experienced by an ever-growing audience around the world. We can owe this expansion to those DJs who believed in it since the beginning, never giving up, leading it to where it is today through determination, persistence, and most of all: love.

While these pivotal DJs may not be seen as pop-star celebrities to the general public (thank goodness), there are those who have reached rock-star status among the underground. As a progressive force who changed not only the future of own country’s musical landscape but who continues to spread its influence to the rest of the world, Hernan Cattaneo’s leading role in the underground electronic music industry has been solidified in history. And it’s a legacy that keeps on going.

Hernan Cattaneo

Known as “El Maestro”, there are few names repeated so often as the inspiration for DJs and Producers to start their own journey into music, especially for Argentinians. Considering that when he began there was barely a scene at all (“People wanted to hear the Rolling Stones in clubs.”) and now the country is known around the world as the best place for Progressive DJs to play, his impact on underground electronic music cannot be overstated. He hasn’t slowed down today, in fact he’s still continuing to make a difference in the industry not only through his influential label Sudbeat and highly respected Resident series (not to mention sold-out shows around the world) but his recent orchestral concert “Connected” at Buenos Aires’ renowned Teatro Colon brought a never before experienced respect to electronic music that proved just how beautiful it can be. While he never expected “to get to this level or to be a DJ at 54 years old traveling the world nonstop every weekend”, 2018 was one of his most successful years yet. It’s easy to believe that with his passion still driving him, and with a balance found between his family and his career, Hernan Cattaneo will continue to keep changing the future of electronic music in the years to come.

Before his sold-out show alongside Nick Warren at Treehouse Miami, and in between his two in-demand boat parties, it was a pleasure to be able to meet with Hernan to learn more about his life and to get his thoughts on the current state of the scene. Any nervousness for meeting someone of such stature was quickly dissolved through his warm, welcoming, and open energy. While you can easily create a long list of compliments about Hernan Cattaneo’s career, talent, and influence, behind it all is a kindness, authenticity, and humility that belies his accomplishments. I believe that the reason he resonates with so many is because of his spirit, and in speaking to him my admiration continued to grow for the thoughtfulness and honesty he expressed.

There is much we can learn from those who have led the journey through the underground, their stories can help us as we navigate the currents of today’s scene. I’m so grateful to be able to share the thoughts of one of those leaders, whose words can guide new generations into the future of electronic music.

Photo by @estebansalinotardi

How is Miami going this year?

It’s been good. I got here on Monday after last week I played Friday in New York and Saturday, Montreal Stereo.

Oh wow…

It was really good. But I played 2 extended sets. I played 8 hours on Friday and 9 hours on Saturday.

Oh my gosh!

Yeah, so… but no it’s usual for me, but then, of course, I’m tired after that. So it was good to come to Miami early in the week and have a couple of days to chill out. Then on Wednesday we did the boat party and then I was free yesterday, tonight we have the Treehouse show and tomorrow another boat party and then go back home for a week.

You’ll actually have time off!

Yeah, I have a family… I have 3 girls and a wife, so normally every time I leave the country for two weekends, then the next I take off. So I get to spend time with the family and then the next week I go sometimes to Europe, sometimes to Australia… wherever the schedule takes me.

How old are your girls?

6, 9 and 11.

Oh wow. 🙂

Yeah, they’re really good. I’m very very lucky that my wife is not only a great partner for me, but she’s also a great mother. She enjoys them, because you know, it’s not easy for a mother to stay with 3 daughters, half the time alone. Half the time, I’m at home, the other half I’m not. But she really covers the whole thing and balances the whole thing. So it could be a disaster, but contrary to that it’s really good.

That’s wonderful!

Yeah, I’m very lucky.

So with all that you’re doing, whats keeps you excited? You’ve been doing this for so long…

Too long.

Haha! You say too long, but do you mean that? Have you ever felt burnt out and wanting to stop?

Honestly, what keeps me going is… when I started I was very, very young, about 12 years old. My main motivation was to share the music that I like with other people, and I’m still doing that even 40 years later, you know? And that fact that the dynamics of electronic music are so intense… so like every week you have a lot of new music and new stuff and the chance to re-edit stuff on the computer and so on… so it really makes it so you never have two shows that are the same. That keeps me going all the time. For example, we did the afternoon boat party two days ago in the sun. On the boat is one style of music, in the club, it’s different music, then tomorrow will be different because it’s another boat. A lot of people have seen the other shows so you have to play different music. So it always keeps it challenging because you have to do it differently each time. Then, of course, you get to travel around the world and meet super nice people, see nice places. Sometimes the travel part of being away from my family is tiring or difficult, but at the same time, I learned that taking time off every two or three weeks, really helps to balance everything. It gives me time with my family, and then when I have to go back on tour I’m willing to do it because I’ve already rested and put my mind on something else.

So you kind of figured out what works for you?

Yeah, I learned to have balance. I say anything in life, once you have a good balance, things work much much better. I was lucky in that when I was younger and I needed to push my career 24/7 every single day, every single hour… I was single, I didn’t have kids, so I could do it. And then, by the time I met my wife and we started having kids, I was already kind of like established, if you want to say that. So when you get to that level, you don’t need to push that much, you just do whatever is good for your career and that’s it. While at the beginning you need to play every single club, every single city around the world to make yourself a name.

Do you feel like people starting up now would have a harder time?

Well, it’s different… because back then, the easier part was that there were fewer DJ’s, way fewer DJ’s than now. But the harder part was that it was very difficult to get the music and the scene was way smaller. Now, of course, there’s much more competition. There’s clubs everywhere, music is accessible to everybody, you can make your own music, you can make a good track and instantly you reach around the whole world. I remember when I started traveling around 1999, it would take me one year working every week, two or three gigs per week, to reach all over the world to all the continents and all the key cites. Now you make a great track and within a week you get contacts from places like Hong Kong or Shanghai or Argentina saying “oh we want this”. So it’s different, it’s difficult to compare. I don’t think it’s fair to compare, it’s just different. It was more difficult in some ways, but easier in others.

Did you expect it to get to this point, as big as it is now?

No, that was wishful thinking. I always wished because I was very romantic and optimistic. I wasn’t expecting to get to this level. I wasn’t expecting me to get to this level or to be a DJ at 54 years old traveling the world nonstop every weekend. It’s funny, already in the last 16 – 17 years, every time somebody asks me I say “Well, maybe probably 2 – 3 more years then who knows” then suddenly last year at 53 I have the biggest year of my career in many, many ways so you go like “Wow, this was really unexpected”. But at the same time, if I had to stop playing music tomorrow for example, I wouldn’t complain and say “How is it possible”. Like, “Fair enough, I did a lot” and I got a lot from my passion for music so there couldn’t be any room for complaints. I could do radio or studio, there’s other stuff I’d like to do music related.

What else would you like to do?

Radio. Like old-school radio in the studio. For example, a radio station where we sit down and I invite you and say “Okay let’s talk about music and what you listened to as a kid”. Like a podcast, but live about music and talking about music. Not necessarily about club music, but music, for music lovers.

I love that!

Yeah, I grew up listening to stuff like that when I was a kid, on the radio, it was very popular. And now these last few years I have been doing Resident which is like a showcase of new music every week, I just present the new tracks every weekend. Which it goes really well and it’s perfect for me to stay in touch with my fans worldwide, but it’s not like a radio show. A radio show is something different. A radio show is like, we sit down and I say “Tell me about it. When did you discover this?” and you bring your records and you tell me, “Oh this is very special for me because my older sister showed me when I was a kid”, that kind of thing.

I will do it someday, it’s just you need to have time for that and to be always in the same city every week which is impossible for me at this stage. Sooner or later.

How about the Connected shows and doing more of that?

That was incredible, the highlight of my career and even more because it was something unexpected. The thing is in Argentina, always the club music didn’t have a good image. For media and in the general public it’s always related to cheap music and drugs, and this and that. So since you know, I’ve been having a big career for many years and I was thinking – okay, since I’m quite like a big name for the “scene” in Argentina, I said I should do something for this, to show that that they are wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the music and it’s not necessary that all club music has to be heard in a horrible place. In Argentina, we have the Teatro Colon which is one of the Top 5 Opera Houses in the world, and it’s incredible and we get the chance to go there. So I say I’m going to do a symphonic electronic music show, but to appeal to all the audiences.

So we get to make a list of music that influences me from the early days of electronic music from Giorgio Moroder to Alan Parsons to Depeche Mode, Chemical Brothers but also Nick Warren or Guy J. We rearranged it all for the orchestra, because you have to rearrange every song from like 10 instruments to 50, plus some guest musicians. And we did the electronic part with Oliverio and Baunder, my partners, because not all the music from the show can be replaced by an orchestra. Some parts, especially the beats or effects you have to do it on your own. So we did that and it was a massive success. Honestly, it was quite unexpected. At first, you don’t even get to dream that you can play in a place like that. Never before have they played club music, not to mention a DJ. It was really groundbreaking for everybody. Luckily it went really really well. For many many people, it really changed the bad image of club music, and for me, it was an incredible achievement. So big for the country, and for me, that three months later they made me… like being a “sir” in England, knighted… it’s called like an “outstanding contribution to the culture of my country”.

That’s amazing!

Honestly… of course it is amazing, but most important is for the music. Our club music. It’s not about me, it could have been another DJ it doesn’t matter. I’m so happy, not for me, for the whole Argentina DJ community we were pushing for so long against everything. For example, I remember in the early ‘90s going to America or to England and seeing how popular it was, and in Argentina is was completely unpopular. People wanted to hear the Rolling Stones in clubs. And we were a like a bunch of 10 DJs trying to push, push, push for years and years it didn’t go very well. For years.

Really! And you just kept going…

Yeah! We were really stubborn, and passionate. And that passion brought us to where we are now.

Hernan Cattaneo DJ
Photo by @estebansalinotardi

That’s amazing, I love to see how far it has come. What do you think about the future of where the music is going?

I think the great thing about is, the dynamics of this music changes all the time. For example, I like certain styles, certain things in the music. It doesn’t matter exactly the style, but certain common denominators like melodic, groovy, not too hard, not too fast, but those elements you can find in many, many different styles. Sometimes there’s a trance record and I will say “Oh, this is amazing” because I love the melody and maybe I will pitch it down and make it more of my tempo, or sometimes you hear a techno track which has a great groove and I think I’m going to drop an acapella on top of this and it’s going to sound amazing. The amount of elements you can find all over the place, plus the technology that helps you to create new things with that, it’s really endless. And that keeps everything going, going all the time. And the new kids, they’re ready. Because I grew up thinking about the music in a certain way, but for the new kids it’s like a video game for them. They look at it in a different way but they end up getting in the same place. It’s incredible. We work on Sudbeat and the labels with young kids and they have amazing ideas. Sometimes you need to guide them a bit on how to edit this, do the intro longer, the details, but the main musical idea is there in a very easy going way. It’s amazing.

I was talking to Baunder who said that patience is one thing that he tries to teach the younger generation because they want to put tracks out all the time…

We try to teach them that, I think one of the biggest enemies for the kids these days is anxiousness. They want to become stars in three days, so they send you 5 tracks and then another week later another 5 tracks, and I go like “Listen, how is it possible that Guy J or Patrice Baumel, they send me 5 tracks a year and you send me 5 tracks a week.” But they don’t listen, they keep it up. They think that the more they put out the better. It’s not, of course, it’s about getting your right ideas and trying to practice. Unfortunately, that’s probably the biggest challenge for kids. They hurry too much, and sometimes they get lost in that.

I talk with many other labels and we think the same thing about the kids. There are many, many really good talented ones but they really need management. And the problem is managers only want them when they have a name, so it’s different. We need agents for younger DJ’s and managers for younger Producers that are still not yet at the level but they will be eventually.

I’ve heard a lot of younger DJ’s talk about how you are their mentor for the way that you handle yourself in the business… I think you see these Argentinians come up and they are very respectful, they respect the music and are humble and I think that’s a lot of your influence.

Well, I’m happy if I’m a good influence. What I’ve been lucky with is if you’ve had a long career, you understand things better. And I’ve been into many situations, and it’s like, it didn’t happen to me overnight. It took me ages. People know the second half of my career but the first half they don’t know and it was like hardcore, against all odds. So that gives me a good perspective. I know even when it wasn’t yesterday that it was very difficult for me, it wasn’t that long ago enough for me not to remember. So I know every step of the way how difficult it is, this part and that part, so I can always normally give good advice. But the most common advice I give to the kids is to relax, this is not going to happen from one day to the other. You need to work, you need to push, you need to practice to become a good DJ. You need to practice for hours and hours and hours for years, not for days. You’re not going to become a good DJ in 3 months.

But then, as I said, I’m not into management, I don’t have time for that. But the industry needs more guidance. There’s a lot of talented kids but they need more guidance.

That makes a lot of sense, I really like that. So how do you feel, you know, with the “Maestro” and all that… how do you manage to stay so humble?

Of course, it’s super rewarding, all that love you get. Because again it’s love. Love, or respect, or whatever you want to call it, and I’m super grateful for that. At the same time, I’m kind of shy, so normally when they say something nice I say “I hope I deserve that.” Because I grew up, especially in a Latino country, you see a lot of people that are arrogant, like “Oh yeah I’m super big, super that” and you know how ugly that is and how sad it is. I never wanted to be in that situation, so I prefer to say “Oh, it’s okay”. I consider myself super lucky. Of course, you have to have talent to get to where I am, but it’s only 30%. There are many other things, and one of them is luck. And I have been super lucky. So I really give a lot of a part of this to that.

Photo by @estebansalinotardi

As I reluctantly let Hernan go so he can wow the crowd until the early morning, I consider that while he may attribute his success to luck, the other elements he’s expressed of determination, persistence, hard work, and ultimately doing it all for the love of the music, are the greatest factors that have led him to his legendary place in electronic music history. And while I can’t help but blurt out before we part “You’re so nice!!” he smiles and leaves me with one last bit of wisdom that is perhaps the key behind it all, “What goes around, comes around”.