House music pioneer DJ Sneak has kept it real with vinyl since 1983 when he first heard electronic music on the radio. We met him behind the Beatport stage before his set at Movement Detroit, thinking we’d only have five or so minutes in the small back area crammed with press, photographers, and event crew. It was a pleasant surprise when he suggested we trudge through the sea of people to the other end of the festival grounds where the media tent was set up for some extra space and to filter out the background noise. Staying a few steps in front or behind him, it was cool to watch him casually giving handshakes, nods, and daps to fans acknowledging his passing. Finally reaching the tent raised above the VIP area, we sat and without interruption, found out what Sneak thinks of the Davvincii skit, his love for kids, and thoughts on label consistency, among other relevant opinions.
Describe your sound with three words.
►Funky house music.
Do you remember when you were first exposed to electronic music? How did you get started?
►The first time hearing it was in 1983 on the radio. My first time seeing a DJ was in 1984 at a school dance and this dude wasn’t doing what I thought was happening because I didn’t understand how music could go from one track to another without commercials. When I saw this guy do it, I was like, “Holy shit, that’s how you do it,” and I asked him a million questions. Eventually he told me about matching beats and that’s how I got into it.
Were you self-taught from that point on?
►Yeah. It was a matter of saving money or going to friends’ houses who had turntables. All I bought were records in the beginning, and I would bring my crate of records and say, “We’ll use my music if I can practice on your turntables.”
What was the first record you bought?
►I believe, and I’m standing by this because I always say it: Steve Hurley – “Jack Your Body.” It was a real classic house record. I learned records when house music was becoming a genre I recognized. My first records were real legends of house music like Frankie Knuckles and Steve Hurley, and Detroit guys like Derrick May, Kenny Larkin, and Kevin Saunderson. Those guys would always go to Chicago; it was so close and I learned how to DJ with that kind of music.
A lot has changed about house music from when you started up until now. Has anything remained the same?
►The need to party has stayed the same. People still need to go out, get together, party together, and share some sort of experience together. The music has changed and the industry has changed to become more corporate and more commercial, but there’s still underground stuff and underground things people want to do. As long as there’s a sound system, a DJ willing to play, and people ready, that will never change. For me, house music has never changed, and I’m still the same DJ as when I started. I started with birthday parties and weddings before I became an international DJ, and I still have the love for it; that’s because there’s still a true connection between me and the music and the craft of DJ’ing.
Speaking of opinions, what do you think of that Davvincii SNL skit?
►I wrote about it on my Facebook, actually. If you want a great explanation, check it out. [The video] is comical because it’s comical. In the other sense, this is what a youngster i s going to look up to and think, “If he can do that, I can do that too,” or, “If all you gotta do is act like a clown and do stupid shit on stage, I can do that as well.” I ask people who have supported me and house music, and people who have been partying for years, bought records and have turntables to spend time with their kids and teach them about playing a record and listening to music and appreciating that before getting to whatever they want to get to.
Can you recall the point in time you realized this would be your career?
►1995. I think it was my second international gig and I was in Tokyo, Japan. That really opened my eyes because I had no idea I was going to be in a place like that. I was DJ’ing, then I started making music and my records landed in Japan. I thought if I could get there, I could get to the rest of the world.
Which label do you think has been very consistent with its quality over the past few years?
►One I would have to say is an old label from Chicago, Cajual records. Anything put out on it is amazing for me. Vocal stuff, techy stuff, it’s always been a good label since it started. From the new labels, I don’t know. Nobody’s really consistent anymore.
What about your own label?
►I have a label, I’m a House Gangster. We know about consistency and trying to keep up in sounds. We stay to what we know and try to bring artists closer to us who understand what we’re about. We don’t just pick tracks because they’re famous or popular somewhere.
Is Ibiza all it’s hyped up to be?
►I’ve been going to Ibiza every summer since 1996 and have never missed a summer. There’s definitely an energy there that if you bond with it, you’ll find any excuse to get back there Not only for the party, but everything else the island brings. It’s a beautiful place, it’s a party place, it’s like no other place. It is what people say it is, but it depends what you want out of it. If you go there to party, you’ll get it. If you go there to party and relax, you’re gonna love it. If you go there to relax and avoid the party, you’ll still enjoy it. They have EDM and underground DJs; there’s something for everybody.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
►I love kids and I love working with kids. I used to work at Boys & Girls Clubs. I’d probably be a teacher. I would have gone into art and teaching; I have a background in drawing and teaching as well, and was a 3D writer for 20 years.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to start DJ’ing vinyl, but turns away from it due to the convenience of digital?
►People can start whichever way they want to. I started the way I thought was supposed to be a DJ, but that was 20-something years ago. It’s different now. I hope by me playing festivals like [Movement], I can educate people and give them a glimpse of hope to say they want to do it this way. When I saw Derrick Carter and Mark Farina, they flipped my shit and ever since then, I was an underground DJ. I wanted to be like those guys because they’re way cooler and play better music. I love their style and the way they do everything. That touched me and I went in that direction and hope to do it for other kids as well. In Europe, Romania for example, kids there are just now buying turntables. They were communist 22 years ago so they are late to the game. They don’t have money to spend on the CD setup – it’s a lot of money – but they can probably use turntables somewhere and they all love playing vinyl. They love and have a connection with it. When I go there, I feel so good because these kids have nothing to do with America and its culture, but yet, they’ve done the research, ordered records online, and love to play records. It’s the only place I show up and see 20 record bags on the floor. It makes me feel something is right and there’s hope for DJ’ing in the future.