Featured Interview: Success can be a shortsighted thing to focus on; I believe in the long-term, in building an extended career and a good global fanbase – Hernán Cattáneo

If ever there was an artist who doesn’t need an introduction, it would be the man known to music lovers the world over simply as El Maestro. Throughout his rise through the ranks to become one of the best-known and -loved artists that the underground scene has ever produced, the name Hernán Cattáneo has become synonymous with dedication, passion and an unwavering commitment to championing a unique quality of music that is hard to define, but instantly recognisable as his signature sound.

But beyond his flawless showmanship, technical mastery and spine-tingling productions, it’s the sheer heart and soul that Hernán puts into everything he does that makes him truly one of a kind. As he puts it himself, “Personality is crucial”. You’d be hard-pressed to find another artist who gives as much as Hernán does; rightly renowned for his consistent championing of up and coming artists and labels, he has become as famous for his generosity of spirit and time as for his legendary all-night sets that will set your feet on fire and make your soul sing. Never one to court fame or adoration, ironically it’s exactly that lack of ego that has made him the hottest ticket in any town. In the early days of his career, it was his unique combination of humble professionalism, primal passion for the music and deep-rooted dedication to the dancefloor-lovers that enabled him to make his mark as a warm-up DJ for some of the biggest names in dance music. And now that he’s at the top of his game, he works tirelessly to give his all back to the scene that supported him on his way up.

Having founded his label Sudbeat as a platform to promote new artists, it’s no surprise that the latter has become almost as universally admired and adored as the man himself. Consistently serving up the biggest, best and brightest new stars of the underground firmament, there are few labels out there that can claim to have as much clout, class and consistent top quality as Sudbeat. With the label’s first London showcase coming up on Friday 14th August at The Gallery, Ministry of Sound, Lucy Blair spoke to Hernan to dig deep into Sudbeat, signature sounds, streaming, the state of the industry and what makes the Maestro tick…

Hola Hernán! Since we’re marking your first label showcase in London, let’s start by talking Sudbeat. You’ve previously stated that your aim when starting the label was to promote new artists, and to give them a platform to showcase their music. With the increasing prevalence of social media and direct to fan platforms, what do you consider to be the role of a label in breaking an artist these days?

Our aim with Sudbeat is still the same as it’s always been; to push new artists and sometimes the established ones that we really like. We are really music curators.

And in that regard, I think labels are more important now than ever before, because with the insane amount of music released every month, DJs have an ever-increasing need for someone whom they can trust to choose relevant music for them. I don’t mean to pick the tracks for them, but to give them only the music that’s exactly at the right level for them.

Only about 10% of the music being made right now is actually worthy of a release, and so a label’s role is to become the perfect tool to filter the quantity with quality. If labels are consistent, people come to trust their judgement, and let them offer up really interesting music – in the same way that 15 years ago, DJs used to go to their favourite record store and trust the taste of their preferred sales guy.

How do you define the Sudbeat sound, and how do you go about selecting and signing releases?

Musically, Sudbeat is an extension of what I do, so we usually look for tracks that bring groove, melodies and emotions, and sometimes a bit of a darker side too. Never too hard or too fast. And we only sign stuff that we would play in our sets.

As I said in the previous answer, Sudbeat is like a trademark of a certain sound, and our followers know what they are going to get – in the same way that my fans know what I play in clubs. I don’t think it would be interesting for anyone if we were to release music that we wouldn’t then support in our own shows.

As for selecting & signing? Well, DJs have all worked as A&R people since day one of our careers, even without having labels. I get hundreds of links everyday from producers around the world, so I can filter them for the label in the same way as I do for my DJ sets or radio show. Then Graziano and I discuss with each other back and forth, until we both agree on the releases that we will put out. I can test tracks on a weekly basis at some of the top clubs in the world, and of course that’s a great advantage when it comes to picking the right stuff!

You just mentioned Graziano Raffa, your right hand man – tell us about your working relationship. When it comes to the day to day running of Sudbeat, how do you work together?

Graz runs the day-to-day label operations, and also participates in signing decisions, so he is totally hands-on with Sudbeat alongside me.

We met long ago when I went to play in Italy, we became friends, and later he moved to Barcelona, where I was living at the time. Although I’m not living in Barcelona anymore, we speak to each other online all the time, plus sometimes we get to travel together, so that’s never a problem. The label has definitely improved a lot since Graziano came on board; his work has really made a huge difference.

What Sudbeat achievement to date are you most proud of?

I´m very happy to have helped some new artists to get their names out there, and also to be one of the labels that keeps putting out the sound we like at a really consistent level. When I started DJing internationally, I got a lot of support from the industry, and so now I’m really happy to be able to help other artists and labels.

What does the future hold for the label?

The main idea is to grow slowly, to expand and improve in all aspects of our music, and to become a better platform through which to push producers from all over the world. The showcase on Friday at Ministry is a good example of the things that we would like to do more often – and London is a perfect place for that.

Before we started, the idea was to promote only South American artists, but then we decided that with so many great musicians worldwide, it would be a shame to leave anybody out!

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Which up and coming artists are you most excited about – whom should we be looking out for?

A long list, luckily – soon we’ll be releasing our Sudbeats 3 compilation, which contains 30+ new tracks that are fitting super nicely in my DJ sets every week.

And singles-wise, we have some hot stuff too of course; coming soon (not in release order) we have releases from Guy J, Cid Inc, Chicola, Lonya, Yunus, Jos & Eli, Juan Deminicis, Orsen, and a HC & Soundexile remix EP. Plus many more!

If you could have any artist on Sudbeat, who would that be and why?

Honestly, we have already had the privilege of working with almost all of the artists that we really like, such as Danny Howells, Guy J, Henry Saiz, Eelke Kleijn, Jamie Stevens, Marc Marzenit, Dave Seaman, Guy Mantzur, King Unique, Quivver and a long list of many others…but I know that Graz would say Adam Beyer, he is a big fan!

How did you curate the lineup for the Sudbeat showcase? I can’t imagine that that was an easy choice…!

We did it with the guys from The Gallery – they had a very cool list of DJs they wanted to work with, and then we put together the final list with artist whom we have worked on the label.

It’s never an easy choice, because you want to be able to include all of them :(

What can we expect from the London Sudbeat showcase as a whole? Any surprises in your set that we should be keeping an ear out for?

I think that at this point, most people know who we are and what we do. If you look at all the names on the line-up, there are lots of musical common denominators that will ensure a full night of perfectly mixed grooves and melodies.

And I can say for sure that the sound of Sudbeats Vol. 3 will be present throughout!

You’re renowned in the industry for consistently championing and supporting up and coming artists – with it being harder than ever these days for musicians to break through and get noticed, what’s your advice to those trying to make it big?

The DJ scene has changed a lot in the last 15 years, but one thing remains the same: personality is crucial. You must have your own musical identity, and try hard to be a leader rather than copying anyone else. So many DJs and producers just copy what they like and whatever happens to be successful at a certain moment, and that’s never the right way.

If you think about the really big pro DJs worldwide, they all have that unique quality; people need to hear your mix or track and know it’s yours because of the way you sound.

How do you define success in the music industry in 2015? Is success important to you – what are you always looking to achieve with your music and your career?

Success is only important until you have it, then it’s like a prize that you put somewhere in your house. It can be a shortsighted thing to focus on; I believe in the long-term, in building an extended career and a good global fanbase. This scene is very trend-orientated, and that can be very tricky. You think you’ve made it, and then the trend passes and only very few remain with their heads above water – you see it happen all the time.

You’ve said before that you consider EDM and the popularisation of dance music to have been a positive force for all genres. However, now it’s arguably technology that presents both the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity for the industry – what do you make of the current debates around streaming, royalties and transparency? What impact do you think that that the shift from sales to streaming will have on dance music?

There was a very interesting article on this subject some days ago by David Byrne where he was saying that the problem is not streaming, but the lack of transparency around the ways in which labels and streaming services handle the process. All the money that artists lose because of that lack of transparency seems to show that unfortunately things haven’t changed much in the arena of artists vs. record labels (and now streaming services – or even Beatport, in the case of DJs).

It’s always been the same; artists being ripped off, and nobody really being able to change that.

I think that a good start would be something like an artist strike. For example, what would have happened if Apple hadn’t been confronted about the free trial issue? They would not have paid up, but they were challenged, and then they had to change their approach and agree to pay labels and artists. Why then don’t bigger artists do more to challenge and solve bigger issues like transparency, streaming payouts and so on?

You’re also renowned for some of the best-loved dance music albums of the last two decades. In a world of streaming, playlists and increasingly short attention spans, do you think that the album format will continue to be as important as ever?

It will definitely continue to be important, but in a smaller way. The compilations are for fans, hardcore fans. They’re not happy with just a link, they want more – and with a compilation album, you can give them more.

Also, nobody puts the same amount of effort into a SoundCloud mix and a proper compilation, and that shows the second you press play. It’s like if you wanted to compare my weekly radio show with my Balance CD – they are two completely different things. You have 52 radio shows or online mixes a year, and only one album every 2 years.

You get an insane amount of demos on a daily basis – do you ever discover music any other way? If so, how?

Every DJ is always thinking about music, about finding “that” new track that will get the room to go ‘boom’! So of course, you look at all possible ways to get new stuff. I get hundreds of links a day, and then there are promo companies, record stores, Beatport, iTunes, and of course pen drives handed to me at every gig around the world!

You’ve stayed true to a very consistent style over the years – how would you describe the Hernán Cattáneo sound, and what are the key elements and influences that bring it to life?

Since I was very little I’ve always liked melodies, deep, emotional, hypnotic stuff; I’ve never been into just one musical style, but always into those elements.

I always say that within my sets, you can find a wide variety of sounds like deep stuff, tech house, traditional prog, melodic techno, everything really; but what I consider to be most important is how to create a coherent musical mix that makes sense whilst containing all of those different-sounding tracks within one 4 hour set.

When it comes to staying true & consistent, firstly, I do that because this is what I like, regardless of whether more or less people will like it. Secondly – and very importantly – nobody is going to respect you if you change styles with every trend. You will most likely disappoint your followers and lose 75% of them, so it’s better to be honest and stick to what you like – and that’s probably also what you do best.

After all the success you’ve had, could you ever foresee a day when you’re not doing what you do?

Not really, never away from music. Of course I know that someday I will stop travelling this much, but not anytime soon. A few years back I decided to cut some gigs from my heavy schedule in order to spend more time with my family, and that was a really good decision. Now I have a very good balance of personal & professional life, and that makes me really happy – I’m always looking forward to playing!

And so are we – roll on Friday! Muchas gracias, Maestro!

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About the Author

As director at digital marketing agency Motive Unknown, Lucy Blair delivers digital strategy, campaigns and consultancy, helping music clients including BMG, Midem, AEI, Houndstooth and Proton Radio to identify and implement strategic business and technology opportunities. Follow her on Twitter at @lucyeblair