In Conversation With: DJ Sneak
Having been invited down to Finsbury Park’s Ceremony a short while ago, we were lucky enough to catch true house legend DJ Sneak before his set to discuss vinyl vs. digital, ‘House Gangster’ parties, Seth Troxler’s grilling ability and that Twitter outburst…
Thanks for joining us on UE, pleasure to meet you. I heard you’ve just flown in with Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Jesse Rose and Todd Terry…must have been quite the party! How was that? It must be good hanging out with other DJs outside of a club setting?
It’s the same every day, it’s the only way we can travel. There’s a lot of mutual respect between artists, whether you’ve been in the game for a long time or not. But when the old guys get together we always talk crazy shit.
You’ve been in the game 25 years..
I’ve been playing vinyl since I was 16 and I’m coming up to 46. I still buy a lot of records but with USB I can carry so much more music. You never know when you might need it. I’ve been very open and controversial about how I feel about certain things but it’s true, digital has created a bunch of lazy DJs with attitudes and egos. And when they get down to playing it’s the most boring shit i’ve ever heard. I give respect to every DJ, name or no name, as long as that DJ is putting everything into it.
There’s a lot identikit DJs and producers out there, pushing the same formulaic sets. How do you inject personality into yours?
I come with a really old school style, a lot of people say I play like DJ Premier but with house music. I incorporate a bunch of different styles into one. Sometimes that seems like it’s not possible but I’m very organic and I have music for any occasion. It just comes out you know…
“A lot of people say I play like DJ Premier but with house music.”
This would be the first time you’ve had a full stage under the House Gangster name in London, is that correct?
Yeah and the stage is looking great for sure, I’m really enjoying it and the people in there right now are really feeling it. It’s not banging music but it’s funky with bass and a lot of feeling. Just about making people feel something! They’re not feeling anything any more. I’m not promoting violence and weapons, I’m promoting the lifestyle of a G. I grew up in the street and that’s my lifestyle. We’re trying to show the cultural side to Latin America.
“I’m not promoting violence and weapons, I’m promoting the lifestyle of a G.”
The gangster word can be taken out of context but I think it’s about having a very tight nit crew, what represents a House Gangster to you?
It’s about producing and playing good music in a way that tells the story. It was a slogan first related to the shitty kind of Electro that I didn’t wanna play, so I wrote a blog on MySpace (imagine that) about how I was fighting for my music and my style. I thought fuck it, I’m gonna put my foot down and I’m gonna wait until everyone comes back to this style of music; it goes really commercial and then it goes underground and it does that again and again. If you plan for the next wave like a surfer then you just ride the wave. We’re not trying to make people believe, just come and enjoy our party and make your own decision.
You’ve been around for a long time pushing this second wave of Chicago, ghetto house. What sort of influence do people like Farley, Hurley and Todd have on you?
Farley was actually my first influence from when I was 13 years old hearing him play live on the radio. He’ll play a beat from an 808 and I’ll be like ‘what the hell is this…’ Imagine hearing that at that age. I worked in 3 different records stores within an 8 year period: The DJ Shop (late 80s), The Hip House in the early 90s where Tyree, Fast Eddie used to shop, and then Gramaphone Records with Michael Serafini. I was there when the previous owners had been there for 30 years at a smaller location. It was like going to university over there, graduating your knowledge. I loved selling records, and from then on I was deep in it, calling distribution companies, grabbing free copies, mostly helping DJs. Honestly if you came in on a Saturday with 200/300 quid, I would take all that money from you. I would sell you every record and you’d be like shit where’s my money gone! That’s the passion that I have for it. We did events like weddings, birthday parties, and that was my practice. I’ve put the work into my craft.
Todd has been my idol forever. Sneak Beats was actually a hybrid of Todd Terry beats. He’s from New York, I’m from Chicago, having Todd in my life so much I can call him my brother now. We are that tight. I’m younger than him and there are people younger than me lining up saying ‘what can you tell me that Todd Terry has said?’ like man, I’m gonna write that down. I’m so happy to see knowledge passed down. Take 51st State, that lineup was amazing: Karizma, Derrick Carter, Todd, MAW, I didn’t leave the stage!
It seems like festivals such as 51st State are picking up where Southport Weekender left off, flying the flag for soulful US house.
When good Americans get together with 20 years of interaction with one another we always complement each other and raise our own bars. That sort of connection is really hard to find now.
What’s your view on Ibiza now? You live there over summer right?
Yeah I’m based there over summer to do all the European stuff. It’s changed so much but I’ve learned to love Ibiza because I was there 20 years ago. I’m embracing the other ‘normal-living’ side of the island. I came with my family so I’ve learnt to enjoy time with my wife and kids after bailing from gigs. It’s become more expensive and commercial but once in a while I have a free House Gangster beach party to counteract that in my own way.
Do you still get the chance to do intimate gigs for friends, family etc?
100%. Sometimes it’s just my family, I have decks and sometimes I just wanna play music, new records etc and they switch off the TV and join me. I do enjoy crashing the odd party and I’ve been known for doing that for years. One time in San Francisco I crashed someone’s birthday party and they had no idea who I was, I played for 2-3 hours and the guy lost it when he found out I was Sneak. Takes me back to why I started DJing in the first place.
Testament to that your career pedigree is your new greatest hits release, how does that feel?
It’s cool that kids are still interested and they want that 90s sound, but I made that in the 90s so to them this release, it’s like something new. I’m lucky that I’ve had a good career and stayed focussed, I know I’m controversial on Twitter or whatever but when people meet me they see I’m just a regular guy who has a lot of passion. But sometimes that passion comes from the heart like a knife: sometimes I wanna shut up but my passion won’t let me.
“Sometimes that passion comes from the heart like a knife: sometimes I wanna shut up but my passion won’t let me.”
Can we touch on some of the more recent Twitter controversies?
I don’t do something for the F of it. When I see something I don’t like I’ll chew on it, and if it’s still bugging me two or three days later I’ll speak on it. I find that most people wouldn’t even speak on it, creating a bunch of hypocrites who talk shit about each other behind closed doors. I’ll come forward and be black and white, there’s no grey. Shit comes out the way it comes out and it is from the heart. I knew this guy in ’95 when he was just straight hip hop, New York style stuff and we hung out tough, and that’s the dude I miss .I love my Derrick Carter who’s gay, I respect these people but my first thought was, ‘this dude needs a new stylist’. I loved you when you were rocking your Jordans.. we are the US import, so if you wanted someone who looked European, you’d book a European right? Wearing this bizarre costume just to fit in… How’s he turned into something this different? I made an observation and people jumped on it but you know what, the internet needs firing up a bit. It’s boring anyway. If I lost a hundred pounds in weight they’d be like ‘that’s not fucking Sneak’, but they’ll recognise me now ‘cos I’m still a big dude. It doesn’t matter. I just wish people would think a bit more before jumping in front of that camera.
To finish on a slightly lighter note, you do a lot of grilling as well right? Is that the Puerto Rican in you?
America really loves grilling. Honestly in the last 7 years in Ibiza I’ve been learning more and more and jumping in, they have so much great meat and good ways of cooking. I wanna do some events where the food comes first and then the music, eventually. [Like Seth Troxler?] … Haha, I’ve never tasted anything I’ve enjoyed from Smokey Tails. I battled him and won at DC10 but we won’t go into that again. Timo Maas and Reboot do great grilling. I wanna get a group of DJs together and do a big grilling event at some stage!