PAGANO – on London/ Cake Throwing & Global Homophobia (interview)
As well as being the highest profile DJ of the last decade on London’s legendarily wild underground gay tech-house party scene, London Italian expat Pagano has increasingly crossed over to the world’s straight club scene, via releases on the likes of Umek’s 1605 label and Mark Knight’s Toolroom as well as an impressive international touring schedule.
Writing on his biog he includes a quote from DJ Magazine saying ‘he proudly declares positioning himself as a bridge between the gay and the straight scenes’ so given that authorities in large parts Africa and Russia have become shockingly homophobic in the last couple of years; how much does he actively avoid certain countries?
“I actually do avoid them, yes,” he confirms, “I have recently turned down offers for gigs in Moscow, Dubai and Beirut.”
“I feel complete sympathy for the LGBT communities in these countries,” he continues.
“I know since having been booked for gigs in Moscow, Cairo and even Beirut a few years back, that it’s largely a political situation and not about the people who live there because when I played in those places I actually had a very good time and the people I met were lovely, but how can anyone feel entirely comfortable visiting a country where the government has made it clear you are not welcome simply because you were born a certain way?”
Articulate and outspoken, he’s no defender of London’s gay club scene, however, declaring it ‘has become really stale during the last decade’
“There are too many juke-box DJs and not enough DJ artists in London right now and as a consequence the music played in clubs has really become uninspiring and formulaic,” he complains.
“DJs on the gay scene seem more interested in posing shirtless for their next photo-shoot rather than turning out a decent release.”
“I actually feel it has been extremely easy to make a difference in the gay scene,” he continues, “Not because I consider myself particularly talented but because, apart from the odd exception, the competition is pretty lacklustre these days.”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): You recently played a Sensation festival in Italy; how much extra/ advance preparation goes into a show like that? How willing are you to compromise and go more commercial if it’s a question of the crowd being more mainstream than your usual audiences?
Pagano: “The Italian edition of Sensation was an amazing experience but it’s not the first time I’ve played at a big event like that. During the last decade I’ve had gigs at Godskitchen Global Gathering (Most Wanted stage), Black & Blue in Montreal, played the main event of huge LGBT parties like Circuit Festival in Barcelona as well as many others. And in all of those places I have never resorted to playing things I didn’t like. I always try to stay true to myself.
I might sometimes play a little harder and faster than usual or throw in a couple of classic samples or vocals but it will always be all about house (in all its forms whether deep or tech) and techno. What I really enjoy about these gigs actually is having the opportunity to musically educate people, because it’s a challenge to bring something fresh and interesting without alienating such a mainstream crowd. Success at this is its own reward.”
Skrufff: As a DJ how important is performance for you (dancing behind the decks, putting your hands in the hair etc?)
Pagano: “Isn’t that what DJing is all about these days? And let’s not forget throwing meatballs or cupcakes at the crowd. That is an absolute must and you’ll certainly attract votes for doing it in DJ Mag’s Top 100: I think it’s like one vote per meatball (or cupcake). I have sometimes been told I should interact more with the crowd but personally I couldn’t care less about those kinds of trivialities, I’d rather focus on trying to do a good job with my music selection and my mixing.
If you see me dancing behind the decks it is because I am genuinely having a good time. I am a part of this industry because I am passionate about music, not because I want to be under the spotlight.”
Skrufff: What about technical trickery: what do you use and how important are DJ tricks such as looping and layering/ 3 or 4 deck mixing etc?)
Pagano: “I enjoy playing with 3 Pioneer CDJ2000 Nexus players these days. The loops are quite accurate with their quantise function and I enjoy bringing in vocal samples or creating mash-ups live with a deep house track over a more upbeat Techno loop, for example. When I DJ I want to have a good time and challenge myself otherwise I get bored. I am not ready to DJ with a laptop yet to be honest, mainly because I am stubborn and old-school (I am actually one of those people who learnt how to DJ with vinyl many moons ago).
But let’s be honest, using a laptop would make my life so much easier. I’d rather fuck up a few mixes and stick to my craft than pretend I am DJing while the computer beat matches and puts everything in the right key for me. The next step will be robot juke-box DJs: why do we need a person to fly round the world anyway when you could have a computer playing Beatport’s Top 100 chart? You heard it here first everyone.”
Skrufff: Your biog quotes DJ magazine as saying ‘he proudly declares positioning himself as a bridge between the gay and the straight scenes’: how much did you actively set out to crack the straight scene? (and how did you do it?)
Pagano: “There has never been any sexual orientation agenda behind either my releases or my music selection. I produce and play music I feel is current and interesting. I consider myself very blessed and lucky that my productions have gained a consensus in both the straight and gay scenes. During the last year or so, Carl Cox and UMEK have each played more than one of my productions on their radio shows. I didn’t produce those tracks thinking specifically about the straight scene, I simply produced something that I wanted to play during my DJ set, something that I thought was missing from my set.
On the gay scene I am renowned for not playing ‘gay music’ (you know, such as those cheesy remixes of Teen-Pop tracks that get frequently played) and this is what has always set me apart from the rest of the DJs who play there. Basically, crafting a musical niche in the gay scene has helped me become one of the biggest DJs in this scene worldwide.
Also, I don’t think punters know or care about my sexual orientation when I get booked to play at straight clubs like Circus in Montreal or The Egg or Aquarium in London. They only care about me doing a good job with my unique approach at DJing.
Throughout my career I have gone back and forth DJing at straight only events, at events with only gay men or only lesbian women and at so called “polysexual” events and it has all happened very naturally and organically – it’s something I don’t really spend much time thinking about.”
Skrufff: Very few DJs from London’s gay scene have successfully crossed over to the straight scene; why not?
Pagano: “That was not entirely true up until a few years back; Tony De Vit, The Sharp Boys, Alan Thompson. Steve Thomas, Daz Saund being some of the most notable examples. Tom Stephan (aka Superchumbo) is another more recent example of a very talented DJ who started off on the London gay scene and then went on to become recognised as a major player in the straight scene worldwide.”
Skrufff: Have you ever experienced overt (or covert) homophobia when travelling overseas?
Pagano: “Not really. The only place I’ve ever experienced homophobia in my life was in my home country of Italy, which sadly still has a long way to go both socially and politically before it can call itself a civilised country.”
Skrufff: You’re from Italy but built your career in London: what do you make of the city’s current club / party scene?
Pagano: “London has one of the best scenes in the world. So much choice, so much variety, so many venues and events. You can dance around the clock to any type of music nearly every day of the week. There’s only a few other cities in the world that can match such diversity: perhaps Berlin, Barcelona and Montreal.”
Skrufff: How much has it been impacted by London’s increasing expensiveness?
Pagano: “I don’t know if it has. It is hard to tell because these days there are so many more late night licensed venues and warehouse events compared to ten or twenty years ago. With more competition a few events and clubs are bound to be less successful than others, but in general I think there are more people going out clubbing than ever before in London.”
Skrufff: Ever consider moving back to Italy. Or Berlin?
Pagano: “I moved to London because I was in love with the British cultural movements and history. I grew up listening to The Clash, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Human League, Simple Minds, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Culture Club, Duran Duran, the Beatles, The Queen…you get the idea! I grew up fascinated by the Punk movement and by the New Romantics. I love Oscar Wild and Shakespeare. I left good food, sunny days all year round and la mamma for this fascination I had with everything British.
I’m not sure I would be happy in Italy: we are too different. As for Berlin . . . London has nothing to envy about Berlin. Oh well perhaps only Berghain and Panorama Bar but that is not reason enough to relocate. If I had to move anywhere I would go to a sunny tropical island. The weather in London can take its toll on you after a while I’m afraid (you see I even complain about the weather like a real Brit!)”
Skrufff: Anything else to add?
Pagano: “I think you’ve covered everything, so shall I just plug my own products then? I’ve got new releases coming out soon on Toolroom, on 1605 Music Therapy and on Zulu, plus soon to be released are my official remixes of Danny Tenaglia’s ‘Music Is The Answer’ on the legendary label Twisted America! Go on iTunes and Beatport and buy them all! Ha! Who am I kidding? You are probably going to use some zippyshare or torrent to steal them all (laughing). I should probably mention my social media too so that I can get more likes and followers – I can’t afford to buy them I’m afraid.”
facebook: www.facebook.com/djpaganofanpage / twitter: @DJPAGANO
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff