Whichever way you look at it, Roger Sanchez's first album has been a long time coming. Take your pick: three years (since it was first scheduled for release); ten (since he first released a single) or 20 (since he spun his first DJ set). Thankfully, whichever way you listen to it, "FIRST CONTACT" was worth the wait - and Sanchez wouldn't have had it any other way. "I don't think I know everything, but I do know when something sounds right, and I said, I'm gonna stop when it feels right when it sounds right."
There have been classic dance singles in their hundreds, and probably thousands, since the advent of the acid house but the genuinely classic albums to have emerged from the genre can be counted on one hand.
Given that his yardsticks for LP excellence are the five-star likes of Basement Jaxx's "Remedy" and Massive Attack's "Blue Lines," you can appreciate Sanchez's insistence on getting it right. "A lot of people don't look at house producers as artists and most house producers don't look at albums as albums, they look at them as all these singles put together, and that's a mistake," he argues. "You have to think of continuity, and that was the hardest thing for me to get."
In "FIRST CONTACT", that labour pays off - it's 11 tracks somehow succeed in moving seamlessly between sleek, glacier-cool electronic instrumentals, all-horns-blaring Latin, warm, garage-style vocal tracks (thanks to such guests as Sharleen Spiteri, Christian Urich and N'Dea Davenport), brash, basic electronica, the last-word in sun-kissed dawn chillout and a future-classic forged from a soft-rock sample without missing a beat and showing off?
No. When you take into account Sanchez's breadth of experience and appetite for musical experimentation, it couldn't ever have been any other way.
Roger Sanchez made DJing a career after years of never imagining it could be more than a hobby. Though he'd run a booming club night, made mixtapes that sold like hot potatoes and made his mark as a breakdancer in his Queens neighborhood (leading to dance-on cameo roles in Eighties movies "Breakdance" and "Krush Groove"), he never considered making a living out of music.
Instead, he embarked on architecture degree in Manhattan, which he only abandoned after his father sat him down and told him music might be a better bet. The time wasn't wasted, though: "When I approach tracks," he says, "I always try to work on a foundation of the drums. The skeleton frames, the beams, are the beats and baseline, and you build the music on top. I force myself to deconstruct the way I work. I look at every song as a problem that I have to solve."
"I grew up listening to salsa, disco, hip hop; people would cut up blues records, rock records," he says by way of explaining his current range of musical interests. "Anything back then was a party record." Somehow, Sanchez has also found time to learn four languages - "English, Spanish, some French, some Italian" I wanna learn Japanese next." (His interest in Japan extends to a gourmet's knowledge of sushi, almost two decades? the worth of training in Shotokan Karate and a connoisseur's eye for the sci-fi worlds of the country's manga-style anime movies the perfect visual accompaniment to his future funk soundscapes.)
In case you've been staying indoors for the past decade, or so, you'll know that opting to go pro as a DJ proved a wise choice. As one of the planet's foremost house DJs, Roger Sanchez has the art of making people feel right down to an exact science. (He's been practicing since the age of 13 when he was first asked to man the decks at a friend's party.) He's taken his distinctively soulful, experimental sets around the world, from low-key residencies in his native New York to the wide-open spaces of Ibiza or London's Fabric.
He's brought the skills of his hip-hop to house music DJing (the third turntable and masterly scratching techniques being among the most famous) and now adds his own variety of interior decoration to the job, too: "I burn incense, I light candles, I try to make the booth a little temple, a bit more of a home."
Back in the studio, Sanchez has worked his magic on tracks by a vast array of acts: Underworld, The Police, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, St Etienne, Texas and his friends Daft Punk.
He's steered young talent on the road to success (including Basement Jaxx and Junior Sanchez, plus the ever-expanding roster of talent on his label, R-Senal) and collaborated with other production heavyweights (including longtime associate Armand Van Helden; meanwhile, a project with Nellee Hooper is in the offing).
Since his first hit the seminal, soulful "Luv' Dancin" his work has influenced everyone from the pioneers of UK Garage to the aforementioned Basement boys. ("I've known the Jaxx guys for years," he recalls. "I got them to remix one of my tracks way back, I've seen them develop; they took from other people and me and switched it and made it their own, and they've introduced things into the UK that allow me to do what I've done. Now people are like "It's not cheesy to have horns and such on your record.")
But back to Sanchez, and "FIRST CONTACT," which travels from the smooth, Christian Urich-sung hit single "I Never Knew" to the Toto-sampling, heart-breaking summer-anthem-in-waiting "Another Chance." From the Latin swagger of "The Partee" to the bold, old-school synths of "Computabank."
Then there's the slinky disco of "Nothing 2 Prove", featuring Sharleen Spiteri (who played Sanchez her vocals down the phone then posted them to him in New York), the gutsy, woman-on-top dancefloor manifesto of "You Can't Change Me", written with Armand Van Helden and guest vocalist N'Dea Davenport and the glacier-cool atmospherics (and jackhammer-hard beats) of "Ventura" and "Contact". It's quite some journey; who else could take you on a magical mystery tour like that and have you home within the hour.
Previous editions –
2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 & 2012