Argentina-born Hernan Cattaneo began his love affair with house music in the late ’80s. He was just a kid, kicking around in his native Buenos Aires, when a friend brought back a collection of 12” records from Chicago. The sounds took hold in his imagination, and it wasn’t long before the young Cattaneo was spinning records around the city.
A lot has changed since then – Cattaneo these days travels the world, routinely drawing crowds of thousands. Even with countless shows under his belt, though, Cattaneo hasn’t grown blasé about house music, and he still loves the groove above all. The first time I interviewed him, years ago, he made his feelings on the subject plain. “It’s always been the groove for me,” he said at the time. “You feel it or you don’t, and that makes the difference between tracks. When I first heard the Chicago house sound, I got locked into that rhythm, and never looked into anything else.”
By his own estimation, Cattaneo spends roughly half of every year on the road, playing his signature brand of progressive house everywhere from Tokyo to Tel Aviv. That means a lot of time spent driving to and from hotels and sitting in airport departure lounges – but it’s all worth it, he says, for the rush he still feels at the beginning of every set. “That’s the best part, no doubt,” he said in that earlier interview. “I love arriving at the club or festival, feeling the anticipation, thinking what you are going to play and then delivering the music, watching the faces, the reactions.” He doesn’t just show up at venues and start playing – such is his level of dedication that he spends weeks meticulously planning his sets, thinking about exactly which tracks will work in each venue and in each country. It’s all in the service of the groove.
His passions remain the same today. As someone who has been in the business for many years and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best – Paul Oakenfold was an early mentor, and he has played alongside the likes of Sasha and Digweed – does Cattaneo reckon he has accumulated a great deal of DJ wisdom along the way? “I would say a lot of experience,” he replies simply, “as I’ve been around for long and I’ve travelled the world nonstop for many years. That’s an immense privilege, and I could never be thankful enough for it. In many ways things have changed a lot since I started, but the fact that you are in front of a crowd trying to give them a good time by playing the music you like is the same as back then.”
Indeed, the role of the DJ has changed a lot over the span of Cattaneo’s career. DJs have gone from relatively anonymous record spinners to superstars in their own right – many are now celebrated figures who command huge appearance fees and have loyal followings. Cattaneo is one of them. “I’m not going to complain about popularity as that was never my goal,” he says. “My passion has always been about sharing the music I like with other people so I have definitely been really lucky, being able to reach so many people globally over the years. I went from playing for my sisters and their friends at home to massive amounts of people and that was a huge change, but of course [nothing] happened overnight. It took me a long time from playing in my room to the big stages.”
Last year, Cattaneo mixed a compilation in the ongoing Renaissance Masters series. In the digital age, when any music fan can mix and sequence their own compilation however they like, I ask Cattaneo if he worries about the changing marketplace for DJ mix albums – and indeed if he feels he has to work harder to keep people’s attention. “Not really,” he says. “The biggest difference now is the digital world as it makes your album heard by ten times more people that what selling CDs exposed you to, so you have more exposure than ever before. You must do something that is interesting to your followers and, if possible, that still will sound good in ten years’ time. My first Masters compilation is almost a decade old and still sounds just right, so I feel I did a good job.”
Cattaneo’s most recent Masters mix was unique in that it featured quite a number of his own original tracks. Including so much of his own material was an unorthodox move, but it paid off with critics and fans alike. “The electronic music world is more hands-on than ever before,” Cattaneo explains. “You can still be playing other people’s tracks and that’s fine, but technology really gives you the tools to do a lot more – firstly, remixing and editing, and then producing your own stuff. That of course also gives me a good starting point to make a full-on artist album at some point. That’s not next on the cards for me but hopefully soon.”
Turning to the live setting, Cattaneo casts his mind back to recent shows. Is there one in particular that sticks out as the craziest or most memorable? “I just came from Burning Man … it was absolutely incredible,” he says. “I’ve been there before, a long time ago, but this one was definitely the most interesting event I’ve been at for ages. It’s a festival of arts, culture and music all together, and it brings people of all ages for the time of their lives.” It’s a truly amazing experience, he says, and something that any daring music fan should try at least once. “Since I left Argentina to live in Europe, I’ve done more than 1500 international shows, and this is, without a doubt, one of the five most memorable ever.”
Cattaneo is no stranger to this part of the world, having played Australia many times over the years. It may not quite be up there with Burning Man, but he’s still happy to be coming back. “I love Australia!” he exclaims. “I could live there as it’s a perfectly balanced place. As a DJ I have done great shows over the years. If I had to choose just one I would be in trouble, but I had some amazing moments in Melbourne and Sydney, and I must say that Brisbane is always really special as well. Most shows are great fun to play at, and once I even played a very small gig in Geelong, Melbourne, and had a blast. Australian DJs are very good and play quality music so the result is that when you play there you find crowds that are really well educated and open-minded, so you can go play six hours and the club is full from the beginning till the end.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN