Henry Saiz

The infinite balance

Henry Saiz

By Javier Blánquez

He defines himself as “a fucking workaholic” and it’s true, at least, the workaholic part: Henry Saiz never stops working. After all, hard work is what got him where he is in the first place, entering and establishing himself among the elite of international progressive house and melodic techno DJs. It sounds like a cliché (the cliché of the “Sasha-type” producer) and the producer from Madrid/Alicante with the well-groomed beard doesn’t like clichés. There are other factors in his music that aren’t so common in the progressive circuit (his preference for cosmic music, the synthetic sequences of disco music and disparate influences, from Wagner to Britney Spears and heavy metal) and which force him to change his sound.

The most international Spanish producer’s latest stuff is no joke: “Balance 19” ( EQ Recordings, 2011) is his delivery to the series of DJ mixes to which the likes of Luke Fair, James Holden, Joris Voorn, Chris Fortier, Will Saul and Agoria (in other words: the aristocracy of modern house) have contributed before him. Equally fresh is his work on his own label, Natura Sonoris, a free haven where he releases his most personal music and where he opens the door for young producers such as Cora Novoa and Damabiah to explore the emotional possibilities of the machines, because, in general, Henry Saiz has always put passion over trade, despite being a fucking workaholic, or maybe because of it.

Natura Sonoris will do a showcase at Sónar 2011, featuring Saiz and Manel Ruiz, the producer better known as Sistema. All the more reason (“Balance 19” is released now) to get up close and personal with Henry Saiz. Because, yes, apart from being a fucking genius and workaholic, he’s also a fucking freak.

“Balance 19 trailer 1”

Part I: Where Henry Saiz talks mostly about technical stuff

We’ve always had the image of you as the producer locked up in his studio who, when he goes to clubs, goes to play live. How did your metamorphosis into a DJ come about?

Before, I was a live artist, true, but over the past two years I’ve been deejaying a lot, so much so that it’s what I do most these days. When I started with club music, I was always in the studio, and when I went out, it was to do live gigs, but as I started touring more and more, I noticed I needed something else. In the end, I got bored with playing the same tunes over and over, I couldn’t keep playing with the tracks indefinitely.

Which is when you started to play with other people’s music?

Yes, I feel more like a DJ than ever. It’s not a new thing to me, years ago I was already making tapes for friends. I’ve just become, let’s say, more professional now.

You deejay with software. How do you prepare your sets?

I used to play with CDs, but I was so used to playing live that I ended up doing everything with Ableton Live, because with CDs, it’s impossible to play with five or six tracks at the same time, mixing rhythms and atmospheres. If I would limit myself to play one track after the other, I’d play with CDs, but I prefer this style, with pieces of tracks rather than full songs.

Are we talking about conventional sets or about hybrid DJ/live sets, like Sasha does, basically creating big puzzles with infinite loops?

What I do isn’t very different from a normal set, only I do more pre-production work. There are DJs who achieve a similar effect using CDs only, creating loops in real time and working with three sources, like James Holden. You only have to be really clear about what kind of material you want to take with you and how you’re going to play with the tracks. I usually prepare various edits, a lot of loops, and the rest is spontaneous improvisation.

How much of what you take with you is prepared and how much is improvised?

Having done the DJ set before helps: once you’ve tried a mix or some trick, in the studio or at a club, you can always repeat it when you get the opportunity. But you need to leave room for surprises, of course.

How do you organise your track folders? You must go crazy looking for new tracks, editing them for the clubs, recovering older stuff, etc.

My track library is a mix of many things, stuff I’ve been listening to all my life and new material. In general, I take a lot of tracks from the seventies and edit them. There’s a lot of floating music from the era, if you add a beat to it, and you already have some exclusive stuff you can get a lot out of. I try to play music from many eras, looking for things in my personal archive and at the same time keeping up to date with the stuff I receive as promos. The artists on my label send me everything they’re doing. In the end, it’s about finding fresh and exclusive music, although I don’t want to get all obsessive about everything being new.

Your tastes are broader than one might think. If people knew about all the things you like, they might be surprised. How do you control your eclecticism?

Well, I always try to be eclectic. As a consumer, the people who know me know that I listen to a lot of different things, and that I like to play them out if they fit in the set. It can be disco, or tech-house, which is what I’m usually associated with, but I don’t let myself be guided by styles but by the essence of each track: some kind of melody, some psychedelic development, whatever.

What idea did you have about your “Balance 19” when you started working on it?

The first thing I wanted was to show my evolution of the past couple of years. I don’t like to tag people nor do I want to tag myself. I’m associated with a certain kind of music, call it tech-house or progressive house, which is there, essentially, but it can be approached from various angles and in many ways, without losing sight of the same concept. The first CD of my “Balance” mix is more laidback, maybe it’s a bit shocking for prog fans, but it’s still me, it’s an evolution of Henry Saiz. The second CD is more like people know me. It’s like a set I used to do three years ago. I don’t see that evolution as a radical change, but we’ll have to see what people say and whether they accept it or not.

The first disc sounds very cosmic.

I’ve always been influenced by that sound, but until recently, I was signed to the Renaissance label and I couldn’t experiment a lot. They want a specific sound and I couldn’t do anything different, by contract. The space revival, the return of Kraut-rock, it’s pushed me to turn things around, I’m always changing and this has helped me to change a lot.

Renaissance closed its doors a year ago and your contract with them ended, which allowed you to start other projects. How do you see your time with the Nottingham label?

Exclusive contracts are never good for an artist. I’ll always be thankful to them, for the support they gave me, and it’s sad that the label has had to close its doors, but it was also time for me to break free and move on.

Up to what point can you complain about sonic typecasting, forced by a label contract? You also have your own platform, Natura Sonoris, where you can do as you please.

The problem is that I didn’t get everything out of Natura Sonoris that’s in there, because of lack of time. It’s very demanding to manage a label and attend to the artists, and I have to do my own tracks, remixes and so on. It took me six months to finish this “Balance”! I’d been playing with this sound between disco, cosmic and lo-fi for at least three years, but I also wanted to be cautious and not come out with it until it had ripened. “Balance” helped me to remain Henry Saiz but at the same time get out other personalities I have inside me. It’s a display of new styles. My new alias, Hal Incandenza, makes its debut on it. The production is much less tech-house.

Tell us more about Hal.

I’m Hal, the concept is not that different from Henry Saiz, but it explores a much wider field. As Henry Saiz, I make music for DJs, for the club; as Hal Incandenza I want to explore funkier sounds, Italo, which was my first love and which I still listen to a lot. I felt like developing all that, and now it’s time to do it.

What childhood memories have you got of Italo disco?

I’m fascinated by the style, its epic and ingenuousness, it’s unique. A memory we all have in Spain is Sabrina’s breast slipping out during that tacky show on Televisión Española. And Sabrina was quite Italo.

Part II: Where Henry Saiz unveils his freaky side, bit by bit

Hal Incandenza is the main character of the novel “Infinite Jest”, by David Foster Wallace, which you say is your favourite book. DJs don’t usually talk about their literary preferences, if they have any, but you even pay tribute to them in your music, and again now with your moniker.

I always hope there is someone out there who shares my passion for David Foster Wallace. So far, I haven’t met any colleagues who do. I know DJs who are avid readers, who see a lot of films, but none of them are DFW fans. It’s not a subject that comes up a lot, and less in clubs, obviously. But sometimes you coincide with someone at dinner before a show, you start talking and you see you share tastes aside from music. With Nick Warren I clicked massively, although he’s much more classical is his literary tastes. I’m a big post-modern fan. The fact that you’re a DJ doesn’t mean you have to be stupid.

Do you find time to read or see a movie when you work so much?

It’s hard. The problem is that when you start getting a lot of work, you get to spend less time on your hobbies. Which is why I take advantage of those infernal 15-hour flights to read or see a movie, to feed my brain a bit.

Very few people have read “Infinite Jest”. At 1200 pages long it’s a complicated story, but to you it’s almost like a religion.

It’s more like an obsession. It’s the book I’ve given as a present the most, at least ten times, sometimes I feel like I’m solely responsible for the sales of Mondadori in Spain [laughs]. If I were a millionaire, the first thing I would do is to finance an “Infinite Jest” series on HBO, I think that would be brilliant. I don’t know if it’s a freaky thing to say, but I’m saying it anyway, and maybe some rich person will pick up on the idea [laughs].

It’s tricky to start with “Infinite Jest”, it’s not a book for the inexperienced reader. What would you tell those who want to take a swing at it?

The first thing I would recommend to people who wish to enter the David Foster Wallace universe is to start with “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men”, one of his short stories collections, which is absolutely magnificent, and then continue with his work, until you reach “Infinite Jest” at last. Once you’re addicted, you’ll fully enjoy the density. As a piece of advice, I wouldn’t read it with the same disposition as for a novel with a linear and chronologically arranged narration, nor would I desperately try to make sense of the story. It’s an extremely complex puzzle that can be built in different ways. To me, it’s an encyclopaedia from which I have learned incredible lessons about human nature. And, of course, nobody should skip the huge footnotes.

What’s your favourite part?

Impossible to choose one. I love his horrible, highly likely reflections on the future of entertainment and the parts where he talks about addiction. The most “fun” part is the detailed filmography, including plot descriptions, of father Incandenza, a director of incredibly bizarre experimental films. Hal Incandenza is the man’s extremely gifted son.

You’re addicted to American TV series. Which one are you following now?

Right now, after finally having finished “The Wire”, I’m suffering a terrible cold turkey. When it ends, you’re just left with a terrible hole in your life. I started watching David Simon’s new series “Tremé” a while ago, and I think it’s amazing, and not only because it’s about New Orleans musicians; there are so many more things I can identify with. I’ve started watching “Game of Thrones” and I think it’s great, too. That’s for my freaky side, the fan “Lord of the Rings” fan in me. “Entourage” returns in a couple of weeks and I’m already biting my nails.

What’s your favourite Entourage moment so far?

There’s millions of them, especially halfway through the series, I was very addicted to it at that time. Any moment with Ari Gold out of control is terrific, Jeremy Piven is god, no doubt. My manager is in my cell phone as “Ari Gold”.

Do you go to the cinema?

Not so much lately. What I’ve been seeing lately doesn’t convince me.

Do you consume all this at home or while you’re on the road?

I prefer to see films and series at home, but if I can’t, there’s always the iPad for long flights.

Part III: Where Henry Saiz worries about his lifestyle, asks himself questions about his health and thinks of going to the gym

Hernán Cattáneo said that he doesn’t get paid to deejay but to travel. That he spends more time on airplanes than working. Do you agree?

Absolutely. This could become a problem if you realise deejaying and producing has become a full time job. People only see the glamour, the trips, the fact that you see the world, but there’s a dark side, too: the jet lags, the accumulated tiredness, the few hours of sleep, the never-ending queues …

How do you keep up? Do you go to a gym, do you swim, run?

Right now I’m fully immersed in this world and I try not to let it have too much of an impact on my health and spoil things, because I really like it. But it’s exhausting. I know people who cope very well, but others who don’t. It’s true that the dead time on a 20-hour flight to Melbourne is killing. I myself am hyperactive, so I have a hard time, I need to do things and there’s nothing I can do during those moments. Other times it’s impossible to rest, and you feel feeble. It wouldn’t hurt me to do some exercise, because I’m not coping all too well and I need to find a way to not let the chaos affect me. Because my brain will malfunction if I don’t.

There will always be people who say you can’t complain, that you’re privileged when you are where you are.

Well, the people see the fun side of all this, but it’s not all fantastic. Of course, you travel a lot, but you don’t always feel like travelling and you prefer to stay at home. And it’s not very attractive to go to the other side of the world and come back the next day. That said, when you’re in a club, you forget about everything.

There was a time when you were thinking of moving to Berlin, but you decided to stay in Spain. After travelling around so much, which is your true home?

There’s many things about Spain I don’t like, but at the end of the day, it’s my home. The more I travel, the more I miss home. After fulfilling the dream of seeing the world, you listen to your heart and you know this is where you want to be.

You’ve played in clubs all over the world, at big festivals, in sumptuous locations. Is it hard to keep your feet on the ground?

I think that it’s something you’re born with, people who are insecure and always want to be the centre of attention are going to maximise that kind of behaviour when they become famous. In my case, I don’t need much of that, so it’s fairly easy for me to not let the whole artist treatment thing go to my head. Of course it’s unsettling at times, because you experience a series of situations and extreme stimuli; travelling non-stop, meeting people all the time, receiving a special treatment... Sometimes it can become a pretty nasty internal battle, but so far this life has only brought me good things.

You criticised the lifestyle of the stars of dance music, especially the importance of the image over the music. But now that you’re getting in deeper with the elite, is it harder to stay true to the underground idea you started out with?

What bothers me is the lack of honesty, the poses, the deception and the subestimation of the audience. I’m not pretending to be “underground” or preaching purity in techno, being all “authentic” and listening to Detroit techno only, which I love, don’t get me wrong. I do still make the music I love. And the more people hear it the better, any musician will say the same, but I would never let that get in front of my creative integrity, I’m not going to change my sound so that it’s more accessible or fashionable, I’ll only change if I really feel I need to.

When you were making “Balance”, did you keep previous contributions in mind, or did you try to not let them influence you?

No, it’s impossible not to be influenced, because I already was a fan of the series, I knew how they sound and I also knew that the label allows the artist total freedom. The ones by Holden, Agoria and Joris Voorn are brilliant, each one in its own way. I took it the way I said before, like one of my sets and trying to do it the best I could.

What are the future plans for Natura Sonoris?

Loads of things, the label is in better shape than ever. We’ve just released the album by Damabiah, which is amazing, and we’ll release a compilation of tracks inspired by the summer, a couple of singles off of my “Balance” album with remixes, some new vinyl, plus Sistema’s album, after the summer, to me, one of the electronic albums of the year. There’ll be Sónar-like showcases and loads of releases, we’re fully booked until 2012, our artists keep making good music, I’m even thinking of starting a sub-label.

Part IV: Where Henry Saiz keeps talking about books, music, and his big love, Britney Spears, sorry, cats

You have a single called “Madre Noche”, which is also the (Spanish) title of a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel, “Mother Night”. How is your relationship as a reader with Vonnegut?

The first thing I read by him was “Slaughterhouse-Five”. I’m not a super fan, but I like him a lot. I chose “Madre Noche” as a title because it fit perfectly with what I wanted to express with the track, a kind of tribute to the mood the night gets you in, I like that poetic figure of the night as a muse and mother of artistic creation, I’m a night person, it’s when I feel best and most creative, so that’s why, apart from it being a nod to Vonnegut.

A night person, like cats. You have a cat.

Yes, you’re a cat person or you’re not. I couldn’t live without them. There are many reasons, their fascinating personality, how marvellous it is to watch them, and they’re so incredibly smooth. My cat’s called Berlin, it’s a Norwegian Forest cat, I love it.

Do you consider yourself a nerd? On a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give yourself?

In the classical definition of the word, a tech-freak swot who devours fantasy novels and feels right at home in the BIOS of his computer, I would give myself a 0, but if you define it as a bit of an outsider who locks himself up in the studio with a bunch of machines, then yes, I’m a bit of a nerd. That’s how it is.

Few people know you’re an admirer of Britney Spears. How would you explain that love to someone who still isn’t convinced that what’s behind Britney, even with all the marketing, is of high quality?

Well, more and more people are finding out, because many journalists are asking me about it, as if it were some kind of taboo! [Laughs] My love for Britney’s music regards the production and composition only, I don’t feel identified by her at all, but the music is too good. There’s a lot of rubbish, the only album where each and every track is a gem is “Blackout”, and it’s the one that sold less than any other of her records. Her good tracks are masterpieces of pop, so well done, so musically perfect... She’s in my diva top 10 alongside Kylie, who I like better than Britney. I have an alarming lack of musical prejudice, music is very broad and for me, there’s a sound for every moment, we shouldn’t limit ourselves.

A Britney top 5, off the top of your head?

Without any order: “I’m A Slave 4 U”, “Ooh Ooh Baby”, “Overprotected”, “Inside Out”, “Perfect Lover”.

How do you take care of your beard?

I’ve always found it curious and fascinating that people pay attention to the fact I have a beard [laughs], I suppose there aren’t too many bearded DJs! Basically, I feed it three times a day and I take it out for long walks so it can get to know other beards.

Part V: Where Henry Saiz finally admits he’s a fucking workaholic

Are you releasing anything any time soon?

Right now, I have no contract of any sorts and I’m free to work with any label. I’m maintaining my collaboration with Bedrock, but the “Balance” album has taken up so much of my time that for now I have no plans to release anything. First I need to finish some tracks I’ve been working on and we’ll see what happens. I have some Hal Incandenza stuff some label could be interested in, so I’m going to move around a bit with that.

When will you release an album?

As Henry Saiz, I don’t know. But I’ve started a band, we’re called Tyrane, it’s a project that started five years ago with my best friend (and big David Foster Wallace fan) Luis, who’s a musician as well. It sounds great, something between ABBA, Wagner, Arcade Fire and Mike Oldfield. We’re taking the concept of the progressive rock band to the concept of electronic music, with great vocal collaborations.

When’s that going to come out?

We’re negotiating. You can’t hear any of the music yet, but there will be surprises.

And when do you sleep?

I don’t! If I’m lucky I get five hours a day. I hope it’s not going to affect my health too much. I’m a fucking workaholic, but as long as it makes me happy, I’ll keep giving it my all until the last second. Henry Saiz will be appearing at Sónar 2011 on june 17 at 04:45 h at the SonarCar stage. Tickets are on sale here.

"Balance 19 trailer 2” PlayGround is a media partner of Sónar

Henry Saiz doesn’t sleep: he deejays, produces, releases records as spectacular as his “Balance 19” and this week he’ll be presenting his Natura Sonoris at Sónar 2011. We talk to him about producing, working, books and everything else that makes him tick.

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