Pagano is no stranger to the Trax vaults! Here he is, for the second time in 2020, with his brand new track ‘Naxos’. This Italian producer can do no wrong and has been supported by dance music heavyweights such as Mark Knight, Carl Cox, Dubfire, and UMEK. His latest offering on Toolroom’s underground imprint is a stripped back cut, those synth pads make it ready for summer 2020.
We caught up with Pagano to talk about his new single ‘Naxos’ and current musical projects.
EG: Hello, Pagano, and thanks for chatting with us. Where are you right now and what’s the current situation with the COVID-19 virus over there?
Pagano: Hi and thank you for having me. I’ve just returned to my home in London from 2 weeks in Sicily, Italy, where my family lives. Over there, they had very few cases and the beach towns are actually heaving with tourists. A few outdoor beach clubs have attempted re-opening but since customers weren’t following the government guidance, they all got shut down in the end. London is a different story: there’s not a lot of transparency about the cases and you have to dig to find numbers online. Clubs are not allowed to open. Only outdoor spaces can open but they have to run a strictly sitting down with pre-booked table operation.
EG: You have a long and successful career as a DJ in between Italy and the United Kingdom but can you tell us some of your early memories behind the decks? How did it all start?
Pagano: My first ever paid DJ gig at a club happened when I was 16 at a school-disco after-noon event in a club in my hometown Catania in Sicily. Playing vinyl… obviously! This led to 5 years of gigs in the South of Italy at clubs and events such as Marabù, Atmosphere, and many others alongside local heroes and guests such as Deep Dish. Fast-forward to my 20’s I was living in the North of Italy and landing gigs at legendary clubs such as Kinki and Exogroove. In 2002 I moved to London and that’s when my career leaped internationally.
One of the many questionable things I remember doing in my early days was being a part and DJing at a morning event organized for teenagers on a week-day. The whole point was to skip school and go partying instead. We put on this so-called ‘Calia-Party’ (where “caliare” means ‘to skip school’ in the Sicilian dialect) at a now-defunct club right downtown in my hometown called ‘Charlie Brown’. We really did not expect a big turnout. Well, we were wrong! Let’s just say that by 10 am we had several police cars blocking the surrounding streets in order to stop crowds of teenagers on foot and on Vespas to get access and a few police helicopters flying over the area. It was like a scene out of a movie. They couldn’t even attempt to shut us down because the place was rammed. Luckily we didn’t get arrested simply because there actually were no laws forbidding this type of event.
EG: Moving to the current days you have a new release via Mark Knight’s Toolroom label that is entitled ‘Naxos’. Where it was recorded and can you describe the process to produce it?
Pagano: I’ve been producing the majority of my recent stuff at Aux Studio in London with my sound engineer and friend James Hurr. He is very talented and we spend hours working on my ideas and demos. I started developing ‘Naxos’ before the lockdown and my idea was to produce a tech house summer single with a Balearic, almost 90’s progressive house influence and a more ethereal vibe. We mostly used samples I found, some in the arrangement, and some we put through Kontakt to manipulate them. If I remember correctly we only used one midi instrument and that was Razor in Reaktor.
EG: You are a regular on Mark Knight’s label, do you consider him a friend? How did you meet?
Pagano: I’ve DJed with Mark Knight several times through the years at London clubs like Ministry Of Sound or EGG, and he has always been such a pleasure to work with or open for. He is a really down to earth, professional and talented artist. We’ve also crossed paths in the studio a few times and one thing led to another. My first release on Toolroom was a collaboration with Jason Chance titled ‘Just Like That’ in 2014. I have released 7 tracks since between Toolroom main label and Toolroom Trax. I love working with them. They have one of the most reliable and professional teams I’ve worked within the industry.
“I like that carefree sense of freedom you get on a dancefloor, which means I love seeing people having a good time while I DJ”
EG: Based on your experience, what does it take to make a great dancefloor track?
Pagano: This is actually an interesting question. Many artists start their careers as producers and then make the leap into DJing. For me, it was the other way around. I started DJing at a very young age and then several years later went into production. This means that when I produce a track my main goal is that it has to fit and work during my DJ sets and get a reaction from the crowd. My DJ style is all about delivering an uplifting energy. So for me, a great dance floor track needs to be groovy and driving but yet credible. This is what works for me and I know well that other DJs might disagree because for instance many have a deeper sound that relies on long breaks and minimal arrangements.
EG: Also, your extended sets have been praised all over the world. How do you prepare them? Is there any special process involved?
Pagano: I definitely refined my DJ style after coming to London and becoming a resident at the legendary ‘Trade’ after-hours. Back in its Turnmills days, it was all about a musical journey where one DJ would pick up where the previous left and take it up a notch to the next level. The main room would start with underground house and build into techno and hard house / hard trance. The incredible thing is that the resident DJs perfected this into a very smooth journey that became Trade’s signature. So it was only natural for me to apply this to a solo marathon set when I finally had a chance. I start playing 7 and even 9 hour sets regularly in Amsterdam first and these were so successful that they led me to being booked for extended sets in Paris, Barcelona, London, and even the US later on. I would start with deep house at 122 BPM and end up at 132 tech house and techno after a few hours. All I do before an extended set is to spend a few days selecting tracks across all genres that rely on solid grooves and divide them into groups depending on their speed.
EG: What’s your favorite thing of being a DJ?
Pagano: Seeing people reacting positively to my productions and telling a story with my music selection. Whipping people into a frenzy with the rhythm. I like to party, I was a raver for years. I like that carefree sense of freedom you get on a dancefloor, which means I love seeing people having a good time while I DJ.
EG: The music world is definitely changing to this new “normal”. What do you think clubs and live events can do to adapt to these current changes?
Pagano: I honestly do not know. I’ve seen several attempts at social distancing club-nights with compulsory use of masks that for obvious reasons didn’t work. I saw a few promoters attempting the whole sitting-down at a table thing, which is interesting but probably works better for shows and live-gigs rather that club-nights. People are certainly still consuming and listening to music. We can already see a switch to more vocal house tracks which appeal goes beyond a dance floor. Ultimately, as I said in other instances, I feel that we just need to be patient and the industry is only on a hiatus. As soon as there is a vaccine or a proper cure, things will get back to the old ‘normal’ and I believe that events will be even better and busier than before.
“I like to party, I was a raver for years”
EG: Once you go back to the DJ booth, what’s that track you will like to play again for a packed dancefloor?
Pagano: I released several tracks during the lockdown. I had 2 singles on Toolroom Trax, ‘Latin tales’ and ‘Naxos’, I have a collaboration with the incredible Belgian techno duo Filter-headz out soon on the Japanese label Session Womb. So I definitely can’t wait to debut them all for a live crowd.
EG: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Pagano: I am living day by day. I will get into the studio a few times for sure. If things chance and nightlife will open up again, I will re-start my OFF London club night for sure and start touring again. Otherwise, I will just hibernate, probably go back to Sicily and spend Autumn with my family. Life in Sicily has a slower pace and it is much cheaper than in London. Temperatures are milder in winter months and the quality of food and life in general are so much better. Not the best base for a touring DJ but certainly a great option for a temporarily unemployed one.
Pagano’s ‘Naxos’ is now available via Toolroom Trax. Stream and buy here.