DJ Sneak – real name Carlos Sosa – is considered one of House music’s true pioneers.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, surrounded by beaches, salsa music and Latin beats, at the age of 13 he moved with his family to Chicago in 1983, the years where the Chicago house sound was being introduced and an incredible amount of parties were taking place. Once there, he quickly fell in love with the American sounds of jazz, funk, soul, disco and in particular house music, since it had very little singing and at that time he didn’t have a great knowledge of English language.
His first true projects were not musical ones; while he was working in a record store, he started doing graffiti and selling his art on t-shirts and clothing.
In 1991 he launched his first label, Defiant Records, which allowed him to introduce his sound first in Chicago, then to NYC and Detroit where House music and “ghetto” tracks were often supported. Back then he kept working with many people including labels like Derrick Carter’s Classic Music, which also helped him to break into the European market place. Later on he started other imprints like Magnetic Recordings, Oomph Recordings and Sneaks Classics.
Over the years Sneak’s music has influenced the likes of Daft Punk, Bassment Jaxx and Armand Van Helden, continuing to revolutionize and redefine house music.
We had the pleasure to interview DJ Sneak, who flies in for an exclusive DJ set at our headquarters. Here the Chicago House music legend shared some thoughts about his career, the global house music scene, Pioneer DJ equipment and more.
Watch DJ Sneak’s exclusive DJ set aired live June 16th 2018 from our HQ in Milan:
Hello and welcome to House of Frankie, Underground Radio in Milan, Italy. Today I have been joined by super DJ and producer DJ Sneak. Hi, nice to have you here in Milan!
Hello, thanks for having me in the House of Frankie!
You were born and raised in Puerto Rico, but Chicago was the city that inspired you to become an underground DJ. How did you figure out music was your path and why you moved to Chicago?
My parents decided to move to Chicago from Puerto Rico, where I was born and raised, when I was 13. It was winter when I landed, it was cold and there weren’t too many people outside, so I didn’t get to enjoy Chicago until the first summer 1984, the year that I had to learn how to become American, to learn the American culture and its way of living. Chicago is a big city compared to where I’m from. And back then, since I was in the learning process and I couldn’t understand English TV, I went to the radio, which has always been a big part of my life. But when I went to the radio then I found a station that was playing house music, what I consider house music today. So, once I found this station, I was always listening to it and being curious about it I was wondering what that music was and why they play it so long with no commercials and stuff like that (I didn’t understand the logic of DJing yet). Later on, then, I found out what it meant when I saw my first DJ in the school dance. I was like a little nerd asking some questions like “How do you change this record to this record?”, and “What is this thing in the middle? Why do you go up and down?”. I was an annoying little kid, but I was learning why was the music so flawless from one to another. It was I think 1985 and I knew I was going to be a DJ ever since. I was really intrigued, I found some passion for it and once I understood the logic, then, I was like “Ok, I just want to practice and do it”.
Chicago symbolises house music, where you and many other DJs made this genre famous all over the world. In your opinion, what’s so special about Chicago, a town that still celebrates house music?
It’s the birthplace! A lot of people can argue it is New York or Detroit, but we’re all in the United States and I think around the same era of time too. These 3 cities nurture and develop a specific sound, and for me it’s funny because, I first heard Italo-house, believe it or not, and we were getting records from Europe to the stores. I grew up in the record music business, I grew up in selling records too, so first was shopping and then was working in the store and this is where we developed so many different sounds, from so many different greats, from Frankie [Knuckles] to everybody else. There was something in the city, in the water, in the food, but really it was more something in the speakers… your ear became very fine-tuned to this music. You knew a good house record as soon as somebody put the record up and everybody freaked out. There must be something in Chicago – which is a cold city, with lots of sirens and it’s a tough life in the winter – but this is the time where people go into the studio and make the best music. I don’t know, I think is because it’s the birthplace. I wasn’t born and raised there but when I got there and I had to learn how to become American that’s what it was, I was there, in the right place at the right time. I’m mostly a graffiti writer, I was doing graffiti in the streets, I couldn’t breakdance, so I was dedicated to the music.
You are famous as House Gangster too. Can you tell us how did you get this alias?
Back in 2005, almost at the end of my vinyl era and after 20 years of playing vinyl, it became a very trended thing to go into electro music and all that stuff. It’s a different sound, a different wave, different promoters, etc. As a person and as a DJ who had been through America first and then through the world playing this music, I feel there was a lack of respect for it and then at one moment I heard so many people saying: “Yes, house music is dead”, and I was like: “No, as long as I’m alive house music is not dead, I’ll push for this”. So, then, ‘I’m a House Gangster’ became the slogan for a campaign for me and my fans, or people like me who love house music and underground house music, to be part of it. It really became a movement that wasn’t about DJ Sneak only but it was more about “I’m a house gangster together with all the people that follow me and who like me to go behind and push”. And then, as time goes, 7 years go by and music change, I survived trance, which I never liked, I survived electro from the 2000s, which was horrible and I never liked, I survived EDM, which I still don’t like, but eventually we’re still here. So, house music definitely has a longer life span than all these genres of music.
Your productions and sound have inspired the likes of Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Armand Van Helden. Can you tell us how was your experience in the ‘90s and how has the sound of your productions changed throughout the years?
Throughout the years I still maintain my DJ Sneak sound. A lot of these guys you mentioned and me, in the late 90s – the period when we used to go to Miami to the winter conference and it was a big deal – we found each other in a really big party. There was 20 of us and there was what was considered the future of dance music in a way: Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Armand Van Helden and many others. We were all in our 20s, young guys, really inspiring, ready to take on the world, so we said “Let’s learn from before and not fight but try to be more united together! I do remix for you and you do remix for me, I help you with your career”. That has always been a good thing! I don’t want to take credit for whatever those guys did, because they’re very talented guys, but I was there, and once I knew my street, my lane, I knew that I didn’t have to go to know another street, so I stayed there and after 20 years and I’m still in my street. Having said that, those guys come and go, I worked with a lot of them, they are really amazing producers, but they’re not true to underground house music, they’re only true to the business part. There comes a moment when you have to make a decision, so you ask yourself: “Ok, do I want to be famous, to make lots of money, or do I want to take credit and be respected for being an artist?” So, you choose.
What does the future hold for DJ Sneak?
I’m almost 48, I started when I was 16, I’ve had a beautiful, long journey and career. I’ve accomplished what I want, I’m still here, relevant, playing music, touching and making people feel my music and my sound. So, as long as I feel happy and everything is fine and if people want to continue seeing me, then I will always be there. I’m an ambitious person, I’ve lots of other business I want to do. I live in Los Angeles, because I’ve dedicated most of my life at DJing and making music and now I feel like I want to try something else, but I will still maintain my closeness with the music. I don’t think it would ever leave my head and my many thousands of records that I remember there. It doesn’t go away.
You’re always on the road, where can your fans catch you this summer?
Mostly in Europe these next 5 months between May and October. I dedicate myself to Europe, London, Amsterdam, Paris, mostly a lot of gigs in Ibiza, a lot of festivals. So mostly, I stay in Europe, and then after October I will focus in America, South America and more.
What’s your opinion of the current global House scene?
Tough question! It is very small. It has gone back to underground, it is slowly crossing over again to the mainstream. Everything goes in circle and whenever people get tired of all the other music then they go back to house music again.
Our digital platform, House of Frankie, was born as a project dedicated to Frankie Knuckles, and more in general, as a tribute to House music. Frankie was a good friend of yours, I know it may be hard to talk about but do you have any memories of him you want to share with us?
The great person he was outside of DJing and house music… He was a gentleman and somebody who even in my worst times, even when I was upset for many reasons like social media, ego and jealousy, was there. I could always speak to Frankie, he would tell me his side of things and make me feel good about it. He used to say: “Man, you’re already you, you can’t be nothing else. Be you as long as you can be you”. So, it’s hard to say something, I’m already tensing up because I miss him. He definitely was a great person.
We met you at Amsterdam Dance Event 2017 during a Pioneer DJ room’s showcase. How are you finding the new Pioneer DJ CDJ-2000 nexus2?
It’s a tool, I use it like my toothbrush! I work a lot with Pioneer, with this unit you just need an USB and you’re ready to go. So, I’m very happy with a lot of the updates they’re doing. Every year they come up with something new to make it more exciting. But sometimes the most basic is the best, the simplest is always the best.
You are the owner of many influential labels in the house scene like Magnetic Recordings and Sneak Classics. How do they differ from each other?
They’re pretty much the same. I mean, Magnetic Recordings. I started it in 2000 and it was an outlet for me to release my personal music. There were a lot of DJ Sneak releases back-to-back, and then I released a few from other people. The label I’m currently running is I’m A House Gangster, just to tie into the brand everything else, because we do events, we do streams and more. We do the same as everybody. It’s a small, cool platform but it has always maintained the pattern of delivering the sound and the music that we like for the label.
What do you think of the different festivals around the world? What’s the difference between playing in a club and in a festival?
In a club it could be more intimate, tight and together with the crowd. In a festival you’re in some stages, like you’re some Rockstar and you’re so small that they must have screens, because you can’t see David Guetta when he’s so far away from you. A part from that, I like doing both. I think festivals can reach a lot of people at the same time, but at the same time lot of people are there just walking around because they can’t find one area that makes them want to stay there. It’s a big game and a little game. However, I mostly play a lot of nightclubs and I enjoy whatever crowd walks in, even if it’s 100 people or 100.000 people, it’s the same DJ Sneak.
Thank you! It was an honour to have you here! See you soon!
Thank you for having me!
Listen to DJ Sneak’s latest releases on Traxsource
Video Filmed and Edited by Samantha Faini.