To accompany our KDJ & Mahogani Music Radio Show, we had am in-depth talk with the man who preprared it: Andrés. Humberto Hernández aka DJ Dez aka Andrés isn't a newcomer on the scene. Back in the days he used to work at BuyRite Records in Detroit, where he met his friend Moodymann. Before Moodymann started to release his EPs and albums on his labels KDJ and Mahogani Music almost two decades ago, Andrés was already DJing for hip hop collective Slum Village and shared lots of studio time with his old pal J Dilla. As a kid he learned to play timbales, congas and other Latin percussion instruments and performed live with the Latin hip hop collective Ozomatli and his father, Nengue Hernandez. After releasing three albums on Mahogani Music, that fuse his hip hop DJ Dez spheres with his Andrés house sensibilities, he finally launched his own label La Vida in 2012. The debut EP New For U emerged to be his biggest hit so far and transformed the cool Drummer From Detroit into an in-demand producer. Sometime this year his new album Andrés IV will see the light of day via Mahogani Music and will once again feature house as well as hip hop tracks. Shortly before the launch party for the Carhartt WIP x Mahogani Music collection, we had the chance to meet Andrés for an extensive talk about his art, life, and love for music at a hotel bar in Barcelona.
Hey Andrés, you just came from Amsterdam, how was record shopping?
Andrés: Great. There is a spot in the area where Redlight Records is, that has some pretty good Latin stuff. At a lot of those spots I mostly buy Latin stuff.
We heard that when you just recently played in Buenos Aires, you went record shopping and afterwards you played your set only with the records you bought that day. True?
Andrés: I do not really remember. But in any Spanish speaking countries I go to a place and dig for records. That’s my thing: to try to find Latin records if possible. Especially at Spanish speaking countries I try at least to see what they have available. But if you heard that story, it must be true. I surely found some decent stuff and played it.
We were lucky to hear you playing eight-hour sets twice at a now defunct bar in Cologne called Stecken. When you played, you did not only play your records. Also the ones the owner had piled in his bar where part of your set. But you played his record like they were yours.
Andrés: Yeah, but also my man Ben from Cologne made sure he brought more than enough records from home. We've played so many times together, so he knows what kind of stuff I like and he would always make sure that I had more than enough for such a long night.
When we watched you play during those sets, it seemed always as if you knew each record perfectly that you found in that pile of wax. You know directly where to drop the needle. How come?
Andrés: (smiles) Well here is one thing for me that’s fore sure: in order for me to play with other people’s records, I have to trust the taste of the person who gives me access to their records. And trust that they have stuff to my standard and stuff that I also enjoy. Ben has a great taste like everything from the hip hop stuff to funk and soul stuff. In Japan there is a promoter Hagi from A Hundred Birds, who always brings me out there. He also got a great taste. I can also go to his collection and grab a couple of things. I trust his collection and it is usually that thing that I trust in that persons taste as well. But yeah, Stecken was always a special thing and there were always records everywhere in that place. More than enough so I could go in for seven, eight or nine hours.
Yeah, just a white towel and some blunts and you went on a journey.
Andrés: (laughs) I think the first time I ever went to Stecken I remember being in there and somebody was playing just all Bossa Nova records. And I was like: Ah man, I like this. That’s an Andrés thing.
When you are booked as a DJ, is it often the case that you can play all you want or are you booked to play house mostly?
Andrés: I got a theory for me: I try to keep it interesting for myself and by interesting I mean the variety, you know. I am not the kind of person that plays all house or all techno. What I do enjoy is mixing it up. It’s kind of like the Chicago Warehouse type of thing. What I mean by that is the way that people from Chicago look at house. It’s beyond the actual house rhythm, but more or less all the other records I mix together. I don’t mean house as the beat. I mean house like in warehouse. All kinds of music are played under that umbrella and in Chicago they all consider this as house. This means you do not play necessarily all house. It is the way you introduce the variety of music to the audience. It’s mixed all together that makes the house and this means from soul and funk to house. I kind of have that approach to play music. From house to dance classics to funk to a little bit of techno but not too hardcore, more like Cybotron stuff. And then also some Kraftwerk in the mix. I enjoy mixing it all together. Like that it stays interesting for myself.
When you think about mixing, would you consider yourself a hip hop DJ in the first place?
Andrés: Definitely a hip-hop DJ as far as attitude and skills. I am a hip hop DJ that does not play all hip hop. I play a lot of variations of music.
Would you also say that your approach as a producer is a hip hop one?
Andrés: Kind of. I am a big fan of Moodymann’s stuff, Kenny Dope’s stuff. But yeah I am big fan of the sample heavy house. I enjoy the way people manipulate records and sounds just as people do in hip hop as well. That is the stuff that inspires me. Tracks like Black Mahogani or Shades of Jae. That was my introduction to the form of music I do.
When we speak about hip hop: do you miss J Dilla?
Andrés: Yeah, of course!
We heard you do not like to talk about him that much?
Andrés: Well I would not say that. I do not mind. J Dilla was a great talent and that is like saying I do not like to talk about Amp Fiddler. Amp Fiddler has a lot to do with my development. He taught me how to use the drum machine I still use. Which is the same drum machine J Dilla used. The Akai MPC. But as I said: I do not mind talking about J Dilla, but of course I do not like to just talk about him. But I do not mind, as he is part of my development, too. I learned a lot from that guy. We worked in the studio together and it was a special time. It was a time before the world discovered him and I was blessed to be around that guy. When I played in Germany the other day I played J Dilla stuff for an hour. It's Dilla month so I had to do it. Kenny also finished his set with a J Dilla track in Berlin.
So J Dilla and Amp Fiddler are very important for all your artistic work?
Andrés: First and foremost my musical education started with my father, who is a percussionist. Then Amp Fiddler. Then right after J Dilla. I was part of his group and we put out music. He is part of my history, Moodymann as well.
On your Facebook page you posted some pictures from 1985, showing you playing percussions with a Cuban style band. That was the first approach to music for you?
Andrés: Yeah, I am Cuban. I performed for the first time when I was three years old with my father and my cousin and that is why I am digging so much for Latin stuff. The first music that I've ever known was Cuban music and the best of it. That is where all my interesting scratch patterns come from. When it comes to Cuban music I like everything from the Fifties like a group called Los Zafiros who was a doo-wop group from Cuba to classics ....... Los Van Van, Orq Ritmo Oriental and Irakere.
I got a theory for me: I try to keep it interesting for myself and by interesting I mean the variety, you know. I am not the kind of person that plays all house or all techno. What I do enjoy is mixing it up.
When you dig for all this music, how does your home look? Packed with records?
Andrés: Yeah yeah, the collection is still forever growing.
And how do you organize them?
Andrés: Never alphabetical order. I know my records way too much and I just do not have the time to organize them like that. I do have them in sections in some parts. Of course my hip hop 12inches and LPs is probably the biggest section. But I also have a lot of jazz, soul and funk stuff. And from living in California I have my love for oldies.
What do you mean by oldies?
Andrés: Radio hits. Just oldies, classics on 45, old soul records. Old James Brown, Roberta Flack, you name it. I am a big fan of a lot of music that was made way before my time. Groups like the The Montclairs, The Moments and such stuff. The problem is, the further back you go the quality gets poor. I got some Billie Holiday records that I can’t really appreciate as the quality is so bad.
And how about your own new album, is it ready?
Andrés: Well, not yet. I decided I wanted to make a couple of changes. It will come out on Mahogani/La Vida and it is called simply Andrés IV. It seems to be a little harder to get these albums done now, as I am busier than the years before.
Andrés: Yeah I've been doing a lot of remixes for a while now. Far Out might be the biggest guys that approached me for a remix.
And how is your opinion about the art of remixing?
Andrés: I try to pick stuff that I can do something totally different with. That has something that grabs me. Something has to jump out at me you know. I definitely do not force anything. It has to be stuff that I can put my little twist on. I enjoy remixes. Some people do not look at remixes like work. Like creating. But I look at it like creating. It is not an edit thing you know. I do not know what people expect when they ask me for a remix. What kind of sound. I mean obviously I know they like something about me, but I do not know what they expect. I just zone in and kind of create this landscape. People seem to like what I do, but I always like to think that there is some kind of elevation and I try to be a little bit more musical all the time. I am still critical to a lot of my music. And I am still listening to it a lot.
And with whom do you share it for an outside opinion?
Andrés: With Moodymann, when he is around. But that’s it. I have kind of a formula when I do music. Not a specific one. I guess you could say I have kind of my own vibe in the sense of the percussions, the rhythm, and the bass-line thing. It is kind of a formula. I try to put my groove, my spin on things. I am heavy on the field. I did not realize that it is a formula. Other people did that. But that's ok for me. I am doing good and people like my music, that is a beautiful thing you know what I mean.
And how do you work with samples? Do you ever clear them?
Andrés: I don’t have too much to say about that. I have been blessed.
And would you produce a straight hip hop album or working with a hip hop band again?
Andrés: Yeah. Kenny was a big influence in getting me to also include my hip hop stuff on my albums. Which is why Andrés II came out the way it did. And Andrés III was an EP. There is only one hip hop joint on it. The next album is going to feature a song from another project of mine that is purely hip hop. Me and a couple of friends are actually rapping on it. I am going there this time. Why not?
And how is it to run a label like La Vida? You like it?
Andrés: Mmmmm. It is good. Well, so far I never really looked at it like that. I'm just putting out stuff you know. I do not do any promo. So far it has been a blessing that I did not have to do too much. I think in the future eventually I'll get more involved. But right now it is pretty fair. I was very lucky that my first La Vida release sold so good. When I put it out, I had no idea that it was going to be my biggest record.
And where do you press your stuff? In the USA or Europe?
Andrés: At Archers in Detroit. The legendary Archer Record Pressing. The same guy that used to do the Motown stuff. We all press there. And it is distributed through FIT. I still meet a lot of people who say it is hard to find my stuff. It is hard to get it in everybody’s hands. For the FIT label I did also the alias project A Drummer From Detroit. There is a second one coming out soon. It is a more percussive based thing. It is a different style I am accustomed to. Less melody more drums. It is still melodic, but with more focus on the drums.
And your melodies, do they come from your Cuban heritage or the oldies you love?
Andrés: Inspiration comes mostly from old records or just something in my head. Depends on how I am inspired during the day.
We talked about you diverse style of DJing before and that you like to play long sets. How is it when you are booked for festivals or at clubs and you just have a two hours slot?
Andrés: I approach everything the same way. I try to feel out the crowd. At certain places I feel like I can’t do anything wrong you know. At Panorama Bar for instance I always had a great time. I remember the first time I played there, it was crazy. When I played New For U it felt like God was in the room. It was crazy.
When I played New For U it felt like God was in the room. It was crazy.
But such moments are great fun.
Andrés: Yeah. But I do what I usually do.
Do you play often in Detroit, too?
Andrés: Not such much. Sometimes. I do not play a lot in the States. In New York a bit more. And in California if I am in L.A.. I would like to get booked more in the States. For my album I would like to do some release parties, so people in the States become more aware of what I do. I would like to do one in Detroit, New York, L.A. and in Europe, too.
You did a one hour Mahogani and KDJ mix for Carhartt WIP Radio. How was it to go through all that stuff?
Andrés: I did not realize there was so much stuff. And I am not familiar with Kenny’s whole catalogue, as he got so much stuff. I had not heard some of that stuff for so long. And some never. So it was pretty interesting. It was kind of going down memory lane. There is some of the Dan Shake stuff that I had a chance to really listen to now. And it was interesting to hear the whole label stuff.
How important is Kenny and his labels for your career at large?
Andrés: I am definitely influenced by Kenny’s music. He got his own thing as I got my own thing, but I realized that there is something similar. Because I was told that people though that Andrés was Moodymann for a long time. (laughs) Which is interesting. I think people thought it was just an Alias of him. He told me: people probably think it is me. I though it was interesting for a minute with the whole mystery thing.
But you both have a totally different DJ style.
Do you often DJ together?
Andrés: For something that is more Mahogani affiliated, we play together every now and then. I can fit into that. And he does it as it is for the team.
You live in Detroit in the same neighborhood?
And how is Detroit for your work as an artist. Here in Europe the romanticization of Detroit is large. How does the city influence all you do?
Andrés: Detroit is such a music mecca. And you can tell by my way of my spinning, that I never put myself in a box. I do not just play this or that. The palette that I am influenced by is very large. And me being a musician. A drummer and a Latin percussionist. All this has a big influence. In Detroit music comes from anywhere. And it is beyond American music. And for me there is also something special about the music that comes out of my backyard. I have a stronger spiritual connection to the music from the Mid-West. To a lot of the soul, a lot of the funk music that comes from here. Of course everybody likes Parliament and Funkadelic, but there is something special about knowing that the records they made were recorded in your city and on that particular street. For me that is special. I mean everybody loves Marvin Gaye, but it is something different when you know his house is around the corner. When I listen to the Spinners, for me something special happens. I call it neighborhood music, as the guys literally lived in my neighborhood. So the music has a stronger connection to me. It is kind of hard to explain. But that makes Detroit special to me. I make dance music, but it is my interpretation of it in connection to where I am from.
So you would never say you are a strictly house guy?
Andrés: I tell people always: I am not the super house guy. I do not know everything about house music and house records. I do play house. But techno as well. I am also a big fan boogie, jazz-funk and fusion-funk. Anything from The Meters or Pleasure or GQ of whom I am a big fan! I am a big Heatwave fan, too. I love Rod Temperton. You know Heatwave started out as an army band in Switzerland or something but the guys were from Cleveland. I am also heavy heavy on James Brown, Shuggie Otis and Rodriguez, who still lives in Detroit. And surely Curtis Mayfield and Roy Ayers stuff. The classics. And I always dig for the underdogs who did not get a lot of credit. I love The Montclaires and The Moments, which I mentioned earlier. There is something about that sweet soul. You know what I mean. And then I am blessed that I always come across those 45s that are like jewels. Nothing sounds better than a properly pressed 45. I just like finding the jewels. Last time I went shopping I came across a Marvin Gaye 45. Man, that single is so great. The song is called When I Had Your Love. An early Marvin Gaye. It sounds so good.
And when you play you play strictly vinyl or do you also bring digital stuff?
Andrés: Well I like to test out some stuff from my album. So I like to try that out as well as the new La Vida stuff. Certain stuff like that I want to test out. But the rest is vinyl. But also some unreleased stuff of mine. I like to see how the crowd likes it. The format is not that important to me. I like the CDJ for the loop feature. I have fun with the CDJ’s as well as the vinyl. And I am not able to carry so much vinyl, so I have to have CDs to be able play longer if I need to.
You like to play long sets?
Andrés: Yeah I do. A place where I usually play for a long time is Japan. I can do seven or eight hours easily. And Stecken in Cologne was a place where you could definitely experience Dez Andrés moments, as I could play everything during those long nights I spent there. I enjoy platforms where I really really can go into my variety. That is the spice of life for me. I need the variety.