We quiz the progressive house veteran and Krafted boss on 'melodic techno' and his obsession with Hellenic deities
You might know him for his radio shows on Frisky and Proton. You might know him as co-owner of the Krafted Music Group family of labels. You might even know him from his mid-90s days as an Ibiza resident. But however you know him, if you've been involved in the world of dance music scene for any length of time, you almost certainly know Paul Sawyer.
He's one of those scene faces that's been around forever: never achieving superstar DJ perhaps, never gazing out from magazine covers or pimping L'Oreal products on TV, but always plugging away, quietly doing his thing. For the past few years, he's mostly been concentrating on running the Krafted stable alongside Darren Braddick, as well as on his radio work - more on both of which below.
Right now, though, it's his own productions that are in the spotlight. His recent Poseidon release has been finding favour with all the big-name progressive house jocks and the follow-up, Zeus, is about to drop on Krafted Underground. But those are just two tracks in a whole series that he's been putting out this year, each of which he's named after a different Greek god. As you do.
As we said: if you've been involved in the world of dance music scene for any length of time, you know Paul Sawyer. We've known him for some years now, but the Greek gods thing is a new one on us. Time to ring him up, then, and pose that (if you'll pardon the pun) immortal question: U OK hun?
Nemesis, Poseidon, Zeus… what's going on?
"I've had a bit of a fixation with Greek mythology since I was a kid. With these tracks I was trying to make something with a bit of power behind it, and I've always thought of the Greek gods in that way, so I wanted to name the tracks accordingly. Those aren't the only ones - there's more to come as well."
So do you pick a Greek god and make a track about him/her, or do you make a track and then decide what god it sounds like?
"I make the tracks first, then put names to them. Zeus was the fourth track I made out of about 10 and I felt it was the most powerful in the series, so it's named after the god of gods. I've aimed it deliberately at the summer, because in my mind it could be quite a strong festival track and I'm hoping it might get played in Ibiza as well."
Are all the tracks made now, or is this an ongoing project?
"They're all made now. I spent three or four months, pretty much head-down, doing as much as I could. They're not all coming out on Krafted, some are coming out on other labels. There's two coming out on Balkan Connection, Steyoyoke picked up Artemis and there's one coming on Solarstone's Pure Progressive label later this month, which came about after Rich [Solarstone] picked up Poseidon on promo. We'd never met or spoken before, but he sent me a direct message asking if I could run it off for use in his Dolby Atmos set. So I did, and then he asked me if I had any more."
"I will make some more at some point, I'm sure. But for now I've got a year's worth of releases lined up, so at the moment I'm concentrating more on remixes."
It's just that I looked up Greek gods and I came to Tarturus, the god of the 'deepest, darkest part of the underworld'... that'd work, surely?
"It would! And no, I've not used that one yet. Good idea!"
Speaking of Krafted... I must admit I find the whole Krafted/Endemic/EJ Underground thing a bit confusing! Can you explain the label set-up?
"Well, originally Darren was running Endemic Digital, Unrivaled Music and Sounds Of Juan, and I was running EJ Underground. Then when we joined forces, we came up with the name Krafted for the umbrella company. But it got a bit confusing, as you say, and then people seemed to latch onto the Krafted name more, and when we signed a distribution deal with Proton they suggested we brought everything together as well. So then Endemic Digital became Krafted Digital, EJ Underground became Krafted Underground and Sounds Of Juan became Sounds Of Krafted. And now it's really only Krafted Digital and Krafted Undergound that we're concentrating on.
"But then Jason [Miller, AKA Redux Saints] in Los Angeles has come onboard as well, and now he's set up Deep Tech LA. We've done two DTLA compilations so far, and they've outsold everything!"
So has the deal with Proton been a bit of a step-up for you?
"Oh, definitely. It's streamlined everything in terms of contracts, royalty statements and so on, because they've got their own system that's all online. Artists can log in and see where they're up to, rather than us having to produce royalty statements on Excel spreadsheets every month, which was frankly a ball-ache!
"The advice Proton have given us has been second to none as well. That's really helped."
Good advice is always useful... but then you're not exactly a newcomer to the industry, are you? You started DJing in 1992, I read - can you remember how your first gig came about?
"That happened because my brother was a DJ. He played on the rave scene in the late 80s/early 90s, but when he started he wasn't old enough to drive! So I used to drive him to these massive great raves: he was getting some really good bookings back then, playing alongside Fabio & Grooverider, Colin Dale, people like that.
"I loved it, but it wasn't really music I wanted to play. But then the whole scene changed, and when it got a bit more house-y and moved from raves to clubs, that's when I thought, 'Sod it, I'm going to have a go'. So I practised on my brother's decks, managed to get a couple of bookings and it all went from there."
So that would have been the era of labels like Guerilla, and that early prog sound?
"Yeah, exactly. That slightly heavier, deeper sound - progressive touching on techno. Because of the sound I was playing, I'd mostly go on a bit later, which helped because it meant I got to play alongside some pretty big names. One of the first gigs I ever got was playing alongside Sasha at House Of Windsor... I'll never forget that, it was one of the most nerve-wracking nights of my life!"
And by 1994, you were resident alongside Carl Cox at Eden! Or Star Club, as it then was...
"Yeah, I went over for a one-off gig in 1993, and it went well so I got invited back as resident the next year. Carl Cox was a weekly resident, I played alongside The Prodigy for their only Ibiza gig ever, and I played at Fubar, Space Terrace and Es Paradis as well. It was an absolute whirlwind that year!"
That's 26 years in the game, then - but without ever becoming a household name. Do you wish you had?
"No, I'm happy where I am! I did take five years out, which I think made quite a big difference.
"By 2003, I'd been touring for 10 years and I wasn't enjoying it as much. I had to take some gigs that I didn't really enjoy and it was time to have a bit of change. I watched a few DJs who were at my sort of level suddenly being springboarded into stardom - people like Steve Lawler and Danny Howells - but I chose a different path.
"That was a good thing for me, because I've got my day job which I can rely on, which means music and DJing are something I can do on the side, and I don't have to chase every single penny. Which for me is more enjoyable."
And since you came back into music, you've concentrated more on the behind-the-scenes side of things?
"Yeah, I never came back into it to DJ - I'd done that for 10 years. But then it was like, 'Go on then, I'll have another little go,' and it reminded me why I loved it.
"I still love playing music to people, it's just not something I want to be doing 52 weeks a year. Obviously I'm hoping people will buy my music or enjoy dancing to it or whatever, and when they do that's a really satisfying thing - but I'm not looking to get rich or famous from it.
"Because I've had a little taste of success, with big names playing my tunes and all that... but when you do, that automatically piles the pressure on for the next one. You start worrying the next one's not going to be good enough, so the kind of pressure someone like Avicii was under, I can only imagine. Everybody wanting a piece of you all the time... in many ways I'm glad I never had that."
So what if it happened now?
"Oh, blimey... I guess if it ever did all blow up, I'd just have to try and manage it, and try and be as choosy as possible about what I did and didn't do."
You mentioned before about doing gigs you didn't enjoy... what kind of situations are we talking about?
"Just crappy little clubs... stuff I just did for the money, because I was doing it full-time and had to earn enough to pay the mortgage. It was that time when, y'know, people like Judge Jules and all those trance DJs had been absolutely massive, and then all of a sudden it just sort of stopped. The scene changed, the sound changed, and for someone like me, playing progressive house, the bigger gigs just weren't there."
What would be your ideal gig, then?
"I love playing festivals where they're into progressive house, I don't think there's anything better than that. I've played US festivals a few times where they're into all that, and those particular gigs, for me that's perfect. And I played for Frisky at ADE last year, and again it was a pure progressive night: everyone was there just for that music. That's one of the things I love about the progressive house scene - everybody that's into it really knows their music. They're not just waiting for the next massive drop."
You've mentioned progressive house several times, but the hype sheet for Zeus calls it 'melodic techno'. Which for me is just the new name for progressive house - thoughts?
"Yeah, the trouble is progressive house got pigeonholed alongside EDM on Beatport, so you're lumped in with those EDM producers, and no one who makes actual progressive house wants that. So if you talk to someone like John Digweed or Dave Seaman now, they'll use the term 'melodic techno' now because 'progressive' became kind of a dirty word. Although I do think that's kind of sorting itself out a bit now."
Okay, that's my list of questions ticked off... what else is going on with you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Well, I've just taken up a role as A&R director at Frisky, onboarding shows and helping to programme events. We've just put together a really strong line-up for ADE this year and we're planning quite a few more events for the next 12-15 months; Frisky's already a strong brand in streaming music online so it makes sense to host events.
"And I've just signed up shows from Sasha, Nic Fanciulli and Steve Lawler, because we want to make Frisky the place you go to stream underground house music, rather than Spotify where you're up against every genre in the world! We've got over 200 shows each month and over two million listeners, so it's definitely growing. Within the progressive house scene, it's probably the most successful streaming site there is."
And you do a couple of shows yourself, don't you?
"Yeah, there's Textures on Frisky, which is kind of the flagship, and then there's Textures Of Me which goes out on Proton, Krafted and Data Transmission. They're the same general sound and style, but I never play the same tracks on both shows. Really, I'm just trying to take this music to as wide an audience as I can."
Words: Russell Deeks
Zeus is out on Krafted Underground on 8 June. Buy it here
Tags: Paul Sawyer, Krafted, progressive house, Frisky, Proton, ADE, Sasha, Nic Fanciulli, Steve Lawler, Carl Cox, Eden, Es Paradis, Deep Tech LA, DTLA, Redux Saints, Jason Miller, Darren Braddick, Pure Progresssive, Steyoyoke, Balkan Connection, Solarstone