October 12, 2014 by DJ Elroy
Hernan Cattaneo is a modern-day incarnation of Viracocha (sans the beard, of course), travelling the world and bringing happiness and enlightenment to the masses. And much like this South American deity, he may be familiar to those he touches directly, but to our wayward ears in the United States the man remains a mystery. The masses here have been fed little else but “EDM” and cookie-cutter club hits lately, even in the so-called “underground” circles. So it’s really no big surprise that Hernan isn’t too often spotted in DJ booths across America. Even after a more than a decade at the top of his game, people may know the name but few really take the time to appreciate his music.
One thing that sets Mr Cattaneo apart is his originality. The man makes his own rules. He doesn’t shop the hits like so many others in the spotlight today — and he never has. Instead he searches for those special tracks, the unique and spiritually satisfying experiences, and he puts them together in such a way that’s a bit more unconventional than most “press play and walk away” DJs would ever take a chance with. “I’m still playing the same as I’ve always done, and that is melodic and deep music – never too hard or fast,” he says. “I’ve been into DJing all my life and I always put personality as number one and crucial for any DJ, so I’ve never been into musical trends.”
I’ve been an avid fan of his and since his Perfecto days and have followed his contributions to the Renaissance canon (including several “Masters” mixes). And these don’t even touch on his singles and other projects. That’s why I was so excited when word of his Balance 026 album floated down to me.
Mix 1 opens with broken beats and an almost experimental vibe with a bunch of seemingly random bits floating on soundwaves of lush color. As I listened I could almost see the each layer swirling around in an aural maelstrom before the big picture began to take shape and fall into order like some digital solar system, a shiny disco ball at the center of the universe with deep basslines, heavy drums, natural percussion, rich melodies, and haunting harmonies obediently orbiting. True to form, Hernan’s mix is an eclectic collection of old and new, and the one thing you can expect is to be surprised. It’s a feast of chilled out vibes and deep downtempo cuts, alternating between dark and melancholy to emotional and uplifting with an occasional quirky twist to keep things fresh. “I started asking some producer friends to make special versions of some of their tracks for the albums,” Hernan reveals, “and I’ve been very pleased with the results. I really like the way those tracks interact with the others and in many cases, the new downtempo mixes are even better than the original ones.”
My first listen to Mix 2 left me feeling a bit underwhelmed; it just didn’t seem to capture the same magic as the flipside. But with each new spin something more was revealed; the subtle brilliance began to shine through until the genius was realized. Sometimes over-analysis is a dangerous thing. It took me a while to stop thinking so much about the textured layers and the personality of the tracks themselves and to just feel the music. But since that audio epiphany I love this disc just as much as the first. The underlying attitude is one of true progressive house (you know, the stuff from the 1990s) and the programming is crafted in a way to emphasize the strengths of each track and seamlessly weave them together.
If you’re a Cattaneo fan, this double-disc album is a must get. If you’ve never heard him before, this is the introduction you’ve been waiting for. And if you just like good music, you’ll love Balance 026. It’s luxurious and intelligent; nothing is dumbed-down for the kids too young to shave who’ve recelty hopped onto the electronic band-wagon. Balance has been on fire this year, with winning mixes from Danny Tenaglia, Danny Howells, and Guy J, and this new mix from Hernan Cattaneo doesn’t disappoint.