Written by Matt Kalkhoff
Hard as it may be to imagine in these days of six-figure payouts for single gigs, not all that long ago spinning records for revelers in a communal space was considered a hobby or a frivolous venture. Thanks to the ambitious spirit and fierce determination of pioneers of this art form — those legendary DJs from the disco era and beyond — beat mixing is now a reputable, sustainable and often quite lucrative career choice. Paulo is as good an example as any of a DJ who has made a name (and a nice living) for himself playing gay clubs and events.
On his path to personal and professional success, Paulo shattered one mirror-balled ceiling after another as he steadily and shrewdly rose from bedroom DJ to true artist. His steadfast commitment to developing his exceptional talent and following his passion has yielded much well-deserved acclaim along the way. Now, after more than 20 years behind the decks and in the studio, Paulo has clearly earned his place among the elite ranks of the legendary DJs and producers whose influence and contributions will forever be celebrated on the dance floor.
Paulo’s career as a DJ began in the mid-‘80s at what he describes as a “small underground shoebox” in Paris. But it wasn’t until he relocated to Los Angeles in 1991 that he fully embraced his true calling. The Portuguese native had earned an MBA in International Marketing while living in Europe. Frustrated by the corporate grind, however, and discouraged by the dearth of harder-edged music — the deep tribal drums, sexy grooves and percussive beats he and others have made ubiquitous at most big-room clubs — Paulo sought to remedy the situation by taking up the turntables once again.
Soon he landed his first major gig spinning alongside DeMarko at the Tom of Finland Man-O-Rama parties in Los Angeles, and then a residency at Spin Afterhours. When Jeffrey Sanker hired him in 2001 to headline the White Party in Palm Springs, his path seemed clear.
West Coast DJ, East Coast Sound
Since that career-making gig, Paulo has played nearly every major Circuit event and nightclub in the United States and many abroad. Initially known as a “West Coast DJ,” his style of music always had more of an “East Coast sound” — harder, darker, edgier. When the Saint At Large hired him to open the 2002 Black Party, it was the perfect match of artist and venue. Paulo’s dark, sexy beats went down so well that SAL invited him back to headline the party in 2004 and again in 2010. It was in 2004 when Paulo debuted his signature Black Party Mix of Madonna’s “Erotica,” an instant Saint “classic.”
Paulo’s latest endeavors are certain to add to his long record of artistic achievements. He plans to spend a lot more time in New York City going forward, thanks to nightlife impresario John Blair and his team at XL Nightclub, who offered him a coveted monthly residency at the first major dedicated gay dance space to open in years (the state-of-the-art club calls to mind Blair’s last venture, the long-running Chelsea club Roxy). His opening night in February of this year brought in a capacity crowd — the club’s first.
Paulo says he’s thrilled by the opportunity to build up a major party in the nation’s major city from its beginnings: “XL is the first club where I’ll be able to develop my sound. I can play what I truly love and go in any direction my heart desires. It’s my outlet to experiment and continue building my sound for those who enjoy it. I truly believe in giving my audience a set of music they can’t hear anywhere else and educating people that ‘tribal music’ is not just ‘pots and pans.’”
The power of Paulo’s free and expressive sound at XL is a perfect complement to his long-beloved thematic performances. The club’s Phazon sound system provides the perfect instrument for this mixmaster. XL will let him push the envelope while experimenting with a mélange of what he terms “Old Skool New York-style House, new beats, and big-room anthems mixed with deep tribal drums.”
Those who were there to enjoy his first night can attest to the overwhelming energy in the room, from hard, pulsating rhythms to random diva “service announcements”: Warning of imminent death by suffocation — “There’s no air in here!”; barking of orders to an imaginary kitchen staff — “Scrub those pots ‘n pans!”; and “Paging Nurse Cracker to the DJ booth.” (For the uninitiated, the first is a remix of an old Madonna interview where she kept complaining about the heat; the second from Alan T’s song “Pots ‘n’ Pans”; and the last, a good-humored in-joke about Paulo’s most devoted camp follower.
All Over the Map
It should also be noted that Paulo likes to kick it “Old Skool” with his live mixing. “I sample and layer a lot on the fly,” he says. “Sometimes, as with ‘Pots ‘n’ Pans,’ it sounds so good that I go in the studio and do a full mix of that track. That’s why I do a lot of mash-ups. I hear certain vocals with certain tracks, try them live, and if it works, I write the idea down.”
For his part, veteran promoter John Blair is thrilled to be working with Paulo once again. Paulo had played at Blair’s Roxy Saturdays before the Chelsea mainstay shut down for good back in 2007.
While some DJs may become less accommodating as their star rises, Blair finds Paulo to be quite the opposite. “Paulo is one of the exceptions,” he explains of his choice for the monthly Saturday nightspot. “The constant great reviews from all over the country were a big factor at first. But when I met him and saw what a great person he was, it was a no-brainer. I predict Paulo will be at the top for a long time because he handles the stress and accolades well, always keeping in mind what his job really is — making people happy.”
Back on his home turf in Los Angeles, Paulo spins regularly at Michael Evenstar’s Reflex and Exchange partes, as well as Masterbeat’s holiday weekend parties. The intrepid Billboard-reporting DJ also plays several times a year at Score in the heart of Miami’s South Beach and Hydrate in Chicago’s Boystown, among other venues. He’ll be spinning in Orlando and Atlanta in June, as well as in Toronto, San Francisco and L.A. during their respective Pride weekends. At L.A. Pride, he’ll play the Closing Party at Exchange LA. Saugatuck, Michigan, and Tokyo will also host Paulo for events in July 2012.
Inspired by powerhouse tag-teams like Chus + Ceballos and Rosabel, Paulo has collaborated with a number of artists and DJs, such as Montreal’s Alain Jackinsky. The duo has worked together on several remixes, notably Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” and a forthcoming remix from Deborah Cox, “If It Wasn’t for Love.” Another up-and-comer Paulo has taken under his wing is DJ Serving Ovahness. “You’ll be hearing more from him soon,” he promises.
An Evolution of Style
Hard percussive beats form the foundation upon which Paulo’s intense signature sound is built, and that’s not going to change. But as he’s evolved as an artist, so too has his range, resulting in a dynamic, more diversified sound. Yes, that means more vocals — which are making a comeback, Paulo notes — especially big diva anthems. This will be catnip for much of his core audience, although Paulo’s more apt to sample and tease them live, usually only playing full vocal versions sparingly but strategically.
In the studio, however, it’s a different story. In addition to Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Deborah Cox, Paulo has remixed a pantheon of dance divas, including Suzanne Palmer, Inaya Day, Mary J. Blige and Madonna. Of the latter, he’s hoping her label will commission one or more of his MDNA mixes. For now, they remain part of his private collection, available for consumption only during live performances. Adele, Annie Lennox, Janet Jackson, and, “of course, more Lady Gaga,” are on his wish list of artists whose music he’d like to Paulo-fy in the future.
In addition to all the private edits and commercial remixes, Paulo runs his own independent label, Pure Music Productions, with remix partner Todd Dutkevitch. Together with Dutkevitch and other collaborators, Paulo has produced original tracks such as “Deep in Your Diva,” “J’Adore,” “Sex Drive,” and “Locomotive.”
No matter where he travels, or how his sound, audience or collaborators evolve, DJ Paulo will always stay true to the reasons he got into the business in the first place –- to honor the beat and to create magic on the dance floor.
By Jeremy James on 05-02-2012