Written by Scott Kearnan
Circuit parties are about music. They’re about dancing. They’re about eyeballing gorgeous men with sweaty torsos. They’re about doing many other things with gorgeous men with sweaty torsos. But they’re also about building a global community. Witness the unique, amazing and inspiring sense of connectivity that is formed when hundreds of men celebrate the universal language of a beat, and put their hands in the air in simultaneous salute to the party gods.
Once upon a time, DJ Pagano longed to feel that kind of community that only music brings.
“Sicily is a beautiful place,” says Pagano, who grew up on the southern Italian island. Though he cherishes memories of growing up in Sicily, he explains, “Back in the day — and this was before the Internet — it felt so far away from everything.” It felt especially far from the U.S.A., where much of the music Pagano loved was originating. He would head to the local record store to pick up vinyl from legends emerging out of the Detroit techno and Chicago House scene: producer-remixers like David Morales, Frankie Knuckles and Ralphi Rosario. He’d listen to his records and the booming music coming from Marabu, a nightclub not far from his parent’s summer home, and it would take him on a sonic journey.
By the time he was 16, he was hitting raves in the Sicilian mountains. Around the same time he started spinning and spent the better part of the ‘90s cutting his teeth at clubs and events around Italy. At a prodigiously young age, he wound up the head of A&R for Italian label Media Records and in-house producer for the SAIFAM group. And he began to notch his belt with international DJ work that today reads like a laundry list of enviably high-profile club and event gigs: from Privilege and Space (Ibiza) to ARQ (Sydney), Circuit Festival (Barcelona) to Club Latex (Cairo) to Fresh (Amsterdam) — just to name a few.
In the early part of this century, he moved to London to be a part of the city’s explosive club scene. The DJ-producer is now based in London, where he can often be heard at the legendary party Trade at Ministry of Sound. He’s also had London residencies at Heaven and Fabri, plus annually headlining the after-hours at the renowned Amsterdam event Rapido. His work as a producer and remix artist, meanwhile, continued to flourish: He’s collaborated with Robin S, Chus & Ceballos, Mauro Picotto, and (how’s this for coming full circle?) one of his own earliest influences, Ralphi Rosario. (“Getting to know him and work with him was a dream come true!” he says.)
That’s the bullet-point biography, but what really defines Pagano is his approach to, and perspective on, the Circuit. Yes, he’s made good on his early dreams, carving himself a major niche in the global electronic music scene. But what’s truly special is how that early desire to be part of a larger community through music informs the approach he brings to his craft: he’s passionate about bringing crowds together and encouraging unity among all party people.
“One of my favorite parties to play is La Demence in Brussels,” explains Pagano. This regularly scheduled party exemplifies everything great and unifying about gay dance parties: “Everyone converges there, and it fuses the best in all sorts of gay people: bears, leather, fashionistas, young, old. It’s all about the music. Everyone is friendly, there’s no attitude.”
He gets the same positive vibe from the crowds he’s spun for at Gay Days in Orlando, or from New York club kids decked out in their elaborate outfits. Pagano loves nothing more than a party where pretense is checked at the door, and crowd members come together as one. “To me, that’s the spirit of a party,” he says. “Friendly people meeting other people who are there to have a good time.”
Sometimes, the best times are had not only when disparate groups within the gay community come together, but when all partiers do. “In Europe, many of the best, coolest parties are mixed,” he says, comparing those “50/50” crowds to the relatively segregated gay scene in the U.S. He’s also a bit disappointed by the more commercialized music that is now the soundtrack to many gay parties. “It used to be that you’d go to gay clubs to hear the cool new music,” he says. “But I’d get bored if I went out every week and listened to countless remixes of the same-old-same-old pop artists already overplayed on the radio,” he says, adding that some of the edgiest sounds right now are emerging from mixed scenes.
So Pagano fills his sets with what he loves to hear: exclusive bootlegs and cutting edge productions, and dirty, sexy stuff that encompasses everything from hard House to tribal. His style is serving him well, as his profile continues to rise, especially Stateside: among the most recent highlights was his 2010 debut at New York City’s massive Alegria, where he was invited to return for a second set within just six months. Over the last year he’s also been a marquee name at no less than White Party Palm Springs and Atlantis’ 20th Anniversary Caribbean Cruise, among other gigs. Other big coups in 2011 include Infinita Gay Week in Madrid and The Week in Sao Paulo. He’s already booked to spin Allure 2012, another Atlantis Caribbean cruise at the beginning of next year.
Besides his live work, he’s become a force to be reckoned with for his work in the studio. In the past year he has scored two Top 10 hits on the club charts and released Digital Generation, a progressive House compilation on U.S. label Kult Records that includes eight of his own original tracks. Plus, he continues to churn out releases on Deviate Records, the independent record label he founded in 2006. The Deviate brand has grown to encompass events, including hugely successful monthlies at Barcode Vauxhall in London.
There’s less and less of it these days, but in his spare time Pagano does have one hobby that’s not quite as sexy as spinning: “I’m a shameless sci-fi geek,” he confesses with a laugh. Yes, you might catch him browsing through comic book stores when he’s not in record shops; and one of his original productions, “Kissing the Wookie,” is indeed named in reference to one of his favorite movies, Star Wars. “I know, it’s kind of uncool!” he laughs.
Hardly. This Italian master beat mixer is proof that the gay party scene is ready for something — and someone — who brings a difference to the dance floor.