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Dennis Cruz ‘Roots’ Interview – “keeping those traditional qualities was something I really wanted to achieve”

Dennis Cruz tells us all about his Latin influences and life-defining new album

Speaking on his life-defining upcoming release ‘Roots’, Spanish tech pioneer Dennis Cruz is heartfelt and earnest. 

“I wanted to work on a broader project, the cornerstone of my artist career… from music that I’ve been listening to all my life, from funk, salsa, and flamenco to house and disco.” Such a broad fusion of styles with house and tech might be considered a difficult task by many. But as such a longstanding producer and DJ, Cruz should be trusted more than anyone. 

Paying homage to one’s own roots is sure to result in a happy fusion project. In this case, it’s Cruz’s Spanishness that inherently permeates every aspect of his music. The MÜSE co-founder has had a decade-spanning career, and for that reason, we’re overjoyed to have caught up with the man for a brain-picking over this latest Crosstown Rebels release…

Your output has solely centred on EPs up until now. This being your debut album, how does it feel to branch out? Why release an album now?

When Damian (Crosstown Rebels boss Damian Lazarus) asked me to make an album I was a bit nervous as I’d only released EPs before, but I think this was the right moment to release an album project because my sound is more mature now. I feel more comfortable with my music and experimenting within my sound. 2020 also afforded me way more time than usual to work on the project, so it gave me plenty of freedom to focus on producing an album without as much pressure and with less limitations.

The influences on Roots cover many Spanish musical traditions, from Flamenco to Salsa. Growing up, which of these styles were you exposed to most? What were some of your earliest musical memories related to them?

Roots as a body of work represents both myself and my influences from all of my years making music and listening to it while I was younger. The project takes cues from Salsa and Flamenco to electronic genres such as house, techno, and even hip-hop. It fuses all of these influences and inspirations to showcase a project that shows exactly who I am as an artist and an individual. 

My earliest memories of when I was a kid are definitely linked to music. My parents always had music playing at home, so I grew up with all the 80’s sounds. I remember dancing in front of the TV, trying to copy the dance moves in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. I was obsessed with him!

Can you name any singles/albums in these styles that you grew with which are particularly special to you, and why?

It’s difficult to name specific singles and albums when it comes to this project in particular, as the album spans so many different genres when it comes to sources of inspiration. As an artist and across Roots, I’ve taken influences from a wide range of different artists and bands – from Fania All Stars and Michael Jackson to Daft Punk, various Motown artists to The Police, Cypress Hill and Tupac to Camarón de la Isla… the list goes on! 

The ‘roots’ traditions you’re drawing on are very different to tech house. By fusing the genres, are you shedding light on a prominent lineage between the two, or are you traversing untrodden ground?

It was definitely an adventure and a new experience. Mixing traditional Spanish music styles with modern house was tricky initially, especially ‘La Ratonera’, which takes inspiration from Flamenco. That track took me around two months to finish, trying to find a beat that worked with the Flamenco sounds and more conventional instruments and elements that I’m used to working with – claps and vocals, for example.

On ‘Los Tamales’, which has heavy Salsa influences, we recorded most of the instruments and vocals live, so all of the piano, bass, congas, and brass. As a result, the track was challenging to make work in an electronic music format initially. The first drafts and versions of the track sounded too similar to your traditional Salsa record. I kept working and working on it until one day it all fit into place and all of the extra work to keep hold of the natural and organic feel of recording the elements live was instantly worth it. This process ended up meaning that the album was a continuous challenge but one that was fun and interesting, so it never felt like hard work but more of a journey and an adventure. Hopefully you’ll be able to discover and uncover the traditional elements and sounds, some obvious and some less so, across each of the tracks on the project, as keeping those traditional qualities was something I really wanted to achieve.

The album also captures the life milestones that have made up your career. Can you recall any specific examples? How do you distill a lived moment into the sound of an album?

This is a tricky one as, in my opinion, my career doesn’t have a significant milestone or one moment in particular that stands out above the rest. It’s been more like many small steps combined, constantly working hard, making music and chasing my dream non-stop.

That said, the album definitely contains influences from a collection of experiences from all of my years touring. Travelling around the world has opened my eyes and my mind a lot, South America in particular. Whether that’s sharing moments with friends while travelling to unique places like Macha Picchu in Peru, the Atacama Desert in Chile or Teotihuacan in Mexico, or simply experiencing new food, cultures, lifestyles and ways of living. These combined will have certainly contributed to some of the sounds, elements, and influences found within the album, adding to those traditional Spanish foundations we touched on earlier. 

What was it like working with your various album collaborators, including Lee’ Scratch’ Perry? How do you feel about releasing a posthumous track with him?

It was so much fun. I had the opportunity to work with amazing artists, but working with Lee Scratch Perry was an immense honour and a pleasure that I’m fortunate to have been able to experience. Initially, I was a little apprehensive as I didn’t know if the elements would mix, but Damian helped set it up, and everything flowed naturally from there. I had an idea in mind that I had worked on, and we sent it to Lee. He then listened to the draft, shaped his vocals, and sent them back. When I received them I had some initial doubts and second thoughts about making the whole track more dubs and club-orientated. However, we got to work with the original idea, and it worked out well – hopefully, we made a great record.

As I say, it was an amazing experience to work with such a revered figure and an icon of modern-day music before his unfortunate passing, and it’s something I’ll always treasure the experience, only as an artist but also as a fan and as a human being in general. Lee was a truly extraordinary artist.

Jude Iago James

Dennis Cruz – Roots LP is out now on Crosstown Rebels – buy it on 2xLP here or check here for streaming and other options.