Few DJs have had such enormous worldwide influence as Argentinian, Hernan Cattaneo. Known as ‘El Maestro,’ he is also widely credited as responsible for the popularity of electronic music in Argentina, a country now well known for its wild dancefloors.
His sets at Burning Man have become the stuff of legend. So much so that we predict, one day, the grandchildren of Burners will be asking ‘where you really there when Hernan played?’ just as kids once asked Nanna about that time she fainted at a Beatles concert.
El Maestro is playing at Billboard in Melbourne tonight for the Darkbeat crew and we went more than half wild when we were lucky enough to catch up with this very busy man before he hit town.
HW: Two members of the Half Wild team danced to your set at Burning Man in 2017. They arrived at your stage under the flames around 2am and left around 3pm the next day. One of them constantly complains about how you made her feet sore, annoying everyone in the office constantly. What do you say to her?
HERNAN: Glad to hear she liked so much! Burning Man is always special and that Incendia Dome is one of the best places I’ve ever played in my life. The atmosphere, the fire, the beverly, the people- PERFECTION!
[Editor’s note: Red Hot Beverly is a giant, flame-throwing, fire extinguisher art car at Burning Man]
HW: Your Burning Man sets have received somewhat of a cult following. What -1year was your first and which set has been most memorable for you and why?
HERNAN: First time was year 2000, I was the opening DJ for Paul Oakenfolds´s world tour and one of the stops was “a festival in a desert.” I’d never heard before about Burning Man and, of course, my mind blew up the moment we arrived. Even when it was quite smaller, it was still incredible and very different from the rest. We played at ILUMINAUGHTY camp and we had one turntable and one cdj pioneer 100. I have an album with many pics on my fb page about that year.
HW: You’ve played numerous times at the White Ocean camp. In 2016 they had all of their power wires cut and the camp was trashed. Were you there for that? How did it all unfold?
HERNAN: Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as you read on the news. I was there with many other DJs and no one even noticed it. But we knew there were some problems between different Burning Man crews and that ongoing situation between the more radical guys against the new crews. I’ve never ever had a problem at BM.
HW: Many in the Burning Man community feel that the rich plug-n-play camps have ruined the event over the years and it’s no longer what it was. To some extent it’s pretty obvious that, economically, such camps actually pay for the broader community’s entertainment and experience with elaborate stages. What are your thoughts on that?
HERNAN: Yes, I agree 100% and up until this year I was worried too – too many clubbers that just go for the party! However, last August was one of the best burns in years, so it looks like we can feel positive about future events. Fingers crossed…
HW: How do you compare Burning Man to the countless other festivals you play at every year. Do you think there is a difference? If so, what?
HERNAN: Burning Man is unique. Not a music festival but a celebration of artistic expressions and freedom. You can go to many great events around the world but what you see, feel and live at Burning Man won’t happen anywhere else.
HW: You’ve previously said your DJ career began at age seven or eight, inviting your friends over and making them listen to your favourite music. Are you still in touch with any of those friends and do you still get together for musical playdates?
HERNAN: Actually, last month I reconnected with one of them and it was sooo special! I still do the same so many years later- playing my favourite music to my friends, just now it’s on a bigger level 🙂
HW: Do you recall the first time you realised people were calling you ‘EL Maestro’? Where and when was that and how did it make you feel?
HERNAN: I’m very shy, so its a bit embarrassing. I know it comes with love and I don’t feel a Master myself. It all started after I did a few albums on the Renaissance brand called “ The Masters’ Series.”
HW: You are surrounded by female energy with the loves of your life- wife and three daughters- how do you think that energy has influenced you and your approach to music and life in general?
HERNAN: It was always like that because I also grew up surrounded by my mother and two older sisters. So women and sensitivity have been always a huge part of my life.
HW: Have any of your daughters started mixing or showing an interest in music? Do you play back to backs with them at home?
HERNAN: They play with my vinyls, but more like a toy. They can’t understand much about why I would have so many around the house!
HW: If music didn’t exist, what would you do with your life?
HERNAN: This is an impossible question! I could maybe avoid being a DJ, but it would always have to be something music-related.
HW: If you could jump in a time machine and go back to any gig in history, which one would it be?
HERNAN: Any in the late ’60s and ’70s- all my favourite music was made around that time.
HW: We invented a game at Half Wild- interview hot potato, where we get interviewees to ask a random question for the next interviewee. Your hot potato question comes from Manny from Infusion and is: What is the weirdest or funniest thing you’ve seen in the crowd during one of your sets?
HERNAN: First time I went to China in 2001, they booked me and put me behind a curtain so I couldn’t see. When it opened, there were 200 people dining at tables. I only lasted 15 minutes before they kicked me out 🙂
HW: And, finally, what is your question for our next victim, errrrr sorry, interviewee?
HERNAN: If you could hear only one album for the rest of your life, which one ????