BEIRUT: The first thing Dennis Ferrer planned to do when he got off the plane in Beirut Saturday was sleep, not because he finds the city boring – quite the opposite – but because, by then, he expected he wouldn’t have slept in days. “Yeah, honestly, I’m gonna go to bed,” Ferrer laughed, in a phone call with The Daily Star Tuesday.
“Whenever I can, I try to sneak an hour here, an hour there.”
The New York-based producer and DJ will have landed as you read this story – presumably a little hungover after his Friday night gig in Moscow. Sunday he’s due in Glasgow, where he’s expected to entertain another crowd of nocturnal youth.
Between Moscow and Glasgow, Ferrer is headlining the opening of the newly retooled Grand Factory.
He may also have time for some shawarma and a quick walk along the Corniche, maybe. But it’s okay, he’s no stranger to Beirut.
“The first time I came was a couple years ago and my mind was blown the whole time,” he recalled. “Coming from the West, you hear a lot of things. There’s a lot of propaganda, but when you show up, you figure out ‘Oh my god this is beautiful.’”
For Ferrer, Beirut keeps drawing him back because of its paradoxical and diverse culture, which he describes as a wholly unexpected “melting pot.”
“I remember seeing a Christian church a couple feet next to a mosque and I’m thinking, ‘This is absolutely bonkers. This is not what I was told.’ Then there’s the nightclub scene which is ridiculous. That’s a whole other thing. I love it.”
This part of the globe is far from home but its chaotic charm is not at all foreign to Ferrer, whose passion for dance music thrusts him into a flurry of constant change.
Among the early drivers behind New York’s house music scene since the ’90s, he’s grooved through the genre’s ongoing evolution.
Today, not much in his pace has changed. Though a bit older and wiser, Ferrer continues to play around the world, producing tracks while staying relevant in a competitive scene.
“If you asked me how my sound has changed in the past couple of years, I wouldn’t say it really has too much,” Ferrer said, “but if you ask how my sound has changed since 2003, than there’s a drastic difference. Going from soulful deep house to more tech-oriented house was a complete turn for me.”
While he made his name with acoustic-sounding Afro-centric beats, it’s clear that Ferrer has shown an aptitude to make people move to a range of styles.
Today, it’s a tech-flavored sound he takes around the world.
“Times change. Music changes. Styles go out of style, and if you want to be at the forefront of what’s trendy and what’s happening, you don’t wanna be old,” he said. “Everyone wants to play for the cool kids.
“You have to adapt and sometimes it’s very difficult ’cause you’re set in your ways,” Ferrer added.
“Still, you can strike a balance, say, ‘Okay, how can I stay current while still showing people where I come from?’ It’s a tightrope act.”
Adapting is hardly synonymous with selling out for the New Yorker. Change has been embedded in house music throughout its history. Born in Chicago largely from the city’s African-American and LGBTQ community in the late ’70 s and ’80s, house quickly spread around the world, mingling with other electronic sounds along the way, creating more hybrids and subgenres.
“See, this is what people don’t understand,” he began. “Tech and house has always been susceptible to change. It’s dance music, and all dance music has always gone through change. It’s just that lately we’ve been categorizing it into all these subgenres.”
Beirut’s dance scene is no exception. In the past decade alone, the city has seen an evolution in the dance music on offer with new venues opening – including this summer’s unexpected launch of AHM in BIEL, and the debut of CLOSR in Karantina. The introduction of new spaces has wrenched open the door to more sounds.
The constant performance and lifestyle demands the industry requires of its artists takes a toll. To press pause and wind down, Ferrer must literally exit his own reality for a month, retreating to lakes around the U.S. with only a fishing rod in hand. “Everybody was pissed,” he laughed. “Nobody could find me or call me. Every day I was on a different lake. Everything was powered off.
“I love what I do, but you don’t belong to yourself any more. It takes its toll, so there comes a point you need to turn off the CPU.”
Catch Dennis Ferrer tonight, Saturday, at The Grand Factory in Karantina. Doors open at 9 p.m.