By: Camila Álvarez
Besides having the name of a telenovela star and a cool beard, being 1/3 gaming nerd, 1/3 house music DJ/producer, 1/3 label manager, and a full time vampire, Lazaro Casanova lives a pretty chill life. When he is not DJing away from home, he wakes up at 2 or 3 pm almost every day, works from his home studio, chills with his Canadian girlfriend, and occasionally rereads some lines from a Bukowski novel, or makes the effort to step out of his crib to catch a good movie.
After seeing his friend’s turntables when he was just 14, Laz, an only child made in Miami by Cuban parents, asked his mom for DJ equipment for his birthday…
“It’s one of those things that I never planned. I grew up in Hialeah and people were not listening to that music, I grew up listening to rap and hip-hop. I didn’t even know anything about DJ culture, I guess that when I saw the DJ set up my friend had gotten and saw him doing it, I was like: “Man, that looks fun. That looks like something I could do”.
“I found out about the roots of house music as I got older, maybe a couple of years ago, when I met Oscar G, he told like “Man, you’re making house music.” I didn’t know. I showed him my old stuff, what I was doing when I was touring with MSTRKRFT, I was like “this is the electro thing I was making.” And he was like: “Dude, that was house.” I didn’t know that was house. Obviously I went back to all the old recordings of house music from DJ International to Trax Records, and you hear people making all sorts of different sounding things, but it all has a certain feeling to it that makes you recognize it as house music, and that’s what drew me to it, it has a vibe to it that I don’t hear it with anything else.”
The musical journey that has already taken him to spin in places such as Mexico, Tunisia, Canada, Russia, Colombia, and Perú, began 12 years ago, when he was just 16…
“I was young as hell, I remember specifically that the song in the radio that was big was, ironically, Oscar G and Ralph Falcon’s Dark Beat.” (Which was just rereleased by Murk Records, and which I gotta admit made me throw my hands up in the air a couple of times at 7 am under the influence of drugs and douchebags at Space back in the day).
After going on tour all around the US and Canada with Toronto-based DJ/production duo MSTRKRFT and DFA’s Juan Maclean in 2008, Laz met one of Miami’s house music legend Oscar G, who would become not only his mentor, but also his friend and business partner, and who would inspire him to reconnect with his roots and to stick to the sound he wanted to develop—that upbeat, drummy house that he wants people to associate with Miami.
We talked to Laz about house music, how it’s been to work next to someone like Oscar G, the process behind managing two labels, and about his last releases—the Pu$$y series…
R17: How did the whole DJ thing start?
LC: I was 16 and I was in 10th grade. There were these all- ages parties that this promotion company called Dream Team was organizing in Miami at the Old Space, Mad House, etc., they were not raves, but they would have 2 or 3 rooms and one room would be trance, one room would be breaks or whatever, and they would always have the hip hop room. The cool thing about that is that I see a lot of DJ’s in town who I recognize from those flyers, like Danny Daze, he used to be a break-dancer kid, the hip hop DJ’s like Konflikt. We all kinda came up in the same circuit, but playing different music.
When did you realize DJing was becoming your career?
When I was 19 years old I got my first residency. I would say those were my first serious gigs, the Revolver parties. They started at this place called Soho lounge and they were every Friday and eventually they moved to the Pawn Shop. That was the height of the party. During that time it was like indie rock mixed with remixes of LCD Soundsytem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, mixed from everything from like the 80’s, disco, The Cure, it was wild because it was one of those moments that you would hear one song, and then it would be a complete different genre. It was like open format DJ, but without the hip-hop part, it was more alternative to that, and people loved it. It was a good party.
And that’s what they wanted you to play or that was what you wanted to play?
When I first jumped on that party it was primarily on the rock side of things, but music slowly started getting more electronic. It was a beat of bumping heads because obviously because of my background, I would tend to go more toward the house side of things, that’s why I always love DFA Records and everything they were doing at the time, because they were making house music for the hipsters or the indie-rockers.
So house is your thing?
Yeah, I love house. I don’t regret any of the other stuff I was playing. It gave me a different perspective on how to mix house music. And still to his day I would randomly at the end of the night throw in like New Order or Michael Jackson or something like that, and those were songs I was playing every week, so definitely something has stuck with me. Through that party is how I met the MSTRKRFT guys and that’s how I got into the electro thing after that.
It’s one of those things that I never planned. I grew up in Hialeah and people were not listening to that music, I grew up listening to rap and hip-hop. I didn’t even know anything about DJ culture, I guess that when I saw the DJ set up my friend had got and saw him doing it, I was like “Man, that looks fun. That looks like something I could do.” I think there’s something inviting about the genre, you see that nowadays, so many people are becoming DJ’s. It’s one of those things that isn’t hard to get into, it’s not like the guitar or some classical instrument, where you have to have to spend years learning it. And it’s a fairly cheap musical hobby you can get into. If you have a computer, you can sit down at home and practice.
I found out about the roots of house music as I got older, maybe a couple of years ago, when I met Oscar G, he told like “Man, you’re making house music.” I didn’t know. I showed him my old stuff, what I was doing when I was touring with MSTRKRFT, I was like “this is the electro thing I was making.” And he was like: “Dude, that was house.” I didn’t know that was house. Obviously I went back to all the old recordings of house music from DJ International to Trax Records, and you hear people making all sorts of different sounding things, but it all has a certain feeling to it that makes you recognize it as house music, and that’s what drew me to it, it has a vibe to it that I don’t hear it with anything else.
I feel like the two fathers of electronic music are house and techno. You have Detroit and you have Chicago, no matter how many subgenres there are, you can always trace them back.
So when you started playing you didn’t really know much about the house music culture?
No, but a couple of years ago I became obsessed with it and started doing my homework after I met Oscar and Ralph and they told me their stories of house music in the 90s. I started doing a show with Laura of Miami. Before Klangbox she was working at another station called Wynwood Radio. When we had spoken about doing a show I thought that I wanted to do a show that was just classic house music on a weekly basis. And I did that without realizing how much work that is. Finding old house music every week is not easy because a lot of that stuff is vinyl only. I learned a lot, I was watching a lot of videos of Paradise Garage with Larry Levan, the whole New York history of house clubs being minority driven, with a lot of Puerto Ricans, blacks, and gays, and it becoming a phenomenon…Sound Factory.
Before you just played the sounds you liked?
Yeah, just what I liked.
How did you meet Oscar?
Back in 2008, Raymond, a friend of mine, sent Oscar a song that I did; it was the first release for my label petFood. It was called Los Tambores, and Oscar liked it. He was doing a CD compilation I think for Space, and he told me he wanted to license it and use it. For me, that was crazy, I had been hearing this guy DJ since I was a little kid, obviously with the Dark Beat song being so big at that time, when I was like 16.
We both have similar backgrounds, Cuban family, his mannerisms, I don’t know, sometimes you meet people on the way that you just automatically click with. If I’m in town, I always spend Christmas and Thanksgiving over there; I’m always invited to his parents’ house for the Heat games. He’s family now.
Was meeting him a pivotal point in your career?
Yes, I would say there’s two pivotal points. He’s one that came later one. He gave me another perspective on house music. The first people that gave me a helping hand where the MSTRKRFT guys. We did all of Canada and the US on a tour bus. That’s also how I met Juan Maclean, who was also on tour with us. He was the house guy, he would play records that I would be like “What is this?” and I started playing them. Later on I found out that they were classic house records.
What have you learned from Oscar?
After meeting him and playing with him a bunch of times, my music became more upbeat and has more of a certain swing to it that is very hard to find in music nowadays. I feel I’m playing more as a Cuban that grew in Miami. Three years ago I was playing dry beats that are not really what I am or where I’m from. So from him, I’ve learned to embrace where I came from, and to stick to what I want to do, rather than just trying to latch onto whatever is cool at the moment.
What’s one track that shows all this you’re describing?
This release I did on Oscar’s label called Pop That Pu$$y.
Isn’t that a remix?
No, it’s an original, but I sampled some stuff from 2 Live Crew, so obviously someone who’s from Miami would know that. That’s the thing about house music, even from the beginning everything is very sample heavy. They used to sample disco records in the beginning.
And what’s up with that name?
It’s funny, I didn’t plan it that way. In the course of the last two years, I’ve happened to have made a couple of songs that have the word pussy in it. And it sucks cause now they’re going to come out one after the other and people are going to be like “Oh man, this man has a sort of complex or something.” [laughs]. I made the Pop That Pu$$y song, and then maybe like a week after I finished it I was like “man, I like how this sounds!” The beat is like what I was describing earlier, more drummy, more upbeat, and luckily it’s been one of my top tracks, when I DJ I see people throw their hands up in the air, they love it, so I decided to do something similar. The following week I made another song called Pop yo Pussy cause it has a similar vibe. Coincidentally a year before that, I made a song with Oscar under the Futro alias called Pussy Palace. And now it just so happens that they’re coming out one last month, one next month, and one in March.
Why does Miami love all those sexual connotations in music and art so much?
If you look at where it started with 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke and those guys that came out of Miami, they were like one of the more controversial rap groups ever, all of their videos would have these black chicks with big asses and it was all sexual. I think there’s something to it, there’s this guy from here, this DJ called Jesse Perez, he goes and really exploits that whole thing.
Let’s get into the labels now. Talk to me about the process of managing the labels…
It’s kind of like going to college. You don’t really know what you are doing until you’re doing it. When I first started the petFood label, I was fortunate that I had a label partner with me, so we learned together how to operate it as a business, what the overhead is, and kind of the time frame you need. It’s become easier now with online sales. There are services now that will upload everything for a fee to all the different sites: itunes, beatport, spotify, amazon, etc.
The most interesting thing about it is that you start getting demos from other artists. I love listening to them, but I hate having to be judgmental about them, cause at the end of the day it’s your label and you have to put out only what fits with your label. It’s definitely showed me another side of the industry that I never thought I would be involved with.
Managing Murk, Oscar’s label is a lot easier because they’ve been around for like 20 years, and with that one there’s more people involved. For me it’s as easy as making sure that things are on running on schedule. For example, we have releases till May every two weeks, so I gotta make sure we release each track on time. With petFood it’s different because there’s only two of us and everything is done in house: the artwork, the PR releases, the mastering, etc.
And what’s your vision with petFood?
Just like with every other brand I am a part of, I want it to become first and foremost something that people will associate with Miami. I want it to be something that people consider to be the Miami sound. For the artwork, especially this year I want to gear it toward more of a Miami flavor, like tropical looking artwork. I want to be able to cross-brand everything—Murk, Futro, and petFood, because a lot of the same people are involved in them, so I want it to become a collective, no just with us, but with guys that would play parties with us, like the Art Basel thing we did, we got Jesse Perez play with us, sometimes Danny Daze would play with us. I think that that’s always good, and I feel that in Miami we’re lacking that kind of unity that some cities have, like San Francisco with Dirtybird and NY with DFA.