Paolo Mojo: Finding the balance

It’s never an easy task attempting to describe a particular DJ’s sound in words.  In the case of Paolo Mojo, however, it’s not merely difficult, it’s impossible in all but the vaguest of terms.  Despite being a relative newcomer to the international DJ scene, Paolo has received unqualified praise from some of the industry’s most hard-to-impress heavyweights, with John Digweed proclaiming Paolo to be “a man you’ll be hearing a lot more from”, Hernan Cattaneo calling him “one of the best bew DJs for sure”, and even Danny Tenaglia conceding that Paolo’s demo CD was one of the best he’d heard in a long time.  He’s just finished mixing the ninth installment of the ever-popular Balance CD compilation and is set to tour Australia in the coming weeks.  ITM managed to track Paolo down during the Miami Winter Music Conference to hear the story from the man himself.

“I’ve never actually been to Australia before,” Paolo confesses, his quiet and polite manner making it sound almost like an apology.  “I’m very much looking forward to it, though,” he continues.  “Everyone who’s been there tells me it’s absolutely amazing, that the Australian crowds are very up for it and very friendly, and that each city has its own sound that I’ll need to adapt my sets to.”  Adaptability is certainly a term often thrown about in conversations about Paolo, a DJ whose sets usually include a startlingly wide cross-section of musical styles.  As he notes on his website, “To me the best DJs always select the best bits from a wide range of sounds and put them together in a way that just makes sense to people.” 

Having given his just-released double CD mix compilation, Balance 009, a through listening to, I’m intrigued by the difference between the style and format of the two discs, and ask what the thought process was behind planning the compilation as a set and how it might differ from his live DJing sets.  “This style of compilation mix is what I’m all about, really.  I wanted to create something that people could return to in three or six months, you know, and have an easy listening experience with it.  In a club, I’m playing more for the moment, whereas a compilation CD you want to be a bit longer lasting and stand up to repeated listening.  Otherwise, I’d like to think the feeling between my live sets and my compilation CDs is very similar.”  And what of the differentiation between the two discs?  “The basic idea of having a different concept for each disc isn’t all that original, I suppose,” Paolo concedes.  “I wanted one to be a deeper, more summery housey type of vibe, whereas the second one I wanted to make a proper club mix.” 

The Balance series, now in its ninth installment, has seen previous mixes released by some of the best progressive house DJs on the planet, including James Holden, Anthony Pappa, Phil K and Chris Fortier.  I ask Paolo his thoughts on the Balance series and on his decision to participate in the series.  “I’ve known about the Balance samplers for some time, and I really like how EQ has carved its own niche out with them.  The James Holden release in particular I think stuck out to me.  When [EQ label boss] Tom approached me and suggested I do one, it was a pretty easy decision for me to make.”

Scanning over the tracklisting, I spy a number of older tracks mixed in amongst the current and pending releases.  “Ah yes, they’re all just my favourite songs, really!” says Paolo, and the enthusiasm in his voice is readily apparent.  “Tom at EQ was just great in terms of clearing the tracks I wanted, even a few that I was sure we wouldn’t be able to use.  Some of the tracks on there are really quite old – probably a third of the mix really, up to ten years old.  Another third is current in terms of you can walk into a record shop and buy them as current releases, and another third is unreleased.”  “I didn’t mean for it to get carved up into neat thirds like that, mind you, but it sure worked out well!” he adds. 

Noting that in an era when many compilation CDs are merely the sterile product of drag-and-drop assembly on a laptop in a software program such as Ableton Live, Paolo’s Balance 009 sounds very energetic and fluid, I ask Paolo how he managed to make a mix that sounds so ‘real’.  As Paolo tells me, the mix of Balance 009 sounds real because it is real.  “I use Ableton and other software programs for edits and production work, but for a mix like this it was important to me that I kept the energy of a real DJ mix.  So the whole thing was mixed live on the fly, with the tracks edited and prepared on CD ahead of time.”  Even more impressive is Paolo’s choice of equipment.  “The actual mix was done on a battered old pair of Pioneer CDJ500s, both about six years old, and mixed through my Allen and Heath Xone 62, again about six years old now.  I recorded all the vinyl to my laptop on a series of external hard drives, then tidied the recordings up, made sure the levels were fine, did the necessary edits, and off we go.  I really wanted to capture the live feel, you know?  Once I’d recorded the whole mix, I added a few nice post production touches, but essentially what you hear on the CD is me mixing live from CD.”

The conversation returns to Paolo’s upcoming Australian tour, and I ask if there are any particular tracks or styles we can expect to hear from him when he steps behind the controls.  “It’s hard to say, really, I’ve got a lot of great music at the moment.  One thing I can say, I will be playing a lot of my own edits, my own mixes of many of the tracks that I’ve been playing, as well as some of my own productions.”  If the reviews of his recent appearances in Europe and the UK are anything to go by, Paolo’s tour through Australia is certain to win him a few more converts, and give many of us a taste of some of the freshest dance music sounds around.

Balance 009, mixed by Paolo Mojo, is out now through EQ/Stomp. You can see Paolo for yourself as he touched down in Australia this month:

Sat 15th Apr – Livewire, Sydney (BUY TICKETS)
Sat 22nd Apr – Room 680, Melbourne
Mon 24th Apr – Sugar, Adelaide
Fri 28th Apr – Sweetchilli, Sydney
Sat 29th Apr – Logic, Brisbane