Cosmo Cater is a name that has been synonymous with quality house music for more than a decade. The Brisbane local has been the go-to support DJ for countless international superstars such as Sasha, John Digweed, Hernan Cattaneo, Derrick May and live act Orbital.
On Sunday the 23rd of November he will be playing with house and techno icon Seth Troxler. I got to ask him some questions before the gig.
Q. Cosmo my first memory of seeing you DJ was when you warmed up for John Digweed at Family in 2005. I remember you were playing Sasha’s remix of Precious by Depeche Mode. That was nearly 10 years ago and you’re still going strong as a support DJ for the biggest names in the business.
You’ve had a long and successful career as a DJ, mostly in Brisbane. What keeps you so close to home?
A. I’m glad you remember that! It was a fond memory for me too. I played that tune to calm things down, I felt I was getting too excited and so was the crowd, and I wanted to pull things back a bit before Digweed. The set remains one of the happiest times in my life.
DJing has been my hobby for many years, and it remains a hobby. I have a full time job as a lawyer in Brisbane that is demanding and I also have family here that I’ve needed to stay close to. Moving cities was attractive but it never seemed a viable option.
I’m very happy with what I achieved from a hobby, yet there will always be a part of me that wonders “what if?”. It’s probably time to close the chapter on DJing soon and move onto something new though – I’ve proven I can play music in a variety of contexts.
Q. Many venues seem to come and go here. What are and have been some of your favourite places to play music in our fine town?
A. I will try not to make this epic!
Viva. This club in Paddington was at one stage Brisbane’s best, especially the Wednesday nights. A host of internationals including Timo Maas, Groove Armada, Dave Seaman and many more graced the Viva decks. I was honoured to be chosen to play at Viva, it was my earliest residency and my DJing improved immeasurably because of it. I also got to support DJs I’d only dreamed about. The club unfortunately closed just when things were getting interesting!
Mantra. The club was in the space above Cosmopolitan Café in the Valley Mall. Its music policy was fiercely underground and very techno-focussed. I had a Saturday night residency at a night called Lucid and although the club wasn’t around for too long, it was such an amazing communal atmosphere, everyone felt like family. A lot of the underground DJs to make their mark on Brisbane came from those times.
Family. Once the new kid on the block, now the grand old dame. Family was an incredible vision and massive statement for Brisbane. Some of the greatest gigs of my life have been here. Getting Sasha on the dancefloor for a closing set, opening for Digweed, opening for both Sasha & Digweed, and then supporting legends Orbital. These are the nights that still give me goosebumps and an epic grin.
The Tube/Technomad Discotech. Unfortunately the Tube shut down before I achieved my first ever DJ goal to play there. I had spent time there as a clubber and wanted so badly to DJ. It reopened later with new owners as Technomad Discotech and I got to play in that famous room with the chessboard dancefloor. The Gatecrasher parties there were a highlight, I remember the place was heaving!
Empire Middle Bar and Moon Bar. During the early-mid 2000s this room was madness, it was a heaving club space and DJs like Matt Nugent and Kieron C owned the place. I guested a few times and was blown away by the energy and how it tested my abilities as a DJ. Many people have fond memories from this place, when it closed it left a massive hole in Brisbane clubbing.
Bar Soma. When the crowd was swaying as one, not much beat a Soma night. It filled the post-Empire void for quality club music. Gui Boratto, H.O.S.H, Claude Von Stroke and Joris Voorn were memorable parties for me.
Shadow Lounge. I played music here religiously for years on a Friday night, playing house. For a city venue, I got away with a huge amount of underground tunes. I would play for five hours and move from ambient tunes all the way up to techno! Like all good things, the sound the crowd wanted moved in one direction and I moved in another, so it was time to go.
The Arena. It’s dirty and there is a 50% chance the toilets will be blocked, but because I spent some of my raving days here, it brings back fond memories during the times I’ve played parties there. I played my first ever rave in that building and the vibe was magic that night.
Q. You’ve ascended to the role of promoter with Auditree and brought some very big names to Brisbane. What have been the highlights so far?
A. Auditree has been through close to 5 years of events and I’m proud to have been involved, initially as a resident DJ and then more heavily as a promoter. In fact the promoting took a primary focus for some time. Until Auditree I’d been holding off promoting parties for years, but the time was right to bring my skills and experience to the table, and the music was right too.
Auditree initially focussed on everything from disco to house to techno. Good club music with a slight edge. We’ve had disco, garage, bassline house, tech-house, techno and progressive house acts, and loved every one of them.
We’ve always tried to push things forward and keep the sound fresh yet accessible – especially to younger audiences. It’s hard striking a balance between the mainstream and the uber-serious underground, but we’ve tried. Unlike some we don’t have high minded agendas or cloak our events in pseudo-intellectual justification. That’s babble. It’s not authentic. We keep it simple, put on great parties and want everybody to join in and experience them.
A highlight has been working with two of the biggest festivals in the country, Future Music Festival and Stereosonic. We’ve presented stages at Future and had a unique involvement more recently with Stereosonic. We’ve done joint ventures with other crews in Brisbane and that’s really good – there should be room enough for everyone and we encourage other promoters.
I couldn’t begin to start with the list of memorable guests because they have all displayed some level of awesome. Julio Bashmore, Eats Everything, Nick Warren, Joris Voorn, Carl Craig, T.Williams, Nick Warren, Todd Terje, Claude Von Stroke are just a few of the names.
The highlights are still to come in some ways: some of our biggest Summer acts for 2014-2015 have yet to be revealed. I’m really excited about them: there’s a couple you wouldn’t expect and a couple of rarities. I hope a diverse range of people make an effort to see them.
Q. Your set before Sasha at The Met in 2009 was very memorable for a lot of people, for all the right reasons. What did you learn from that experience and what are your thoughts on Sasha’s recent tour down under?
A. Never write yourself off. You are always capable of more. I’d all but resolved to give up DJing, then got the call for Sasha support in 2009. Even when I did it, I thought it might be my last set, so I was going to give it everything. I learned that you should never write yourself off – that set was triumphant and I hate to say it, but I still get tingles listening to it. The fact that people are still talking about that set is a feat in itself.
I have to say Sasha’s recent tour downunder seemed like a whirlwind and he seemed really tired when I caught him in Brisbane. It’s always good to see Sasha. He was mismatched with the club he played, as that room doesn’t regularly play his sound nor do the residents. The regular punters seemed somewhat confused, the people that came to see Sasha felt uncomfortable and he played below his usual stellar level. In fact I know many people mentioned they were staying away from the show because they were uncomfortable with Sasha at the venue. It wasn’t a win for anyone as I’m sure the venue would have like the extra patrons.
Q. How do you prepare for a gig supporting a hugely famous DJ? What goes through your mind and how do you narrow down the music you want to play?
A. Usually I get quite obsessive. I read everything about said DJ and listen to everything they’ve produced and every DJ set available. I become immersed in who they are and then form a view as to what needs to be presented before them, in order to best compliment their music. I also combine this with a general awareness of easing a crowd into a sound and a vibe. It requires patience and skill. My first few tunes are always going to be groovy and hypnotic. That establishes a momentum from which to launch, and I always pack a couple of “let’s go!” tunes that come out mid-set to really make a statement and get people up and dancing.
All the landmark warm-up sets have followed this pattern – of study and research and then formulation of a sound. Sometimes it’s more of a vibe, for instance Hernan Cattaneo has this ethereal building quality to his sound, and I try to work in with that. I go back over my whole library of music sometimes, there’s always room for re-introduction of old gems in a different context. Sasha told me a warm-up set was about showing my breadth as a DJ and introducing records I might not usually play in a peaktime set. I don’t pre-plan the sets, that is dangerous, but I have an idea of certain combinations that work well together and often use them. It’s the same way a football team would run certain plays that they know work.
Narrowing down the music is really hard. I start with a wide net and then cull, leaving myself enough room so that I might change directions a few times. For all of the really good warm-ups, every tune played has felt very natural and very obvious.
Q. Can you share with us what you are listening to at the moment? What tunes are you feeling and who are some of your favourite artists right now?
A. I listen to a lot of music, some of which I don’t necessarily play as a DJ. For instance I am really into FKA twigs, Banks, Cyril Hahn, Sbtrkt and Tkay Maidza at the moment. On a drum n bass tip, Lenzman, Intelligent Manners, Command Strange, Technimatic and Fourward all excite me, plus labels like Fokuz Recordings and Hospital Records. On an indie tip I’ve been listening to Tycho, Caribou and Flight Facilities.
DJ wise, in 2013 I’ve probably been playing more house than ever. Much less on the progressive tip and more on the straight up house and garage tip. Some of it might be called deep house, but all of it retains a melodic element, and as clichéd as it sounds, it is journey music. Lots more vocals too. As 2014 comes to a close though, I am getting more and more drawn towards the more percussive and twisted sounds in house music. It’s almost like music has returned to the turn of the century tribal and deep, dubby house feel, and I love that.
I find it really difficult to see consistency across a lot of labels and artists at the moment. I play all flavours of house so that gives me an ever-changing palette to work with.
Obviously I like labels like French Express, Anjunadeep, Innervisions, Exploited, Retrofit, Watergate, Hot Creations, BOSO, Aus, Dirtybird, Last Night On Earth and more. Maceo Plex has continued to improve as a producer and so too have Dusky, Brian CID, andHIM, Huxley, Kolsch, TCTS, Doc Daneeka, Hot Since 82 and more.
Q. You’ve got a number of sets available on your SoundCloud page, including a series of shorter mixes you’ve called Xprss Lane. What can you tell us about these sets?
A. I listen to a lot of different music and talk to a lot of people from varying demographics about what they like to listen to. It’s amazing to hear people’s perceptions of music and why they like the music they do. The Xprss Lane series comes from observing the different ways that people listen to and interact with music nowadays.
A large amount of younger people consume music whilst travelling to and from work, uni, etc and to a large extent, in the gym. They want sets they can listen to in a single sitting and that have a sense of punchiness and urgency to them. Like everybody these days, they suffer from being time-poor and want something they can easily connect with. I’d love to keep releasing 2 hour++ journey sets but there’s very few people that listen to the whole mix in context. Almost every track in the Xprss Lane series has been edited by me so that they are immediate and get to the point instantly. They are also a bit more uptempo and banging, and I’ve mixed them together in a way to keep the energy rising. That doesn’t mean it’s cheese or even radio-friendly, the tracks are still great tunes that I like 100%. Xprss Lane is just accommodating the changing way in which people consume music whilst still pushing a sound and a feeling that I like.
Are they showcases of my DJing? Not really, more my editing skills. It would be rare for me to play a set like this unless I was on a festival in a later timeslot.
Q. As a veteran of the scene I’m really interested in your opinion on our homegrown talent. Who are some great up and coming Aussie DJs and producers we should be keeping an eye on?
A. It’s difficult these days to say someone is up and coming, because the internet can make people blow up instantly. And with fake Facebook fans, likes, Soundcloud plays etc. it’s hard to really tell who is gaining traction out there.
In Brisbane for production, Foolish aka Bryce Davis shows a lot of promise, as does Cam Swales in his many guises and 95 Royale plus Chris Brooks. Belfriend is a promising young bass music DJ who can also play techno and should do more of this. James Hilan is one to watch too, likewise a guy from Sydney called Artintech.
Aussie producer-wise, it’s hard to draw the line between up and comers and already established – as I said the internet blurs the distinction these days. Frames is a decent producer, ditto for Isaac Tichauer and Lancelot, although they seem to have blown up recently. Same with Cassian and Skins. Country Club (Cassian and Shazam) are cool too, they have releases on the Anjunadeep label, and it’s only a matter of time before Rich Curtis kicks a serious goal with his music.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a DJ career in Brisbane?
A. Don’t expect instant success. If you do it for instant fame, you shouldn’t be DJing, you should be auditioning for Big Brother or Australian Idol or making false accusations about footballers to get attention. Stop polluting the DJ pool and do something else.
Practice. Let people hear you when you are ready. Wow them, don’t just have them say you’re OK. Mediocrity is the path to nowhere.
Network, without being a dickhead. Go out and show your support for the music and parties you like and that you want to play at. Be visible, but not pushy. Be prepared to help out in whatever way possible that might get your foot in the door – I was a music journalist and that helped.
Have another job. DJing can pay the bills, but it may not always be that way, and given the precarious financial circumstances of the entertainment scene, that income could quickly diminish. You also might end up taking gigs that are not 100% your thing. DJs are the new cover bands, so be careful – everyone has a story of talented people in cover bands who never go on to anything. Get a job that allows you enough time to put in to DJing but that also can sustain you financially through the tough times.
Try and get a regular gig somewhere. Bars are a good starting point. A residency will help you appreciate crowds and moods and playing at different times of the night. A versatile DJ is essential.
Have a basic understanding of how a sound system works. Get to know different brands of mixers and be comfortable with them. Never redline a mixer.
Be flexible. You are not going to get a 1am set to 5000 people straight away. Learn how to warm-up, how to peak and how to close a room. Learn how to follow other DJs, respectfully. Never hijack anyone else’s set.
Be on time for your gigs, be polite to everyone in the club, deal graciously with punters and don’t over-indulge in your chosen vice when playing – it won’t make you play better and it can be a quick way to never be booked again. Keep the DJ booth tidy and keep your over-enthusiastic mates/groupies out of there.
Don’t be a pushover. DJs have a long history of being taken advantage of; know your worth.
Have an online presence that is memorable. Use it to interact and express your personality, not just copy how other DJs promote themselves mindlessly. Social media is full of that, no more is needed. Be an individual, not a promotional robot. DJs are supposed to have a greater knowledge of music than the public, but these days it seems the reverse is applicable. Use your depth of knowledge online and share great music with people.
Be gracious when you don’t get a booking you might have hoped for or something doesn’t go your way. Stay away from online rants, the brief satisfaction is not worth the inevitable acrimony.
Have a personality, but remember to lead with your music. Your music will speak for you if you choose it powerfully.
Make regular DJ mixes and give them to EVERYONE.
Produce music. Unfortunately it seems the way that anyone with a vaguely passable output of production will pick up heaps of gigs ahead of those who don’t. This is sad because it doesn’t reflect their DJ ability at all, just the changing market. Aim to be a good producer AND a good DJ.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your wealth of experience with us Cosmo.
You can catch Cosmo Cater supporting Seth Troxler at the Alfred & Constance in Brisbane on Sunday the 23rd of November. Entry is free, first in best dressed.
Visit the event’s page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/636619679788485/
Cosmo Cater’s upcoming gigs:
6 December 2014 (Saturday) – Stereosonic (supporting Kolsch)
12 December 2014 (Friday) – French Express Tour for Auditree @ TBC
21 December 2014 (Sunday) – Dubfire @ Capulet (playing back to back with Rich Curtis)