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The biggest name in dance music that you’ve never heard

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DJ/producer Roger Shah at VooDoo Lounge.
Photo: Deanna Rilling

He’s worked with Armin van Buuren and Tiësto. Remixed tracks for Cosmic Gate, Josh Gabriel and Solarstone. Add reworking songs for Sarah McLachlan and Nadia Ali and you’ve got an impressive production resume. But ask even the most well-versed electronic dance music fans in Las Vegas what they think of German producer/DJ Roger Shah, most raise their eyebrows and respond they’ve never heard of him. At least they did before his first U.S. gig at VooDoo Lounge for Spundae’s Full Moon party on April 9.

Unfamiliarity with Shah’s work might be attributed to his numerous production monikers. “It had something to do with working with different labels and/or also with different producers,” Shah explains. “But now, I just focus on a few main projects, i.e. ‘Roger Shah’ and ‘Sunlounger.’”

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Last month, Shah was nominated for best breakthrough DJ at the 2009 International Dance Music Awards (Deadmau5 ultimately took home the prize). Yet, he’s worked as a full-time producer for about 15 years.

“I don't really feel like a new artist even if I get much more attention nowadays,” he says, but adds it was a great honor to be nominated for the prestigious award even though his official live debut in the States had yet to occur.

The Balearic music Shah played last Thursday is a notably warmer and more upbeat style than our underground dance scene is used to, though the crowd seemed pleased and receptive to his set. “Balearic is more like a feel or a lifestyle for me than just a newly created music style,” Shah says. “When I work in the studio on new tracks, I always try to create a special kind of atmosphere—like a feel of summer; that's why my sound is so summer-ish.”

Shah warmed up the crowd on the slightly chilly VooDoo rooftop patio once technical difficulties were overcome due to the nature of his live set-up. “I use Ableton Live, my M-audio midi keyboard controller and a Native Instruments audio interface,” he explains. “I connect the audio interface as a bridge between my laptop and the DJ mixer and have a left and a right channel to mix my tracks… In Ableton, I have all my songs I want to play, but also my VST [Virtual Studio Technology] instruments I use for my live keyboard performance. Via USB, I connect my keyboard to my laptop and can play the sounds of my VST.”

His classical music background comes into play not only during live performances, but in the studio. “I started to play keyboard when I was a kid and have always been interested into the whole music thing and wanted to know as much as possible about harmonies [and] notes,” Shah says. “It really helps when it comes to composing a song, so you can really feel it when you play a new melody.”

For Shah, he says he isn’t able to create a melody strictly on a computer sequencer, but adds that in the end, it doesn’t matter how people create their tracks. There are no rules in dance music, he says.

For those who didn’t get to check out Shah while he was in Vegas, he hopes to return in the near future. “The city is absolutely amazing, and it was really a pity that I had no time to see more of it,” he says. “I met so many friendly Balearic music lovers, and I'm really excited about the whole development in the U.S.” He’s currently working on a new album, but until then, his Music for Balearic People radio broadcast can be heard worldwide every Friday beginning May 2 on www.di.fm.

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