“Rony Style” – An Interview With Producer and DJ Rony Seikaly
Back in Italy when I was a young teenager, I discovered basketball and the distant yet near-at-heart world of NBA – I became a Bulls fan and would later go on to move to Chicago for college.
Chicago was not only the home of the Bulls but also the birthplace of house music, and on a particular Saturday night in January 2013 Spybar was hosting a 6ft 10in DJ by the name of Rony Seikaly. I immediately recognized the name and how could I not? As a Lebanese-born American pro-basketball player, Seikaly was the Miami Heat’s first ever franchise draft pick back in 1988 and went on to set a series of team records, many of which still stand today. But that very cold winter night, three-hundred or so house fans cramped that dark powerful basement in Chicago to hear him play. He was our music selector for the night – and a fantastic selector at that. There was a flair about his music, a distinctive groove that hypnotized everyone present and kept them dancing late into the night. I was immediately a fan, and from that moment on I would take the opportunity to see Seikaly play any time he was in town or when I happened to travel to Miami Music Week.
Since, he has gone on to launch his own “Sugar Free Radio” podcast and release on Xima Records, Stereo Productions, Suara, and Subliminal Records just to name a few. His notoriety for pinpoint track selection has garnered him praise world-over gigs at esteemed venues such as Amnesia Ibiza, Space Miami, Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE and Blue Parrot for BPM Festival.
This past week I had the incredible opportunity to not only review Seikaly’s latest EP “Sword”, out on Yoshitoshi Recordings, but to talk with him about his long-standing love of dance music and the incredible career he has carved for himself as a producer and DJ.
I wonder right off the bat, did other players in the locker room listen to dance music back when you were still playing?
No (laughs) house music was sort of the antithesis of what people listened to back then. It was all hip-hop, rap and pop music mostly – but I was already hooked on it, even if I was the only one who listened to house.
What was the turning point where you decided, “That’s it, I am going to become a DJ!”?
I have had a system that I used to DJ with friends since I was fourteen years old – two turntables and a mixer. I played for friend’s parties and it truly just was a personal passion. Erick Morillo was at one of these parties I was playing at in my house in 2006 and he goes, “Is that you? That can’t be you.” He thought I was playing a pre-recorded set and not actually mixing – but I was! Friends kept asking me, “Why don’t you play out?” I never did because I did not want to be judged and I did not want to DJ for money – I loved DJing because it was a passion and I truly enjoyed doing it for my friends. I didn’t need to be judged on something I did in my own house with my friends – I knew that if I started playing out people would judge my background as an NBA player and back then I didn’t want that.
What changed that?
Eric used to get demos and put a “Rony style” label on CDs with tracks that fit the style of the sets I would play at my house – songs that had that same bite. He insisted and I finally decided to take a dabble with a gig in Miami and it caught on. The criticism started, the judgement I had anticipated actually came. This so happened to be at the very same time that dance music started getting popular and the criticism made me want to keep this passion private. But instead I decided to continue to do what I like to do and decided I wouldn’t let them influence me with this choice. In 2008 I started producing and in 2010 I started releasing records.
Like with athletes, in art the most important type of respect for is peer respect. It doesn’t matter what the papers say, what reporters think and ultimately even what fans think. It’s the respect from your fellow peers that matters. In the NBA I earned the respect of my peers – that is what was important. In music it’s the same thing and when big DJs heard me play at the parties at my house the respect I ultimately received was all I needed. Artists like Marco Carola, Matthias Tanzmann, Lil’ Louie Vega, Roger Sanchez, Davide Squillace and Erick all heard me play and they respected my art. I was lucky enough to be blessed with two amazing talents, as an athlete and as a musician. My music has color, groove and it was amazing to see these artists respect it.
Rony Seikaly going back-to-back with Seth Troxler at Burning Man
That groove you mentioned is what hooked me when I first saw you play at Spybar three years ago. Where does it come from?
I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who were huge music lovers. They enjoyed classical music, Barry White but also disco, jazz and other sounds. That kind of upbringing meant that I always had an ear for that even back in the old days. I knew how a party was meant to be, it was meant to be lived with a smile on your face. I found my niche in that happy medium: dark music that’s also colorful and makes people happy.
You mentioned your friendship with Marco Carola earlier. I am a big fan of his sound and know you’ve played a few of his Music On parties – what does it mean for your career to be playing alongside him?
I have known Marco for fifteen years, from back when he used to play smaller clubs. I always thought he was just a genius. He was still playing on records back then and he would pull them out without having to think twice – he knew what to play every single time. His sets had a distinct groove and characteristic skip every time he played. I immediately recognized that he was technically savvy. The truth is that whether you like his music or not, you know when Marco is playing. That is what differentiates DJs, when they have their own style instead of copying others or fitting a trend. The truth is that while not everyone can become a pro athlete, anyone can become a DJ. But a DJ is only special if he is unique and that is what makes Marco and Music On special.
“Sword” isn’t your first EP with Yoshitoshi. What has kept you coming back to the imprint to release your music?
Yoshitoshi is a label that understands the music I am trying to put out. In today’s world labels are essentially a way to build an audience and bring people to label parties. They only take music that’s applicable to their parties and are hardly ever open to anything else. That is why it has been difficult to get music out – labels are only sticking to their style and can’t bend from that. Thanks to their longevity in the business, Yoshitoshi and Sharam actually understand music from a broader perspective and are open to sounds.
Last year I caught your opening set for Marco Carola at Wall Lounge during Miami Music Week. Can we look forward to seeing you play again next month?
I am possibly working on a couple of things but i want to make sure it’s the right night and the right venue. I don’t want to play for money or to have my name on a flyer for a packed label party. If I can’t find something I will sit on the sidelines as I would rather hear others play and enjoy the week. I do not want to play a one hour set for a packed party just to have a name on a flyer as that’s barely enough time to really get going and tell a story with my music.
One last question: you’ve toured the world and played some of the dance music’s most amazing venues. Is there a venue still on your must-play list?
Stereo Montreal. I’ve played everywhere else I’ve wanted to play!
At this point we conclude the interview, and it immediately strikes me that I had just spent thirty minutes candidly talking to a former NBA star who battled against childhood heroes of mine the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Yet for that half-an-hour, just like every time I saw him groove behind the decks in the dark basement of Spybar, it was Rony Seikaly the producer and DJ that I had interacted with. Passionate, talented, a true dance music aficionado and frankly one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure of talking to in the dance music world.
And then it suddenly dawned on me: “Rony Style” didn’t just refer to Seikaly’s distinctive signature groove, but to his entire demeanor and sheer class as a passionate house music producer and DJ.
If you ever have the chance to ever see him behind the decks I not only urge you to take it, but to also put on your best dancing shoes – you will need them. Check out my review of Seikaly’s latest EP “Sword” and listen to the release below: