DJ Brentano gave up his day job and became a DJ, its something that he wanted to do for many years, from the first time I met him in the year 2000 it was his dream. He never gave up and kept at it, today he is doing it full time. He produces his own music and he mixes other music for his sets on radio stations and in clubs. Join us for an inspirational journey into the heart and mind of this awesome world class DJ from South Africa, Durban.
Interviewer: Welcome to LifeShot, broadcasting from the United Kingdom. We are interviewing today DJ Brentano, from South Africa. He DJs for radio stations like KISS FM Australia, Durban Youth radio and other radio stations around the world, including Ibiza Radio. So here we go, an interview with DJ Brentano, telling us how he got into it. And he may just inspire you to go out and do what you love doing.
Interviewer: Welcome everyone to LifeShot podcast. Today we have an exciting show, we have DJ Brentano on the line. DJ Brentano, how are you doing?
[00:00:46] Interviewee: Mister Grove, I’m well, thanks. And yourself?
Interviewer: You know. It’s good to talk to an old friend. Long time, bro!
Interviewee: Yeah man. Makes my heart happy speaking to you.
Interviewer: I’ve known you for… I’d like to say 18 years, I think. It might be about that long.
Interviewee: I think it is.
Interviewer: 2001. I think we met in 2001, didn’t we?
Interviewee: 2000, 2001, yeah. You walked into your mum’s place of work with an audio CD. And I was like “Who is this dude with the audio CD?”.
Interviewer: It’s brilliant, 18 years I’ve known you. I wanted to get you on the show. I think you have an inspiring story. Your story is not finished. You are still on a journey, of course. But I think your journey is something that can inspire other people. Especially in the country where you are from. And all over the world, of course. Tell us who you are, for the listeners who don’t know DJ Brentano. Tell us a bit about you and what you are doing right now.
[00:02:05] Interviewee :I am a DJ producer. I make dance music. I am currently just releasing singles, with a label called TR Records, out in Rome. That’s my focus for now, just putting out good music and following my dreams.
Interviewer: Not everyone can do that, right? Everyone should do that.
Interviewee: I think everyone can. People are just afraid of the unknown. I think that’s what it is.
Interviewer: So fear draws people back, you think?
Interviewee: Definitely, it’s the only thing.
Interviewer: Since I’ve known you, you’ve always wanted to be a DJ. And it took you a while to get there. Certainly in the last few years now, you have gained a success. But you never gave up. I take my hat off to you, because you really pushed it and you kept going. So tell us a bit about that.
Interviewee: You want to know why I started or where I started?
Interviewer: I just want to get a glimpse of your tenacity to not give up.
[00:03:42] Interviewee: Firstly, my first focus was actually football. I have always loved music and I have always been into music, but my first love was soccer. I played football. And I only had a dream to play in the UK, that was my only focus. And when that dream died, I broke my leg when I was coming out to the UK. I had to change focus in terms of my dream. Because I couldn’t continue on that path of being a soccer player, I had broken my leg. So the next talent I had was DJing and I knew I enjoyed it, I loved it. And I said, “I am going to do this until I die”. I think that was the decision for me. I just decided that I will die doing this thing. I watched a documentary recently, and they said that DJs only peak in Ibiza at the age of 45. I mean, Carl Cox is in his 50’s, he is almost 60 years old. And he still rocks crowds in Ibiza and worldwide. The thing is, I studied all of that and I knew that the goal was reachable. I saw the timelines and figured it out. if I put time and effort and research into it, I can definitely make it happen. And networking was also key.
Interviewer: And that takes a bit of work, doesn’t it? I think a lot of people are not willing to put that effort into doing that.
[00:05:44] Interviewee: It is frustrating, because you are going into the unknown, you don’t know what to expect. You just know “I want to reach the top”. How are you going to get there? You have no clue. You don’t know how you are going to get there in terms of the obstacles, in terms of the setbacks. Things like that. You just know “My destination is there and I will meet people along the way. Some people will help me reach it, some people will slow down the process. But eventually, I will get there”.
Interviewer: You mentioned networking, it is an interesting thing. What did you do with networking? Did you say “I want to connect with this guy on social media”? Or did you actually approach people at shows? How did you actually network?
[00:06:35] Interviewee: I found people who were passionate about the same things as me. Like yourself and the crew that we used to have with Remixd and Spin the Flava crew. Everybody was in the industry that I wanted to be in. So I became friends with them and learned what I could from everybody in an organic way. Not in a forceful way, but just letting the process take control.
Interviewer: It’s inspiring to hear that, because if you just keep pushing, keep networking, do your research. And that is something that you just said now, it’s quite interesting. It takes a bit of effort, but you put the research in: How do people do it? What are the keys to their success? And then you follow that as much as you can. Or maybe that’s a recipe for success. It doesn’t always work for everyone, but it definitely helps.
[00:07:39] Interviewee: I think the hunger plays an important role. Because the hunger for success and the hunger to make this work, I recall not having the equipment for DJing. What I would do, I would download the notes about the DJing. Find out about beat structures, whatever it had to do with DJing, I would find out about it. The equipment, even if I didn’t have it, I knew about it. So that was also important. The hunger and the drive. Every time people spoke to me, it was “Hey, are you still DJing? Is the DJ thing still happening?”.
Interviewer: I lived in Port Elisabeth and I really wanted to get into music production. And this is before I knew you. So this is in the 90’s. And I had a Ford Sierra. And I saw this keyboard that I really wanted. It was a Roland JX305. So it was one of those workstation keyboards. And that is the same price as my car. So I am like “I am going to sell my car and I am going to get that keyboard and I will start making music”. And that’s what I did. Is it something like that that you’ve done? That you have sacrificed things to get what you need?
[00:09:05] Interviewee: Yes! And it’s a funny thing. I remember that story of yours. I remember it and it was key to me doing something in my life when I went to Dubai. I sold my car and I went to Dubai and I went to every club in Dubai. And I gave them a profile and I met with promoters, with club owners, with everybody in the industry. And by the time I left Dubai, I had a licensing agreement with one of the biggest record companies in dance music, which is TR Records.
Interviewee: Yeah! So thank you for selling your car and following your dreams. [laughs]
Interviewer: And cars are very important when you are in South Africa. You have to get around, it’s a big country, right? So it has not always been like this for you. We’ve set the scene now, it’s DJ Brentano, he is a successful worldwide DJ. Playing in KISS FM in Australia, and I am not even sure where else you play, in other stations around the world. Maybe you can mention a few.
[00:10:18] Interviewee: Ibiza. I play on Pure Ibiza Radio. Every week I am on the local station, which is Durban Youth Radio, that is actually still around.
Interviewer: East coast radio?
Interviewee: East coast radio, I don’t think the style that I play is specific to their audience. I think it’s a bit different. Mine is a deep soulful house, which is really a niche, if I might say. And dance music, because you have electro and the commercial stuff. Mine is just there, you know? I’m not sure if it is underground, but it finds a nice balance.
Interviewer: So it’s almost commercial but a little bit underground at the same time. We’ve set the scene now, you are at this point successful in many people’s eyes, but I am sure that there are different levels of success that you are going to attain. But it has not always been like that. Can you just tell us a bit about your upbringing and the neighbourhood you grew up in and I will ask you a bit more about your family in a minute. But just tell us about the neighbourhood that you grew up in.
[00:11:56] Interviewee: I grew up in a place called Greenwood Park. I did my primary school in Greenwood Park. And I then moved to a place called Bonella in Mayville. Which was one of the first communities that was integrated after Apartheid. So we had colored people living with Indian people and black people. And a few white people, but very few white people. And that’s where I grew up.
Interviewer: What was it like to live in a racially mixed Apartheid designated area? The opportunities, I suppose, at the time… You grew up near the tail end of Apartheid. So as a young teenager coming out of that, I think you were just experiencing the democratic South-Africa of the early 90’s. But was it still difficult for you to shake that off and then move forward? How did you overcome that mindset, of “This is where we are from” and you are looking at the privilege at the other side of the fence? How did you deal with that, internally?
[00:13:19] Interviewee: I think it wasn’t that difficult, I was probably thirteen years old. Kids are kids. So whether you are colored, white, Indian, black, the kids were cool. I think it was more the parents that had the issues, because of the systems, the Apartheid systems. I would say there was some teasing, but nothing really hectic. Guys would say “Oh, you are a white guy”, or give you a nickname, stuff like that. But nothing hectic. I was going to say, everybody was more or less on an even plain field in our community. Because there were teachers, doctors, nurses. Professionals, who lived in the community. So everybody was more or less on an even plain field, in terms of lifestyle and economic ways. Which makes things better to get together socially, to integrate.
Interviewer: So your mum and dad, have they given you inspiration to follow this dream?
[00:14:39] Interviewee: Yeah, I think parents would be the hardest people to convince that you want to do music as your career and as your dream. And I actually had a real job. I had a really good job, earning really good money. And one day, something just said to me “You know what, that is enough”. And I walked into my boss’ office and said “I am not doing this”. And I told my parents afterwards. And we really had a fight. They were like “How could you do something like this? Are you sure? Is this really what you want to do?”. And I said “Yeah, I have been thinking about this for quite a while”. And it has fuelled my ambition in a way, not getting full support. It fuels your passion and your hunger to succeed. Which I think was necessary. I think you need opposition and doubters and that is what I found in my parents. Not that they didn’t support me, just out of concern. And I will tell you more about my dad. My dad is a guitar player, son of a pastor, also plays the banjo. A very religious man, prays every single day. For us, for the community. But also keeps a balance in growing us up, he would sacrifice going to church on a Sunday to go and play football for the club, for the local soccer club. Or if you are involved in any instrumental activities, he would make sure that he got involved. He is definitely a pillar of strength.
Interviewer: He helped to shape your character, which is awesome. I think that part of what makes you strong or what makes you go and get it is the probably the way you were brought up, a little bit. So credit to your mum and dad for being good parents. Supporting you, giving you that good character, where you say “Yes, I am driving for this, I am going for this. I am not taking ‘no’ for an answer. I am just going for it”. Which is awesome. I don’t know where you live at the moment, but you live in the Durban area, what are the opportunities like for people in their 20’s now, do you see a shift going on? Are people getting frustrated? Or is there an opportunity at the moment for people in South Africa to do something different? What do you think?
[00:17:58] Interviewee: I think that everybody with a cell phone has an opportunity. That’s how small the world has become. Somebody in rural South Africa could create an app that could change the world. You don’t need anybody, just a cell phone and the internet and you could do whatever you want. You could contact the biggest celebrity in the world on Instagram, on Facebook. I think people just limit themselves. But a cell phone and the internet is everything you need. You have the same opportunities.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s a good point, actually. So some people might make an excuse like “I don’t have the capital to start up” or something. But I think what you are saying is “You have internet, you have a mobile phone. Do a little bit of research, start learning how to do things. Contact people and network”, right?
Interviewee: Yeah, everybody around the world does the same thing.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s a much smaller world, like you say, because of the internet. How did you overcome the fear? When you gave in your resignation that day, something must have driven you to that point and you overcame that fear by saying “I’m just going to try this, I’m just going out on a limb here”. Tell us a bit about that little journey, that you took.
[00:19:27] Interviewee: That journey actually started the day I started working at a cooperate company. I realized when I started my business, “I can’t do this”. But it took me five years to get the courage to walk into the boss’ office and say “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore”.
Interviewer: Because you had a stable income, and you are like “Well, life’s a bit cushy right now, don’t know if I want to give up just yet”.
Interviewee: Yeah, I decided that I wanted to leave a legacy. And I didn’t see myself leaving a legacy sitting at a day-job. That was it. That’s all I decided. It took me five years to get the courage to just go and say “No, I’m done”.
Interviewer: Better late than never. Now you are here where you are, this is your job. Tell us what you do on the daily. Is there a practice that you do every day that keeps you sharp and keeps you creative? What do you do?
[00:20:46] Interviewee: Yeah, definitely, On a daily, I work on the software that I produce music on. So every day, I make sure that I at least have a structure of a new song with it. It’s just adding drums or keys or synths, I make sure I try and learn in terms of production and stuff. And then also search out new music, see what’s happening on the scene in terms of the dance music, culture and stuff. Where I want to be, who is actually doing what I would like to be doing. So I check up on them, what are their moves and stuff. So that is my daily routine. And I try to spend a lot of time in the studio. Like you know, back in the day, I was always in the studio. Even if I wasn’t involved. But I would always watch and try and learn. And I still do that. I go into the studio a few times a week, even if it is a hip-hop recording, or whatever, I go in just trying to stay sharp and keep up with the times.
Interviewer: So you are hanging out with guys who have their own studio, they might be recording some hip-hop album, or whatever, you just go in and watch what is going on?
Interviewee: Yeah. And just take numbers, “Who are you? What are you doing?”. And that’s how I think we can build up bands and our networks.
Interviewer: At the moment, how do you market yourself? Do you have people doing that or do you have to market yourself at the moment?
[00:22:35] Interviewee: No, I have to market myself. So I do little videos, I do animation videos. I taught myself a bit of animation. So that is part of my daily routine, I spend a little time on that. Put out a little video. Things like that. It helps being at TR Records, because they license my music and they will do a little marketing. They are obviously in the international market and in Europe and the States. Locally, I struggle a bit. But I am making hit way. It’s taking a minute, but I am making some hit way.
Interviewer: So you’ll find some parts to break through locally there. Are you traveling a bit? Do you have any plans coming up for travel?
[00:23:33] Interviewee: Yes, at the moment, the record label is setting up a European tour. So I am waiting on them to release my single and then give me tour dates.
Interviewer: Are you coming to see us in the UK?
Interviewee: Definitely, I want to do some shows out there.
Interviewer: We are going to connect to you in the UK some time. Carvin H Goldstone is coming soon.
Interviewee: You told me, you didn’t give me the date. We are actually leaving tomorrow morning on the MSE for a week. And then we are back on the MSE on the 18th.
Interviewer: Is there something that you do, not related to music? Do you exercise, do you walk on the beach? Do you take your dog out? Do you cycle? Anything like that that you do, that is disconnected, that gives you a bit of calm, or something?
[00:24:31] Interviewee: I play a bit of basketball every now and then. And also the ocean, I love the ocean. So I am always swimming and going to the beach. But not as much since they saw a bull shark. So I won’t be swimming as much.
Interviewer: You obviously DJ in front of crowds, maybe at night clubs or venues or on ships. So there may be some people that know you and follow you. Not necessarily from gig to gig, but I think that people would recognize you and see you at the gig and talking to you afterwards. Is there a sense of mentorship, now that you have gotten to this place? Where you see “Those people, they want to be a little bit like me”, how do you deal with that? How do you intend taking that forward?
[00:25:33] Interviewee: I do realize it and I try and engage each person on a personal level. So each interaction. But I also speak to younger kids who want to get into DJing, like in my community. I have recently been approached by Boston Media College, to come and speak to the kids who want to get into dance music and production and stuff like that. I just chat in different situations as they come.
Interviewer: If a young person would come up to you, would you encourage them? “I want to become a DJ”. From your particular point of view, would you encourage that or would you say “First get your university degree and then DJ”? I am not saying which way is wrong or right, I’m just asking what you think.
[00:26:39] Interviewee: It would depend, I think I can pick up the hunger. And I’ve done it in different ways, so if I realize you really want this and this the only thing you want, I would definitely encourage you to follow your dreams, do your research, set a goal. If a DJ or a potential DJ says to me that they want to be the best DJ, I think that’s more than enough. That is it. I think that’s the starting point and the ending point. If you want to be the best, I can help you and show you the ropes. That’s all you need.
Interviewer: And people who are really persistent and don’t give up on that and would follow it through. They would be the ones who succeed.
Interviewee: At anything.
Interviewer: Yeah, at anything, really. It doesn’t have to be anything in particular, but if you really focus your mind on “That’s what I want to do”.
[00:27:45] Interviewee: Also write it down and read it out to yourself. Write it down and read it out to yourself on a daily. And it will happen.
Interviewer: Did you do that?
Interviewee: Yeah, I did. And my dad has been telling me to do that for years. And eventually when I did, I started seeing the doors open.
Interviewer: I have a whiteboard next to me here and I’ve taken it down since, but I had this saying that was “Don’t ever take shortcuts”. So it talks about “Always see it through to the end. Don’t try and get shortcuts on things, do it properly”. And it really helped me, because my personality is to do things as quickly as you can, get them done no matter what. And cut corners if you need to. And it doesn’t always help me. I could do stuff and then it fails and then I give up, because I am trying to cut corners. But if I don’t cut corners, it might actually go better. So I’ve learned a lot. Let me just reiterate. I think what you are saying is; write your goal on a piece of paper, put it somewhere where you see it every day and that is going to help you through it. It’s going to say “This is what I want to do, this is where I want to get”.
[00:29:15] Interviewee: Definitely, some days you don’t feel like doing it. And when you see that, it changes something in your mind, and you realize “This is what I want”. Even if you don’t want it as much, you end up wanting it passionately, after reading it.
Interviewer: Creativity is something that is key to your work. What do you do when you hit a writer’s block, in a way? You try to write a song, but it’s not happening. What do you do?
[00:29:53] Interviewee: I just keep going. My first single – the one with The Nudes, Infatuation – took about three or four years to actually get to where I wanted it. I think just be consistent, know that you want the best.
Interviewer: Are you saying that song took you a few years to perfect?
Interviewee: Yes. Because I had given it to a writer who wrote for it and we were supposed to get into the studio, that person delayed for another year and a half, almost two years. Then I had to give it to a new writer, which I did. They wrote and came into the studio, back and forth, back and forth. But eventually, that song gave me a deal with TR Records. It was worth it.
Interviewer: So my personality probably would have been “Oh, this is not working. Let’s just try a new one”. That’s me. So there are probably good things about my character and really good things about yours. Pushing through and saying “I’m not giving up on this thing. This song is good, I know that I just need something on top of it to make it work”.
Interviewee: The world needs people like you, though. Because shortcuts are what we need.
Interviewer: We need a few shortcuts, right? Why do you do what you do?
[00:31:56] Interviewee: Why do I do what I do? It makes me feel alive, like I am worth something. Everyone wants to feel worthy, feel valuable, to their fans, their family, to their communities. I found that this showcases a bit of value to the people around me. And I enjoy it, I like it.
Interviewer: You enjoy it and you feel valued when you do. And you feel like you are giving value to other people. And then leads me on to my next question. Do you think your music helps people and can help people? What can your music do for people?
[00:32:54] Interviewee: I try and put a message in each song. Not necessarily my own message, but sometimes the writer’s. When they have written a song, I sit down with them and I hear the story behind the song. I kind of co-write, so there is always an underlying message. I have a song called ‘Freedom’, which speaks about following your dreams. I am not sure if you have heard it. And my next one is ‘Praises go up’, I try and keep an inspirational theme, almost. The first song is called ‘Infatuation’, it’s talking about a girl that likes a guy, because of the looks and now she has moved on to better things. Each song does have a message and at the same time it’s fun and it’s dance music. So you can listen to it for the message or you can listen to it just for the vibe. That’s what I want to put out through the music. Just good vibes, good messages.
Interviewer: And music is very important to many South African communities. I noticed that when I started to integrate with races besides my race, the white race. And like I say, we grew up just like young teenagers coming out of that separation. We didn’t ask to know about it, I must admit, when I was 10, 11, 12 years old. I didn’t know anything about Apartheid, necessarily. We just didn’t realize it. And then Mandela got released and I started to hang out with people of different colour and I was intrigued by their love for music. And just how music was so important to them. Everybody would have a HiFi stereo at home and it would be pumping music. And as much as they could, they would have a system in their car, that had a big bass. Music was everywhere. And people were dancing. And I think that music is something that frees up people and gives them – like you say – a good vibe. If people listen to music, it gives them a bit of a boost and happiness. That’s amazing. Has it changed since then or is it still similar? Is it important to people in those communities?
[00:35:38] Interviewee: Definitely, 100%. I think that’s where the music actually lives, in those communities. Now it has become more commercialized where you have venues, showcasing artists in the locations and the former disadvantage communities. It has very much become an industry, which makes a lot of money. But the actual vibe at people’s houses and stuff, it still goes on. People play their music loudly, neighbours, party until late. It’s part of our culture.
Interviewer: Next time we have a chat, I’d like to get into that a little bit more, about how music is so important to many South Africans, like we mentioned. Since I’ve left, I’ve been in the UK since 2010, I was really impressed. People who don’t know me, I am a music producer as I mentioned that earlier. I was really impressed by the quality of music, since I have been away. And I want to talk about that the next time we get together, about how the opportunities are abounding within the music industry. Like you say, there is a lot of money and it’s more commercial now. Maybe we could talk about how that could be of benefit to many people out there. But as an ending note, DJ Brentano, if you were to speak to your younger self, your 20-year-old self – not that you are that old – what advice would you give him? You have just come out of school, you are two years out of school, you are searching for what to do, what would you say to him?
[00:37:41] Interviewee: I would say “Follow your heart and don’t listen to anybody. Follow your heart, it is going to show you the right way”.
Interviewer: My mum used to say that to me, “Just do what your heart says”. I’m like, “What does that even mean?”. I just realized, your heart does actually have a brain, I think. Your heart tells you something, doesn’t it? And your head is telling you something. If your heart says “Do it”, follow it.
Interviewee: Do it, yeah.
Interviewer: I love it. My man, it has been a privilege talking to you.
Interviewee: Thank you, Mister Spin. It’s lovely, man.
Interviewer: We’ll definitely connect again.
Interviewee: Yeah, I will try to get up there, we must do some shows there.
Interviewer: You know what, I might just quit my job and do it.
Interviewee: And follow your dreams.
Interviewer: Yeah, definitely, I’m looking forward to round two, so I want to speak to you in a few months’ time, maybe two years. Let’s say not more than two years. We’ll have another chat, see where you are and let’s get more people inspired to follow their dreams, listen to your heart and take it forward. It has been really good having you on the show. I wish you all the best.
Interviewee: Thanks, Clint!
Interviewee: Peace, bro.