Rony Seikaly’s Music Doesn’t Work for the “EDM Crowd,” and He’s OK With That

Image via Forbes
Image via Forbes

You know, it’s not every day that you get to interview a retired NBA player.  It’s even more rare that sports figures actually know what they’re doing in this musical world, but a bit of poking around on Rony Seikaly led me to believe that he’s more than just a celebrity DJ. After speaking to him earlier this week, I’m convinced.  He’s producing his own records, seems to turn his nose up at the bandwagon EDM fans, and takes his craft incredibly seriously.  He’s popping through to headline New York’s Marquee night club on Friday for their underground “Marquee Fridays” event, and I decided to reach out to pick his brain a little bit on his influence in dance music, his intentions, and how it feels to be a seven footer inside a DJ booth.

You played basketball in a bunch of different cities. Which one had the best club scene?
Oh, of course Miami.

And what’s the Miami scene like, for someone who’s not been down there?
I think it’s the capital of the world of… lemmie see how I’m going to phrase this. Vegas is as close to Ibiza as America can get, where you have different flavors and different music. You have EDM, if you like EDM. You have underground, if you like underground. Whereas Vegas is pretty much all EDM.  New York obviously has as much to offer musically as Miami does, but the weather doesn’t permit people to be dressed in the Ibiza fashion style.

You played basketball for a while in Spain, and we were curious where you would put Spain’s club scene up against Miami’s?
I mean, obviously Ibiza is the capital of the world for the clubbing scene, and Miami is the capital of the U.S. for the clubbing scene. I think for any DJ, if they play in Ibiza, they’ve kinda made it, because it’s been happening since the ’70s, and it’s on this constant up-and-up for music lovers. The bohemian lifestyle… it just has so much to offer.  The weather, the sea, the nightlife, the daylife. It’s got a combination of everything put together.

You also run a successful real estate business, and you’ve got some stake in restaurants and a club in Miami. How do you find time to DJ?
When you’re doing something from your heart and passion, it doesn’t seem like it’s work. It’s just finding the time for it, just like people find the time to play golf and tennis within their work week, I find time to DJ within my work week, because that’s something that I love to do and to me it’s not work.

We can see that in the consistency in the DJ mixes that you’re uploading. Are you doing all those at home, and what’s that home setup looking like?
I have a home studio, and I do a lot of my work out of my own studio. It’s my little sanctuary. It’s more meditation for me than anything I can possibly do, outside of real mediation. Music, for me, puts me in the moment and lets me enjoy and takes me on a journey within the moment that I’m living. And that’s part of what meditation is all about, forgetting your past, your future, your problems, and just living in the moment and centering yourself to be within the moment.

I think the average person that would see your name on a flyer might just write you off as a celebrity DJ, and there’s tons of them. But you actually produce your own music. How long have you been crafting your own sounds?
I’ve been producing my own music since before the EDM bandwagon came to the U.S.; I mean, I’ve been a house music head since the late ’80s. So to me, that’s what I know. That’s what I used to listen to going to games, and coming from games. As foreign as it was to my teammates, and to people who didn’t know anything about house music, that’s the music that I connected with, and I’ve been around this since before any of these celebrity DJs even knew what house music was. So when I started playing music, I just didn’t want any association with basketball in my music career. I thought about having a DJ name completely separate from my basketball name, just so people could judge me on the music and not off my past, which is an athletic past. There’s no doubt that I still fight that stigma, that now that it’s become so popular and I’m just tryna hop on that bandwagon, but that’s why my radio show is so successful. It’s just kind of pounding it in to people that I don’t need to do this. I do it from the heart. I don’t need the celebrity from it. I don’t need the money from it. I do it strictly from the heart. People that know me and have listened to my sets, and have listened to me playing music for hours at a time, know this is coming from a real place. You know, if I wanted to become popular and famous, I would’ve jumped on the EDM bandwagon, but that’s not who I am. I’m all about the underground, I’m all about organic sounds, and D-Town sounds, and tech house, and techno, and the movement that started this whole business. Where music has gotten to is now is more of a radio house. Yes, it’s all under the genre of house music, but it’s pop. EDM is pop house, it’s commercial house. It’s music that I don’t associate with, and don’t really like that much.

I was actually going through your mixes this morning. Will we ever hear anything other than house from you? Do you ever jump into any other genres?
No. My background is strictly house music. Frankie Knuckles. Little Louie Vega. All those essences of house music. And then from there, I kinda ventured into my own style, within deep house, tech house, and techno. I’m more into the groovy sounds. I’m more into the organic sounds. So, my sound is a mashup between all those different genres, but strictly to those genres. I don’t play trap, I don’t play drum & bass, I don’t play EDM, I don’t play any of that stuff. If it is gonna be a remix of a famous vocal, it’s gonna be on a deep house-ish or a tech house-ish kinda vibe. Those weekly mixes obviously just shows the range that I go through musically. I can play a dark techno set, which is very rare, and I can play what I play on the radio, which is more of a happy, house, deep house kinda vibe, targeted for the car, targeted for people hanging out at their house, listening to the mixes while they’re swimming and stuff like that. Obviously, there’s not a lot of drive into that music where it’s clubby enough. So when I play in the club, it’s a little bit more driven, and it has a little bit more energy in it.

Do you have any regrets that you didn’t start your DJ career earlier?
Absolutely not. I’m actually very content that I wrapped up my basketball career the way I did, and you know, I always love music, I always wanted to be around music, but it just wasn’t something I wanted to do as a career. It’s just something I wanted to do after work, something I did for fun. So I invested in different clubs throughout the years, and it goes back to my playing days with the Miami Heat. I’ve had a club since 1993 in South Beach, and continued through to 2014. So nothing has changed for me as far as wanting to be around music, but not being in the forefront of the music scene. I got a lot of people that I respect in the business that have heard me play throughout the years and have always pushed me to play publicly and share my music publicly, because I have a distinct style. You could have a thousand DJs, and those thousand DJs could be great, but they’re all kinda playing the same kinda music. What it is about a DJ is if you have your own distinct style, that’s what separates you from others. Because anybody can play the Top 40, wave their hand, and pretend that they’re doing an amazing job, but they’re playing exactly what everybody else is playing, so they’re just feeding off what works with everybody else, whereas I’m playing music that I either produce or edit myself and it’s completely my set, and my music, and my style, and that’s my fingerprint on this business.

Who’s one DJ that inspires you?
Well, there’s a lot of them. My spectrum to music is very, very wide. The shelf life of music in that house music scene could be anywhere from two weeks to four weeks, whereas EDM just sticks around, and you’re playing with the same track for the next six months, especially if it hits the radio. You’re listening to it, listening to it, and that’s what people associate [with, and] want to sing along and whatever. Whereas in my school of thought, how I grew up, it’s about the experience of going into a club and not knowing what the DJ is gonna play and everything is kinda like “what is this?“. You have them guessing. And that’s why my music doesn’t really work on the EDM crowd, because they’re not gonna know any of the tracks I play. Marco Carola, I think he’s a master at what he does in that scene. I think Dixon. There’s just so many different guys today who have their own style. They have a distinct style, and if you hear it on the radio, or you hear it in the club, without even having to look at who’s playing, you know that that’s the guy who’s playing it. My all-time favorite, going back in the years, he really influenced me, is probably Danny Tenaglia. I heard him back in ‘99 or 2000, and I just fell in love with the way he plays, and the way he mixed different genres at that time. He was a musical genius, and he kind of was a person I always looked up to. And then obviously from there, the genres have gotten so split up, and now everybody plays their own kind of genre. But Danny Tenaglia was one of the guys that took me over the edge at that time, in the late nineties.

You donated the proceeds of one of your albums to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Foundation of Miami. What made you choose that foundation?
Well, what made me choose the foundation was that one of the people that I look up to most in this world, who is almost like my guru in many different aspects in life, is associated with the foundation.  He’s just such a philanthropic person that there is no way that I could pay back with words, so I thought this would be a gesture of “thank you” to him. And obviously, just giving back.  I really want to help as much as I can.  I’ve been blessed.  I know I’ve been blessed.  I’m no fool.  Things have come my way, and the only way that you can thank the God that blessed you is by giving back.

DJ Irie was credited as a pivotal part of the Miami Heat and awarded a championship ring.  Do you think this should be standard in the NBA?
I mean, I think he was one of the first DJs that played during games.  He’s worked very hard at doing what he does, and he deserves whatever the Heat thinks he deserves.  But I’m not sure, to tell you honestly, if there’s any other DJs that play during the games

I know Yoshi DJs for the Nets…. I feel like there’s a couple of them.
Oh, okay.  Well I’m not really familiar with that scene.  But in my days there was an organ player that played music that sounded like you’re going to a funeral (laughs)

You’re damn near seven feet tall.  Do you ever ask to have your setup raised?
Absolutely.  And if they don’t raise it, it’s a long night out because I have to bend the whole time, and it’s not too comfortable.  One time I went to Vegas, and I guess they didn’t read the rider.  They had it way too low, so I had to sit on a stool and DJ, and they were upset that I was sitting on a stool.  I explained that I couldn’t crouch down low, and I couldn’t feel it.  It was like sitting on a kids’ chair and eating lunch.

I’m planning to come to see you for the first time at Marquee. What am I going to walk away with?
I don’t know what kind of music you like.  I think music is a matter of taste, you know.  If you like that house-y sound, you might like my house-y sound.  If you’re more of the EDM style you’re going to think “wow this isn’t really my cup of tea.”  Music is really subjective.  I grew up on Barry White.  I love Barry White.  But if I play it to the young kids today, they’ll be like “what is this?”.  Music is so subjective.  At the end of the day I think good music is good music.  If you like groovy sexy house music, you’re going to walk away saying “wow, that was fun, made me dance, and was a fun night out.”

How long do you plan on DJing for?  You’re a couple of years older than your competition, but you’re still crushing it.  How long do you plan on keeping it up for?
Mick Jagger is 70-years-old and still touring, so I don’t know if there’s age to music like there’s age to sports.  I don’t think you lose your timing, you know?  I think that music doesn’t really have an age.  The only thing that I can think about where age comes into play is the late nights and the traveling.  That can get a little tough for people that get older.  I feel no different than I did when I was 25.  I have to remind myself that I’m not 25.  I’ll stop whenever I feel like stopping.  Age isn’t going to be the reason I stop.  All of these tours that the Rolling Stones and U2 keep going and going.  There is no age to music.  As long as I’m living, music is going to be a part of my life.  Sports are a part of my life as well, so I don’t care if i’m 70 or 80.  If I can’t play a sport every day or listen to music every day, I’ll feel like I’m not living.

If you’re in the New York area on Friday, May 9, we highly suggest you treat yourself to a night out at Marquee to see Rony Seikaly make his mark on this legendary venue.  If you need some theme music to lead up to the event, or if you aren’t close to New York, feel free to peruse through 45 hours of his mixes for his Sugar Free Radio series here: