“I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Awakenings,” says Brooklyn-based DJ-producer Victor Calderone. It was, he estimates, six years ago, and Awakenings, the Dutch party brand with global reach, had teamed up with techno record label Drumcode for a party during the Amsterdam Dance Event festival. Calderone wasn’t playing that night. “I just stood there in awe,” he recalls. “Every component, every layer, was spot-on.”
On February 14, Calderone will make his first Awakenings foray, when the renowned party series hits the Hammerstein Ballroom. This is not just a first for Calderone: For Awakenings, Valentine’s Day serves as the proper North American debut of the series. (Last summer, Awakenings hosted a showcase at Electric Zoo, but not a full-on event.) It’s a night of firsts, but Calderone’s set, a planned two-hour back-to-back jam with Nicole Moudaber, will be familiar to New York partygoers. The two techno titans joined forces last September at Brooklyn Mirage. They have also played together in Miami and have worked together in the studio. In 2012, they released a co-production, a dreamy jam called “The Journey Begins,” on Drumcode.
“Nicole and I have a very long history together, and we connect musically really well,” says Calderone. In fact, he and London-based Moudaber have known each other for somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen years. Moudaber had brought him out to the U.K. to play the parties she promoted and ended up helping out with his European bookings. “She’s always had an ear for music,” says Calderone. “It’s great to see her now channeling that and sharing that.”
It’s not all that often that Calderone has the chance to collaborate with other artists. “It’s a challenge to even get into the studio and produce and write music,” says the DJ, who spends many of his weekends hopping from city to city, country to country, for DJ gigs.
More than the issue of time, though, is that the artists have to find the same groove. “We feed off each other,” says Calderone of his sets with Moudaber. “There’s this transfer of energy between each other. That doesn’t always happen when you play back-to-back with someone.” It’s similar to when they have worked together in the studio. In fact, Calderone says that the two were recently discussing recording together again.
Calderone has a different kind of collaborative relationship with Drumcode label-founder Adam Beyer, who will be playing back-to-back with Ida Engberg at Awakenings. Last year, Calderone released the EP “Burdern” through the Swedish DJ’s label.
“I feel connected with the Drumcode brand and with Adam. Musically, I feel at home there,” says Calderone. “I respect Adam’s ear and everything that he does, and to be a part of what they’re doing, and to be invited to be a part of some of the events that Drumcode is doing, has been a great honor. It sort of confirms that you’re doing something right.”
Calderone’s long and impressive career began when he was just fifteen. Inspired by his older brother, who was already DJing, he first latched onto artists like Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwerk, and gravitated toward instrumentals. Techno has long been a passion for him, even when he made his mark in other styles of music. “I’ve gone through quite a few incarnations,” he says. “I had my tribal moment. I had my moment in the early 2000s when I was doing work for Sting and Madonna and I feel like I’ve come full circle.”
As he points out, even in Calderone’s most mainstream moments, the influence of his techno history is there. You can hear it in the way the drums echo on his remix of Madonna’s late-Nineties hit “Frozen” and in a number of other pop-dance moments. “There’s still a heavy, driving groove underneath, even though some of the music was melodic and, of course, vocal,” he says. “It always had this underlying hard rhythm to it. That’s something that I guess is deep-rooted in me.”
Perhaps Calderone’s finest achievement is the way he was able to move toward the mainstream and then back into the underground seamlessly. “I have to be happy with what I’m doing at the end of the day,” says Calderone. “I never want to get stuck in one thing.”
While he’s well-known for his production and remix work, Calderone says he prefers to be in the DJ booth. “It’s only fun in the studio when it’s flowing and the creative juices are really coming together,” he says. “There are those moments in the studio when you’re banging your head against the wall, just writer’s block.” As a DJ, though, he can play until the sun rises over a Bulgarian beach and not realize how much time has passed. “When it’s good,” he says, “time flies.”
In March, Calderone will release a new EP, Inside, on his own record label, Matter+. He’s also planning a few upcoming releases from other artists via the label. Beyond that, he’ll be heading out for DJ gigs in Montreal, Miami, and beyond. But for now, Awakenings offers Calderone a chance to recharge his creative batteries, revisit his roots, and let the beat drop alongside an old friend.
Awakenings comes to Hammerstein Ballroom on February 14. For ticket information, click here.