This year FUSE heads on a global tour in celebration of its 10-year reign, a milestone Siragusa is also preparing to mark with the release of his debut album, A Decade Of Rave. The full crew also lands in Farringdon in celebration of our own 20th anniversary on Sunday 7th April, so ahead of welcoming them, we met up with Siragusa for an interview charting the path of his career to date. Speaking from his East London studio on one February afternoon, he told us candidly about FUSE’s early beginnings, the delicate balance of being an artist and businessman, and how the dancefloor came to shape the sound of his forthcoming LP.
Let's start with your earliest memories of music. Who were your formative influences?
Like any kid growing up in the 80s, I just remember looking at records. That was the way that you listened to music. It’s quite a far cry from the way many kids are now, there was something to physically touch and hold. I remember my dad’s collection. Dance music had just come about properly in the late 80s, and scratching records was a thing. I remember having a go, and getting told off by him. That's really one of my early memories, scratching all my dad's vinyl. If only he'd have known!
And your parents are both of Italian descent?
Yeah, but I’m first generation English. I was born here, and grew up in Maidenhead.
Were your family particularly musically-minded?
They were into a mixture of stuff, but honestly I mainly got into music through school. I played the piano and the trumpet. I'd learnt music, I was into it and I'd always played around at home. I'd be lying if I said that I always wanted to be in music – I didn't have a clue. Later on, I got to know more about partying. By the early 90s, acid house and rave music was happening. People were getting into it, and it was coming through the charts as well. It was really interesting. That’s where the love affair started. By 14 years old, I’d started going to raves. I would sneak in; age checks weren’t so militant back then. That’s where it started to engage with my sense. Raving’s not just a music thing, it's a cultural thing. It's a community, and all of a sudden you're immersed in it.
“Raving’s not just a music thing, it's a cultural thing.”Do you remember the first time you started mixing?
Completely. I had some older cousins who were really into going out and raving. They were there for the Second Summer of Love, so that was my first insight into what was out there. I'd listen to the tapes that they were listening to. Stuff like Shut Up And Dance. Rat Pack. Early Carl Cox. They all switched me onto it. Whenever I went their house, they would always be on the decks. That's where I first got into mixing, and started to enjoy trying to blend records. It was like playing a game.
You’ve previously spoken about taking a tape from a rave you'd been to back to a record shop until you found out what a particular record was.
Yeah, you'd be waiting forever for those records!
It's all become so much more consumable. I suppose that's the reason why, when I make my music, I hold on to it for quite a while by playing it out. A lot of the current generation of producers seem to be banging out track after track and releasing them instantly. There’s no excitement in the build-up to see something work on the dancefloor, and holding it back a bit.
Well that's it. So many people need their music now. If they hear a tune in a club, they have to have it by the time they get home so they can listen to it again. There are so many tunes out there that we don't know, and that's surely the allure of it all.
I remember going to parties and DJs would put stickers over the titles of tracks so that you couldn't find out what it was. You had to charm your way into finding out what it was.
“Being a DJ can be a tough job.”What do you think of Shazam and the effects of track ID culture on the dancefloor?
It’s become consumable, but with the recent vinyl revival, people have managed to get back that little air of mystery. Even I've done it. I've released some records as an unknown artist so people don't know it's me.
You were also finding success in your day job in IT around the same time you first started mixing. What made you drop it all?
I suppose I'd got to the point where I was borderline depressed. I had not followed something that was a burning desire inside of me. Once I was 15 years old, there was literally nothing else I wanted in the world other than to be a DJ. I got to a point when I was about 27, and I realised that I had achieved so much for someone of that age. I was successful by anyone's standards. I had a nice car, I had bought my own place. I had done everything by myself, but I didn't feel any level of satisfaction in my life. I left one job when I was 23, and spent a season playing in Ibiza. But when I came back to my flat in Maidenhead, and a mortgage that needed paying, I didn’t know what I could do. My old boss asked me to join him at his new place and I was back in the rat race. Before I knew it, another 4 years had passed.
“FUSE is a family business.”How did your family and friends react when you finally gave it up?
My friends thought that I'd had a nervous breakdown. Some of them thought that I was a lost raver, who didn't know what he was doing any more and was having a midlife crisis. They didn't see why I would give up a really well-paid job and a great career, a house and a beautiful car to go and start something from scratch. But at that point I knew that I was going to be alright, and I’d stopped caring. My job didn't make me happy, so I just thought "fuck it, what have I got to lose?" Thankfully, it worked out alright.
What were those first few years like?
Tough. To be honest, it’s been tough up until very recently. It's not easy – I had to balance a lot of things. This was in 2008, at the point of the financial crisis. My savings were being used. I was in a huge amount of debt, but I started working my way out of it really slowly. The first 5 years were borderline impossible, and it wasn't until FUSE started to get a bit of success that things really balanced out. I was then able to pay a few things off and get my head above water. That's where a lot of my family were wondering what I was doing. If you put it on paper, it really does look like a completely mental thing to do, especially for someone who looks very level-headed and grounded.
In many ways being a full-time DJ is harder than people realise. You've got to really want to do it in order to make it in any way.
It's tough man. I always tell people that it really isn't what you think it is – it can be a tough job. You have to have a huge amount of commitment. Once you get to a certain level, it's business like any other to a certain degree. Obviously your passion is what drives you, but ultimately there is a business side to it. Someone is paying you to play, and you're engaging in a business transaction. You can't avoid that, and there's a whole process that goes with that. Learning that is difficult as well. You go into it and it's something you love so much and then you get dragged into a different side of the business.
When did you become conscious of the business side?
I think that happens when you start to generate some serious money out of it. When there's not just money coming in, but also money going out in order to facilitate what you're doing. When you're putting on an event, in the early days, you're not looking at or thinking about cash flow. You're just thinking about whether you have enough money to put the party on. There were times we made huge losses, but it didn't matter. At some point, you start to realise that it’s like many other jobs where you're looking at budgets, and I knew I didn't apply that stuff to this. It's always a passion, but it's not something that should be breaking you financially.
“Social media is part of the business, but it’s not what we want to do.”So how did FUSE start in all of this?
I had a party called Circuit around the time that I left my job. I just needed a platform. I needed to play. I met up with a friend of mine at the time and we decided to start a party. He was a promoter in London, he had a link to Home Bar in Shoreditch. He handled the marketing, and I could just play. I’d occasionally book the odd guest, but it was usually me playing all night long each week. It was about a fiver to get in until 2am. It took a good year of solidly playing for 6 hours every week to build this thing up, but by the end of it, there was a good couple of hundred people every week that would come and listen to me play in Shoreditch. We got regulars on the circuit like Rich NxT, Giles Smith, and Geddes to play. That’s where FUSE came from really – we were just looking for something else to do.
And it started at 93 Feet East?
Yeah, starting at 10am on a Sunday morning. We ran every Sunday for 4 years. That’s a lot of parties! There aren’t many people that have done that many parties in London, especially not on a Sunday.
Who else is behind FUSE?
So it's my cousin Tony and myself, and a few other people. There's Con, a good friend of ours who manages things operationally. FUSE is a family business really. There's my cousin Danny as well, who's very much involved on the label side of things and helps me with A&R. It's almost impossible to be a touring DJ, producer, run a party, have a normal life with two kids, and also speak to other producers out there. So Danny helps out on that side of stuff.
How much does the label reflect what you guys are about with the parties?
I think it very much reflects what we're about. I'm always looking at the music that we play, and I speak to the guys about all the music that we release. Fuse London has been centred around myself and the core residents, whereas on Infuse we've sometimes gone a little bit further afield and there's music coming in from people who are inspired by what we do. The key is that when I'm signing music, I'm also looking at not just whether I'm playing them, but are Ross [Rossko] and Seb [Zito] playing them? Sometimes they come to me and tell me I have to sign certain tracks. It's a very true representation of us I think.
“Music’s more consumable now, but so are events.”What kind of memories do you have of fabric?
I've been to fabric many times over the years for a lot of different types of events. It’s truly an institution. For London clubbing, it's one of those places that's a real mainstay. You have Ministry of Sound and fabric, and there’s not much else left from that bygone era. Slowly but surely they've been taken out of the picture, which is kind of sad. I’ve been many times as a raver – it's an important piece of club culture for London.
You must be looking forward to coming back to play.
I've played there a couple of times, for WetYourSelf!, plus a charity thing with Carl Cox a few years ago. I'm looking forward to being let loose on that soundsystem really. Whether they know it or not, fabric has cultivated a sound in London, and they've been a huge part of the city’s evolution. This is also the first FUSE in the club.
What does that mean to you?
It's a really important one. It was a nice thing to do. Like I say, it's an institution, so being part of the 20th anniversary is special. I'm really into the heritage of club culture, and there's not much of that left. It's not like when you go to Berlin and there are all these clubs that have been there for ages, or other cities that have been there for 20 to 30 years in some cases. So, it's a massive honour.
“fabric has cultivated a sound in London.”Interestingly, it's purely the FUSE residents playing too.
Exactly. Like we were saying, music's more consumable now, but so are events. Events are experienced and consumed in different ways now. One way is social media, which fucking winds me up. It's part of the business, but it's not what we want to do. A lot of line-ups nowadays demand headliners, and more guests, so everyone has a 90 minute set time. That’s not FUSE. It’s not our ethos, so wherever we go with it, we don’t jam headliners in. It’s about us and our sound. I'm really glad that we've been able to do that at a place like fabric, just go in with the residents. It's also a really London line-up. We've all come from the dancefloor. We've all raved at fabric. That's important and should really stand for something you know. It's a really nice touch for us to be able to do a party there and be part of the history.
Talk to me about A Decade Of Rave.
It's the biggest body of work that I've done. I approached it with the FUSE dancefloor in mind. I've left myself some space in the future, where I can go off and explore other sounds that I could look at. I'm already looking at things like breakbeat, D&B and other genres. A Decade Of Rave is very much focussed on the FUSE dance floor, my DJ sets and the different sounds in the sphere of FUSE. Part Two is coming out soon, where I’m collaborating with each of the other guys too. It’s kind of an album, but it’s club-orientated.
Did we hear that you recently moved away from London?
I moved to Manchester in August, and I'm loving it. My wife's from the north, and touring and having kids has made it more difficult to live in London. Once you have kids, you’re using London in a different way. It means I can come down to London, and really enjoy when I come in. My studio’s still here, and when I come down, I get to do the things that I love. It’s made my time here more precious.
Photo: William Worrell