Sharing the stage with the likes of Swedish House Mafia and Tiesto, Dennis Ivanoff – better known by his stage name DJ Amadeus – is one of New York’s most notable house and progressive house DJs. In anticipation of his January 13 performance at Fei, in the W Guangzhou, we caught up with Ivanoff to get his thoughts on house music, Indiana Jones and dumplings.
Mr. Ivanoff, tell us a bit about how your Ukrainian heritage, and the fact both your parents are singers, has shaped your musical escapades?
I am from Ukraine, I immigrated to the United States at the age of 13. My parents were singers, they performed on many television shows, in bands and solo. If not for them, I would have never become a DJ or producer. I was born as a musician.
My parents told me that when I was 3 years old, I used to pull out pans in the kitchen and play on them with spoons like I was playing the drums. When I was 5, at my older brother's wedding, I brought my own kids drum set and sat in front of the band. They where like, please, move this kid, he is in our way. My parents asked them to give me five minutes. After those five minutes, the drummer sat me on his lap and gave me the sticks. I was playing the big drums all night and perfectly, everyone was shocked.
My parents had to enroll me in a special music school. There I learned piano as a professional classical pianist. So pretty much all my life has been related to music. Then with age, that classical music grew into electronic music. When I first went to a nightclub when I was 15, as soon as I walked in, I knew that I wanted to do this and only this for the rest of my life, as long as I can! That’s how it all started and progressed.
For our readers that are unfamiliar with electronic music, can you briefly explain the difference between house music and progressive house?
Traditional house music is very groovy. Drums, little diva voice samples repeating every two to four bars, sometimes you can hear a little saxophone or flute playing along the groove, very easy to dance to, very smooth and never boring in style. House is where it all began. Progressive house is a bit faster, harder, a lot more melodic and it ‘progresses.’
Progressive house nowadays sounds more like trance music, but with the beat and tempo of house music, which averages 128 beats per minute. You will most likely hear a house beat with harder percussion and many trance elements, like bright synths, piano, a very melodic break down with a sexy vocal that drops into a hard beat or drop. So, pretty much, like I said earlier, progressive house is house with trance elements.
How have you straddled these genres?
I love and play both styles depending on the crowd and dance floor reaction. It is not that hard to tell the difference once you get into electronic music and listen to a bunch of different tracks over and over. It didn’t take me long until I knew what is what. It's like hip-hop and R’n'B. Hip-hop is mostly a beat with words and R’n'B is more melodic, with more singing. At least that’s how I describe it.
Have you previously performed in China, and if so what about performing here left and impression on you?
Yes, I’ve performed all over China since 2007. I played in many cities repeatedly and continuously. At first, I didn’t like those ‘watermelon clubs,’ where there is no dance floor, just lots of tables and people drinking, eating watermelon and playing games. The people don’t dance and don’t pay any attention to the DJ. But after some time, maybe a few years, it all transformed into world-class nightclubs like we have in New York. Dance floor and tables, big stage with visuals for the DJ, incredible light shows and effects, crowds really responding and paying attention to the DJ.
Before people didn’t know any DJ or any EDM songs, now they are very educated and respond really well. They know their DJs, their tracks, their styles. It’s very inspiring. When I am on the plane en route to China, usually it’s a 13- to 16-hour flight, I prepare my sets and think really hard about how to impress people, how not to play too many older or newer tracks, how to keep everyone going crazy till the end of the set. It’s really cool! I enjoy playing in China a lot!
You have had the honor of playing the same stage as some pretty notable deck masters. Who left the biggest impression on you?
I would say that Swedish House Mafia and Tiesto were a highlight for me. It was very inspiring! Those guys are really talented and super cool! I played with Tiesto a few times and Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia as they did their first-ever show as Swedish House Mafia at the best club in New York, Mansion, where I was a resident DJ for three years. I can truly say it was by far my best moment in New York as a DJ.
What major city is your favorite to perform in?
Wow, it’s hard to say. I had so many great shows in many cities. I would say in Moscow. I had a crazy show in a club called Tuning Hall, were I played for 8,000 clubbers and it was massive! The crowd response was incredible, what energy!
I also love Asia, very big fan of the culture and recent club scene development. It’s totally awesome, so many clubs! Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai is always great. Last year I had a show in Foshan, the club was insane, Club Grammy. Had a blast! Always fun in Guangzhou! Love my friends and crew at the W Hotel at Fei, fantastic every time! Bangkok is great. Montreal, Toronto, Kiev, Miami, and how can I forget my hometown, New York City, where the city never sleeps! Had my biggest residencies there at Mansion, Pink Elephant and steady appearances at the legendary Webster Hall. My best memories from the golden age of clubbing were when I was a resident at the Tunnel, Limelight and Exit. That was something!
Having Eastern European heritage, you must be familiar with pierogis. What is the best pierogi filling?
Absolutely! I am from Ukraine and we invented the pierogi! I love them all. My favorite filling is meat but you can’t have just one! I also love potato. Sometimes they put potato and mushrooms together, yummy! And for a little sweeter, dessert feel, definitely sweet cottage cheese or cherry filling!
Your thoughts on Chinese dumplings?
I love Chinese dumplings! Ultimate meal every time! I live in New York City and we have a very big China Town in Manhattan. It literally feels like China when I’m down there and they have one of the best dumpling restaurants. I just love it! And, of course, every time I come to China, especially Hong Kong, I always go for some dumplings!
Who is the more badass character, Indiana Jones or Han Solo?
Indiana Jones for sure! I’ve seen every Indiana Jones movie and I’m very embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen one Star Wars movie.
Which is the superior pet, cat or dog?
Definitely dogs! I have a dog and I love him to death! He is my best friend and like a son, dances with so much happiness when I come home and understands everything. He’s very smart and listens! I trained him well, unlike cats, that stay pretty much to themselves and never listen. Not to mention I have allergies to cats. But I love all animals.
Very special thanks to the Xin Wang Group and MusicFest.Asia for building another amazing Asia and China Tour!
The above interview has been edited for clarity and length.