17 Sep A Man About Time: Fergie Learns How to Balance Stillness & Craic
The first time I saw Fergie DJ was on July 4th weekend at Las Vegas’ world-famous pool party, Wet Republic. Standing there in the scorching hot sun on a beautiful summer day, his crisp white tee shirt glistened as he smiled cheekily and the light radiated above from the massive LED boards behind the stage.
The crowd roared as the music reverberated off of the water and surrounding pool decks where he turned out tune after tune. I thought to myself as I stood there watching with my best friend from Derry with a bottle of champagne popping, “The Irish sure as hell know how to party better than the Americans (and anyone else for that matter).” Fergie, also known as Robert Ferguson outside the dance music scene, will tell you the same thing.
Originally from Larne in Northern Ireland, which lies north of Belfast on the coast, Fergie grew up in the 90s during the tail end of The Troubles. Experiencing a political and religious sectarian divide, the defining decade and historical movement gave life to a bubbling and euphoric rave scene that was filled with raw energy.
As unique and enigmatic as the man himself, Fergie had an unconventional traverse into the music scene, beginning with his love of Freddie Mercury that was founded on his parent’s cassette tapes. Cutting his teeth over the last 20 years, today he headlines some of the globe’s most revered clubs.
He continuously holds residencies at Hakkasan in the MGM Grand and Omnia at Caesars Palace and isn’t shy about supporting other artists in the scene looking to follow in his footsteps. Fergie’s work ethic is both genius and grueling, but he’s learned that being a workaholic only leads to burnout.
Praised by dance music royalty including Armin van Buuren, Calvin Harris, Rebūke, Eats Everything, and Alan Fitzpatrick, his latest track, “Alpha Centauri,” made after he was forced to clear his schedule during the lockdown, went through 11 revisions before being perfect enough for release.
A true legend in all senses, I recently had a chance to have a bit of “craic” with Fergie. Read on to get the inside scoop on his career, getting sober and settling down, his favorite production techniques and must-have equipment pieces, foodie obsessions and workout routines while on the road, the artists he would get star struck to work with, and how he knows when he has found the “it” sound.
How did growing up in Northern Ireland influence you and your musical style?
Growing up in Northern Ireland in the early 90s I was exposed to the early rave scene. The music that was available to me at that time was pretty hard-hitting in terms of the sounds and energy with huge emotive synth lines quite dark but euphoric. The scene here was pretty raw, to say the least.
Tensions were very high on both sides of the political-religious-sectarian divide. In spite of, or perhaps because of; the social pressures here during the tail end of the troubles, the raves bubbled with this incredible energy I have never experienced anywhere else.
How does the music scene in Northern Ireland and the UK compare to other parts of the world?
They say no one parties as hard as the Northern Irish and I can vouch. This is for sure a fact. Still, to this day, I have not seen anyone party like the hometown crew! Wow, it scares me a wee bit to think about it but, damn. We sure know how to get involved and we do not hold back one bit. I’ve traveled around the world a few times over and still stick to my story.
Who are your top musical influences and why?
The first musician I really gravitated towards was Freddie Mercury. His voice is what first got me hooked. His vocals just had raw power but he harnessed and used it in so many different ways; heavy rock anthems to beautiful ballads. The Barcelona masterpiece that he made with operatic soprano Monserrat Caballe gives you a huge indication of his range.
Let’s not forget how captivating he was when he was on stage. Just an incredible frontman. To be honest, I’m not sure how I first got to hear him. It must have been some cassette tapes lying around the house that my folks owned. Haha.
The Prodigy were also early influences for me with their first Album Experience in 1992. Wow so many hits on there. Looking back now it’s no wonder it grabbed me. They were fun but super interesting tracks like “Charly”, “Everybody in the Place” and “Out of Space”. The list goes on. Those early Prodigy days were incredible and so inspirational. R.I.P Keef. What a frontman he was! I have always said he was up there with Freddie in terms of stage presence. What a legend.
What was the making of your latest track, “Alpha Centauri” like? How much time do you put into the studio during a typical week? What is your creative process like step by step?
The body of that track came to me very easily once I was forced to clear my schedule during the lockdown. Taking time off work helped me sort through some creative blocks I didn’t even know I had. “Alpha Centauri” draws influence from my old friend Mauro Picotto, without knowing it at the time of making. I guess the music that Mauro (the lizard man) was making back in the day got burnt into my brain a little.
The track went through a lot of changes and I was eventually happy with version 11! Most of the changes were very small, incremental, but these are the things you hear as a producer that for me really take it to the next level from a production standpoint. If I had to put a label on days spent I would say perhaps four full days on it, but it was done over weeks with a few hours here and there so it’s hard to really put a time frame on it.
Having been praised by Armin van Buuren, Calvin Harris, Rebūke, Eats Everything, and Alan Fitzpatrick for “Alpha Centauri” how do you return your support for other new artists and producers in the industry? What makes the biggest impact?
Yes, the support from these guys has been quite incredible. I feel that there is a lot of support in the techno/DJ world. We are all friends and love similar music so we get excited to play each others’ new tracks and road test them. It’s great to show support by posting videos on our social media pages or including the tracks in our charts that get published online.
What DAW, plugins, and equipment do you use to make your unique sound and style?
The DAW I use is Ableton as well as Logic plugins. I tend to keep my plugins to a minimum but even at that, wow too many to mention. I have a ton of the fabfilter plugs and I would say my fave synth pack would be the Arturia V collection bundle. You won’t be left wanting for much if you jump in and purchase that one for sure.
How do you stay authentic to yourself while also innovating and growing as an artist?
I have been told many times over the years that how I mix and build my DJ sets up is pretty distinctive. I don’t tend to play any ‘fillers’. All of my tracks really have to hit home even if they are at the start of my set. I really have to make sure the tracks mean something to me and make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck or I won’t play them.
I hadn’t been making much music over the last lot of years so here I am, back, trying to figure out my sound and put a stamp on that. This time around I’m playing quite eclectic sets ranging from organic/afro house, melodic techno, and peak time bangers in my set. I want to replicate that variety in my studio productions so the challenge will be to implement my sound in each style, so bear with me on that. That is going to take some wicked enjoyable and long studio hours.
What is the one piece of software, equipment, or instrument you currently don’t have yet but believe it would add to your productions and why?
I could really do with a sophisticated electronic device on my desk that has really forceful energy. It would include a boxing glove attached to it that gets thrust out at my nose when I’m spending too many hours on a crap idea.
What has been your biggest challenge to get to where you are today as an artist and how were you able to overcome this?
My biggest challenge has been to stay sober. It has always been such a huge part of the scene whether it was drink or drugs or both. I have been off and on it for most of my life but mostly on it. Early on, I knew that it was part of the game and I quite liked it to be honest. I was pretty good at the party side of things as I started very young. It was just normal for where I come from, but deep down I knew it was going to be hard to maintain, and it’s been one hell of a ride.
There have been plenty of bumps along the way but here I am playing the best gigs of my life and doing it all sober. I have to say it’s much more enjoyable this way and I can really hone in on my craft and give the ravers a proper great night because I know what they want to feel. I’m composed mentally and I can really read the energy in the room.
It’s taken a good while for me to feel comfortable in my own skin being sober and I think it’s like that for most people, DJs, and musicians or not. I feel lucky to be on top of it and taking every day as it comes. I have strong family support and my wife is right there beside me as we decided to embark on this new journey of music, travel, and exploring while working together.
How do you experiment with new sounds and how do you know when you’ve found one worth exploring further?
I go back to goosebumps. They are a good indicator that this is the sound I want to work with. Sometimes you discover a sound and get so excited because you know the track is going to pretty much write itself. I take a lot of inspiration from the last 30 years in music.
I hear sounds that are reminiscent of records I know from the past and that’s where it starts for me because I am of the mind that if the sound I remember from years ago still gives me that feeling/buzz then it has lasted the test of time and I should make something of it.
Who are three of your dream collaborators and why?
1. Leftfield – Leftism is the most listened-to album I have ever owned. They just had a broad spectrum of music that they produced but was always with an underground rave feel.
2. Timo Mass – Loud; again one of my favorite albums and most listened to over the years. Timo has been a legend of the scene for many many years. He is a true gent and institution but always humble. I have told Timo many times over the years how much I loved his album but he just kind of smiles as if to say, “Yeah of course you’re going to tell me that.”
3. Dave Gahn & Martin Gore. Yeah, well who wouldn’t want to collaborate with these both? Dave is like Freddie and Keith Flint, one of the best frontmen ever and Martin is such an incredible studio and synth junkie it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be locked away with the pair of them to create something. But to be honest, I’d be so starstruck I probably couldn’t even speak.
Bonus: It would be really cool to have Peter Hook play some guitar on a track. I don’t know the entire New Order or Joy Division catalog but “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is a classic and the history that Hooky has and what he created within the club scene at the Hacienda is incredibly inspirational and interesting.
What specific recommendations can you share about meditation which has helped you with your sobriety? How has the nonprofit The Phoenix – Rise Recover Live played a role in impacting your local community?
My advice in getting started with meditation is to just start! Even in short spurts for a few minutes with yourself each day. Find a mentor or use guided meditations. I like to listen to Ram Dass, Deepak Chopra, and Sadhguru to name just a few. Not to get too preachy, but in my experience substances are a way of escaping our busy minds.
However, I’ve found the key to recovery is in recognizing the true self and the ego (and the difference between the two) and to become more conscious of the present moment rather than trying to hide from our thoughts. Mindful meditation allows recovering addicts or anyone to tap into a heightened sense of consciousness, increasing awareness of the self, and the environment, which helps break the cycle of being preoccupied with finding the next drink or the next high.
My favorite part of volunteering is the ability to show people in recovery that sobriety does not have to mean living a boring life. I hope it helps people to see that if I was able to become sober while having to spend five nights out in a club every week; it can be done. The Vegas life can be a struggle for anyone trying to change their life and The Phoenix provides one of the most important factors in recovery: a supportive and welcoming community.
What’s it been like being a resident DJ at Hakkasan in Las Vegas, Nevada and what does it mean to you?
Yes, I play at Hakkasan and Omnia here in Vegas; having a residency gives me the opportunity to establish hometown support while gaining exposure through the international crowd in Vegas. It has been so enjoyable to call Las Vegas my second home and to witness and participate in the evolution of the electronic dance scene here. EDM has been so important for the growth of techno since it has laid the groundwork for electronic music exposure to a larger audience.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be on lineups with the likes of Black Coffee and Rufus du Sol, and it really warms my heart to see the new younger generation embrace the more “underground” flavors. Sometimes, playing in Vegas can be a challenge for me, as my goal is to play to the crowd but also take them on a journey and give them some new music they perhaps would not have been exposed to.
How do you stay mentally fit with a grueling schedule and residency in one of the world’s most well-known destinations?
Actually, my wife is the one behind the staying fit part. She needs that in her life and I guess she feels I need it in my life also. Lol. I enjoy bike riding and participating in the Phoenix bootcamps that she coaches, but apart from that, I tend to find wanting to work out difficult.
As for staying mentally fit, that I have been working on a lot with reading and meditation (we don’t even own a television). I suppose part of being able to maintain some sort of fresh and energized mindset comes from the bit of exercise that I do manage to accomplish. So, I try to get after it but, I just find it hard to get motivated.
Since fitness is such a big part of your lifestyle, especially when you’re on the road touring, how do you stay in shape? What is your workout routine?
Ha, this is a hard question. I’m seriously thinking about what I could make up. The truth is when I’m on tour I eat so much street food or new/local food I have never tried before! I guess if I had to put my finger on what I do most when I’m on tour to stay fit (and to experience the city) is; my wife and I walk EVERYWHERE. For example, when we were in NYC for three days we ended up logging 26 miles on foot so I guess I do manage to keep some healthy aspects in there.
What life lessons have you learned while living in Las Vegas?
As far as DJing goes, I learned how to really read a room; how to DJ, and work the dance floor. I really got to understand that ego sometimes holds us back from playing the record that may change the whole party for the better.
Career-wise, I learned that I don’t want to DJ seven times a week. I got a little burnt out after ten years of chasing that type of schedule. I learned having time away from music/djing is so creatively necessary and productive.
As for life lessons, during my time in Vegas, I settled down, fell in love, got married, got sober, bought and sold several houses, and survived a pandemic. What haven’t I learned?
As someone who definitely loves to laugh and make others laugh with your social media content, who is your favorite comedian and how would you describe your type of humor?
I would say an old classic is Richard Pryor. A newer favorite comedian would be Dave Chappelle, whose standup routine is very intelligent. I really love the shocking truth which can make us all seem so dumb about how we act in life. It’s good to be able to laugh about almost everything in life, most of all, oneself. My humor comes from Ireland. I just think we get the “craic” more than most. It’s just a way of life for us.
Over the last year, you’ve allowed yourself time for reflection and reconnection. How has this influenced where you are at today, right now?
That’s correct. I have learned that time is the most important valuable thing any human can own and I am constantly trying to be mindful that I need to use mine more wisely. I sit here answering these questions in my parent’s house in Ireland where my father was born and where I grew up.
I’ve just finished visiting with my brother and his family and am sitting looking out the window. Here I am thinking about how excited I was to get my first interview about DJing while sitting in this same house nearly 30 years ago. I am blessed that I’m still so excited to be doing interviews and to be reaching people through music. I hope my message/story can inspire others.
What festival or show are you most looking forward to next?
I have seven or eight shows coming up in the UK that are all very different from each other since the line-ups change with each event. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. Let’s just say I’m excited to connect with all my buddies who will be spinning and some of the rave crews that have been supporting me through thick and thin over the years. I’m equally excited to party with them and play for all the different crowds at each and every event.
What is your ultimate goal and what do you hope to achieve next?
Gotta keep searching for that perfect beat!