Dee Montero is a lifer. He’s the Belfast-born house-head who went from listening to pirate radio shows & mix-tapes to digging in the crates & then made the giant leap to Ibiza long before social media became de rigeur on the isl& & in the world. He’s the former Café Mambo DJ resident who played alongside some of the greats before making the move to Hong Kong, where he booked some of the biggest & best DJs in the world, & then returned to the Balearics brighter, faster & stronger. & at the end last year he received the biggest accolade yet: Pete Tong’s Essential Tune Of The Year on BBC Radio One for the string-fuelled, epic end-of-nighter ‘Halcyon’, originally released on Solomun’s acclaimed Diynamic imprint at the end of April. It’s been quite the trip for Dee Montero.
But how did he do it? Let’s rewind to the beginning which, as it tends to do, starts with radio. “In 1992 I’d tune into a Belfast pirate radio show (Passion FM) presented Stefano & Pablo Gargano. They worked at Underground Records in the city importing vinyl, everything from Italo house (DFC) to Belgian techno (R&S). I was hooked.
“I went to see Carl Cox at early Ulster Hall raves alongside Grooverider & Colin Dale: everything from house & techno to jungle & hardcore.” But it was Pete Tong’s National Radio One show that made the biggest mark on young Dee. “He was breaking records every week,” he remembers. “& the Essential Mixes were a key thing as an aspiring DJ, a great way to find new records. For inspiration you either went to raves, hung out in record shops, listened to mix tapes passed between mates or the Essential Mix on a Friday night. This was before digital - so no laptops, USB sticks or disposable mp3s! Labels & producers back then seemed to work extra hard to keep the quality high & win a place in your record box".
Carl Cox also proved to be an adept teacher for Dee. “His technical ability & 3 deck wizardry got my attention at those early raves. It was an exciting time, music from a different planet!”
In 1993 Dee bought his first set of Technics: mixing in the bedroom, creating mix-tapes & looking for his first gig (£60 he recalls “quite a lot back then”). His tapes “spread like wildfire” & he developed a reputation as the gigs rolled in. Even Fergie years later would tell him that he used to listen to his tapes. “He was already a superstar by that stage!”. When he was 17 he entered the Vestax mixing championships winning the Belfast heats & qualifying for the UK finals where he came 5th but led to a residency at the Network club in Belfast. “That really kicked things off for me back in ‘96. My first residency & I was playing alongside greats such as Dave Seaman, Br&on Block & Parks & Wilson, it’s where I cut my teeth as a warm-up DJ for the next 3 years.”
The mid 90‘s were a transitional period as Dee entered his late teens. “The music & scene was gaining more momentum & legitimacy. Super-clubs had replaced illegal raves & clubbing felt like a part of everyone’s life. I was doing guest spots at Thompsons in Belfast & the legendary Lush! further up the coast & listening a lot to John Digweed: I loved the way he structured & built his sets.” & Brian ‘BT’ Transeau’s 1995 ‘Ima’ took a special place in his heart as “an epic house masterpiece” which Dee hopes to one day remix.
In 2000 Dee’s own career started to transition. “I was doing the circuit in Belfast when the club lost its license & closed down. I’d just finished college & was at a cross roads with Ibiza being the only option on my radar. My friend Pete Gooding told me to try a season in the summer of 2000 so I packed my record bag (200 vinyl - about 50kg’s!) & headed to the isl&. I scrambled for gigs but knew Ibiza was where I had to be so I worked hard & made lots of connections. My first residency came in 2001 at Cafe Savannah on the sunset strip & every Tuesday I got to warm up for the likes of Tiesto & Armin at Amnesia. Then Mambo came good in 2003 & I started doing long day sets eventually earning a residency there that allowed me to work the music through from the day to sunset & then that magical period as the evening vibe starts to pick up ahead of the guest Dj coming on. I learnt a lot during that time experimenting with different types of music & even mixing film sound tracks, soul, disco, funk & ambient jungle! It definitely helped me develop my own style of Balearic sound - a path of constant discovery & one that introduced me to artists such as Zero 7, Ulrich Schnauss, Jimpster, Trentemøller, Carl Craig & Cinematic Orchestra. & of course playing alongside heroes such as Frankie Knuckles & Laurent Garnier”.
Dee also started making his own music in 2000 “A friend of mine, Graeme Laverty, was well known in Belfast as a great producer & after a season in Ibiza had lots of ideas for a tracks & we did our first record under the name Midtone. The next season I h&ed out 30 CDs of my first track ‘Pearl’ which instantly picked up support from the likes of PVD with Sasha even pressing his own acetate vinyl (this was the pre-CDJ era!). It was an unbelievable feeling - Sasha playing it on the open air Space terrace, a moment I’ll never forget. It was eventually signed to Duty Free & we did a remix of Oliver Lieb as a result. I was hungry to develop my sound further though & the name Montero was born: ‘Montero was more sexy & percussive, Space terrace stuff. The first release was played by the likes of Lee Burridge in 2002 which lead to signing to Renaissance.”
He took a break from Ibiza & didn’t return for a full season until 2012 but during that time continued to produce & had a Beatport Number One with ‘Captain Hook’. “I started getting offers in France, Serbia & Belarus & was doing a lot of Renaissance tours as well as playing the legendary Cross in London” The biggest gig came in at a festival in Belgrade for 25,000 people which he describes as ‘surreal’.
He also travelled to Asia, living in Hong Kong between 2008 & 2011 where he was warming up for the likes of Sasha of which Dee says “When he delivers its one of those nights you never forget. I have a lot of respect for Sasha. I played at The Ushuaia Tower for him in 2013 & he supported one of my tracks ‘Solace’ recently”. While in Hong Kong Dee worked as Music Director for Kee Club, bringing over the likes of Nina Kraviz, Dimitri from Paris & Bonar Bradberry. “I was getting stuck in, even designing the flyers - putting my degree in Graphic Design to good use. You’ve got to pull your weight in Hong Kong, it’s all about discipline, if you don’t you lose your working visa.”
More recently Dee performed at Burning Man on the Carl Cox stage & also at Hï in Ibiza with Joris Voorn & Nic Fanciulli at In The Dark. Releases such as ‘Full Body’ on Saved & the epic ‘Vedra’ on Knee Deep In Sound & ‘Fade Into Noir’ feat Aya on Selador have kept him busy. But the best was yet to come with Pete Tong bestowing him with 2017’s ‘Essential Tune Of The Year’ for ‘Halcyon’, released on Solomun’s Diynamic label. “I very much believe that a good record is a good record so I try not to follow trends too much,” says Dee, in something that sounds very much like a musical manifesto. “I like a Tale Of Us record, I love the Balearic sounds from Tensnake & Crazy P but I also love a driving techno track. Being at Café Mambo helped my musical horizons because in you can cover every genre. In 2015 I did a 15-hour set there once comprising of an eclectic mix of disco & Balearic re-edits, slowly winding down orchestral & Hans Zimmer-esque soundtracks for sunset & then entering that magical transition into deeper & more tripped out melodic grooves setting the tone for at dusk & the excitement for the night ahead.”
As for the future after ‘Halcyon’? While he ponders the importance of an album (“I’ve been toying with the idea of an artist album for years & now feel more confident about making this a reality in the near future") look out for further key releases in 2018, including his current piano- flecked Beatport-trouncing release ‘In The Wild/Polaris’ (the former featuring the stunning soulful vocals of Meliha Faisal & again supported by Pete Tong) & forthcoming EP’s on Tale & Tone & Knee Deep In Sound due out before the summer season gets underway. The ‘Halcyon’ days are here: & Dee is just getting started.