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Harry Romero - Rhythm is a Fingerprint
9 min

Harry Romero - Rhythm is a Fingerprint

Mar 24
9 min

DJ, producer, in-demand remixer, and head of Bambossa Records, Harry Romero, has produced dancefloor anthems non-stop since the 1990s.

From his early days as part of Subliminal Records, Harry has released music on Defected Records, Kontor Records, and legendary New York City labels Nervous Records and Strictly Rhythm, to name a few.

The likes of Honey Dijon and Kolsch have remixed his music. A proper house music master, Harry shows no signs of stopping.  

In a candid conversation with The DJ Cookbook, the New Jersey native spoke about his early beginnings, the importance of family, and how his passion and dedication led to a career in dance music.

Q: What did you have for breakfast?

A: I had some raspberries, some grapes, a cup of coffee, and a slice of toast.

Q: Let’s talk about your background; where does your family come from?

A: My parents are from Colombia, and I was born in New Jersey. My mom is from Santander, and my father is from Bogotá.

Q: What did you grow up eating?

A: My parents said, in this house, you are in Colombia. You walk out of this house and speak whatever language you want. In this house, we're going to keep the traditions going. You'll speak Spanish in this house, especially when you speak to us. So we had rice and beans with different meats. Pork chops, chicken, steak.

Q: What did you eat when you used to go out with your friends in New Jersey?

A: Before I got married and still lived at home, whenever we went out to eat, we'd always end up at a diner at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. We'd get breakfast, like scrambled eggs, burgers, and disco fries. Do you know what disco fries are?

Q: No, what are disco fries?

A: Disco fries are french fries with gravy and cheese. It could be healthier, but it does the job when you have been out all night partying and drinking, and it's 3:00 - 4:00 in the morning.

In high school, I would go out with all my Latin friends and get empanadas at a Colombian bakery nearby my house. Our culture, it was always in the backdrop.

Q: What is a dish you can't live without?

A: I'm Latino, and I love my lentils. You give me a plate of white rice with some lentils and a little hot sauce, and I'm happy. We'll even throw a fried egg on that thing. You know what I mean!

Q: What is your favorite kitchen appliance?

A: A good set of sharp knives. One thing I hate is when you go to cut something, like a tomato, and your knife is not sharp, you get a shredded tomato instead. You need a sharp knife for that. I keep my knives sharp. As far as an appliance, my Vitamix, my blender.

Q: What did your parents listen to when you were younger?

A: My mother was all about Colombian music and some Spanish singers. She listened to Colombian singer Juan Legido. It was always salsa, merengue, and cumbia in our house.

My father was the one that had an eclectic taste, and he had an extensive palette of colors in his musical repertoire. He would listen to jazz, all kinds of jazz, all kinds of just everything. So on Sundays, my father just hung out and listened to music.

I was the only one who gravitated toward my dad when he was doing that. All the other my brother and sister could care less. I would always gravitate towards my dad, and he would take the time to explain to me who the artist was. He would just take the time to explain who wrote it and its origin. So he's the person that sparked interest in different styles of music outside of what is culturally part of us.

Q: Do you go to Colombia often?

A: Yes, I was recently there to play 3 gigs. I love it there, it's home.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a DJ?

A: My brother was DJing with his friends, and I would tag along and help them carry equipment. Then one time, they let me get on, and I caught the fever for it!

My father had a two-cassette machine, so we would try to do tape edits using cassettes, which was a nightmare, but we did it, and it was fun. They probably sound horrible now! I started using hip-hop and Latin freestyle as most black, and brown kids did back then. We're talking mid-80s.

Q: When did you realize making music could be a career path?

A: It's like a combination of it came to me. I didn't go to it. I started DJing when I was a teenager. Making music has always been a passion of mine.  I would skip class when I was going to university, and I'd come home and work on music. I'd spend my days looking for samples at record stores.

I just became proficient at it. And once the first couple of records came out, and they did really well, the phone started ringing for remixes and I was leaving the state to do DJ gigs, like in LA or Toronto, and it fell on my lap. The phone started ringing, and it steered me towards doing this professionally. But there was never an instant where I said I could make a living out of this. It just happened.

I got into it, and that was the bridge that brought me to house music with producers like Todd Terry, Louie Vega, and Kenny Dope. So it's interesting, but it's a typical trajectory as people I've spoken to in my age bracket from my area have the same kind of history.

Q: When did you start clubbing?

A: Proper clubbing in New York City in 1991. I was 18 years old and growing up with my parents. I couldn't sneak out and go to the city while I was still in high school.

When I turned 18, I started hanging out with a group of people, and they were like, "we must go check out Louie Vega at the Sound Factory bar on Wednesday nights." And that became my church.

I always say that's my Paradise Garage. How do I say it? My musical, spiritual home.

Q: After a clubbing, what did you eat?

A: What we call street meat! Whoever was outside the club, that's what you ate.

Q: Do you remember your first paid DJ gig? Where was it?

A: It was at this little club in New Jersey called the Play Pen. My friend couldn't make it, and he asked if I could cover for him. I made $300. That's the first club gig that I ever did. I was fresh out of high school and ready for college, and I got to DJ for a big group of people. And it was awesome.

Q: You begin producing your music and start doing the rounds. How did it feel when you got signed to Strictly Rhythm?

A:  Oh, my god. It was ridiculous how happy I was!

We must remember that two labels in New York set the bar high for those who don't know. And that was Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records.

I remember I went on the rounds that day. I signed two records that day. I signed one on Power Music, one of DJ Duke's labels. I think the label is called Sex Mania if I'm not mistaken. And the other one was the one I signed on Strictly. I came home with $3,000 that day. I was probably 20 years old. I had never seen that amount of money in my life before. So, returning to one of your questions, I said, “I can make money doing this.” That day planted the seed that I could make a good living doing this.

Q: When did you decide to start Bambossa Recordings?

A: In 1999.

Q: From Bambossa’s music catalog, which tracks are dear to your heart?

A: That’s easy, Tania, and my second would be Night @ the Black. It's just unbelievable. I get messages frequently, video messages of top DJs still playing the original mix, and it just blows my mind.

Q: Detroit or Chicago house music completely differs from NY house music. NY house has a driving Latin rhythm. Do you think the Latin influence is part your DNA?

A: That's part of my DNA. Rhythm is a fingerprint; you know what I mean? Rhythm, we digest and translate rhythm.

For me, it's like, I can't make German minimal. I can, but it won't be authentic. I'm not talking good or bad about the genre. I have to do what comes authentically from my brain, my heart, and out of my hands.

I'm also conscious that I won't make 100 Latin house tracks. That bores me. Do you know what I mean?

Q: Are you a heavy salsa or merengue dancer?

A: Well, I'm heavy, and I dance, but I wonder if I'm a heavyweight dancer! I do enjoy it, and I have fun doing it, but I'm not hardcore. When I dance with my wife, we just laugh because I know a couple of basic moves. But I love salsa music; it’s one of my passions

Q: How do you feel about reggaeton?

A: I get why it's very popular. There are a lot of songs that I enjoy. Some of the Bad Bunny ones are cool, and some of the early ones are cool. But generally speaking, I want to shoot myself in the ears if I hear more than 20 minutes of it.

Q: Do you think Covid-19 taught the music industry anything?

A: Did it teach me anything about the music industry? It taught me I don't know so much. If it's a direct lesson from the music industry, it was more of a lesson on humanity for me in my career. I've never had such a long pause. Going back to the mid-90s, I never stopped until 2020, when the pandemic hit. I was nonstop in the studio on an airplane, at a gig, then home, raising kids, the studio just going, going.

I stepped back and understood that life is fragile, as corny as that may sound. It's true. Life is fragile. And the things that matter to me most are not material things. What matters is family. I'm a family-oriented person. So I could reconnect with my children and wife, stay home, breathe, and get off the hamster wheel. Get off the rat race. And also, a lot of people I knew passed away. So you look at what's important. What is important to me is my health and my loved ones.

Q: Technology has also changed how we make and consume music. What have you adapted to your process, and what have you kept old school/purist?

A: The only thing old school in my studio would be me! I've had the same set of studio monitors for over 20 years. My Genelec 1031 S and my Yamaha S10. Those are my speakers. I've been using them 80%, 90% of my career, and I know them well. Regarding the other stuff, I have some vintage gear, like EQs, mic preamps, microphones, and some old analog synthesizers.

90% of what I do is inside the computer, so I make sure my computer is up to date. I have a friend; his name is Rob Swinger. He always hooks me up with the latest plugins. In other words, he tells me about them.

I'm on top of the technology, and I come from the thinking if it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Q: Do you have a routine when you are in the studio?

A:  I've gotten it to the point where I'm efficient at spending time in the studio. I'm in charge of taking the kids to school. I'll come home, have a cup of coffee, make breakfast, shower, and then go to the studio for 3 to 5 hours to get what I need done. I always meet my deadlines. I've yet to miss a deadline. Knock on wood. So I work efficiently. It's different at the beginning when you're trying to figure out your sound, and you're struggling, learning the technology. I am comfortable with the technology. I'm pretty savvy at it, and I'm efficient.

Q: Being on tour, you experience different cultures and flavors; which cuisine has impressed you from all your travels?

A: Portugal and Spain. I mean, the seafood over there, the Mediterranean food, actually Greece, too. So anything in what they call the blue Zone, I'm just a major fan of that type cuisine. I don't know why, it feels like home to me as much as the rice and lentils, you know what I mean? I love good Portuguese food, like seafood, shrimp, fish, etc. I love it, love it, love it.

Q: How do you balance being on tour and family?

A: I have a natural pull toward people. So my natural draw is towards my wife, kids, parents, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. It's easy for me. Like, I'm not one to be on the road every weekend of the year. I can't do it. It's too much for me. So I do two weekends on, one weekend off, or a weekend on, then a weekend off. You find that balance. And I take as many gigs as possible when I'm in Europe. I'll go for ten days, get the two weekends in, and come home. So I'm that guy who's always on the first flight back home.

Q: What do you do to relax?

A: I love going fishing, and I love archery. Those are my two hobbies.

Q: What’s coming for you in 2023?

A: I'll be in Europe probably during the summer, Ibiza shows and in the UK, and stuff like that. But I'm doing a collab with this artist called HoneyLuv. She's doing well right now. So they reached out to me to do a collab because I did a remix for her song, 365, which came out on Chris Lake's label, Black Book Records, and it did well. So they wanted to do a collab, and I said, “let's do it.” It came out amazing. It's out on Bambossa.

I'm doing a follow-up collab with Louie Vega for the song El Ritmo which we did last year. We got a version of it. I have an EP coming out on Hot Since 82’s label, a 2-track EP, which is fire, and another EP coming out on Crosstown Rebels, Damian Lazarus's label, and a bunch of remixes. Just busy, busy.

Q: Harry, thank you, it’s been an honor talking with you!

A: It was my pleasure!

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