“Put ‘Em High” for Underground House DJ/Producer AJ Moreno

Today’s producers started in the bedroom and then progressed to using a controller and laptop to DJ at clubs and festivals. Considering this arc has been the relative norm for over the past 10 years, hearing about AJ Moreno’s background was a change of pace.

With a gradually rising profile emerging from London’s underground warehouse scene, Moreno started DJing on vinyl after he received a set of Technics 1200 turntables at 13. The tradition passed down from his uncles, who were DJs themselves, and in fact, the legendary DJ and producer Carl Cox was a friend of his family’s. 

Moreno’s now promoting his latest single “Put ‘Em High” a retro-modern reworking of the Stonebridge track from the 2000s. As a producer and remixer, his sounds blending house, tech house, trap, and hip-hop have gotten him noticed.

In turn, he’s opened for or shared the stage with Dizzy Wright, KOAN Sound, Shift K3Y, Yasmin, Prospa, and DJ Colin Francis, headlined Paris’ Be Street Festival in 2015, and in 2017, after being selected by BBC Radio 1’s Danny Howard, opened Creamfields’ BBC Music stage. 

With a Beatport No. 1 behind him (track “No Trust”) and “Put ‘Em High” receiving a significant amount of buzz, we had a chance to speak with Moreno about his career and latest effort.

Tell us about your background: How did you get into DJing and producing?

I started DJ’ing back when I was 13. I was given a pair of Technics 1200s by my Uncle Kenny. I come from a family of musicians and DJs, plus my Mum and Dad are huge music lovers, so I grew up listening to music more than watching TV. Once I got decks though, ALL my money went on vinyl. I used to even go to Big Apple Records in Croydon after school to buy new tunes! Big up Hatcha!

You have a few relatives who are also DJs. Have they had any influence on your career?

For sure. Whenever I’d visit them, they’d always be in the studio. So, I would hang out with them and watch them make music. I learned my way around DAWs through my Uncle James. Whatever program/plugins he used, I used.

When he changed DAW, I changed, too. He introduced me to Cubase, to Reason, to Logic, to Ableton, and once I learned Ableton, I stuck with it. Carl Cox is also a family friend of ours, he DJ’ed at my mum and dad’s wedding, so of course, seeing someone I know become a music God was quite inspiring! All of them lot were in Ibiza all the time!

How does DJing with turntables compare to today’s technology?

I think anyone who started on vinyl, once you figure out what the buttons do on a CDJ, you’ll be able to mix no problem! You can’t compare the drift of a CDJ2000 to a belt-drive turntable!

I at least got to learn on direct-drives! I still prefer CDJs, though. I don’t miss having to lug massive record boxes to gigs! Now I carry a headphone case with some USBs inside! Technology is nuts!

Whether it’s for DJing or in the studio, what technology do you use today?

For DJ’ing, I love CDJ2000s. I own a XDJ-RX to do mixes and stuff at home. Studio wise, I have a bit of gear, but my favorite bits, though, are my Ableton Push 2 (big up my bro Lewis Thompson from Just Kiddin’ for introducing that to me!), Komplete Kontrol S49 and my Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones!

I produce with the monitors, obviously, but I think because I started with hardly any gear, I bought the headphones to mix down my songs, and I’ve got so used to their monitoring that I do the majority of my mix downs in the cans, then tweak by the monitors. I’m a tech nerd; I’d have loads of gear if I could afford it! Maybe one day!

As a producer, how would you describe your sound?

I’d say, a fusion of old school house with a modern dance twist. At least, I hope that’s what it sounds like! To be honest, music is so subjective, but as long as my music makes people happy and want to dance, I’m satisfied. Music to me is a feeling.

When I hear Stardust “Music Sounds Better with You” and that Chaka Khan sample drops, that feeling is what I’m talking about! You can be having a right shitty day, as soon as that drop comes, my mood is elevated, I feel positive. That’s what I want to do for people listening to my music.

“Put ‘Em High” just dropped in June. What was your approach for creating this track?

I had just bought my Kontrol keyboard, so I was excited to have a jam. After a few hours, I came up with the piano progression for “Put ‘Em High”. My partner Sian (who often writes music with me) was putting together a list of her favorite classic tracks and mentioned Stonebridge.

She started singing “Put Em High” over the chord progression. Literally, the next day Effie was coming round to record another song that Sian and I had written, but we put that on hold and ended up recording “Put ‘Em High” instead.

Do you have any plans for a follow-up? If so, what would we expect?

Hell yeah! I’ve been producing music for years now, I’ve got a whole catalogue of unfinished ideas! But I do have some really cool collabs in progress. I’m not gonna spill, but definitely look out for the next ones 

You’ve performed at Creamfields. As a DJ, do you prefer large festivals, or smaller club environments?

Yeah, Creamfields was wild! Just being there as an artist was unbelievable! One of the best festivals I’ve ever been to and of course played Big love to my dude Danny Howard, Jaguar and the BBC Introducing team for the support!

The buildup to festivals is probably more nerve-wracking; then again, some clubs are like small festivals! I don’t know! I’ve played at more clubs than festivals, so ask me again in 2021 Looking forward to tearing up a few in 2021, God willing!

What’s your method for putting together a DJ set?

I just want to give the people the best time ever! So, all I think about when preparing a set is “What would I love to rave to?” My selection is a meticulous process for sure, but ultimately I go for the tunes that I love and I know bang in the clubs.

As a DJ and producer, where would you like to see your career go?

I’d love to reach the highest levels – my goal is to go as far as I can up the ladder. As long as I make music that people enjoy, I’m happy and I’ll keep on this mad journey as far as it will go. Let’s see what happens I guess! Thanks for having me guys, much appreciated!