"Caught Up," the latest single from the producer Sonny Fodera, belongs to an important strain of motion-commanding house music -- songs along the lines of Marshall Jefferson's "Move Your Body," Nightcrawlers' "Push The Feeling On," and Barbara Tucker's "I Get Lifted." The primary lyric in Fodera's tune is "caught up in the rhythm," and when this is looped and laid across a grid of ping-pong-ing bass and unyielding, high-stepping drums, the phrase transforms into a set of dancefloor marching orders.
"I still remember playing the bassline, like, man, this is sick!" Fodera tells Billboard Dance. He is speaking from London, at home after a short U.S. tour that included stops in New York City, San Diego, and Orlando. The 31-year-old headed back across the Atlantic to be present at a baby shower for his fiancé, who is expecting a child. Then he returned to America for this week's Winter Music Conference in Miami.
Fodera has risen through the house music ranks the old fashioned way. He didn't blow up seemingly overnight, with a hit that sweeps across clubs -- or Spotify -- from Europe to the U.S.; instead, he climbed slowly but surely, connecting with some of the genre's big names on the way, earning plaudits from longstanding gatekeepers.
Fodera has released a pair of albums on Cajual, the label of Chicago pioneer Curtis Jones, better known to dancers as either Cajmere or Green Velvet, and worked with Chicago staples like Dajae and Gene Farris. "Caught Up" features vocals from Yasmeen, who has contributed to tracks from house pillars like Todd Terry and Sandy Rivera, and it arrived on the English label Defected, a force in the crossover wing of house music for more than a decade. Now Fodera is forming his own label, AARIVAL, with an inaugural release planned for next month.
These sterling credentials are the product of a career that could serve as an advertisement for the by-your-own-bootstraps approach. Fodera DJ'd around Adelaide, where he grew up, saving up money and trying to get his productions signed by the U.K. and U.S. labels whose records he found himself purchasing (Guesthouse Music, Drop Music). At age 23, he decided to go the source, booking his own gigs around the U.S. and U.K., then spending time in Ibiza before traveling back to Australia.
At some point during his cross-continental bouncing, he made a positive impression on Gene Farris, a Chicago producer who asked him to remix his track "Dance Warriors" for Cajual. "It really worked and it went No. 1 on Traxsource," Fodera remembers. (Farris and Fodera connected again in 2016 to make another decadent, declarative club track titled "We Work It.") Fodera happened to be in Miami at the same party as Green Velvet not long after the "Dance Warriors" remix came out, so he introduced himself, and the two struck up a friendship. "Green Velvet is like my mentor really," Fodera says. "We're on the phone and Skype all the time just working."
More career opportunities fell out of this connection. Hanging out with Green Velvet in Chicago, Fodera met Claude Von Stroke, securing himself a release on Von Stroke's Dirtybird label. And one of Fodera's tracks on Cajual, "Putting It Down," caught the attention of Defected boss Simon Dunmore, a long time van of Green Velvet's work. This helped Fodera land a chance to play Defected parties, put together a Defected In The House mix, and last year, release his Frequently Flying album on the label.
Dunmore was so excited by "Putting It Down" that Fodera re-recorded the track with Yasmeen, added a sprinkle of hi-hats, in vogue across pop at the moment --"I've been listening to a lot of trap lately," the producer says -- and put the track out again as "Caught Up." It sat at No. 65 on a recent Traxsource singles chart.
The bass carries "Caught Up:" one five-note riff climbs up the scale but then drops on the last note, and another inverts the process, dropping down but suddenly climbing up on the final note. The symmetry is satisfying, and the ending is crucial -- it sounds as if the glum half of your brain is in an argument with your more optimistic side, and the hopeful part wins out.
"When I sent it to Green Velvet, he called me that night, and I was in a club playing a gig," Fodera recalls. "I picked up; he's like, 'I love the track!' I'm like, 'what?'" Dancers agreed with Green Velvet. "The response [in the club] when I first played that was ridiculous."
"Caught Up" sounds like Fodera's attempt to recapture his own initiation into the world of house music, which took place at age 18 during a set from Chicago DJ Derrick Carter. "I was never really much of a dancer," he remembers. "You have a few drinks and you hear tracks -- house versions of jazz and disco, stuff I'd heard growing up -- on a good system? I was dancing all night and couldn't stop."
Now Fodera can help others experience the same.