Cover Story: Henry Saiz
Cover Story: Henry SaizDecember 18, 2023
When Henry Saiz appears on my Zoom screen, he’s framed on a couch, an electronic keyboard propped beside him. Immediately warm and engaged, he tells me he’s at Parihoa Farm, a remote farm retreat in Muriwai on New Zealand’s North Island. With sweeping views out to the Tasman Sea, rolling green hills and ever-changing skies, it’s a truly idyllic pit stop.
A couple of nights prior, Saiz DJed a private party at the property’s main residence for the owner and about 30 friends. With panoramic views around the decks, he ended up playing for six hours. “It was a James Bond-level of luxury, but with the nicest, most down-to-earth people,” he says.
Saiz is in the Southern Hemisphere to kick off his Balance 032 world tour, beginning in Melbourne, the birthplace of the Balance mix series. Founded in 2000 by DJ and record label veteran Tom Pandzic, the series began by showcasing Melbourne progressive house and breaks DJs Sean Quinn, Phil K and Kasey Taylor, alongside international draws Bill Hamel and James Holden. Throughout the 2000s, Balance matured into a progressive house flagship with multi-disc mixes from the likes of Paolo Mojo, Anthony Pappa and Desyn Masiello.
Saiz was a fan himself, connecting deeply with Holden’s revered, journey-like Balance 005 (2003) and Joris Voorn’s intricately layered Balance 014 (2009). Soon after Voorn’s entry, Pandzic approached Saiz to mix Balance 019. Saiz’s two-part effort, released in 2011, was celebrated as one of the series’ best, patiently building a wistful, dreamlike atmosphere that accelerated into its second disc. The DJ was then invited back to mix Balance presents Natura Sonoris (2017), composed entirely of music from his label family.
Even by the exacting standards of his previous entries, Henry Saiz wanted to stretch further on Balance 032. Over two-plus years, he painstakingly sought out mostly exclusive, unreleased material to fill three distinct mixes, then manipulated and layered the tracks with his signature flair.
Relaxing into the couch with a lit joint in hand, Saiz shares how he set out to forge new ground from Balance 019. “For a lot of people, especially people who follow me, Balance 019 is one of the milestones of my career,” he says. “I didn’t want to contaminate the memories of that one, but I wanted to do something at the same level of complexity and quality.” Extending from two parts to three also fit into that plan: “I wanted to add one more volume to show all the different electronic styles I listen to and all my different phases.”
The process took so long, Saiz says, because Balance 032 is “a huge music collage.” As much a producer as a DJ, he made music specifically for the purpose of linking existing tracks, and spun others into his own ‘Balance Versions’. Part One is a deep and dubby warm-up mix, much of it drawn from Saiz’s own studio, including his Hal Incandenza alter-ego and tingly remixes of Röyksopp and Genius of Time. The eerie yet probing presence of an AI voice is laced throughout, reflecting Saiz’s wary embrace of the technology.
Part Two moves into clubbier territory, from progressive house to breakbeat to glitchy electronica, cresting with Henry Saiz and Imalgi’s “Kickboxer” and Third Son’s dreamy progressive breaks remix of Moonlight Wolves’ “All I Need” (Moonlight Wolves is Saiz’s three-piece group – previously known simply as Henry Saiz & Band). Closing out the journey, Part Three sees Saiz exploring faster and trippier tempos that reflect his sense that “we live in the future right now”, including techno luminaries like Planetary Assault Systems and Aurora Halal, and his own propulsive, hard-driving remix of Moonlight Wolves’ “Mantra.”
A thread of collaboration runs through each disc, including Saiz’s team-ups with French producer Damabiah and Natura Sonoris labelmate Will Mancia. The melodic yet propulsive “Kickboxer”, released as the compilation’s single, features Saiz alongside the lesser-known Imalgi. “We’ve been friends since age 11, so we are like brothers,” Saiz says of his collaborator. “He’s a top shoe designer, and started learning production during COVID. I was surprised by how good his ideas were, so we decided to do this together.”
Saiz created the mixes mostly at his home in Alicante on the coast of Spain, a world away from his bustling birthplace of Madrid. “I live very close to the beach, and you can also go to the mountains or the forest in 20 minutes,” he says. (Conveniently, Ibiza is also within easy reach.) In November, Saiz live streamed a Balance 032 ‘premiere party’ over three nights – one for each mix – from his home studio, which he describes as his “sanctuary.” Surrounded by production gear and glowing neon, he smiled, chair-danced and typed excitable replies to fans, clearly proud of the final product.
To get to that proud place took a lot of hard work and self-examination. Diagnosed with ADHD in his childhood years, Saiz hadn’t given it much thought in his adult life. However, in the process of putting together Balance 032 for a far-off deadline, he struggled to stay focused and positive. As someone who likes to work in hyper-focused bursts of inspiration, he wondered if he’d ever finish the mixes. “I don’t want to be doing something, even if I love it, for so long,” he says. “Making Balance, I sometimes couldn’t move my muscles to do something, and it started to get very weird. Like, this was something physical. In many moments, I thought about just canceling the whole thing.”
This led Henry Saiz to think more deeply about what was really going on. “I’ve always been into psychology and I self taught myself a lot about very extreme disorders like psychopathy,” he says. “For some reason, I completely forgot about ADHD. I didn’t feel it was something connected to me. Then when I started to read about it, I saw it was exactly the definition of my personality. All the projects I’ve done in the past are very complicated and very demanding. This now makes sense, because they give me the amount of dopamine I need in order to be functional.”
After this revelation, Saiz was re-diagnosed with ADHD, which gave him comfort. “The most amazing part is the relief that I felt when I knew all the problems that I had in my life, most of them are related to something that other people have,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s just something that happens in some brains.”
Accepting his condition also framed past behaviors in a new light. He recalls diving deep on philosophy at the age of 14, while his friends were out playing football, and then embracing music production. “When I started learning how to produce music, I realized how easy it was for me to hyperfocus,” he says. “It was the only thing that got me out of that hazy, kind of crazy attention span disorder. So I can be in the studio for 12 hours, not even going to the toilet, and time just disappears.” Without consciously acknowledging it at the time, Saiz also found that dopamine release through DJing, where he was immediately drawn to intensive mixing techniques.
In order to finish Balance 032, Saiz briefly tried Adderall, a common medication prescribed for ADHD: “It kind of makes you feel a bit numb and I don’t like to feel numb – I’m an emotional person, and I like that.” Instead, he found ways to “balance my dopamine levels in more organic ways”, including regular exercise and supplements. He’s also a strong advocate for cannabis – even working with Dutch supplier Royal Queen Seeds to develop a strain for “creative souls” called Tropical Mirage. “When I consume cannabis, I feel more focused, more creative and more motivated. I always felt it was something medicinal for me, and now I know it absolutely is.”
“Also, I’m avoiding a lot of these things,” Saiz adds, lifting his iPhone off the coffee table. “We’re all addicts at this point to the digital world we created. You can’t be off the grid if you want to be an artist and part of culture, but at the same time you have to take care of your health.”
After pushing through and finishing Balance 032 despite “lots of parts of the process that are not stimulating or fun”, Saiz has sworn off long projects for a while. “My next solo album I want to write in one month, mix it in one month, and release it,” he says. “I think I’m going to do it in Patagonia, in the mountains there. Rent a place in the middle of nowhere, so I can focus on doing it super fast and intense. There’s something about doing a creative process in a short time, as the energy of that moment gets trapped in the project.”
As a voracious reader of philosophy at 14, there’s always been a deep-thinking quality to Saiz’s output. His debut artist album, 2013’s Reality Is For Those Who Are Not Strong Enough To Confront Their Dreams, took its title from a quote by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and heady themes continue to suffuse his work.
One of his preoccupations is the creep of technology into our lives, and our complicity in it. While light and friendly in conversation, Saiz describes himself as “very sensitive” to the “horrible things going on in the world right now”. I ask if music helps him to make sense of that darkness.
“When I’m expressing myself through music, there’s a part of pure joy of being in contact with that world of ideas,” he says. “But a lot of the time I go to the studio feeling the world is very scary right now. Once you let it out through music and it’s there in the shape of a song, it kind of becomes fiction. The burden is lighter after that.”
Saiz’s sense that the future is now aligns with the faster tempos he’s exploring in his sets, and on Part Three of Balance 032. “I started making club music through psytrance and rave techno, so it’s like something that I feel very related to,” he says. “It’s amazing to see how this new generation of producers are reinterpreting trance, techno and rave sounds. I think one of the reasons is because we’re hyperstimulated – we live in that crazy fucking fast world.”
Saiz favors Ableton for his DJ sets, which he now sees as tied to his brain chemistry. “I have infinite CDJs in Ableton, so I can do a lot of layering,” he says. “I can isolate percussion from one track, a vocal loop from another track – I need to get stimulated all the time.” As a result, many peak moments in a Henry Saiz set are un-Shazammable, to the delight and consternation of his fans.
After such an arduous path to completion, both personally and creatively, I ask Saiz how he feels now listening to Balance 032. “Actors and actresses often do their job, then don’t watch the film,” he says. “I’m not like that, because it’s an amazing pleasure to listen to something that you are proud of, after a huge war against yourself, thinking, ‘I’m so bad at this, I fucking hate doing it.’ Once people hear it, it’s already gone through all my perfectionist filters.”
Before we sign off, he gives me a Zoom tour of the incredible vista outside his door. Later, he posts a highlight reel to Instagram from his New Zealand farmstay: frolicking horses, open skies and sunsets, music-making with a spliff, the private party he DJed. Fittingly enough, Henry Saiz has found his balance.
Jack Tregoning is an editor and journalist from Sydney, Australia, who has worked for over a decade in music media, while also writing about movies, TV, and culture. Find him on X.