Dee Montero is a lifer. He’s the Belfast-born house-head who went from listening to pirate radio shows and mix-tapes to digging in the crates and then made the giant leap to Ibiza long before social media became de rigeur on the island and 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 and best DJs in the world, and then returned to the Balearics brighter, faster and stronger. And 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. It’s been quite the trip.

But how did he do it? Let’s rewind to the beginning which, as it tends to do, starts with radio. “It was ‘92 and I’d tune into Passion FM, a pirate radio show in Belfast presented by these two Italian guys, Stefano and Pablo Gargano. They also worked at a record store in the city called Underground Records and were importing vinyl, everything from Italo house (DFC) to Belgian techno (R&S). And of course, I was listening to Pete Tong’s show on national radio every Friday.” 

“I went to see Carl Cox at the early Ulster Hall raves alongside Grooverider and Colin Dale: it was everything from house and techno to jungle and hardcore, it seemed all one back then.” But it was Pete Tong’s Radio One show that made the biggest mark on young Dee. “He was breaking records every week,” he remembers. “And the Essential Mixes were a key thing as an aspiring DJ, and a great way to find new records.” Carl Cox also proved to be an adept teacher for Dee. “It was more the technical ability and his 3 deck wizardry that got my attention as a young DJ” he notes. “And the energy of going to a rave, it was an exciting time, music from a different planet! And that lead to me buying more records and getting decks.” 

In 1993 Dee bought his first set of Technics: he was mixing in the bedroom, creating mix-tapes for friends and looking for his first gig (“I was paid £60 for the first gig - that was quite a lot back then”). His tapes “spread like wildfire” and quite quickly, things “spiralled out of control and I started getting gigs.” Dee became well-known through word of mouth, with even Fergie telling Dee many years later that he used to listen to his tapes. “He was already a superstar by that stage,” says Dee sagely. The next step came when he was 17, taking part in a Vestax mixing championship: “I was persuaded to take part by friends and ended up winning the Belfast heats and qualifying for the UK finals” he recalls. He came 5th due to serious competition but it lead to him getting a residency at Network in Belfast. “That really started things for me in ‘96. It was my first residency and I was playing alongside DJs such as Dave Seaman & Parks & Wilson, it’s where I cut my teeth as a warm-up DJ for the next 3 years.” 

In 1999 and 2000, Dee’s own career started to transition. “I was doing the circuit in Belfast up until 1999 and then the club lost its license and closed down. I was at a cross roads as I just finished college and the only option I was gravitating towards was to go to Ibiza. My friend Pete Gooding told me to try a season in the summer of 2000 so I packed my record bag (200 vinyl) and headed to the island. I had to scramble for gigs that 1st season but I knew Ibiza was where I had to be so I worked hard. I made lots of connections and my first residency came in 2001 at Cafe Savannah on the sunset strip. And every Tuesday I got to warm up for the likes of Tiesto and Armin at Amnesia. Mambo came good in 2003, which was a big moment.” Up until 2005 Dee was in Ibiza every summer, learning and crafting his style and sound. He didn’t return until 2012 but during that time continued to produce and had a Beatport Number One with a track called ‘Captain Hook’. “I started getting offers in Paris, Serbia and Belarus and made a decision to leave Ibiza at that time. I also played the legendary Cross in London quite regularly. The biggest gig at this point? “It was actually a festival in Serbia, Belgrade for 25,000 people. Still the biggest gig I’ve ever done.”

Between 2008 and 2011, Dee was living and DJing in Hong Kong. He took the position of Music Director for Kee Club, bringing over the likes of Nina Kraviz, Dimitri from Paris and Bonar Bradberry. “I was more than just a booker/resident DJ, I was even designing the flyers - putting my degree in Graphic Design to good use. You’ve really got to pull your weight in Hong Kong, it’s all about discipline, if you don’t you lose your working visa.” But in the past few years, things have unquestionably gone in an upward direction for Dee. Last year he performed at Burning Man on the Carl Cox stage (a career highlight if ever there was one) and also at Hï with Joris Voorn and Nic Fanciulli at In The Dark. These shows dovetailed with him going solo as a producer and critical releases such as ‘Full Body’ on Saved and the epic ‘Vedra’ on Knee Deep In Sound and ‘Fade Into Noir’ feat Aya on Selador. But the best was yet to come. At the end of 2017, Pete Tong bestowed Dee with ‘Essential New Tune Of The Year’ for ‘Halcyon’, released on Solomun’s Diynamic label. “I very much believe that a good record is a good record,” says Dee, in something that sounds very much like a musical manifesto. As for the future after ‘Halcyon’? While he ponders the importance of an album, look out for further key releases in 2018, including his current piano- flecked Beatport-trouncing release ‘In The Wild/Polaris’ and another new EP on Tale & Tone in April. The ‘Halcyon’ days are here: and Dee is just getting started.