Synth Seer

100% Bittersweet: An Interview with Fernando Lagreca

By 08 December, 2014

When it comes to electronic music, creating atmospheres instead of plain old dance tracks is one tricky business that not everyone gets right. English, French and German electronic musicians like Autechre, Air and Ulrich Schnauss have mastered this art to the core, and after a couple of very successful attempts, Uruguayan producer Fernando Lagreca can proudly walk amongst them. Lagreca is a man who thrives on binaries; there’s rarely a middle ground in his music. His lighter and airier efforts like Childhood Is All We Have and Cool Hunter are no match for the dark and weighty quality of his new album Control, which features his signature synth-heavy sound but with a deeper focus on the energy of the dancefloor. It’s not just any dancefloor that inspires, but one with a very specific energy that only comes with those beats coming out of the speakers before the crack of dawn.

Control is reminiscent of the best of the new wave and chill wave scenes. The vocals are distorted, echoed and sometimes muted, but no less important. The beats, the tempos and the slow build ups are a force to be reckoned with, a way for Lagreca to control the mood of his listeners. It’s an intense album, and that’s why I wanted to talk to Lagreca to find out more about the inspiration behind Control, finding his place within Barcelona, the newest electronic music hub, and his future plans.

Sounds and Colours: A lot of South American electronic musicians have migrated to Barcelona in the last 15 years or so. What about the city attracts producers and DJ’s? How do you see yourself within the Barcelona scene and how does it compare to the Uruguayan electronic music scene?

Fernando Lagreca: You’re totally right. I know a lot of people, all of them related with artistic disciplines, that have migrated to several places, and one of them is of course Barcelona. I think the city offered in that time (I am speaking around 1998-2000) a lot of possibilities for artists, an open-mindedness and lots of resources. There was a mood in which [you could be] creative.

When I arrived, it cost me a lot to win space in the scene because I found out it was really closed. I started to play just after I landed, but that was because I made some contacts before leaving Uruguay. Now, I’ve found my own space in the scene and I try to network and make good contacts every day. This is a long term career for me. Compared with the electronic scene that I left behind in Uruguay (I migrated at the end of 2002) the Barcelona scene has more venues, more promoters; it is more professional in a lot of ways. Here there is some music industry (not as established as in Berlin, London or Amsterdam, just to name a few) but in Uruguay there was almost no music industry. However, I’ve visited Uruguay several times since I’ve established myself in Spain and I’ve seen how the electronic scene is growing. Every day the audience is more interested in adopting the electronic sound.

S&C: Your new album can be seen both as a continuation and as a departure from your other works. It’s more pop oriented, but it’s also darker, whereas Cool Hunter, for example, was a bit more airy, atmospheric. What was your inspiration for Control?

FL: Well, even though the albums are different, I still am the same person and yes, this new album has elements of continuity and elements of departure [with my other work]. It is more synthetic maybe than Cool Hunter (Ginotonico, 2010), and colder than Childhood Is All We Have (Irregular, 2012), and of course totally different regarding my more ambient-ish oriented ones (i.e. Nadador or Colpi di Sole, both for Autoplate). My inspiration is the life I am living day by day. That life is 100% bittersweet, so I produced an album 100% bittersweet as well.

S&C: How did you come up with the concept of the album? Why Control?

FL: Control is a word that I like so much, but I like it because of its form and not because of its meaning. Actually, I do not like control at all when stated as a concept, as a manner of living or acting. To be honest, I hate any way of control (I wrote a song which explain this!). So, I named the album that way because I considered it attractive to play with this concept of love and hate, another bittersweet binomial. I like binomials so much, so I though it would be a good name. Also, it [stands] opposite to my last album, which had quite long name. Control, which is a single word, is perfect.

S&C: The vocals on the album are buried within the layers of sound. How important are vocals for your music? What themes do you like to write about?

FL: Vocals are very important for my songs. I started with vocoders in 2005-06, and since then I’ve always found some way to included vocals on my tracks. This time I used several techniques to treat them: sampling, re-sampling, effecting, overdubbing, synthetic voices, vocoders, beatboxing, etc. I treat the vocals in a different way depending on the song, and I considered them as an instrument.

I am not a singer in the most classical way. I am just a producer using his voice to
complete the experiment. There are, however, some songs in which I sing more ‘normally’; in which I wrote lyrics to do that. For those songs (“Way of Control”, “Loved”, “Quiet Lake”) basically I wrote about love and life, and also about emotions.

S&C: In what direction do you want your sound to go in the next few years, if you have any idea?

FL: I suppose I could meet myself half-way between some kind of slow-house and pop, but my tendency now is to get back to tracks oriented to styles that warm up the dance floor. Now it is perfectly normal to hear good indie-electronic tracks in warm up slots in several clubs, from slo-mo house hits to indie-pop tech remixes, and from 105 to 115 BPM. It is also very normal to get some good techno artists playing at 125 BPM, when several years ago the standard for techno was never less than 135-140. So, I think the next few years could be interesting for me in that sense; to turn to producing some dance-floor tracks again.

S&C: You’ve been known to create a very unique live experience, when it comes to presenting your music. Can you describe to us what elements distinguish your live show? Why did you decide to use organic instruments?

FL: I used to play as a laptop live act when I migrated from Uruguay to Barcelona in 2002. Only a few musicians played with laptops in those years. It became practice for me because I had almost no hardware equipment, since I sold most of my 90’s stuff when I migrated. So, for me, it was okay to play with a laptop and a controller. When I landed in Spain, soon I felt the need to include some real machines and I started with a sampler, a groovebox and a laptop.

But, by 2004, I was quite bored seeing two guys playing only with computers (there was a lot of musicians playing even without a proper sound card, neither keyboard nor controllers, just the laptop) and you did not know if they were sending emails or playing music. So, I decided to leave the computers out of the live show and started to mount my sets with hardware only. That was not easy because those days, the sampler’s memory was limited and you had to carry a lot of equipment. So, when travelling, I still used a laptop and small synths. But finally in 2006-07, I started to use only real instruments, synths, guitar, effects, samplers, etc. I prefer to make some rock and roll on stage!

S&C: There’s been a recent electronic music boom in Latin America, mostly on the fusions front: electronic music with X-tropical genres or folkloric music. What do you think about this? How do you see yourself inside the South American scene and where do you think it’s headed, in your opinion?

FL: I knew about a couple of projects related to fusions with cumbia (Doma Tornados), and also with folkloric (Diosque), and I also know there is a huge movement in that sense in Colombia. I suppose also in Brazil there is a lot of fusion. I do not forget about Nortec Collective in late 90s and beginning of 2000 that was a very important movement making also fusion, even though not exactly with tropical music. Nowadays, I could name a couple of Latin American proposals that I find interesting: Gustavo Lamas and Altocamet from Argentina; Hernan Gonzalez (Cooptrol) and Tinitus from Uruguay; Cafe Preto and Bruno Pedrosa from Brazil.

I do not see myself inside the scene because I do not live there or participate in their events. Every time I go to Montevideo to play, there is a lot of people, fans, etc., that attend my shows and make me feel really comfortable with that, but I think I am just another artist, nothing special for them. Fortunately, I have a lot of friends and fans that follow my steps so I am very happy with that, but not because I belong to their scene. Going back to the South American scene, I think there is a lot of possibilities there in terms of producers, labels, etc. It is a rising scene with many people making big things, so I expect a good future for them.

S&C: What’s next for Fernando Lagreca?

FL: I am planning two releases for 2015 in tech-house oriented labels. There is also a couple of remixes on the horizon as well as gigging a lot and presenting this new album. I hope I can visit Latin America soon. I played several times in Mexico City and I would like to repeat; and of course Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and if possible, also Brazil.

Control is available from Irregular.

Listen to the album below:

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Catching up with Francisco Mejía aka Pacheko

By 19 May, 2014

At this moment in time it’s hard to imagine staying put in one place. For those with the possibility, movement (transnational, transcontinental, from one city to the next) becomes a way of life, and an opportunity for a change of perspective. Movement is vital for everyone, but even more so for musicians who get to absorb and be informed, not only by the music they hear along the way, but the sounds of a city, its culture, its art and its people. Hell, the whole tropical bass genre could’ve never existed without trains, planes, automobiles and the Internet. Just ask Francisco Mejía, who you might remember as Pacheko, one half of Pocz and Pacheko, the changa tuki revivalists who documented the music coming from the favelas in Caracas on ¿Quién Quiere Tuki?

When I first talked to Francisco, he was about to unleash Changa Letal along with Pocz and had just left behind Caracas for the colder Barcelona. Two years later, he’s put Pacheko on hiatus to focus on a new project under the name Phran. With his newest EP Bad Format, out today on Klasse Recordings, he set out to do something new, worlds away from the tropical bass that still remains in his heart. Incorporating influences from the ever innovative electronic music scene in Barcelona, his experience in his new environment and a changing perspective about life back home, Phran may just be one of the best new electronic music projects to come out of the Venezuelan expat scene. It has a vintage sound – a mixture of Chicago house, Detroit techno, the Berlin scene and even baile funk – but it’s not a throwback. It’s more about change, moving forward, learning, living, and finding a sound he can call his own.

I’ll let him tell his story:

Amaya García: A short while after the changa tuki documentary and your music with Pocz hit the web you made the jump from Caracas to Barcelona. How did you navigate your way through such a big change?

Francisco Mejía: “The change was much bigger than I could’ve imagined. Barcelona is an international city and there’s a lot of stuff going on because there’s people from all over the place. Nowadays, Venezuela is very isolated from the world, every day a little bit more. One of the things I’ve done the most since coming here is open my eyes and ears to the countless scenes, artistic forms and the music that I simply didn’t have access to in Venezuela. I go to a lot of record stores, ask around, and go to a lot of parties and concerts.

The internet more or less lets you find out about these things, but it’s never the same than to be in a city where all of this is happening. It’s the same for someone from Europe or the US who wants to know how life is in Venezuela; the internet will never give you the same experience as going there and living it out. The human experience will always be more profound than the Internet; my mind has opened up to a lot of stuff and I see things differently now. I’ve had to learn a lot of things, even how to speak a little bit of Catalan.”

AG: How did your new project “Phran” come about? Why did you decide to venture outside of the changa tuki genre?

FM: “I’ve never liked to tie myself to just one form of music making; I’m not one to repeat myself. For me, the normal thing is to evolve. Changa tuki is a very important influence for me and it will always stay that way; the same goes for dubstep, IDM and bass music. But, ever since I arrived in Barcelona, I started absorbing other types of music like techno, Chicago house, the Detroit sound, the stuff coming out of Berlin, and I also started getting into disco and soul, among other things.

I wanted to start a new project from scratch because, for me, being here is a new chapter. Pacheko isn’t “over” though, it just went into a kind of hiatus.”

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AG: Earlier you mentioned about opening up your mind more to the sounds of Barcelona. Specifically, which artists, sounds, genres and artistic movements inspired the tracks on Bad Format?

FM: “One of the things that has really motivated me is knowing that record stores like Discos Paradiso, Wah Wah Records, Subwax, Vinyl Vintage, Discos Juando (which, sadly, closed shop recently) and Lost Tracks still exist. The crate digging experience has no equal, and it’s a great source of inspiration and humility; you realize that music is infinite and the only way to appreciate that is by humbling yourself.

I’ve also been influenced by the work my friends Cardopusher and Nehuen are doing with their label Classicworks; radio shows like Canela en Surco by DJ Abu Sou, the people from Anomia, and all the deejays that have been spinning for a long time like Zero, Tony Bruce Lee, Fede Zerdan, DJ Der, David M, Gus, Astroboyz, Clip, Pau Roca…the list is really long. As I said, there’s so much going on in Barcelona. I think what a lot of people have in common over here is that they see music as a space where genres like ambient, soul, disco, funk, world music, house and techno can coexist without a problem. I share that point of view. That’s how you realize that a deejay’s sonic palette can be wide and, at the same time, coherent, personality wise.”

AG: I had mentioned to you in an earlier conversation that “Bad Format” has that nostalgic feel; a sonic throwback to an era where drum programming and beat making was more rudimental yet incredibly heavy. Sort of like the stuff Cybotron was doing in the 1980s, Derrick May and the like.

FM: “Maybe it’s because I’m working with an analog set-up now; I’m using rhythm boxes, distortions, and analog synthesizers. I think that’s where the similarities in timbres come from, but I definitely don’t want to make retro or nostalgic music. I want to make music that reflects my life day to day, from my home studio, my head and my relationship with the city.”

AG: How did you manage to bring this sound into the 21st century and, like you mention, making it about your own experience. It sounds very fresh too.

FM: “There’s no plan; there’s learning, work and evolution. I really don’t want to go retro, repeat or copy anyone. The way the world works nowadays, sometimes you feel that everything’s been done and nothing surprises anyone anymore. Personally, I work to make my music sound fresh and with a lot of personality. I think I have a long road ahead when it comes to exploring and creating my sound. This first EP as “Phran” is mostly made out of jams I created in my house between the last leg of 2013 and the first part of 2014. It’s the reflection of that constant search.

On tracks like “Fool Drive” and “Bad Format”, I try to emulate the feeling I get from some Brazilian baile funk, but evidently the result is something else and I’m really glad that’s what happened.”

AG: How did your relationship with Klasse Records begin?

FM: “Luca Lozano, Klasse’s owner, heard my track on Soundcloud and that’s how they contacted me. I didn’t know them, but their project, for me, it was perfect. Luca understood quickly where things were going and there’s been a symbiosis that I’m happy with. Over time, I’ve started to understand Klasse’s vision more and I really like it. I’m thankful to begin a new chapter with a label like Klasse, that’s growing and supports the vinyl format.”

AG: What’s in your future? Would you ever consider doing changa tuki again?

FM: “The only plan is to keep making music and to keep evolving. I would definitely make music inspired by changa tuki, but with a different twist. By the way, sometimes I try to emulate that sabor that changa tuki or baile funk has. I’ve tried it with the rhythm boxes and a lot of weird stuff comes out that doesn’t necessarily sound like those genres; it’s something different and weird and I like it.

The word “crossover” is one that I can’t get out of my head when I’m making music. I like those tracks that can seep into techno, house or changa sets and still work.”

AG: This is for the gearheads like me out there. What equipment did you use while recording Bad Format?

FM: “Rhythm boxes: Mfb-522, MBase01, Yamaha Rx8. For the synthesizers: Vermona Mono Lancet, Juno106, Casio SA 39, plus distortion and delay pedals for guitars, but connected to all of this equipment.”

Bad Format is out today on Klasse Records and available as a download from Juno. The vinyl release will be out later this month. The official release will be held in Barcelona the 14th of June.

A Glimpse into Barrio Lindo’s Sacred Spaces

By 06 May, 2014

I have to admit it took me a few listens to understand what Barrio Lindo a.k.a Agustín Rivaldo was trying to communicate in his debut album Menoko. The rhythms are familiar; minimal electronic music meets the sounds of the Argentinean (and South American) land, a path treaded before by ZZK star Chancha via Circuito. He’s a frequent collaborator of Rivaldo’s, yet the comparison feels too lazy, too immediate and too conclusive. It would take away a bit of merit from what Barrio Lindo has accomplished with Menoko: music that thrives in its subtleties and slow build-ups, with surprising sonic textures where bombastic and dance-floor ready jams are the law of the land. Welcome to Barrio Lindo’s world.

Rivaldo’s biography is well known: an Argentinean with a half-Colombian, half-Argentine father, who moved to Colombia to educate himself about the country’s traditional music and folklore. He’s been producing electronica for a while, but it feels like Menoko is the ultimate statement to honour that experience; a concept album of sorts. It should come as no surprise that the record feels like a trip into uncharted territory, as the word menoko comes from the Mapuche. It means sacred places. Starting with “Balseros” and climaxing with the lead single “Garza Bruja”, Rivaldo intersperses tribal chants and the sounds of the forest with pulsing electronic beats meant to soundtrack a journey. The slow build-up of the first half of the album (which features the excellent Chancha via Circuito collaboration “La Cueva”) could be akin to storytelling, evoking the natural, the organic… the perfect storm that is wild nature.

The album also features a pop sensibility almost unheard of in folktronica until now. On tracks like “El Aire”, cumbia rhythms and synths dominate, but on “Libre” Rivaldo keeps the cumbia at bay in order to favour other instruments like the flute and the charango. What makes the track so enthralling is the sample that precedes the percussion and the synth line: a little girl telling a story about freedom. He changes his tune on “Afuera” to make an excellent ambient recording. But what really surprised me about the album is the fact that it is almost exclusively driven by percussion. Yes, the cumbia is there, but there are also other types of drumming influenced by the African ancestry of the region.

Those hard-driving, heartbeat-altering drums are what drive the point home on the second half of the record, divided by Barrio Lindo and Chancha’s dark “La Cueva”. Rather than introspection and the illusion of slow movement, “Visión”, “Garza Bruja” and “Yaguareté Abá” inspire dancing; the kind of dancing that lifts you up and keeps you hopeful. That division is what makes Rivaldo’s endeavour stand out: he gives you space for dancing and space for thinking.

Menoko is a beast of a record that requires time to work itself into your heart. Once it does, it makes you part of an incredible journey through time and space. But beware, by the time it takes you in, it won’t be Rivaldo’s journey you’ll be going on, it’ll be your own.

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Killer shoegaze and experimental dance brewing in Perú

By 14 April, 2014

During the last few years, Latin American electronic music in all of its mixed glory has been creeping its way onto playlists, DJ sets from tastemakers across the globe –like Daniel Haaksman and Diplo to name only two- and has even started to take a stronghold on influential stages like Berlin’s Boiler Room sets. The latest edition featured Mexican producer Rebolledo, who happens to keep good company with Brazilian wunderkind Gui Borrato, Chilean rising star Alejandro Paz, Argentineans Gustavo Lamas and Leandro Fresco, and a host of others on the German label Kompakt’s ever expanding roster.

A longer list could be written about all of the groundbreaking (and not so groundbreaking) electronic music that is coming out of Latin America, but the real reason all of these artists have been included in the same sentence is because they’re all aces in very different genres, from minimal techno and tech-house to kwaito influenced dance music. For the last five years or so, digital cumbia has been dominating the conversation but, while I understand that the novelty and danceability of the fusion is undeniable, sacrificing everything else is not only problematic, it’s kind of a bad choice. Incredible digitial cumbia (or digital folklorika) like Barrio Lindo’s new album Menoko –which I will talk about in a later post- is still being made and is slowly transforming; equally great dance hybrids are coming out of Perú, for example. Here at Synth Seer nothing will be out of bounds, but special attention will be paid to those artists that are killing it in many other genres and style fusions (big ups to Matías Aguayo’s Cómeme label). Don’t worry, I’ll talk about digital cumbia, just not all the time.

I wanted to start things off with Perú, a country whose music scene is as varied as a candy store, but yet doesn’t always register on everyone’s radar, including my own. I have profiled elsewhere acts like Dengue Dengue Dengue and the experimental indie artist Lobo Gris, who’s haunting mixture of classical and minimal you can find here, but that’s barely scratching the surface. We’ll start off slow, with the free compilation Gritos al Vacío, and its second installment Gritos y Secuencias: Shoegaze en el Perú Part II, compiled by the folks at El Blog del Bam, along with the help of various Peruvian netlabels. As they point out, the purpose of these compilations is to highlight the independent artists at the vanguard of the non-commercial Peruvian music scene; artists who mix rock and roll with various forms of electronic dance music, from the oft-maligned IDM tag to ambient, experimental psychedelia, shoegaze a la My Bloody Valentine and everything else in between.

Congratulations to them for taking on such an ambitious project, as both compilations span a time period that goes from the early 90s (when Pete Tong played hardcore and it was “the right speed”), to the mid-2000s. Gritos y Secuencias: Shoegaze en el Perú Part II is an expertly sequenced soundtrack with something for everyone, not just electronic music fans. Starting with straight up dense rockers like Ozono, Avalonia, and Diosmehaviolado and alternating with glitch/noise like Pastizal and the heady minimal ambient of Ida, which will frankly, blow your mind. It was specifically impressive how Ida managed to create music that fills up the space with bass and yet uses silence so wisely and hauntingly with lingering synth lines and low frequency oscillators. Dreamworks and Apolo are also noteworthy in this compilation.

You can downoad it for free here. If you’re a fan of electronic music, keep coming back regularly because this will get more hardcore as I keep scouring the web for more interesting electronic music projects from across South America.