Catching up with Ricardo Villalobos
Formulas for the Dancefloor
Stephanie Kale - February 27, 2008
by Stephanie Kale
Ricardo Villalobos brought his search for perfection in club music to Montreal’s Metropolis this past March 1st for the 5th annual all-night party Nuit Électronik. Also playing a set at Nuit Électronik was fellow Chilean-German Dandy Jack, who will be featured in these pages in the coming weeks. Early in the morning, the two also came together to bring the shape-shifting rhythms of Ric Y Martin. We here at MUTEKMAG took the opportunity to talk to Villalobos about his life, his music, and his passions.
Villalobos says that in his music he constantly strives for the right balance of rhythm and melody. His spacious and wandering rhythmic patterns undoubtedly define a signature sound in the world of modern house music. Born in Chile but raised in Germany, Villalobos has a distinct musical lineage: he’s cultivated a distinct sound of fairly straight-forward tech-house but infused and softened it by exploring syncopated and beach-y Latin rhythms.
Villalobos’ childhood was steeped in music and mathematics. His father is a mathematician, and Villalobos says that his influence has led him to view music like the “mathematics of feeling.” In addition to a few family members that have a passion for playing music, Ricardo’s family tree also includes the famous Chilean political folk singer Violeta Parra.
At ten years old, he started to play various percussive instruments, like the congas and bongos. From this young age, he started to witness the powerful influence that music can have over people, particularly its ability to capture their imagination and totally immerse the listener in rhythmic spaces. He says that his childhood memories of long percussion sessions that induced people to dance for hours on end was the first breath into his lifelong quest to find the perfect formula for the rhythms and melodies that make modern club dance floors tick.
How has having a baby last year changed your life?
Personally, it has changed everything. All my views, theories, and all of my contexts in life now refer to this little creature, this little one. It’s really amazing. But it doesn’t mean that my dedication to the party, to dancing, and to club music has changed. Questions of existing or not existing come into the game now, but it’s more or less the same. I have one weekend free every month, but I’m still DJing like crazy. But I don’t think I’m influenced by making more commercial music to be able to earn more money for my child. I’m still doing the same thing in my studio, still searching for the same club music, to find the perfect club tracks. This is the idea behind all of my work. I dedicate my whole time for finding or inventing a cool club track.
Talk a bit about your latest single "Enfants" and the full length Sei Es Drum.
"Enfants" was made one day before my baby was born. I was searching for children’s music, like music by children or music with children singing. I heard Christian Vander’s “La Sorcière” from a children’s anniversary concert from 1995 dedicated to the French group Magma. When I heard the first track on the CD, “Baba Yaga La Sorcière,” I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ I started to play around with it, and I found that I made a little tool out of it. I gave it to some friends, so only about five DJs had it. But it was promoted so much by these five people that other people soon wanted it. It wasn’t meant to come out, it was meant to be for my friends and myself to have a little secret weapon in our CD cases or something like that. The idea is that anyone can mix whatever track into this track because it doesn’t have too much melody, tones or harmony inside. You have a very powerful tool, so you can put whatever bass drum on it, and it works.
And Sei Es Drum is the vinyl-version for the mixed CD I did last September for Fabric. It was the consequence of this mix, but for the vinyl-lovers.
What is the idea behind the Fabric mix?
Fabric 36 is basically an imagination of sound and music, something like a live house music, or minimal house – I don’t know exactly how to call it. It was more or less a dedication to this room in Fabric, Room One, which has an incredible sound system.
But generally, there’s no big intention behind my production, other than the never-ending search to find or invent the perfect club track. It’s like a playground, like playing LEGO. It’s a game of off-beat. The track “Andruic & Japan” was inspired by Japanese Kodo drums, but it has no metronome going from the beginning to the end, so it’s changing a lot. I was just playing around with this change combined with a thing that is going straight. But all kinds of percussions inspire me. It’s like a universal language understandable from every culture.
How did you decide to do a mixed CD for Fabric using only your own tracks?
For me, I’m producing all the time so why should I not do a mixed CD using only my own tracks. I didn’t want to do a ‘normal’ mixed CD that requires licensing tracks from other labels, because most of the time you have to make so many compromises. Many of the labels are no longer in existence, or the people that run them have moved around making it difficult to get permission to use the tracks.
I spent one and a half years composing these tracks. Of course, in between, I was making tracks that are much more heady or dominated by a particular sound and not so much by the musical content. But after that time, I had all these tracks that sounded like they belonged together. So, I mixed them and then gave them to the Fabric people.
As for the way I released these singles as a mixed CD and then on vinyl, the intention was not to find the biggest form of distribution of my tracks. It was more or less that I didn’t want to do a normal mixed CD.
What do you see the future of club music to be?
At the moment, I’m really thinking a lot about soundscapes and little sequences like five or seven minutes long.
But, in general, I think the music needs to be equalized on the dance floor. It has to have equalization between melodies and rhythm, between nice sensations and nice memories during the set of a DJ combined with new sound. But most importantly, the bass needs to carry the dancer all the time in a very nice way. In the last two or three years, there have been a lot of boring sets because there’s been this minimal definition and this minimal hype. That means that many people thought that it’s cool to play super heady and boring music without any idea inside. They didn’t realize that it’s boring. In the past two years, some DJs have realized that it’s necessary to play house in between. Not all the time, but just to get the girls back to the dance floor because so many of them disappeared after so much minimalism. So this is what’s happening at the moment. It’s a mixture between this minimal thing and more house-y tones.
MUTEK is staying near what’s happening in the vanguard – to the new ideas in electronic music. For me, there is a future in MUTEK because it’s staying in contact with these ideas. I hope is continues to get funding and support. I hope the people in Montreal understand that MUTEK is a very valuable to have in their town. It’s one of the most important electronic music festivals in the world.
What can you say about your upcoming performance at Nuit Électronik?
Well, playing with Martin is always full of surprises, and I try to react to those surprises as best as I can. But I can’t really say what will happen that night because the future is not yet here.