Artist of the Month: Vintage Culture
Artist of the Month: Vintage CultureApril 11, 2022
A classic rags-to-riches story, Vintage Culture became the biggest-selling artist on Beatport despite growing up in a small yet dangerous Brazilian hamlet. With his tireless work ethic, good-natured attitude and natural humility, it’s no surprise he’s made it this far. Kristan Caryl hears his story.
“The best ideas are born in crazy situations,” says Lukas Ruiz. If you are one of the 8+ million people who follow him across social media, you will know that Ruiz, better known as Vintage Culture, isn’t afraid of a crazy situation. He loves them, and he happily admits it. “I love to party.”
Despite being an unapologetic party animal and, according to his management, “the most rock-star DJ I know,” the Brazilian from São Paulo is actually quite shy and always humble. He speaks softly and intimately, sprinkling his answers with “bro” and an unwavering sense of gratitude at how his life has tuned out. But it’s not been without hard work.
The week before we spoke, Ruiz was in Miami for Music Week. He played no fewer than 17 times. Some sets were only an hour or so, but some ran on for over seven hours. Plenty were scheduled, but many were not. He “cannot resist” an after-party, and happily stepped in when requested at the last minute by a couple of promoters in need. Back in January, he played a 24-hour set, and in December played two eight-hour sets back to back.
But it wasn’t all just play in Miami. During the week and in the name of “research,” he checked out plenty of other DJs — from Loco Dice to Tale Of Us, Gordo to Michael Bibi. “I love to check out new trends and get new references,” he says. “I heard so many new things in Miami that got me like ‘OK, this is a new thing that’s coming, how can I bring that to my studio, how can I improve my sound. It’s so important to go and see what other DJs are playing.”
Ruiz admits to having been close to serious exhaustion before the pandemic hit. He was burning the candle at both ends without taking time out in between. So, in a few moments of downtime since the New Year, he has focussed on recovering well and “being normal. Going out to eat a few meals. Chilling in my hotel, spending a whole week in bed.” Amazingly, Lukas says he has “never been to a movie theater,” so these days he spends lots of time between shows watching “every movie on Netflix, mostly from the ‘80s, and action films with guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Today he is back home. It’s 1PM local time and he is enjoying some fresh fruit and coffee prepared by his mum, who he lives with along with his sister. He might be a superstar with over 1.5 billion combined streams, but to his mum, he will always be her baby who needs looking after.
“She is my boss, and I like it that way. She keeps things in control and you know that you can trust your family. They help me stay normal, to remember who I really am. That’s important.”
Part of the reason for him playing so long and partying so hard, he thinks, is that his mother never let him out when he was a child, so he is “making up for lost time.”
He grew up in Mundo Novo, a small, quiet but dangerous municipality on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. It was a hotspot for drug trading and gun violence, so his bedroom was seen as the safest place for Lukas to be. The dangers of the dusty streets were only ever made explicit to young Ruiz once, but that was enough to change the course of his life forever.
He was at a party when a local dealer took umbrage at him chatting to a girl. With a gun suddenly stuck between his teeth, he decided to quit law school and dive full-bore into making music, so that he’d never have to potentially defend cartel members.
Lukas can remember quite specifically which track got him into dance music: “I’ll Fly With You” by Gigi D’Agostino. “I found it on a CD of my uncle’s and I would just play it over and over and over. I loved it so much.” With no local record shops (and he was still not allowed to go out), it was years before Lukas finally found more music like it on YouTube. In the meantime, he was listening to Brazilian country, the ‘80s rock of his dad’s collection, and bands like Pink Floyd.
Once he got a grasp on a wider array of dance music, he started making his own sounds in his bedroom as a way to pass the time. One day he uploaded a house edit of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” to SoundCloud. That soon blew up, and local promoters wanted to book him.
Even though he couldn’t actually DJ, he took the gigs anyway, quickly cobbling sets together using a cracked copy of Ableton after watching tutorials on YouTube.
He started making music in a similar way, using an old laptop and cracked software. Since those earliest experiments, he’s stepped up his gear collection and worked in several high-end studios, but says he still prefers that early setup.
“I have ideas just sitting right here by the coffee table. I will get inspiration from watching a movie and just start producing. That’s all I need, really.” Why fix what isn’t broken?
Right now, Lukas is the best-selling and most streamed artist on all of Beatport. At one time, he had three songs simultaneously in Beatport’s Top 10, including his collaboration with Elise LeGrow, “It Is What It Is,” which was his first overall number one on Beatport.
He’s something of a machine when it comes to making tunes. He says he made over 200 during lockdown, many of which are to be released over the next two years. In fact, his management says they have to keep him out of the studio because he has made too much. “It’s true,” he laughs, “they used to send so many top lines, remix requests, collaborations, but now not so many.”
However, certain key collaborations have slipped through, such as his latest number one track “Nightjar (feat. Shells)” with Australian Sonny Fodera, and an exclusive-to-Beatport track with Faithless lyricist Maxi Jazz. “It’s crazy to be in this top position,” he beams, “because I chased it during the pandemic. I started to look at it and was like ‘OK, I don’t have anything to do so let’s work, let’s sell some tracks.’ I came up with ‘Slow Down,’ which went to number one, and it all went from there. When I was in my research process I used Beatport all the time, I was always on it, checking out the Top 10s but also so much older music, so it really means a lot to me.”
Having achieved so much in such a short space of time, it’s easy to wonder what motivates Ruiz. He could probably not release another tune for a number of years and not see his bookings decrease. He agrees that “maybe deep inside” he is worried about going back to small-town life in Brazil. But more simply, he has the sort of superhuman devotion to and unwavering love of making music that we mere mortals just cannot comprehend.
“It’s not easy to get a number one,” he says, “but it’s easier to get one number one than to keep getting them. Most people get lazy after one, but when I was in second and third position I kept running. No sleep. I know someone now is on my heels so I work harder, I want to keep the number one position. I live for this. This is my life. It comes very naturally to me to work hard.”
Though still early in his career, we are already into Vintage Culture 2.0 in terms of his sound. His early days were heavily influenced by the EDM explosion in Europe and the US. He made tunes with big drops, brash synths and maximal grooves, which is what the Brazilian crowds he played to wanted. But eventually, the lack of nuance got to him. He wanted to express a wider array of emotions and make deeper, slower sounds.
It was his Defected tune “It Is What It Is” that ushered in the new era, and since then his sound has been defined more by rolling drums. “I used to start on the bass, that was always most important to me, but now I am more selective on the drums. A good kick, a good hat, then build the bass on that. Then the synths come next.”
Lukas is larger than life on stage. His own label and festival brand, Só Track Boa Festival (which roughly means “good tracks only”), is known for its over-the-top production, explosive pyrotechnics and awe-inspiring ice canons. This weekend he plays the next one at Arena BRB Nilson Nelson, a volleyball stadium in Brasilia, and has sold all 25,000 tickets.
He does everything on such a large scale — despite the personal expense — because he wants people to “have the best nights of their life, to experience something truly unique and never forget it.” But that extroverted style is very much at odds with his introverted personality.
“True, bro, but when I get on stage and press play, all that goes away. It can be like 200 people or 8,000, it doesn’t matter, the adrenaline kicks in and then it’s just about making sure people have fun.”
Importantly, Lukas doesn’t have a supersized, high-impact mindset when in the studio anymore. “It can mess up the process,” he says. “I always like to finish the tracks and then think about how they will work in shows. How can I trick the crowd with some build-up, some silence, or whatever? But that always comes after, that is always special edits just for the club sets.”
Although he has his own global profile, Lukas still gets star-struck and turns into a fanboy when he meets some of the people he looked up to before his own career took off. He recently hung out with “lovely man” Steve Aoki and says it is a special feeling, but can often be too nervous to “approach and hassle” some of the people he runs into on the road.
That said, he is no stranger to partying with football icons like Neymar or Ronaldo, and recently played a private wedding in Brazil for a bride who told him she had been waiting to see him play for seven years. “I like to do things that people don’t normally do, so the private gigs are always fun, just as long as I can play what I want.”
One luxury he does allow himself is fashion. “I have loved it since day zero, but always brands with a connection to music.” He has over 200 pairs of trainers — “I’m a shoe freak” — and is rarely seen in anything other than nice and pricey Palm Angels or Balenciaga t-shirts. He has his own lines of merch, too, which were initially inspired by what the first wave EDM artists were doing back when he was grinding hard at home in Brazil to build himself and his local scene.
The week after we speak is comparatively quiet for Lukas. He’ll play two sets in two countries, Brazil and Chile, on the same day, then head to Spain for two gigs. In between, he plans to catch a Champions League Quarter Final and a La Liga match. By mortal standards, that would be enough to warrant a week off. But not Lukas.
“Man, I think I am going to play and party this hard forever,” he says with a smile. “I have to. I need to.”
Kristan J Caryl has been a freelance music writer for more than a decade, with bylines in RA, DJ Mag, Mixmag, Bandcamp, Attack Mag and RBMA. He’s based just outside Leeds, where he started community station KMAH Radio in 2015. As well as music, he’s overly obsessed with trainers, gardening, boxing, and his two children, who he raises with his wife. Find him on Instagram.