Producer Spotlight: Rodriguez Jr.
Producer Spotlight: Rodriguez Jr.August 18, 2021
The melodic house and techno legend chats about his new sample pack, and the differences between the studio and the stage.
“It’s a big change, but after the pandemic, we thought it was the right time for a new chapter. We’ll be closer to my wife’s family, and I’m excited about the move.”
When our interview kicks off via the power of Zoom, Rodriguez Jr. (Olivier Mateu) is framed by a backdrop of music equipment and boxes. The French producer and DJ is in the process of disassembling the Paris studio that has been his musical home for years, and packing it all onto a boat bound for Magic City, or Miami, Florida.
“The first time I played in Miami was 20 years ago when the music scene was mainly hip hop. Now it’s really forward-thinking; there’s a lot of influences from the Latino community and people moving there from New York and California, so it’s kind of a melting pot. Also, Americans just want to have fun, so there’s a difference from European electronic music crowds who can be a bit judgmental because they have so much of everything.”
It’s a big change indeed for a man whose musical career started in the nineties in the south of France, learning his trade on samplers and synthesizers, before making his name on the revered F–Communications label as one half of electro act The Youngsters. Mentored by the legendary DJ and producer Laurent Garnier, he developed a dynamic, colourful sound that pinwheels across genres like melodic house and techno.
After more than 20 years producing electronic music, he has distilled that sound into Polychromic House, his debut sample pack with Loopmasters. We caught up with Olivier to chat about the pack and more.
What was your creative vision for Polychromic House when you started?
The first step in the project was to really examine my sound and break it down into individual parts, in order to be able to recreate it in a pack. When I’m working in the studio, I don’t think too much about using this bass or this pad, but everything usually combines to make me sound like myself. So I wanted to understand exactly how that happens, and it was a very interesting journey that involved me listening to my entire back catalog of the last 10 years! After that, I started recording things without thinking too much, and the work began.
When I accepted this challenge, I totally overlooked the amount of work it required. To prepare something that other producers can use and to have it sound a certain way without any extra processing was really hard and took me a lot of time. I thought it would be a few weeks, and in the end it took me four or five months! It was insane, I would find myself obsessing about whether or not a kick drum fitted in with the rest of the sounds in the pack. Processing sounds had more meaning because they had to be recognisably my sounds.
What kind of techniques did you use to make the sounds your own?
The past few years I’ve been mixing all my music through this channel mini–mixer, which is a transformal bass mixer with a lot of attitude and character. So I spent a lot of time running everything through this mixer; saturating things, trying to get an attitude or a vibration. Then I would finetune and calibrate those sounds with effects, to try and get the flavour that I have in my tracks. I started producing in the ’90s, so I’m used to working mainly with hardware, and not only with a mouse!
When you were building the pack, how did you build up the loops?
When I started making the pack I initially went down the wrong road of just working on things individually. When I eventually put everything together, it was a mess – it didn’t work at all! So, I started again from scratch and instead created very basic tracks and then disassembled them into individual elements afterward.
Unlike a lot of electronic musicians, you actually go out and perform live, rather than just DJing. How similar is your studio workflow to your live performances?
They’re super different. In the studio, I’m trying to have fun and to catch something, and when I’m on stage it’s really about creating a connection with the sound. It’s a different configuration; some things are automated so that I can focus on the right elements, and have the freedom I need to interact with the crowd.
When you’re constantly performing live though, when you get into the studio you don’t have to think so much about how to build the tracks – the process becomes more efficient. The music gets inside of you, because you’ve been playing it so much in the live sets, so it’s easier to follow your intuition.
Did all the time off playing during the pandemic lead to any changes in how you approach your live sets?
I mainly used the free time I had during the pandemic to improve my live rig. One thing that did change was that I used to have a framework, like a tracklist, and I could only improvise within this framework. Now I have a different approach, I can select the next track I’m going to play. That actually makes a big difference, because for instance if I’m playing in a big event that needs a lot of energy I can focus on techno tracks; or if I’m playing on a rooftop or something like that, I can focus on my tracks with vocals.
Each track is broken down into different stems – drums, synth, bass, vocals etc – as well as different moments like the beginning of the track, or the breakdown. So I move backward and forward within the track, and then there’s a second slot which I can use to move into the next song – I choose which one, like a DJ. I can use the drums of one track, or the bass of another track, and then add a loop from my Loopmasters pack to add flavours and excitement. This change is exciting for me because I can react to my environment and create a moment through improvisation.
Do you often record live elements for your music rather than samples?
Yeah, I always have some kind of field or foley recordings in the tracks. When I travel, I’m constantly recording what is happening around me, in hotels and airports, and even if you cannot always hear it there is a background of noise in my music. It connects me to memories, and I like to have mystery behind my music. I’ll also record live elements like drums, because electronic music tends to be cold, and it’s nice to have organic elements blending with electronic sounds. Sometimes, I even re–record my synthesizers through the studio monitors to capture the air coming from the speakers.
What is the biggest discovery you’ve made as an artist in the past few years?
During the past four years, I’ve kind of freed myself from the constraints of genre. I’m really doing what I want to do at the moment; if I want to throw a breakbeat into an album, or a different kind of sound, I just do it. If you don’t like it, nobody’s forcing you to listen to it. Back in the day I used to really try to please the label, or the “crowd”, and I’ve learned that you can’t please everyone – it’s impossible!
In electronic music, the idea of genre tends to be a sticking point, and people often operate really strictly with regards to what they make or who they listen to. Is that something that you’re keen to break free from?
Yeah, I think it’s a trap. There are so many music producers in the electronic music scene, it’s out of control. If you have a laptop, you can be a music producer. So if you want to stand out, your only chance is to be yourself. There’s no point in just trying to make the music you listen to on Beatport because there will always be somebody better than you. Doing something different might be difficult for you in the beginning, because people might not be able to label you so easily, but in the end, it will all pay off.
Think about Chicago or Detroit in the 80s, how they created house music and techno. It was all about putting very different things together, from Kraftwerk to funk and soul music. This fusion of different influences into something new is the way it’s always been.
How did you learn to produce back when you started?
When I started producing it was all hardware-based equipment; samplers, mixers, and no internet, so no YouTube! There were obviously a few magazines and books but it mainly involved trying things by myself, and making mistakes over and over again. In the early years I used to try and recreate existing tracks with my equipment. I’d listen to Kevin Saunderson or Underground Resistance and try to do the same things they were doing with my sampler and my drum machine, just trying to learn about my equipment. Then I started to work on my own material, signed to F–Communications, and started learning from the people around me and the crowds at the shows I started doing.
Are you able to enjoy listening to those tracks from the early days?
It’s crazy to focus on mistakes when you listen to your older attempts, because your ear obviously develops so much over the years. I like the energy and the innocence behind those tracks. I was doing things without overthinking. Since I’m moving in a few weeks I’ve been digitising my whole catalog – even tapes and demos – and I came across the demo I sent to F–Communication in 2000. It was so crazy, I was just recording whatever I wanted, whether that was breakbeats, techno, or house – I didn’t give a fuck, it was amazing!
Check out 8-Track Attack with Rodriguez Jr. from Loopcloud Sessions.