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Escape Velocity

Drum & Haze: An Interview & Mix From Ricardo Tobar
Joe Clay , November 13th, 2013 05:00

Ricardo Tobar has just released his debut album of melody-soaked, atmospheric techno, Treillis. He speaks to Joe Clay about a love of shoegaze and growing up in Chile, plus has recorded us an exclusive Quietus mix which you can listen to below

Before coming to Europe, Ricardo Tobar hadn't really listened to much techno and electronic music. Born in Chile, Tobar grew up in the beautiful seaside city of Viña Del Mar where he was isolated from any kind of scene, and limited access to the internet meant that his knowledge of music was narrow. It was the Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land that inspired him to start making electronic music (a reference not many producers would be keen to divulge) when he became frustrated with trying to learn to play the guitar. Tobar taught himself to use AudioMulch, a modular audio software system, and submitted his first sonic experiments unsolicited to James Holden of Border Community, the only label he was aware of that made music that sounded anything like his. Communicating with Holden via email, Tobar's first recordings ended up on the El Sunset EP, released by Border Community in 2007. From this starting point, his musical education has been rapid; the steepest of learning curves, with Tobar accepting Holden's offer to come to Europe and tour, while absorbing and listening to as much electronic music as he could, often feeling overwhelmed by just how much he didn't know.

But this naivety is actually Tobar's trump card, leading to a completely open approach to the form. The result is his wonderful debut, Treillis, an album that combines his love of ambient rock and shoegaze with his full-on absorption in machine music. It is an album that could easily have come out on either his alma mater Border Community or Sonic Cathedral, another label that he has recorded for in the past (Tobar's remix of the Japancakes cover of My Bloody Valentine's 'Touched' for the shoegaze revivalist label was a Balearic-tinged slice of blissed-out techno), so deftly does it straddle the divide between Nathan Fake and Slowdive. Originally tagged as part of the nu-gaze crew due to his links to Holden's label, Tobar's music has also touched on tough, noisy electronic rock and the rugged processed beats and deep melodies of early Aphex Twin (check 'Pequeñita', the flipside of his 12" for Knopje last year); he has even found himself lumped in with the progressive house movement, something that he's keen to distance himself from.

All of Tobar's influences coalesce perfectly on Treillis. The whole album is an immersive listening experience, typified by tracks like 'Garden', a deep analogue techno excursion with rat-a-tat drums and layers of machine noise that builds with a groaning vocal sample that wouldn't sound out of place on Loveless; and 'If I Love You', where the 4/4 kick drums and pulsing grooves are offset by a gorgeous melody that is redolent of those on Actress's R.I.P.

Tobar is evidently proud of the album, but he is already looking forward and moving on to the next chapter. He has followed his heart to Paris, where he lives with his French girlfriend whom he met while back in Chile, and seems to have found a scene where he feels comfortable, hanging out with likeminded souls and recording for Desire Records, a Parisian imprint that has released music by the reformed Ike Yard (who recorded for Factory in the early 1980s) and the Vangelis-worshipping French synth-heads Egyptology. Although Tobar recorded the album on a basic set-up and is no vintage synth buff, he has inadvertently stumbled across a sound that fits in with the current vogue for all things analogue. With his debut album complete, he is gradually starting to embrace new recording processes, something he touches on during an interview with the Quietus over the phone from Paris. He has also recorded us an exclusive mix of his influences - tracklist kept secret - which you can listen to via the embed below.

Ricardo Tobar Quietus Mix by The Quietus on Mixcloud

Your music has a very rough sound, like it's made on analogue equipment and old drum machines – what's the appeal of that set-up?

Ricardo Tobar: When I started to make music, everyone thought that I used analogue equipment. But to be honest, I didn't actually know what that meant. I just liked the sound that I heard, but I didn't know anything about synthesisers. In Chile we are so far away from everything, and I wasn't really into the internet. Now everybody knows about everything, but at that time I didn't know anything. I was just attracted to those sounds. That's what I liked. I have some drum machines and I like the power they have. I used to make all my drums based on sine waves and modulating the sounds, but they always sounded weak in a club. When you have a kick, it's not the same. The drum machines have a more intense feel. It's more powerful.

As a listener you can hear music made on software and computers and it can sound great, but it doesn't the properties of the songs on Treillis, which sound so human – quite dirty and rough, but balanced by these beautiful, warm melodies. I read another interview you did where you said that you were actually quite embarrassed by the equipment you use – is this still the case? Or have you started evolving the set-up?

RT: I'm changing now. The album was really made on homemade stuff; a microphone, some drum machines and doing everything with synthesisers, some software – trying to make the sound that I wanted. But it's always really difficult. When I finished the album I said to myself, 'Now I have to change.' I suppose I'm getting old! So now I'm buying normal equipment – I have a tape reverb and tape delay and I'm buying old synths. I'm discovering a new world that I never used before.

Your album could be released by Border or Sonic Cathedral. It's beautifully textured and blurs the lines between those two camps. Is this a happy accident or something you've consciously done?

RT: I really love ambient rock and shoegaze and nowadays I always listen to techno, so my sound has just happened naturally. I wanted to get far away from that progressive sound and close the door on that. I'd rather be positioned in a rock or post punk label. So it was kind of deliberate.

You also collect samples to use in your music.

RT: I used a lot of samples of drums from the 1970s. My friend gave them to me. He was making great music and I wanted to know where he got his drum sound from. He had downloaded some loops from somewhere, a couple of really good rhythms – I don't know where he got them from. But I used the snare and the bass to give it more of a live drum sound. Four Tet does that too.

On the press release it says that the album was inspired by "mysticism, noise and esotericism" – can you expand on these ideas?

RT: When I was making the album I was talking to my girlfriend a lot, asking her if the songs and the melodies were meaningful. Because I always get related to Border Community, and I love that, but I also get related to other artists that I don't really like – this progressive stuff. I don't know them and I don't talk to them. I always thought that those melodies were banal. So I wanted to do something more meaningful.

I've always been into mystic stuff and esoteric stuff – I believe in that. The album is inspired by that sort of thinking. Hopefully when you listen to the album you feel like you are in another place. It can make you think something emotional and deep. That's what I want. On the mystical influence, I used to read a lot of philosophy – there's one from India, he's a bit New Age and not in fashion, which is why I don't really like to talk about it. But I was into Indian and Oriental philosophers and I read a lot of books. I think religion is amazing when it's well done.

So you're talking more about spirituality and religion of the mind than anything organised?

RT: Yeah, I really believe in the universe and that everything is connected. But I didn't like it when my mum used to make me go to church. I'm not into that.

You grew up in a Viña del Mar, a city by the sea in Chile. What was it like growing up there?

RT: It was alright. I'm used to being able to see the sea. I was never stressed. Now I'm in Paris and I'm having difficulty adjusting to the stress of the city. London is just like that too. My childhood was amazing really. I don't have anything to complain about. But my parents were always working – in Chile if you don't work your ass off you don't have anything to eat. But it meant I went to a nice school – alternative stuff. It was a humanist education, which was cool.

Were your parents interested in music?

RT: My father and mother were really into music. My father used to play guitar. They are both really artistic people, but because of the country it is really difficult to be an artist, so they chose to work and leave the artistic side behind. My mum paints really well, and my father writes poems and songs, but they couldn't keep up with it. But my sister is a designer and I'm trying to be a musician.

Are they proud of you?

RT: No, they are really scared! [laughs] They always worry. My mother is always trying to convince me to do something else!

What sort of music did you listen to when you were growing up? Did you have access to music?

RT: We used to listen to a lot of traditional music from Chile, like Victor Para and Violeta Parra. They are typical artists associated with the socialist movement in Chile. It's folk music, I think. And then I was listening to nothing groundbreaking – Michael Jackson and all that stuff! It was when I heard the Prodigy's The Fat of the Land – that's where my need to make music came from. My father used to play guitar and I tried to do it but I was really lazy and I didn't practice. Then my mum had a computer, right at the beginning of the internet, and I downloaded a programme called Audio Mulch so I started using that. It's really amazing software. But I didn't know how to make sounds and I didn't have anybody to teach me. The internet was really expensive. I made melodies and then I discovered Cubase and a friend came to my house and taught me something and I went from there.

Who are the biggest influences musically on what you do?

RT: I don't know really. I have so many influences, but I think it is mainly my surroundings and my mood. If I listen to good music I feel the need to make something. I get inspired. Now I am listening to Actress and lots of electronic music, the new one from James [Holden] is great.

You live in Paris now – is there a good scene there?

RT: It's amazing. [When living] in Berlin I had friends who were in the music business, but they were all into techno. But in Paris it is more open-minded. There are a lot of clubs and amazing people come and play every week. They are all super nice with me. It's expensive for an artist, but it's a great city.

The way I first came across your music was through your sublime remix of 'Touched' by My Bloody Valentine for Sonic Cathedral – though it's actually a remix of the cover by Japancakes. How was it doing that? As a fan of MBV, it must be a strange thing to do.

RT: Nat [Cramp, from Sonic Cathedral] sent me an email saying he was doing this Japancakes stuff, and did I want to do a remix. I wasn't really sure because My Bloody Valentine are a band I really loved but I didn't know Japancakes. But I just decided to do it. I was listening to a lot of Slowdive at that point – the 5 EP, the techno thing they did – so my remix was inspired by them. It's MBV going into Slowdive techno.

Ricardo Tobar's Treillis is out now via Desire