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Essential Listening: Ricardo Villalobos

Essential Listening: Ricardo Villalobos

Ethan McNamara | Features & Interviews

His name has become synonymous with head-turning and elaborately twisted techno music. Regarded by his cult following (in all seriousness) as somewhat of a supernatural being, the Chilean born maestro brings flamboyance and fearless risk-taking to a minimalistic style of electronic music that had long been derided by its critics as languid and boring. He re-energized an entire generation of fans, injecting life and mischief into everything he touches with dynamic and expansive records that contain a deeply human touch, full of intricacy and subtlety that is too often traded in for hammering kick drums and efficient arrangements in modern dance music. Villalobos records breathe and dance, like a living organism. His music - often as challenging as it is rewarding - has propelled him to the highest heights of success, and he is regularly regarded and one of the most talented and prolific producers in the business. Loved and loathed for his on-stage antics in equal measure, his infamous and legendary DJ sets make him one of the most talked about and exciting performers to watch. Yet at 47 years old, he shows no sign of letting up just yet, with a continuously groundbreaking creative output that has redefined trends and genre conventions for the last 15 years. He is - without question - one of the most unique and captivating electronic artists of the 21st century.

Considered by many to be his finest moment, 'Dexter' is a beating bloody heart of a record. With its convulsive glugging basslines and sombre chords, it became a blueprint of the deep and introspective minimal style that came to define his entire career. Power, chaos, fear, awe, wonderment: a total microcosm of life itself, all chewed up and spat back out through a modular soundscape to create a genuinely pure piece of transportative dance music escapism. After a recent repress shot it back into the hearts, minds and DJ bags of selectors across the globe, Craig Richards played it in fabric Room 1 to rapturous applause during the throbbing breakdown, before making a big deal of picking up the 12”, waving it in the air, flipping it over and playing the other side “Easy Lee” straight away to an even louder reception. Ricardo wasn't even on the bill that evening, but it served as the perfect nod and wink to “those in the know” that the love and admiration that is shown towards him and music is recognised, and there aren't many club rooms in the world that he is universally adored more than Fabric R1.

Easy Lee
Still to this day, the robotic vocals that punctuate 'Easy Lee' have never quite been fully deciphered or confirmed. But that only seems to add to its mystique and charm and, in a way, is indicative of Ricardo's wider appeal: you don't have to understand every minute detail, and parts of it may even confuse you or be seemingly incoherent, but with an open mind, it's a record that can sound full of drama, euphoria, sadness or fear depending on when and where it's played. And that's what good music should do, holding the attention of peak time dancefloors and lazy blissed-out afters alike. As close to a minimal “anthem” as you can get.

While the impressive length of his tracks have become the butt of some industry insider jokes in recent years, there is no better example of his incredible recording process that Minimoonstar released on Perlon in 2008. Clocking in at a staggering 31:45, it's a meditative number so huge it couldn't physically fit on the vinyl pressing and was later added to the CD release. Full of clanging metallic toms, heavy descending pitfalls of sub-bass, ethereal pads and a menacing lead that swells and crashes over the entire record, lifting the record up down and through a series of meandering and cinematic “scenes”, edited down from his infamous jam sessions that last for hours (and even days) at a time. It is a testament to the commitment and belief that not only Ricardo, but Thomas Franzmann AKA Zip, have in his music to put such a daunting and awe-inspiring record out there.

Visions of serotonin drenched summer afternoons.... Eight full care-free minutes of swirling infectious latin guitar rhythms, strung together on a single cowbell with barely a kick drum in sight. It divides many a dance music aficionado, and after a controversial moment at Cocoon In The Park 2015, will either send clubbers running for the dancefloor or running away from it from the very first opening riff. But it goes without saying, at the right party, at the right time, this record can bring the absolute house down, and as always, threatens to test and challenge what you thought you knew about conventional club music.

Waiworinao? Why worry now.

Shackleton - Blood On My Hands (Apocalypso Now Remix)
Who else could take an abstract dubstep track, inspired by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and make it sound even more scary and ominous than it already was? When Shackleton and Appleblim got word of Villalobos playing their records, they passed him the remix parts for Blood On My Hands at a festival, wearing Skull Disco t-shirts and waving excitedly from behind the barrier, and thought nothing more would come of it. The remix landed in Appleblim's inbox a short time later. They couldn't believe it. Wrapped around the vocals, Ricardo delivered a tripping modular “tika-taka” sound that threatens to tumble and fall over itself, phasing in and out of time and is always just on the cusp of totally spiralling out of control. SKULL 007 sold by the bucketload and Villalobos wanted no fee in return. This one record effectively saved the entire label, paying their debts and sustaining the label into new releases, and as far as titles go: 'Apocalypse Now' remix is not far wrong. On a big system this track makes it sound the world is rapidly coming to an end.

Listed for a long time simply as “Untitled (Unreleased)” before becoming “RariLim02” and eventually “Widodo”, it quickly became a buzz on Youtube and shady cloak-and-dagger file sharing sites, after a particular video of Margaret Dygas opening her set at Submarine, Antwerp with it to great effect, swept the online music forums. It's walking jazz-swing double bassline is an instant earworm as it steps dizzyingly up and down like a fairground ride for the duration of the track. Ricardo has hinted in past interviews that he takes much influence for his basslines from classical composers, such as Bach (who he gave a typically cheeky nod to on his Alcachofa album with “Bach to Back”) and nowhere is this more apparent than in this richly musical production. Released in May by Romanian power crew, a:rpia:r, whose golden boy, Raresh, you can catch alongside the man who shot him to the global stage in a b2b set this year in the System tent at Mint Festival.

You can see the virtuoso selector play b2b with Raresh at MiNT Festival on Saturday 23rd September, on a busy day that will also see him perform at The Warehouse Project's Welcome to the Warehouse Pt 2. 

Photo courtesy of Ricardo Villalobos

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Essential Listening: Ricardo Villalobos

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