Oliver Mateu or Rodriquez Jr. as you may know him, is an artist that I am sure many of you are fully aware of now whether it is via his flurry of deep thought-provoking releases on Mobilee or his recent live sets which of course include the sublime set he recently recorded for Cercle on the incredible site of the Normandy cliffs. Originating from the South of France, he grew up on the seaside during the 90s whilst learning the piano and attending electronic music parties. As one half of the electronic music act, The Youngsters, who are best known for their releases on Laurent Garnier’s F-Communications label, their award-winning productions catapulted them into the international arena, taking them to some of the biggest clubs and festivals around the world.
Moving back to the present and shortly after another superb release on Mobilee entitled ‘Malecón Azul’, I managed to grab some of Oliver’s precious time to sit and talk to him about his live performances and his music, and what a chat it was. Let’s just say I have wanted to interview Oliver for some time and when this interview was finally given the green light I got a little carried away with the number of questions so grab a long drink, sit back, and hopefully you enjoy this as much as I did…
When we spoke Oliver had just arrived in Miami where he was due to be performing with Lee Foss at Space which he was very much looking forward to. We start by going back to Oliver’s earlier days with The Youngsters and I asked about how it all kicked off for him… “My partner and I from The Youngsters had a small label together in the late ’90s and Laurent was constantly supporting us by broadcasting our releases on his radio shows. We met him in 2000 and he was seeking out fresh French techno music for his label FCOM. After 3 months locked in the studio, we sent him 24 tracks and he signed the project and released all but a few of these demos. This was the real start to my career as it catapulted me onto the international dance music scene.”
“Laurent (Garnier) is basically my mentor, I spent a lot of time observing how he works, from inside the DJ booth and I learned a lot from him.”
I asked Oliver about his latest release which has just seen the light of day on Mobilee… “These tracks come straight from the road, from the heat of the audience and the fluidity of the live performance. They’re filled with the energy they collected on tour. ‘Malecón Azul’, named after the enchanting boulevard in Havana, captures the intense and unique experience of being under the sun, in front of the sea, in a faraway place that suddenly feels like home.” Oliver has been part of the Mobilee family now for what seems like a long time. I asked him how he first came to work with the label and what some of his personal highlights had been… “I met Anja Schneider and Ralf Kollmann more than 15 years ago whilst promoting the second Youngsters album in Germany and it was instantly a beautiful friendship. When I was looking for a home base for my new project Rodriguez Jr., I naturally got in touch with Anja and she helped me very much in defining my new project in terms of the sound signature, getting rid of the useless elements and choosing the right direction. There have been so many great moments over the years, it’s difficult to choose just one but our legendary rooftop parties in Barcelona are amongst the top.” You can check out last years rooftop party below:
After speaking about his time with Mobilee it was logical that I moved on to speak with Oliver’s production style etc. I asked him about his current studio setup… “I have a bunch of machines that are always at the core of my productions: The ARP2600, The Roland Jupiter 6 & SH11, The Moog voyager. These are really the defining machines of my sound.” I then moved on to ask Oliver about his workflow and style when constructing his tracks/remixes… “I usually start with harmonic parts and/or sound textures, first I try to create a story, a universe and afterwards I frame it with the beat. The beat is kind of the structure of the track. I like to allow myself the luxury of time to try different directions, to create happy accidents and to amuse my curiosity by wandering around a bit before I decide on a direction.”
Knowing many artists that suffer from writer’s block or often struggle to complete a track, I ask Oliver if he ever suffers from such issues and how he manages to overcome them… “Yes, of course, It’s often due to too much self-afflicted pressure. When things are really blocked I think it’s of no use to insist sometimes, and it’s best to go outside and take a walk. Inspiration is everywhere and I sometimes just have to learn how to read it and get out of my techno tunnel vision. Paris is an excellent cure for this. Movement and light is everywhere.”
Moving on to Oliver’s live performances I asked him what was due over the coming months in terms of gigs… “I have an extensive tour schedule coming up and I get the feeling that people are hungering for live performances, they want to experience a moment and something unique. This upcoming tour will bring me to many continents in the next few months, Africa, America, South America & Europe for the Ibiza & Festival season.” Something I know I am looking forward to witnessing over the coming months, and if you can catch this man in action please try, you will not be disappointed. Like many, I was blown away by his live performance with Cercle with the beautiful backing of the Normandy cliffs. I asked him how this opportunity first came about… “I know the guys that run Le Cercle and they contacted me at the beginning of their project and we were looking for the right moment and the right location to put something together. When they contacted us for Etretat I immediately saw the painting in my mind, I saw the landscape and imagined something ethereal and more fluid for this performance. The effort to bring club music OUT of the clubs is important because electronic music can also be an extraordinary soundtrack for life.” I went on to ask Oliver about some of the hardest things to overcome whilst filming at such a remote location… “The major challenge for this performance was to physically carry all of the equipment up to the top of the mountain. We had to walk up and down a few times to get all the gear up there and bring it back down after the sunset which was pretty insane since there was no light.”
Oliver’s live performance featured the incredible talents of Liset Alea who is also known as the lead singer from Nouvelle Vague. I asked Oliver how he first came to work with Liset… “Liset Alea and I met way back in 2003 whilst we were both doing the festival circuit, she was singing for Alexkid’s Project (she’s the voice behind the club cult hit “Come With Me”, and I was on tour with The Youngsters). You can say we were label buddies, both tied to FCOM and we never really lost touch. In 2007 we made an album together which was never released but often synched to TV & Advertisements (Entourage, 90210). Finally, in 2017, I was working on my album and I was stuck in a major creative block, something was missing and I thought about contacting Liset for a vocal collaboration. We ended up writing 4 songs in one day, the creative energy was so intense that we decided to continue to work together, as well as to never leave each other, get married and have lots of babies.” Watch Rodriguez Jr. and Liset Alea working their magic for Cercle below:
I asked Oliver if there were any funny moments whilst he was shooting on location for Cercle… There weren’t really ‘funny’ moments per se but mostly intense and sublime moments. Breaking down in the dark on top of a mountain where you can’t see your footing was pretty intense, especially since we were still very high from the performance. Being alone with the music and the vast skies around was an extreme experience.
“Performing ‘Heart is a Woman’ on the edge of the cliff and being alone in that suspended moment with Liset Alea, without any other element (no audience, no club) only the red sunset and the seagulls. This was somehow a life-changing experience.”
I could have talked with Oliver for hours about his Cercle performance but I thought I had best move on, and moved back to his productions briefly. I asked him where he composes most of his music, on the road, or in a studio… “I work a lot on my laptop for sure. I am constantly transferring in between the laptop and the studio and the stage, I create things on a flight, I try them on stage, I integrate them back into the production when at home. This is the underlying process that is behind my EP but I still need my tools and hardware to finalize tracks. Nothing can replace the sound and the sensuality of touching a real piece of equipment.”
I don’t think there is any doubting the quality of Oliver’s live performances but as a man that clearly strives for perfection in his work, I asked him if he would like to add anything in the future… “On the audio side, I would like to add a modular system, in order to generate more accidents and make the moment more unique. I would also like to return to my ‘Visualized’ concept whereby the music and the lights are synchronized to my improvisations in order to create some kind of homogenous experience. We are still at the beginning in terms of what we can accomplish with Live Electronic music, there’s so much to explore.” All sounds very intriguing and certainly something for his fans to look out for. Whilst on the subject of his live performances I knew he was due to play We Are Lost Festival in Toronto, so asked him if he had anything special planned for the gig… “Toronto has always been an important city for me since the beginning of my career, I have an audience there that have been supporting me since the early days. I can’t wait to come back with the new tracks and feel the reaction of this faithful audience.”
Something that many of us working in the scene has surely felt is the loss of connection to it at times, just like any profession or interest. I asked Oliver if he had ever experienced a loss of connection from the scene or the music… “I had a tough time transitioning between The Youngsters and Rodriguez Jr. for some reason. I think it was due to the fact that I had closed myself into a certain sound and team and starting over from scratch was quite challenging. This is where I learned the hard truth; there are very few ‘friends’ in this industry. Anyway, I got through this by listening to the advice of people I respected such as Anja Schneider and Laurent Garnier.”
Moving onto a subject that has been at the forefront of most people’s mind across all industries at present is mental health. I asked Oliver’s thoughts on the impact the industry can have on your mental wellbeing, and how can it be improved for those that do suffer… “We all have highs and lows because the pressure that this life imposes is enormous, the stress of travel, the requirements of the management, the expectations of the audience, the creative blocks and the extreme fatigue all lead to a potentially very dark place. We’ve seen much too many examples of this recently and personally I have been completely sober since October 2018 and this has made a huge difference in how I deal with everything. Alcohol is the source of all the problems and from there it just gets worse. There’s no way to be moderate when performing every day sometimes twice a day, you get sucked into a downward spiral until you hit rock bottom and many don’t come back. The remedy is simple; avoid substances, do some sports when you can, and stick to your mission to make music.”
“Being sober is also great for creativity because it forces you to reach into your true self to find real excitement. I have never had a better time onstage or had a better connection with my audience than since I’ve gone sober, it’s like being naturally high all the time.”
I asked Oliver how he keeps his mind in a good state with all the travel he is having to do… “I listen to some calming sounds on the flight and take micro naps as often as I can. 15 minutes are enough for re-booting the machine.” I then went on to ask him what he gets up to when he gets some downtime… “I’m a big fan of wandering, I like to walk around Paris and get lost. The walls of the city have so many stories to tell. I also read a lot and go to museums. Nothing fancy, just refuelling.”
This brings me to the end of my superb chat with Oliver. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as enjoyed putting it together. I would like to thank Oliver for his time, and the beautiful music he continues to create.