Beloved by many, French electro group The Youngsters were bold, brash and exciting. Of their many tracks, which were signed to the legendary F-Communications, Sasha picked ‘Smile’ for his first (and best in my opinion) Involver album. After the band split, Olivier Mateu forged on with his musical journey in the form of Rodriguez Jr. Drawing inspiration from a number of disparate electronic artists, Oliver creates timeless masterpieces with his studio brimming with vintage synths and dusty analogue gear. Now signed to another legendary label, Mobilee, Rodriguez Jr has steadily grown in popularity over the last 5 years and now boasts a full diary of appearances all over the globe. Our intrepid A&R man Simon Huxtable, went in search of Oliver to ask about his career, playing live and the future of house music.
Hi there Olivier, thanks for finding the time to chat with us. Talk us through a typical day in your life.
Hi there! A typical day in my life is never long enough but that’s always my pleasure to answer questions.
We understand you grew up far from the big city lights of Nimes and Montpellier at the seaside. Its sounds idyllic. What were some of your best childhood memories?
I grew up in a small village called Vauvert, between Nîmes and Montpellier. It’s not properly on the seaside. Though, the Mediterranean sea has always been part of my inner balance. I like its colours, its traditions, its lifestyles and I always feel at home as soon as I look at it, either in Spain, Italy, France or even Lebanon. That’s a strong feeling, which is the beating heart of my music, I guess. On the family side, I had an easy stress free childhood with understanding parents who helped me to accomplish my passion for music and arts. I left home at the age of 17 and moved to Montpellier where everything began for me music wise.
Talk us through your early influences, are they still heroes of yours today?
The first strong contact I had with electronic sounds was Jean Michel Jarre’s music. I still remember when I heard ‘Rendez Vous’ on the radio when it’s been released in 86 – I instantly asked my mum what it was. I’ve always had a strong fascination for technology and this music was the perfect link between sound and science. I eventually got into Kraftwerk, Art Of Noise, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze – all the early pioneers of electronic music. All these artists are still part of my background and they might be the reason of my unwavering inclination for melodies.
The next music shock was in the early 90s with dance music: Inner City or Lil Louis on the radio and eventually LFO and all the WARP Music community. I built my music tastes up thanks to their incredible catalog.
Tell us about discovering dance music for the first time. Where were you and what was the event?
The first party I attended was an event called Borealis in Nîmes, South of France, in 1995. It was in a 2000 years old roman amphitheater and I remember beeing blown away by the music, the light, the community. It was like a revolution back then and organizing such a big event was a huge risky challenge. I recently found back the flyer on internet: The Orb live, Underworld live, Jeff Mills, Darren Emerson … Epic, isn’t it?
Not bad! I interviewed Lee van Dowski recently, and he was telling me about the Dragon Bal raves. Were they something you attended?
Yes, it was quite a well known organization in South of France. We’ve probably attended the same events without knowing each other. The music scene in South of France was very big back then and they were lots of organizations doing full size raves in forests, beaches, factories, clubs … This is where artists such as Agoria, Miss Kittin, The Hacker and many more began their career back in the days.
How did you meet Gilles and what inspired you both to form The Youngsters?
At the age of 18, I moved to Montpellier in order to study mathematics at the university and I basically met Gilles in his record shop. I was getting deeper into the production stuff and needed to meet people. We quickly noticed we complemented each other. Gilles was older and already had a well known profile in France thanks to his DJ gigs and his shop. He also had a nice musical knowledge. And I was quite fast on the machines, so we had the perfect tools for creating our first tracks.
In global terms, 1999, when you formed, was very much the year of Dutch Trance. Your sound was decidedly different. Was that a conscience choice?
I’ve never really been into Dutch Trance. There were some great tracks, but our background was definitely into the music from Detroit and Chicago. The music we loved had to be emotional and funky so we used to get crazy and dance in the record shop every time a new Underground Resistance, Red Planet, Metroplex or 430 West was released. Looking for more musicality was also a way to stand out from the other DJs and producers in South of France, as everybody was mainly focused on either hard techno or french house at this time.
Tell us about signing to F-Comm. Have you ever met Laurent in person?
I actually met Laurent before signing to F-Communications. We had a small label called G-Funk together with Gilles and Laurent used to support our releases on his radio shows and DJ sets. He ended up asking us for a demo. It was such a awesome opportunity that I spent three months locked in the studio and produced more than 30 tracks! We’ve been touring quite a lot with Laurent for labels tours and showcases and I must confess I’ve been learning a lot by spending time with him in the booth – his influence is still very present in my music. I owe him a lot in many respects.
Lets move on to your new persona. How did Rodriguez Jr. take shape, and where did the name come from?
Regarding the name, it basically came from my Spanish roots: my father is Spanish and my real name, Mateu, is actually very usual in Catalonia. This culture is part of my legacy somehow. Though, I don’t remember why I chose Rodriguez as my artist name. It just popped up in my mind and I thought it would be cool to underline my origins. It was also fitting the hedonist side of my music.
I started to work on my solo project back in 2006. F-Communications was unfortunately about stopping their activity and, after 7 years working with Gilles, I needed to find myself back and develop my own sound signature. Creating in a band configuration is often about compromising and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
Now signed to Mobilee, another great label must be satisfying. Do you feel you are given enough artist freedom, or are you expected to make music with a certain sound now? Have you ever experienced labels dictating your output before?
No, I’ve always managed to avoid labels dictatorships. Of course, each label is related to a sound. But that’s our responsibility as artists to push it forward, merging things, breaking boundaries. Sometimes, we might have little discussions but it always has a good creative impact and end up in positive artistic decisions. I guess this how Mobilee managed to build up such a great reputation with so many different kinds of acts.
You’ve know Anja and Ralf for a long time. Was it a natural fit for you to join Mobilee with the Rodriguez Jr. project?
I’ve been struggling a lot when I began working on the Rodriguez Jr. project – it’s been tough to figure out where I wanted to go. I was kind of lost in freedom and possibilities. When I noticed Anja and Ralf were doing well with their new projects in Berlin, I instantly had the feeling they could help me to find my way. They’ve been awesome artistic advisers, really. I remember Anja’s answers – she was like ‘this track is nice but it’s overloaded … focus on the core!’.
Anything new in the pipeline you can tell us about? A new album perhaps?
I have spent quite a lot of time in the studio these last past few months, recording my forthcoming EPs. I am also collecting material for my new album while travelling. It’s slowly taking shape in my mind.
Talk us through your live set up. What DAW do you sequence with, and which hardware do you take on the road with you?
I have a basic and compact live setup: a laptop running Ableton, an Allen & Heath controller, an iPad running TouchOSC which I also use as a wireless controller, a Roland TR8 drum machine for extra spices, and a MIDI Keyboards for improvising. We’re currently working on improving my setup for bigger stages, but I want to keep it compact and efficient. Performing live is all about interacting with the crowd, and I don’t want to get lost in the middle of useless gadgets.
As a live performer, what makes a good gig great?
It’s definitely the interaction with the crowd! It happens when you feel like experiencing an unique and great moment out of this world. I just forget about technical stuff and go with the flow. It’s like riding a wave.
‘Live’ in terms of electronic music can be quiet ambiguous. As a member of your audience, what would I likely hear at one of your shows?
Music, hopefully! Seriously you would hear slices of my tracks with extra live beats, and me improvising on the keyboard from time to time. The tools I use allow me to make things deeper or harder depending of the feedback I receive so it could be either wild and techno, or deep and housey. But for sure, you won’t see me checking emails on my laptop computer for one hour. That’s not a proper way to perform in my opinion.
Where can we see you this summer?
I will be touring Europe in July, the United States in August and eventually back to Europe. It’s gonna be a busy and inspiring season! Among other dates, I will be in Ibiza on the 18th of July at Blue Marlin and on the 24th of september for the Solomun + LIVE closing at Destino, Pacha Barcelona on the 26th of July, we also have a big Mobilee showcase at Helene Beach Festival in Frankfurt on the 24th of July…
With 15 years of experience at the highest level in electronic music, what have been some of the milestone events for you? What future changes do you imagine for the next 15 years?
Computers and internet gave us new possibilities for creating and communicating. They is no more gap between the studio and the audience: you can produce a track a broadcast it on your page the same day. That’s an exciting and forward thinking time. Though, we’re also facing tough challenges to keep this industry working.
As a producer, I would love to see the sound quality on both digital stores and streaming platforms being improved. That’s so frustrating to work with best quality hi end studio equipment and still end up with badly compressed file. It doesn’t make any sense. Also there’s too much of everything on internet, so I guess music curation will get bigger as it will help people getting into the right content.
Walk us through your studio. What are some of your favourite toys? We understand your a big NI fan.
I still use a lot of hardware synthesizers – I’ve been collecting these babes since I began back in the 90s and never got rid of them. The core of my set up is the Roland Jupiter6, SH101, Moog Voyager. I also use a lot the 909, 303 and the Studio Electronics ATC1 … Despite the fact the technology offers enough power for working all in-the-box, I still need a physical connection with my gear. It has to go through my body. I am also getting deeper into this modular synth trend. That’s easy to get lost in it, but that’s so much fun and flexibility. It also generates loads of interesting accidents as this bunch of noodles always ends up being out of control. On the DAW side, I use plugs from NI, U-He, Universal Audio and everything is recorded inside Logic Pro and Ableton rewired together.
Something which many younger producers fail to master at the beginning is the EQ and compression of their productions. How would you address these concepts in your own tracks?
Once again, thanks to the huge amount of power we have in modern computers, the real risk is to overdo everything and kill the vibe of a track. EQ and compression are great tools when they are necessary. In my own tracks, I mainly use EQ for cleaning up and improving separation. That means I use high pass filtering almost everywhere in order to give as much headroom as possible to the bass. Compression is also used carefully to slightly limit the dynamic range of each instrument and improve the overall loudness. It also gives some kind of warm and glue to the master bus – don’t need to push it hard here, just a couple of dBs. And last but not least, I use a lot of side chain compression tricks on basses and pads, once again for saving headroom for the drums.
We ask many producers about their workflow secrets. Are there any you’d like to share?
Producing music requires a lot of time and devotion, really. They’re no other secret here. After 20 years, I am still struggling and failing. And this is why I love the most, because this is how the unexpected magic happens.
In a recent interview you say that each side of your life compliments the other – this was of course in reference to being a dad and husband, and a full time musician. Firstly, I’d like to ask, when you became a dad, did you find the way in which you viewed the world changed, and if so, did it affect the way you interpret these feelings in your productions?
That’s a deep question! That’s actually a lot of positive energy and it pushes me to focus again on simple things – kids can be fascinated about simple details such as water, wind, sounds, sand, whatever, but we unfortunately forget about it when growing up. This connection with my daughter surely had a strong impact on my music. I feel like I am focusing on the core emotion and get rid of useless elements. I don’t mean I am getting minimal, but I’ve cleaned up my sound for sure.
And secondly, has it influenced some of the decisions you make in your work life, like international touring etc. Is there more pressure on you to provide for your family, rather than goof off?
I try to travel with family as much as I can. Being able to travel the world is the real richness, and I want to share it with my daughter. Otherwise, I avoid leaving home for more than two weeks away from family. That’s part of our balance. Whatever craziness happens during the weekend, I must wake up on Monday morning and bring her to school before heading to the studio.
In the same interview you go on to say “No forward thinking creation is possible without deep roots in the past.” We totally agree. Is this something thats missing in modern electronic music? Do the kids appreciate whats gone before, and is this ultimately damaging to the scene?
I am actually amazed about how a lot of young producers know about the dance music history. That’s particularly true these days with this old school house and techno revival. They look for early pressing vinyls on the second hand market, they buy old analog machines and manage to create new sounds with them. That’s awesome, really. Of course I don’t talk about EDM and mainstream oriented music stuff – they’re no substance here. But, yes, arts have always been evolving and growing up thanks to their roots. Same thing with science or philosophy. You can’t forget what has been done before.
Talk us through the new EP Chrysalism. Has it really been a year since you released a track?!
Yes, time has been running fast. I was very excited to be back in the studio and it resulted in strong moments of self awareness. I got deeper into the technical aspects as I wanted this EP to be wider and deeper sound wise. It took quite a long while to reach the balance I was looking for, but I am very happy about it, and I am now ready to record my forthcoming album!
Since starting the live show, have you found the way in which you write new tracks has changed?
I’ve always been playing live so that’s part of my creative process since the very beginning somehow. I mean I always tend to project how a track will look like in my live performances, and how the crowd will react to it. Performing live is also a great way to test new material: I love this moment when you drop a new track for the very first time and you can feel the feedback coming back from the crowd. Everything becomes vibrations. It’s like giving birth, really.
Olivier, its been a real treat to spend some time chatting. We’ve been watching your progress eagerly, and its safe to say you’re on fire right now. But if it all ended tomorrow, which job would you rather do?
I prefer to avoid asking myself this question. I go with the flow. This is why I’ve chosen this life. Maybe I would love end up playing the guitar for family and friends somewhere on a shore. Be sure you’ll we be kindly invited! Thanks for your support and clever questions.