With a 'Poolside Ibiza' mix album for Toolroom about to drop, we catch up with one of Sweden's most acclaimed – and most experienced – underground producers
Stockholm's Peter Major, better known as Opolopo, is one of those producers who inspires huge respect in certain quarters, without ever really crossing over into the mainstream. Ask around down your local Ritzy's (or at EDC Las Vegas), and you'll probably get blank looks... but you don't get to work with the likes of Gregory Porter for nothing!
Yours truly first came across his name when Dave Lee (Joey Negro) raved about him in an interview we did around 2010 or so, but – as I learned – he was already well-established in the broken beat scene by then, peddling a blend of bruk beats, nu-jazz and the odd hint of Afro stylings, as befitted his choice of artist name ('opolopo' is a Yoruban word meaning, roughly, "plenty"). In the years since, he's trodden a more house and disco-oriented path, becoming an in-demand DJ on the soulful scene and a regular on Lee's much-loved Z Records label, as well as making appearances on the likes of Good For You, Madhouse and Local Talk.
As he explains below, though, his music-making career dates back much further than that… all the way to his pre-school years, in fact. That's what happens, evidently, when your father is a touring Hungarian jazz musician...
Read on to learn more about his musical background, his upcoming Poolside mix compilation for Toolroom and why he's crossing his fingers for a bruk beat revival…
You've been making records since the early 00s, but this is your first iDJ interview so let's start at the beginning! I gather having a father who was a musician was a big formative influence on you?
"Since the mid-90s even! We had an acid jazz band (remember that, kids?!) called Way Past Cool that released an EP, and then there was some drum & bass stuff as well. But yes, my dad's influence was huge. I grew up with his record collection, mainly jazz and fusion. That, as well as hearing him play and getting to abuse his synths as a kid, definitely set me on this musical path.
At what age did you start making music of your own... and how long an interval was there between the first track you ever completed, and the first track you actually released?
"My first 'musical' memories are of bending (and destroying) the strings of my dad's guitar with pliers at about age three. Then I was always tinkering on the piano, coming up with simple little melodies. In my teens I finally got a drum machine, some synths and a four-track Portastudio and that's when I probably made my first completed piece of music.
"I wrote a lot of the music for that band I mentioned before, and the EP we did was the first time anything got released. So maybe 13-15 years to get something out there. Compare that with today: buy a sample pack on Monday and have a release on Wednesday!"
Early releases came on various different labels, but since 2015 you've been primarily associated with Z Records. How did you come to hook up with Dave in the first place?
"I think he liked a boogie remix I did in 2011 and got in touch asking if I wanted to do one for him. Then that eventually led to an album and other things on Z."
It seems to me that since then your music has taken more of a house/disco path, whereas earlier releases were more in the broken beat/nu-jazz mode. Is that a fair assessment, broadly speaking?
"That's a fair assessment, yes."
So what prompted the switch in musical direction?
"Well, I come from a very jazzy background. Apart from electronic stuff like Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Isao Tomita, I would mainly listen to jazz-funk and fusion growing up. People like Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber, Bob James and George Duke were my heroes. I was also getting into boogie and funk, and then disco.
"When broken beat – basically a fusion of all the things I loved – came along, it just hit all the right spots for me. Crazy syncopated rhythms, jazzy chords, fat synths and beats. I loved it so much and still do. Up to that point, I had been doing boogie- and funk-influenced house and dance remixes for major record labels. That was about the time when the record industry really started to shift and my well-paid major label work started drying up. At the time I also had a day job.
"When that job ended, I got a nice severance package and thought, 'Fuck it, I'm going to do my thing and go for the music I love and see what happens'. So I did a lot of nu-jazz/broken beat type of tracks and remixes. Unfortunately that scene was quite small, and it was the more house-y stuff (which I was still doing) that 'survived' and was what I was called upon to do more and more. I absolutely love house as well, so it's all good! But I also hope for that broken beat revival that always seems to be lurking just around the corner..."
I've read that you mostly work in the box... but then I've also seen you speak of a lust for vintage hardware. So, what's in your studio these days?
"Yeah, I've said many times that being all in the box works really well for me. I can work on multiple projects in parallel. The control and automation possibilities are endless. And with plug-ins that sound better and better the sonic palette is huge. But that said, there's nothing sexy about clicking around with a mouse on a computer screen. Nothing beats the hands-on experience of touching hardware, twisting and turning knobs, and the smell of electricity.
"I have some hardware, but I've always had the dream of collecting all the classic gear I was lusting for growing up. And a few years ago I thought, 'Now's the time to get sexy.' I had my eyes on a Memorymoog and almost bought it. It was crazy expensive, though, so I thought maybe I should start with something a bit more modest. So I bought a monophonic Yamaha CS-30. I love it, but it's been sitting there for years now and I've never used it in a production. That kind of made me realise that that's maybe a dream not worth chasing for me. If I'm not going to use it, then it's just a very expensive, albeit sexy, paperweight.
"So in my studio there's a Rhodes, the Yamaha, guitar and basses. In the basement there are some samplers, drum machines and synths. But what actually gets used is my computer running Cubase Pro 10 and a bunch of plug-ins."
Let's move on to the DJ side of things, because you've got the Poolside mix compilation about to drop on Toolroom. So tell us about that: what brief were you given and how did you approach the mix? Was it a "live in the studio" job, or the result of endless hours of painstaking editing, overdubbing etc?
"Yes, very excited about this one! When Toolroom asked me, I wasn't really given a brief other than that the mix was for the Poolside Ibiza series. I was given great freedom and trust and basically got to do my thing. I knew the Poolside compilations were more leaning towards disco/nu disco, but I got to put some deeper and jazzier stuff on there as well.
"Even though I approached it as the kind of set I would play live, the mix was 'produced' and not DJ'ed. I had to start the mix before I knew exactly what tracks we were able to license, and also had to be prepared to exchange tracks that could not be streamed, so there had to be two versions of the mix. I also enjoy the possibilities of doing a produced mix, with different kind of transitions, blends and FX than you could do live. If people want to hear a live mix they can come to one of my DJ sets, ha ha!"
There are three exclusive tracks from yourself on there, so talk us through those...
"The three exclusives are all groove-driven instrumentals. Aqua Lung and Groovitational Waves are both boogie- and funk-infused, with touches of jazz in there as well. Sickla Side Push Shuffle leans more towards string stab disco, but still with a jazzy slant. And you could and should roller skate to all three!"
Now the mix album's ready to go, any sign of a new artist album on the horizon any time soon?
"I have an EP coming out on Local Talk soon. And yes, that's to be followed by an album, hopefully by the end of the year."
If iDJ readers in the UK want to see you DJing or playing live this year, where can they do so?
"51st State Festival in London's Trent Park on 3 August would be a good choice. It's the third year I'm playing, and this year it's the fifth year anniversary of the festival, so it'll be a blast."
Finally, what else is going on in Opolopo's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"In addition to working on a new EP for Z Records, I also have a bunch of remixes coming soon that I'm really excited about. Look out for remixes of Sylvester, Jean Carne, Barbara Tucker, Ralf GUM, Cool Million and a few more..."
Words: Russell Deeks
Poolside Ibiza 2019 is out on Friday (28 June) on Toolroom Records. You can pre-order it here.