With his third album 'Blisss' in stores tomorrow, we catch up with a French producer who's not a Youngster any more…
Tomorrow will see the release of Blisss, the third long-player from Rodriguez Jr. Coming once again on Berlin's Mobilee, it's an album that finds the French producer with the Spanish name (the reasons for which are explained below) once again pushing his collection of analogue hardware to its limits, as he explores a musical terrain that's roughly three-parts progressive house to two-parts techno, spiced with a dash of acid house/rave nostalgia.
The album follows on the heels of 2011's Bittersweet and 2017's Baobab, not to mention an outdoor live set filmed for French streaming specialists Cercle in 2017 that's since attracted over two million views on YouTube. But that's just as Rodriguez Jr. – Oliver Mateu's career (to give him his real name) actually goes back much further.
All the way to the late 90s, in fact, when he first emerged as one-half of French electro/techno duo, The Youngsters, who released two long players on the mighty F-Comm label (2001's Lemonorange and 2004's The Army Of 1-0) before going their separate ways.
It was at an F-Comm showcase at The End, some time around 2001/2002, that Oliver and yours truly crossed paths for the first and, until now, only time. So that seemed as good a place as any to kick off our recent chat…
Hello! I seem to recall I interviewed you once before, as a member of The Youngsters – regarding an F-Comm showcase at The End with Laurent G, Aqua Bassino and Alex Kidd? That was nearly 20 years ago ... did you ever think, back then, that you'd still be making music for a living now?
"Hi! It’s amazing to have our paths cross again after so many years! I have so many good memories with the F-Comm crew and those parties at The End. But I never ask myself those kind of questions – I don’t even really think about it, to be honest. Music is my main mode of functioning in life and I just keep going with it."
Well anyway, you are! And you've just released Blisss, your third long-player as Rodriguez Jr. Traditionally, it's said to be the second album that's 'difficult' – does that tally with your experience?
"Absolutely, Baobab was indeed a painful process which is why it took so long between the first and the second one. For some reason, as your fan base grows, you find yourself simultaneously aware that they are expecting something from you, and this can result in a sort of ‘block’ or anxiety. In the end I was able to liberate myself from this and the result was a radical transformation in the way I create music and even in my private life!"
How does Blisss differ from your two previous albums, would you say? You've talked about "a decision to enjoy myself in the studio"...
"This is exactly what I learned whilst doing Baobab: that one should do things without too much over-analysis, and not be afraid of being oneself and having your identity on display. The writing and recording process for Blisss was a lot more prolific, fun and inspiring… hence the title!'
While the album's very now-sounding, I was struck as well by tracks like Haussman and Blisss itself, which seem to nod back to the very earliest (late 80s) days of house music... was that deliberate?
"I wanted to indulge in the sonorities and the production techniques which I have collected in the past 20 years without thinking too much about it. I wanted to use the palette I’ve been slowly curating. I like to play with colour and contrast: this kaleidoscopic vision is the key element of my music."
What's the third 'S' in Blisss all about? And while we're on the subject, why the name Rodriquez Jr. – is there a particular reason/rationale or did you just pluck a name from thin air?
"That suspicious-looking third ’S’ is there for graphic and phonetic reasons. It’s kind of onomatopoeic: it’s the overflowing sound that I connect to waves, cicadas, the wind and so on. And Rodriguez Jr. is a nod to my Spanish roots – my father is Spanish. And Martinez, Ramirez and Gonzalez were already taken!"
Two tracks on the album feature Nouvelle Vague vocalist Liset Alea, who's a regular collaborator. So tell us about that: how you came to hook up in the first place, what you enjoy about working together and so on…
"Our collaboration dates back to over 15 years ago, back to when she was singing with Alexkid and I was in The Youngsters. We met via this F-Comm world and we soon began collaborating on music together: in fact the track Here to Forget You, which is on Blisss, dates back to 2006 and was unreleased until I unearthed it for this album.
"Working together is always a very intuitive process, we trust and follow each other’s flow very naturally. Liset has a great sense of melody and an access to her emotions that's very powerful yet doesn’t overwhelm the composition. She also has the capacity to be very quick, which allows us to not lose the direction we’re moving in.
"To conclude, she has such a wide variety of influences that it opens up many possibilities without restricting the landscape… and it’s probably for these reasons and more that I asked her to marry me!"
Oh! Nice… well, sticking with Liset for a moment, a couple of years ago she also featured on the live video you made for Cercle. That's now had over two million views... how important has that been in helping to build/maintain your career/profile, do you think?
"I’ve always believed that my music was meant for big open spaces, and Le Cercle allowed me to prove this to myself and the fans of my music."
And did you have any qualms about doing it? After all, you came from a techno/electro background which is generally more “faceless"...
"No, because I never really believed in this ‘faceless’ conception of electronic music anyway. People need something with which they can identify, and even in the case of groups that have never shown their actual faces, such as Underground Resistance and Daft Punk, there's usually either a political message or an iconography which takes the lead and becomes the connecting point."
Is it important, for your personal satisfaction, to be able to perform live, or would you be just as happy just to make records for DJs to play? And is it important to you that people appreciate the live element in what you do, or does that not matter so much?
"I really love to play live, it’s something cathartic for me and I like the challenge of moving people with my own music. When I’m in the studio I’m always thinking about that moment when the music will be out of the studio and in the hands of the audience, when it will be out of my control and become a force on it’s own. It’s a kind of magic."
The timing seems right for Blisss, with melodic/progressive styles very much to the fore in elecronic music right now. But is there a downside to that – that the album could get overlooked in the deluge, or tainted by association with a glut of sounds-alike tracks?
"I never really worry about trends! They come and go, but the fact that I’m still here after 20 years tells me that I’m not getting things totally wrong."
With the benefit of those 20 years' experience, what advice might you have for any youngsters (ha ha!) who are just starting out in the industry now?
"I think the most important thing is to not be afraid of being oneself – it’s the only way to be different. In a market that's saturated with music and overly formatted, the only chance of survival we have is originality – and the only source of originality is yourself."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Like everyone else, I'm currently stuck in the flat… which thankfully is also the recording studio! So I’m preparing a lot of new music for the year to come, without having a clue as to how the future will present itself…"
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Paul Normann
Blissss is out tomorrow (24 April) on Mobilee