Unquestionably, Oscar Mulero has been one of the most pivotal figures of the Spanish techno scene, with a career as a DJ, producer, and label head spanning over 20 years. In this interview, transcribed from a conversation Oscar had with Altstadt Echo via Skype, we review the evolution of techno in Spain, Oscar’s multi-genre work, and his views on contemporary artists and labels. The timing of this interview couldn’t be better – Oscar is about to embark on a tour of the Americas, with dates in Mexico, Columbia, and the United States.
Altstadt Echo: Let’s talk about the Spanish techno scene back in the 90’s when it was just getting started. On the internet, people are constantly talking about Detroit, Berlin, and the UK in the 90’s but not so much about Spain. But how did what was happening in Madrid compare to these other scenes?
Oscar Mulero: Everything happened a bit later. In the 90’s there was a big scene around EBM and New Wave, but the techno came a bit late. It was actually a couple of friends and I that were the first to bring in people like Regis and Surgeon and James Ruskin, and that was in ’95 or ’96. So we were really influenced by that kind of techno, but there was not really a proper scene in Spain during that time. We could say that we were pioneers in that sort of sound. It was a bit late to be the leader of that kind of music.
Do you think these other scenes were aware of the techno music coming out of Spain, being made by you or others?
Before Sonar, not really. Sonar was one of the most important things that happened to the techno scene in those years. It was very important for people to see Autechre, Richie Hawtin or Jeff Mills. Afterwards the first Sonar in ’94 or ’95, that’s when the revolution really started. It was getting easier to see techno artists from other countries.
And how has the Sonar festival evolved over the years?
It keeps getting bigger and bigger. When I first played the festival, around ’95, it was about 500 people – no more than that. And these days, I don’t know how many come, but maybe 50,000. There are a lot of things happening during Sonar weekend in the city. It’s been a massive evolution, of course it’s been quite a while since it started. They’ve been bringing in bigger names also, but still taking care to bring in interesting underground projects.
Do you think at this point there a “Spanish techno” sound?
I’m not really fond of saying something like “Spanish techno.” For me, there are no musical frontiers. You can be influenced by music that comes from Birmingham or Detroit. And obviously those people in Detroit were doing techno in their own way, influences by their own lives and their own city. But I’m not fond of saying there’s a “Spanish techno” sound. I’ve been influenced by many types of music – I was in a metal band, I was listening to EBM, so all the music I’ve been listening to have been an influence. So that really affects what I’m doing these days with my music.
Techno is kind of cyclical. I wouldn’t say that the minimal hype from three or four years ago isn’t the same as what Chain Reaction was doing in ’96. We have more tools in terms of production, but it’s still cyclical.
So you played at the Movement festival for the second time this year, the first time being in 2008. Was it any different this time around in 2014?
I’ve always had a very good time playing in the Movement festival. This time I felt myself connected more with the other artists I was playing in that room with. Like with Jeff, Lucy, Speedy J, Adam X, and them. But my first time playing in 2008, I was feeling like I was coming from a different world. This time I felt like the programming made more sense and I felt like I was part of a group of artists. But in terms of how the festival is run, it was perfect. We had some problems with monitors in the room where I was playing, but apart from that it was a very good experience.
So the other thing that has to do with Detroit, you released the album on Detroit Underground titled Biosfera. And it’s mostly ambient and IDM, so you could draw a connection to your Grey Fades to Green album which was a blend of IDM and techno. So for Biosfera, did you set out to make an IDM and ambient album, or did you have just a lot of tracks lying around that you wanted to do something with?
Yeah, that’s exactly how it was. I had released Grey Fades to Green and Kero contacted me and was like “man, I really like that part of the Grey Fades to Green album with the ambient and IDM tracks,” and asked me if he wanted to do an album or mini-album for his label. I had always been a big fan of his music and his label, so I thought “why not?” At the time I had some spare tracks from the album, so I made some additional tracks and sent them over. But I wasn’t originally thinking of doing an IDM album and sending it to a label. I always need to be working on different things in order to stay motivated. So I always work in different kinds of music. Kero asked me if I wanted to do a release and I said “Yes, I like your label, give me some time to work on some more tracks,” and that’s how it happened.
So when most people think of Oscar Mulero, they probably think about techno. Does anyone ever book you and say “could you play some of the IDM stuff?”
Would you like someone to ask you that?
I’d like to. But most of the promoters or the people who are interested in booking me are for my techno side. And I think some people don’t know I’m doing IDM stuff. But it’d be really good if a promoter asked for an IDM show or an IDM live act. I would be very pleased to do it.
As I’m sure you know, Aphex Twin has just released another album.
Yes! Syro! It’s very good.
Was he a big influence on you early on?
Yes, all this IDM in the 90’s was a big influence. There were a lot of records I loved from those years, but a few really important ones stand out. Two from Autechre, called Incunabula and Amber, and from Aphex twin the Selected Ambient Works. These records really changed my life somehow. So Aphex Twin has been a big influence.
Do you ever find that your own IDM work is influencing your techno work, or vice-versa?
Sometimes I’m just working on a techno track and I start to play with pads and atmospheres, and say “Oh man this might work in IDM…” so I save a separate version to work on later.
So you run two labels that are basically techno labels – Warm Up and PoleGroup. Would you ever release IDM on these?
No, the only time I’ve released IDM on these labels was Grey Fades to Green. I’m thinking about making a different platform for this music. At this moment I have fifteen or so IDM tracks. I don’t know if I’d send them to another IDM label or come up with a different platform – a different name but still run by me – to release them on.
Why do you have two labels? What’s the difference between PoleGroup and Warm Up?
I first had the idea to create PoleGroup when I was having issues with distribution. My music was stuck, and we didn’t have a place to put my label. It was really tough for me because I was starting to release my own music so I thought that creating a new label with separate distribution, in case something happened with Warm-up’s distribution, would be ideal. But Pole Group is also for taking Spanish artist with a similar sound with me, doing the bookings and label nights together.
Another thing that’s been happening is your collaboration with Christian Wünsch as Spherical Coordinates. And you’ve been releasing a lot of music – multiple EPs in 2013 and 2014. Do you think you’ll continue at this same pace?
I don’t know if it will still be that busy. There will be one more EP in November. How it works with us is that we just stay together working in his place doing sounds and twisting synthesizers, then we start to work and develop songs. We felt like we have very good stuff to be released, and the tracks work. I’ve played them many times before releasing them. There were three EPs last year, and two this year. If we have something good to release, we’re going to do it.
Is Spherican Coordinates your first project together with Christian?
In production, yes it’s the first time. We’ve been playing together doing DJ sets before this, but never producing together. This is the first time I’ve collaborated with someone. It’s really good for me. It really works. We get together, spend a week work making sounds and main riffs for the tracks. Then I develop the tracks in my studio. It’s just playing and having fun. When you are doing things you enjoy, most of the time it really works. Leaving my studio and going to his makes me really open-minded in terms of the Spherical Coordinates music.
Is the equipment that Christian has very different than yours?
It’s not really that different. We have some stuff we bought together, and I also bring some of my stuff to his place. So it’s a mix of everything.
So let’s talk a bit about your new project, the Pattern series of EPs. They’re coming out on translucent vinyl with very design-focused packaging. What’s the concept behind this series?
The concept is textures. Most of the artwork have a focus on texture, and use different colors. The idea with the music on them is also a focus on texture. The tracks have very few elements in them, it’s more about texture and trading out those few elements of the tracks. And with the artwork, that’s the idea: special packaging, special editions for people who are into vinyl. We know that selling vinyl is very difficult, but we just wanted to do this for people who have been buying Warm-up records for many years. I’m very happy with the artwork, it’s by a very talented girl from Spain who goes by Acid Hazel. When we talked to her about the idea of this new series, we just sent the music and tried to explain what we were looking for, and she just came with this very nice text-focused idea for the covers.
And are all the tracks done already for the pattern series?
Oh no, I’m not that fast. I’ve just finished mixing about thirty tracks for my album that is going to be released next year. I have to do a selection of around fifteen tracks, but there will be stuff left for the series. So if there’s something that doesn’t fit for the album but works with the texture concept, then I’ll include it.
What can you tell us about the album? Is there a concept behind that as well?
It’s going to be released on PoleGroup. I can’t tell you that much about it yet. It will be fifteen or seventeen tracks, released on vinyl, digital, and CD.
So, to start wrapping up our interview, which up-and-coming artists and label are you excited about right now?
I’m very excited about Avian, Shifted’s label. And there are also two guys from Sweden, SHXCXCHCXSH. I really, really like their album, STRGTHS [pictured above]. I was very impressed by it. I knew their music before and played it, but this was more conceptual stuff. I am very interested in following them and other music on Avian. There’s also a friend of Shifted releasing music under the name Blue Hour which I am excited about. Fortunately, there are a lot of new people doing really good music. It’s difficult to know everyone. And of course, all of the guys on Pole Group. We just got Kwartz on board. He’s very young, he’s 24 years old, but he’s doing very good stuff.
Is Kwartz from Spain?
Yes, his name is Mario and he’s from Madrid. I was playing some of his remixes maybe a year ago. Hector (from Exium) and I thought it’d be good to have a chat with him and maybe take care of his career. We thought he could fit very well with the PoleGroup concept. We wanted to take care of him and put him on the right way.
Do you think there are a lot of young techno artists who get steered in the wrong direction?
Maybe. I think that things now are easier than they used to be. When I started to do my music, there was no digital releasing. It was really tough to get your records everywhere, to get a deal with distribution, to get your records in Japan and the States. But these days things are easier. If you are doing good music, it doesn’t matter where you are coming from. If you get into digital platforms, your music will be everywhere. So it doesn’t really matter where you are coming from. But maybe you can get good advice about how to drive your career, but in terms of making everyone know about your music it’s not really that difficult. And thank God, because now the techno scene is back in a stronger way.