El_Txef_A is further proof that electronic music made in Spain is making waves on the international scene. Even though he's still fairly unknown in his home country (as he himself says, the Spanish like to put their own saying “ no-one is a prophet in his own land” into practice), Basque Aitor Extebarria has been building his reputation on the European underground house circuit for about five years now. He's released work on labels like Wazi Wazi and Hypercolour, and his record bag has seen dark corners of clubs all over the world.
Last year, he started the Fiakun label with five childhood friends – on which he's about to release his debut album, “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” (next Monday, to be exact). An LP on which his always emotional and organic brand of house rubs up against pop more than ever, expressed in ten intimate and passionate tracks where emotions come first and the rhythms are overwhelming. A big step forward that should see him conquer new ground outside of the electronic realm, and confirm him as one of the pillars of Spanish house, alongside people like John Talabot and Pional. To accompany the exclusive stream of the album, we asked him a couple of questions in order to get to know him a bit better.
What is your musical background? How did you get in touch with electronic music, house in particular?
Though it sounds like a cliché, I listen to very little electronic music. What I listen to more is country, pop and rap. Right now I’m crazy about artists like James Taylor, Dolly Parton, A$AP Rocky or even John Mayer. My first contact with dance music was through my brother, who used to have a sampler. He blew my mind with the things he did. A record store in Bilbao called Cybertech was also helpful. I felt comfortable there and the guy behind the counter introduced me to music like Kaito (Kompakt), who was a big inspiration for me.
How and when did you start producing your own tracks?
I first tried when I was 16, with programs like Reason. I spent hours in my bedroom isolated from the outside world.
Your alias is curious. Where does it come from?
Interesting question. My last name is Etxebarria, nothing else to add. Too many teenage years, too many joints, too much of everything . . .
You have always gone for a sound close to organic deep-house, but this album sounds more introspective and intimate. What was your intention when you shaped it? Did you want to make an album more appropriate to listen to at home?
I have always found creating (in my case music) an intense way of exploring the hidden areas of oneself. That concept was a bit distant in the things I’ve published so far, because they were oriented to the dance floor. “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” might be more pop-like in its structure. I think it’s been a success because, as you point out, it’s more accessible for those who are not so implicated in the scene.
One could argue that “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” is a very emotional album. Do you agree? In your opinion, what are the feelings and moods that best define the album?
Yes, in “SDBR” nothing is hidden, they’re pure moods. I think melancholy and sadness are the base of the album. I feel more inspired on grey days, which are not very good emotionally.
The album is full of “real” instruments like piano, guitar and strings. Are they sampled or played live?
There’s a bit of everything. I like recording the piano, and for this album I was lucky enough to work with some very good musicians. We were able to record and play the guitars, vocals and piano all together.
You manipulate the pitch of the vocals particularly low. Is that an aesthetic choice – do you like the way it sounds - or is there some kind of modesty about showing your voice “naked”?
It’s a question of feeling; I don’t stop to think about it. If the pitch’s low it usually sounds cooler - it simply comes out like that, in a harmonic way. For this album I had the chance to work with amazing vocalists such as Hannot and Biskonti. If my memory doesn’t betray me, there’s some kind of voice on every track – except on “Out” – but the spectrum is so wide that you don’t get tired (I hope, at least).
The type of music you make is closer to that of a musician, than to that a producer may create. Do you have a classical upbringing?
Well, I’m not a freak concerning sound, synthesizers, plug-ins and hardware. I see myself more as a musician. Yes, I have a classical education - but because of some rebellious years, it’s not as in-depth as I’d wish.
The album is released via Fiakun, your own record label. Was that the intention from the beginning, or had you talked to other labels whose proposals didn’t satisfy you? What are, in your opinion, the advantages and disadvantages of working both as a label promoter and a musician?
I had offers from some labels - some of them really important - and it would’ve been a dream to release the album with any of them. But I thought it was beautiful to release the album on my own label; particularly at in a time like this, when the industry’s so cold. One of the advantages of self-releasing my music is that I’m very involved in the promotion. On the one hand it’s amazing to witness the distribution of your own album, but on the other we have the huge disadvantage of not being a big name inside the industry. Sometimes being a rookie is a disadvantage.
Are there more people involved in Fiakun? Can you tell us who you are and what the idea was behind the project?
We’re six friends who know each other very well, since kindergarten. After some years of trying different things - in my case, releasing music - we decided to dedicate more time to it. We thought it was very interesting and that we’d learn from it. But the main idea was to enjoy it as much as possible. We have met extraordinary people, but above all, we’re learning a lot about life.
What is your composing process in the studio? Do you always work the same way or do you change the process depending on the needs of each track?
I always start with an idea at the piano. I simply have the daily need to sit and play something either on the Juno-106 or on the Yamaha DX-100.
Can you briefly tell us what your equipment is right now?
In general, I use a 24” iMac with Logic and Ableton Live. The hardware is basically a Juno-106, a Yamaha DX-100, a Roland TR-606 and an Akai APC-40. Later on I move to another studio with ProTools HD, Genelec 5.1 and Control 24 Digidesign. That’s where I structure and mix the songs.
Though you’ve been editing tracks and remixes for different European labels, besides underground followers, you’re still quite unknown to the Spanish audience. Do you feel more valued outside of Spain?
It is true that my most relevant releases have been with labels based in London and Berlin, but I couldn’t tell you why. It’s not something I have really thought about.
After several years in the desert, it seems like Spanish electronic music is gaining relevance globally. What’s your opinion on the state of electronic music in your country? Specifically: what about Euskadi? Is there a particular scene you identify with?
There are very interesting things happening in Spain. I’m a big fan of people like John Talabot, Damián Schwartz and Dixie Yure. I believe the problem lies with the business , not the artists. There’s that saying: no-one is a prophet in his own land . . . it seems we have taken it very seriously in Spain.
Some months ago you were touring in the United Status. How was the experience and how did you get the opportunity?
It was one of the most pleasant experiences of my life. Playing in cities like Mexico DF, Austin and New York was a dream come true. It all started because some Mexican promoters were interested in hiring me for a gig in Mexico DF. That was the starting point to look for gigs in Texas, Boston, etc. Of all the American gigs, I cherish most a party in Mexicali (Baja California): I have never experienced anywhere else like it.
Apart from playing your own music, you’re also a DJ. How do you prepare your sets? Do you focus on house or do you prefer variety?
I love playing records. I actually think that I’d rather play records than play music live. I basically focus on house. I don’t like playing with fire; I don’t want to get stuck in some weird place. Some people can perform amazing sets - coherent yet featuring many styles - but I can’t.
You’re involved in the management of the Picasso Club in Gernika. How would you describe the club to someone who has never been there? What’s your opinion on the experience, considering you know both sides?
Picasso’s story is curious. It’s in the centre of Gernika and there’s room for about 150 people. We hardly ever book in advance; it all comes out naturally, from friendships. Till Von Sein, Violett, Sasse, and the guys from Suol have all played there. The truth is the atmosphere is quite suburban and honest. We all know each other; it’s a blast playing there.
It seems like you have many projects going on now. What are your immediate plans for the future, both musical and otherwise?
In regards to music, I’m focused on the promo of the album and its respective tour in Europe. From April on I’ll be playing in Barcelona, Vienna, Sibiu (Romania), Madrid, Marsella, Berlin . . . I have also recorded a track for Hivern Discs that will come out in a compilation and I’m working on a remix for Permanent Vacation. My other plans include getting all the kicks out of life I can - enjoying the simple things and keeping on fighting.