“I don’t see my music as being as light as they say. I see it as dark and dirty”

John Talabot, in his journey towards “inƒinite” house

John Talabot has released his album “ƒin” with two intentions: to be proud of the result, and to combat preconceived ideas. In this extended interview, the Barcelona producer—who is no longer hiding his true identity—tells us why.

There is no longer any mystery around John Talabot. Who he is has been known for some time, and he arrives at the interview with his face uncovered, without hiding anything—in fact, he never skimped on strategic information, he just abstained from giving more information than necessary, because there was no need to. But it is true that until the last minute, there is a little bit of uncertainty: he’s late for our meeting, and although he has let us know, it might still be that he won’t show up but rather fake us out, or he might send an impostor in his place, like Thomas Pynchon when he won the National Book Award after the publication of “Gravity’s Rainbow. But no, the person who walks in the door, in a rush and apologising, carrying a sheaf of papers, is Oriol Riverola, previously known as D.A.R.Y.L. and as 50% of The Requesters. Today he is one of the producers with the most personality on the electronic circuit, an unclassifiable house sharpshooter, although not everything is house in his language or in his brand-new ƒ in” ( Permanent Vacation, 2012), a debut album that we coincide in not knowing how to describe, although we do know how to enjoy it: making yourself comforrtable.

Oriol shows his face, and to keep a little of the mystery that has already started to evaporate, it’s the journalist who has decided to hide his true identity in this interview, as a gesture of empathy and respect. Roger de Flor is effectively a false name, taken from the feared military officer at the service of the crown of Aragon in the 13th century, captain of the Almogávares, Knight Templar and terror of the Turks, who bathed the Mediterranean in blood—sort of like John Talabot is a borrowed name, taken, specifically, from the school in Barcelona where Oriol studied. But what isn’t false at all is the coherent, meditated, and deeply passionate discourse that John Talabot makes in this conversation; you can tell that he has worked his fingers to the bone on this album, that he was seeking nothing more than to explore his inner depths to come up with a music that is sincere and terribly personal, far removed from scenes, fashions and prejudices, far from the media noise that has been buzzing around him in the months since he launched “Sunshine” (Hivern, 2010) and followed up with “Matilda’s Dream” (Permanent Vacation, 2010) and “Families EP” (Young Turks, 2011). If he felt pressured, he hasn’t shown it: “ƒin” is truly one of the most important albums of this year, and now, John Talabot comes clean with us –and if you want to check him live, just wait for Sónar in Barcelona...–.

Where does the anonymity thing stand? Because you have come to this interview in person and showing your face.

Anonymity was something that I considered to be necessary at the time. I had other projects and I understood that John Talabot had to come about without being affected by any prejudices. It was never a marketing technique, or a strategy to add mystery. I’ve never actively hidden myself, nor have I covered my face; in fact, I went to DJ at Boiler Room, and I went as I am. I don’t deny my past, either. I knew from the very first that anonymity would be hard to maintain, especially in Spain, where there are a lot of people who know me. 80% of my friends are related in one way or another to the music sector, so there wasn’t much mystery.

It was a well-known secret for many months. But there are still a lot of people who are surprised when you tell them that John Talabot is you.

What has surprised me about John Talabot is that a lot of people who didn’t listen to electronic music or go to clubs have gotten into this project. These were people, then, who weren’t up on my past at all, or who just didn’t care that I had released a maxi as D.A.R.Y.L., or if I had done some remix. When I do interviews in other countries, nobody has asked me about this being an anonymous project, because they don’t see me as anybody important enough for that. They are just concerned to know more about what I do.

This is a project that is, in fact, six years old, or maybe even older. The first sign of the existence of John Talabot, in fact, was a Myspace profile that still exists.

John Talabot arose from the need to explain something very deep. When I started, I was working in a company related to music, and I spent the whole day listening to albums that either broadened my tastes or didn’t give me anything at all. At that time, I was already making music on my own, but I had the feeling that I wasn’t really 100% myself. It didn’t feel entirely mine. But the first John Talabot cuts were different, I felt really identified with that sound, that speed—they reflected my personality more, the real me. There were friends of mine who listened to those first songs and told me “Shit, now you can really tell that it’s you.”

What was missing in the previous material recorded under other names?

Everything before that, I see as a learning stage in my career. But John Talabot was something very intimate, when I made music as John Talabot, things came out that I had inside, and that I hadn’t yet had a way to get out.

House has always been the style that you liked the most, in fact, although you have also been an avid buyer of italodisco and IDM.

I bought a lot of italo and a lot of good albums from that time, the beginning of the last decade, but I also bought a lot of Chicago house. I was a big fan of the first period, of the Trax label, of Jesse Saunders’ first maxis and the rest of the classics, much more than the music that was released in the 90s, which I liked and was interested in, and which I bought when I could, but which I never liked as much as that house.

You bought because of the moment, because it was what other people bought, and also because you were supposed to have those albums, didn’t you?

I was younger, and therefore, more easily influenced. It’s normal—when you start out, the first thing you do is seek out your personality. That’s why when I released “Goxokis” on Factor City, that maxi sounded so similar to what Border Community was doing at the time. You bought those albums, you also bought IDM, and in the end you wanted to do that fusion of electronic with sad chords applied to a dance song that James Holden was doing then. But I wasn’t James Holden—he could do that well, and I couldn’t. With James Holden, there was a link in tastes: he was a big fan of the early IDM of the 90s, and so was I, but I didn’t have the same abilities that he did.

You’ve described what the sound of D.A.R.Y.L. was like at the beginning very well. So what is John Talabot’s sound like?

It starts in house, but right now I don’t know what it is. I know that it starts with an idea of making dance music, but it isn’t 100% dance music anymore. It’s music with a lot of personality, but it is my personality, and it isn’t easy to explain.

Right now you are working with three labels: Hivern, which is your own, Young Turks, where you put out the “Families EP” last year, and Permanent Vacation, which is where the album has appeared. How are you going to divide the work between them?

As it comes up. My idea is to make music, and also to make music with Pional, and to release it. I am very comfortable with Hivern, Young Turks and Permanent Vacation; they are three labels that cover the type of sound that I like very well, and I feel like I’m a part of them.

The album, however, went to Permanent Vacation. What was the starting idea for “?in,” the origin of it all?

I could have approached it like a dance floor album, or just the opposite, as an album totally removed from the dance floor, but that wasn’t how I started. What I did was think about a series of challenges, some ideas that I was very clear about that had to form a part of the album. First of all, I wanted it to be less complicated in the rhythms and melodies than other times. There are ideas that I rejected for some of the 12”s that I ended up bringing over to the album. For example, I knew that I didn’t want baroque melodies. I also didn’t want any intros, outros, or all of those resources that there have to be on a maxi for a club—if you put them in a song, it’s precisely for that reason, for a DJ to use them, but an album doesn’t need them. All of that repetition is unnecessary. Secondly, and as an evolution of this last idea, I wanted to make shorter songs, closer to pop. So this way, they wouldn’t sound too heavy or too light. I didn’t want to make a pretentious album, but rather one that you can put on and feel comfortable listening to it. I didn’t want hits to be in the way there, either. When I listen to an album that only has hits, it throws my listening off—they distract me.

You have really asked a lot of yourself. At the same time, it’s possible that the public might demand a lot of you, even more after the expectation that this album has brought with it. Do you feel pressured?

If I feel pressured, it’s more in Spain than abroad, because here they’re going to look at it differently than in other countries. But it isn’t a pressure that I feel for myself, because the main goal that I had set for myself with the album was to be happy with the result, and I’ve already achieved that. I’m happy with what I’ve done. Besides, I don’t really understand that type of pressure. Pressure to make a certain kind of album or to generate a certain reaction? The latest album from Oneohtrix Point Never has received some great praise, but I don’t think that he intended to amaze the world or to give us a collection of hits—I don’t think he felt the pressure to create a masterpiece. The same with the last albums from Andy Stott or Actress. They aren’t commercial, nor do they impress you at first, but they have exploded, in a way, because they are different, original, and very solid. Deep down, what you really want is to make an album like that, that surprises and combats people’s prejudices.

What prejudices do you fight?

For example, the idea of light. I don’t see my music as being as light as they say. For example, the maxi of “Matilda’s Dream” seems dark and dirty to me. It has that 303 bass line, acid and strong, that doesn’t generate any positive feeling. I know that all of that is about “Sunshine,” but that song doesn’t entirely define me.

How did you feel doing something similar to pop songs—you, who have always been a DJ, always working on your computer, never having been in a band?

The first try was in “Families,” the song I did with Glasser. I was into the idea of doing a song—it seemed to me that there being a voice added a lot of things and that it added valuable content. I’m not a composer in that sense, and I’ve never done songs, but I do listen to a lot of songs at home. I think that this album is a mixture of electronic and pop procedures. I’ve tried not to be sappy with the voices, which is something that I was really afraid of at first.

The development of the album is very coherent and you can hear a firm unity, but each song separately is a very different story. Some cut off before they finish, others promise a development that ends up cut off in the middle, leaving you with a strange feeling, somewhere between frustration and surprise. Why did you do it like that?

I wanted the songs to come one after the other, each one in its own rhythm, and at the precise moment. It is true that there are songs that don’t entirely end, and that is done on purpose—the idea was that when you were listening to it you would want to hear more of it. I think that sometimes I have been too generous in my previous songs. Before I used to be really into the idea of giving it all and emptying myself. Now I’m interested in just the opposite, taking ideas and handing them out little by little, with very simple notes, and cutting when it’s all been said, but there is still something missing. In this sense, I was inspired a lot by the beats of J.Dilla.

It seems that this album will also throw people off when it comes to labelling it as tropical or balearic, which are two labels that you don’t really like.

I would like for people not to identify the word “tropical” with what I do. I wish people wouldn’t stick just with “Sunshine” as the only fragment of music that defines me best. I would also like each song to be looked at for itself, and for it to be seen that they are very different from each other. Before, you asked how my music could be defined. The truth is that I haven’t got a bloody idea. It isn’t a 90s revival, it’s not house, it’s not disco music, and it has all of that and some other things as well. It’s a mixture that I like. I know that by releasing the album with Permanent Vacation, the label itself already conditions a little the way that many people can approach it, and the “balearic” label will probably be used a lot. But it isn’t a Mediterranean or a summer album, it isn’t a light album.

For a long time, you were a resident DJ at The Loft and Lo*Li*Ta, two of the halls in Barcelona’s Razzmatazz Club. You haven’t DJ’d there for a long time, but it is clear that the public that knows you the best and is most likely to follow you is the one in your city. How are you going to handle your agenda of performances in Barcelona from now on?

I’ve been spacing out my appearances for some time. I DJ in Barcelona every four or five months, and if I do it live, it will be once a year. I have always been careful about this point, and I’ve turned down a lot of offers to DJ precisely so that I wouldn’t tire people with my constant presence, and also so I wouldn’t end up exhausted myself. In Madrid I do the same thing. A lot of times they have offered me more money than usual to go DJ somewhere that I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to break my rule of spacing out sessions. Sometimes I’ve had to accept because I needed to buy some toy that I wanted, or albums, but I almost always say no.

You don’t DJ on vinyl anymore, but you still buy tons of records. At least you still love the format.

I buy a ton of records, but I pass them over to digital as soon as they come into the house. It’s not that I want to haul around a suitcase full of maxis, but if I take the digital files along, I can have more music on hand and DJ a wider variety of styles. For example, I spent two weeks DJing in Australia and I had a bunch of gigs. If I went with a limited number of albums, I would end up doing the same set every night, and I don’t want that to happen. Besides buying a lot of vinyl, I also buy a lot of digital releases, I get promos, I do my own edits, I handle the material that I put out on my label … It would be stupid not to use all of the material I have access to.

What projects do you have going on right now with Pional?

I like working with Miguel. Sometimes it’s hard, because he is capable of having I don’t know how many ideas per minute, and later it’s hard to put all that material in order, or to keep up with him—but the good thing is that if you go into the studio with him, you end up getting a song done in a single afternoon. His way of working is very spontaneous. He passes me a lot of ideas, and everything he does always has something interesting about it, the final result is always interesting, and he knows how to get that more pop element out that I am missing.

Will the John Talabot + Pional unit become a stable project?

In the future? It might. For now, I want Pional to release another EP on Hivern and an album, and later I want to really work together and propose ideas to Young Turks and Permanent Vacation. We’re going to London soon to record a song.

John Talabot seems to have entirely eclipsed the other things that you used to do. You aren’t DJing at The Loft anymore, and you don’t use the name D.A.R.Y.L. Has D.A.R.Y.L. been deactivated forever?

No, because I’m still in the house at Razzmatazz, but it’s just that right now I don’t have any confirmed dates. The name is still there, but right now it isn’t working, not for DJing or for producing. John Talabot is taking up all of my time.

Right now, when they are shutting down websites like Megaupload and they want to approve the SOPA law, what comes to your mind?

Anything that involves putting limits on things is something that I don’t like. Something similar already happened, on another scale, when they wanted to criminalise sampling other albums to make your music. I know that the digital market isn’t great right now, but the repercussion that many of us artists have is favourable, and in a way it makes up for those problems. I wouldn’t have received all of this attention if it hadn’t been for Internet, blogs, and on-line magazines. You have to learn to live with it, and I say that even though it also causes problems for us. At Hivern it affects us because we have practically no sales of albums. But the visibility of the artists, on the other hand, is brutal. And that’s how it works. I buy a lot of music, so I don’t feel guilty about the situation. But we also have to think about people who don’t have so much money. What do they do? Do they have to stop listening to music?

Somebody against this argument said that there are a lot of ways to listen to music—on the radio, on Spotify, on Soundcloud– without needing to download anybody’s album, and saving yourself the money of buying a physical copy in a shop.

It is also true that in Spain there hasn’t been much effort made to educate people about culture, especially to inculcate the idea that cultural products involve a tremendous effort and that they have a price. But I can also say that I have worked at a record company for years, and I know what a CD costs, and any way you you look at it, paying 22 euros for one is an aberration.

And what do you spend your money on? What albums come into your house?

I buy a lot of old albums that I couldn’t find until now, re-releases, funk, soul, house and techno material. I’ve been flipping out for a long time over Julia Holter’s latest album. I’m also really into Wim Mertens lately. There’s always a variety in my house. The thing is that when I DJ them, I pass many of the dance albums that I listen to over to digital; if it’s for pleasure, I almost never listen to house at home. I listen to other things.

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