One of the highest Spanish authorities on electronic music, DJ Zero talks about the history of electronic music in Barcelona, and his personal experience about being a vinyl digger and DJ.
Where does your love for records come from? Did you have a lot of them in your house when you were young?
I grew up in a house full of books rather than records (my parents were both booksellers). However, I remember a tonne of Brazilian records due to our family’s ties to the country, since my aunt and uncle had emigrated there in the 1950s. In fact, I owe my passion for records to one of my cousins there, Jose Luis Gili. He worked for Lufthansa and travelled to Frankfurt at least once a year for work, taking advantage of the trip to stop in Barcelona to visit the family. On one of these visits, when I was still a child, he showed up with what was then a brand new portable cassette player, which he used to record several of Joan Manuel Serrat’s LPs that belonged to my mother. The story goes that I was hypnotised by the event, taking in every detail to the point that after my cousin had returned to Brazil, they found me on the sofa playing with the turntable. Since then (I must have been about three years old), I became so fascinated by records that I created imaginary turntables with sticks and stones, spinning in circles in the playground and alarming my teachers who asked me what was wrong. I would answer: ‘I’m a record!’ Their reply, ‘No Raül, you’re a boy!’, didn’t seem to make much of an impact on my young self.
How do you recall the arrival of electronic music to Barcelona? In which year would you say that occurred?
That depends on what type of electronic music you are talking about. Whilst the most deeply European and 1980s-style electronic music (mostly EBM and derived acts) had already become well established in Barcelona through a series of afterhours clubs that marked the era, like Verdi and Psicódromo, a commercial drift began in the early 90s towards the phenomenon that would come to be called mákina. In contrast, there was an explosion of activity in Barcelona after the Olympics that produced a new group of clubs and DJs inspired by a more contemporary concept of electronic music, mainly with African-American roots and enriched with all kinds of European experiences, a result of the impact of the rave culture of the late 80s and early 90s. Although my personal memories of dates are quite blurry, I would say that this transformation occurred around 1993. It was an exciting time when you could smell that something new was cooking in the air. As others have said before, the electronic wave that washed over Europe in the early 1990s got here a few years later, but when it hit, it hit hard.
The old Nitsa club in Plaça Joan Llongueras is often mentioned as the focal point of this transformation, but it is also fair to mention a couple of clubs on the outskirts of Barcelona like Cyberian and +KO (where a young Ángel Molina used to spin, his head already shaved), as well as other important places that popularised these sounds, which the public at the time started to categorise as ‘trance’. The influence of the scene in Girona was very significant at the time, with its epicentre in the legendary Sala del Cel. The Rachdingue nightclub in Vilajuïga kept the scene going and served as a link to everything that was happening in southern France. So, whilst years before people went to the clubs on the east coast of Spain in search of the newest sounds, now they moved in the opposite direction, penetrating France in search of the first raves and crowded techno festivals like Borealis, in the Arena of Nîmes. The arrival of the Sónar festival in 1994 gradually established Barcelona as the focal point of the electronic scene first locally, and then globally.
At the time, the Internet was not widespread and CDs were not used to spin (or were they?). Was vinyl the only real option if you wanted to be a DJ?
Let’s say it was the most solid option: whilst CDs were used to spin, the range of music available was rather small, so if you wanted to keep up to date with what was new and broaden your repertoire, you simply had to use vinyl records. And whilst you could find people spinning with CDs in bars that featured music, vinyl was the dominant format in proper clubs.
What do you learn by spinning records? I ask both on a technical level and in terms of musical knowledge.
As the years go by, I have become increasingly convinced that records are simply one tool out of many that are available to today’s DJs. They are also one of the most limited tools, but I suppose that therein lies their charm. Vinyl is a very limited format and imposes restrictions that you have to exploit to the maximum and that also provide a good excuse to learn the fundamentals of analogue sound and the act of spinning itself. With regard to their influence on musical knowledge, perhaps those who use vinyl are stylistically a little more adventurous, although often more by default than by vocation. What I mean is that by accumulating records you end up with things that are not really your style at first, but you end up incorporating them into your repertoire or tastes, gradually expanding your musical horizons.
Why have you continued to spin with vinyl your whole life? Weren’t you ever tempted to switch to digital, like many other DJs?
As I have always said, vinyl is the format with which I learned and it is also the one with which I am the most skilled when performing my work. I also cannot fail to mention that my roots or first experiences as a DJ were largely linked to hip hop and the world of DJ battles, and what has most attracted me has always been to handle a physical format like vinyl. Let’s say that in this sense, I’m super old school (for better or for worse).
What do you think that young generations are missing out on, since they only know how to listen to music in digital formats and through downloading and streaming? Although it is true that they also have advantages, right?
I’ll speak a bit hypothetically, since I am not one of them so I cannot give an accurate opinion. However, I suppose that they miss out on the reification of music, that nearly fetishistic relationship with sound-producing objects. The act of searching for music, collecting it… and the process of discovery and growth (both personally and in terms of knowledge) that this entails. In this regard, I think it is interesting to see how new formats change the way we perceive music, the shift from a physical format to a virtual one. For now, access to music has grown exponentially (with all the pros and cons involved), but I think that we are just beginning to glimpse the effects or impact of this revolution (changes in listening patterns, musical culture, how music is evaluated, etc.).
You have spent the last few years buying and selling records. Is it good business? Where do you buy them and how do you sell them?
Let’s just say that it’s business, nothing more. I don’t think that anybody gets rich by selling records, especially these days, but you can make a living at it. I suppose that a lot depends on the approach you take and the effort you make and the time you spend. In my case, I rely on a personalised selection according to my tastes and interests and certain quality standards (which are obviously very subjective). Let’s say that the records I sell orbit quite randomly around two cores: dance music and a certain alternative music or tradition, encompassing a rather broad spectrum from jazz to disco, kraut rock and punk/hardcore. It takes loads of time and money to fill my crates. In general, it’s the result of hours and hours or combing through shops, fairs and private collections, as well as exchanges with collectors and/or sellers. In terms of sales, I would say that as the years go by, I prefer dealing with people directly, whether at trade fairs or, occasionally, in private. The Internet and its sales platforms is a world that interests me less and less, although I can’t rule out using them from time to time for practical reasons (since some music is only bought and sold there). Anyway, for me, buying and selling records is more than a business. It’s a lifestyle. It is a way to live out my passion for music and also serves as my daily bread and butter.
What kinds of people approach your stand to look around and make a purchase? Fans with some experience in life? DJs? Do any young people come?
There is a bit of everything, from people with some experience searching for very specific things to people who have just started taking their first steps towards building a record collection. In general, people are quite open and often take what I recommend or discover something they like. With regard to age, the range is very wide and varies a bit depending on the city. For example, in some cities in France the people are largely rather young, whilst in other places the average age is a little older (30 and up). It also depends on the kind of event: some fairs draw a grouchier public, whilst other, more contemporary ones attract younger people and/or those with a casual interest.
Do you think vinyl is truly back in fashion, or is that just a media invention?
I would say yes, is it back in fashion, even if it’s a bit of the old story of the chicken and the egg. Is it fashionable, which is why the media talk about it? Or is it fashionable because of the hype over it being driven by the media? I suppose it’s a bit of both. What is clear is that much of the music industry (both the production and commercial parts) was quick in getting on the bandwagon and trying to squeeze all it can out of this return to vinyl, which runs the risk of everything becoming a mirage and another bubble. The impact that this has all had on the current production chain and on small (mostly independent) labels that have always supported this format is well known, so I won’t dwell on that here. However, I am happy to see that CDs (or rather, the business conglomerate that facilitated their imposition) have failed in their bid to wipe out 30 years of analogue cultural dominance in one fell swoop. We often think of the vinyl record as an obsolete and romantic format, but it was actually at the forefront of technology and innovation for many years, and this is why it is still so prevalent. Let’s say that in its 70-year history, the format has reached some peaks of refinement (in terms of mastering, cutting, pressing and producing) that have made it one of the most complete and gratifying systems in existence for storing and playing back sound.
What does the word “analogue” mean to you? What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear it?
A tradition or culture that determines how we understand and approach sound, whether when creating it, recording it or playing it back. On a more personal level, it invokes a series of images and technologies, from valve amps to synths with op-amps, the RVG brand in the run-out groove on some records, the TAS list… tonnes of codes that most people don’t understand, but which define a certain idea of sound quality.
Published on 2017.06.09
Considered as one of the highest Spanish authorities on electronic music, Zero has been selected as one of the best national DJ’s by different magazines (Disco 2000, Rockdelux, GO) on many occasions . His activities cover DJ/Vinyl Collector, the management of the record label Fauni Gena, and beyond.