Juan Rico (Reeko) is a determined figure with a singular vision. His musical output, born within a conceptual framework and pursued with agonizing precision, has been making a severe impression in the larger cannon of Techno for the last two decades.
Emerging as a DJ in 1997 and a producer in 2002 with his debut EP on Emergence records, Reeko has morphed into other titles like Architectural and Humano,established the formidable Techno imprint Mental Disorder, and helped set a benchmark for electronic music that has become the gold standard for DJs and producers working within the canon today.
Reeko’s sound grew out of themes of horror, darkness and psychology as elemental pigments he would pour over a stark, blank canvas and manipulate and shape it into the stoic mould of Techno. Where darkness prevails and melancholy clouds the firmament in a milky hue, Reeko’s music resides.
Percussive formations slogging out a hefty thump with a draconian discipline create an impenetrable and purposeful metre as if a straight jacket is trying to contain the thunderous baselines. Splintering at the edges of the martial rhythm are pieces of noise and untraceable reverberations that are unable to escape the dense gravity at the centre of Reeko’s music.
Reeko harnesses the power for the singular pursuit of the body and through countless EPs and three albums for esteemed labels like Avian, Pole Recordings, Planet Rhythm, and of course his own Mental Disorder he has established Reeko and his various aliases as a tour de force in Techno.
We caught up with the producer via email to find out more about his illustrious career and where it all started.
When did a career in electronic music manifest itself as a viable option for you and what led to your introduction to this particular style of music?
Since I was quite young I’ve been interested in electronic music, the art of mixing vinyls and everything around it. It was the eighties then and the music that reached me were megamixes and compilations of rather commercial electronic music, untill one day when I entered a vinyl music store in Oviedo, a small city in the North of Spain. This store specialized in techno and house and this is where I was acquainted with records like Energy Flash by Joey Beltram and similar things. From then on I started to mix vinyls, I was 14 years old more or less and my life started to evolve around mixing, making music, buying records… that’s when I was sure I was going to work with this professionally in one way or another. It’s something you just know is going to happen, although you don’t know the details.
I know that Reeko is steeped in some conceptual framework built on aspects of horror, darkness and psychological themes, but can you tell us a little about the origins of the project that lead to your first record and a career as a DJ?
This is the whole concept which my label Mental Disorder is based on. The general project origins are from this epoch and also from earlier years when my brother and I fanatically watched horror movies. Certain films like ’The Texas chainsaw massacre (the one from 1974 obviously) then had a large impact on me. I saw this film when I was 17 and it hit me with such force that I knew then what would be the concept which inspired me most to develop my project.
How has the initial concept adapted and changed since that first emergence record?
Well, through the years you change of course, when you experience new things and it’s possible that the initial concept has diminished somewhat, mostly because the sources of inspiration based on this theme become exhausted, but one does find new roads/ways that will also trigger my curiosity. Also the things you experience in real life are more intense so that you don’t have to resort to films or fiction as often as before.
Hard, dark and sinister are aptly used to describe your music, but how do these abstract themes affect your creative process?
That, of course, is a good question, to base your music on a concept is something that has always marveled me about many musicians and something I’ve always wanted to do with my music. This has both good and bad sides. From my point of view very conceptual music succeeds in getting a more loyal public. They follow you, they understand you, they identify with you.. etc and this is very gratifying, The downside of making very conceptual music is that besides reaching out to fewer people – since everybody does not want such an ’exclusive’ music – the moment arrives when you have to escape from this sound because if not your creativity could be seriously affected. Also it makes you slow down in the process since you only want to choose to edit very select things. But this is the price you have to pay according to my experience.
The textural layers beyond the kick and main melodic line are the aspects of your music that I find most intriguing and possibly the source of the sinister dimension to a Reeko production and it’s something that’s always been there. Who or what was an early influence that might have affected this dimension to your music?
When I seriously started to make music in the year 2000, I was very strongly influenced by the Birmingham sound, but something that undoubtedly characterised my music were the textures and the atmosphere that influenced me from watching so many horror movies. I’ve always loved the soundtracks and they have always had a great impact on my music.
With so much emphasis on these elements today in Techno I find that it is becoming more trite and very often used as a gimmick. As an artist that has been doing this style of Techno long before it became popular, how do you avoid these associations?
I know what you are referring to, and yes, I have thought the same these last few years, but I still think that my last records are free from this. Now I’m looking for a sound that’s cruder, dryer and mordant (biting),.. not so round and atmospheric. At least in my project as Reeko. I think it’s a way of saying: Hey! We have to start abandoning this kind of sound and find new roads. This kind of music is exhausted.
You’ve been releasing records consistently for the last 15 years as Reeko, what keeps you motivated and what are some of your current inspirations in music and beyond?
I still seek a lot of inspiration from films, obviously, and as we talked about earlier not always based on horror and madness but on themes that I have experienced and that awaken in me some kind of disquiet. The motivation is directly fed by inspiration, to find new roads, some work and some don’t, but they keep you alive and give you the urge to explore. We all know that electronic music has reached the top when it comes to new styles. Now there are fusions of earlier styles with some modern touches, that’s how it is, but we have to search for new ways even if we don’t invent anything.
There’s also your Architectural moniker, in which you shows the more romantic side of your personality, but where does DJing fit into the spectrum?
If with Djing you mean the dj set it fits perfectly, it’s an essential part of the creative process since especially for the extended sets you can get your inspiration in a dj set instead of in a track.
If you’re DJing as Reeko is the intention to relay some of those themes mentioned earlier through the set?
Yes and no, as I answered earlier, it depends on the set. In the all-night or extended sets I do like to emphasize the conceptual side, I try to make everything have a concrete form to make people immerse themselves in some kind of a history from the beginning. For me this has always been important both in my studio and on the dj set.
In that context you are very susceptible to external influences outside of your control, like the lighting to the audience. How much are you able to adapt through your set to react to these things outside controls, and is it something you wish you could eliminate entirely for the sake of pure artistic expression?
I didn’t know that if I were so susceptible towards this. In any case, I wouldn’t eliminate lightening all together, I think that is a mistake. Lights play a very important role when you create a set, that’s why I think the question is not to eliminate them but not to abuse of them and more important and something I don’t like at all is when a club uses a loop program all night. That could really ruin the atmosphere you try to create. I like the kind of lighting atmosphere they make in places like Bassiani or Berghain, I think they take a lot of care and obtain very special aesthetics.
So if you were to prepare an audience and a space for a Reeko set what would you insist upon to give it the full affect it desires?
The ideal for me is to have poor light in the dj booth, just enough to be able to see the mixer, I don’t have to be in the centre of the attention and on the other side a subtle play of lights and never the loop kind, so as to create a subdued atmosphere, but without putting us in complete darkness which wouldn’t create a good atmosphere either.
In any case, I am aware of that not every club is prepared for this.