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Roots Music with Arild Lopez

Arild Lopez, or Arildo (if you ever get the chance to bump into him in Barcelona) is the type of man that wears his persona completely on the surface. Before I even call him up a to and fro via messenger reveals a weekend of playing music and “falling in love” without any hint of insincerity.He is approachable in every sense of the word, and immediately likeable to any stranger that might have the fortune of meeting him. Behind the glasses and the goatee – that seems to have its own living purpose on his face as it morphs into moustache occasionally – lies a wry sense of humour and an intelligible wit. Although genial in character, it also belies a very serious musical personality, where the roots of electronic music conspire in a DJ, label boss and at times producer that lives and breathes everything about the underground culture of this music.

Born in Barcelona, Arild grew up in Norway where as a young adult he engrossed himself entirely in the cultural aspects of music, throwing “hundreds of parties” at places like Brenneriveien and Blitz in the nineties, alongside friends like Trulz & Robin. “We were trying to do more of an underground Techno thing, because there weren’t any – we wanted to do more Detroit soulful Hi-Tech soul kind of thing.” In a city dominated by Disco and commercial Euro Trance and with the Internet still being in its infancy this was no easy feat and they worked hard to promote it “the old school way”. Through flyers and posters they eventually succeeded – by underground standards – in creating a “true electronic scene” in the city. It wasn’t enough to keep Arild in Oslo however because although it was the city that raised him, he was never going be anything other than a Barcelonan and the call of home beckoned stronger than ever. “It was never where should I go and live in the world, it was more like, when am I moving to Barcelona. I promised myself the next time I didn’t have a project or a girlfriend I would move to Barcelona.” When serendipity intervened and neither project nor girlfriend could restrain him, he made the permanent move to the Catalonian capital. “I moved everything down to my last sock. There was nothing left and I’ve never looked back.”

Today he’s called Barcelona home for the last twelve years and has neatly carved out a career for himself there as a DJ, a producer and a label boss. When I call him up, it was at the end of something of a “gig marathon” for Arild, but the eternal music enthusiast says he “could always play a little more” through what I discern to be a wry smile on the other end of the receiver. The last time I was in Barcelona Arild’s residency at Switch Bar was shut down, and he still laments its absence as he recounts the cause of the small club’s closure. “There was article in the Guardian that it was the best place in Barcelona, so it suddenly got too full with screaming Englishmen and they couldn’t really control it. When they finally got everybody to either to leave or come inside instead of standing outside, smoking cigarettes and screaming, the police arrived.” The venue was closed for exceeding its capacity over four times, and has resulted in something of a “shitty moment” for Arild and the venue as they await the bureaucrats’ decree on the future of Switch bar. It’s part of an ongoing saga in Barcelona I learn from Arild with “a kind of a war going on between the neighbours and the bars”, where it seems Oslo is actually in a better position for once as our venues operate mostly out of the city, where residents are few and far between. But even that won’t persuade Arild in returning to Oslo”. Na, na, na No”, he exclaims mockingly when I ask him if it’s enough for him to make the move back to Oslo. Arild clearly is at home in Barcelona where the vibrancy of the city’s cultural nature suits his personality perfectly and I find it difficult to imagine Arild anywhere else.

It doesn’t mean he’s a stranger here however and since a large portion of his musical family still residing in Oslo he’s created a very unique bridge between Oslo and Barcelona one that gets every stronger as the family continually appears to expand through his label, Cymawax), which has seen five releases to date and a sixth coming soon from Barcelona mainstay and Bogota associate Usmev. “We are all friends, and we all help each other out”, says Arild about the core ingredients of the label. Thanks to his connection with Subwax, the store and distribution outlet which Arild has worked in a bit over the last three years when they moved from Mälmo to Barcelona, Cymawax is able to steadily produce music on a regular basis from this group of core friends. Featuring Trulz & Robin, Camilla Luna, KSMISK and now Usmev, the label keeps it in the family so to speak with releases that can go from Avant-Pop to Acid to deep droning Techno. It started life as a digital only label called Cymasonic for Arild with 9 releases and an album, but when Arild’s bank was feeling generous with a mortgage, he invested some of that money in setting up the physical arm of the label, Cymawax. There’s no particular sound to either label, but it maintains something of a unique identity through the artists that feature regularly and the people that would pick up a Cymawax release. It’s a very personal investment I find as a customer of a fair few of these records and it extends from its origins to the way it’s distributed through Subwax’s close-knit network. That sense of closeness you get from Arild and Cymawax is perpetuated through everything, until you realise however that Arild himself has yet to feature on the label. ”I haven’t had the balls yet to put out my own music on the label”, explains Arild about his obvious absence, but thanks to the extended family that includes Ivaylo, Arild has found an outlet for his production creativity through Bogota records. “Ivaylo has become a really good friend, so it’s easy to make stuff for Bogota, because I think about him and I don’t think about me. My brain is pretty schizophrenic.” Arild’s relationship with Bogota has lead to several remixes on the label, including a very schizophrenic, but exciting and intriguing remix of Sound Solutions’ “It’s all About”. It’s a very organic and left-field take on the original, bubbling up like a brook, exposing new sounds continuously, swathing others in a sense of mystery and featuring immersive textures that I learn from Arildo is sampled from Gaudi park. “Sometimes you just have to go out and record stuff. There’s no particular reason for it; it is just food for the soul – the heart wants a certain sound and I just try to find it.” It’s a mantra he applies to everything he produces, and often these textures will result from an inherent need to find new ways of musical expression. “I just try to make something that I haven’t heard before.”

There’s usually however “a bit of dubby funk groove and bass line” to Arild’s music and that extends from his DJ sets where he is always looking to the roots of it all. “The whole feeling of the first stuff I listened to – Aphex Twin, Carl Craig and all the Basic Channel stuff. It’s the roots of the tree and for me it’s an emotional and rhythmic trip as well as paying tribute to where it comes from. It’s kind of studying the history of art. When you see a painted picture, and you haven’t studied the history of art you don’t see the same picture as if you had.” This is not some nostalgic reverie Arild is trying to communicate, but rather how he recognises the origins and evolution of this music for the sake of the visceral qualities it brings across. “When I listened to Jeff mills the first few times I heard Techno and when I listen to Jeff Mills now, I hear Disco and Industrial and a whole bunch of other things.” More than that it’s the funk that inspires Arild mostly when he’s at the decks or at a machine. The DJ and producer likes to carry the traditions set forth by Detroit and Chicago through his sets and his music, preferring the groove over the “metallic kind of vibe” that most modern Techno favours. “When the guys that came from Disco and Funk got synthesisers and drum machines it got funky, and it looks like right now the modern Techno is losing all of that.” Arild needs that “emotional content” that only a pad or strings can communicate and finds “a lot of new Techno kind of boring” for its lack of these innate fundamental parts. It can sometimes even evoke extreme actions from Arild when he’s in the audience. “I get pissed off, I get angry”, he says while recounting a recent anecdote of just such an event. “I feel that I’m wasting my time here and I don’t get it.”

What might however appear as some form of subjective cynicism is quickly debunked as just a passionate uncompromising view of music when Arild says something like: “Maybe if I were born twenty years later and grew up with different music, maybe I would have a different sound.“ For Arild it seems it’s more of the personal investment of the artist and DJ in this music; a very important and significant part of his life. It’s not about exclusively perpetuating one genre of music, and listening to his mixes – including a recently new residency for Barcelona City FM –  which can go from House to Techno to Disco, Arild is nothing if not eclectic. Yet it all seems to stem from the singular onerous root of it all, which can be felt through all Arild’s mixes and his music. It manifests itself in the groove and the funk of the music, but it’s not resigned to any concrete style. For instance, on the same weekend he’ll be visiting Jæger for the Bogota Showcase he’ll also be playing alongside O/E for Darkrooms, who’s informed Arild that the night will start at around 128BPM. Arild laughs when he mentions this: “I’m too Old! I either have to play all my records at plus 8 or find some old stuff from the nineties.” Regardless of the way he goes about it we can be sure that from that Friday night to the following night, we’ll see Arild venture into various different categories of music, all in an effort to uphold and honour the roots of it all.

                                                                                          

* A few days after our initial conversation, Arild also wanted me to make clear that: “I fall in love easily but have no girlfriend as in free on the market. Always looking for a girl I can bring with me to Barcelona.”