We meet up with Oslo’s newest musical arrival and Badabing artist, Casablanca 303 to talk bout his musical history and more in a Q&A.
Alejandro aka Casablanca 303 is really settling into his life in Norway. “I really like the music and the nature,” says the Colombian artist over a coffee in Gamlebyen. We’re walking distance from his home, where he also has his studio, and he talks in excited terms about the artistic and “bohemian” community that thrives there.
While little is known of his career outside of Norway to us, Casablanca 303 comes from an established background as a DJ in South America, and has been making waves in Bergen and Oslo since relocating here with his Norwegian partner in 2018. It was in Bergen he first got his “foot in the scene, assisting at concerts, parties and even raves.”
There he found a welcoming community, none more than with the Mhost likely crew, who operate their labels and event series out of the city. It was with them he would release Perspectives, his first record in Norway, before moving onto Oslo and finding a new home for his music through Vinny Villbass’ Badabing Diskos imprint.
That EP, Lucid Dream / Estereograma established the name Casablanca 303 in Oslo too and as he prepares for his first live show since the release at Jaeger, we caught up with the artist and DJ to talk about his music history and more.
What was your involvement in music before moving to Norway?
Back in the days I was working as a tour manager for a festival in Colombia for some international artists and that gave me some connection to the US. I played some clubs in Miami and also met some producers. But I was in that moment, still defining my sound and what I really liked.
Miami really? There is an incredible underground electronic music scene that we still revere with the likes of Miami bass. What was your experience of the city?
Miami has a lot of layers. If you land in South Beach, you get the commercial, overcrowded pop scene. You have other things that also happen in the city; underground stuff in terms of art and music Miami has other sounds. Every city has these mass-consumption parts and then other more bohemian / hipster parts that are more open to underground sounds visuals.
What was Colombia like; is there a healthy underground electronic music scene there?
Yes, Colombia has a lot of everything. You have a lot of layers of music. There are those artists that want to explore more of the caribbean- or roots music of Colombia and transform it into electronic music. There are two artists that I know that have played at Jaeger actually, and they are into that thing. Mítu is one Colombian band and they employ some afro rhythms and vibes with an underground electronic music. I couldn’t call it House music or anything like that. It’s just electronic music and it works. We also have artists like Felipe Gordon, who are killing it internationally. He’s younger than me and it’s so cool to see him blooming.
How did you make the transition from being a tour manager and working in the scene to making your own music and releasing records?
Much before I was a tour manager and working at festivals, I was Djing and gigging. I was playing all over Colombia and the Caribbean. I also played in nearby countries like Ecuador and Peru.
Would you say you were a successful DJ back home?
Yeah, back in the days. It’s easy when you have some of your friends own the best clubs. I was playing regularly. I’ve been DJing since 2010 more-or-less.
That must have been quite an adjustment, being at that level and then playing for what I can only assume is much smaller audiences and a smaller scene.
Since moving to Norway, I’ve been playing some. Mhost Likely in Bergen got me some gigs, and here in Oslo I have found some collectives in my niche, mainly House music, Disco and balearic; sub-genres of House- and electronic music. I don’t play as often, but I’ve started transitioning from Djing to being a live performer. That’s my main goal, I just want to play my own music.
Do you find it more fun than Djing?
In some way, yes. I really like to play instruments. I am a former guitar player, and I’ve been playing since I was 11. Even though I don’t play the guitar much in my productions, my music starts from the guitar, and then I translate it to synthesisers and music software. My music is all about improvising, and that’s what my live performance is all about; it’s my music and then I do some extra things on top of it.
I was going to ask about the guitar, because I noticed the guitar in your music, and I could tell there’s some background in playing in bands from what I heard. Is that the first thing you did in music?
Yes, when I was 17 and 18 I played in a Death Metal band. I’ve never been a radical person when it comes to genres, so when I wasn’t playing in the band I was playing Rock n Roll or Jazz. The same has happened in electronic music. I focus on certain things, but I’m really open to genres. Even pop music, good pop music isn’t bad.
How did you get into electronic music from there?
I think metal had something to do with that. There were some Scandinavian bands that were transitioning from certain sounds of death Metal into more industrial territory, incorporating beats. I started liking the synthesisers they were playing and realised it was danceable.
What was your first engagement with pure electronic music, like House or Techno?
I think it was when Groove Armada played in Bogotá. I was at the beginning of university, around 2006 and there were a lot of electronic music artists coming to Bogotá. Another artist that came over was Armin Van Buuren. We have something similar Russefeiring – when you celebrate the end of school – and some promoters take a chance to bring some big artists and promote some parties.
From DJing did you take some time to develop your own music before you started releasing music?
While I was DJing, I had already started producing, because I had some experience with the bands I was in. I was also finalising my education, so I didn’t have much time to produce my own music. At first it was all in the computer, but then I started getting some analogue gear, because I wanted to just plug it in and record the synthesiser, like we would with metal. It took me a while, but I would say that I only started recording electronic music, a little before moving to Norway.
Was Visions your first record?
Yes, but before that I made a cover version of a popular Colombian artist. At that time I was captivated by Deep House and its melancholic sound.
Yes, it reminds me of something that might have appeared on Life and Death or a Stephen Bodzin record. I noticed however that by the time we get to the Perspectives EP on Mhost likely, there’s a change in your sound. Would you agree?
Yes, definitely. It’s also the transition of me moving to Norway.
Ok, was it a direct influence of moving here? I thought I might have heard some Scandinavian Disco influences in there, but I didn’t want to be presumptuous.
Yes, I started to dig more into Disco and House music. I wanted to experiment a little and I was influenced by what was known of Norwegian music in South America which was Space Disco. Even though I don’t do Space Disco, I take some elements from Space Disco, from artists like Prins Thomas, Todd Terje and Bjørn Torske. I really like their eclectic style.
And this was around the same time you started working more with hardware?
Yes. There is one piece of gear I’ve always wanted, and that’s the Moog Voyager synthesiser. I bought it here in Norway second hand and that was one of the best days of my life. The guy that sold it to me lives in Årdal which is close to Sogndalfjøra. It was so cool driving through that nature to go and buy this synthesiser. This synth, whenever I’m blocked creatively, I stop producing and just tweak this thing and suddenly a sound would emerge. That happened with my last EP (Lucid dream / Estereograma) for Badabing.
Besides the synth, were there any ideas that laid the foundation for that record?
I’m trying to produce this House music sound, but trying to give it personal space. I don’t consider myself a pioneer, I just take the things that I like and mix it up and turn it out.
Are there any artists or influences that you aspire to when you put these things together as you say?
Absolutely. I used to like what KiNK was doing before. He is really good, because he captures a lot of genres that I like, from piano House, jazzy House, a little bit of Techno and breakbeats. It’s insane, he can play whatever he wants. He mixes his knowledge of music to play and perform and that’s something that inspires me. Also my friend Felipe Gordon; he is another person that performs his instruments and that’s what you hear in his music.
View this post on Instagram
Talking about performing your instruments, is that how you usually start your composition process with a piano line?
I usually start with a groove, like everybody else. I start with some percussion and then I take the synthesiser or guitar and provide some bass-lines. I also like to play with samples and manipulate them to create strange melodies. In that EP for Mhost Likely, I re-sampled myself and reversed some loops and created some foundations and textures.
You’re playing live at Jaeger. Will that be your live debut in Oslo?
I tested it out at Musikkfest this year, for Olle Abstract at Dattera til Hagen. He was the first person I met of the legends here from Oslo. He was so welcoming and he played my tracks in his monthly podcast. That pushed me, and sometimes you need that.