And now for something different with Switchdance

Marco Antão is still settling into his new digs in Kristiansand. The Portuguese-Goan producer and DJ is planning to spend half the year in Norway and the other in Lisbon for the foreseeable future and the last six months have kept him busy.  “I brought a lot of synths and I built my studio here,” says Marco over a telephone call from the house he shares with his girlfriend. He is enjoying the opportunity to “make music with an amazing view” and it’s already starting to bear creative fruit.

Prostaglandin E1 is the first track to have come from this new space. Made for a Portuguese compilation, the track is a moody tech track, built on minimal foundations with designs on the club floor. A female humanoid vocal works its way through the metallic sheen of the first few bars and into mystic dimensions carried on the melody of a harmonic scale. 

“The vocals are from my girlfriend,” Marco tells me in a kind of nonchalant way.  I pry for more details. “I was kind of stuck on the track with a deadline,” claims Marco and the track needed some extra elements, so he asked his girlfriend; “can you try some vocals?” The fortuitous impulse turned out to be the right choice, imposing a human imprint on Prostaglandin E1 that gives the track an accessible and sensory dimension. 

It’s the latest release in a decade-long career. It’s one side of the multifaceted DJ and artists sonic aesthetic which can move from the kosmische realm of downtempo Balearics to the energetic inclinations of a club floor. “I have my dark cosmic synth music side,” reiterates Marco only to contrast it with; “I’m a resident at Lux Frágil, so I have this fun club version of myself too.” These aspects converge on records and sets that have made Switchdance a household name in Portugal even in lieu of his associations with Lux Frágil. 

Switchdance has been a resident of the famous Lisbon nightclub for the last 12 years and his history with the club is a “long story” he claims. Nonetheless he indulges me. 

Marco had been a loyal patron of the club since he first started going out. He remembers waiting in “long queues outside of Lux” as an 18 and 19 year old during a period shortly after when the club was changing over from one instance into the next. Reinventing itself from Frágil, the “first gay-friendly House club in Lisbon in the 80’s” to Lux around 1998 it built on the legacy of one generation to the next as Marco came of age. 

“Around 2008” the club thought it was about time for a change again and “wanted a new resident.” Lux had “had the same residents since the beginning” according to Marco, and they were looking for some fresh blood to infuse the next phase of the club. Lux “held a contest” in which the winner would receive a six-month residency and 12 years later that winner, Switchdance, is still a resident.  

As a fixture of the club today, Marco likes to explore the more obscure sides of the dance floor. “Next Friday I’m playing with Vladimir Ivkovic,” he says by way of  an example. He offers a “more electronic and alternative” approach to the club music that dots the club’s roster and it’s something he is able to adapt that freely over Lux’s two floors. “If I play upstairs, I can play anything I want,” he says. This will include everything from “rock and David Bowie to club music and Italo disco.” In the club he can get “more introspective,” and play to a more engaged audience. “Downstairs is not a place to talk” after all. 

Listening back to a 2019 set from Switchdance recorded live “downstairs,” it seems that there is a certain freedom to the programming at Lux. The mix is slow and brooding with a melancholic mood underpinning the sounds of his selections. Marco looks back on the night and his set fondly. “I had the right crowd to play slow so it was one of my best nights,” he remembers. The packed dance floor, which can take up to a 1000 people was bristling form the first track and by the end of his set “everybody was dancing” reminisces Marco. 

“It was an amazing experience,” and it suggests something of the Lux audience’s attitude to electronic club music.  At the same time there is something in the contrast between the different styles that permeate through Lux that corresponds to Marco’s music. Turning back  time through Switchdance’s discography from Prostaglandin E1 to The Black Tape record, we find two distinct sounds emerging; one trained on the dance floor and one meandering on the fringes of club music. Is this the influence of Lux at work?

“I can’t say I’m 100% influenced,” replies Marco, “but I’m always imagining playing the tracks there.” His Lisbon-based studio is only 2 minutes down the road from the iconic nightclub and he will often go down to the club to test a track out on the sound system – which he claims bares striking similarity to Jaeger’s

At the heart of Switchdance’s sound as an artist however is not heightened club-informed sound like you might find a big room, but something more meditative; a sonic identity that is clouded in mystery and something almost mystic, born from a love of synthesis. “I’m addicted to synths,” says Marco who says; “all my money goes to synthesisers and red wine” in a breathy laugh. 

As a child of the eighties myself, I can understand the obsession. Growing up with the evocative sounds of the synthesisers in the background in your youth, that sound stays with you. In Marco it has only matured with him through the years as an artist and you can still hear its effects in his music.

“For example on The Black Tape, you can hear some 80’s italo influences,” explains Marco. Those early influences start with “listening to a lot of synth pop, like Depeche Mode.” Taking a slight detour through Goth as a teenager he came back to pure synthesiser music during “the boom of electro music in the early 2000’s.” Legowelt and the Dutch scene were a touchstone during that time, and you can still hear that influence clearly in Switchdance’s first appearance on Boiler Room back in 2013.

It marks an approach that is vast and open today as an artist, but centred around the synthesiser and moving far beyond the strict parameters of the preset menu. There’s something alien in Switchdance’s music that comes from the unusual sound palette he creates in his music. The nature of the vocals from Prostaglandin E1 is a great example as it moves from a kind of eerie android to digital automaton through the course of the track. It’s clearly processed through a vocoder, but not like anything you’re likely to have encountered before.

It’s a sound that has followed him since his early days, when he was still known by SWITCHST(d)ANCE. Through a very reserved release schedule it has evolved without drastically changing and today we find a definitive sound in the music of Switchdance.

In recent years this sound has even garnered a wider appeal with heavies like Harvey and Dixon getting behind the music of Switchdance through two compilations compiled by the DJ luminaries featuring the artist’s music. With Arabian Ride on Harvey’s Mercury Rising and O Amolador finding its way on Dixon’s Secret Weapons compilation for Innervisions, Switchdance has found favour with some of the DJ- and club community’s most respected tastemakers. 

It was specifically the Innervisions association that “was a huge kick” for Marco’s career with a “big buzz” around the track as it climbed the charts. It seems Dixon “really likes” Switchdance, but Marco stops short of mentioning any specific partnership with the popular label for the future. 

Now that Marco is spending six months of the year in Norway, he is rather striving to “connect with the scene” here. His familiarity with artists like Charlotte Bendiks, Skatebård and Lindstrøm as DJs he’s played with in Portugal has seen him make in-roads. Since moving, he has played Hærverk in Oslo and Vaktbua in Kristiansand and with an appearance at Jaeger next Friday, he is already making strides in Norway’s scene. 

He’s received very positive feedback from the crowd here with people commending his alternative approach to the dance floor. He feels he is still able to convey a lot of what he does at Lux Fragil to other audiences and in Norway he’s already found a receptive audience with people coming up to him to say “I never saw somebody playing this type of music here.” 

With set times being the only real constraint here, he’ll have to compress what he does through a night at Lux, but whatever it is, it’s sure to be different.