In MOAI Magazine we have one of the most awaited interviews by those who follow us, and much more after its recent release on MOAI TECHNO LIVE SETS RECORDS. Just by mentioning his name, introductions are enough… today we have the great pleasure to talk with Cristian Varela.
Hi Cristian, first of all, thank you for the time we are going to steal you to talk to you about the past, the present and the future. This year marks your thirtieth anniversary in the music business, and although you have already spoken at length about it, we must make a stop here. And we always like to flashback to the lives and careers of our interviewees, so it’s a double obligation.
In your case, art was in the air at home. Your grandmother and your mother, teachers at the Lycée Français in Madrid, and your father, a fundamental actor in the recent history of theatre, cinema, television and dubbing. On your mother’s side, the influence is clear, but tell us, your father… What kind of influence did he have on you in those early days and then when you say at home that you gave up your music theory, piano and other studies to become a DJ? (It has rarely been mentioned that he released a couple of singles and even performed at the Mallorca Song Festival in the second half of the sixties… he was a crooner!)
Indeed, my father, don Luis Varela is an all-rounder, he has written and composed countless songs for other artists and has done great collaborations with Juan Erasmo Mochi, Emilio Varela… He has been on stage since he was 7 years old under the name of “Luisito Varela” and to this day he has never stopped doing theatre and cinema with the most prestigious figures such as Fernán Gómez, Alex De La Iglesia, Jose Luis Garci, Antonio del Real… He has been awarded and nominated countless times at major film festivals. What I have learnt most from him is HUMILITY, respect for colleagues and passion for our work, whatever the sector.
When we go on stage, we give everything for our audience as if it were the first day. The feeling of sharing something so special with our people is what remains engraved in our hearts forever.
Your older brother was already a DJ when you started to feel the bug. In many interviews you talk about those first big brother’s records that touch you and mark you, like Jeff Wayne’s version of The War of the Worlds (and who doesn’t! with those marvellous synthesised sounds from Arps, Yamahas and Rolands and Richard Burton’s voice). Any other record that you remember with special affection from those first musical discoveries, those that we all remember as the ones that made us turn towards a certain path?
Of course, and without any doubt, I was greatly influenced by Kraftwerk and groups from the EBM (Electronic Body Music) movement that marked my generation and the generation before that: FRONT242, Nitzerebb, A Split Second… but also pop groups like Depeche Mode and even composers like Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre.
Let’s go back to those memories: how does Cristian Varela see today that fifteen year old kid who started to fight with the Lencos? What vision comes to your mind when you go back to those days?
I remember very much those afternoons at home with my brother listening to all his vinyls and learning a lot about music in general with him. Then my father would come and play us pieces of art like Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and stress to us never to forget where everything comes from.
From then on, your career is well known for obvious reasons, told and recounted on multiple occasions. A boy of such a young age who was beginning to demonstrate a torrent of technique on the decks (four, no more, no less) was bound to attract attention. But in your case, apart from winning a few championships in the legendary DMCs back in the day, I sincerely believe that your success has been cemented as much by your technique as by your musical selection. Cristian, could you give us a list by decades of those tracks you remember the most, some of the ones you played in your sets?
1989- Eighty Eight – Public Relation
1990- Energy Flash- Joey Beltram
1991- Neue Dimensionen – Technobert
1991- Ravesignal III – CJ Bolland
1992- Energy Overload – Ravecrusader
1993- Time Modulator – Zolex
1993- Spastik – Plastikman
1994- Lunatic Dreams – Cristian Varela
1995- Get The Groove Going – Ellen Alien
1996- Road Tour – Robert Armani (Dave Clarke Remix)
1997- Drummer – Marco Carola
1997- The Bells – Jeff Mills
1999- DJ Funk – Run (UK Extended Mix)
2000- Marco Bailey – Ipanema (Original Mix)
2002- Chris Liebing - Gassenhauer (Ian J. Richardson Remix)
2002- Dave Clarke – The Wolf
2003- Chris Liebing - American Madness (Original Mix)
2004- Valentino Kanzyani – Learning how to do it
2005- Redhead – Hell Opens
2006- Ben Sims – Remanipulator (Special Edition)
2010- Jeff Mills – Step to enchantment
2011- Ben Sims – I Wanna Go Back (Feat. Blake Baxter)
2012- Regis – Ital
2014- UVB – Stop Motion
2016 Dax J – Reign Of Terror
2018- Bas Mooy – Pyro
2019- P.E.A.R.L – Fears & Knowledge
2020- Pfirter – Apoc
2021- Regis – Killing European Sons PT1
I personally recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it and is interested in your figure and your career the magnificent documentary you made for the 25th anniversary of your career (https://youtu.be/Pi_0YZfWFx4) in which you talk about the lights and also the shadows. When we talk to artists with long and successful careers, the most honest ones always say that, although it may seem the opposite, the hardest thing is not to get there but to stay there. In that documentary you talk about a slump in your career… What happened, what were the reasons for it, how do you see it now and what has it taught you for the present and the future?
It was simply a change of manager and agency. At that time everything went much more slowly, there wasn’t as much communication in networks as there is today and this meant that such a radical change of team took time. Re-establishing a working system, a new team and putting the wheel back in motion again was complex, costly and a lot of sacrifice. As I always say: with a lot of effort, love and perseverance everything is possible!
Does this change in the biorhythm of your career influence your move to London? Tell us a little about your decision to leave your homeland to move to the British capital.
I needed a change of scenery in many ways, a clean slate, studying, working with big brands, soaking up all the music that is breathed here and creating my world again in England…. has been without a doubt the best decision of my life.
Techno and House are the immovable pillars, the foundations of this building called electronic music. They will never cease to exist, and depending on the time, they can be more or less fashionable. Let’s get to the thorny issue… in recent times, it seems that everything is Techno, everything is given the “surname”. Today we are lucky to have you with us, and as a voice of more than contrasted solvency on the subject we wanted to ask you how you see all this. Do you think that the Techno “bubble” is going to burst? Do you think that this massification and even prostitution of the label can be counterproductive for the style?
Pure and original Techno is a seed that has produced a tree with many ramifications and from these more and more branches emerge, but this is simply a sign of unstoppable growth. Some branches will decay and new ones will emerge, but the most important thing is the roots and the trunk of Techno will always remain intact.
There is a sentence of yours that we have read that couldn’t be more loaded with truth… “Nowadays there are not too many electronic live shows where the real instruments are played and the computer is not used”. That sentence has brought back memories of situations that perfectly fit that definition, like (for example) seeing Orbital always loaded with their gadgets and playing live shows that never end up being identical and then other renowned bands that in the middle of a live show disappear behind the smoke to have a cigarette or fix their make-up, who knows 😊.
Is the computer the enemy, or maybe it’s the hands that operate it? And we’d like your answer to be directed as much to the live sets as to the sessions… you who have always been a vinyl addict?
The computer is one of the most powerful tools of our ERA. You just have to know how to use it at the right time and in the right place. Musicians need to play instruments, whether it’s a guitar, a keyboard or a turntable. Computers should be used, in my opinion, in an alternative way and as a tool.
In 2015, you created VARELIVE, a live concept that precisely put in value the philosophy that you explain about live performances, with a very interesting point of immersion with the audience. How do you remember that experience? Do you feel like repeating it (modified or improved) at some point?
It is one of the most beautiful projects I have developed and in which I have been able to enjoy transmitting my essence through the instruments.
Of course, I’m preparing the new version that will soon see the big stages.
In line with the previous question, you have a very interesting project called S.I.X. that should have been launched this year, but of course, Mr. Virus is messing up our plans for the second year. This project is based on a new concept, as you have already taken it for granted that you are used to playing on four decks. We don’t think it’s a project based on a normal session, but closer to the live concept. Can you explain in more detail what it’s about?
It is a new concept of Live in which the instruments are the turntables and the elements I use in each of them are vinyls with specific layers of bass, percussion, pads, atmospheres, effects, synths…. Each one is a track of a theme that I will be creating and improvising from the conjunction of the 6 elements that I will be modifying. The aim is to create an experimental and very organic song of 60 minutes, from the symbiosis created by mixing all the vinyls together. The most special thing about this is that each session will be unique and unrepeatable because of this improvisation with the 6 tracks.
Until now we have focused more on the Cristian Dj. Let’s talk now about Cristian the composer and producer. Let’s do a rewind and go back to 1994 with El Cigarrito… I remember hearing it for the first time and dying of laughter with the vocal sampler of the intro, something that anyone who has go out at night has heard a thousand times. Then came a couple of years later Two Spirits In One and then I.L.A.T.E.C.S., although I think the Varela producer came into his own with Muskie and Paranoiac, two EP’s in which your personal stamp can already be appreciated. Could you tell us about those first five years as a producer? What was that evolution like, what memories come to your mind about those first recordings?
It was very curious because the record companies of the time always asked you for a “Radio Edit” that was as commercial as possible and I had no choice but to do the vocal/sampler version. Thanks to the fact that I’ve always been very intense when it comes to convincing the CEOs, I was able to make a version to my taste which was Lunatic Dreams with the essence of what I liked to mix at that time like the Industrial Techno and Trance (pure) of the time. That’s where the other tracks of the album came from. Then Sony Music signed me to do more Trance stuff, although I always gave it my Techno touch. I needed to express my more experimental side and that’s when I started to create more Techno tracks, which was later picked up by the owners of the most important English label of the time, Primate Recordings.
From then on I started my productions more focused on this style and it was from my first album with Primate Rec. that I started to create other styles such as Electro, EBM, Ambient, House and Tech House. Styles that I am also passionate about.
Just as we have previously asked you for a selection of those records that have marked your career as a DJ in these three decades, we would love you to do the same, but with your creations, with your releases.
Of course, I would!
01- Lunatic Dreams – DidSA (SP)
02- Groovy Wavedrums – Primate Recordings (UK)
03- Madrid Mix – Stay Up Forever (UK)
04- Mental Noise – SESSION recordings (Belgium)
05- Your Body Experience – Elephanthaus Records (U.S.A)
06- Elegant Hypnosis – Planet Vision (GER)
07- Experiment 1 – Black Codes Experiments
08- Panspermia – Materia Recordings
09- Eighth – MORD
10- New Experiments – OAKS Recordings
And now a fast forward to the present and the near future, and to which we are obliged. A few months ago we had just defined a project we had in mind and we were working on it, the label MOAI TECHNO LIVE SETS RECORDS. And what better premiere than having a national Techno legend like Cristian Varela as the first reference in this catalogue. It’s a kind of “sponsorship” that has been an honor for us, a tremendous pleasure. That first reference, My Roots EP, has been very well received (as it couldn’t be otherwise…).
When I heard for the first time those two tracks that make up the EP, those EP’s we have talked about before, especially Muskie, came to my mind. Does the title of My Roots refer to precisely that, your roots as a producer, a return to your origins, to the essence?
That’s right, in this track I’ve gone back a bit to the sequences used by us, 1st and 2nd generation producers, from synths like the Roland SH101, Korg Monopoly, Roland TB303 and Korg MS20.
The essence of the analogue frequencies of these monsters together with the spectacular plug ins we find today create an explosive combination.
We’re going to reveal an exclusive to MOAI Magazine readers. Cristian Varela has another EP ready for release on MOAI TECHNO LIVE SETS RECORDS soon, what can you tell us about it, what tracks will it contain and if it will follow the line of the previous one?
Distressor and Momentum are two of my little jewels that I had saved to release them only in case I find a suitable label and I think MOAI TECHNO LIVE SETS RECORDS is perfect. They are based on a more Old School Techno but giving it a very organic touch with many layers of atmospheres and a very specific way of developing the tracks (as far as structure is concerned).
To close this section. Everybody knows about your extensive discography, but perhaps for the general public is less known your work as a composer for other fields such as soundtracks for cinema, theatre, advertising and shows. Can you mention some of those works, the ones you consider most important or the ones you are particularly fond of?
Of course, Intruders was one of my first compositions for the Festival De Teatro y Danza (Liceo Francés de Madrid) which I am particularly fond of, as the choreographers of the whole Ballet were my mother and my grandmother (Madame Durán and Manita Durán).
Then I had the honor of composing for the play OJOS BONITOS (Vargas Llosa), performed by the great actor Manolo Tejada.
My first collaboration in a short film called RAMIREZ with the young and talented director Albert Ariza and great actors like Geraldine Chaplin, Hui Chi Chiu and Olalla Escribano, among others.
Part of the soundtrack of the film THE MIX (Pedro Lazaga) and actors: Victor Serrano, William Miller, Diana Noguera, David García Palencia, Ramón Langa…
Later on, my first full soundtrack; EL CLAVO DE ORO by director Antonio Del Real in collaboration with Televisión Española and Telemadrid with actors such as Emilio Gutierrez Caba, Juanjo Artero, Luis Varela…
Finally, my symphonic creation Paradise Of Feelings recorded at the great Abbey Road Studios in 2006 and that one day we will be able to take it to the stage.
Finally, let’s go into a side of Cristian Varela that is a little more unknown to the general public, which is that of entrepreneur, promoter, founder of record labels… Tell us something about the first two facets and then we will talk about your labels, because there is a recent development in this respect.
My brother and I have always wanted to export the talent of our national artists since the early 90’s and of course import the big influencers of electronic music to create a solid culture. Today, thanks to many promoters and artists, we have managed to make this culture particularly solid and highly developed, although not fully recognized by some institutions. That is why we have created the first National Association of DJs and Producers called AEDYP. Now we are starting to be valued as we deserve.
One of those facets is your involvement with Roland as an ambassador and beta tester. It must be wonderful to be able to test and use the legendary Japanese brand’s gear before the rest of the mortals. But I think your relationship goes beyond that, and you’ve been giving Masterclasses, some courses…
It all started with some videos that I was asked to do for the first “Boutique” that they launched with the TR09, TB03… Making the videos I realized many things that could be improved when using them live (not only in studio) and I started to create reports with a lot of modifications and interesting notes to add in the following versions. From that moment on they proposed me to be one of their few “Beta Tester” to test their machines, make reports and create videos as well as sound libraries. After almost 5 years, the whole Roland team is like a big family for me, and it’s an honor to be part of it, as well as a dream come true.
In the labels section, you debuted as a founder with your great friend Marco Bailey at the end of 1999 with Pornographic Recordings. Pornographic has had a more regular existence, with big names in its catalogue, and a few years later Black Codes arrived, which at first seemed to be a showcase for the most experimental part of your creation (although it also contains references from other artists). But for a little over a decade it was in hibernation until it came back to life in 2018. What was the reason for this hiatus?
What are your plans for the future of both labels?
Everything is planned to continue with its essence. Pornographic was created a year before Black Codes and was founded together with my dear Marco Bailey, to be able to release our own productions and above all to promote new talents so that they could develop their careers from a great platform like Pornographic Recordings. Big names of today made their first appearances on the label. I founded Black Codes Experiments with the aim of putting out very experimental music that was more for listening, but in the end it had so much impact that it became a track label a bit by chance.
Each label has its own essence and that’s how it will continue without a doubt.
Finally, very recently we received the news of a third adventure in your career. In the note you sent us you said you were proud to announce your first Ambient label dedicated to the most important person in your life, Manita. If you would like to tell us about it and it doesn’t belong to a part of your personal life that you don’t want to make public, we would like to know to whom this dedication is addressed and how the idea of this new label was born.
Of course, in this case it would be the fourth adventure since the third was my Progressive House, Tech House and House label called Donkeyhead Recordings where I published under my pseudonym Carlos Durán along with other big names.
Manita Recordings is another of the many creations I have made dedicated to my mother. It all comes from a radio show I did in her memory for several years on Loca FM. It was every Sunday at 1am and was unexpectedly a resounding success as it was the only Ambient music programme, but especially with Soundtracks of that style. In addition, I played unreleased experimental music tracks of mine that have not yet seen the light of day. Very nice and special moments for me.
Currently and due to all the live Rela-X-Undays that I do on Sundays in the networks and under request of my followers, I have created Manita Recordings along with a little shop that I designed myself called ManitaShopArt where you can buy vinyls, premium mugs, accessories and of course several collections of very cool clothes. Little by little I’m improving it.
The label’s first release, Manita, gives us an idea of the variety of your musical tastes and abilities. There are tremendous orchestral pieces, which remind me of one of my favourite contemporary composers, Craig Armstrong, while in other passages you drift towards electronics as the mainstay of the themes. Will Manita be a vehicle to express that other side of Cristian Varela as a musician and composer?
Totally, I have many pieces created that have never seen the light of day and at last I have a perfect platform to be able to launch them and express myself in another way.
To close the interview, and in an almost obligatory way, we have no choice but to refer to the damn pandemic that has kept us on standby for more than a year now, although it seems that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I suppose you have spent this period in London, what have you spent your time doing, have you been more focused on production, composition…?
I have studied a lot, meditated and tried to constantly generate different content to make life more pleasant for all my followers during these hard and unwanted times.
Finally, the question we have asked everyone we have interviewed at this time and who live in other latitudes: Do you think that in the UK there has been enough support for electronic music and the businesses and workers that surround it from the government and institutions? We ask this question to compare with what has happened in Spain, which is clearly insufficient and even discriminatory towards electronic music.
The companies have helped us a lot, but not at all the artists. There was a lot of controversy and many musicians protested about the little support they received, but it is true that those of us who have our companies in England have received help in the end. Fortunately, many of us musicians here have limited companies and have been able to get by.
However, the continuous “slaughter” that the Spanish government has done with musicians, DJs and the hotel and catering industry in particular, has been surreal to say the least, and a total lack of culture and management.
It only remains for us first of all to thank you for your time in granting us this interview, and to wish you that the next thirty years will be as successful as the ones you have just celebrated.
Thanks to you, it has been a real pleasure.
We have another last minute exclusive for our readers, an exclusive podcast by Cristian Varela for MOAI Magazine. Pure Techno power.