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Argentina’s Guti and his pianos

By industry boy
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Electronic music producers are by and large a bunch of deviants, but even going by those standards Argentina’s Guti sure is one colourful reprobate.

As a child, Guti was a jazz pianist and did very well for a small boy from Buenos Aires. Then the teenage years hit, and, like all teenagers, he rebelled and ran off to join a rock band. But unlike most adolescent music projects, Jóvenes Pordioseros, or Young Beggars in English, happened to be hugely successful. The band achieved gold record status in Argentina and were singed to Warner Music, no less. Guti played keyboards in the band and for a while he lived like a rock god.

Then when that chapter of his life finally came to an end in 2009, Guti did what most rock stars never do and became an underground house music producer. Loco Dice was the first to notice Guti’s talents and signed him to his respected Desolat imprint.

Relocating to Dice’s hometown of Düsseldorf, which he describes as “a really nice small city,” Guti began quietly releasing juicy house rhythms full of Latino and jazz spirit. His album Patio de Juegos (Playground) dropped in March 2011 on Desolat to great acclaim, and he has been touring like an electronic music radical ever since.

He has also had releases on Luciano’s Cadenza, Davide Squillace’s Hideout, Guy Gerber’s Supplement Facts, and London’s Defected. And last week he dropped “Keep It” for Satoshi Tomiie’s SAW Recordings, his first solo single outside of Desolat since he was signed to the label in 2009.

“Keep It” is SAW Recordings’ most anticipated release in quite a while, not least because it features a remarkable remix from label boss Satoshi Tomiie, who hasn’t released any new music in a couple of years. There’s also an infectious, underground, drum-heavy house jam from Guti on the B-side, called “Bam!”

Tomiie’s “Keep It” remix is the first track to come out of his new studio. The Japanese house pioneer spent over 24 months building a new studio in his New York City apartment, which was finally completed last year. Tomiie will release more singles and remixes in 2012, including a collaboration with Melisma label boss and Cadenza contributor Dani Casarano.

Here, in this exclusive interview, Guti chats about his breakthrough 2011 year, his love for pianos, and his relationship with Satoshi Tomiie.

Guti, you seemed to have a big year last year!

Yes, 2011 was definitely the biggest year of my electronic music career so far. My album dropped in March, and I played everywhere, from South America to Australia, Asia, Europe, and Ibiza. I released some big records on Cadenza, Defected, and Crosstown Rebels. And now I begin the new year with this cool record on SAW Recordings, which makes me happy.

SAW’s Satoshi Tomiie is an amazing guy. Music is really important to him. I talk about music with him every day actually. With other DJs and producers, a lot of the time the conversations are about girls and money, but with Satoshi it’s just about music!

What kind of music things do you and Satoshi discuss?

It’s pretty funny. I first met Satoshi in 2003 when I was a full-on, young, and crazy kind of rock star. I was like 21 or 22 and out of control, and I went to go see him play at a big night here in Buenos Aires. In Argentina he really is a superstar because the first big parties we had in Buenos Aires were headlined by Satoshi and DJs like Sasha and John Digweed around 2002/2003.

And then randomly this summer I was in New York City playing a gig and he showed up. We started talking, he invited me to dinner, and since then we’ve been talking every day about music online. Because both of us are former pianists, we don’t want to forget the piano even though that’s not what we do now.

We send jazz music to each other every day. We don’t really talk about house music though, which in some ways is refreshing.

Do you still play the piano?

I don’t practice it any more, I just play it every day for fun. I’ve played piano for 25 years now so it’s a part of me. I would say I’m a blues pianist, but I don’t take it seriously. It’s just a language that I talk.

Who are some of your favourite pianists?

I love Oscar Peterson. He is amazing and he’s huge, like 2 meters tall and 150 kg! But he plays like an angel, with super fast hands. Every finger of his, is like two of my hands!

I like Michel Camilo too, which comes from my Latin blood. I like a lot of Latin music and salsa musicians like Willie Colón, but it’s too much work to be a pianist these days. It’s exhausting really. That’s why I’m a producer! Maybe when I’m 50 or 60 I will just play the piano.

Tell us more about those younger, rock-star days

I joined a rock band to play keyboards and we got really big. It was a crazy experience. There are too many stories to share!

Writing house music is completely different to writing jazz or rock. It’s a different way of looking at the world. I try to create moods or new stories with my electronic music. It still surprises me how you can do completely new songs every time you sit in the studio.

House music is super free. Like jazz, in house music there are only one or two rules, and then after that you can do whatever you want. You need to understand how the club works, and that it’s also a physical music, and once you understand how pressure works on a dancefloor you are free to experiment as you wish.

I like to think of my studio as a band, which I’m the director of and where I play every instrument. My studio in Düsseldorf is like a recording studio, not a producer’s studio. I don’t have plugins. I don’t even know what plugins are! I just record things—guitars, pianos, drum machines, and weird instruments and play around.

Your new single on SAW, “Keep It,” features a pretty big piano line.

Yes, it’s a physical, piano song. It’s something that I used to play in my live sets. It was just some chords at the start, and then I felt that I needed to make it into a song, as every time that I played it out, it turned out a bit different. It’s a simple jam with a drum machine, a bassline, and a piano. There isn’t much else to it, as I like space in music, you know, like silence, so that everything sounds bigger. I was really happy that Satoshi liked it.

The way that you describe the track, you make it sound like it was easy to make?

All my music has simple elements, and I like to focus on loops. One thing that I have learned as a musician is you shouldn’t put things in a track that might distract an audience.

All I need is a hook and house music beats, and I respect this way of song writing. Satoshi is the kind of producer who will put in 2000 tiny little sounds and create 14-minute epic songs, like his remix of “Keep It.” I come from a rock background, so I guess my message is more direct.

With such a direct way of making music, what’s your studio process like?

I’m not one of those analog guys who insists on only using hardware. Yes, if you have the time then it’s nice to play with toys. But for me, truly with all the touring that I do, I’ve found Native Instruments’ Maschine to be perfect for making beats. It’s so easy. I use it for my live sets too, and it’s really great for guys like me who spend half the year on the road.

All I take with me on tour is my laptop, Maschine, and a small keyboard for ideas, and that’s my on-the-road studio. It’s crazy how times have changed!

But coming from a pianist and keyboard background, you must like physically playing the music?

Yes, for sure. I shared this studio once with a famous Brazilian singer, and these guys had all the toys that you could imagine. They even had a theremin, which is one the world’s first electronic instruments. It’s a fucking crazy tool, and impossible to play, but I still tried. For hours.

I even called Satoshi as he’s one of the only people that I know who has been around long enough to understand these kind of weird machines, and we spent a few hours trying to get it to work. In the end we couldn’t! And that’s the thing with toys, they’re so much fun, but not that great for productivity.

What did you think of Satoshi’s remix of “Keep It”?

I remember the first time that he sent me the remix, I said to him, “Oh great, you just made my original look really bad!” because it was so much better than my song.

But all joking aside, it’s a real pleasure to play out. It’s a totally different approach and super honest, I think it’s amazing. Satoshi is, as you might say, a legend, even though that word is used too much in electronic music. But he really is. It’s cool to see that despite him having played the piano since the age of six, he’s still really crazy about music, and DJing, and touring. That’s the biggest inspiration for me.

Your album on Desolat featured a lot of piano. Would you say that is one of your signatures?

My album did have a lot of piano and that was the main idea – to make an album with Dice and Martin [Buttrich] which you can dance to but also listen to at home. And also one that showed the musician side of me. But I don’t want to be thought of as a jazz musician who plays on top of beats, as there would be no point in that for me.

I recorded my album with some really talented musicians, like Daniel Melingo, and my next ideal step would be to record a home-listening album with a band or an orchestra. That’s a dream of mine, but really I’m still growing and just starting out.