Switzerland-based Andrea Oliva has enjoyed massive success seemingly from behind closed doors. A committed member of Luciano’s Cadenza crew, with residencies at some of the world’s top clubs, and productions sprinkled throughout the catalogs of the most celebrated labels in underground house, Oliva’s ascendancy has been a long one since his first introduction to dance music 17 years ago.
We caught up with the four-to-the-floor master and asked about his recent charting remix of Luciano’s “Rise of Angel,” learned about his back-to-basics DJ set-up, and what to expect in 2013.
Andrea, Grüezi to you! How are things in Moehlin this time of year, and how has 2012 been?
Grüezi! Things are good, thanks. Living in a small village here in Switzerland, and it started to snow as we speak. I like winters here as much as I like spending the summer somewhere in the south; I’m not joking. I would say 2012 has been the best year for me so far, professionally speaking! I released a lot of music on all my favorite labels, did some collabs with friends, and I had the chance to remix some of my heroes, like Luciano and DJ sneak. The good thing is, if you just live your passion without thinking too much, all the good things come unexpectedly, so this year I found a lot my tracks in the top 10 downloads on Beatport or I heard them played everywhere at the WMC, then Sonar and Ibiza. All of a sudden I was the most charted artist on Resident Advisor for weeks, which was unexpected indeed! If I would have set myself those goals from point zero, I probably wouldn’t have reached them. So let’s say I just go with the flow—the less you expect, the more happy you become when you see things are doing good!
Tell us a little about your musical upbringing. Were you entirely self-taught? What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up? What instruments do you play?
I started to DJ very early; I was like 12 or 13 and I became a producer only around 10 years later. In fact, I see myself more as a DJ than a producer, even if I really like to do both the same amount. I was actually lucky to have older friends; they showed me everything for DJing; I was able to use their turntables and also their records. Later in the studio I learned everything by myself. I was playing drums for a long time, so I guess that’s why my music is based on the groove, and the rhythm takes most of the lead part in my productions. I am happy to have always listened to all kinds of music. Back in the days, I loved to hear N.W.A or DJ Shadow as much as Pearl Jam or Nirvana. It just gave—and it still gives—me the same emotions when I listen to it.
You’ve produced tracks in every style of house and techno, which makes us wonder how you come up with inspiration when you start a new project or remix.
I work totally different when I do an original track compared to when I do a remix. When I do an original track, most of the time it’s just jamming around with sounds. Maybe also by mistake I create a sound and I start to build up on this specific element, and it grows in the same way like you put a puzzle together. When I do a remix, I just try to get into the head of the guy who did the original track. I try to take his direction and to interpret his ideas with my kind of vibe and sound on the individual track. You can compare it this way: If you do an original track, it’s like the way you eat when you are alone at home and you are super-hungry. Doing a remix is like the way you eat when you are invited somewhere and you have to behave and follow certain rules. I picture it a bit like that.
Has being on Cadenza had any effect on your production style? It seems your tracks are much more low slung and techy than some of your first more melodic releases.
I think my music fits well in to the philosophy of Cadenza’s music. Trust me, it’s not all about bongos and Latino grooves at Cadenza. In fact, it’s a label that gives you so much open space. You can do typical Cadenza kinds of drum tracks, but on the other hand they would easily release more experimental music which doesn’t have this basic 4/4 groove. This is what I like with Cadenza: it’s so open-minded and music can go all ways. Same as the music I release. It doesn’t have to be always only beats; it’s more interesting if you find yourself sitting there in the studio listening to a finished track and you say to yourself, “It doesn’t sound typically like me, but I like it.” Maybe this is the step it takes to release on different labels, which helps you to show all the talent you have.
You cut “Rise of Angel”‘s play time in half, and according to its chart position, that seems to have been the correct move, and like most of your other recent productions brought back the melody in favor of a more late-night, stripped-back tech-houser. Why did you choose this route for the remix?
I have to say, I am surprised by the massive support I am getting for this remix. It’s just crazy how fast it went up to #2 in the deep house [chart], and I think #6 in the main download charts on Beatport! I just wanted to say to my friends Nick Curly and Dennis Ferrer who are currently #1, that I am coming to get you guys soon [laughs]. No seriously, little joke after talking too much about numbers blah blah blah—it’s only numbers and I know there are much more important aspects in music than numbers. But look, I love football and when a player scores a goal he goes totally nuts—apart from Balotelli maybe—so I guess I have the same kind of sense to go nuts and celebrate when I see that people like my music and it’s doing well with sales, which just prove you did a good job. I approached the remix like every other remix I did. The only thing I did was taking the risk to record some vocals of a friend of mine (an amazing singer, as you can hear) and adding them to the remix. I know it was such a strong anthem in Ibiza and all over the world during the summer, so I had to do something different. No risk, no fun. In this case, taking a risk paid off!
We did notice the vocals, and amazing is the perfect description. What’s your home studio set-up like to record vocals and write tracks?
After seeing Luciano’s studio, I said his compared to mine is like putting a Ferrari next to a Fiat 500. Anyway I have some outboard stuff; most of them I don’t really use anymore, like a rack version of the Waldorf Q synthesizer, a Novation Supernova 2, Roland TB-303, the Maschine by Native Instruments, TC Helicon Voice Live Touch (just for fun), MFB drum computer, Yamaha 02R mixer, Mackie HR824 and KRK monitors, Novation Access Virus A, tons of more or less good software and a Novation Remote SL keyboard. What else… I am using Logic. That’s it!
Since we asked about the studio, we have to know about your DJ set-up. What do you usually work with?
Mainly I use CDs, but sometimes when I can I mix it up with vinyls. If I play Panorama Bar or Nordstern, I always make sure I have records with me because vinyl sounds as good as CDs (which is not the case everywhere). Most of the clubs don’t take care of the sound of the turntables, so it really doesn’t make sense to carry vinyl with you, as nobody wants to sound 15 DB lower than the DJ before or after you. Lately I also have a USB stick full of music with me. You see, I mix it up with everything. I like to play with a minimum of three CDJs, as I like to mix vocals in, loop them, fade them in and out, adding on a third channel, maybe some hi-hats, drums, or only dry beats. I am also doing my own effects with quantizing the loops, so I can do pretty much the same as the other guys are doing with a computer and controller. The only difference is I just do it with my hands. Not because it’s cooler, just because I am too lazy to plug in a computer and stuff.
What can we expect in 2013? Gigs, residencies, releases?
There are big things planned and I am really looking forward to it! I’m going to have my own night at Nordstern in Basel. We celebrate 10 years of Cadenza Records in 2013, so for this there will be a lot of music coming out, interesting collaborations, festivals, and never-ending parties. Most of the releases I have planned are follow-ups of this year’s releases, but also remixes on labels like Cadenza, Be As One, Saved, Memoria, Moon Harbour, and I have still something special going on—let’s see if it’s going to happen!