Cristian Varela is an exceptionally talented Spanish artist and teacher who is also acknowledged as one of Spain’s pioneering Techno DJ, producers and promoters. Cristian Varela is also a successful composer who scores soundtracks for film, theatre and television, who has even recorded an album at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London. This is his story…
Mike Mannix: Nice one Cristian and thank you for talking to us at iconic underground. You’re nearly into 3 decades of plying your trade as a hughley successful international DJ Producer who is still going strong, great achievement! You are also one of the pioneers of Spain’s early dance scene, give us some background on your early influences socially and musically growing up in Madrid, what inspired you?
Cristian Varela: A pleasure Mike. Ok, my influences were mainly from classical music composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Haendel, Antonio Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky… or more contemporary artists like Vangelis, Hans Zimmer, Giorgio Moroder or even Kraftwerk.
During that period when I was studying my piano career my brother Luis Varela was already Dj in a small Bar called “La Tortuga” in 1988. He brought me some cassettes every week he’d recorded with all kind of music styles like Snap, Technotronics, Afrika Bambatta, and Spanish groups. The most special music for me was from industrial groups like Nitzerebb, Front 242, Split Second but also some guitar bands like Snake Corps, Alien Sex Fiend, The Mission, The Cult, or techno-pop like Depeche Mode, A-Ha, Alphaville…
I was totally fascinated with all these new sounds. After that, I started to buy my own vinyl to play at home on my brother´s turntables (LENCO)! At that period in Madrid, you could find a lot of urban tribes like Rockers, Punks, Heavy, Modies, and techno people. The mixture was explosive and some genres after were fusionated in some clubs, concerts….The attire and apparel were really extreme and it was caused because of the freedom and creativity of the 80´s.
At the start of the underground clubs in Madrid, everybody began to feel and understand electronic music as a way of life!
I could listen to all this incredible movement because of my big brother and that´s the most beautiful gift from him to me.
MM: You have had a hugely successful and rewarding career with over 40 awards credited to your name with 2 prestigious international DJ Awards for best Techno DJ in 2007 and 2013. As the only artist to have achieved this in Spain would you consider yourself an honorary Ambassador for the Spanish dance music scene, and are you still motivated to achieve more?
CV: The techno music in 1990 was very underground and nobody knew anything about Spanish produces or Djs until I started to produce and release in prestigious labels such as Primate Recordings or Plus 8/ Additive. My producer mates were Ben Sims, Chris Liebing, Speedy J, Adam Beyer, Umek, we grew up together on these labels as the new techno generation of the 90´s!
In 1992, me and my brother started the first events in Madrid with international friends like Laurent Garnier, CJ Bolland, Francesco Farfa, Liberators, Marco Carola, Adam Beyer, Caridad Lekebush, James Ruskin, Regis,…We created one of the first Artists Agencies and Vinyl Shops in Spain called Phrenetic Society where we started to promote all our artists and Spanish friends like Tony Verdi, Paco Osuna, Angel Molina, Oscar Mulero…
After that, we created the first DJ & Producer School in 1996 and then I created my own label Pornographic Recordings with my brother Marco Bailey in 2000 and also my Black Codes Experiments in 2003. With all these elements I am probably an honorary Ambassador for the Spanish Underground Scene but I prefer to say that I just helped to export our music around the world.
MM: You have quite an entrepreneurial spirit that’s mixed with a social consciousness, tell us about the array of noble causes you are involved with?
CV: In my opinion, all the artists in this world are here to make people happy with our different artistic knowledge and skills. The most important part of this is also to help as much as possible with our arts. I collaborate several times with companies like CRUZ ROJA International, DGT for the Spanish traffic orientation for young people and in many more charity causes. I feel better about myself every time and I think every single person here has a mission to help others. I hope in the future everyone that this kind of mentality, especially the leaders of our planet who just think control and power!
We are still living in a primitive society with a wrong system and undeveloped values. Maybe in 1000 or 2000 more years, the next generations will see all this theatre as something to teach to their children like “that was the kind of animals were in the past”. Anyway, here the point is to try to make others happy, to teach and to learn the good values between us.
We need as much culture as possible to realise, there are too many lies and negative stuff, surrounding us all on a daily basis.
MM: You recorded a symphonic album in the world-renowned Abby Road Studios, tell us about that whole process and meaning behind it?
CV: From very young I was composing different kinds of symphonic music even Tangos and of course electronic music. I remember my first computer Atari 1040 ST and my first synthesizer Roland Juno 106 and Korg MS1. With my DJ gigs, I could buy my first sampler ENsoniq ASR10 and then is when I had access to play strings, metal and everything from a keyboard due to the MIDI language. In my opinion one of the most important discoveries for the music scene!
In 2006 after more than 15 years compiling all these songs created from my heart without any limit or conceptual attachment…my mother decided to record some of the compositions with a real Orchestra in a professional studio. The only problem was…the money of course! I created a savings account and all my gig money was controlled by my mum. After that, I knew Lynn Cosgrave (Carl Cox´s manager) and when she heard for the first time all my symphonic music she was fascinated and then decided to be my partner for this awesome project. I knew her because of my big friend Carl when I started to play with him at Space Eivissa and big festivals like Ultra, Electrosonic, and Awakenings. After that, we decided to invest in my VARELAND profile and then we recorded some of the songs in Abbey Road with Mr. Sam Okell (Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Mike Oldfield …) We were preparing a Live Show for 2009 but one of the Spanish sponsors, after saying YES to our project, decided to invest the money in the Motor Competitions. Can you imagine this incredible show on “Stand By”? Then later we saw the beautiful collaborations with Orchestras with artists like Jeff Mills and the more commercial artists like Tiesto or Armin Van Buuren!
MM: You are an active teacher also at Sónar+D, Eumes, Universidad Complutense de Madrid or CEV, how important is this for you on a human level?
CV: To teach is for me one of the most beautiful experiences in my life from many years ago. I like to show all my skills to the students because I think in the future they can use it to develop their own music and style as the new generation. Later I saw those becoming big names and made me soooo proud of to be their teacher. I can´t say the names for respect to their carers but now they are very important artists from Spain and also from Brazil. Now, unfortunately, I only have time to make sometimes Master Classes in the universities or conferences in good places like ADE or MWC. Honestly, I miss my teaching life. My first academy was created in 1996 and after I worked in great Schools like CEV, CES, EUMES, BASS VALLEY.
MM: Walk us through the usual process of when you are in the studio creating your new tracks from the analogue outboard, midi, samples and DAW you use and why. What is key in the whole production process?
CV: It depends on the day. Sometimes I start just trying new synthesizer plug-ins and when I find a good sound I record a musical phrase or bass lines, arpeggios…depending on the sound. Other days I am just in the office, in a restaurant, in a flight or in my bed and suddenly my mind starts to create some ideas and then I run to my studio or to my laptop to make all these ideas happen. The most part of my time in the studio is experimenting with different kinds of Mastering and/or Mixing but also searching for the perfect combination between all the sounds in a new track, sometimes up to 12 hours when I’m not traveling.
That´s the point is to create something special, deep and different. We need originality.
I also like to spend hours creating new original sounds, kicks, sequences to use later in new songs.
MM: You have played at the biggest festivals in the world from Ultra Music Festival Miami, Awakenings, Tomorrowland, Exit, I Love Techno and Creamfields are there any that stand out and where you thought fuck this is amazing I don’t want it to end?
CV: I like all these events but for me, the most special for my kind of music is with any doubt Awakenings! I know Maarten from his first events in Amsterdam with Marco Bailey and me called Heroes Of Techno and he started with Rocco the huge Awakenings Festival. I am playing there for many years ago and for me they are like my Underground Techno Family. I respect them so much what they created and the concept of what they are doing. It´s very easy to have 100.000 pax in a “commercial festival” with big names but
it´s very difficult to create something underground like Awakenings and to become one of the biggest event in the world,
especially styles like hard techno or techno. Respects from here to Maarten and Rocco!
MM: What’s the secret to your huge success?
CV: I think the secret is the passion for the music and the energy exchanged every time with the crowd. That sensation is the most powerful feeling I’ve ever had in my life. The universal language is known by everybody like a community, no words, just music, and energy. I can´t describe how important is for me to share all my feelings with my followers, I need it every week, every day. If an artist doesn´t feel something like that the passion stops and then the career is an illusion. Some people think this is about the money but is totally the opposite, some of us were bankrupt in the beginning and had to fight very hard to survive and construct our companies and careers so finally can live with our work as a normal job. I am sure the followers can feel exactly this kind of responsibility when they come to see some of us.
MM: Who and what is inspiring you today?
CV: I’ve already worked in the studio with some of my favourite artists and had several collaborations with them for remixes and co-productions but one of my dreams is to work with Hans Zimmer and Vangelis because they are the next step of the creativity for a musician and the Premier League of the scene.
MM: Any tips for the aspiring DJ today / Producer on how to be creatively original in an already saturated market?
CV: The most important thing is to follow their dreams, to be constant, responsible and passionate about the music Music is something very serious but some treat it like a joke. When people start to understand that, they totally change the perception of the music and the artists. I hope very soon some of the music followers understand this concept in all the different styles of music.
Very soon everybody will notice exactly who is playing from the heart and who is playing for their pocket…. Wrong Way!
MM: What are your thoughts on how the dance music scene has transitioned from when you started to where it is today, are we heading in the right direction or has something been lost along the way?
CV: From 1990 I noticed different cycles of music every 6/7 years. Everything started very underground, pure and original due to the boom of creativity during the 80´s. Now some of the first styles in the electronic like Techno, Elektro, House or Drum & Bass are back with a very big influence in the new generation of artists, producers, and DJs. The analogue world is coming back (modular, vinyl’s…even cassettes!) Now we have all the tools to create the best music. The possibilities now are huge for everybody and perhaps in the future, everybody will know how to make music, better or worst but music. Besides, nowadays we are living the in the “Marketing world” and some great artists cannot survive if they don’t have a community or social manager or professional staff.
Some of the best well-known artists today do not even know how to create a track or to play a real DJ Set!
This is a tragedy for the real artists. Some of them can only survive as Ghost Producers! Surreal isn’t it?? It happens I am happy because the pure artists, producers, and DJs always come back and survive in this jungle.
MM: If you ended up trapped on a godforsaken island with only your decks, a crate of spirits and your vinyl fly case to your name, what would be the top 10 essential cuts that you must have to survive and why?
CV: In chronological order:
1-Four Seasons- Antonio Vivaldi: Is the first song that I heard in my life. Vivaldi scratched my heart with that composition. I will never forget the moment when The Winter Season started in my father´s turntable, it was the most incredible sensation I never felt! That´s why I started to study the piano at a very young age.
2-The War Of The Worlds- Jeff Wayne: My father made the Spanish version for the subtitles of this movie and he brought me the vinyl at home. I could not stop to listen and listen to hundreds of times and reading the book inside the vinyl sleeve. It has images from big space robots and the invasion of our planet. I was scared but at the same time totally amazed!
3-Blade Runner- Vangelis: This is one of the first experimental movies with one of the big composers Mr. Vangelis. An incredible travel thru the electronic pads, sounds, effects and one of the most important movies from the great director Ridley Scott. The song Titles was remixed in a few labels at the beginning of the nineties and some of us played it several times for years!
4-Gladiator- Hans Zimmer: In my opinion, this is the Masterpiece of the contemporary genius and composer Hans Zimmer. A magical soundtrack very important for a good movie. Maybe with another music composer, the film never would have become as relevant as it is. That´s the big importance of the music!
5-101 Album: Depeche Mode: First techno-pop group I heard in concert and I was very impacted with the mixture between the guitars, vocals, and synthesizers. It was in Aqualung- Madrid and after that concert, I bought all the vinyl from them. This is a historical vanguard group of our Era.
6-Flesh- A Split Second: One of my favourite industrial electronic groups. This track was very famous in Spain because it was the main music in a TV program called “La Quinta Marcha” where we saw for first time big bands from all kind of styles like Talk Talk, Pet Shop Boys, Nirvana, Alphaville, A-Ha and Hip, Hop, Rock, Soul,….everything. I played it a lot in one of my first residencies in the most popular techno club in Madrid called ATTICA. I made a very hard techno remix in the first reference to my label Black Codes Experiments around 2003 but created in 1999.
7-Let your body Learn- Nitzerebb: Another amazing Industrial group very popular at the beginning of the nineties and played by all the DJs at the period. It was also one of my closing tracks @ Attica and massive reaction every time!
8-Ravesignal- CJ Bolland: Very underground techno track from one of the most influential producers. He played in my first events at my second residency Epsilon and the first club where I was promotor with my brother in 1994.
9-Energy Flash- Joey Beltram: Same kind of artist as Cj Bolland and in my opinion the most important tune at the beginning of the Underground Acid Techno music. Released on one of my favourite labels R&S where the best producers at the moment released their music and became well-known worldwide.
10-Basictonal Remake- Surgeon: Anthony Child is one of my favourite artists in one of the best labels in all the electronica Era- Tresor! I usually play this in big festivals such as Awakenings, Electrosonic, Acquasella, I love Techno…and in several clubs around the world including Liquid Room, A-geha, Womb, Tokyo, Spectrum, U60, Panorama…Germany….South America….
MM: What drives and motivates you?
CV: My family, my friends, my partner Maite Mellado and all my followers! The music and the connection with the people but everything mentioned before it´s my first priority, the passion, the respect for the music and for everybody who shares our scene.
MM: What do you hope that people will say about you when they look back at this moment in techno?
CV: I Hope they just say that I make them happy and that I contributed to the industry.
MM: What are your next big planned events and projects?
CV: My Symphonic Show mentioned at the beginning of the interview, we will start in Spain maybe for 2019 and collaborate with the Orchestra and amazing Visual and light show. Some important guest musicians and a very contemporary show with a huge sound system. Mainly in all the Theatres and special areas like Devot Temple…
VARELIVE 2.0 where I will use the same technology than in the 1.0 but with some new surprises. Planned for small clubs but also for big festivals with equipment extension for special cases.
PORNOGRAPHIC COMPILATION: With great artists like Axel Karakasis, Frank Kvitta, Fac3Off, TKNO, Ian Axide, Novatek, with proper Techno and very special music selected by the A&R of the label Mr. Marjan Lopus. He did an exhaustive selection to receive hundreds of tracks from everywhere around the world. From here I want to say thanks for all the support received from all the artists, promoters and media.
BLACK CODES EXPERIMENTS is back with all my friends like Regis, Mark Broom, Gary Beck, ABstract Division, Tensal, Refrakted, Ken Ishii, The Advent and now my partner Ian Axide just started our events as Show Case in London with a worldwide tour coming soon! I’m also preparing my new album for Black Codes a very experimental underground sound with some of the tracks used for VARELIVE.
ROLAND: New online series is coming very soon with the collaboration of Roland Instruments. We will keep everybody updated. The idea is some Jam sessions in Live with some of my friends and online in a very big streaming company!
RESPECT AND TECHNO!
Black Codes Experiments: