All SBCR photos by Aurora Berget
The Bloody Beetroots's primary composer and producer, Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo, has remained largely mysterious through the group's decade of success. Until now that is.
We set off to speak with "Bob" about his triumphant return to Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak label with the launch of his new project, SBCR, but ended up finding out who he really is behind the mask, and what set him on his mysterious course.
“I was fucked for six months, I couldn’t move. It was an experience that changed my life.”
Credit: mtt / Wikimedia
About an hour from Venice lies the northern Italian village of Bassano del Grappa, where Bob Rifo was born and raised. It is a bucolic setting, with the town’s landmark bridge providing beautiful sights of the river, the Italian countryside, and the mountain vistas beyond.
A cultural movement was erupting in northern Italy at the time — the Great Complotto (in English, the Great Conspiracy) — that prided itself on being unapologetically independent from both the punk and new wave movements while taking influences from both.
Bob's uncle was a drummer, fostering a connection between him and music from a very young age, and he began studying classical music when he was nine. By his middle school years, he was experimenting with electronic music through the earliest versions of Cubase on the Atari 1040ST.
Then, on March 26, 1996, at the tender age of eighteen, there was a horrible accident. One that could have derailed his future forever.
An inattentive driver struck him with his car while Rifo was biking around his area. “I got like fifteen stitches on the front of my head, twenty-five on the back, my leg broke in two,” Bob reminisces. “I was fucked for six months, I couldn’t move. It was an experience that changed my life.”
“I felt that I wanted to do something definitive, something final, something important for my life. The only thing that I think I do well is music, so that’s when I started making music seriously. This is the way I express myself, so let’s make the deal. And then I started trying every day to make that deal.”
In 2006, Bob left Italy for Australia, where he adopted the Bob Rifo alias and began making punk music as the Bob Rifo Gang. “It was a pretty shitty garage band,” he recalls with a smirk. The band provided an outlet for Rifo to express a latent discomfort with culture and society, and to rebel through music.
Just as quickly, though, the band fell apart. “We destroyed ourselves. We had lots of problems with alcoholism and shit like that. We were kind of real punk rockers, but sometimes if you get too far, you crash yourself, and we crashed miserably.”
Even today, these experiences are influential to Rifo’s approach towards the electronic music scene. “I drink water, I don’t do drugs, because with that interaction that I do, you have to keep focused. And it’s not so easy to play with the mask, you don’t get to see clearly, so you have to stay yourself.”
"We [Bob Rifo Gang] were kind of real punk rockers, but sometimes if you get too far, you crash yourself, and we crashed miserably.”
When Bob Rifo’s Gang imploded, he moved his experimentation back towards electronic music with the formation of The Bloody Beetroots. His early self-released tracks would attract attention in the electronic music circuit, and by 2008, he made his debut on Dim Mak Records.
“Cornelius” blended the visual style he had developed in the punk world with the face-pummeling electro-house he was then bringing forth, setting him on a course of smash success. His next single, “WARP”, and subsequent debut album Romborama catapulted him into the stratosphere of EDM notability at the apex of the late-2000s electro-house boom, and soon the band’s live show was evolving from a DJ set into a live electronic band experience.
With his achievements, though, came a concern that Bob repeatedly referred back to in his interviews, about being boxed-in by success.
“The Bloody Beetroots got so big that sometimes it was impossible to communicate to people, and it’s crazy, because the bigger you get, the less you’re able to communicate with people,” says Bob.
He intends for SBCR to bring forth “softer music built for more intimate shows," adding that "this specific period of my life is trying to reconnect myself with people, without any paranoia.”
Whereas the Bloody Beetroots will remain grounded in Bob’s rock-influenced live material, SBCR will be his identity for DJ sets and more dancefloor-oriented material.
“Stepping back to the DJ set as The Bloody Beetroots was kind of a shame, so I decided to do SBCR to preserve such a great project,” Bob explains. “This gives me the opportunity to create music and make experiments without any expectation, and even to try challenging myself with new skills, to produce something that I’ve never produced before.”
SBCR’s debut EP, SBCR & Friends Vol. 1, dropped this past Tuesday, and it’s a dizzying blend of uproarious electro madness with softer experimental work.
Indeed, on the record, we see Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo at perhaps the most untethered he’s been in years. The EP standout “Vector” marries Moon Bounce’s tender vocals with a tapestry of melodic and drum hits lurching over each other in a frenzy of free-form, soulful chaos. “Blush”, the massive collaboration with Elisa Bee and His Majesty Andre, sends you flying through the ethers of space at a million miles an hour. And SBCR’s debut single and EP closer, “The Grid”, sounds like the whole arrangement was rinsed through a washing machine, evoking comparisons to Mr. Oizo.
Though the record is certainly distinct from Bob’s output as The Bloody Beetroots, in many ways, it feels familiar, as if he’s still on the same plane.
He concurs with this assessment somewhat. “It looks separate but to me, it’s like my world. I may have different subprojects, but in my brain, it’s all connected, like a web.”
Perhaps the true distinction for this project is the opportunity to start from a blank slate. On his last album, HIDE, Bob chose to work with a cabal of huge collaborators stretching from Theophilus London to Paul McCartney, but this time his choice of collaborators was more personal. “Music is a experience and I want to share it with my friends. These are my closest friends, and they’re pretty talented, but hidden and unknown, and I think they deserve more.”
“I drink water, I don’t do drugs"
One collaborator, Razihel, brings up comparisons to Bob’s own past, transitioning from being the front man and lead vocalist of a hardcore punk band into producing aggressive electronic music. “Even Steve [Aoki],” Bob reminds me. “Lots of people who make punk-rock move into producing. I think the same background moves you to do similar things.”
With that mindset, Bob started the Church of Noise back in 2011: a social media platform intended to be the nexus of a new artistic movement. He's deliberate in his admiration of history, and it seems that the Church of Noise is his attempt at starting a movement like the Great Complotto of his own. But ultimately, when I see the primal rawness within the words he chooses to define his persona — "skin, bone, blood, scars" — I get the feeling that he's been telling us about himself and his past all along.
We left the studio and headed towards NoFilter in Hollywood, where SBCR was set to play at midnight. You could see the breadth of his music's appeal through the unique constellation of people in line, ranging from new fans to funeral-black-donning rock kids alike.
His set was relentless in its energy, lighting up the crowd by opening with "Spank" and continually ratcheting up from there, buoyed by Bob's signature air flips and on-stage movement. He might not have the band for his SBCR sets, but fear not: his stage presence is every bit as lively.
"It's going to be the same interaction. I love doing that shit. The more you give energy to people, the more energy you get back. It's myself, I can't really stay behind the decks and do boring stuff. I have to take the risk to express myself."
All modern SBCR photos by Aurora Berget