Rodriguez Jr. is incredibly well respected within the techno and house scenes, and for good reason. Beyond his skills on decks, he wows crowds worldwide with his use of live piano elements that let him play with emotions that CDJs simply couldn't. His sound is deep, and not in the "deep house" sense, but rather in the "I came here to dance, not to feel" sorta way. To be clear, his sets aren't going to bring up old baggage only to let it linger. Instead, his acuity and intelligence allow him to wax from melancholia to pure unadulterated bliss. His energy on stage is truly something to behold, and he keeps a beaming smile on his face all the while.
We caught up with him for an interview at Movement 2017, hours before his first ever show in Detroit. It was an extra special moment for him, considering he credits the city as one of his most important inspirations. Hopefully this gives you some insight into the beautiful mind of Olivier, aka Rodriguez Jr.
Check out his latest album, Baobab, released on Mobilee Records, available for purchase everywhere here.
Rodriguez Jr. - Baobab (Full Album Teaser)
Magnetic Magazine: You're a very prolific instrumentalist, when did you first start?
Rodriguez Jr. : I have always been into music. I started playing instruments when I was six but I didn’t really know that I was doing anything. My parents could feel I had something great inside me, so they said “you must do it.” It was actually a very good idea to encourage me like that, you know, it gave me my freedom. From there, I was kind of fascinated with the electronic sounds of Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. I was mesmerized by the synthesizers and the instruments. Kind of nerdy stuff, but then my parents bought me my first synth and I never stopped.
MM: What was the first synth they bought for you?
Rodriguez Jr. : The first synthesizer was a Yamaha PSR76. It was shit, but it was everything for me at the time. There was so much to do! String sounds, brass, drums, you could program your own beats. It was magical. I just kept on getting more synthesizers from there.
MM: How did your professional career start out?
Rodriguez Jr. : I met Laurent Garnier when I was 22, who signed me to my first contract on his label, F-Communications. It was incredible for me. I remember I spent the entire summer in my studio producing music like crazy. I produced thirty tracks in three months and sent the whole batch to him. He was like, "Yeah these are good. But I'm looking for techno, so let's go for that.”
MM: Did you get to learn from Laurent first hand?
Rodriguez Jr. : Touring with him when I was 23 taught me everything I know. I remember one time before a party, Garnier told me, "Okay, we are in Liverpool, this is a crazy crew right here, so be careful because if they don't like the music they will break a bottle and will kill you with it." I was terrified. At one point Laurent and I were going back to back and he turns to me and says: "You know what, I'm gonna stop the music right now and I'm gonna play the sounds of seagulls. We are close to sea, they will LOVE it." The birds. It was like what the fuck, you cannot do that. But he put this five minute track of seagulls flying around and the people FREAKED out. Meanwhile, I'm like, "What the fuck is happening here?" He’s incredible. It's like playing chess. He thinks 15 to 20 tracks ahead. He knows what he's gonna play an hour from now. For me, Garnier is the best DJ in the world. He can play anything, anywhere, and he knows how to connect and control any crowd.
MM: Do you remember when you got into house and techno for the very first time?
Rodriguez Jr. : It was the early 90's, so I was 16, 17? Maybe younger. All these guys from Detroit were on the radio and they were my first connection with dance music. Derrick May, Strings of Life. All the music I used to listen to as a kid comes from Detroit.
MM: How would you say that the house and techno scene has changed since the 90's?
Rodriguez Jr. : It's definitely more professional now. Back then it was not a business. Now it's a proper business, in a good way. PR agencies, booking agencies, festivals. Maybe we have lost a little bit of “our” scene but it's definitely more professional, more organized, and definitely more skilled. Maybe the only annoying thing is this social media stuff.
MM: When Detroit speaks to you, what does it say?
Rodriguez Jr. : I don't even know how to explain it. It's invigorating. This mixture of soul music with electronic influence, it's a revolution for me. Being here, I know there is something in the air, there is a vibe throughout Detroit.
MM: Has Desert Hearts had an impact on your progression as an artist?
Rodriguez Jr. : Of course, it had a huge impact. I think my music definitely relates to this “tribe” feeling. It’s an entity; a lifestyle. That's very Californian, you know? I’m looking for a different kind of efficiency; instead of banging shit out, I’m trying to be more sensitive and emotional. I have always had a strong connection to melodies but now I don’t feel guilty about it. Most of the time when you play festivals in Europe you must bang the shit out. It's always been a problem for me. I remember when I started I would play Detroit techno and everybody was like, "Eh, you're playing it too slow."
MM: Are there new emotions and themes that you've been playing with for the new album?
Rodriguez Jr. : No, it's always the same for me. It's easy to do something very dark, it's a natural process for me. But I always try to reach the right balance between melancholy and optimism. I try to sit in between the two because the energy is refreshing.
MM: Which do you gravitate towards more, DJing or producing?
Rodriguez Jr. :The two sides are very important for me. I love producing and I love spinning. But at the core of my progression is experimentation, developing new stuff, building production skills. I DJ for the people, for the feedback and to see how the tools I’ve created work on the dance floor. Actually, when I tour for an extended period, the music I’m playing takes up too much space in my head. You really need both sides. Otherwise one side will die.
MM: What are your biggest musical influences?
Rodriguez Jr. :I grew up with old concept albums from Pink Floyd, Animals and Tangerine Dream. It's long enough so that you can tell a story. It's like a movie. There's a beginning, a proper story and an end. That's really important.
MM: Have you thought about using an alias to explore some other sounds?
Rodriguez Jr. : I’ll certainly explore more, but I won't use any moniker. I don't want to use different names, I think that would be a big mistake for me. Just try to be yourself. Assume your musical identity. It's not easy. Being yourself is the most difficult thing, nowadays. With social media and digital platforms everything has to be classified, formatted. So it’s a difficult challenge for an artist.
MM: Do you see yourself pursuing art outside the music realm?
Rodriguez Jr. : I don't have time for that! I'd love to, I used to paint back in the day but I had to stop. I have a family now so I don't even have time to sleep. My daughter is 10 years old so when I have an hour off I try to spend time with her. She loves to hang out in the studio connecting things together, it’s like a toy! It’s interesting for me, too, because sometimes she does something and I’m like “Oh, that’s different! I never would’ve done that!”
MM: Has your wife had an impact on your sound?
Rodriguez Jr. : She's always pushed me on the pop side. She used to listen to a lot of French pop music. Terrible music, really. But she's always like, "Hey, you know what, you should put in some vocals!" I was always like, "No, I don't want to do that." But then I did it for the first time and I enjoyed it! I now believe that you can be pop and not be cheesy.
MM: What does your new album represent in your progression as an artist?
Rodriguez Jr. :The album is a statement about who I am right now. It’s a great moment because I cannot control this music anymore. It's not mine anymore; it's finished. It's for the people. It's like air. It’s like vibration.
MM: Do you have a favorite song off the new album?
Rodriguez Jr. : I'm gonna pick two tracks. “Radian,” because it pinpoints exactly what I've tried to do on this album. To do this mixture of old influences, a lot of synth, bass, melodies and stuff like that. I think that track kind of represents the whole album very well. I'm also gonna pick “The Heart is a Woman.” It's a pop song I did with Liset Alea from Nouvelle, a very good friend of mine. I really like what we did together.
MM: Have you lost connection to your musical soul at any point in your career?
Rodriguez Jr. :Absolutely, it's easy to lose the connection. It's very easy to answer because it's one of the reasons why I decided to produce this album. When I am back home, I have my wife to bring me down to earth like, "Hey, husband! Go to the supermarket!" I tour because I love meeting new people from new cultures, but at some point I wanted to connect back with MY roots. This is why I called this album Baobab. The Baobab is a MASSIVE tree, but is one whose trunk is often much larger than its branches. It represents how important my foundation is for me as an artist. My creative need is to share my music with all the audiences I can reach, but it’s a struggle to make sure it reflects who I am.