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Behind the Scenes at RBMA Madrid, Part 2

  • Words: Shawn Reynaldo
  • Photo: Dan Wilton, Gianfranco Tripodo/Red Bull Content Pool

Last week, XLR8R editor Shawn Reynaldo made the trek to Madrid to check out a portion of this year's Red Bull Music Academy. The recap of the whirlwind that was his first two days at the Academy can be found here, but read on for the highlights of the trip's second half.

Day 3: Sunday, November 20

My third day of RBMA began in the afternoon, where the Academy had temporarily relocated to La Casa Encendida, a sort of cultural center in Madrid. More importantly, the RBMA activities on this day were fully open to the public, including a couple of lectures in the vein of those normally provided to Academy participants.

When I entered the main hall of La Casa Encendida, UK radio staple Benji B was perched on the couch and expounding about his history with music. Although he's now considered a veteran and hosts a influential late-night program on BBC Radio 1, Benji actually hustled his way into a radio job with Gilles Peterson while he was still a teenager. Apart from detailing his history on the airwaves, he also spoke about his love of music—particularly that of J. Dilla and many of those influenced by him—and the elaborate listening regimen that he still follows to make sure that he's always playing the best and freshest new tunes.

The Benji B lecture actually ran quite long, so the following talk, with Austrian producer Dorian Concept, was unfortunately a bit rushed. Nonetheless, the mop-topped artist—who actually spent the entire second RBMA term in Madrid as one of the Academy's studio crew—was rather engaging, largely due to the fact that he is simultaneously both incredibly awkward and oddly adorable. Over the course of about 45 minutes, he spoke about his parents' failed attempt to make him the next Mozart, his eventual discovery of electronic music, his intitial forays into production, and his ongoing love affair with the MicroKORG.

After the lecture portion of the event came to a close, that same love affair was quickly put on display, as Dorian Concept kicked off the evening with a live performance. He actually came on stage wearing a fake moustache—in tribute to fellow RBMA studio crew member Marco Passarani—but that didn't stop him from delivering a fun, energy-filled set. At this point, Dorian Concept's sound is both pretty well defined and rather unique, combining warped and twisted synth sounds with frantic percussion that hints at hip-hop and garage, but is actually far more complex.

The next performance shifted gears rather dramatically, as Oneohtrix Point Never stepped up to deliver an (almost) beatless set of synth-driven bliss. Accompanied by the visuals of Nate Boyce, which were actually quite good, OPN delivered quality music and explored more complex sounds along the lines of his most recent album, Replica. The only downside was that as the set wore on, the crowd became a bit restless and began to lose interest. Blame the early-evening performance time, or the fact that the show was free to the public, but Oneohtrix Point Never is probably best enjoyed in a setting where the entire audience is dedicated to being engaged with his mind-expanding music.

Rounding out the festivities at La Casa Encendida was a hybrid DJ set/live performance from James Pants. The fun-loving artist was certainly entertaining, serving up a party-friendly mix of funk, soul, disco, rock and roll, hip-hop, and assorted oldies while running around on stage, occasionally playing live drums, and hopping on the mic. Although the sound in the room wasn't great (a problem that seemed to plague nearly all of Madrid), his set inserted some much-needed energy back into the room and ended the event on an enjoyable note.

While most events would call it an evening after that, RBMA was only just getting started, as the entire crew headed over to the cozy Siroco for another all-night rager. Dubbed Generation Bass and presented in conjunction with Madrid's Post Club party, the stacked lineup featured DJ sets from Scuba, Pearson Sound, and a slew of RBMA participants, one of whom, xxxy, was overseeing a packed dancefloor when I walked in. Combining some garage-leaning UK productions with a whole lot of pulsing Chicago house, he quickly worked the club into a frenzy.

Pearson Sound was the next act to step into the DJ booth, and immediately took things deeper, dropping new tunes that, although suited for the club, featured a lot more white space and experimental spirit. Although his set never quite seemed to hit its stride, the selections were quite good. More importantly, it was great to hear music on something resembling a decent soundsystem and Siroco's tiny basement vibe was a welcome change from some of the massive clubs and venues I'd seen previously.

Once Scuba took over the turntables, the vibe once again shifted pretty dramatically, as the Hotflush boss interestingly dropped a set that was heavy on house, albeit with a sort of disco/boogie feel. It certainly wasn't bad, and he maintained a solid dancefloor, but it was a bit unexpected.

Throughout the evening, the upstairs lounge at Siroco—which unfortunately had a lacking soundsystem—was piloted by an array of RBMA participants, only one of which I actually managed to catch for a prolonged period. Fortunately though, that set came from Turkish selector Biblo, whose original productions are pleasantly noisy, dubbed-out creations that at times resemble the music of artists like Grouper. However, on this night, she used her DJ set to serve up a steady diet of old-school dub records, which were actually both really fun and a welcome change from the pounding beats that dominated much of the RBMA experience.

Nevertheless, those beats did lure me back downstairs to check out another RBMA participant, Barcelona-based (and Argentina-born) Nehuen. The young beatmaker and DJ impressed in a major way, offering up a cracking, drum-heavy set of bass music before moving into some juke sounds that were even more wild. He definitely re-energized the floor after the more mature sounds that preceded his set, and kept the party going strong until things wrapped up around 5 a.m.

Day 4: Monday, November 20

With the weekend officially in the books, the particpants and RBMA crew all wandered groggily back to the Acamedy on Monday morning for another busy day. Per usual, things began with a lecture, this one with Oneohtrix Point Never. Although his trippy music wouldn't lead one to think so, the Brooklyn-based artist was actually quite hilarious, especially when he spoke at length about his family (his parents immigrated from Russia in the '80s), his love of (and lack of skill with) videogames, and his musical beginnings in suburban Massachusetts. Things did get heavier once the conversation ventured toward his own music, as it quickly became apparent that a whole lot of thought and intellectualization goes into his art.

The second lecture guest of the afternoon was Scuba, who offered a lot of insights into the London club scene of the late '90s/early '00s, particularly in relation to the evolution of garage, grime, and dubstep. Not surprisingly, he didn't have many kind words for the present state of the latter, despite his key, albeit peripheral, role in its development over the years. He also talked about the formation of the Hotflush label, his eventual move to Berlin, and the difficult task of balancing his work as a DJ, producer, and label boss.

Once Monday evening rolled around, it was time again for another RBMA event, and this one was not another late-night party in a dance club. Instead, RBMA took over CentroCentro at the Palacio de Cibeles, better known as Madrid's City Hall. Dubbed Sound in Colour, the audio-visual event was the first time the space had ever been used for this sort of purpose.

In coordination with art collective Klang!, RBMA truly did transform the building, installing lights, video projections, and interactive visuals to create an immersive experience. In terms of music, 15 different RBMA participants were all tapped to perform one song each. While some performances were better than others—the conditions weren't necessarily ideal for the sonically varied lineup—but the concept was cool and the overall atmosphere was so impressive that just about everyone left with a smile on their face.

Day 5: Tuesday, November 20

My final day at the Red Bull Music Academy was a short one, as an afternoon flight out of Madrid meant that I could only pop in for a portion of the day's first lecture, which featured UK producer Pearson Sound. Only 23 years old, the artist charmingly described his rather quick ascension in the DJ/producer ranks, and also talked about his love for London parties such as FWD and DMZ. Perhaps the biggest highlight was when he played a track that he had produced at the age of 14 or 15, a raved-up drum & bass number (without much in the way of actual bass) that he apparently presented at the time to his physics teacher, who was also a fan of electronic music. Just as he began to speak about the founding of his Hessle Audio label, I unfortunately had to cut out and hop in a taxi. The participants, lectures, studio sessions, and, of course, the parties will continue through the end of the week, but my time at RBMA in Madrid had come to a close.

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