Robert Istoc leads a quiet existence. Having moved from Bacău to Bucharest just over four years ago, the majority of his time—when not DJing—is split between making music in his home studio or walking his beloved dog in one of the city's numerous parks. "I like to spend time with my thoughts," he explains, quietly. "I enjoy being alone."
As an artist he is similarly discreet. Barring a brief profile on the Sunrise Booking Agency website, there are absolutely no details to be found on him. There has not been one interview and there is only one recorded mix available to stream, published in March 2014 by nightclubber. Despite a production and DJ career that spans almost eight years, he doesn’t yet have a Resident Advisor page; if you wish to find out his touring dates and see him play then you must rely on either Facebook or fortune. Indeed, the few times I’ve seen him—including May’s Sunwaves Festival and June’s Arpiar event in Barcelona—have been down to the latter; and on each occasion he has been the highlight on a lineup that included the likes of Raresh, Rhadoo, Cezar and Petre Inspirescu.
That being said, those who have grown to appreciate the rolling grooves coming out of Romania over recent years will likely have heard Dubtil’s name—or almost certainly heard his music played out. His blissful “Isitor” track was a standout on Raresh’s Fabric78 release, and many of Romania’s more lauded names are known to use unreleased Dubtil productions in their sets. But for those true followers of this vibrant scene—those who take time to explore beyond the work of these main figures—Dubtil’s allure is growing be something of a main attraction. His Sunwaves set was as well attended as any; and his productions—very few of which ever see release—expose an artist with considerable studio skill.
A blissful, rolling 120-minute club recording laced with the dubby overtones and some of the finest mixing you’re likely to hear, this week’s podcast vindicates those who have supported Dubtil from the very start. In addition to this, Dubtil also offered his first interview, explaining his story and thoughts on his artistic development to date.
You keep an extremely low profile in comparison to other artists, and have not really done any press before. Is this where you feel most comfortable?
It’s not a choice. It’s because I don’t really have anything interesting to say. I don’t have any musical background and my family wasn’t particularly musical. My father was always whistling through the house but he certainly wasn’t a musician. There just isn’t so much of an interesting story with me!
Where did you learn to DJ?
I learned the basics through friends at first. It’s simple. Then I taught myself. I wanted to become a DJ from the moment I went to my first discotheque about 12 years ago—when I was 17. I wasn’t a raver; this was actually my first time in the club. And that’s when I decided to start learning to mix records, on two CDJs to begin with. I just knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do. It took me about a year to learn how to beat-match, and then it was a constant struggle to find places to play. In Bacău, where I grew up, it was especially difficult to find these places because there weren’t many clubs. Clubs tended to open up for one year and then shut down, so you’d have to be continually searching. But I think most of the DJs from Romania went through something similar.
Did you begin producing around the same time?
Yes. I started experimenting with production just after I started to DJ. It began with Fruity Loops then I move to Ableton. 2009 was my first release—as NoiDoi [his collaboration with Barac]—but I had started producing a long time before that, around 2006 at about the age of 18 or 19.
"Photography was the backup; it was my security if I didn’t succeed as a DJ."
Were you studying or working around this time?
I was actually still in High School at the time I first started to mix. I took the final exam and then I started college and also found myself a day job editing photographs. A family friend had a business in photography and I wanted to make my own money so this friend made me an offer. I didn’t know how to do it at the time, but I learned quickly. In my spare time I was learning to produce and beat-match. Photography was the backup; it was my security if I didn’t succeed as a DJ.
And when did you begin DJing full-time?
I dropped out of college after two years and then finished my photography job two years after that, at 22. I wanted to take my chances and it was just too difficult to do all three! It made me feel really bad mentally and physically.
When did you meet Barac (Barac Nicolae) and start the NoiDoi project?
I met Nicu before I quit my photography job. He was also working and living in Bacău. We used to both be at our workplaces and we would speak with each other about dropping out and then we both decided to quit our jobs around the same time. We stayed in Bacău for about a year or two, just playing at Zebra club—where Raresh was a resident. And we started NoiDoi then and we began producing and performing together—as DJs and also live.
When did you first come across the others in the scene, like Raresh, Rhadoo and Pedro?
I also met them at Zebra, where we were all playing. That was a place where everyone came and we all met there. Nicu [Barac] and I then began producing tracks as NoiDoi and we began sending them out. From there, we all got to know each other and it has just developed.
Why and when did you move to Bucharest?
After a while, we realised that Bacău was not the place be. There weren’t parties very often and so we decided to move to Bucharest. I actually came first around four years ago in 2012, then Nicu came a little bit later.
Bucharest, as we’ve discovered, has a very interesting music scene. Do you believe that your move there has strongly influenced the music that you play and produce?
Without question. There are so many places that you can go. Almost every weekend something is happening. You can always go and listen to someone interesting play—be it a young kid or a well-known name—and this is great for inspiration. Then you can go back into the studio and work on new music.
Do you find yourself going out a lot in for fresh ideas?
I do try to go out as much as possible to find ideas, yes. But it’s not always possible. I also like to be alone with myself and my thoughts.
Let’s talk more about the NoiDoi project with Barac. You enjoyed considerable success, both as producers and as DJs. Why did the project end in 2013?
We played together for quite some time. But there weren’t so many gigs because we were not very well known and there were two of us so it was expensive for promoters to pay for two flights etc. It just felt natural for it to end because we thought it would be easier to get more gigs as solo artists. We began playing alone before the project ended and then it just faded out. As you can see, it was a good decision.
"It’s not my goal to produce a track and then instantly release it; rather I make music because I love doing it."
You don’t actually release so much—it’s three EPs in the space of three years. Do you limit the number of releases that you do per year?
I am always producing. As Dubtil I have a lot of tracks completed on my hard drive—but not many of them are released because I am not trying to release them! It’s not my goal to produce a track and then instantly release it; rather I make music because I love doing it. Some of them are played out and shared with friends, but some of them just sit there on my computer and nobody ever really sees them.
Do you not release them because you like having unreleased material in your DJ sets?
No, this is not the reason. I haven’t released so much because I have never had the proposals because not many people know about me—and I’ve never wanted to start my own label, until now.
So how did your releases on Amphia, Metereze and Understand come about?
For Metereze, Raresh just came to me and proposed to me that we release the EP and so we did. The same thing happened with Understand and then with Cristi [Cons] for Amphia. They liked the tracks and then we released them.
It’s a strange idea to have all this music on your computer and not want to share it.
I don’t think about it like that. I do share it—just not through releases and labels. I choose to share it with people when I DJ. All my music goes to my DJ sets; that’s how I share it. It becomes my personal selection because I play what I like from my tracks. I also give them to my friends to play them out—I don’t keep it all for myself. It gives me great joy to see my tracks being played out.
Do you wish to release more frequently in the future?
Perhaps. But I also feel that my productions aren’t the best—and I still have a lot to learn. The quality of my sound is not where I want it to be right now. I will always continue producing, but I won’t release so much until I feel satisfied with my sound. Then I could even start a label, but who knows?
"The vocals can be used as an instrument to inspire an emotion rather than create it."
Your use of vocals in your sets is interesting. Some of the tracks that you play have vocals but they are always chopped up and subtle—at 28 minutes in the mix, for example. What are your thoughts on vocals in music?
I actually don't use vocals so much because I think they are too direct. I like the audience to think for themselves rather than being told to feel a certain emotion. The vocals can be used as an instrument to inspire an emotion rather than create it.
How much time do you spend in the studio?
It’s hard to say. Sometimes I make one, two or even three tracks per day—and I’ll do this each day for two or three weeks. On the other hand, I’ll have periods of a few months where I won’t do any tracks and will stay away from the studio. Production is not something that I feel like I have to do: I just want to take it very easy. If an idea comes to mind and I am in the house then I will turn on the drum machines and begin playing.
It’s striking that you don’t put any pressure on yourself.
Exactly. This is very important to me. It’s important that I do not feel obligated to do something. I don’t want to DJ or produce because I feel I have to. I think you have to do everything because you like it, not because you have to.
Do you have an end goal as to where you want to be?
No—not at all. I never picture myself in the future. I just live in the present and keep doing what I enjoy doing. I have to be patient. I think all things should happen in the natural way. I just let things flow naturally and I believe things will then happen.
Is this why you keep such a low profile—without a Resident Advisor page or anything?
I just don’t consider it necessary to have these things. It’s not something I try to do or seek to protect. I think with a little bit more patience and time from my side then things will happen. I am still young and I don’t want to rush anything. It took me a while to learn this patience but I feel that if I keep doing what I am doing and stay relaxed then things will happen for me. You don’t need to force it. This is how I feel most comfortable.
But it’s also necessary to “push” your music to a certain extent. Do you not agree?
I know. I do have a Facebook page that is managed by someone, and she posts when it’s necessary. But beyond that I do not really know what I can do because I do not have so many releases. What else can I do? It’s not easy to push yourself without being all over the place.
Many of your peers—even those from Romania—are travelling and playing frequently. Is this something that you think you could do?
I think I will begin playing more often because I want to buy more stuff for the studio. All this analog gear is expensive and I need to buy it somehow. But at the same time I want to ensure I have space and time in my life because otherwise you can get to the age of 50 and be really messed up. I want to have a life also.
Do you really enjoy the DJing?
Yes. DJing is the highest thing. It’s what I enjoy the most. Everything around just disappears when I am DJing—playing for five hours can feel like five minutes. It’s what I like the most. I’ve also tried the live set with NoiDoi but we both felt unsatisfied with it. It’s not the thing for me right now; for the time being I just want to DJ.
The set was recorded at an Understand label night at Guesthouse club.
Main Photo: Elephant Studio at Barcelona Loud-Contact Arpiar showscase.