Toronto native Roberto (soundcloud) has recently been quietly making a name for himself. As a veteran DJ in his local scene for the last two decades, he’s managed to host and play a multitude of parties, both headlining and supporting some of the world’s top talent in the process. Over the last couple of years he’s also started to gain traction internationally, specifically on the production front. As one half of Conga Radio with Jex Opolis and also under his solo moniker, he’s now released EPs and singles on a selection of labels such as Good Timin’, Superior Elevation, No Bad Days and Red Motorbike. His sound can’t really be categorized but his output can be both tough and fairly whimsical, but, more often than not it is a combination of the two.
This is someone you should definitely be keeping an eye on, as we have been, and this is why we’ve invited him to play at our Piknic Electronik stage. Ahead of the event, we’ve asked him to put an assortment of tunes together for us while also letting us dig a little into his background. Find out more about Roberto and his influences in the interview below. You can catch Roberto alongside Silktits and Seb Wildblood at our Piknic Electronik stage on June 10th.
Let’s start with the usual – beginnings. Where’d you get your musical start, what or who pushed your influences into house/disco/beyond growing up?
I don’t know about the very start but in terms of dance music specifically, without a doubt Eddie C was the one who introduced me to it. We went to the same high school and became friends around ’92 or ’93 I think. At the time I thought dance music was pretty cheesy, but he’d play me these hardcore breakbeat records, you know like early jungle stuff and it just blew my mind. I was already heavily into punk and industrial etc., but yeah that was pivotal for me… I mean I’m still into it all this time later! We’re still buds too.
As you’ve been a local DJ in the Toronto scene for quite some time, we’d like to know what your first major breakthrough was in terms of DJing?
My first regular gig in Toronto was at this bar called Babylon in the gay village. It was pretty small but had great sound and a great DJ booth that looked out onto Church Street from the third floor. Some friends and I did a Thursday night there called Dub Poetics for I think 3 years or so. We had a lot of great local and regional DJs play with us and it really was a breakthrough for me in terms of finding my place in the community. The scene in Toronto was so vibrant then! I already knew many of the DJs and promoters, but that was a place where I could be myself and show that I wasn’t shit, haha. That started in I think ’98.
How about your first breakthrough on the production front? When did that take place and prior to Roberto/Conga Radio, were you doing something else?
I’ve put a few things out over the years under various names but when Jex and I did the first Conga Radio record that was a big boost for me. Certainly more interest in my own work came out of that.
When did Conga Radio start, how did your close relationship with Jex Opolis come to be?
I actually met Jex buying the first Good Timin’ record off him! I saw that he was based in Toronto so I messaged him on Discogs because I wanted to save on the shipping, haha. We met up at a subway station and figured out that we knew a bunch of the same people and were into a lot of the same records. Anyway we started chatting and hanging out a fair bit and eventually got together to try making music. I think we got 2 or 3 tunes written that first session and realized we worked well together.
2016 was a pretty big year for you with quite a few solo releases coming out with EPs on Good Timin’, No Bad Days and a couple of solo releases as well on Superior Elevation and Red Motorbike. How did those come about? Were you sitting on a bunch of material and things just sort of fell into place?
Those releases came on the heels of a fairly productive stretch, yeah. At the time I was buying and selling lots of synths and studio hardware and just having fun learning new gear and experimenting. So yes, I was sitting on handful of decent demos that I polished up for the releases.
I knew Tom Noble from playing a couple gigs together and obviously I knew Eddie and Jex very well, so basically those releases just came from sharing tunes with buddies. I connected with Jake and Gabriel from No Bad Days over the internet and that was just a great fit musically that came together really quickly. That’s a couple of real nice guys there.
Do you feel like you’ve received more local and possibly international attention within the past year or so? You’ve recently had a gig lined up in Brooklyn and of course the one in Montreal at Piknic, which we are promoting here, so it seems like your production and DJing path is starting to take you to new surroundings.
A bit more, yeah. Jex organized a tour to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Good Timin’ earlier this year. We played NYC, Montreal and Toronto together which was a lot of fun. I played a show in Quebec City as well this winter which was excellent. Honestly any time someone reaches out and wants me to come play their show because they like my records or mixes, I mean, that is about as good as it gets. I’d love to travel more but I’m not really out there chasing it like a lot of other cats are. I am very fortunate I get to play in Toronto pretty often, then a few little trips each year spice things up nicely. But hey, anybody reading this who wants to party gimme a ring! haha
And yes, I’m really, really looking forward to Piknic! I’ve attended numerous times over the years as a patron so I’m stoked to be on the other side of the stage for this one.
Are you regularly continuing your work in the studio or are you finding it hard to balance “real” life with that of music? Have you got something lined up coming out in the near future that you can share with us?
Every day I try to work in the studio for at least a bit, but yeah it’s tough. I have a fairly demanding full time job and the remaining few hours in the day often just isn’t quality creative time. It makes completing new material a pretty slow process for me. That said, I am working on some new stuff that I’m excited about. I just finished an EP that will be coming out later this year on the label Pulp out of Spain. Also working on collaborations with Eddie C and Ciel that I’m super pumped about.
We touched upon you being a regular in the Toronto scene, as you’re very active in helping to promote both your own records, gigs and those of friends as well. How are you finding it is evolving over the past several years? Any special shout outs to people in Toronto or beyond that you think deserve some more recognition?
It is definitely blooming! The scene in Toronto, or at least the little corner of it that I hang around is a really great community. There is a lot of new talent coming up and it seems like a lot of younger people are genuinely interested in dance music which I feel hasn’t been the case for quite a while. People are supporting each other’s efforts and collaborating all the time. It’s a really exciting time and there is an abundance of excellent music happening every week despite a relative scarcity of venues.
I could fill a whole page with Torontonians deserving of more recognition but I’d like to give a shout to some of the badass femmes that are working hard and making waves in Toronto right now; Ciel and her Work In Progress radio show and parties, Kehdo, Efemmera & Ceremonies and their On Earth parties, Milch from the Invisible City team, Korea Town Acid who just put out an amazing EP, Babygirl, Jaime Sin, Diana McNally, Club Fitness and Stacey Sexton are all super talented, knowledgeable DJs that you will be hearing more about soon if you haven’t already.
Any particular music you’re feeling at the moment? Could you highlight some tracks you just can’t put down?
Well, I think I have every record Roza Terenzi has put out. She is definitely one of my fave producers at the moment. Also Khotin has been on fire lately, I’m picking up everything he’s putting down. The new Benedek is serious top shelf stuff, pure class. And I’m enjoying the recent Darling releases as well, stoked to check his new LP.
How and where was the mix recorded and anything you want to add about it?
It was recorded live in my attic studio with two turntables, two XDJs, my little rotary mixer and a delay pedal. I did two takes and was happy with the second pass. I wanted it to have a nice summery vibe but still have a bit of toughness which I think comes through. Hope you guys like it!
Interview by Igor