We have a real treat for you here at BB HQ. An artist that we have been following for quite some time now and who has recently dropped his stellar EP Vision Quest on his own label Eternal Ocean – RONAN aka Robin, has been carefully curating his sound over the years into something that epitomises the word ‘eclectic’. The label’s roster boasts artists such as Tristan Arp and Plebeian – and we hear that there are some big plans in the pipeline ; ) We invited RONAN to contribute to our Times & Tunes series – in this series, each artist is asked to curate a spotify playlist that gives us a glimpse into their influences and how those influences define the artists own sound. RONAN’s selections do exactly that. It is a great insight into the varying influences of such a multifaceted producer. We suggest sticking the playlist on whilst sitting back and digging into the interview we had with him….
Yo Robin, how have you been? What’s been happening in your life recently?
Hey! I’m doing well, reporting at the moment up in a small hamlet in Cevenne mountains in the south of France, working in the garden and hiking through the chestnut forests so no complaints here;) Been a bit of a wild ride the past few months after moving out of Mexico City I’ve been bouncing around a bit but still managing to keep focused on the music stuff and seeing family for the first time since the pandemic started so it’s been overall great!
Give us the lowdown on the tracks you’ve chosen for us. What was the inspiration/idea behind your selections?
At first I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for this as I wasn’t really interested in doing just a ‘cool new dance music’ playlist as there’s more than enough of those already so I decided instead to just see what would happen if I just put all my influences from my entire musical life together in one playlist without like a real pressure to have them all work together necessarily. They kind of ended up in little sections anyway though because I couldn’t help myself in terms of creating a little narrative, but overall it might be kind of all over the place for some people, but that’s pretty much me though, so u just better deal w it xoxo <3 :ppp
How did you get started in music? Do you play any instruments? Have you always been into electronic music?
I’m the youngest child in my family by 8 years so when I was about 5 my older siblings starting taking piano lessons piano so I started plunking around and also found an old violin my Dad had so I began piano and violin lessons around then and continued with that for about 12 years, doing classical stuff mostly but also a bunch of traditional Irish music on the fiddle which I’m actually just getting back and it’s amazing. My older brother would give me a spindle full of burnt CD’s every Christmas as a kid so that was a big part of my musical exposure as I lived on a small island in Washington without much contact with the rest of the world really. In those he had like Nirvana and all the 90’s rock stuff but also like The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy and I distinctly remember that ravey and electronic stuff really resonating as a young kid. Later when dubstep became a thing in the states I was like 14 or 15 and would play Call of Duty while listening to Excision’s Shambala mix and hilarious stuff like that and I loved it, Daft Punk also was becoming a thing around then and I think I watched the anime they did for the Discovery album at least 100 times easy… the main thing for me is that styles and genres have always just been touchstones for inspiration, ‘electronic’ music is such a broad signifier especially nowadays that I tend to avoid describing my music that way as for me I want to use genre the same way I would use rhythm, texture or melody, just as another musical element to play around with. Obviously the cultural histories of music play a big part in all of this and those aspects interest me hugely, I guess it’s about making your own personal map and drawing new connections between things, at least that’s what I’m working on anyways :)
How important was the Groovy Groovy Rave series in influencing where you are today musically?
It was huge!! Groovy was like that first proper introduction to rave/sound system experiences and what an intro it was… I had no idea really how special those parties were until I left NYC and realized that those types of spaces you just don’t really find that often. I got to know some of my closest friends and we all grew up so much through those years together. Those memories are super special and nostalgic, some really tender and emotional moments were had, like at the end of the parties we would always be playing back to back at the end and I’d be like weeping and laughing at the same time while playing some jungle track… legendary times…
What artists/genres do you draw inspiration from? How much non-electronic stuff do you listen to?
Sort of as I mentioned earlier I just listen to basically everything, everything-core is my genre. Really though, I go through phases as I have my whole life and what’s really cool about this moment and maybe that’s also coming from just getting a bit older and knowing myself better is that it’s all like coming full circle. Like I had this really sick moment where I was riding around the electric scooters in Berlin and was listening to Soasin and Third Eye Blind and all this emo shit I used to blast on my iPod and I like couldn’t stop it was so satisfying, I actually pulled up to this like techno party under a bridge there and took my earpods out and was like damn like I would rather keep them in like wow Techno is so boring sometimes… I just have this thing where I simultaneously take music super seriously and also not at all, like it’s something that should be fun and communal and in the end bring us closer together and to ourselves. Specific like contemporary artist wise, I think I feel the most inspired by people just like really making the most of this new era we’re in and going full tilt into their craft, my homies Delbert and Luca who play together as INVT are mad inspiring to me, their energy and passion for music is so infectious. My bestie Teleself who also helped run Groovy is so talented and inspiring as well and I’m so happy to see him finally putting his music out and just doing it himself, Shy who runs 3XL and his partner Naemi aka Exael who I stayed with in Berlin for a bit are also like some of the most insanely talented and just generally beautiful people I have ever met, and they both like also embody this like everything fits and like anti-structuralist approach which keeps everything super fresh and vibed-up <3 Also been so obsessed with Caroline Polachek and Oklou from a pop perspective, what both of them are up to is so refreshing and just so fun to listen to. Besides music stuff, honestly just being in nature is the most inspiring thing to me, silence and the sounds of the earth are the most potent places to find your creativity in my opinion.
Could you show us your studio set-up? Perhaps a pic and explain how you use different gear. Feel free to link a youtube/insta/tiktok vid or something if you’d like (no pressure though).
Honestly right now it’s nothing much to look at, this is a picture from my last work space in Mexico City but since I left NYC in 2018 I haven’t really had a proper studio setup and have made basically everything since the first record I put out on my laptop and headphones and this tiny little middle keyboard that I can travel with. I will hopefully have a more permanent space soon to set all my stuff up again but it’s also really forced me to work with what I have had and realize that it’s really not about that gear or plugins or sample packs or anything, if you want to make something, you’ll find a way.
Massive congratulations on the release of your latest EP Vision Quest, on your own label Eternal Ocean. What’s the story behind these tracks? How did the EP come about? Any particular sources of inspiration?
Thanks! What’s funny about that EP is that the music is mad old actually! :P I made all of those tracks in the studio I shared with two friends in Ridgewood, NY and to be completely honest I have very little memory of actually making them as it’s been like 4 years since then. I promised myself after putting this one out finally that I’m never going to wait this long to put music out because it just puts so much distance between you and the tunes, but it’s cute in it’s own way because they are like this little time capsule of that moment in my life. I had just kind of discovered jungle music and so there’s that thread running through the whole record, obviously the first track being like a pretty direct ‘94, Lucky Spin Records sort of intelligent jungle inspired thing, but I think it’s also like indicative that there’s like 4 distinct different genres/tempos/vibes going on over the separate tracks, I just wanted to explore dub, breaks, jazz and whatever else was coming in at the time. The last track, the one with Will DiMaggio is super special as well, I distinctly remember our studio session and him just laying down all these juicy lines and I was basically just like looping him and making the bass lines and drum loops as we went along so it was like sort of done live in like one long take and then I edited it down later. The title, Vision Quest, is coming also from this sort of spiritual trip I was on at the time, learning and reading a lot about indigenous cultures and this coming of age process that’s quite common where they would send young people out into nature to find themselves through various trials and tribulations and come back into society as adults, I was sort of finding that process happening to me in a modern context while living in the crazy sometimes hellish landscape of New York City and sort of finding myself through some pretty out there experiences I was having at the time. I’ve been thinking about actually writing something about that time as there’s some pretty good stories to be told…
Could you share one of your favourite new musical discoveries over lockdown?
To be honest, I sort of checked out of music and keeping up with everything over lockdown and I’m just now sort of getting back into it. However, I did get really into these ‘Relaxing Video Game Music for 3 Hours’ videos on youtube, there’s like 20 volumes or something of them and I would just put them on throughout the day and it’s truly the vibe. Video game music is such a special and underappreciated genre, so many gems slip through the cracks… for example *swoons* :
Could you talk us through your DJ sets? What’s the vibe you go for? What are you thinking about when you’re looking for the next track to play?
Oh man, I haven’t played a gig since March 2020 so let me see… I tend to think a lot about the context of the space in which I am going to be playing. I try to imagine what type of mindspace I might be as a listener whether I’m just showing up at 11pm and sort of getting settled into a space or it’s 4am and I’m fully juiced and just sort of going for it. I think about the people I’m playing for and trying to strike this balance between introducing to them new sounds they might be unfamiliar with while also inviting them in with rhythms or tunes they already know or have a context for understanding. I think through your selection you can really have a conversation with people this way and take them on a journey through your own little sound world. I am always trying to find new combinations of styles and put things together in ways that haven’t been done yet, to varying degrees of success I might add. I can also be a bit antagonistic sometimes as a DJ, like pushing people outside their comfort zones a bit or bringing an element of humor and playfulness to help people relax and push against the serious and standoffish vibe which can sometimes creep into certain party spaces. The role of a DJ is actually quite important when it comes down to it as you’re the vibe controller of a space and so being at the same time totally in your own world and also intimately connected with what is happening on the other side of the speaker stack is crucial, and it definitely can take some time to where you can just really relax into the space and really run things, but as any dancer can attest when the DJ is really on it, the energy they give off and imbue into the music is super infectious and takes you to a whole other level.
How do you organise your music for gigs?
Honestly because I’ve never toured or had to play tons of gigs in a short amount of time, I have always had the opportunity to create like really curated playlists for the gigs I’ve had so I basically just go through all my tunes in Rekordbox after importing them from iTunes (best method I’ve found for organizing your music library on a PC) and I just sort various ways, mostly by BPM so I will find older stuff as well as newer stuff to put together. I kind of find it quite boring and sort of disposable (maybe too harsh a word but still) like only playing out super new/forthcoming music, it starts to feel like a competition of who can play out their sick new promo first and feel like super future and contemporary. I’m all for supporting new music and new stuff in general, it’s definitely what pushes things forward and not stagnating but at the same time at least for me, it’s more interesting to create new connections between the present and the past as there is such a rich lineage for each of the almost infinite strains of ‘dance’ music we listen to nowadays and to not educate ourselves as DJ’s and by proxy our listeners always feels like a missed opportunity and at the very worst an erasure of the true originators of the sounds…
What’s one track you’re dying to play out at a gig?
Other than music what else are you into? Do you have a job/hobbies?
For sure, job wise I’ve started this educational platform this year called Mela where I’ve been offering one on one music tutoring and coaching which covers everything from hands on technical stuff for production and mixing to more artistic development work with people who feel like they need some critical input on their music and maybe how to take it to the next level or get it out to more people. Hobbies… well I am always on some sort of like personal development tip, so whether I’m doing some movement practice or trying to focus on learning more about nutrition or health related stuff, I think that sort of stuff is really important for me in having a stable situation mentally and emotionally as really trying to be an artist full time career wise can be quite the challenge to say the least… I also really love video games and fantasy/sci-fi stuff so when I have the time I’ll play Breath Of The Wild or read some Gibson, Toklein or Octavia Butler. Dreams and altered states of reality has also been a lifelong interest so I’ll also be listening to podcasts and reading stuff related to that, would especially recommend ‘Diamonds From Heaven: LSD and the Mind of The Universe’ by Christopher Bache for anyone interested in deep psychedelic work, wildest book I have read in the past few years….
We love your label Eternal Ocean. What made you decide to start the label? How do you look for tracks/artists to sign? Do you accept demos? How would you describe the label’s sound?
Thanks! I basically started Eternal Ocean out of necessity, I had been living in New York for almost 2 years and had finally made some music I was really proud of and was sort of like waiting for someone to put me on and give me like recognition or validation I was looking for at the time. I think it was a really important moment actually for my personal growth to just say, actually I’m going to give that to myself and just put my own thing together and see where it takes me, bring my own chair to the table type of thing. In the beginning I really had no idea what I was doing but now, 3 years down the line and having learned from a fair number of mistakes, I feel really proud of it and super excited about the future. I’m always down to listen to people’s demos, nowadays I have so many hats I’m wearing sometimes I don’t get to listen to everything as quickly as I would like but actually the second record by Awo Ojiji came about after he sent me those tunes out of nowhere. I remember putting them on my earbuds riding my bike to work one day and literally having to stop my bike to finish listening and emailed him right there on the side of the road saying let’s put this out! So glad it worked out as those tracks are timeless and he ended up being such a great guy to work with. Going forward though, I think people are going to have to expand their idea of the label as I will be putting more and more diverse stuff out. I just started this alias ‘A Little Seal’ where I’m singing and stuff and there’s even acoustic, sort of jazz-folk stuff coming down the line along with the psychedelic sound system music so prepare yourselves! For me, music is music and the common denominator will always be my taste, so there’ll always be something for everybody <3
Any underrated talent out there you think you should mention? Or anyone else who deserves a shoutout?
Well I gotta give a shout to Andrew aka Plebeian who’s record we just announced and is coming out in September, he’s really come into his own with this one and tbh there’s nothing that sounds like it so you gotta go cop it. My buddy Josue aka Boundary from the Dominican Republic is such an insanely talented musician and graphic designer, so definitely check out his back catalogue. Also the Slink crew in NYC is really really killing it, so happy to see Enayet putting his music out as he’s one of the most masterful producers I’ve ever met hands down. Honestly, big up anyone out there just doing it and not waiting around for other people to make their dreams come true, it’s up to you, make it happen!
Any insightful advice to budding producers/DJs out there?
Literally the last sentence of that last question’s answer. Don’t quit, it’s not about reinventing the wheel or being better than anyone else, it’s about improving yourself, and also building a life around your craft that’s actually sustainable for the long term because this shit takes time!! Be patient! Keep at it but don’t rush anything, you don’t have to make it at 22 or 25 or 30, in fact the whole ‘making it’ concept is super flawed anyways so throw it out, if you get the big gigs and big paycheck but inside you’re super burnt out and emotionally and spiritually depleted then what’s the point? Keep checking in with yourself and have as much fun with all of it as you can, life’s a game, so grind for the sick upgrades, take the side quests but don’t forget about the main storyline!
Finally, what’s next for RONAN!? Tell us about your planned move to Europe and this new LP!
Well, I’ve made it over here to France where my Mom lives but I’ve got to go back to NYC in September to play Sustain and also apply for a long stay visa so fingers crossed that goes through! After that, I’m probably going to settle down in a small town in the mountains somewhere and finally get my studio set up again after all these years. Yep, I do have my debut album coming out this fall and it’s definitely a big moment as it’s the largest body of work I’ve put out and culminates about 2 years of music making. It’s basically like 3 different EP’s woven together with these strains of jungle, techno and percussive clubby stuff all playing off each other. I’m super excited for people to hear it and even more excited to wipe the slate clean and start working on whatever comes next…