|Petre Inspirescu: Classical house
The Romanian's love of house music is well-known, but as RA's Todd L. Burns found out, his ambition reaches much further than 120 beats per minute.
"I hate this." Petre Inspirescu is at the end of the row in a theater trying to enjoy the Moritz Von Oswald Trio. Throughout the performance, people attempt to file out quickly and quietly into the Krakow night, and the Romanian DJ is frustrated. The night before, he tells me, he went to hear classical music in Bucharest and there was also a mix-up regarding seats. The story seems complicated—someone had tickets, but was sitting somewhere else, someone was late, etc. etc.—but my main concern is that Inspirescu, house DJ, afterparty king, is expressing disappointment over seats at "serious music" venues. Huh?
Alongside fellow countrymen Rhadoo and Raresh, Inspirescu has traveled the world, exporting a deep and experimental take on house music. Gaining success through their support from top-flight DJs such as Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano, the crew leads a new generation of Romanian talent that matured right as the Berlin Wall fell and is seeing the fruits of a vibrant scene that emerged in its wake.
Nowadays, Inspirescu is looking forward. In the past year, he quietly began to release work on a new label called Yojik Concon under the Pi Ensemble name, and has begun to merge his new love—classical music—and his perpetual love—house music—into something that has a great deal of potential if the first two releases are any indication. As our chat revealed, however, that's only the beginning.
Tell me about growing up in Romania. Did you grow up in Bucharest?
No, I grew up in Brăila, which is about 200 km from Bucharest. It's a small town, a poor town. Although when I was born it wasn't. It was the second port in Romania, it's on the Danube, but it became really poor. It used to be very important, as my dad told me—a lot of Turks used to come there and they were doing a lot of business.
What did your dad do?
My dad is an economist. He doesn't have anything in common with the port. He was working in tourism management and, at that point, it was the Communist period so we only had one travel agency, the governmental national travel agency.
Was there music in your house growing up?
Not much electronic music, no. To be honest, I don't really remember but I think the first time I heard something like that I heard disco maybe for the first time. Modern Talking or something. But I can't say that it influenced my life; it was something new because I was perceiving a new vibration.
How old were you when you started getting into music?
I was around 14. That's when I started going out as well.
I read in another interview that you used to get tapes...
Yeah, actually that was my first party. I wouldn't call it DJing, because it wasn't proper DJing, but I was playing music for people on tapes. I was trying to mix them. Breakbeat with a little bit of drum & bass. That was the trend at that moment, like The Prodigy.
Was The Prodigy one of the first electronic music groups that you listened to?
Yeah. But before that I got tapes from some friends from Germany with a lot of things like Underworld combined with hardcore music. I was just experiencing the sounds. I don't like rapid BPM. I never liked it, but it was nice to experience something new.
Who are some of the DJs that you were going out to see that you were interested in?
I started going out to Studio Martin, which was the first club in Romania. It was really underground but really cool at the same time. At that point, in Romania, underground people were all kinds of people, all kinds of ages too. Over 30 but also younger; it was a really nice mixture. I was young and going to the university in Bucharest, away from my parents.
Were you a good student?
To be honest, no. I was more attracted to music, but now I feel different. Not that I regret that period, but I think we were the first generation after the revolution and because [of that] we needed to experience the western influence. It was something new. You don't know where to go or what to choose because you have a lot of opportunities. Now I've started filtering everything and I realize that you have to go through this process. It's normal.
When you started buying music, where did you go? Were there record stores in Bucharest?
We never had a record store. Some people tried to make one, but it didn't work out. We don't have the market; we don't have a proper culture that way. So I was going to Prague in the Czech Republic by train. All of us actually, because we didn't have the opportunity to buy vinyl. You couldn't do it on the internet easily either because you couldn't use credit cards. It's the normal democratic process; at the beginning you don't have everything.
You would travel for hours just to get records.
Yeah, we would take the 24 hour train to Prague. Taking it in the morning and arriving also in the morning. Then I was just buying records, and the next day taking the train back. There is only one record store now that I go to there. It's really a pity because they had so much. As I remember, the Czech Republic was a little bit like Germany now; they were pressing a lot of vinyl so they had a lot of underground labels from America and a lot of deep house.
When did you first start DJing?
I had a residency in a very small club. It was called Web club, it was like a house with three big living rooms. That was about ten or eleven years ago. I played there every Wednesday for more than a year. It was good, because I only had one turntable at home at that time. I knew the owner; he was a Greek guy and was really cool. I knew that Wednesdays were really quiet so I said to him, "Please, I need to try this." I was really disappointed at first, because I knew everything technically that I had to do, but it wasn't matching. I was really nervous and pissed off.
How long did it take before you were comfortable?
Just a couple of months, but I never went out to play anywhere else before knowing how to play. I don't like to do things unfinished.
When did you first meet Rhadoo?
I met him about eight or nine years ago, I think. I was going to see him DJ frequently. Bucharest is not a huge scene, so you can get to know everybody really fast. We were not really close friends at the beginning, but he was playing different parties and he got a residency in this really great underground place. And he would ask me to play after a while. It was underground, and there was an afterparty which would go on during the next day and night. It was a different crowd at that time, because it was a different generation.
You mentioned this different generation in Bucharest, that it was very mixed early on. Has it changed?
Yes, there were more old people than young. Everywhere has changed now, not only Bucharest. It's a normal process. I went out last weekend after working all weekend in the studio to a party which was organised by a friend of mine and I saw a lot of people I knew when I was growing up. It was really nice, I haven't seen them for a while so it was interesting to interact with them again. When we meet each other at a party we talk about the party and we remember how it used to be. Human beings function by memories, and a lot of things have changed, and I think there are a lot of people like me who don't like what's happening right now. You have to educate in a way. Artists need to do this or you can lose the quality and it can go in the wrong direction.
So you regard yourself when you are DJing as an educator?
I am trying as much as I can. I am not saying I am the educator; I don't do this as a normal job. I am doing it because I am passionate about it and I love what I do and I love music. But you need to also think about the future for yourself if you are a really selfish person—because you need to do this job in ten years from now. If you don't take care of things now, just think what the next generation will do 15, 20 or 30 years from now.
"I am evolving."
Is that some of the reason you are doing more production work over the years do you think?
Actually I am going to start performing...live performances. I think my first one will be in December, but it will be different music, I am not going to do dance music. It is going to be more experimental. There are going to be classical music interpretations with instruments. I will use the violin, I will use everything. I am interacting with classical music now. It's a new feel for me. You have to study a lot. It's a precise music.
How long have you been studying it?
Less than a year.
Are you listening to any composers in particular?
Yeah, I listen to more Russian composers. This is what really influences me: Mily Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov.
Do you find that there is a thread in their music that connects them aside from being Russian? Is there something in the music that you particularly like?
Yes, of course. They all reproduce what they feel inside. This is the main thing. I think that Russian music is more fluid, and it was really complex.
Obviously some of the work you did on Cadenza could be termed rather complex. Do you think that there is a connection between your work and that perhaps?
I don't know. I feel like I do more complex things now as a producer than I did then. I think that's normal; I am evolving. When I listen to my work it's different to when other people do because it's a different perception. I know everything I did then and I would change this or that. I'm very critical, and it's normal.
You recently started a new project called the Pi Ensemble. How do you feel it is different from what you have done in the past? Why do you need a new name?
I am using a lot of real composing, it's not just drums and some MIDI. In electronic music you can do things easily with effects; you don't even feel like it is the right combination of keys. Now I am doing this and I am trying...I am not just trying, I am studying and gathering a lot of classical influences at the moment. Hopefully I will have a full orchestra next year; I will try to. It depends because it is really hard after one year, and it depends how I orchestrate what I try to finish. I am trying to listen to those classical compositions to understand them. And then to do things more as a symphony, but it is really hard.
Can you point to some reasons why you really wanted to go into this field? Is it just to challenge yourself?
No, I think I will do this for the rest of my life. This is what I feel now and what I feel is really strong; I don't think something will change soon. I believe that classical music is the most complex and most perfect way of making music. Of course electronic music is very nice, but I think they can be combined. Imagine using electronic gear with classical music. It is an infinite production and a new combination.
I think I would also like, when I am ready, just to do classical music. In a way, when you make electronic music, it is also a sort of symphony because you use percussion, all kinds of sounds and effects. The same process is in a symphony. At the end of the 1800's and the beginning of the 1900's, it was different. They had strict rules. Now, there is total freedom which is good and bad in a way.
To switch gears for a moment, I was struck by the amount of tracks that you played by DJ Qu on your RA podcast earlier this year. He's someone that you seem quite passionate about.
Yeah, I like his production and he is a little bit diverse. In electronic music it is important to make your own style. Especially nowadays. It's really hard to make a distinct style because all the sounds and styles have already been combined in so many ways. It can even be in the way that you are building the tracks or the mood of the tracks. The mood is really important because it reflects what you felt at that time. Then, if you compare several tracks of one producer, you can realize that he has a style.
Right now it is difficult to be distinctive in the electronic music scene because it is a really tough period right now in society and culture and everything. But, on the other side, it is normal not to have so many distinctive tracks on the market because the market has become huge. It is really good. I totally support it. But it is also limited in a way. It helps you, but then you have to understand which way to go; to choose the right direction.
Do you think you have a distinctive style to your music?
Not yet. Maybe in the way I construct [things]. I record live. I don't arrange anything on a computer. I haven't used the computer for one-and-a-half or two years because I have a lot of analog and I just synchronise. Maybe this will help with live performances because I already have some practice. It's a challenge. I don't save projects anymore either. I just record and some things I have in the drum machine; some sounds I save.
You are doing this on purpose?
Yes. This stimulates me to do something different every time and experience other sounds.
"Analog...is like life. It is
not something you can control."
Do you worry about losing things?
No. I am not very good with computers, so I lost a lot of good tracks at one point. Then I realized that I am experiencing more to get better and I should not worry about it. The knowledge stays up there [points to head] so you can develop even more sophisticated things.
What kind of analog gear are you using?
I just got a modular system, the Buchla system and I am really excited because I am going to do live performances with it. It's a lot of work. It is an amazing instrument, I think it is the most amazing instrument that has ever existed. It is really complex.
How long had you been thinking about getting one before you purchased it?
I think the first time I discovered Buchla systems was three years ago. For one year or so, I didn't even know they were doing new stuff. Before that I had discovered the old ones from the '60s, and I was trying to see the prices but you can't find them. Only in museums maybe. Then I discovered they are doing new modular systems, more sophisticated. It's quite expensive to get one. I saved money for two years to get one. Maybe that's why people don't have them. But what this machine can do is worth all the money, because it's an amazing machine.
Are you already able to master it a tiny bit?
No, this is the beauty of it. The new ones have all of the modules connected inside. It is the only one that does that. They communicate all the time and the information changes all the time. So when you move a button everything changes, and the information goes to all of them. You can save the preset but you can only save the values of the button; you cannot save the patching. This is the beauty of the analog system. It is like life, it is not something you can control. When you turn off the machine and you turn it on the next day, it doesn't sound the same.
Published / Thursday, 11 November 2010
Photo credits / Live at Blkmarket Membership & Listed Production present: 4th Of July in New York - Cheyenne Bosco