|Oscar Mulero: Letters from Spain
The hard techno devotee has recently transformed his sound into something much deeper. That's no accident, writes James Manning.
Spain, like many of its Eurozone counterparts, is in crisis mode. Unemployment is sky rocketing, politicians are deadlocked on what course of action to take and social unrest percolates under the weight of everyday life. With his Mötley Crüe haircut, D'Artagnan facial hair and sleeve tattoos, Spain's Oscar Mulero is typically non-conformist. As is his music. It's an uncompromising take on '90s techno, the sort of which has long been a form of expressionism to those seeking refuge from the day-to-day struggle that is European life in 2012.
While Mulero's new album Black Propaganda is far from musical activism, it looks to generate debate about Spain's current social and monetary squeeze, which is at the forefront of Europe's debt crisis concerns. "Black Propaganda is a result of what is happening around me, with Spain and its current economic situation and the effect it has. Of course when I make my music it stems from a musical influence, but also with what happens around me in everyday life. The concept of the album is to show how information can be manipulated and falsified through communication, such as the internet for example," Mulero explains.
For more than ten years Mulero's Warm Up Recordings have pushed the ballistic techno engineered by Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke and the associated et al. of late '90s electronica. But Black Propaganda, Warm Up's 31st release and Mulero's second album in two years, is like nothing he has produced before. It's a departure from brazen four-to-the-floor techno and branches out from club-centricity into more experimental pastures. "I want to get closer to contemporary and modern techno music. After doing the same thing for so many years, this new form of techno is very interesting for me and it's where I want to stay," he says, citing the sounds of Perc, Lucy and Obtane as influential in affecting his sonic sea-change.
Mulero's debut album Green Fades to Grey paid homage to his inspirations and was split into two parts—Grey, representing the album's physical and club-centred works, and Green, which dipped deeper into ambient and '90s IDM stylings. Black Propaganda on the other hand, invokes a contemporary, yet simplified tact. "For this album I used less elements and focused on working with more repetitive sequences and effects like reverbs and delays. I was trying to get closer to the modern sound. One of the things that has changed is tempo; it has slowed down a lot. In one way I wanted to make my techno more modern sounding, but I still wanted to maintain the Oscar Mulero sound by keeping it a little dark and a little rough."
The formation of the Mulero "sound" had its beginnings in Madrid's gothic clubs and rock bars (which explains his haircut and tattoos) where he spun Bauhaus, Joy Division, Front Line Assembly and early Ministry records at the end of the '80s and the beginning of the '90s. "I was getting more into EBM and at the end of the day those bands made their music with machines, so that is why my sound has that industrial spirit with industrial beats. For me techno was naturally the next step after EBM." Mulero explains.
His steps turned quickly into strides when he and four like-minded friends opened their own club called THE OMEN in mid-'90s Madrid. "We actually had no clue there was an Omen club in Frankfurt at that time. THE OMEN was the first club we ran on our own and it was the very first time we were doing our own thing. We took care of all the artwork, flyers and musical direction," he says. "It was when Dave Clarke was producing his Red Series and we played stuff from Jeff Mills. We used to play a lot of ambient music at the beginning of the night like Aphex Twin and Autechre. At the time in Madrid, people thought it was too experimental."
The fact Mulero and his friends had not heard of Frankfurt's institutional Omen club, suggests how provincial and secular Spanish techno was at the time. "Running a club is hard," says Mulero. "We were so young and we just wanted to have fun and play our own music. It was difficult to maintain but it was a good experience, it was a fast way of growing up, maybe too fast for a young person," he admits. Mulero's Omen club soon became one of the bigger techno clubs in Spain, which at the time the country was lacking he says. "There were only a few clubs playing techno music. I would say after Sónar things changed a lot in Spain."
Sónar Festival, a Barcelona event which started in 1994, was definitive for the country. "Sónar is something that makes other countries look to Spain as an interesting place for interesting music. It's important that other people look to your country as a source of electronic dance music," he says. In 1996 Mulero played his first Sónar and was billed in a lineup that included some of his heroes. "When Sonar started it was quite small, like around 300 people. It was really important for me to play that festival. Before that techno was only a small thing in Spain, so playing with those names was huge for me," he says.
"In my case I was just DJing—I played with Jeff Mills and saw Autechre play—so I was getting more conscious about making music and taking a professional approach (to music)," he says. "We (Spain) started to get more influenced by who we saw play at Sónar, we were buying more records by them and probably became more conscious about releasing our music and about our DJs, somehow that helped."
Even so, Mulero says some of his fondest memories of Spain's club culture come pre-Sónar, when parties centralised around the resident DJ who would play all night, as opposed to the fly-in-fly-out lineups of today. "There were only a few guys from Spain doing proper techno, guys like Alex Martinez who started to release stuff through F Communications or hd substance and Groof. In the case of Groof, he was my biggest influence as a producer. From there I always had other influences from guys like Jeff Mills, Surgeon and Aphex Twin," he says.
Like anyone who shares an intense relationship with music and DJing, there came a point where Mulero wanted to make his own. His friend and then-hard trance purveyor Roberto Gemelín, AKA Groof, was there to help. "We were running our club and he (Gemelín) was in a band called Ballet Mecánico. They played hard trance kind of stuff and we became friends. I asked him about some music things—because I was starting to make my own stuff—so he came to my studio and started to teach me how to make my own tracks." Mulero says.
"In the beginning it was all about releasing my own music, then I started to contact people from labels that influenced me, or labels I thought would work well with Warm Up; people like Regis, Cane, Surgeon or Mark Broom," Mulero says. "I always like to release music from brand new names [too], so we've released stuff from guys like Go Hiyama and Luis Ruiz."
Mulero is also devoted to promoting Spanish producers whenever he can as well. In 2004 he launched Pole Recordings, the subsidiary label to Warm Up, to release music from fellow Spaniards Reeko, Exium, Christian Wünsch and himself; together they have helped galvanise Spanish techno. Mulero's Warm Up and Pole Recordings, Reeko's Mental Disorder and Christian Wünsch's Tsunami Records all share in producing and releasing the Seleccion Natural series. Now up to its sixth missive, each Seleccion release features exclusive tracks from the group, whether it be in original or remix form. Alongside bombastic Belgian imprint Token, the Spanish techno clique have remained the near sole proponent in respectfully and credibly upholding the legacy of fast, looping and industrial techno from the '90s.
With more than a decade spent in service to electronic music, he's attained figurehead status much like the DJs that originally inspired him. So it's fitting that in 2009 Tresor handed him the keys to their vaunted back catalogue to mix his favourite tracks for the Under Review mix CD. Mulero first appeared on Tresor back in 2004 remixing Pacou's "Last Man Standing" and three years later released a debut EP for the label called Only the Dead Fish Go with the Flow. Spain's cottage electronic music industry, although not rich, seems to be on the upswing. Mulero cites Svreca's Semantica imprint as part of a new outlook on techno in the country, and coupled with Mulero's own recent move toward sound design over the usual balls-out mode of expression on Black Propaganda, there is a sense from the outside that cutting-edge techno is on the rise as well. "It's important for me to release music that I think will help my country grow up," Mulero explains. "That's the main thing for me."