|Gui Boratto: Like you
Kompakt’s man from Brazil is an unlikely candidate for techno stardom, writes Jorge Hernandez. There’s hope for us all yet.
Gui Boratto wants you to visit. Next time you're in Sao Paolo, craving a dinner or a disco with a local techno superstar, Gui just might invite you over for sushi, beer and a little programming—provided, of course, that's he's actually home. "Yes, yes, I know. Poor me," he laughs from his hotel in Brisbane. "182 days of the year I’m in Brazil and 183 days I’m traveling around the world gigging. But it’s really too much.”
It’s too much because Dom Boratto is something of a family man. When he’s at home, he even lets his wife, Luciana Villanova, and his daughter, Valentina, have the run of the studio. “My wife sang on Chromophobia,” says Gui. “We went out once for dinner and drinks, and as a joke she did some vocals, and it worked. I know many professional vocalists, but when my wife sings it sounds very naïve. Plus she's got great taste. She'll come in to the room and say, 'Oh Gui, this is really cheesy', so she gives me good advice."
Three-year-old Valentina is less critical, though no less of an inspiration. "My wife sings, and my daughter dances around the house. I did the album during the day in my living room, with her playing around me. After breakfast, my daughter dances, and sings along, and then I take her to school."
Not the most typical setup for a dateline-hopping spinmeister, but then Gui’s never traveled the straightest line between two points. After Kompakt picked him up out of obscurity in 2005, he was practically knighted overnight for his debut 12-inch ‘Arquipélago’, which hit the sweetest spot: it was catchy enough to move units beyond the minimal milieu, but Cologne enough to work the Kompakt base. And when devotees scratched Gui’s surface, they discovered a remarkably un-techno background: Gui’s foundation was not in music, but in architecture and graphic design. In Boratto’s world, it was not an entirely unnatural progression: "I think architecture, music, literature, sculpture, among other arts are pretty much the same. They are only different forms of expression."
Gui has taken an even more topsy-turvy career path musically—from the mainstream to the underground. He started out as studio producer working for majors in Brazil such as EMI and BMG, and his production credits include records with Steel Pulse, Gal Costa, Desiree and even Garth Brooks. When I press him on his influences, his list is equally unpretentious: "I'm into Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen, the Smiths, New Order, Jesus & Mary Chain, Yazoo, Sisters of Mercy. Also lots of rock, like Black Sabbath, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, AC-DC, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Radiohead, Klaxons. I love Bossa Nova and the old Boleros, like Carlos Gardel."
Rubbing salt deeper into the purists' wounds, Gui is not even really a DJ—not in the crate-hauling, vinyl-spinning sense, anyway. On stage, Gui will likely be seen fiddling with a Macbook and assorted gear, and he sometimes even invites a guitar player to join him.
Machine Love: Gui Boratto’s live toybox
Gui: "I don't play vinyl. I use my laptop and a few other machines and little toys. My controller is called a Monome — a box full of pads, from these guys in Philadelphia, and I can use it as a step sequencer. So I can program the kicks, the hi-hats, the snares, basically all the rhythm. And I use a Lemur, a touch-screen controller you can customize from this company in Bordeaux. It works with an Ethernet-like a hub, so you can control lights and sound. I think Modeselektor, Herbert and even Bjork use it too.
The most intoxicating result of this mish-mash of pop, techno and production wizardry so far has been ‘Beautiful Life’, a cheerful electronic indie pop track with effusive synthesizers, kicking all-on-the-floor beats and a utopian refrain. Partly, its crossover success has been down to its disarmingly sweet video, which found mystery and otherworldliness in the faces of an ordinary Brazilian family. "The version on Chromophobia wasn't even the original version," Boratto taunts, directing me ever so subtly to download the original version from his website. "It’s much slower, darker, heavier. But Michael Mayer convinced me that it needed a lift. He said, 'Gui, it's a good song, but nobody's going to dance to something so gloomy." Fancy that, a German telling a Brazilian to cheer up. Boratto, affable fellow that he is, agreed. And ever since, he's been circling the globe, dodging "the same old questions from interviewers" and explaining to transnational stalkers why he doesn't drop his signature track every single time he plays.
The only thing worse than no success is writing everyone’s favourite song, which ends up haunting you like a plague. Call it the anthem syndrome. “I was playing at one of the clubs near my house in Sao Paolo one night and these guys came up to me at the end and demanded to hear ‘A Beautiful Life.’ They said, “We came all the way from” – I don’t remember where, but somewhere far – “to hear it!” As much as I appreciate all the love, I’ve been living with the song for a long time, much longer than the public,” sighs Gui. “There’s so much else that I want to play and do.”
When talk to turns to Kompakt, it turns out Gui is as much of a fan as a participant. Invited by Mayer on a tour of the US, Gui recounts an epiphany at DEMF: “I remember Michael playing ‘Two of Us’ and saying, 'Michael what was that?' We'd been touring, so I'd heard it a few times, but hearing it there, in Detroit, I realized what an amazing track it is." It also turns out Gui is the label’s de facto rave guide down South America way. “Michael Mayer and Aksel are my friends. Of course we party together when we're together. Robert Babicz is a really sweet guy. He's coming to Brazil in March. We're having dinner and maybe we'll party at D-EDGE or Clash Club, in Sao Paulo. Clash is like five minutes from my house, I love to play there. We have really cool small underground clubs. If you come to Brazil, be prepared to rock!”
What size club turns you on, Gui? Do you prefer broadcasting to the masses or preaching to the choir? “I prefer to play for 500. You can look in people's eyes. When you play for more than 10,000 people, you play for yourself really. You play alone. It also sounds better. The sound quality is easier to control in a small space. I like a place in Barcelona called La Macarena that holds 100 people. Last time I was there I introduced Superpitcher to it."
Time is up, and Australia beckons, so I ask him what’s in store for 2008. "There's a new remix from me for the duo King Unique. And I've started to focus on my new album, which will be released on Kompakt around September this year." Will it measure up to everyone's expectations? His email's right on his website, so fans are free to drop him a line and let him know what they think. Wherever Gui Boratto may be, chances are he'll send you a personal reply. Won’t you, Gui? "When I have time, yes, always.”