Yet for all that sense of direction, this 35 year-old's career has evolved in anything but a straight line. Born in Xalapa but now living in Paris, he has travelled considerable distances—literally and metaphorically—to find his groove in life and music. From his early years DJing in Monterrey through releases on Matias Aguayo's Cómeme to this current idiosyncratic Kompakt mix, Rebolledo has always been a maverick presence in underground dance culture.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
Not really. Xalapa is a pretty small city. I was a little bit isolated. If I listened to stuff it was, basically, by accident. There was no cable TV or MTV in town. My older brother would listen to Kiss, which I liked, and my father, who is an architect, would listen to marches or sometimes disco in the car. I was enjoying that. But I was never in a band or had proper instruction how to play an instrument.
You studied industrial design in Monterrey. Is that where you first experienced proper nightclubs?
I didn't have too much clue. I didn't know about genres [laughs], I just listened to what I liked without knowing, officially, what it was. I started to go to underground clubs, dancing all night every weekend and found it super exciting. Global Underground was ruling the world then, so I got to see Danny Howells, Digweed, Sasha, Oakenfold even. Those were highlights in Monterrey back in the day.
I was always curious about what the guy with the headphones was doing. It was kind of magical the power this person had, guiding the whole night. Eventually, dancing wasn't enough and, in a flea market, I bought a shitty RadioShack mixer and two Discmans. I was just cross-fading from one to the other in my room, like, "Wah! This is cool." That's how this started.
I know you love crate digging, and you have a very free-flowing attitude to music. You seem to have almost deliberately opted out of following contemporary trends. Is that a fair assessment?
I always chose music because I liked it, or it made me feel something, not because it's hip or belongs to a certain scene. I was always lazy for the internet. I was never checking blogs. Information usually gets to me pretty late. I'm more into digging than checking charts, and I'm not addicted to new stuff. If I like something I don't care if it's old.
I guess that's part of how I got my own sound. Also, my musical sources were always rather limited. There was one record shop in Monterrey that had the popular labels—Yoshitoshi, Subliminal, Twisted. 95% were house-y things, but from those I could always find something darker, something with guitars, something robotic, which was more to my taste. With those, I'd create and do my own stuff. My taste has a line, but it goes through many genres.
The obvious thing that runs through your music is that consistent, hypnotic, electronic pulse somewhere between krautrock and Italo disco. Do you have any idea where that originates?
I only started making music because, as a DJ, I wanted to have this reaction at this moment on the dance floor, and I didn't have the music to do it. Before playing a note, I try to imagine the reaction that a track has to create, and for me, it's always this feeling of constant motion, getaway, getting lost in the music—always going forward, no matter if it's slow or fast—that captured me. This repetitive horizontal sound. I didn't know krautrock music until later, but I identify with it.
How receptive was Monterrey to that sound?
I was very close to saying, "OK, I quit, because this is too painful" [laughs]. I was begging to play in places. I brought my own equipment to one club, and even then, the other guys working there would come and say, "The owner says you have to play tropical, Latin, more vocals… or we're missing this hit or the latest Tenaglia remix." But I was lucky that the guys at La Santanera liked my stuff.
You became a resident at La Santanera in Playa del Carmen in 2004. Were you aware at the time that there were people internationally—Soulwax, DFA, Optimo, Munk, Gomma—who were also doing a rock-orientated take on dance music?
In a way. That's where I discovered DFA—The Rapture's "House Of Jealous Lovers" was an eye-opener for me—and Kompakt. It was like, "Oh my god, this is what I was looking for." But one of my lazy defects is that I buy records and I don't read the label or artist, so many times I have amazing music and no idea who it's by. DJing, people ask me, "What's this track?" and I have to wait until the record is over to check the label.
One of the guys from Thievery Corporation is a partner at Santanera, so there were always different kinds of guests which, for me, was super-interesting. Especially at the beginning it was really special. One week there would be someone really eclectic, like Kid Loco, then someone from the Mutek crew in Canada like The Mole, then, for example, Tim "Love" Lee from New York, who would play anything from techno to reggae to rock in one set. I didn't copy their style because it wasn't my thing, but I realised that there are really no rules for this, and so I loosened up.
You met Matias Aguayo at La Santanera and got involved with the Cómeme label, who released your 2011 album, Super Vato. Còmeme is a collective of DJs/ producers working across Latin America, but it was interesting that the label's output has never conformed to any of the popular stereotypes of what Latin music is. Was this is a conscious thing?
Matias knew me as a friend and liked how I played as a DJ, so when I told him I had started my own music he said, "Send me whatever you have and I will have a listen." He never mentioned the Latin thing as an aesthetic. The Latin approach was more in the friendship and freedom. It was a bunch of people who happened to be Latin and who were interested in doing music and having a good time, dancing and not necessarily thinking of whatever was done back in the day. Me? I've never been a fan of clichés. Sounding too ethnic is not really my thing. I never had this thing that I had to represent Mexico or Latin America. I was just doing what I felt.
In 2007 you launched the Topazdeluxe club in Monterrey. How did that happen?
I opened a little bar in Playa del Carmen called Corvette Ninja, where I could play the music I wanted and have control. But I was trying to be underground in the year that the city was screaming to be commercial. It was a beautiful bar but it was really bad business. So a friend said, "Close it down and let's start something in Monterrey." After a couple of months of convincing, I was like, "I'm bankrupt, it's time to say yes," and so I went and made Topazdeluxe with this friend and two investors.
It's been really cool and fun. I'm not running it anymore, but I'm still a partner and every time I go to Mexico I play there. It holds about 400 and has a really nice vibe, but, sadly, right now, because of the new mayor and the new laws, we have to close really early. In a city where we're used to being able to be out until 6 AM, now we have to close at 2 AM. The nights feel a little short because people still arrive kind of late, but it's still one of my favourite places to play.
What is the current state of Mexican clubbing?
It's healthy, definitely, and getting better. There are good things happening in Monterrey, and there's a really good club in Ciudad Juárez called Hardpop. Even if it sounds a bit scary because Juárez used to have a bad name, everybody who goes to play there loves it. In Mexico City, there are plenty of options. It's just been the third anniversary of a really special club called M.N. Roy, which Aksel [Schaufler, AKA Superpitcher] and I became partners in last year, and where I play quite a lot. It's small, only 200 people, so the door policy is a bit hard, but it's really cool because everyone knows each other.
Sadly, a little bit, yes. I'm not saying it's nothing what's happening in Mexico, but they magnify it and make it look worse than it is. Every time Superpitcher goes to Mexico, he wonders where all these things that he sees on the news are. Even if you go to supposedly dangerous cities, you almost don't see nothing. Stuff is happening, but it's definitely safe to go there. It's not as bad as the news says.
So how did you and Superpitcher become the Pachanga Boys?
Of the Cologne crew, I first met Tobias Thomas and then Michael Mayer and Aksel at La Santanera. We became friends and, later, they came to my place in Xalapa and I started to visit Cologne. The Pachanga Boys was a total accident, though. In Cologne, I would always stay in Aksel's spare room, and one day—when I thought I was alone at home—I was singing in the shower. He heard me, and when I came out he was like, "Wow, we have to go to the studio and use your voice."
At the time, Aksel was doing his last album, Kilimanjaro, and so, on a break, in the studio, he started to play on a new instrument, I started singing and we recorded "Fiesta Forever," this little song which for us was almost like a joke. Michael [Mayer] listened to it somehow, because we weren't showing it to people, and decided to put it on Total 10. So, basically, we started Pachanga Boys by accident.
I've read that you and Aksel bonded over your shared sense of humour. Is that key to Pachanga Boys?
We started with a laugh and we like to have fun while working. Not necessarily trying to be funny with the music [laughs].
But it does happen.
It can. But that's not the main purpose.
Although there is a theatricality and humour to Pachanga Boys, you are best known for "Time," a heart-breaking, end-of-night anthem. Does Aksel bring out a more sensitive side in you and you a silliness in him, or is that too simple?
This sad-boy image was always part of the Superpitcher world, and Aksel has that side to him—he's a deep guy. But he has also this funny side that I guess he never used in music. Pachanga was maybe freedom for him to, basically, do whatever. At the end, it's a mix of both. We both have our super-happy, silly times and deeper, darker approaches.
After "Time" it looked like Pachanga Boys might become a sizeable cult act in underground dance music. But, if you'll pardon the pun, you seemed to call time on that phase at the point where you might have capitalised on that success. You didn't, for instance, include "Time" on the album, We Are Really Sorry. Why?
We just do what we like at the pace we like to do it without really thinking too much. We could have taken advantage but we want to stay true to what we like. I wouldn't compromise. We're doing new stuff, but we're not thinking about how can we make a big comeback. Or have a second "Time." It's better to stay true and do things by heart.
Incidentally, what were you really sorry about?
[laughs] Because sometimes we disappoint people. Sometimes people expect something and it's not that.
On the Rebolledo front, you've not bombarded us with material since Super Vato. Is there new music imminent?
I'm working on solo stuff, but with all this crazy Pachanga Boys touring I've not had much time. Also, my proper studio is in Mexico. Aksel is building a studio in Paris [where the Pachanga Boys now live], so we're adjusting. Hopefully I'll be able to deliver some new material soon.
You have just released the mix CD Momento Drive. How did that come about?
Way before the producing stuff, I was a DJ and I always dreamed about having a mix CD.
You've chosen the perfect moment—
—[laughs] yeah, amazing timing, but, for me, this culture of knowing a DJ by their mix CDs is how I got into club music. So, I dunno, I always had this fixed idea about a mix CD. A couple of years ago I was asking—because I know it's almost an outdated dinosaur format—one of the distribution guys at Kompakt what the situation was, and he said, "Ask Michael," who was passing by, and he was totally up for it. So that's how it became real, Michael asking me if I would like to do it for Kompakt. He really likes mix CDs and has quite a cool collection.
We're joking about mix CDs being a dead format, but clearly Momento Drive is a very personal expression of your DJing style. It is a distinctive artefact. Do you still believe in DJing as a kind of art form and is this your way of demonstrating it?
I'm super-uncomfortable when people call me an artist or producer. Quincy Jones is a producer. Me? I consider myself a DJ. That's my main thing, and I do music on top. And I truly believe there is more to DJing than playing cool tunes, fun tunes or the latest hits. I believe in the power of telling a story by playing records, and that's what I try and do whenever I DJ. That's the craft I enjoy and want to get better at.
Is there still a market for that? Are you getting more or less bookings where you're encouraged to simply do your thing?
There are still people who value it. I can't complain about bookings. I'm very busy. More and more, people, clubs and promoters who're really into your thing ask for your sound and what you offer. And you start to get into these circles where you fit. These are the bookings I really enjoy, going to Robert-Johnson or Nitsa in Barcelona. These tell me that there is definitely room for what I do and to be true to it. Even if the market is full of a lot of instant DJs playing top tens and blah blah blah, you can still tell a good or experienced one who has a certain style or language from the rest.