One of the stories Barera told me that night revealed his ambitious streak. After a few years of going to Make It New, easily Boston's most reliable party for house and techno, he asked the promoters if he could be a resident—and asked again, and asked again, until they finally agreed. Now, with a slot there and at his own party (Gallery) plus a strong label (Supply Records), Barera is a prized Boston export with healthy support in Berlin. One of his biggest fans is Steffi, who will release his debut album on her label, Dolly. Barera had just finished working on the record with his production partner Will Martin when I visited his home studio during a break from Together festivities.
Barera lives in an artist loft in the Chinatown neighbourhood of downtown Boston, where he can make as much noise as he wants. And he does. When I walked in, he was producing some particularly banging techno tracks with New York artist Max McFerren, who was visiting for the weekend to collaborate with Barera. When I came back to grab my stuff a few hours later, they were at it again. Barera happily walked me through the equipment he's amassed over the past few years with Martin, his roommate and production partner. This is where the magic happens, amidst a revolving cast of friends and associates who treat the loft like a club house.
Growing up in the Boston area, Barera was more interested in rock and punk than electronic music, even after his friends started going to raves. In his early 20s, he became part of the in-house band at the Milky Way Café in Jamaica Plain, and their limitless musical outlook exposed him to all sorts of new sounds and ideas.
"I was playing with these two other guys, a drummer and a keyboard player," he said. "It was an open format, like open mic night. Rappers would come in, soul vocalists, reggae singers, spoken word artists... people would just come up to us and be like 'Oh, can you do a beat like this?' and they would hum or something. And we would just do it. I was in a cool musical situation, hearing all this different shit."
He went on: "I was, like, 20, too young to get into the club, but I would sneak in, and after our gigs they would play house. I met guys like Bob Diesel, and they would do deep soulful house. And I'd never heard anything like that before. I was kind of intrigued. But then I moved over to Europe, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands."
In Rotterdam, Barera attended Wilhelm de Kooning Academy for eight months, and assembled a motley crew of friends from all over Europe. He started going to Maasilo, where he heard techno for the first time. "It's a gigantic industrial room, like the biggest building you've ever seen, with pummelling techno," he says. "I was like, OK, I want to start making techno. I want to start DJing techno. I want to start buying records." It all took off from there.
Not too long after that, Barera landed a peak time slot at Maassilo, simply by asking for it. "I didn't know how to mix very well at that point," he admits, "but people were showing me tunes and I was getting into good records. One day I sent Maassilo my demo, and I didn't hear anything until one day I got this call. So I run down there—it's just like, this meeting where all these people are sitting around stone-faced. I put on the demo and they're like 'OK, you sound good, we want to have you play.' I was like, 'what the fuck?'
"It was a transformative experience for me. I did a good set, somehow, and afterwards I went up to the lighting booth. I was hanging and I could see the whole club where I had just played, and when we walked out of there it just felt like I was floating away. I had that feeling, and I just knew what I wanted to do with my life."
After returning to Boston and graduating from Mass Art, Barera worked as a graphic and audio designer. He was making tracks, too, but was careful not to release them until he felt ready, focusing instead on earning DJ spots in and around Boston and earning a living elsewhere. Eventually he landed a job at indie distributor Forced Exposure, where he steeped himself in all sorts of music.
"At Forced Exposure I'm a salesman, I sell records," he said. "Forced Exposure is, in my opinion, the best music distributor in the world. Forced Exposure is a large warehouse of music that has complete variety, and it is focused on non pop-music. Anything that's not typical pop, rock or R&B—everything else is what Forced Exposure is specialized in. So it's just natural for me, Detroit techno, free jazz. You know, everything! It's great, I'm there every day listening to records. Our expert record buyer Jimmy Johnson, he knows records better than anyone I've ever met. If we don't carry the record, he bought a copy for himself to listen to it in the office. So it's just a wonderful music environment for interesting music."
He continued: "Being a studio guy, I was studying sound design, and it was very natural that I wanted to be able to lay down my own track. It really blossomed when I got this Juno 106—that was the turning point with being able to make a track. Software and computers weren't super appealing to me, but when I got this thing it just opened up a world of sound that I was able to make."
Barera met his future musical partner Soren Jahan at a local party called Masculine Feminine, and the two immediately hit it off. Working in the studio together, they produced an EP as B-Tracks, Specialize, which became the first release on Supply Records. Specialize showcases Barera's most impressive attribute: variety. His music can easily jump from chilled-out deep house to brusque techno, as it does on that EP's five tracks, and always with a classic touch that makes it feel inviting. Since then, he and Jahan have released two more EPs, both of which are just as excellent.
Barera's day job as a sales representative for Forced Exposure gave him a leg-up in starting Supply. The label was born out of a common frustration: dealing with other labels sucks, so why not open your own? Supply started out small, releasing only 100 records at a time, but Barera was smart about it, choosing London's Honest Jon's as a distributor to get at the European market. It worked—before long, DJs like Radio Slave and Steffi were playing the B-Tracks record. It was enough to bring Barera and Jahan to Panorama Bar for the most intimidating set of their careers.
"I don't think I've ever been more nervous," Barera said, laughing. "I was shaking. At first when I went on I couldn't even, like, play. For the first few tracks I had to be like 'Dude, it's cool.' It was an amazing set, we had so much fun."
If Barera had any one big break, however, it'd likely be Steffi's Panorama Bar 05 CD. "Reality," one of his tracks with Will Martin, formed an important transition point in the mix, moving it from warm-up to peak-time. Built around a catchy disco sample, it's a little retro and not even all that indicative of the more hardware-based music Barera usually makes, but it was a landmark in his career nonetheless.
"I find myself with these little light bulb moments," he said. "You can't ever artificially create those moments, they always happen naturally. Like Soren and I jumping in there. Or Will Martin and I jumping in there. With 'Reality' it was just a very natural, simple process. Will was my new roomie, he had just moved in. I had the studio set up. He came up to me and said, 'Oh, dude, we should work on a track together,' and he had this record that he wanted to sample. As we were sitting down working together for the first time, we ended up making dozens of tracks. So it was really like—we get in there with the record and we start playing around."
"Reality" was one of the productions that came out of that session. Barera sent it to Steffi when she hit him up for exclusive tracks to include on her Panorama Bar mix. "It just seemed perfect for her," he said. "That track was about a moment for me, and it was a moment on the mix. All of a sudden people had heard of me—people that hadn't before."
Barera and Martin have already collaborated on two stellar EPs this year—Yen on Supply and Milestones on Dolly. It's starting to look like they're better together than apart. The two met when Barera's friend Brenden Wesley recommended Martin as one of the first guests for his Gallery night. Martin played a great set, and the two hit it off. "Eventually, he moved in here," Barera said. "We have great chemistry. I'm more of a keyboard, bass and guitar player than a drummer. Will is a great drummer. I like collaborating with people who can bring something interesting to the table, so I can learn from the experience."
Martin ended up collaborating with Barera on his upcoming album for Dolly. A full-length had been on Barera's mind for a while, but he never felt ready to pursue such a lofty goal. So what changed? "I had a friend in Steffi who was helpful and encouraging, and I had my partner Will, and we were on a flow. Will and Steffi and I were talking about it in this very studio, and I said it would be great to do an album and Steffi's eyes lit up.
"You know, it's not easy being a DJ and producer when you're starting out, trying to get your shit signed," he went on. "And now I have really good labels to work with, so I can focus and make my art. Will and I were just like, 'Alright man, we're inspired.' We just got in there and started smashing shit. We were motivating the shit out of each other. We've never worked so hard on anything, straight up. At the end of the album we couldn't even remember what happened. Some of the very best shit we made was when we were just so zonked out from working so hard."
Barera and Martin didn't see the album as an excuse for experimentation or artsy diversions. In fact it seems like the full-length format only made them more focussed on crafting club bangers. "We sat down through the process of making dozens and dozens of tracks," he explained, "coming down to eight, where each one is a very special experience in itself. It's like this big piece of artwork. It's my big piece of artwork."
Though he's definitely on an upward trajectory, Barera doesn't seem likely to move to New York, London or Berlin, as so many of his peers have done. He's perfectly happy in his hometown, citing local acts like Bob Diesel, Casey Desmon, Kon and his fellow Make It New residents Alan Manzi and Baltimoroder as other great selectors in his midst.
"The scene here is better, I think, than in North Dakota," he said, trailing off with a laugh. "There are huge rivalries, but it's about friendly competition. All DJs want to get booked, and they want respect, and there are a lot of DJs here. We're really at a point where we're very communicative. The scene is calm and collected and very good right now. It's growing, too. I see new nights coming. I've been going to see people like Ron Trent and Kevin Saunderson. This is Boston and we're getting some proper shit."
That growth is partly thanks to Barera. His role in parties like Make It New and Gallery has helped strengthen its scene, and his productions have started to draw more outside attention to the city. And you get the sense that he knows it. "Supply was a lone wolf when we came out," he said. "Then [we] won fame and soon the scene was kind of refreshing. The Soul Clap guys were saying, 'I want to start a vinyl label.' We have my shit on vinyl, and they have their shit going. I see some kind of reaction. We have several Boston labels now doing vinyl, and it's good to be part of that."
Our discussion kept veering back to the album. Barera is planning a European tour to support it—a big milestone for him. "There has been a lot of work leading up to this, so it's an exciting feeling," he says with a big smile, earnest as ever. "I'll never be at this point again. I knew that when I put out my first album, that's it. It's that first album. Like the Velvet Underground & Nico. That was their moment. This is our moment."