The Bucharest resident is representative of a new class of producers who are embracing melody, moving away from the classic Romanian sound towards something more colourful and textured. It's a type of minimal long dominated by a handful of veteran producers, like Thomas Melchior, Baby Ford and Steve O'Sullivan, who use melody sparingly but with great effect. Aside from the work of Petre Inspirescu, this lush production style hasn't traditionally been prominent in Romania, the world's most famous outpost for dance floor minimalism, with many of its producers instead favouring abstract sounds and low-slung loops, drawing influence from the scene's best-known and most successful label, [a:rpia:r]. But as Barac and similarly minded producers such as Melodie, SIT and Suciu go from strength-to-strength, it's becoming obvious that the country's revered house aesthetic is evolving.
Barac grew up in Miercurea Ciuc, a city of 40,000 located in central Romania. He moved 100 km east to Bacău in 2002 at the age of 21, where he stayed until relocating to Bucharest three years go. He has a long history in radio, both as a producer and a presenter, having been involved in the format since his teenage years. Barac's time in Bacău is central to his story—it's where he met a fellow young music nerd named Raresh, initiating a friendship that would have a lasting impact on his career. That friendship culminated in Barac's deeply personal Variety Of Different Feelings LP on Metereze, Raresh's modest label for lean club music. It's perhaps the most powerful minimal long-player of recent years, a remarkably diverse record comprising six extended tracks as emotionally potent as they are spellbinding. From the droning, pristine synth on "Personal Insight And Inspiration" to the tropical, atmospheric bliss of "Marea Neagră," Variety Of Different Feelings was a lesson in understatement.
The path to this sound has been a long one. Barac's first releases (with fellow Romanian Dubtil as NoiDoi) were aimed squarely at the dance floor, resulting in tracks more functional than ethereal. But in the years since, his sound has become increasingly enchanting, rinsed heavily by scene-leading DJs Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and, of course, his old friend Raresh. Barac, who appeared in RA's annual DJ poll for the first time last year, has an approach to music that borders on the spiritual, which is the driving force behind his deeply evocative sound. As he explains in this lengthy interview, it's now about a lot more than making people dance.
You're in Mexico for a festival at the moment. How are you finding all the travelling, and playing these shorter sets?
This time the travelling is OK, because I have a few extra days off and time to sleep and relax. It somehow balances out. It's a short set, yes, but it will be nice. I'm never upset because I can only play two hours somewhere—I have no problem with that. Not every club is allowed to keep the party going as long as they like. So it doesn't matter if I play two hours or ten hours, I will always try to do my best.
Did you have many opportunities to play longer sets when you started DJing in Bacău?
When I was a young DJ, the idea of playing long sets wasn't really popular. In that period, the electronic music scene in Romania wasn't so developed. This idea of long sets came slowly after a few years, thanks to Sunwaves festival and other long afterhours, especially in Bucharest. And don't forget, Bacău is small. It's not a big city where there are a lot of people following this music, so you are limited. So the long sets generally happened at Sunwaves and, of course, in Bucharest, where the scene was really growing.
In the early days, we used to play three or four hours, then the main guest would play. The nice thing was that we never had a problem with closing times. In Romania we still have this good thing of being able to continue the party as long as we want. In Bucharest you can see exactly what I'm talking bout. We have parties that go for two or three days, non-stop. It's just that the DJ finishes every five or six hours, and another one comes with new energy.
So when did you actually move to Bucharest from Bacău?
About three years ago. Bacău is a small city, as I said. At one point you start to feel limited, you know? Small city, small scene. I had a lot of friends that had already moved away from Bacău, so I was alone there. I think moving to Bucharest was the best decision in my life. Since then, everything has changed for me in a very good way. But it's not like Bucharest is some paradise where you can have everything you want—you still have to work a lot. I keep this in mind, and I know that every day I have to work, and focus more on digging and making music. It's quite a lot of pressure, but if you can handle it, then everything will come naturally. In my opinion, whatever you do, no matter what it is, the energy you put in will come back to you sooner or later—whenever you are ready to handle it. So I have this in my mind every day.
What kind of impact has living in Bucharest had on your music? You're obviously meeting more people and going to more parties.
We have really long parties and long afterhours here, where you can hear a lot of very interesting and intelligent music. This can definitely change the way you produce and DJ. You get a lot of inspiration, especially from the [a:rpia:r] crew. The main influence has actually always been my friends Rhadoo, Raresh and Pedro. They were the first people from this scene to start getting gigs outside Romania, and the music they were playing was so totally different to the stuff I had access to in the early days.
Did you go to many of these longer parties before you moved to Bucharest?
Before I moved to Bucharest I was driving seven hours to Mamaia to go to Sunwaves festival. There we would stay awake for two or three days, have two hours of sleep, then go back out for two more days of dancing. This is how I started to familiarise myself with partying. We would do a similar thing in Bucharest when, for example, Rhadoo would be playing at Club Guesthouse [one of the city's key venues], and the party would last until Sunday night or Monday morning. So we'd drive for four hours to get there on Friday night, then stay awake and have fun. I did it like this for a while, but eventually I started to get more gigs abroad, and it became more difficult to go by car or train to the airport all the time from Bacău. So that's another reason why I decided that it's time to move to Bucharest. It has everything: the airport, clubs, parties and friends.
You were working in radio before you moved, right?
Yeah, I was a producer at the local station, making the jingles. I also had my own show. I was working at different radio stations for about ten years. I started in my hometown in 1996 or 1997. Then I moved to Bacău in 2002. It was a good period for me. I learnt a lot about music culture, as I was playing music from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. It helped me with my music production too, because I was able to take in so many influences. I'm not the kind of person who only listens to one kind of music, or even just a few kinds. I listen to everything that has something special in it. An energy. Something that really makes me feel good inside and sends me emotions.
In my opinion, the '80s, '90s and beginning of the '00s were the best periods for music. The quality of the sound was much higher, especially with electronic music. For our scene, the best music was produced in the '90s and the early '00s. But this doesn't mean that there are not good producers these days. There are definitely good producers, but it's quite difficult to find good quality music.
How did you get the first radio job? Was it some kind of work experience thing?
I started DJing in high school, because we had a small radio station project there. We had our classroom near to the school's radio station. And the guy working there was playing music very, very loudly before class started. This was at like 7:30 in the morning, so people still were coming into school. I was able to hear the music through the wall, especially the bass—boom, boom, boom, boom. I became fascinated.
Eventually I met a guy who worked at the local station, and I told him that I would like to see how a real radio station works. He invited me to go and see and, of course, I started to fall in love with it. So I started to go to the station every weekend that this guy had his shows. And then, slowly, I started to work with him. I realised that I wanted to do music for the rest of my life, and it started with radio. I had my own show, where I was playing house music, but not the real kind—I was playing hard house and hard techno. But slowly, I started to get in contact with other music. When I met Raresh, and then Rhadoo and Pedro, I discovered the music that I wanted to make and play.
Could you see that Raresh was a special DJ back then?
Definitely. Special DJ, special person and a special character. I can remember the radio days very well. The internet wasn't as big back then, and not many people had it in their houses. So Raresh was coming to the radio station, and we would listen to music together online. He would always have his phone in his hand, checking for the lists of artist names. He was doing the same thing at Zebra Club whenever there was a special guest DJ playing. He would find out what the tracks were, and then go to the radio station to look for it online. He's still the same—super passionate about music.
Do you remember the first time you saw him play?
It was in 2002. Raresh was a very interesting DJ. I'll tell you a story that not many people know. I have a friend who used to be a resident DJ in Bacău. The Zebra club owner came to him and asked if he would like to be a resident DJ there. My friend said no, but explained that he knew someone else who would be a perfect fit. It was Raresh. So that's how Raresh became a resident DJ at Zebra. Everyone could see how passionate he was, practicing and digging for music after school. He hasn't changed at all.
What kind of advice have the [a:pia:r] guys given you over the years?
Raresh has always told us to believe in our work, because eventually the reward for putting in so many hours of studio time would come. He was also telling us how important it was to be modest. He was reminding us to know our place and simply focus on doing what we love—the music.
Rhadoo was not saying as much, but always had great advice. You could ask him about anything. It didn't have to be about music, but he would always have something wise to say. When we would ask him advice about making music, we might ask, 'What do you think about this track?' And he would reply something like, 'Maybe remove this element, or use another hi-hat.' Rhadoo's suggestions really helped and had great results in the club. When we made the changes and then heard them at a party, we would realise that he was right. He has a lot of experience, and he sees things from a different perspective.
Who else is from Bacău? There's VincentIulian.
Yes. VID is also from Bacău.
Was everyone connected through Zebra Club somehow?
Yes, through Zebra and the events that club owners were putting on. They are the main promoters in this part of Romania, which is called Moldavia. They were the first ones to do parties with the artists playing this music. There have been a few different generations in Bacău, though. Raresh and Zotist were the first, then came me and Dubtil, then VincentIulian, and then VID. So after Raresh moved to Bucharest, Dubtil, VincentIulian and I were still there. VincentIulian was also coming to Zebra, and so was VID. Me and Dubtil then moved to Bucharest, and VincentIulian and VID remained in Bacău. Now VincentIulian has moved to Bucharest. So it's happened in different stages, but Zebra was still the starting point for everyone.
Zebra has obviously been very important for electronic music in Romania.
Extremely important. It's sad that the scene is not going so well over there at the moment. I have a lot of respect for the club owners, as it's been very hard for them lately. But they still have passion, and they continue to do what they love. It's definitely a club made from passion, you know? It's not the kind of club where the club owners only follow the money. So it's still an icon of electronic music, especially in Moldavia.
You've spoken elsewhere about music being a vehicle for different emotional states. Can you tell me more about that?
I think music is a healing instrument. It's an energy people can hear. Of course, not everyone is going to connect with my music. Just like there are producers who make music I don't connect with. There's no good and bad, it's just what you like and don't like. With me, at the beginning I was only focussing on making people dance—boom, schhhh, boom, schhhh. The same thing every time. Then I started to find out about this real, intelligent minimal. But that's the thing: you have to listen to a lot of music and make contact with a lot of people, because you can find inspiration in places you'd never expect to find it. Learning how to put that emotion into music takes time, experience and patience. The secret is to be patient and focus on what you're doing.
Your music is very different now compared to a few years ago. What changed?
It's about listening to more music and having access to new sounds. When you're younger, you probably see things differently. So maybe you just want to focus on making people dance. But then as you start to learn more about yourself and discover what it is you really like, you might realise that you want to make more deep, melodic and intelligent music, but music that still keeps people on the dance floor. It's just an evolution, which is a good thing.
It seems like minimal from Romania has become more musical lately. Of course Pedro has always been musical, but I'm thinking of recent releases by Melodie and SIT, and your Metereze record, for example.
Yes, because it's not just about making a nice rhythm and groove. I'm happy to say that I can do that very effectively, which is good in a club if you play it at the right moment. It's sometimes not necessary to attach some instrument to a rhythm if it's well done and the groove and bassline is perfect. But I also agree that in this kind of music—even though I'm not thinking of any rules when I'm producing—there are a few things that I have to consider. I realise that there are a few instruments that I shouldn't add, because there are instruments that aren't working with this music.
Like a saxophone?
Yes [laughs]. But I still don't think I'm limiting myself by sticking to concrete rules. I'm still able to add a sense of emotion to my music by adding melody lines. The connection between you as a producer and the audience is easier to make when you do this, because people find themselves in those notes. I find myself in the music produced by other people—like Baby Ford, Thomas Melchior, Ricardo Villalobos, Vlad Caia, Cristi Cons or Arapu—when they use some nice synths or a nice pad. It makes a track more special and beautiful.
So what do you use different parts of a house track for? Rhythm, for example, is for dancing, right?
Yes, rhythm is for dancing. But also, for me, the rhythm is for helping people follow what I'm doing with a track. The message. If you do some research about shaman drummers, you'll see that there's someone helping the shaman in their ceremonies. They're playing a drum loop, because it helps to keep the people focussed when the shaman is singing different things. Tekketa, tekketa, tekketa [imitates drum beat]. It's a repetitive rhythm. It might sound strange, but I feel like my music is kind of like this—repetitive rhythms, with different elements going in and out. The music I want to release is the same, with repetitive loops and then a special moment. The logo for my Moment label is explaining this. It has a spiral, which is the loop, and the broken part of that loop is the special moment.
The shaman rituals are done to heal the body, the mind and the spirit. So when you are able to make contact with a lot of people and talk with them and see what problems they have and why they are happy, then it's easier to go into the studio and try to put it into music. It's why I chose this moto for the label: initiation, journey, healing.
Are you ever surprised by the emotions people hear in your tracks? In that, some people might feel something totally different to what you felt while making the music.
Of course. But when I make music, I'm trying not to condition the listener. I'm following my own emotions, but hopefully there's also enough space for people to make their own journeys.
It shouldn't be obvious?
Yes. But it's not easy for me, because I'm trying to make my music as simple as possible. It's not easy to make simple music that's also special. For example, with "Marea Neagră" or "Fram, Ursul Polar" on Metereze—you're the first person who will know this story—I made these tracks after my girlfriend's father died in my arms. I was really touched emotionally by this, but I wasn't able to cry. I was suffering, and my heart had a really, really big pain. So I said, 'OK, I have to do something. It's time to go into the studio and release these emotions.' If you listen to "Marea Neagră," you'll hear that there's a special sound, you know? It's a track that makes me cry sometimes, but makes other people happy. I'm glad about this, as it shows that my music is not conditioning the listener. I'm not making them make the same journey I took when I made the track. Each person can have their own journey or trip, or however you want to say it.
How do you feel about releasing music that's so personal to you?
It feels good. There's obviously a lot of music that we keep for ourselves, but I also consider myself an artist and want people to get in contact with my music. If you want to be an artist, you also want to have followers and fans, and I consider them—along with close friends—my inspiration. It's not just about having friends and being a nice person. You have to make music that people will connect with. So I consider releasing tracks like this a very good thing. I'm happy I'm able to release them, because I want to have left something behind when my career ends.
It's interesting you mention the keeping tracks to yourself thing. There doesn't seem to be many crews in house and techno playing as much unreleased music as you guys, the Romanians.
The guys from Berlin are also doing it—Ricardo, Zip, Thomas Melchior. They are close friends and also make music, so I think it's natural to exchange things with people who make similar music to you. I'm happy and really honoured be able to exchange music with different Romanians.
Releasing the Meterze record was obviously a big moment for you. How did it come about?
Raresh had the tracks for a while. He was really attached to two of them: "Marea Neagră" and "Fram, Ursul Polar." As soon as I sent them to him, he told me that he wanted to release them on his label. It took about two years until the record came out, and it was around a time when I wanted to release different styles of music. That's why it's called Variety Of Different Feelings.
Many of the tracks you finish will never be released, and the only way to hear them is by going to see you or your friends play.
This is the tricky part. I consider myself a DJ, and part of my duty as a DJ is to play music that is not available everywhere. That's part of what makes a DJ and their sets special.
Do you have to be careful about who you send your music to?
Yes, I've learnt my lesson. I only send music to five people now. But even still, lots of clubs are recording sets, which is not professional. People can cut out tracks from these sets, and then play them. It's a big shame.
Recording videos of DJs from this scene is also popular. It seems like hundreds pop up after every Sunwaves, for example.
That's another thing that's not OK. As you see, there are more and more clubs that won't allow people to film during the night. That's good, because it's about underground music and an underground scene. Why should people make videos? What about privacy?
You're going to be playing live a few times in the coming months. How do you approach playing live sets?
I think playing live is a good way for artists to express themselves in another way. I think that it will be requested more often by promoters in the next few years. I was speaking about this with Rhadoo and he was saying the same thing. But for me, personally, I'll only try and do it in special places. Maybe four or five times per year. I also see myself doing an experimental live set, starting from next year. I want to try and offer listeners a different musical experience.
My idea is to make an experimental live set that has some kind of spiritual healing qualities. I would do this live set with a maximum crowd of 100 people. I would do it in very dark places, with a good soundsystem and just a few red lights maybe. Or we could do it outside in the nature. With the right soundsystem and the right atmosphere you can have a great experience with this kind of music. Of course it can be nice to go into a club, drink and dance to techno or minimal music, but I'm not sure all the people doing this every weekend understand exactly what is happening with them when they do it. When they go home and think about the party, I'm not sure if they really understand how it was or even if they had a nice trip. So I would like to show them another experience you can have, something deeper, more experimental, intelligent and, of course, spiritual. So if you ask me where I'd like to be with my live set in one or two years, it would be doing very experimental stuff—with analogue gear of course.
The last time I saw you DJ, your set reminded me of how you structure your tracks. You played for three hours and I can only remember hearing a few breakdowns. It was all about groove.
It's important for us to make people dance, and you do that with groove. It's a matter of taste, of course, and it's because the music we're playing is a bit different. I listen to a lot of other DJs, and for them the most important thing is to make the people scream and clap. For us it's more about intelligent grooves and rhythms. This is music for dancing, socialising and making friends. It's not made for screaming and making noises at a party. Hopefully we can show people that there's another way to have fun.