Luca Cara divides his time between the studio, the dance floor and a Sardinian corn farm. Matt Unicomb unpacks his cosmic minimal sound.
We're sitting in Cara's Berlin studio, which sits in a crusty commercial complex. Somewhere in a quiet residential area, it has a small kitchen, a toilet and plenty of decorations. In one corner there's an electric guitar that belongs to his studio partner, Topper, an Italian producer with ties to Club Der Visionaere. In another, there are DJ bags and stacks of records. Dancing Therapy, an album Cara released on Perlon, sits proudly on a high shelf, its bright purple artwork glowing over the room.
Dancing Therapy, an eight-track album of cosmic minimal tracks, is Cara's highest-profile record to date, having introduced the Spacetravel sound to the global minimal audience. Sleek and subtle, it assembled a fraction of the hundreds of tunes that Cara had produced in the previous five years, including some of the first he ever made. It was a landmark release for Perlon, a legendary label with an ethos somewhere between steadfast conservatism and cutting-edge. Known for a close-knit roster with longstanding ties to its cofounders, Zip, Markus Nikolai and Chris Rehberger, Perlon rarely takes on new artists. When it does, as was the case with Binh a few years ago, the artist has usually been around for a while. Cara, who had only two records out, seemed to come from nowhere.
"My experience has been amazing," Cara says. "It was a dream for me. But I understand that I'm new, and a lot of people were not happy about this new guy coming with a release [on Perlon]. People want to see if I'm good or not. I feel this energy, especially in Berlin. When I play it's full of people looking at me, not dancing."
The scene in which Cara operates is full of diehard record collectors, promoters and partiers. Most prominent artists work for years before finding real success—DJs like Binh and Nicolas Lutz, two of the scene's leaders, were in their 30s before they gained any significant attention—and breakout hits are almost nonexistent. Aside from SoundCloud and neglected Facebook pages, artists don't have much of a presence online, and most of the records, which can sell up to 1,000 copies, are vinyl-only. Bookings are often done via word-of-mouth, so artists often play within the same network of international promoters. For Cara to release on minimal's top label without much more than an RA profile and a few gigs at Club Der Visionaere was unheard of.
It helps that his sound is unique. Drawing from classic minimal, electro and techno, it stands out in a scene full of tunes drawing from the same styles, wriggling with both a nervous energy and easygoing moods. A mess of bleeps and abstract chords, his music isn't particularly melodic, yet it somehow oozes feeling. Played at the right moment, usually deep into a party or an afterhours, it can have a profound impact on a dance floor, thanks to a powerful combination of forward momentum for the body and delicate melodic components for the mind. You can hear this best in one of Cara's earliest tracks, "Fragile," the closest thing the minimal scene can have to a breakout tune. (Zip played it at most of his gigs for a year.) Its mood is spooky and vaguely melancholic, yet the chugging beat and syncopated bassline are dance floor heat.
"To try and produce music like the '90s would not be good," Cara says. "It's really hard to find a bassline or melody that they didn't use back then. A lot of producers are making this style of old-school house, but you don't hear anything new. They just take some samples and put them together."
Cara's music, crafted from an array of synths, drum machines and sequencers in his Berlin studio, sounds like the future. Where many of his peers have embraced a high-impact aesthetic, moving closer to full-blown techno and electro with each release, Cara remains subtle, staying close to deep house that rolls like an improvised jazz set. Most of his tracks feel positive, which Cara says comes down to frequencies.
"I always make music with 432 Hz," he says, referring to the so-called "miracle tone." "That frequency is good for the bodies of the people. If it's possible to do good for the people's bodies, why not? I want to make happy music. When people aren't dancing and smiling, that's a problem. They come to the club after work and want to get rid of their stress. I need to work to help them do this."
Most of Cara's tracks are above 130 BPM, which makes them faster than most minimal and house. The basslines are energetic and move at sharp angles, never settling on a simple pattern. Cara's tracks don't build up or down, and they don't usually have obvious intros or outros. It takes a patient DJ to get the most out of them. This is music for selectors unafraid to let the energy simmer.
"Everything has to come naturally," Cara says about his approach to production. "I always dance in the studio. If I'm dancing, the track is working. I've spent a lot of time in clubs, so I know what people want on the dance floor."