Introducing Rodriquez Jr., the dynamic house alias of Gallic maestro Olivier Mateu. He’ll be playing Defected's New Year’s Eve party at Ministry of Sound – an almighty introduction to the label if ever there was one – so it’s probably about time that Defected’s Ben Lovett found out more about him.
Olivier Mateu aka Rodriguez Jr. has long been associated with music. At the age of six he began piano and notation lessons and, from then on, didn’t stop playing. Even whilst studying maths at university and considering related career paths he was still producing music from his student bedroom. Subsequently, the booming dance scene of late Nineties southern France (Mateu grew up on the seaside between Nimes and Montpellier) swept him into a dedicated music career.
His earliest release, ‘G-funk 9903’, arrived on Gilles Escoffier’s techno label G-Funk alongside Escoffier himself. The pair labelled themselves The Youngsters and ultimately rocked it, their sharp electro-groove earning them a swathe of EP releases on F-Communications, not to mention eventual late Noughties outings on Ovum and 20:20 Vision. The Youngsters also released two worthy studio albums, Lemonorange (2001) and The Army Of 1-0 (2004) and became festival staples in the process.
Which brings us on to Rodriguez Jr. It was 2006 when Mateu first expressed his solo ambitions via the F-Communications-released EP ‘Alternative Schemes For The Younger’ – his new alias would demonstrate a wider music remit, mixing quirky electronica with everything from crunchy techno to melodic, pop-gilded house. It was a recipe for further success, outings on Mothership (‘Pina Colada’, 2008), Boxer Recordings (‘Lila’s EP’, 2008) and Mobilee (EPs including 2010’s ‘Princess Guacamole’ and last year’s ‘Hartwood’; and an album, 2011’s Bittersweet) fuelling Rodriguez Jr’s new reputation and leading to obligatory remix commissions (Pan-Pot and Tiger Stripes among them), compilations and gripping DJ gigs all over the world – recent stops have included Australia and Dubai; the Ministry, of course, awaits….
Let’s start at the beginning Olivier – why music over maths?
Generally, I’ve always been passionate about maths and the sciences. But it was all too serious and I couldn’t stand the mentality at university. At this time, I was already producing in my bedroom – my set-up was basic, an old, shitty PC, a sampler and a couple of keyboards. We had quite a big dance music scene in the south of France back then, so I quickly had the opportunity to meet the right people and release my first records. To be honest, music has always been a central part of my life. Big thanks to my dear parents for having pushed me on to this path at an early age.
Your rise as a solo artist has been impressive - in no small part boosted by your relationship with Mobilee….
It’s been a quick rise indeed, building my profile alongside Mobilee. It’s such a great long-term relationship – I actually met [label bosses] Anja Schneider and Ralf Kollmann well before the Mobilee adventure began…more than 10 years ago. They were awesome artistic advisors when I left The Youngsters, looking for my own signature sound. Sometimes life brings the right people on your path. Today, Mobilee is one of only a few dance music labels doing proper artist development. The whole music industry has been dramatically changing these past 15 years, so we must keep things connected together in order to reinvent a new model including releases, tours, promotion, distribution and creation.
How well did The Youngsters prepare you for life in your current incarnation?
The best thing was that our home label was Laurent Garnier’s imprint F-Communications – a great network of talented producers, performers, managers, agents. I feel so blessed that I could take my first steps in the music industry with these guys. Obviously, I also learned a lot of things whilst touring with Laurent. He’s still one of my favourite DJs. Nobody else can handle a crowd like he does, creating a moment of happiness, and playing such a broad spectrum of music genres.
How did the name Rodriguez Jr come about?
It just popped up! I have some Spanish roots so I wanted a very typical name. But Martinez and Gonzalez were already used, so I ended up calling myself Rodriguez and feeling very comfortable with it.
You’re about to play your first Defected event, you must be looking forward to that?
I am so excited about it. Defected means top-notch, quality music and it is part of dance music history. Same thing with Ministry Of Sound. Isn’t that an amazing way to start 2015? I hope it’s the beginning of another long-term relationship.
Any nerves introducing yourself to a new label, a new family and audience?
Oh yes, that’s big. That’s such an exciting challenge! Now I must deliver and convince a new audience with my music. That’s a good, positive pressure though.
What kind of a performer are you?
Performing live on stage is like an emotional catharsis – getting naked in front of an audience and letting your inner personality come out. Even though I am a shy person I can become very wild on stage, that’s almost tribal.
What about the studio?
Creating in the studio is very self-focussed. It’s basically about facing myself and creating something new. Hanging out in the recording booth is my biggest addiction. This is where everything begins. Here, I feel like a child with a very intuitive recording process. A typical day starts early morning after I’ve dropped my daughter off at school. Being fresh, I never start with the beat but rather by improvising on my keys or tweaking the knobs on my modular synth, looking for either cool chord progressions or atmospheres. I eventually build up when I feel like I have the core, layering elements in the computer and programming beats without thinking too much. It has to be fast and spontaneous otherwise I get lost in options and possibilities.
What studio gear do you have?
I still have a lot of hardware…analogue equipment in my set-up. Not only because of the sound, but also because of the direct physical connection I have with the music while playing and programming. It makes the creative process much more fun and intuitive. I’ve been collecting equipment for the last 15 years, so I end up with quite a lot of dusty ‘babes’ lying around!
Describe your sound….
I am basically flirting with house and techno, with a twist of electronica influences and an eternal inclination for melodies.
Does versatility work against an artist these days, where a clear brand and identity is so important?
I think in the opposite terms – an artist pushes his music forward as soon as he chooses versatility rather than being stuck in genres and classifications. That’s freedom. And that’s why I have always been fighting to make versatility my own identity – I prefer being related to my own signature sound rather than a specific musical genre. That’s the only way to stand out in such an overloaded and fragmented music market.
Aside from Ministry, what do you have coming up?
I’m finishing remixes in the studio after a long extended weekend touring between Dubai, Paris and Berlin. Right now, I’m actually finishing a remix for Defected! I’m also focusing on my own material. I just nailed some original tracks to be released on Mobilee and am currently collecting ideas for my second album. I love this moment when you start a new project from scratch without any rule or preconception. I am also working on improving my live performances, including synced video projections and more interactions with the crowd.
Any longer-term ambitions?
Honestly, I am only at the very beginning of the learning curve. There are so many exciting options; for instance I would love to work on movie soundtracks. I am massively influenced by stuff from [composers] Ennio Morricone, Maurice Jarre, Francois de Roubaix and Vladimir Cosma.
Finally, career highlights so far….
Now, that’s a tough question. Speaking about my solo career, I would mention my track ‘Lila’. Even though it sounds different to what I am producing nowadays, it had some success. Furthermore, it’s named after my daughter so obviously means a lot. I would also mention my first solo album Bittersweet. I am very proud of this one; its recording was a long and epic adventure but it defined my sound. And then there’s my last EP ‘Persistence Of Vision’ [released on Mobilee this year] because, surprisingly, it brought my music to a crowd I had never met before. Let’s see what happens now!
Words: Ben Lovett
Rodriguez Jr. plays for Defected In The House at Ministry of Sound this New Year's Eve - click for full line-up and tickets