Born in 1970, in Santiago, Chile. Addresses: Record companies--Forced Exposure, 219 Medford St., Malden, MA 02148, phone: (617) 629-4773, website: http://www.forcedexposure.com. Perlon, Berlin, Germany, website: http://www.perlon.net.
As the strains of electronic dance music known as minimal techno took off in the late 1990s, Chilean-German producer and DJ Ricardo Villalobos became one of the genre's biggest names. Since the 1980s Villalobos's body of work, which includes a series of 12-inch releases, numerous mix discs, and a small number of artist albums, has influenced a generation of club-goers with its fusion of Latin-tinged percussion and chugging, Detroit techno-inflected rhythms.
Villalobos was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1970, but by 1973 his family had moved to Germany. A number of families were forced out of Chile during General Augusto Pinochet's military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende's democratic government, and Villalobos, along with his mother and sister, ended up in Frankfurt, Germany, his mother's country of origin. His father went underground in Chile but finally found protection at the German embassy in Chile and was eventually reunited with his family in Europe.
Villalobos's family was a musical one, with his uncle, stepmother, and grandmother all passing down musical traditions. "One part of my life was the Chilean life---Chilean culture and music and the Spanish language," he told XLR8R's Philip Sherburne. "And the other part was the German world." Initially, his Chilean heritage was a major influence in his musical development. From a young age, Villalobos took a strong interest in percussion, and by age ten he was learning to play conga and bongos. Naturally, his instrumental choice would factor into the booming yet subtle rhythms of his future dance music. "Brazilian music is the biggest influence I have," he explained in his press materials. "Brazilians were listening to techno two or three hundred years before anyone else. If you compare the samba groove to the techno groove it has a really, really similar idea behind it. I think South American music is important because of the rhythm, but also the melody. It relates to the living, the reality that people have in South America. You have many things to be sad about, but the general outlook is one of happiness."
In his late teens Villalobos traveled to Cuba and Brazil to continue his drum studies, but he soon took an interest in electronic music, especially that of the band Depeche Mode. In fact, he was so enamored of the band that he followed them around on their European tours, and claimed that for him, Depeche Mode held more musical importance than the Beatles.
The early 1990s found Villalobos experimenting more musically, this time DJing disco, house, and early Detroit and German techno records to college-age crowds. His influences at the time ranged from Depeche Mode and other Mute label bands to Baby Ford and Detroit techno favorites Dan Bell and Richie Hawtin. By 1993 Villalobos was recording more frequently, and with some friends started up the short-lived Placid Flavour label, on which he released his first EP, Sinus Poetry. That year Villalobos met the owners of Playhouse Records, and in 1995 he made his first record with them, titled "The Contempt."
He continued through the mid-to-late 1990s with a flurry of DJ gigs and 12-inch releases for labels such as Frisbee Tracks, Ladomat 2000, and Lo-Fi Stereo, until he met the owners of Berlin's Perlon label, the imprint on which he would later release a full-length album. The year 1999 saw Villalobos's first release for Perlon, "FMM," and also found him moving to Berlin to immerse himself in the city's burgeoning electronic dance scene. Because of the city's liberal politics and cheap rent, producers such as Thomas Brinkmann, Ellen Allien, Perlon's Zip and Sammy Dee, and a host of other minimal techno enthusiasts were already taking over the clubs in Berlin's Mitte district with their brand of blippy electronic sounds. Villalobos became a welcome addition to their community.
"It's important to make the club thing happen in Berlin, to develop our scene, and there are so many incredible musicians here in Berlin that it will start to happen," he said of the club scene in his press materials, adding that "all these people will work together and it will be really fertile and interesting."
Villalobos's first official DJ mix, Love Family Trax, appeared on Zomba Records in 2002. Along with a couple of his own tracks, "Fruh" and "Panpot Spliff," he included a few songs from friends like Brinkmann, Montreal's Akufen, and Swiss techno up-and-comer Luciano. As Love Family Trax was hitting shelves, Villalobos was busy on the festival circuit, performing at that year's heralded electronic music festival, Mutek, in Montreal. He also performed there the following year as part of the Narod Niki collective that included Bell, Akufen, Richie Hawtin, Monolake, Luciano, and others in a nine-person laptop improvisation, but refused to perform in the United States, as the country's post-9/11 foreign policy and cross-border tensions steered a number of European musicians away from U.S. gigs.
After much anticipation from the techno community, 2003 saw the release of Villalobos's full-length debut album, Alcachofa, on Playhouse. Along with the massive critical praise bestowed on the album, Alcachofa yielded the single "Easy Lee," and it soon became a staple in many DJs' live and recorded mixes. More than ten DJs included the track in their respective mix compilations for the year that followed, including minimal techno stalwarts Richie Hawtin and Michael Mayer.
Alcachofa, the Spanish word for "artichoke," picked up plenty of critical accolades. Andy Kellman, writing in All Music Guide, commented on the appropriate nature of the album's title: "If the kind of vivid house you hear blaring in the hip clothing store is an apple, giving the mouth an instant burst of flavor the moment the teeth puncture its skin, then the microhouse of Richard Villalobos is more like an artichoke---a more subtle fruit that's consumed by peeling off its fleshy leaves and delicately skimming the pulp off the inner surface."
Villalobos followed up Alcachofa with the mix disc In the Mix: Taka Taka, released on friend Sven Vath's Cocoon label later in 2003. And in 2004 Villalobos went a step further, tempering his bass-heavy, dancy debut with the even more subtle Thé Au Harem D'Archimède on Zip and Sammy Dee's Perlon imprint. Of the record, City Pages' Michelangelo Matos concluded that "Villalobos finds acres of nuance in his self-imposed confines."
In an interview on the Xpander website, Villalobos commented on how Thé Au Harem D'Archimède might stack up to Alcachofa. "Everyone expects the next album to be even more special. ... Instead of making the music I want, I have to think of a follow up and people are demanding. They are going to compare everything I do to Alcachofa. I would prefer less hype, but I'm really happy with the responses so far. I just never thought people would consider my albums as special, for me it is just great music."
by Ken Taylor
Ricardo Villalobos's Career
Began percussion lessons at age ten; took interest in electronic music in late 1980s; releases include his first EP, Sinus Poetry, Placid Flavour, 1993; singles "The Contempt," Playhouse, 1995, and "FMM," Perlon, 1999; and albums Love Family Trax, Zomba, 2002; Alcachofa, Playhouse, 2003; In the Mix: Taka Taka, Cocoon, 2003; and Thé Au Harem D'Archimède, Perlon, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Sinus Poetry Placid Flavour, 1993.
- "The Contempt," Playhouse, 1995.
- "FMM," Perlon, 1999.
- Love Family Trax Zomba, 2002.
- Alcachofa Playhouse, 2003.
- In the Mix: Taka Taka Cocoon, 2003.
- Thé Au Harem D'Archimède Perlon, 2004.
- City Pages, November 17, 2004.
- XLR8R, February 2004.
- All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 28, 2004).
- "Interview: Ricardo Villalobos," Xpander, http://www.xpander.nl/index.cfm?special=230 (December 28, 2004).
- Additional information was taken from Fabric Records and Forced Exposure press materials, 2004.