What’s Good? Ka§par (Part One)

9 Aug

Photo Credit: Valeria Galizzi

If I were given only one word to describe João Pires, better known as Ka§par in the music world, it would be profound. He is deeply passionate about music, something that comes across in more than just the words he has to say about it. He expresses his love for music in the way he mixes and what he produces as well, combining his savant-like obsession with sonic beauty with a keen ability to read a crowd and understand his listener.

I was fortunate enough to come across some of Ka§par’s work years ago and continued to follow his contributions to the music world through the present, being sure to share it with you, but also with my own motives: to find out what made the man behind the music tick. It’s truly an honor to know that my guess about his character, at least in the sense that he is introspective and connected to music at an indescribable depth, was right. He devotes serious time and energy to making music, yet has no qualms about raising up the talents of others–fellow DJs and peers– as well as his many sources of inspiration and musical greats.

With great pleasure, I invite you to come along to find out What’s Good? with quite easily one of the most talented DJs in Portugal, Ka§par:

What is the first piece of music you purchased with your own money? and what is your first musical memory?

My first record (bought with m own money), as far as I can remember, must have been one of the following: Black Sheep’s “Strobelight Honey,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It,” or Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”—maybe all of the above at once. I think I was 8 or 9. Before that, I remember long drives in my parents’ car on our way to Algarve (for our usual vacation), and one particular mixtape that my dad recorded (that featured Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Carly Simon, The Temptations, Simon & Garfunkel) was the resident 90 minutes that soundtracked the journey. Also, the original score for American Graffiti was an early classic for me as well—especially Booker T & the MG’s “Green Onions,” which is still one of my all time favorites.

What about your childhood or adolescence do you think influenced you to pursue music as a career? In particular, what attracted you to electronic music (especially house) as your choice genre?

Well, I spent most of my childhood hooked on music. I got a guitar for my eleventh birthday, but I had to give it up after a while, the keyboards came easier to be (Casio portasound series hurray!). I learned to play music and compose before anything else… but I never took lessons. I had my own writing method for when I was a kid and all that!

Then came hip hop and electro (classic electro) a bit after. I was doing all the breaking and pop lockin’ in school… I guess I was probably the first b-boy in my home town. But one day I caught a snippet of a house radio show in the early 90’s (probably 93) called “Dancefloor” by DJ Vibe. I was star struck. He became my biggest hero. His mixing and [track] choices were off the hook. That was the first time I heard real underground house. A lot made sense that night… the repetition, the rhythm, the hypnosis, the sensuality, the introspection. Of course I was never exclusively committed to house. I’m a music lover, and my record collection is over eight thousand and counting, so imagine how boring my life would be if I had eight thousand house records! I’m into all types of music, although house and its derivatives come easier to me.

What type of music do you listen to in your free time, and who are some of your favorite DJs/producers/singers, etc?

I like to take some time every week to listen to a lot of real old music… jazz, and jazz funk (Hancock, Duke or Scott-Heron), old kraut rock and German electronics (Can, Schultze, Goetsching, Baumann, Kraftwerk), dub (Bill Laswell, Mad Professor, Perry), Brazillian music, hip hop, urban music, I.D.M., but it’s not fair to over-categorize. I buy a lot of music every month. Not all of it is dancefloor-oriented. I think I’m quite savvy on modern music, but I’m also very picky and suspicious about it, as my experience tells me that hyped-up music tends to be forgotten easily, leaving you with a useless piece of vinyl.

My favorite DJs, for many different reasons, are: Jeff Mills, Derrick May, Ricardo Villalobos, Laurent Garnier, François Kevorkian, Theo Parrish, Harvey, Kenny Dixon Junior, Recloose, Mr. Scruff, RJD2, Strickly Kev, Jazzy Jeff, Spinna, and many, many, many others. As far as producers, and apart from those whom I previously mentioned, the number one composer of today in my book must be Carl Craig. His body of work is amazing, and I think I must have 90% of all he has done thus far.  From ambient to jazz, jackin’ techno to sexy house, bad ass breaks . . . he’s done everything. I respect the hell out of him for that. On that note I must admit to have a Detroit vein in me, a very strong one (hiphop, jazz, soul, techno, house, rock— I love almost all of Detroit’s music). I’m also very much into modern club music crossovers between classic and newer formats, like what Martyn or 2562 are doing. But having said that, I’m also a big fan of Dutch electronic music anyway: Clone, Rush Hour, etc. Those guys have great taste and put out amazing music.

I’m passionate about music that subsists on its own, and is independent of trends and exterior expectations. Most producers that think alike have my respect. Like Pepe Bradock, for instance, (or I:Cube), Robert Hood, but also DJ Shadow, Kode 9 and a whole lot of people outside of the usual house spectrum. I admire music made with sincerity and straight-forwardness. Like I said, house is just what comes easy, but I like and purchase all kinds of things, and in my mind I only care about the authors as creative people. I don’t care about genre. Quite truthfully, I’m really happy when an artist tries something completely new, like Luke Vibert does all the time, or when Photek wrote a house track with Robert Owens. It’s not easy to summarize my music [tastes] in a couple of easy-to-reference names, though.

Is there a difference between what you listen to in your leisure and what you play out for an audience?

Yes there is. Like I pointed out, I love to listen to eclectic mixtapes and podcasts in my car mainly. Usually I’ll be shifting from some mad underground UK pirate mix to a moody experimental selection in a blink of an eye. But when the weekend gets closer, though, I listen to more dancefloor oriented music for inspiration.

How would you characterize the club scene in Lisbon (and Portugal as a whole), and how does it differ from other club scenes/musical audiences you have experienced?

Well… if I must be honest, Portugal has amazing DJs, but a very unappreciative crowd, and on top of that, the overall market is dominated by a few big names, most of whom are not worth the time you take to read their names. So it’s a hard life here if you want to work in this business (especially like me, playing vinyl and learning how to mix music that hardly anyone knows). I often get mistaken for a “loungey” DJ because I’m not 100% house-oriented. But the house DJs and crowd are also way too conservative. A lot of people criticize each other for playing “this” and not “that” all the time—it’s too consuming a reality most of the time.

Also, it’s not easy because bookers and promoters get easily impressed if you act like you’re the shit and you act and talk the right way. Often times music comes last unfortunately. At the same time, the really talented people are struggling to survive because they keep it real. It’s more or less the same thing as anywhere in that aspect.

I’d just like to point out it’s not paradise. In Italy, for instance, it’s much more simple to get a party started than here, people are a lot looser and self confident, but overall, the DJs aren’t half as good (I don’t mean my Italian DJ friends of course). In the States, it’s even easier if you play a song with lyrics, because people can relate to the words even if they don’t know the track. The sociological path you take to adapt to each culture as a DJ can often times reveal a lot of curious facts about said culture!

How has being Portuguese and living in Lisbon influenced your sound and music tastes?

Let me tell you about being “tuga”: we don’t all have hairy moustaches, our women don’t have one of those Frida Kahlo-style eyebrows, and we are not all screaming “BENFICA!!” all the time. I guess that’s the caricature in Brazil and other places, but being Portuguese is much more about the capacity to rightfully appreciate melancholy and beauty (especially in Lisbon), and that’s what Fado is all about. It’s a whole music style based around the concept of yearning, of having a faint and vague necessity of becoming whole with our own expectations. That’s what our untranslatable word “saudade” means. Being Portuguese makes a moody guy, mostly. I shift from being over joyous to being gloomy and apparently introspective in a couple of minutes. I try my best not to let the melancholy get the best of me, in terms of my own personality. I’m not absolutely sure if that’s because I’m “tuga” or because I am how I am… but I believe this “Portugality” does transpire in my own music.

Do you prefer working with digital production tools or with vinyl? Do you work with one or the other exclusively when you DJ live or do you use both?

As a DJ, I try to play as much vinyl as possible, because of the sound being so much better mostly. Also because it become easier for me (after 15 years of DJing with vinyl) to make a decent set if I’m holding records and not looking at file names. Of course, I’m not stubborn, so I use Traktor Scratch in order to play promos and my own music, but I usually don’t use it for more than half a dozen tracks every gig. Production-wise, it’s the same. I prefer hardware because of the sound, but I often use VST’s if I can’t reach the particular sound I’m looking for… I just use up a lot of time to make that VST come alive like a real synth. I use modular sequencers and stuff that helps me reach a certain level of randomness in the music.

You have produced quite a bit. Can you describe the sound of your own work?

Good question… like I said before, house music is a very broad spectrum that I found to be the one I can more easily explore, so I often end up making things that have that particular beat pattern. But I have produced soul, hiphop, downtempo, jazz, broken beats and garage, techno, disco, and a lot of things in between. It all depends on what kind of swing I’m feeling at the particular moment of inception. But generally the music that I’ve done that is more well-known (in Groovement recordings on 4Lux and Clone) is a sort of left-field house music, that incorporates a lot of different elements (from funk to dub, jazz, ambient, etc), and that can be enjoyed by different audiences and played by various DJs.

Where can one listen to and purchase the work you have produced?

Nowadays I’m not completely sure, but I’m sure “Music Life” on Groovement still has some copies left in Juno, and the digital release is also available. My “Mamilo EP” on 4Lux is also available there, or on Clone D/G/T/L, my next release on Clone will also be on vinyl and digital on the same platform. Beatport has them as well. My earlier work (from 2007 back) is unavailable and out of stock everywhere I look, unfortunately.

But I’m usually more concerned with having the record reach the right people. You can release a digital EP but it’ll never reach people if you don’t promote it with at least 300 copies of vinyl.

Which do you prefer? DJing or producing? Do you think you will ever transition to doing solely production work?

First thing I did when I realized I loved DJing – and the science of it – was practice like my life depended on it. When I first DJed, I was 13, but I had enough skills to stand alone and endure the party… so it’s a very old passion to which I’m really faithful. I don’t imagine my life without that possibility of escape and expression that comes with DJing.

Apart from that, I also think that DJing alone can either be a nice hobby or something you do for extra cash, but if you don’t support it with some kind of ambition that goes beyond the simple sequencing and mixing of tracks, your life will become somewhat void. I remember ?uestlove’s point about this: “Although I have a band and produce records, I’m first and foremost a DJ and collector”… but I’m not able to say the same. I feel composing and reaching one’s own sound is as challenging as keeping pace with what comes out and figuring out what you want your crowd to party to.

check back later for Part Two!

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4 Responses to “What’s Good? Ka§par (Part One)”

  1. Jack Hernandez August 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Good 🙂 your minds.

  2. alex August 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm #

    DJ Kaspar is HOT!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What’s Good? Ka§par (Part Two) « Retail DJ - August 11, 2010

    […] What’s Good? Ka§par (Part One) […]

  2. nutriot.com | Get Ready with Ka§par - August 18, 2010

    […] you prefer a download, I can help. Just make sure you also read the interview (part 1 & part 2) while you’re listening to the mix! Related postsWorldwide Podcast with Kyle […]

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