My Life in Songs IliaZ
My Life in Songs takes a glimpse at an artist’s life and career, finding the records that were influential along the way. Iliaz is our first guest, on the records that have defined his impulsive 15+ years in electronic music.
#1 Maurice Ravel: 'Bolero'
I tried to go back in time to remember ‘when was the first time that I listened to an electronic piece?’. The thing is it goes very far back in time. My father was into listening to very interesting music, classical music. I once studied the flute for many years, I used to do musical theory for ten years. I used to love classical music.
On Sundays my father used to put on tapes in the Hi-Fi stereo and I got really stuck with this composer. This was a piece that had a constant progression but was something that stuck in my mind. I don’t know if it’s influenced my taste in music but that was one of the most minimal classical songs that I can remember. [Sings tune]. This thing, I don’t know if you remember it, could go on for like half an hour.
It wasn’t classical, it was different with the time: going, going, going. A loop that was continuing, having new instruments coming in but playing the same thing.
#2 Mr. Fingers: 'Can You Feel It (Vocal)'
I was trying to remember at some point I listened to a pirate radio station back in my hometown, it was ’93, ’94, ’95. I was like 15 years old. I was listening to these strange sounds, electronic stuff, [it] really captured my attention. But I heard this track after pirate radio because there weren’t names of any tracks that they played. Aside from the melody and the bassline and everything sound[ing] so warm and nice, this song was, more importantly, a manifesto. In the vocal the guy explains what house music is: "This is jack and jack had a groove / and from this groove came the groove of four grooves." It was like someone teaching house music. [Up until then] I was into electronic stuff but not a specific type and things were mixed up back then.
When did you hear that song?
It was 1998, I was getting involved with this electronic stuff with some friends. It wasn’t in a club, it was in a friend’s place. She just put on the track and it was a moment where I was thinking: I get it, this is house music and I like it. I was 18 years old and that was the house manifesto.
#3 Jeff Mills: 'The Bells'
Two years later, in 2000, I started to collect music, buy records and everything. I was really the house head. Stuff from DJ Sneak, Masters of Work… big housey stuff and a lot of tracks with instruments, with live bands. I was into soulful house.
I met this girl that became my future girlfriend at the time, she was into electronic music and her ex-boyfriend was working in that pirate electronic station in Greece. I remember I went to her place and she said ‘house is very soft music, why don’t you listen to this?’ and she put in a tape. It was the Jeff Mills set from the Liquid room in Tokyo. In that set was this next song that really captured my attention.
It was an important moment because I hadn’t really listened to Techno music and I was captured by the energy of this track. I was really into moving your body smoothly and stuff with house but I never had this energy. I got really really really into techno, maybe because of the age: a lot of hormones, a lot of energy to take out. These fierce beats and this tribal, almost Carnival-like scary, haunting… [hums tune].
I said to her ‘what is this thing?’ That was a moment when I started to buy some techno tracks and I started to go to techno parties. I live for house, I mean house is always in my heart but I left most of my house tracks in Greece. Then I got into more this Detroit and Chicago techno thing and it was because of ‘The Bells’.
#4 Maurizio: 'M7'
Before moving to London, around 2002, 2003 I got more into Detroit stuff and I listened to Maurizio. Maurizio is a duo from Berlin, it’s Mortiz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus. Mark has one of the most important record stores in the world: Hardwax Berlin. Oswald is a musician and he’s a studio engineer as well.
I think because [one of the] guys is a studio engineer and a sound engineer, they managed to make this timeless dub techno. Before I listened it was just a category to me. It was different because they didn’t have the normal structure of a track, with an introduction, breakdown and then going up again. It could be ten minutes of the same thing, dub is the same thing. The same things with volume going out, coming again. But you weren’t bored. This was what was really defining for me, I don’t know how they did it.
It was amazing because I moved to London to study my Masters in 2004 and I really needed this whole dub thing for my life. For many hours I was studying, doing my courses; it was like a three year thing project so I just wanted background music, something to keep me company. But I couldn’t listen to things that had really strong elements like house or techno. For me, this fit perfectly with the tall buildings, the fog, the grayness where I lived.
Where did you live?
I lived in the south in the first years in a bit of a rough neighbourhood so there was a lot of dub techno, I really really got into the thing. It’s not music that I... of course you can play it: a set of two hours of dub, but it’s not my style. I will put a couple of dub techno tracks in my sets but for me it’s more a home listening thing.
#5 Schatrax: 'A Question of Timing'
I lived in London for 6 years, 2004 to 2010. It was strange times for music to be honest. I went out a lot in London, I made Fabric my second home but it was like a culture shock because I got to listen to nice music. In Greece we had parties where the DJ came, didn’t really put in so much effort, took a lot of money and the level wasn’t so good.
So I went to Fabric where I saw DJs putting in an effort as the ears of all the world were there. From managers to promoters, they really tried to get the best out of them. But for many years I couldn’t find my way, my direction in music because I got bored of the music.
It was the minimal thing, it was 2003, 4, 5, 6… minimal stuff and for me it was really boring. I couldn’t find any good records so I was thinking: for so many years what track I could choose to tell you what really inspired me. I had to go to 2007. In 2007 I listened to Schatrax, it was this track called ‘A Question of Timing’.
It was a breath of fresh air for me. It was serious music done with so few elements. Because it has very few elements this track, very few elements make something so interesting. In a sense it’s a minimal thing but I found that it didn’t lack energy. It was a track with energy, stimulating you mentally, not just your body. When I was listening to it, it kind of gave me a new direction. I was bored from all the music that I was listening for four years and I discovered a lot of new music after this moment. I would say that ‘A Question of Timing’ really made an impact on me.
Why didn’t you appreciate minimal house and techno in the same way as the repetitive and simplistic elements of the classical music or dub techno?
To be honest the thing with minimal… it's an adjective no? I don’t know, you can use it for ‘minimal architecture’ etc.. Everybody thought that this is a new genre. No, this is minimal…house, techno, it defines the big genres, it’s not like a genre in itself. For me it was very technological, sounded like it was made in a computer, like in the living room of someone.. like a kid. To me it sounded cheap, boring and without energy. To be honest electronic music was made to be played in a club, to stimulate the people to dance but for this music I was finding this music to lack energy, lack creativity.
I couldn’t find soul in the minimal tracks. Some things they come and they depend on the drugs, they exist in that moment. So what happened is there was an explosion of the ketamine thing in London that I wasn’t really fond of. This made it a bit more interesting because this specific drug really fit with this kind of music, which wasn’t really my thing. I think it’s two things combined.
What happened next?
I was coming from a middle class family, it wasn’t like I could say to my family: ‘listen, I wanna be an artist so just send me money and I will go out all the time’. I was working a lot, it was not like I had time to promote myself and make music. I was really consumed by this kind of lifestyle: to make end’s meet. I had some gigs in some squats, some warehouse parties in East London and Hackney but nothing was done professionally. I was too consumed.
That’s the reason I left London. I came to Barcelona in 2005, I went to Sonar and I fell in love with the city completely. In 2010 I was fed up of London. The party thing was nice and actually some new things happened. The End closed, [27:00] closed, Fabric had some issues with the law. It was a bit weird. a lot of changes. I don’t know if I felt the changes in the club scene or it was a simultaneous thing: a change in myself, but I couldn’t stay there any more. I transferred my job in Desigual from London to Barcelona and I put all of my records and the turntables, again, into a Desigual truck which was carrying clothes and deliveries. I brought them to Barcelona and I made a new start here.
#6 Ricardo Villalobos: '808 the Bassqueen'
This is another track that I discovered a lot later. I included this more because through it I was introduced to Ricardo. He really had an impact on me mostly by his sessions, to be honest I’ve been a DJ for the last 17 years and it’s like I’m trying to produce something for the last 3 years, but mainly, I’m a DJ.
It's something that I did since I was 12, 13 years old when we used to do house parties with classmates. I used to do the mixtapes during the week, recording all the songs from the radio and everybody was waiting for IliaZ's mixtape to have a party in the house. I had a mixtape from 6pm to 7pm, which was more energetic music. From 9 to 10, the blues, when everybody would go to ask a girl to dance.
Since I was very young I liked to give the opportunity to listen to something nice that I listened to. It’s like something to share. I don’t know if I had nice taste or not but I always think that the people were liking what I was doing. I remember seeing the people dancing to the mixtape, I was feeling so good. I wasn’t even dancing, sometimes I was just pressing play and just look[ed] at them. I was really happy that someone was dancing to something I did.
I say this because I never really liked Villalobos’ productions, but through this song I discovered him and I got into his DJ sessions. [His session in Fabric], for example, was the best music that I listened to, the best session I listened to in my life. This guy is very inspiring, very influential and the thing is: after this session with Villalobos in Fabric, I got to listen to his interviews and stuff and really like him as a person, his view on life, music, promotion, marketing, his name. This track really made me turn my head towards this direction.
Villalobos plays old stuff, new stuff, combined in a way that makes sense. After 17 years I have so many records and I cannot really be focused on what’s being released now. When I have a session I put on things from the 90s, 80s, I put on two classics, then two new songs. The music should be like this. A DJ is doing a good job when he has a global view on the music, not just on what is going on today, or just what’s happened for 30 years. Take all these influences and make a nice story, like this guy used to. Very influential.