You've probably already heard of Guti's remarkable story: classically-trained jazz virtuoso turned Argentinian rock 'n' roll superstar to international underground house favourite.
Born into an exceptionally musical family in Buenos Aires including orchestra directors, saxophone players and pianists, Guti taught himself how to play piano at the age of five. His prodigious talents (and various political factors) took him everywhere from Uruguay, Venezuela, Costa Rica, France and Russia. After getting into blues as a teen, he began hanging with successful Argentine rock bands like the Black and Blues, Ratones Paranoicos, Viejas Locas and Los Piojos. Before long, his own band Jovenes Pordioseros was playing to 10,000 people from Thursday through Saturday and earning him more than his fair share of notoriety (and riches).
But disillusioned with a hard-charging, fast money lifestyle in his developing home country, Guti turned elsewhere. He began experimenting with making house beats and singing on top. He then relocated to Düsseldorf, dropped a debut album called Patio de Juegos, became a stalwart of Loco Dice's Desolat label and has in the years since established himself as a mainstay on the global scene. However, he stands firm that he is not a DJ in the textbook use of the word. He just plays his own music and does a live act including keyboards. "Electronic music from the heart."
So when I ring him up at his newly constructed studio in Barcelona and tell him I'm interested in talking about his new album Rompecorazones, he breathes a sigh of relief. "That would be amazing. Sometimes you want to talk about who you are now and not what you've done."
And where Guti is now is in a place of conflict. Or so he was recently while in production of Rompecorazones, which translates to 'heartbreak.' Only the haunting, sorrowful and invigorating recording is not about a breakup at all. "It's about everything in my life. It's a collection of feelings that I have and I guess I will carry with me forever. Me against me."
Rompecorazones is about where Guti grew up, his experiences with people from various cultures and walks of life. His changing values in music and his relocation to Europe five years ago. And yes, it includes some heartbreak from love too, because "we have all had that," as Guti discloses. But it's also about him wanting to say, "Okay, from now on, it's a different life and it's a different stage." And he wanted to put out this story in one album.
If you've heard the LP, you have heard all these parts. It chronicles every step of Guti's odyssey from jazz to blues to rock to ambient to electronica. It's a work handcrafted with live instrumentation from pianos, trumpets and percussion, featuring appearances from local South American legends and friends.
Yet as an artist who now sees himself as a techno producer, Rompecorazones somehow remains a categorically house recording to him. Just forget that it excludes the typical 4/4 beats, drum machines and off-beat hi-hat cymbals of an artist associated in his genre.
"The guy who wrote the album, myself, is an electronic music producer. That's how I am in my mind now. If you listen to some songs, like "El Solitario", which is like a jazzy, painful whatever… it's a house song. I think what makes it electronic—and even "Used To Be Like This," which I did with the band and one of the best trumpet players in the world—it's all how house sounds for me."
How does house sound for Guti? "Like on Traktor with that loopy feeling. To get somewhere by repetition." He is essentially talking about eight minutes of the same message over and over until it gets to you. "This is what got me into house and techno."
Guti proceeds to tell me a funny story. "The first time my mom came to a house gig—and we come from a musical family where many generations are very talented—she said 'I love this sound but it's a bit repetitive, no?!' And this thing, from our side, it's addictive, because with the right message it can really affect people."
It has affected Guti in ways he never imagined possible. But his diverse musical upbringing always stayed close to his heart. So close that at the end of 2011, he realized most of the stuff he was producing wasn't even club music and no one knew. He had a friend, another big producer, who came home and told him, "You are an amazing musician and no one knows! Put this out!"
"When I listen to the album now with time—it's been almost a year since I finished—it's everything. There's a lot of hope in it. And there is melancholy too, but there is a lot of hope because I'm trying to appreciate all these things that happened to me. It's like, okay, I don't want to be heartbroken anymore. I want to break some hearts with music. Something like that."
Speaking with Guti, I find myself wanting to identify the one motivation behind Rompecorazones. Sure, he has offered a wide spectrum of influences and inspiration. But if I had to pick just one based on our conversation, my guess would be that it comes down to proving something to himself. Upon posing my perspective, he surprisingly agrees.
"When I turned in this direction, it was a bit like a joke in the family. My younger brother also played blues in a band, he was a keyboardist. And he always grew up trying to be me, the older brother. And then he was like, 'Dude, what is going on?! You were so good! How can you not play anymore?' So I think that's a big part of this album, it was to make up with my life and my family and friends. Showing that I still have it."
Guti won't tell you though whether he still 'has it or not.' He'll leave that up to the listeners to decide. His great effort speaks for itself. But Guti is content either way. Completing Rompecorazones has led to a return to traditional club music, which has him excited. But that doesn't mean he isn't still looking for something out there that he can't quite define.
"I've been in music for a long, long, long time. So long that it's embarrassing to tell." He cracks up but then takes a focused tone. "So if I don't do new things, I feel like I'm not evolving. You have to do something new."
If Guti didn't, he might go crazy. While countless DJs are able to express themselves through playing tracks of others, it's a whole other matter when considering someone who makes their own music. "It is about different needs."
For example, just last week, Guti was in the studio with Desolat co-founder and producer Martin Buttrich. At one point during the session, he stopped and looked at his friend and realized how, like himself, creating music was a necessity. "It's not like he's thinking about whether this is going to be good or bad or cool or not. He just needs to make music all the time." That, in Guti's opinion, is the difference. "It's all good with the DJs now living the other parts of the scene, you know, the partying and fun. All well to do. But we need to express."
After all, music started for Guti over three decades ago. It's a fascination that goes way back to when he played piano for the time and his sister was playing "this song about an elephant that flies. I wanted to play it and when I discovered I could, I was so excited."
Now going on 30 years later, the feeling for Guti with music is exactly the same. No matter what the genre or new adventure.
Guti joins forces with King Brain to deliver a highly memorable two track EP titled Opus 1 & 2, out on July 21st.
You can follow Christopher on Twitter and Instagram at: @theCMprogram.