Looking back on another marathon week of the Miami Winter Music Conference, the history books will record last month's A Desolat Miami showcase as closing the 2015 edition with a bang. But on a label night that featured Francisco Allendes, Loco Dice back-to-back Yaya, and Hector back-to-back Robert Dietz, it was the union between the Argentine heartbreaker Guti and Bucharest wizards Livio & Roby that unquestionably stole the show.
It was a rousing set that combined the former's emotionally-driven electronic music with the latter's supernatural twist on house and techno. The memorable joint performance was punctuated by Guti, who feverishly proclaimed, "You like that! Those Romanians are killers!"
For his part, Roby elaborates a bit on the group's relationship and collaboration with Guti. "It started a long time ago. We have a special bond and feel really connected," he acknowledges. "I think his Latin spirit is very close to us, so we have many similarities. He's a piano virtuoso, an amazing artist, and he transmits a special energy when we play or compose together in the studio. Maybe we do the same for him!"
While it's always a treat to witness this kind of mutual camaraderie between artists, Guti's comment about the Romanians still stuck out in my mind. It got me thinking about the concept of Romanian techno, an influential sub-genre that is emerging as a globally sophisticated field both in reception and production.
"It's really hard to explain," says Livio. "I think it popped out from the deepness and melancholy of the Romanian soul and the influences that we had." Roby goes on to clarify how in the beginning, Ricardo Villalobos played an important role in developing this category. "He had a big impact and effect here, people somehow identified with him. He's a national hero, maybe the most beloved artist around these areas. Somehow this thought comforts me—thinking that amazing quality music can have such a big resonance, then local artists can take it further and develop a sub-genre. Talented musicians keep pushing it their own way, constantly bringing amazing waves and energy."
It's certainly tricky to try and explain what Romanian techno sounds like. Think deep basslines, spellbinding grooves, and weird atmospheres with a peculiar soul. That's the beauty of it though. While difficult to describe, you hear Romanian techno and you immediately know what it is. "It's all about hypnotizing you," remarks Livio. Despite all the acclaim, it remains a relatively new culture in Bucharest.
"In the '90s, not so much was going on. Everything started after the year 2000," explains Roby. "It was a small community of DJs and producers in the beginning. After awhile, everything started to take shape. We are one of the oldest on the scene along with [a:rpia:r], the label and trio formed by local icons Raresh, Rhadoo, and Petre Inspirescu. For sure they are the most influential and important names on the Romanian circuit. It's quite simple: the guys are great DJs and producers. Everybody knows this and we love their work."
Back on the subject of themselves, Livio reveals that he used to do warm-up honours at the renowned Le Mania Club on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast well over a decade ago. By 2004, the pair held different residencies in Bucharest. "We definitely have our contribution at home, but we're also expanding it across borders," he says. "The Romanian sound changed here several times before to stabilize and transform into the unique tonality that stands these days."
On that note, it's worth inquiring just where Livio & Roby position themselves in the Romanian realm. Obviously they and their Premiesku project have grown outside the bounds of Bucharest into a true international act, but what is their place on the Romanian techno map?
"It's quite hard to verbalize about positioning ourselves in the scene," says Livio. "We have been here from the beginning and had a constant rise. We have our own spot and feel really happy about it, even though there is plenty more to prove and achieve."
"To be honest, we never consider this," adds Roby. "Being here all the time and born in Bucharest, it's not the first thing to think of. Creating art and developing new ideas is basically what we do. So we wouldn't know a precise answer. Maybe there are no clear-cuts in this matter."
The reality is that stand out North American techno venues like Output in Brooklyn are now wholeheartedly embracing Romanian techno. Consider how the club recently hosted [a:rpia:r] in a rollicking, back-to-back-to-back showcase from 2 PM to 10 PM on New Year's Day. Make no bones about it, this platform should be regarded as a breakthrough.
"I am not sure how the American scene is labeling everything," says Livio. "But I saw great improvement on this front and perceived people starting to buzz about Romanian artists. It's just a matter of time, although it's normal that it sometimes takes longer to import new sounds from Europe." Roby would tend to agree. "There are certain places in U.S. that are starting to appreciate different genres and Romanian techno. We've also played Output and Verboten, they are for sure the coolest places to drop this technique. The fact that New York welcomed [a:rpia:r] proves their appreciation for good quality music. This pleases us."
Positive as their sentiments may currently be, the Desolat duo—who have also released on ViVa, Defected, Get Physical, SCI+TEC, and Saved—cannot ignore the controversial debate sweeping through all forms of dance music over the word 'underground'. I confess to the guys that, in my opinion, 'underground' should not automatically apply to house and techno artists simply because they do not play commercial EDM, but that the term does apply to a sub-genre like Romanian techno.
"We agree. There are some bizarre premises regarding this word," states Roby. "DJs like Dice and Marco Carola used to be 'underground' but they switched to the mainstream. It's clear. I mean, somebody from our side needs to play the super-clubs and big festivals, right?" Livio concurs that 'underground' should refer to niche and avant-garde, and is thankful small communities of people all over the world keep it like this. "I think it's beautiful how they connect on this level. We've observed a special link between societies that consume this alternative art and that have the power to understand it. It's a really cozy and enjoyable feeling."
In other words, however you want to classify the pair, they are comfortable. Although, here in North America where everything trendy in dance music inevitably gets over-manufactured, there might be room for concern on behalf of Romanian techno. Case in point, just look at what has happened to deep house in the last couple years.
Livio & Roby acknowledge the unease but remain quietly confident. "Genres can emerge from the 'underground' and become more commercial, but we don't think this will apply to the Romanian music. In fact, it is our opinion that the 'underground' perfectly shields Romanian techno for the moment."
As much as one excitedly anticipates the continued expansion of Romanian techno, we can only hope Livio & Roby are right. Sometimes you just don't want to mess with a good thing.