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Why Internet Haters Need to Leave Ricardo Villalobos Alone

This recent Villalobos "FAIL" in Croatia was really an audience FAIL.

The title of the clip was "Ricardo Villalobos FAIL closing Sonus Festival 2015." I didn't seek it out. It sat there in the right column of the YouTube page, beckoning me as I tried to watch Surgeon's brilliant all-analog set from Dekmantel festival. Why Google felt the need to suggest a "fail" after this particular win is another algorithmic argument all-together, but I could resist clicking the bait. I pressed play and watched as the famously esoteric DJ ended his sunrise set at the Croatian event with a stunning piece of gypsy folk by the so-called "King of Roma music," Serbia's Saban Bajramovic. A somber violin set the tone for the singer's mournful voice, while festival-goers gently swayed and embraced the coming dawn.


Obviously, not everyone would be enamored by this anticlimactic come down; you can almost hear the grinding of teeth from the crowd over the soft strum of nylon-stringed guitar. Yet it is sad to think that such an inspired artistic tribute to the heritage of this island nation—harking back to a time before it became a prime destination for techno tourists—would incite such a harsh headline. What's going on here?

Now, Croatia is several hundred miles away from Serbia, which might explain the bad grade were Ricardo Villalobos being judged by an expert in the music of the Black Sea region. But Bajramovic's music is beloved throughout the Balkans, and either way, the anonymous hater who'd posted it—and whose other YouTube uploads consisted pretty much exclusively of audience clips shot at major techno events across Europe—made no indication that he or she understood the source. Clearly this person's interest lies in beats and bleeps, not Balkan folk favorites. It's unfortunate to think that audiences have become so narrow in their musical tastes that any audible artefact that falls outside of the closed confines of house and techno is immediately shunned.

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Villalobos, of course, has always been a lightning rod for this sort of trolling, even on the part of a presumably "discerning" underground. Techno's biggest bad boy, Ricardo's reputation for staying awake for endless hours and consuming heroic amounts of intoxicants has made him an anti-hero amongst the typically too-tidy public personas of most primetime DJs—a Keith Richards for the chemical generation. But unlike the legendary guitarist, who's been strumming the riff to "Satisfaction" for almost 50 years, Ricardo has never been afraid to hold back playing the hits in favor of a far more adventurous track list.


This willingness to test fans' taste has occasionally earned the exasperation of his fans, many of whom probably like the idea of the renegade DJ more than actually trying to dance to some of his challenging selections. The most recent example of such an audience fail was the social media frenzy that followed his set at Cocoon In the Park in the UK. Fans took to Facebook en masse to condemn Ricardo's set, calling his performance "an abortion" and "suicide," and saying he'd "killed the vibe" after Carl Cox "smashed it." Particularly egregiously, one commenter called out "That last stupid track he played for 15-minutes" while he "posed like a fairy."

The online music press jumped all over it—first to report the Facebook fracas, and later to offer up some mainly pro-Villalobos punditry, placing blame on everything from uninformed audiences in northern England to poor programming on the part of the promoters for putting Ricardo between consistent crowd pleasers Coxy and Sven Vath.

Ricardo, for his part, knows this game well. He knows it despite his refusal to participate in online activity himself (according to popular legend, he doesn't use email, though people I've spoke with who work with him say that's an exaggeration). He knew how poisonous the Internet can be for artists all the way back in 2006, when he called the web "an uncontrollable monster":

"The Internet is even showing pictures of the moment when you are closing your eyes. You were playing for seven hours for the guy who took this photo. He was dancing, he was there and then he is doing this fucking photo in the moment where…Sure I am sweating, but I am just closing my eyes and he takes the photo in this moment. Then he puts the photo on the internet, "Look how fucked up Ricardo is!"


He has a point. Do a Google image search for "Ricardo Villalobos," and you'll immediately find several photos of him deep in the party, drenched in sweat, his drooping eyes threatening to slide down his long cheeks. How many other mega-star DJs are haunted by such moments thanks to the Internet's merciless memory? We know plenty of imbibers on par with Ricardo, who just happen to do a better job keeping their quills clean and social media scrubbed.

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So should we feel sorry for Ricardo? Hardly. He's managed to maintain an impeccable musical resume despite (or in part, because of) his reputation for partying. He continues to tour consistently, playing for adoring crowds at the best clubs and festivals in the world. The recent re-release of his two most seminal tracks, "Dexter" and "Easy Lee," has proven cause for celebration, while his current output is consistently more stylistically adventurous than that of his party-fueling peers. And maybe that's why, even on the the comment thread for the YouTube Fail, one anonymous user saw fit to dub him the "Salvador Dali of electronic music."

Of course, it's heartening that nearly all of the comments on the FAIL clip are in Ricardo's defense, and in the 24 hours since I started writing this piece, someone has even pointed out the Croatian folk connection. The problem is that few will hit play on the clip, and even fewer will read the comment section. Fortunately, there is no indication that Ricardo will have any trouble bouncing back from the online negativity that follows his every move. Maybe eventually, people will even wise up and admit that we could probably use more Gypsy folk at techno festivals.

Joshua Glazer is on Twitter.