In Depth
Gui Boratto discusses his live set-up

Brazilian techno producer Gui Boratto has been making music for decades, having started writing songs on the guitar when he was a child. Always playing with different instruments and rhythms, he’s known for the more melodic side of techno. Ahead of his live performance in Room One this Saturday, we caught up with him as he was setting up a new machine from his home in Barcelona.

What was your environment like when you were growing up?

When I was growing up, my father was an engineer. In fact his whole family were engineers. My mum’s father was a conductor. I don’t really remember him too well as he died really young, when I was around 3 or 4 years old. My aunt and mum and her family are really into music. I grew up listening to music all the time. My aunts and her sisters played all kinds of instruments and I was in the middle of this beautiful little hurricane. To be a musician in Brazil, well actually all over this planet, can be a really hard career. It’s not stable and you have to study a lot. There was a point in my life, when I was around 15 or 16, I had been playing guitar and piano for years, I started really young, and I was afraid to follow music as a career, but my second passion was architecture. So I decided to be an architect. I finished architecture school and worked in that for two years after graduating, but by that time I was already working on music. When I became an architect, I was earning a little money, and so that encouraged me to follow music as a career. There was a point where I decided to keep following music. I have a little house in the countryside and I was really involved in the project, even in terms of construction. My wife is an interior designer at Vogue (not the fashion magazine), and so we really encourage each other to follow our first passion in life, which in my case is music.

You spoke of your mother’s family being very musical, but what kind of stuff did they play when you were at home?

Well, my grandfather was a conductor of classical music, but my mum and our whole family were also into bossa nova. You know, we’re Brazilians! Then there was Tango, which is super Argentinian, and I have a really strong connection with the music of Piazzolla. But my main musical background was rock’n’roll. I really wanted to play guitar, and I did, but my mother also told me I had to play piano also if I wanted to learn the guitar. I was really into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. In my youth, there was a point where I was kind of sick of the bass guitar and drums combo, and the basic rock’n’roll formation, and I was flirting with those technopop sounds, like The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus… that’s why I’m really thankful to my mother, because there was a transition that happened within me, and I became sick of the simple rock music, and I started to play around with sequencers and knowing the structure of a piano certainly helps. I was really intimate with keys.

When did you start thinking about music as a full-time career?

I used to get money from doing music for advertising. I really wanted to compose my own music and sign music under my real name. A few years before that, my brother and I were creating a lot of different aliases and making some kind of poppy stuff. We then started doing music for advertising, and I started to produce other people’s music too. I sometimes worked as an engineer or a technician at points. It was a time where I really learned how to record instruments, all kinds of instruments. I learned so much about recording drums, percussion, even accordions and guitar, bass, and so on.
“My main musical background was rock’n’roll”
Were you ever really interested in collecting records, or have you always been about making music?

Actually I would say that I collect instruments. My brother was into vinyl and in 1985, he lived in Montpelier and then two years in London, around the time that I was really into rock’n’roll. He came back a few years later and that’s when I got to know people like Yazoo and some other technopop artists. I’ve been lucky to acquire some really rare vinyl, and I can DJ – I have my turntables set up to the side of my grand piano. It’s quite funny actually, I have my mixer and turntables and then you have the grand piano and a cello and some drums. I’m just really into instruments instead of collecting records.

When did you start releasing records?

My first release under my own name was actually a remix I did for the film, City of God. I did a remix for the soundtrack, and then I did a second one, and I got a little glimmer. It was the first time I used my real name. Before that I had so many aliases. My brother and I used to do so many things for the radio, and the owners of the radio stations at the time would try to cut you out. I adored City of God, and was flattered to have been asked. After that, I released something for Circle and Plastic City, back in 2005 which was before Arquipélago. Arquipélago was my first success. It sold about 35,000 copies. That’s when the story really began.

Tell us what happened at that point, when you released Arquipélago?

I had my first European tour, just because of one song. I remember playing places like Panorama Bar and Monegros Festival. I came out with another single two or three months later, and Michael Mayer said that I should do an album as I was sitting on so much music. I jumped at the opportunity. I never had the DJ background, and a DJ album can be quite boring. There are some producers that can DJ, and some DJs who can produce, but I wouldn’t say I know even five people who can do both incredibly well. In my case, I consider myself a producer, so to produce an album, especially my debut, was my chance to test different paths in music and experiment a little.
“I consider myself a producer”
That first time you played Panorama Bar, what set-up did you have?

I think I was using a Nord 2 with a computer. I change my set-up all the time actually. For example today, I just bought this thing, the Drumbrute Impact, and I was literally changing my set-up just before we started talking. My music is not just one-note looping techno, and even my instrumental songs, which make up 80-90% of my songs, I have a typical verse, bridge and chorus. If I was using the same gear, I would be very mechanical, and the last thing I want is not to have fun. I love having butterflies in my belly and a little fear. It’s really nice to have a little fear over the possibility of error and mistakes. It’s something that can lead you to something very creative. Back then, I was using a Nord 2, a computer, and the Evolution, which is a small and light controller. It’s been about 15 years since then though. I’ve done some live shows playing the guitar, and I did a whole tour I called Machines, where I didn’t use a laptop. I had four 32kg cases, and something like 45-50 midi cables. I change all the time though.

That’s what live music really is though, surely. Is pressing play on one song and then another really live music?

Not at all, but it depends. I’ve seen someone like Stimming really improvise using just an APC and a computer. At the same time, I know a lot of guys who use a lot of equipment, even some DJs who use four CDJs. There’s a secret I’ll tell you now. Sometimes when you see someone with six channels pumping, only one or two of them are really working. The others are just super high pitch and out of hearing range. Sometimes it just takes some simple gear for someone to create something special, but there are lots of guys using heavy equipment and faking it completely.

Talk to us about the live set you’re bringing to fabric, and any memories you have of playing there before.

I played at fabric years ago, right after the release of Chromophobia. I remember going to the bar very well. Someone told me that I had played their favourite song, and they had Beautiful Life tattoos. I got pictures with all of them. I had a great time.
“I don’t want to be cliché, and I want to surprise”
When you step up for your live set at fabric, what have you prepared and how much of it is improvised?

There are a few bits of kit I really like to use. There’s one bit I made with a friend of mine. It’s an arp, so it creates arpeggios. You choose the scale, and whether it’s major or minor, whether it’s the tonic, 5ths, 3rds, how many of them and then also the density and another couple of functions. There’s even a shift, which allows you to change the scale within the same key. It’s not a transpose. I use this machine with a drum machine and obviously lots of bits coming from Ableton Live, using the APC, behaving like a mixer. I can do pretty much what I want. There’s some particular sounds that are so specific, for example on Take My Breath Away, the main line synthesiser is an MC202 with a distortion on it. The resonance creates the notes. It wouldn’t be possible to recreate that live, so the whole thing is pre-recorded so that it’s coming from Live. The bass and all the drums are improvised. Apart from sometimes, I have some prerecorded bits. For example, Arquipélago has my typical snare. In fact I’m doing a library called Gui Boratto’s signature for Native Instruments, and that was the main thing they wanted. So that kind of element would come from Live as it’s a snare with some white noise. The kicks and the hi-hats are pretty basic sounds and I can produce them live. Then I can improvise. Especially drums, I can do anything with them. You can get them to repeat and all sorts. Volumes, effects, delays, reverbs… but not too much, because sometimes when you change something too much, people get annoyed that you didn’t play the song they wanted. I think it’s good to have a little balance. People should recognise the song if it’s an older one, but at the same time, I have fun improvising, so there’s a real balance going on.

Are you still playing a lot of the old tunes people love on this current tour?

I try to mix it up. People get annoyed if you don’t play at least some of the old stuff, but I really try to make it fresh. I don’t want to be cliché, and I want to surprise.

What type of music do you listen to at home?

These days I’m back into rock’n’roll, because my daughter is studying guitar and she’s really into people like The Cure. Yesterday I watched something on TV and there was a song from Nine Inch Nails, and she loved it. She loves The Smiths and lots of other British bands from the 80s. There’s also a lot of techno going on. A lot of my friends have started listening to it again. There is some really intelligent and creative techno out there at the moment.

Are there any exciting projects you’re working on?

I’m actually building a drum machine. It’s a pure analogue machine. Instead of buttons, I choose switches. You don’t even have to look at the machine. With one finger you can turn on more than one thing, with a spring reverb inside and a transistor on each piece, and it has an endless release without having to trigger it. I’m not really doing it to sell it too much. It would be great to get some money back obviously, as I’ve spent a lot of time and money on it, but it’s been a great project. I’ve even designed the shape of it too to be perfect for people who actually play live. Often the producers of the machines aren’t actually music producers so they don’t know the real needs of musicians. This machine is quite heavy, especially because of the Marshall spring reverb in there. This is my main thing at the moment. I’m really happy with it. It’s great around Brazil, as it’s easier to transport there, but here in Europe, I prefer to use the Drumbrute. It’s a little cheaper but it’s a really nice drum machine.
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Saturday 22nd June

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