Interview: Federico Aubele, The Cinematic Stuff

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Federico Aubele is the true master of Latin down-tempo electronica. With eclectic influences that range from tango and bossa nova to dub, the globetrotting Argentine has been seducing us with his mellow, laid-back grooves for almost a decade and now, under a new record label, he’s releasing ‘5′, his (yeah, you got it) fifth solo album.

We caught up with him during his current West Coast promotional tour along with his wife, the also Argentine recording artist Natalia Clavier, to talk about life and music, as well as married life between musicians.

I first heard about you when Gran Hotel Buenos Aires came out in 2004. What were you doing before that?

I started making music at a really young age, when I was about 11, playing the guitar. After several experiments and little projects here and there I started a band called Vincent Vega when I was still living in Buenos Aires and we played with that band for about five years.

Did you ever release anything with that band?

Yes, we did one independent release and then we recorded a second album that was never released. It was kinda like electronic pop, we played in the underground scene in Buenos Aires from 1997 until 2002, that’s when I left for Berlin. It was fun.

What were your primary influences then?

Most of my influences are not really in pop music, more like jazz, Brazilian music, and electronic music. Of course I grew up listening to pop music, British pop music in particular: The Clash, The Smiths, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (actually Australian) and all that stuff. But the reason I fell in love with the nylon string guitar was Banden Powell, the Brazilian guitarist. I also absolutely adore the late ‘60s and early ‘70s recordings from Piazzolla. Incredible. So I had strong influences from other sides that were not necessarily connected with pop music.

“I was never a huge fan of rock en español in general.”

You and I are from the same generation, growing up in Buenos Aires, where Argentine rock was ubiquitous. Do you recognize any of that as an influence?

No. There’re songs, here and there. I like certain songs from early (Luís Alberto) Spinetta in the ‘70s. I like certain songs from (Gustavo) Cerati. I like a couple songs from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. But I was never like a huge fan of any of them. The few times I went to their concerts was because somebody would invite me. But of course, it was the backdrop for everything. I never paid too much attention to it, but it was always there. You turned on the radio and it was always part of the soundtrack. I was never a huge fan of rock en español in general.

A key element in your music is dub and I wanted to know how you arrived to dub music, because it’s not a very common influence in Latin American music.

I was good friends with Mario Siperman, keyboard player for Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. I think [he was] the first one that exposed me to dub music. Those guys were into dub back then. He showed me some instrumentals and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But later on, a friend of mine who worked for a record label in New York, he had a vast collection of dub and that’s when it really clicked and I said, “Oh my god, this is so good!” And I started listening to a lot of dub. King Tubby is my favorite dub guy.

When I moved to Berlin I met a lot of people who were into dub and with the whole explosion of electronic music in the late ‘90s and early 2000s dub music went beyond, it became a production concept. Nowadays there’s dub everywhere, in almost every genre of music, even if it doesn’t have any connection whatsoever with Jamaican music.

It’s also very compatible with the mood of the Piazzolla brand of tango that’s always present in your music.

Well, what I always liked more from tango are the slower songs—the more cinematic stuff. I was never a big fan of milonga, tango’s dance expression. The slow jams, oh my god, those are so beautiful. I connect with that automatically.
That, for me, is like a walk on a Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires, or sitting in a café on a rainy day. It’s funny, because when I started making music by myself, after Vincent Vega, all the stuff came out, when I didn’t feel that need to fit in[to] the Buenos Aires music scene anymore, and it got mixed with dub.

When you came out, you were associated with the whole electro-tango movement that was happening with Gotan Project and all their clones. How did you deal with this?

It wasn’t something that was intended, but definitely, after the album came out, ESL, the record company, branded it like that, so it was inevitable. But like with everything, it’s usually just a label. Those things can be sort of like staples to take you somewhere but you can’t tie your entire sound or career to just one scene. My view of the creative process is more like something that’s constantly developing. There’s definitely some aspects that are key elements in my music, like the use of the nylon string guitar, that I think will always be there…

Another constant in your music is your preference for lower BPM. You never do dance tracks.

Yeah, when I do DJ sets I always play more like house music. I love deep house a lot. But when I’m recording my stuff, I’m always more comfortable between 75 and 90 BPM. I hardly ever touch 100. I just like that. It’s where I’m the most

From Argentina you moved to Berlin, from there to Barcelona and now you live in Brooklyn, NY. How does that affect your music?

It’s a very interesting process. Every city influences you in a very different way. Sometimes people think, you live in Berlin, you’re gonna get influenced by techno because it’s the biggest scene there. But not necessarily. For me it’s completely different. It depends on how you are, where you’re at in your life. It’s a more subconscious thing. You’re there, you experience different things and there’s music in the background always at the bars or clubs you go. But it also has to do with how extroverted you are, if you’re sad or happy, that filters everything. So, it’s not like I moved to Barcelona and I automatically got influenced by rumba catalana. The most important thing is to travel, see different cities, getting out of your comfort zone, that’s what really influences me.

That means you’re not planning on staying in Brooklyn for too long.

Actually, I was just talking about that with my wife. We said, we’ll give it a couple more years and then we’ll see. Maybe we’ll move back to Europe. We both love London and Paris a lot, so either one of those would be great. But who knows.

You just mentioned your wife, Natalia Clavier, who is a frequent collaborator in your projects and you’re currently touring together. I was wondering why you guys don’t just record an album together like a duo, you could be like the down-tempo Pimpinela.

Well, I don’t think I’d like to do that (laughs). Let’s just say that. You know, I met Natalia in Barcelona and hired her to do some vocals for Panamericana, my second album and to tour with the band. So, my project had already started. I produced some of her demos and she started her own solo career from there. We do collaborate a lot, but we also have separate careers. I don’t think it’d be healthy for us to blend all things into one. It’s like when you’re in elementary school and they teach you the Venn diagram, you have the two circles and the common area and that’s the way we collaborate usually. Each one of us has their own thing, but then we meet in the middle and collaborate. It’s nice to keep your individualities, and share the common space.

(Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez)