- Field Recording
After a little break, La Casa del Obrero Mundial comes back with a very special show focused on synthesis and one of the most prolific Mexican minimal-synth artists Equinoxious. An interview on the gear he uses and is fond of, influences and inspirations, interests and future plans as well as bits of his music. Audio interview goes in Spanish but full translation to English below, tracklist at the very bottom. From surreal Mexico with real love.
“Mira mis manos: son transparentes como las bombillas eléctricas. ¿Ves los filamentos de donde corre la sangre de mi luz intacta?” – Vicente Huidobro, Poema en VII Cantos, Altazor
Hello, Rogelio, how are you?
Hello, Egle, all fine. Thanks for inviting me to your show… And so let the questions begin.
Yeah, I’ll try to throw in one or another. To begin with, I’d like you to present yourself a little and tell us what is your work about.
I’m Rogelio Serrano and my musical project is called Equinoxious. It’s minimal electronics oriented and for which I mainly use analogue synthesizers and more recently modular Eurorack. That’s generally it.
For how long have you been making music and how do you feel it has evolved during this time? You just pointed out that you use quite a specific set-up which is not that rare for this kind of music, but at the same time it is, because it’s definitely a set-up that not just anybody has the chance to acquire, and most importantly operate – it’s quite something to use these kind of synths. Since when do you play and how has your work changed through-out the time?
Equinoxious has been around for seven years but I was first exposed to synthesizers at the age of fourteen. So the project has been evolving ever since… (Sorry, did you have any band prior to that?) I took part in a few psychedelic rock bands – one, for example, was called Nozi Land Poket – it actually made me get deeper into the synthesizer world and also acquire them, in some very curious places as well as very curious prices. But it’s been an entire process of transition in terms of the hardware I use. Equinoxious was meant to be a straight-forward nod to minimal wave bands from the beginning of the eighties. So it’s kind of a revival, but a very loyal one, because I began with using the basic and ‘main’ synthesizers they would use to make their music back then, therefore they were pretty obsolete, mostly Rolands. Later I moved to the Eurorack ones because they’re much more practical, easier to carry around and totally multifunctional. Despite of it, they do require certain technical or even geeky knowledge.
Honestly, I believe that in the Mexican underground, where these and other genres have been flourishing for the last five years, I’ve been one of the very few who’ve used Eurorack modular synthesizers in my music.
I believe so, because as said before, they’re not so easy to use it, right. How did you get around to using and settling down with this set-up?
It has a lot to do with me being influenced by projects from New York, specifically Sean McBride’s – he’s the brains behind Martial Canterel and the duo with Liz – Xeno & Oaklander. So it was him and a couple of acts more who’ve been using this hardware for their music and it really made a big impact on me. It’s a certain ideology that these people involved in the minimal-synth world have – some sort of hardware philosophy. Besides that, there’s been other reasons that took me to use this set-up, as I already mentioned – they’re really practical to carry around, especially when you’re travelling to play in other countries, since you can get all these modules just in one single case instead of carrying around various instruments like I used to do before. So for me it’s been influence from all these foreign projects and I started doing this here, in Mexico.
That was precisely the next question but you got ahead of me and answered it… But not exactly, because, I imagine Xeno & Oaklander and Martial Canterel are not your only influences… So, who else are your musical influences?
They’re various, but you could say that mainly it’s Kosmischer Musik bands from the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, all this Berlin-school – Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream… Also other, more virtuoso musicians like Vangelis… But, well, these made me get more into synths, but talking about more modern things – all these artists from the Minimal Wave label that seemed to have a certain punk-like attitude and weren’t virtuosos at all, but had a synth and a rhythm machine, so there’s a lot of that. Also some other pioneers like Chris Carter – I love him because he used these instruments, especially the Roland synthesizers. Also classic early-era Mute records stuff like Depeche Mode, the first album by The Human League which is a big influence… There’s something very interesting about that, because the first drum machines, it’s not like they didn’t have presets, but these were very basic rhythms, such as bossanova, rhumba. So they had to program their own rhythms with synthesis. I think it was a Roland System 100 on which they first did their own rhythms… Then also some other very geeky stuff, like John Foxx, love him, such a genius. I guess these are the most important ones.
Could you say it’s music with which you grew up or what was it you listened as a child? I don’t want to call them your “first” influences, but which music did you grow up with?
My first influence, so to say, was Jean Michel Jarre and his album ‘Equinox’, that’s actually were my artist name comes from. It was the first electronic album I ever heard. On the back cover of it there was a list of instruments I had no clue about, like the Obberheim, Arp 2600, Yamaha CS60… Things I had no idea about. So here was where all that interest in synths flourished. I really wanted to find out how do you make up these sounds. That album I listened to when I was what – thirteen perhaps? It was a great influence. Now, sorry to say, Jean Michel Jarre does total rubbish. But in the past he did great things. So, Equinox is a great album and one of my biggest and first influences.
It’s pretty interesting that you mentioned Vangelis as an influence. What is it you liked from him the most?
My favourite album by him is Spiral. That album is amazing. The title track is fabulous. And even though that Vangelis is a bit too much of a virtuoso, he’s got his magic there. Especially in the way he performs, that’s something I try to do when performing as Equinoxious. I try to manipulate as many machines as possible and to have complete control over them. Obviously, not to his virtuous and melodic level, but I do try to control and use every machine I have as much as possible.
Well this question about influences is one that usually interests me a lot in general, so what are some other things that inspire you and make you want to create and live?
That’s a good question. I really like poetry. I guess we already had the chance to talk about Vicente Huidobro and the ‘Creationist’ poetry. I also like painting, really love Soviet constructivism, quite a fan of that. Used to have more, like posters and all that. I also get really inspired by my surroundings. As you know, I live in the State of Mexico and all that kind of landscapes and contrasts of places that are very urban and overpopulated inspire me a lot to create various things. The influence you get from this goes straight to the subconscious, right? All the sounds you hear, landscapes, constructions, marginalization. So all this reflects in your lyrics or in the sounds you want to evoke.
The next track of Equinoxious that we’re going to listen to is called ‘Umari Tokiko’ and I guess it was the one that I liked the most from what I’ve heard. Turns out there’s quite a phantasmagoric story behind it.
This track is pretty interesting because I did it in one night – just in two takes. I did it with a vintage Korg MS-20, Roland SH02. But it’s a little creepy because I used to suffer from sleep paralysis and a demon would often appear and would try to tell me something and mostly I wouldn’t understand what, but from what I did, it was an Asian demon – Japanese, to be more precise, and her name was Umari Tokiko. So this track is dedicated to this demon, an interpretation of my sleep paralysis.
What things that have inspired you have you turned into lyrics? We’ve already listened to some tracks by Equinoxious and we will listen to some more – some of them have lyrics, some don’t. Do you have like a reoccurring topic in your music or how does it work?
At the beginning I was very hooked on space themes. All about the cold war and the space race between the USA and the Soviets. ‘Cosmodromo’ was like the manifesto of all that – it has samples from space missions of the Soviets and countless references to the cosmos. Later perhaps I moved to more esotheric and abstract things, Creationist-like. Not just the lyrics, the sound changed following that too – from spacey to more industrial, the rhythms became more mechanical. I guess tt was a case of maturing and approaching to a more unique sound.
We were talking that you live pretty far a way from Mexico City.
Yes, I’m in exile.
Even though you obviously are part of what could be called ‘the local scene’ of the City. Do you yourself feel like part of it? This may sound a little odd, but for somebody like me, the ‘the local scene’ I see as an outsider, but you as somebody who is from here… Do you feel part of this environment?
Very good question. I think it has a lot to do with the fact I’m far away from everything, but that’s also a good thing, because it allows you to focus better and even if it may sound a big hermit-like, but being isolated allows you to get more focused in what you do. You know that where I live is a really peaceful place and it’s far away from all the usual noise of the city. And whether I feel part of the scene… I’m happy that there’s more projects of which to talk in Mexico. I don’t always feel identified with them, but that’s something that might have to do with quite personal reasons.
Generally, you could say I am part of something, but probably outside of Mexico. As I said before, most of the influence for what I’ve done most recently has to do with a scene that’s more solid in other places, mostly USA, where in the present they have a pretty strong philosophy in the minimal synth realm. That would probably fully answer the question.
What do you generally think about the local scene then?
Well, I think that sometimes what lacks the most is musicians ‘getting married’ with the sound. What I mean by that is that they could fully compromise with the kind of sound and music they’re trying to make and they wouldn’t get stuck in playing something very plain. Like ‘I’m focusing on minimal-synth or wave or darkwave and that’s it’. There’s very little sonic exploration. Often people remain in their comfort zone as in ‘okay, I have this rhythm and I’ll use it forever’, the same with the sound palette. Never or at best very rarely there’s an interest or necessity to explore beyond, I’m talking about the instruments. So yeah, that they lack – sonic exploration, getting deep down with the instruments and also daring… It often has to do a lot with daring – what if I use this sound, what if it won’t be accepted by the public and people will stop listening, I’ll loose followers… And that’s what feels to me that is lacking the most – taking a risk and creating something proper, not something that is in fashion. That’s probably the biggest problematics of the scene in Mexico.
Talking of which, which local bands or places would you recommend for people to get to know these things? Because the truth is that the city is of monstruous size and it seems there should be so much to offer, but I’ve noticed that instead of a great choice and variety, everybody is more enclosed in their own little circles and all is so wide that everybody kind of, as you said before, are afraid of taking a risk because then it seems you’re going to loose it all. So people get kind of stuck with very precise things and then even a lot of locals don’t know about certain scenes or musicians that have been around here forever. So what would be your personal recommendations for all of it?
Key bands to listen in the synth scene are Syntoma – is my favourite band from the eighties, or Size… I guess these are the very basics of the scene, but worth mentioning to the ones that don’t know. The places… Ones that we know pretty well, but, for example, ‘Centro de Salud’, the ‘Under’… Then there’s also some other places where some events are being held, but a lot of them have been or are getting closed… In the past there was more places where all these minimal-synth parties were happening, like the ‘Red Allende’ – they used to do some really decent parties and a lot of friends that you and me have in common met there. And so that place doesn’t exist anymore, but it had an amazing theme, because in the end we would listen to what we loved. I don’t know what else could I recommend for listening to this kind of music. For example, ‘Centro de Salud’ is a very strange case, because some great bands and pioneers of the genre, such as Martial Canterel, Automelodi, Technics Berlin have played there and you get to see them for twenty pesos (approximately 1 euro). The entrance fee is unimaginably cheap. Once, Belgrado played there and people were lining outside because they just didn’t fit. I guess that’s it, there might be more good places but for a different kind of music.
As I understand – and don’t get me wrong, don’t want to talk for you or get inside your head, but on the other hand, you kind of said it yourself – that there is a certain lack of creativity from part of the Mexican scene… But so what is creativity to you? What is it being able to do what you can and having the total freedom to do it?
Maybe it’s kind of the ‘b-side’ of everything. For me creativity is being able to take risks and dedicate more time to a certain machine. Exploit it, take all what you can from it, or what you cannot – also when there’s limitations you can often make the best of it. Because it can also happen that you have so many things, that in the end just don’t do anything.
That’s the worst case.
Exactly. And as you know most pioneering bands had very little, but their results where mind-blowing precisely because of those limitations and that necessity to make things, because they were engaging so much more with the instruments they had – they studied them very carefully and dedicated a lot of their time to it. I believe that is straight-forward creativity – to look for the ‘side-b’ of something that is already established.
I really like that ‘b-side’ concept. I guess you are referring to the vinyl ‘b-side’, right. Like ‘a-side’ is the ‘hit’ and then there’s the ‘b-side’… Well, maybe the last thing would be asking what are your nearest future plans, an upcoming or recent album, concerts where we could hear you at least on this ‘side of the pond’, because I know that you’re also well connected with Peru and such…
Yes. Also recently I had the chance to go back to Europe – last time I was there was a great and rewarding experience – I got to know some amazing people, but the nearest plans are to keep on exploring as much as possible and making this ‘b-side’ music but within the genre. It’s not like I’m very interested jumping to something else. I’d rather look for more possibilities in this realm. As far as gigs go – I have one upcoming in ‘Centro de Salud’ on the 2nd of November and one in the ‘Under’ on the 8th. That’s where you can hear me and have a peek at all that synth thing. I’m also working on a new album and looking for new sounds. Also, why not, maybe coming up with a new project.
So which was your last album then?
That was ‘Limite Voltaico’ in which I tried to use many different vintage rhythm machines from the eighties and honestly I really love how it turned out. Differently from the older stuff, which ironically had much more success, and like any artist – even though I don’t consider myself an artist, a musician – yes, you’re happy with some things you’re done but just hate other. In my case – I’m not very pleased with my older things, even though they where quite well received, some of those songs went kind of ‘commercial’ and appeared in a series for HBO.
How did they end up in HBO?
Well, it was for a series called ‘The Spookies’ (laughs) – it’s a Latin series they shot in Chile, along with some other Latin American bands in this kind of vein – darkwave, underground, minimal synth, post-punk… So, some of the themes from my first album – ‘Cosmodromo’ appear on it. So it’s kind of funny that I don’t even like that so much, but it was what caught everybody’s attention the most. As far as ‘Limite Voltaico’ goes, I really like it because it has a much more precise sound, it’s more minimalistic, there weren’t so many channels in the mixing, and it’s much more serious in general. I guess here’s where the first doors open for my work becoming more precise and with a more distinguished sound.
We were here with Rogelio Serrano aka Equinoxious, or should I say it the other way around – Equinoxious aka Rogelio Serrano? Anyway, what a pleasure. Is there anything you’d like to add for our listeners?
Thank you very much for inviting me to your program. I guess that’s the most complex question… Something I’d like to add… I don’t really know, listen to the music, buy it, look it up.
Where can we find your music exactly, in http://equinoxious.bandcamp.com, right? Yes. So see you!
Playlist1. Severed Heads - First Steps
2. Children of Alice - The Liminal Space
3. Adult Fantasies - Over You
4. Equinoxious - El Satélite del Ejército Negro
5. Equinoxious - Sudamérica
6. Equinoxious - Fonética Ancestral
7. Equinoxious - Lancé mis sueños a una forja
8. Equinoxious - Terpsicore
9. Equinoxious - Umari Tokiko
10. Equinoxious - Lobulo Interior
11. Equinoxious - Cobalto 80
12. Equinoxious - Trotamundos
13. Equinoxious - Hecatombre
14. Beverly Glenn Copeland - Ever New
15. Vox Populi! - Trais Goutter De Sang
16. Suso Saiz - Tierra Media