Andrea Oliva knows a thing or two about the world of dance music. While his output as a producer dates back to around the end of the last decade, in fact he has been a fixture of the electronic underground for considerably longer.
First appearing in Ibiza back in 2004 after several years of playing out in his native Switzerland, he has since become a regular on the White Isle, and you're likely to catch him headlining the revered ANTS parties at Ushuaïa throughout the summer season.
With another busy summer just behind him, and new music coming out later this month, we caught up with the Swiss maestro to discuss the dance music heritage of his home country, the challenges Ibiza is facing today, and the risk of over-saturation in the increasingly popular world of techno.
Hey Andrea, how’s it going?
OK yeah, good good.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, what are you up to?
Pleasure! I just got back home after a very busy weekend so you’ve caught me at the right moment.
You have a new EP coming out on Hot Creations soon – can you tell me a bit about that?
Yes, really looking forward to that. It’s my second EP on Hot Creations, and I’ve also done remixes on the label. I love the whole label set up, the whole musical philosophy they have behind the label. And of course Jamie [Jones] and all the guys are very supportive so whenever I have music I always turn to Jamie, you know, 'you want to sign this? And this?' So I’m really looking forward to it.
Going back to the early days, I’ve seen you say in other interviews that you taught yourself to DJ as a teenager. Before that were you a musical person? Did you ever play instruments and things like that?
Yes actually very much, I grew up playing the drums.
That makes sense.
Yeah and I've been always very open to music, I never had just one style that I was following. You know, I was listening to A Tribe Called Quest, and the next track I’d put on was like Rage Against The Machine, it was always diverse.
And still today, I can love a good pop song as much as a crazy techno track, for example.
It was a few years after you started DJ-ing that you began producing that sort of music though right? What was the reason behind that?
There was like a pro and contra behind this, I was very spoiled in Switzerland because we have a lot of clubs and also there are a lot of parties going on in Switzerland. So for like ten years I was playing all around Switzerland literally every week, and maybe five, six, seven, gigs a week. I didn't feel the need to go to the studio and be as productive to release music.
I produced tracks, but never with the intention or the need of releasing it. And at one point I was like 'OK wait a second, Switzerland is small and the world is big; I want to tour, I want to see the world, you know. I want to close a circle to become like I'm more than just a DJ'. And this is when I really focused on production and on getting my music out. Having releases is also what helps to have a more international profile and to play outside of your home country.
Do you think that those things have to overlap in dance music these days? Because I think more so now it seems to be rarer to be just a DJ or just a producer. Where do you draw that distinction between creator and curator?
The thing is it became less common, because now there are as many DJs in this world as grains of sand at the beach, it’s crazy. Becoming a DJ is almost like saying ‘I play football during my free time’, it just became something very normal.
Which is cool, but then you have just a few stand out only because of, let's say, the magic they create when they DJ. I still think you don't have to be a producer as well, like Ben UFO for example…
Exactly, he’s the example I was thinking of.
He is one of the most innovative and exciting DJs I know nowadays, and he's not putting records out. Jackmaster is the same, very amazing DJ but he doesn’t have that need of putting out records.
I'm more in a different type of bubble, you know what I mean. I'm the type of guy who is DJ-ing and producing, and I like this bubble. But there are other DJs who don't need to put out music really.
You mentioned how Switzerland is quite a small country, but given the size it has produced quite a lot of big names in the dance music world, and in techno specifically. What do you attribute that to?
In the 90s we had some of the most amazing clubs. There was a techno club called Rohstofflager in Zurich. Then there was another club, early 90s, in Basel which was called Planet E (Stücki). It’s basically where Derek May played his first international gig, that was in Basel. So we had a crazy rave culture; trance was really big in Switzerland, and all those kind of festivals.
We also had a lot of record stores and people were really into the scene. And back then, more than being a fashionable scene it was like a movement, so the club culture is still big.
And as you said, Luciano is from Switzerland, Deetron is from Switerland, Ripperton, Adriatique, Mirko Loko, Kalabrese – so many names.
You alluded to the idea that everyone seems to be a DJ these days. With the current popularity of techno as the ‘in thing’ at the moment, do you worry about over-saturation? About too many people doing the same thing?
The thing is, I worry but I also don’t worry. It doesn't really bother me, it's not like it's something I am thinking of.
Most of the time when it's too much, then most of the bad things go away and the better things stay, so you know if one day it’s too much then it’s the good ones that can survive, hopefully. [laughs]
So I think what's happening now, it became more of a fashion thing you know. We had a time where celebrities started to tour as DJs and had the whole marketing thing behind them.
But it's like a kind of cycle, I think we’ll go back to more club music, once EDM has vanished away. They’re all going to take the pop segment, and we can keep the club culture. I think the more intimate clubs and those kinds of situations are going to come back. And this is where only like the real DJs play, if you know what I mean.
And as that happens, where does Ibiza fit into all that? You're someone who spends a lot of time there, and for years it was like the holy grail of dance music. With things like Balearic house or trance that made absolute sense, but with the kind of darker techno does it still play as huge a role? Particularly if stuff becomes more intimate and underground…
Yeah you know what, I think Ibiza was maybe the only place where a more house or techno event used to be, and still is, bigger than any superstar EDM night. It has always been like this, for example even when Tiësto was like on top, top, top of his game, nothing could beat like a Cocoon night, for example, you know what I mean?
So I always had this kind of feeling on the island, which wouldn't reflect the world, or on the masses or whatever outside of the island.
But Ibiza doesn't have to think of how everything is going to change, I think our kind of music can always stay and what's going to be different is maybe the situation with all those superstar DJs, you know like all the big EDM names. I think this is going to change drastically. Because those are the guys that charge the big fees, and now they just don't do the numbers they used to.
So I think those guys are going to be replaced by, I don't know how to phrase it right, but a better kind of music. But at the end of the day, that kind of world is all based on numbers. I think in our world we always have like hypes, ups and downs, now and then there's a star in our scene popping up, and they might come and go, but I think it's gonna stay pretty stable.
How have you seen Ibiza change in the years since you’ve been there?
Oh the biggest problem we face now is that it became so expensive. But I'm not just talking about clubs, or DJs, or the music industry. Like for someone in a normal job, who is a music lover and also someone who likes to spend their holidays in a wonderful place like Ibiza, if they don't have a good job back home, they can't afford Ibiza any more.
The prices here are so ridiculously expensive… I would say that 50% of young Italians, let’s say, people from 22 to 35, like 50% of them they can’t afford Ibiza anymore. Maybe they come for one or two days, a weekend, but they don't come anymore for like two weeks.
Something very serious has to happen, the price politics have to change drastically or we are going to have a problem in the future. This has changed because you see that more and more clubbers can’t afford coming to Ibiza anymore. I would say they fucked at least 50% of a certain generation which could have come to this island, since they can't afford it anymore.
So what changed is there is a bit more of a mixed crowd, and what changed is that it's just become too expensive. And I think it’s a bubble that has explode, and then we can go back to the roots and adjust what has to be adjusted.
But I think that's a very political issue. Because, for example, if you want to rent an apartment there's like four or five parties involved. So you want to rent one apartment from one guy, but five people want to earn money from it.
So very simple things like this, or you know someone who has a restaurant is paranoid and thinks ‘Oh I can only work two months of the year so I have to rip people off; I have to ask for five euros for a coffee' or whatever.
So people should start to chill out a little bit, and respect the customer. The island is magical, it's beautiful, it's amazing, whatever you want to call it, but if you outsource a whole generation of people then… you lose.
Obviously there are still parties that are hugely popular – like the ANTS parties that you often play. What do you think it takes to build up that that kind of brand, that community? What does ANTS offer, for example, that others might not?
I think what also changed is that years ago you could have put like one big name on a stage and you would like sell out the venue. Nowadays it's all about the concept of a party. If you see brands like Circoloco, Solomon +1, Elrow, ANTS – those are brands which are built properly, from the bottom. They grew organically, and it's not only about one big superstar DJ, it's more about – as you said – the brand concept, the music, all the different DJs. And that’s how a party should be.
It shouldn't be based only on the superstar DJ, because if everything is based on one superstar DJ then the whole party is going to be average until the guy steps up on the stage and starts to play, and people have one hour of fun. It’s about the whole party and not about a one hour concert.
ANTS has grown by a massive amount of work behind it; by putting the the right values to a party, delivering a great show for the people. Letting them have an experience and not just a party, and I think this is what happens with all the brands I mentioned before.
So yeah it's just a lot of work, and it's not just doing a party because you want to do a party. It’s adding a special thing more, like if you go to Elrow you know what to expect, you know what kind of show they’re going to deliver. And if you come to ANTS you know the visuals, the music, the whole environment. You go to Circoloco and you know exactly what you can expect there. So I think this is a formula which works nowadays.
Summer has come to an end now, so what does the rest of the year look like for you?
Touring. Some people think like ‘OK now summer and Ibiza season are over now it's gonna be calm and you can rest’, I wish! [laughs]
So yeah touring, playing festivals. Touring South America, North America. Just keep on playing and hopefully I will have more time to go to the studio and be more productive.
Finally, does anyone ever mistake you for the famous flute player? If you search Andrea Oliva online there's a flute player who comes up quite a lot…
Yes there is… There is the flute player, but then there is also a very famous architect, and then there is me. So I think I should do a collaboration. The architect can build us the venue, and I’ll perform with the flute player [laughs]
I quite like the idea that someone tries to book you, or even better tries to book the flute player, and then the other one turns up
Exactly! But you know what's funny, when my friends told me about the flute player I went to check him out, and there were some comments like ‘when are you playing in Argentina next?’ Or ‘I’m coming to Ibiza, I can’t wait!’ [laughs]
If you asked him I think he’d probably say ‘Oh they annoy me with this DJ thing’, because I imagine his audience is not quite as active and vocal online with their support as people in our scene. He just gets hit up by all the kids on Instagram. [laughs]