We have reserved as the first interview of this year a very special one, and perhaps also the most elaborate and intimate we have achieved so far. The subject has been Fabio Leal, a name that barely will mean something to you if you do not know much about the current psy-trance scene. If there is an artist who is breaking the rule and taking big steps forward in terms of innovation and evolution of the psychedelic sound, that is undoubtly this Brazilian rooted, probably the most valuable DJ you can find on the booking of the prestigious label Zenon Records. His music stands out by its originality and versatility, shamelessly influenced by techno. In fact, many reviewers have found it difficulties when categorizing his style. Consequently, new tags are being created such as minimal-trance, dark-progressive, zenonesque … Name it like you want, but do not hesitate we are facing the future of the genre originated in Goa. The outstanding talent enganged by Sensient, founder of the label, has fulfilled a really worthy interview. Read and see why…
Before getting started, I would like to thank you in behalf of the Grow Sound team for taking the time to answer few questions… Let’s begin!
Honestly, I did not hear from you until last year, when someone showed a YouTube video where I discovered your magic. I immediately got hyped by your performance, as you were delivering something I had never listened before. When did you start your career and how was your beginning? What is the secret of his fast rise to the top of the scene?
Well, actually it was not a fast rise at all, it took me many years to reach the point where I am now. I started my professional career (playing for a living) back in 2004, after having played for about a year or two just for fun.
The start of the career was quiet as you might imagine, playing a lot of small events and venues, but they taught me a lot of lessons needed for when you are invited for that first huge gig with a big stage.
I think there’s no secret, you gotta have a solid work to show, something you can be proud of in any dancefloor worldwide. It’s very important to have a proper self-analysis process so you also know if what you’re doing is really something good or not.
I have experienced first hand on the dance floor, that your range of music is quite wide. Being able to play minimalistic psy-trance, dark progressive… How would you describe your music? In what style do you feel most comfortable?
I think the common factors that are always present on my sets, no matter the style, are: strong basslines,very characteristic drum patterns and profound soundscapes. These three together produce a certain mood that is always there when i’m playing – my sonic signature, one might say. It’s got to do with how i’m layering multiple tracks and live elements all together into a new and spontaneous jam.
About the style i’m most comfortable with, it’s whatever i’m playing, because i really feel a deep conection with whichever track or set i choose to play – but, you could say i feel really comfortable when i have more time, not just the standard 1 or 2 hour set; i love when i have 3, 4, 5, anyways, more hours so it’s possible to better explore an audio narrative of the style (or styles) i chose to showcase that night.
I’m quite fascinated by how you established yourself without being a notorious producer. Most of the psy-trance stars perform by live sets… Can you describe your formula to be a top artist by means of standard DJ sets? Are you planning to make your own music?
My formula was and still is a lot of hard work, dedication, persistence and constant study of specific ways to advance my techniques.
The psytrance scene is a bit upside-down at the moment, because in the last 10 years it progressively started to not value the DJ so much as it did before, for a number of reasons.
It’s not anyone’s fault really; the market demand is mostly what dictates the general booking directions for the organizers – so the important thing is to work hard on becoming really good at what you love to do, because then, after some time, you will create a demand for it. That’s when the road to success begins.
I’m already doing some music yes, but my plan is not to rush it. It takes time to reach a level of consistence, that results in something interesting and relevant. So i’m just following that formula again, with a strong emphasis on the study part.
Nowadays, there is a big debate over digital vs analogic methods, Traktor vs. vynils, Ableton vs. machinery… What are your thoughts on this topic? Can you elaborate on your setup?
My opinion is that what’s really important is the result, what comes out of the speakers. How does it sound? Does it please the artist, does it make him happy? That is my perspective, if the artist is satisfied with the result, that’s what matters, it’s his/her set after all.
Of course, if there are technical problems that get in the way of standard audio quality, then i will point that out should the situation appear; but nowadays most of the artists are on top of their game when it comes to their tools of choice. So we’re left with subjective point-of-views – i might not like what i hear or the way it’s played, but that doesn’t mean it’s shit.
My hardware setup is a Macbook Pro, Rane SL4 soundcard, Allen&Heath K1 controller, Faderfox PC4 controller, Ableton Push, a Belkin usb hub and many cables to connect it all. The software part is Traktor and Ableton, using the first for multiple track decks and the second as a sort of drum-machine/clip launcher/fx box. Most of the times we get a Pioneer DJM 900 or 2000 mixer on stage, but when i know in advance we’ll have the option for an Allen&Heath Xone:92, then i’ll take my Boss pedals (DD7 Delay and RV5 Reverb) setting them up on the send/returns.
I think your distinctive psy-trance style (or how you want to phrase it) has many features and inspirations from techno. Do you agree? Where do you get your musical inspiration from as an artist? (artists, genres, experiences…)
Fully agreed! I love techno, have been a fan and researcher for some time now. So this definitely contributes to an actual influence in my sets.
My musical inspiration nowadays comes a lot from Techno, there’s so much psychedelic stuff to find in there, sometimes even more psychedelic than some of the music in our own scene – different types of psychedelia as well.
This inspiration I get not only from researching tracks, but also from going to parties and listening to artists I admire. There’s nothing like standing on the sweet spot of a huge soundsystem, while listening to stuff that gives you goosebumps!!
Currenlty, you are backed by for one of the most important and innovative labels, Zenon Records. How did you get involved with such an advanced crew? How important is it for you to be part of Zenon?
When Sensient came to Brazil one time and we already knew each other, he listened to me playing at a small private party. Later that same night, when we were hanging out, he asked me if i would be interested to become a label dj for Zenon… i was speechless! – and said yes. That was about 9 years ago i think.
Right there i felt i was on a good path, being invited by the boss of a widely respected label to join their team is not something to take for granted. The core mission of Zenon is the same as mine, we have strong values about the musical artform; being a kind of a romantic when it comes to these topics, its important for me to be in a place where i feel aligned both artistically and conceptually.
Universo Paralelo, Freqs of Nature, Pulsar, Soulvision, Adhana… You have played at many massive festivals since you stormed the scene. Which one did you especially enjoy? What place would you like to add to the list?
They were all very special in their own way, its impossible to measure which was more, i hold each one of them dear in my heart. Not only the festival itself, but also the people involved in the production, there’s some solid history there too.
What i find interesting is that each one of these festivals is always the scenery for some specific time of my life, some changes that come to pass. Very meaningful experiences that i feel couldn’t be had anywhere else.
I’d like to add both Boom Festival and Lost Theory, as they are also a part of everything i described above.
Everybody knows that psy-trance is the kind of music that should be served outdoors. However, I think the tunes you are playing would fit perfectly in an indoor event, even for a clubbing night. What do you think about that? Have you tested your music in this way?
Oh yeah, i completely agree, most of the stuff i play fits an indoor event perfectly. I have played many club gigs and also organized some myself, its definitely something i like to explore. Even more when its peculiar venues like abandoned buildings and old factory warehouses, both of which are available to use if you are promoting events here in São Paulo.
I know you are trying to build a proper and vivid psy-trance scene in Brazil, your country. How is it developing, can you tell us about your projects there? Have you considered moving to Europe to expand your horizon as an artist?
Well at the moment i quit the events promotion thing, as it was taking a lot of my energy, which now i want to focus only on music production. The scene in Brazil is very big at the moment and to attract attention/crowds, you need a big investment too.
There’s a lot of young people that entered the scene 2 or 3 years ago, they need some direction from the organizers and their events, but as of now i prefer to promote the things i believe through my own sets, my social media and my direct interactions with people at the events i play.
I feel that if i was able to positively affect at least one person at a gig i played, with something i said, a track they might have liked or a new perspective they didn’t consider before, then in my point of view that gig was a success in terms of helping the scene move forward (even if it’s one person at a time).
Psy-trance is finally breaking through the barriers of the underground, and is slowly starting to stand out and reaching the target audience. Celebrities like Astrix, Vini Vici, Captain Hook… are getting more people in attendance. Do you think this fact is positive for the scene? What do you think the future holds for the psy-trance scene?
Here in Brazil it’s been like that for a while, we have movements in the scene when it gets bigger and more mainstream, expanding everywhere you could imagine, other times it takes a backseat again and gets forgotten by the media. I would go as far to say Brazil is separated from the worldwide scene, it has its own clock and way of flowing.
I think where it’s really breaking through is in the US, with huge festivals like EDC and Ultra booking those acts you mentioned to headline the best slots at the trance stages. Also, we see thousands of newcomers coming into the scene there, so for sure that is amazing because its opening a market that before didn’t even exist. Will be cool to see how it develops, we here at Zenon Records certainly want to take our sound to the US and grow our following over there.
As for what the future holds, i’m not entirely sure, but i would like to see more experimentation from the artist’s side. The scene as a whole is a bit stuck creatively, mainly because we are kind of attracted to artistic formulas of success. Those guarantee the much needed bookings that pay for our living, but they also guarantee that we get to hear more of the same.
So again, using techno as some sort of inspiration, you can find a lot of formulated music of course, but it’s balanced; there’s also a lot of experimental stuff, and more importantly, there’s A LOT of people that are really into that experimental stuff. So i don’t see why psytrance should be any different in that sense, we can be just as big and diverse as the techno scene. Maybe that’s one of the possible futures, hopefully one that does become reality.
Thanks for answering all of my questions, I will take great pleasure reading your thoughts. It is awesome to see when great talent is appreciated, and artist can make a name for themselves and build a consistent psy-trance scene in the process. I hope your unstoppable progression continues as it has done so far. The success you are cultivating so rapidly is well deserved. I hope to see you around the Netherlands soon!
Thanks Pablo! Had a lot of fun answering this interview, see you next year for the summer festivals!
Interviewer: Pablo Ortega