Oscar Mulero is a name synonymous with dark, brooding techno. His signature sounds and back catalogue stretching back to the ’80s can not only punish dance floors, but woo them into intricately woven cocoons of ambience.
Having been born in Madrid and made his name throwing legendary parties at the city’s The Omen club, Mulero can be deservedly cited as an instrumental figure in the Iberian techno scene.
His imprint, Polegroup, has brought together an intimidating bank of heavy hitters, with Mulero using it as a platform to nurture Spanish talents such as Exium, Tensal and Kwartz alongside veteran spinners including Christian Wunsch and Perc.
Fresh off the release of his fifth album Perfect Peace, we spoke with Mulero about his artistic direction, the key to his longevity and his passion for photography…
Oscar, it’s fair to say you’ve been around a while longer than most DJs within the electronic music scene. What would you say has contributed to this longevity?
I don’t know, I think my motivation for the last few years has come from being involved with different projects and releasing different types of music, so not only working in techno. For example the new album, this is something apart from techno.
Motivation is key to me; I think this is what has kept me going for so long. So producing records for other people, even if they are rock bands, I like to do this. Mixing my studio time with different kinds of music yeah, I’d say that is the greatest motivation for me and it has kept me so active within music.
I know that the first album you bought was by The Cure, what aspects of The Cure’s music inspired you? Can you see elements of their music in yours?
When I started playing I was about 19 years old in Spain, the music of choice was all post-punk and new wave, that kind of music. I believe that every single type of music that I’ve been listening to since I was a kid has in some way, made up my profile as a human and as a musician, and it has led me to this point where I am now.
You’re at the new album stage once again, with this one entitled Perfect Peace. Can you talk me through the concept behind this album?
Sure, it’s going to be released on a label from Madrid called Semantica. I’ve been lucky since Muscle and Mind, I have been touring and working in collaborations and remixing for all sorts of different people, it’s been great.
As a result, this album has taken like a year and a half, more or less, and I’ve been trying to find the right label to put it out on, organising everything and working in the concept of the album, it’s been a long process.
This album explores other forms of music that you can hear in Acceptance, so not necessarily techno, but more haunting soundscapes.
I am also going to be doing an audio-visual set with this album which will be really interesting. It’s going to be called Monochrome, and I’m going to be presenting that at Sonar festival in June.
Ambience seems to be a big part of your musical DNA, your Biosfera album being a prime example. Where do you take your more ambient influence from?
Yes, I’m very fond of artists like Autechre and Aphex Twin, and I remember when I first heard Incunabula, the Autechre album, and Aphex Twin’s ambient works in the 90s, and I was really amazed by their sounds. Over the years I have got more and more interested in this genre and all the artists producing this kind of sound. But those two artists are the ones that really had an influence on me.
As with Perfect Peace, a lot of your track names such as dancing therapy, personal control and spirit indicate quite a spiritual and meditative influence, and I certainly feel like your own productions, particularly Acceptance, have grown darker and more brooding over time, almost hypnotic. Are you a spiritual person?
All the things that happen around me in day to day life influence me somehow, and that affects what music I want to make. There is a big relationship between emotions and creativity you know, it doesn’t really matter if you are taking photos or making music or anything, there is a huge relation between these things.
Whatever happens around me, or in my city, or in my personal life, it will influence me when I’m working on music because of my mood and how I react to them. Of course my musical influences are really important, but this is also a big part of my creative process, my feelings on that day will filter into my music.
More often than not in today’s scene, DJs are given short slots. This removes the chance to use ambient tracks for building a set into something more abrasive, especially when you are touring so hard and clubs expect you to play a certain way in a short period of time. Do you miss this chance to build a set from ambience through to something heavier?
Yes, I must say that this is something that I miss from the earlier years, I remember when I was playing clubs in Madrid, my hometown, and me and another guy were running the night and we used to play all night, so we could afford to play these kind of ambient tracks. Yeah I miss that, these days you go to a club or a festival and play for like two hours which can be really frustrating sometimes.
Maybe two or three times a year I like to do whole night sets, and that is a nice opportunity to play different stuff, starting the night from ambient then maybe some electro stuff and finally into techno. That is the only opportunity I get to do that really and I love it.
You refer to your time curating at The Omen club in Madrid where you were able to play all night and choose what got played. This is where your career blossomed alongside the club gaining international notoriety throughout the nineties; it is often interesting to think about the similarities and differences between dancefloor culture from then and now. What kind of change, if any, have you seen on international dancefloors over the years?
I don’t think it has changed that much you know. I can see the difference between one crowd, or one country or one city, but it really hasn’t changed that much. Perhaps from festival to festival or club to club you can see a difference in the crowd and why they are there, but I don’t think there’s much difference from how it used to be in the 90s and nowadays. The way the audience behaves on the dancefloor in a proper techno club is just the same really, which is a really nice thing.
Travel is an inevitable part of being a successful DJ in today’s world. You yourself tour heavily around the globe, how do you cope with such a rigorous schedule? Does the isolation and solitude of travelling influence your productions at all?
Yes of course, for me travelling alone is a big inspiration. For most of my years as a DJ I do two big tours per year. For example I’ve just been in Asia for twenty days and in May, I’ll be touring in America.
The travelling and isolation is something that helps me know more about myself, it is really inspiring for me. People have their routines you know, daily routines, and once you can get a break from that and spend time by yourself, for me it is really special and it gives you more time to think about everything.
I always travel with some equipment and a lot of my ideas for music happen when I’m travelling. This last one and a half years a lot of my tracks, especially for the album, the ideas have come from when I am travelling. It is definitely something that is really inspiring for me.
What have you found interesting on the road of late?
Asia is incredible, I played two gigs in Tokyo and one gig in Osaka recently, and then onto South Korea. I really enjoy playing in Japan, it is a country that amazes me and it is so different in the sense of culture.
Eastern European countries are also fascinating me at the moment, I’ve been having so much fun playing at clubs like Bassiani in Tblisi, Georgia, it is one of my favourite nights of the year.
Also, South America is really amazing, and the scene there is so fresh and the way in which people react to our music is so enjoyable to see, they are wild! We of course have amazing audiences in Europe, but maybe we are kind of spoilt because we have the most amazing clubs, and you can tell from the South Americans, they are just going crazy you know, it is so good to see.
Your label, Polegroup, it seems to go from strength to strength every year, and you now have a bank of impressive and diverse artists, do you feel a kind of father figure to some of these artists?
Mmm, it is beautiful to see it that way you know, especially with the young artists. Some of the guys such as Reeko aren’t that young anymore you know but yeah, for younger guys like Lewis Fautzi or Kwartz, it is a very nice way to look at things. It’s amazing to talk with them and solve any doubts they may have and try to help out, so yeah in some ways it is like a father and son relationship.
Are you looking at doing more Polegroup nights at all? You seem to be a really tight knit group with an iconic sound.
Yes definitely, so we are doing Tresor in early March with most of the guys on the label. It’s the same with ADE this year, we are trying to be there again, and also Corsica Studios in London in April, I’m really looking forward to that, we love to play together.
Speaking of ADE 2017, I went to DVS1’s Wall of Sound night, where you closed the night. I have to say, the sound was louder than anything I have ever heard, the bass absolutely intense – what was your take on the night?
I really enjoyed it. The idea Zak had for the night was to get people to entirely focus on the music. Last time in that location, the DJ booth was where the wall of speakers was, so people were really confused because this time they were facing the speakers where the DJ would usually be but in fact, the DJs were at the back of the room.
It was actually really funny because I was getting messages afterwards saying ‘what kind of joke was that, where the music was sounding, Zak was not playing?’ so the idea worked! People weren’t looking at us but just listening to the music.
From a DJ perspective, it was actually super hard to play because the speakers were all facing our way, so the monitors had to be super loud, and I remember getting back to Spain and my ears were done.
But yeah, it was really amazing looking at the dancefloor and seeing people looking away to the Wall of Sound instead of you. I closed the night after Zak’s set and he was playing 140bpm at times, so I had to play really hard you know, and for some people I can understand, it was too much with that super loud soundsystem, but it was a great experience.
Let’s take it back a few years to when you were releasing under the Trolley Route and Dr. Smoke monikers. What prompted releasing under these names? Do you feel as though releasing under your real name Oscar Mulero, that you have pulled all these styles together to find your true sound?
At the start I think it was to avoid confusing people you know. At first I was thinking ‘oh what are the techno kids going to think if I’m playing this or that, is it not what they expect?’ and that was my worry so for different styles I had a different name.
These days, I feel even more need to play different types of sets and release a range of music. When I was say 26, I was feeling that if I want to build my name in techno, do I use different names for different music so people don’t get confused? But yes, these days I don’t worry about things like that. For me, playing different types of music is really important.
For Trolley Route, I actually still release some of that stuff and I find it really interesting to do it. But now I just look at my music with a much wider perspective, for instance the new album is far away from techno and this is what I’ve been looking for for a long time, and I feel that the time is really right for the Perfect Peace.
As a final question Oscar, I wanted to touch on your relationship with photography. From your social media presence, photography seems to be a big part of your travels, and it is interesting to see this creative insight into a DJ’s touring life. Is it a real passion of yours?
Yeah it’s a passion of mine, for sure. I’ve always been intrigued by photography and I have always looked at photography books, but it’s only something that has started when I moved to Gijon like nine years ago. I was born in Madrid and have always lived there, then more recently I moved to Gijon. I went to a photography school at first and learnt how to take proper photos you know, and now I am just collecting and collecting photographs.
In the future I would love to put together a book with some of those photographs, not to show my ability with a camera, just to collect my memories. I’m not a professional photographer at all, I’m just a DJ who likes taking photos. I’m really lucky as you say, I’m travelling every weekend and taking pictures all the time, and it is something that really inspires me, showing where my life as a DJ has taken me.
Words: Samuel Asquith
Perfect Peace is out now on Semantica Records.
Order it here.