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Feature: Xpansul [Interview]

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Santiago Ferrer, also known as Xpansul, started playing records in Madrid back in 1993. Since then, he has played at most of the hottest clubs and festivals in the World. He’s been resident dj, amongst other clubs, of two pillars of the Spanish electronic scene: Soma Experimental Club, pioneer of underground techno sound in Madrid, where he became a professional dj and built he’s style and personality as a dj, and Coppelia 101, referential club of the first wave of XXI century techno.

Besides, he’s played at top clubs and festivals such as Fabric, Berghain, Tresor, Watergate, Rex, Fuse, La Real, Goa Roma, Moog, Club 4, Cocoliche, Goa Madrid, Bar Américas, Cassette, Sunjam… And a lot more gigs in cities all over Europe, from Portugal to Ukraine, and the Americas, from Santiago de Chile to Chicago. Equally impressive is Xpansul’s discography, having released on Plus 8, Soma Records, Ovum, Synewave, Truesoul, H-Prod, Harthouse, Analytic Trail, Perc Trax, Trapez, Apnea, Sleaze Records, Suara and more over the course of his near two decade long career. We had a chance to catch up with Santiago on the cusp of a new remix for Lessismore. Enjoy!

Hi Santiago, thanks for sitting with us today! Tell us where in the world you are today and what your plans for the week are.

Hello, it’s my pleasure. I am in Madrid, confined, and my plans for the week are working, listening to music, making music and enjoying as much quality time as possible with my better half.

Tell us more about your story. How did you discover electronic music and what led you down the path of wanting to be a producer and Dj?

I discovered electronic music by hating it, in the beginning. Since I was a baby my father fed me all kinds of rock music. When I was around 8, I became passionate for punk, post punk, and any kind of underground rock/pop. And I had aaaaaall the usual prejudices against electronic music. Pretty much a total moron. I played electric guitar and wanted to be a rock star…

I was living in Lisbon when the Acid House wave came from the UK and started diggin’ that, mostly in private as I was kind of embarrassed about it. Then I came to Madrid when the whole rave thing was exploding and I started enjoying EBM, techno and techno trance, this time openly 🙂

Around that time, I had a friend who had 2 turntables and a mixer, I started playing for fun with him and I immediately got hooked into it.

Producing came as a natural step. I had always been interested in playing instruments and making music. I was a resident dj at Madrid’s “Soma Experimental Club” and my partner in the booth, Elesbaan, was already into it. At some point he decided to sell his Akai S2000 and a Roland MKS30 and me and my friend Carlos Soto decided to buy it together. Then we got us a mixer from leandro Gamez, a Drumstation and a MKS50 from Roberto Gemelín… And there was no way back.

Tell us about your record/music collection, where do some of your early influences lie?

I bought my first vinyl when I was 6: Iron Maiden’s “Piece of Mind”. I have a lot of Heavy Metal and such from those years: Judas Priest, Metallica, Saxon. Then my cousin Pele hooked me into the pulsating Spanish punk scene of the 80’s, so I have a lot of records by Kortatu, Eskorbuto, La Polla Records, Siniestro Total and so on. Plus The Clash, Exploited, Dead Kennedys…

Whilst living in Lisbon I discovered all the post punk / new wave scene, so Siouxie, Joy Division, Lords of the New Church, Fields of the Nephillim, Bauhaus, The Cure and the sort are also in the house. Sonic Youth, Pixies… And also some pop stuff like The Smiths, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions or Spandau Ballet (yes…)

Then came Hip Hop with the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Public Enemy, … And around that time is when I started buying electronic music.

For me, in the beginning there was trance 🙂 And EBM and all the techno  sounds that came from Germany, Belgium, UK, the Netherlands. Nitzer Ebb, Cosmic Baby, Caspar Pound, CJ Bolland, Speedy J, Aphex Twin and a lot of cheesy rave stuff. Then I discovered the Detroit sound, House Music, minimal techno, and my collection started including a lot of Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Plastikman, Ron Trent, Surgeon, Carl Craig, Cari Lekebush, Alexi Delano, Octave One, Josh Wink…

I really dig a lot of different genres. Now you can find in my collection any of the artists above plus a lot of rocksteady, jazz, brit pop, rockabilly, blues, classical avant garde…

Can you name five tracks that were influential in your musical development?

This is soooo hard… But let’s go with the first 5 I remember to have blown my mind:

Iron Maiden: Where eagles dare

Bauhaus: Double dare

Nitzer Ebb: Murderous

Format #1: Solid Session

X101: Sonic destroyer

I am leaving soooo many stuff behind, but, hey, only 5 🙂

How has growing up in and living in Spain shaped your sound and career?

Well, obviously by living in Lisbon and Madrid I’ve had a great influence of Spanish and Portuguese bands. Then, the electronic scene in Madrid was pretty peculiar in the 90’s, and we are hardcore party people around here. So I guess all that has shaped somehow my attitude towards music and djing.

Madrid was really pumping in the 90’s and I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities. So I was 19 years old and making decent money just from playing records, which put me in a great situation to keep growing and starting producing. But I am not sure that has to do with the place or with my personal good luck.

Are you musically trained? And do you think it’s necessary for success in writing electronic music?

I studied some music as a kid but I wouldn’t say I’m musically trained. About being important or not, I think that studying what you like to be better at it is very important. And it’s something I haven’t done as much as I now think I should have.

You’ve played a lot of iconic clubs over the years; Fabric, Berghain, Tresor and Watergate come to mind. What gigs from your past stand out as your brightest memories?

First of all, any night at the clubs where I’ve been a resident dj, which for me is the greatest dj experience: Soma Experimental Club, Coppelia 101 and Magnet.

Playing at Fabric was something else. I lived in London for a while, before that, and it was a gift to play there. Berlin clubs… What can I say, they’re magic. Then I remember a version of the Love Parade that happened in Barcelona in 2000 (B Parade) where I played for several thousands human beings in the most magical environment, below Montjuïc… That was spectacular. Also in Barcelona, playing at Moog has always been a great trip. My experiences in Colombia are also awesome, and I have a special bond with that country.

But the party that probably has had the biggest impact in my life, for a lot of reasons, was the Sunjam festival, in the tiny coral island of Utila, in Honduras. I played there once, played there twice, and moved to the island. Life changing experience.

How have you been dealing with COVID-19? You must have lost gigs because of it and the impact it’s having on travelling DJs is hugely significant. What have you been doing during this period?

I had to cancel my first tour in Colombia in 4 years due to the pandemic, but, to be honest, since I moved back to Madrid, 3 years ago, I’ve played mostly nearby. So I’m not really a “travelling dj” anymore. I work as a business analyst for an IT company, and my livelihood has not been dramatically impacted.  

But I can still feel the pain of my friends, not having gigs, their venues shut down, their festivals cancelled…

Once nightlife eventually resumes what kind of effect do you think this period in our history will have on the clubbing experience?

I can’t predict what will happen, but as everything in our “modern western” society, a lot of rethinking will be necessary. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “going back” or that it is desirable, but the concept of “degrowth” will probably be important in resuming clubbing culture.

You have a new remix of Gideon out soon on Lessismore, tell us a bit about how you approached the remix and walk us through the production process on it.

I usually approach remixes like I am making a track using sound libraries. I browse through the parts and select the ones I like. Then I tweak them to the point of making them mine and make a track. The synths have such a funky groove and emotion that inspiration came fast.

So, I took a couple of synth tracks, chopped them, shuffled them, filters, EQ… Then I built the groove, which for me is key to a track. I spend most of the time working on how the drums, bass and synths interact together so that I find a loop that has a groove I could listen to for hours.

After that it was all a question of letting myself go with the grove and build the track.

What criteria do you consider when choosing remix projects? And why did this one seem like a good fit?

First of all, I have to respect the artists and like the original track. Then  deadlines are critical to me, as I am very slow and I hate pressure.

Gideon has been an inspiration for me since I discovered him when he started Lessismore. I have all the vinyl and being requested a remix from him was a dream come true.

I think for a lot of artists music allows you to write a sketch of your own personal universe in a way; your travels, life experiences etc. Is this something which is true for yourself? Where does inspiration come from?

I’m not sure I am that self aware, but I am a very emotional person so my state of mind has a huge influence in my music. So, yes, I would say that my feelings have a lot to do with my music.

Who do you show your music first before introducing it to a wider audience or sending it out to labels?

I usually play my tracks to my wife first. And then my close friends, both musicians and non musicians. People I respect their musical taste even more than mine.

What’s a piece of gear that gets used on every track? And what are some of your favourite studio tools?

I am in love with my Roland SH101. Has been with me for a while and my discography would be totally different without it. I use Battery mostly for drums, Dave Smith Evolver also a lot… UAD plugins are fundamental to my sound, and I also use a lot of Waves and Native instrument plugins. I love Soundtoys delays and filters.

The industry and how fans discover new music has changed dramatically in the last 10 years or so. How do you discover new music nowadays?

I receive a lot of promos and recommendations from friends and labels. I have friends with a great musical taste that are blowing my mind all the time with great music. Also Bandcamp and some record stores here in Madrid: Palma 39 and Ater Cosmo are my favorite.

What does the rest of 2020 hold for Xpansul? Anything you can tell us about?

I will be releasing a remix soon in Musex Industries, a great label from Pamplona, and keep making a lot of music, especially during weekends as my business analyst job steals a lot of my time. Hopefully a release soon on Lessismore? 🙂

Xpansul has new music out soon on Lessismore, follow his releases here: https://bit.ly/2TrPHr9

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