Brazil has increasingly become a bastion for underground electronic music. From the success of homegrown techno artists like ANNA and Victor Ruiz to the international acclaim of venues like Warung Beach Club and D-EDGE, the scene is thriving.
Of course, one can’t speak about the country’s long-standing electronic culture without mentioning the impact of Gui Boratto. The veteran São Paulo producer has been a steady fixture in the scene for more than a decade, with four albums to his name and a fifth dropping this week.
Boratto is an interesting figure. In some ways, he exists in two worlds. Firmly planted in the underground, he releases on Germany’s acclaimed Kompakt imprint and regularly performs at festivals like DGTL and Awakenings. Yet Boratto has an undeniable tenacity for pop-inflected production as well, due in part to his 10-year stint working as an audio engineer for major labels in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
The result is a certain pop sensibility, that, when mixed with his underground influences, culminates in a lush blend of indie dance/new wave with minimal techno.
It’s this kind of idiosyncratic combination that has made Boratto’s sound so iconic over the years. It’s a signature which is once again on his display on his latest studio record, Pentagram.
The album, which arrives on Kompakt on Friday, finds Boratto in search of a past identity. “I’m becoming again more naive,” he tells Billboard. “At least I’m trying to get back to my musical origins.”
Such is evident in its lead vocal single, “Overload,” which features vocals from Boratto’s wife, Luciana Villanova — a conspicuous nod to the pair’s iconic collaboration 11 years prior, “Beautiful Life.” In a similar vein, tracks “Scene 2” and “The Black Bookshelf” further evoke his past life as an audio engineer, featuring rich, organic live instrumentation.
In classic Boratto fashion, the album also features some purist techno creations, including the menacing “Spur,” conceived with “old school drum machines and synths” according to the producer. “Forgive Me,” the album’s first released single, is another such creation. With its overtly futuristic sound design and warping turnarounds, it feels like stepping into a techno-laden Orwellian dream.
Another standout track is “The Phoenix,” a four-minute rock-electronic ballad which features vocals from Nathan Berger. The song, which Billboard Dance is exclusively premiering, finds Boratto fully embracing his penchant for pop production, crafting a potent mid-tempo arrangement around Berger’s impassioned vocal.
Listen to “The Phoenix” and read our Q&A with Gui Boratto below. Pentagram is out on Friday, June 15. Pre-order it here and find Gui’s upcoming tour dates here.
It’s been 11 years since the release of your debut artist album, Chromophobia. How has your approach to writing albums changed in the past decade? How has your perspective as an artist changed?
Yes. It’s been more than a decade! Time flies! Well, for me to write, arrange and produce a full length album is a nice opportunity to walk thru on different paths and moods. It’s always good to take risks and not to have the responsibility to just make people dance. For example, I love to smile, to cry. I love to write mellow moods, for different purposes. For the morning, driving a car for example.
When I do an album, my approach is, more then anything, to give different feelings. It’s good to be happy, but also good to be sad, fragile or strong, listening to some music. Music has this power, to make you feel like this or like that for no apparent reason.
In terms of changing, I guess after Chromophobia, I’m becoming again more naive. At least I’m trying to get back to my musical origins.
Where did you write this album? How did the idea come about?
I never begin or finish an album. It’s always a process that takes time and has some material that couldn’t fit on the last album and also has something that it will be on the next one.
I wrote it mostly in my main studio, where I could record drums, piano and a large variety of synths, but also in my house in the fields, about 2 hours from São Paulo, where I have a second small studio. There I have a totally different relation and inspiration from the local nature. Very moody in a way.
Bom dia! Aliás, que dia lindo!!! Não tinha ideia que minha sala tinha um som tão maravilhoso e vivo. Gravando apenas com 1 U-87, meu microfone favorito. Talvez o mais versátil de todos. Preparando meu 5º album, que sai em março de 2018, pela @kompaktrecords #guiboratto #docrecords #kompakt #piano #neumannu87
You mentioned you wanted to transmit the “scientific pentagram’s point of view” with the album. Could you unpack that?
The Pentagram, symbolically is very used on a religious kind of thing for many people. Lots of people relate the Pentagram as something coming from the devil…hehehe…
I’m an architect and I’m far from that religious thing. Pentagram and the number “phi” and the golden proportion is seen in nature, musical instruments, architecture etc. That’s the relation I studied and wanted to pass and illustrate to the people.
The album is an intriguing conceptual mix of pop-centric songs and more purist techno creations. How do you balance those two worlds? Do you draw any parallels between the two?
To be honest I don’t think too much. It’s a natural process that simply flows. Obviously in the middle of the process doing the album I kind of think which direction I want to go. More this way, more that way.
I am those both sides. The purist techno, speaking of old school drum machines and synths, which is the case of “Spur” for example. But also, as I was working for years as an audio engineer, love to have more organic productions with real recorded instruments, like “The Black Bookshelf” or “Scene 2”. I think those completely different approaches are very complementary. Especially on an album.
I want to have a large spectrum of colours. Never wanted to be boring with 1 color. Definitely I’m not Chromo-phobic.
Kompakt has been your primary outlet for releasing music over the years. What do you enjoy about working with them? Do you share a similar philosophy to them?
Kompakt is my family for years. Not only because a beautiful friendship was build, but I have freedom to do whatever I want. Musically, plastically and conceptually.And I have to say that Michael Mayer always help me and supported me when needed. I’m very happy to be part of the Kompakt family.
You’ve written five albums now and performed all over the world. What drives you as an artist? What do you hope to still accomplish?
I love to put out my musical ideas. Love to play them live too. But I’m very involved on my label DOC and my artists. I hope to build a nice DOC family, which is growing more and more. Slowly, but strong. Finally getting back more and more to the studio, where I come from.