From Madrid to the Wall

03 / 11 / 2024

On a rare day off, producer and DJ Héctor Oaks takes us to his favorite Berlin haunt, by way of his studio.

It’s a summer morning in Berlin and the air is thick with the promise of rain. Producer and DJ Héctor Oaks is standing outside his recording studio, a converted shipping container nestled in the Eastern part of the city. Save for a few auto repair shops and car rental services, the area feels far removed from the frenzy of everyday life, yet it vibrates with the sounds of industry: a high-pitched whir of an angle grinder pulses in the distance, a train hurtles past on a railway line above us.

The Madrid-born musician lights a cigarette, displaying a collection of silver rings on one hand and a tattoo that reads ‘KAOS’ on the other. We’re here to talk about his new album Fuego Universal, a daring nine-track project which collides techno with Latin-style percussion, pop melodies, and trap verses. Lyrically, it’s a celebration of the night in all its shadowed allure.

Despite melding so many disparate styles into one record, Oaks maintains, “It’s all techno for me.” This is a description not intended to reduce such an eclectic body of work to a single genre, but rather to offer an insight into the album’s creative foundations. “It's a mix of all the influences I've ever been interested in, like hip hop, 80s synthpop, and electro,” he continues. “But everything is in techno code. It’s a techno record because it's done in a format where I can play the songs during a DJ set.”

Featuring the likes of DJ and model Sita Abellán, as well as Madrid rappers Ill Pekeño and Ergo Pro, the album was recorded over the period of a year between Oaks’ Berlin home and the shipping container studio we’re standing in. He gestures at two neighboring containers that he shares with his friends, explaining that the demand for these spaces is high, often taking months to secure, because they offer 24/7 access with zero noise restriction. Inside, the space is compact and sufficiently soundproofed, equipped with a number of synthesizers and sequencers, as well as a microphone and modular rig. 

 

We spend the first few hours of the day in the studio, as I’m curious how Oaks operates outside of his busy touring schedule. Fresh from a residency at Bassiani in Tbilisi, he’s about to embark on a series of shows in the next few days through Belgium, Spain, and finally Ibiza, where he’ll station himself for a week and unwind. Then it starts all over again.

Over 30 more shows, traveling across a slew of different cities, with few moments of respite in-between until the end of the year. But Oaks seems unperturbed by the intensity of his schedule, preferring to extol the vibrancy of a particular city or festival over complaining about flight connections and bad sleeping habits. From moving to Berlin ten years ago and launching two labels, to joining the Herrensauna collective as a resident and playing at institutions like Berghain and Amnesia, Oaks has managed to retain an unwavering sense of enthusiasm for what he does.

“When I started, music was what I did in my free time,” he says. “And now, my hobby is my job. So I just do what I feel, when I feel, and it works well. That way, it’s still entertaining for me. Whether it’s playing big or small venues, festivals or clubs, I like to change things up. To keep things different.” Oaks brings this unrestricted attitude to his sets, which have been known to open with tracks from artists like Pink Floyd and Eminem, before hurtling into a dynamic journey through pounding techno, electro, and EBM. “Sometimes I provoke too hard,” he laughs. “But I think that everyone, especially now, expects something like that from me. If I didn't do it, they would probably be like ‘What happened today?'

This spring, Oaks debuted Fuego Universal with two exclusive live shows at Sónar Barcelona and Lisbon, armed with an MPC and a laptop, and accompanied by some of the album’s guest vocalists. “They were more like pop concerts,” he says. “Everything had a time, a sync.” There was a specified order of songs, with little room for improvisation and many more variables for things that could go wrong. 

After spending the morning at Oaks' studio, together we make our way to Hard Wax, a globally renowned record store which pioneered the distribution of electronic music in Berlin. “With records, I usually buy some every week to keep things fresh and interesting,” says the vinyl-only DJ. 

“There are people from all over the world who visit the city just to go to a record store, because there are certain vinyls here that are almost impossible to find anywhere else,” he continues. It’s one of the best cities in the world to go looking for them.”

The Hard Wax building can be found in Kreuzberg, inside a former factory that’s hidden from street view. We climb a winding stairwell, barely illuminated by windows that have been plastered in stickers and scrawled with graffiti. The walls are similarly lined with bold mementos of the past. What starts off as the muffled echoes of a kick drum gets louder as we ascend, each flight of stairs revealing a new layer of pummeling bass, crisp snares, and a piercing synth, until we reach a large metal door and make our way inside.

Oaks thumbs through each of the store’s meticulously labeled row of vinyls. Having previously worked at The Record Loft before its permanent closure in 2016, he’s had first-hand experience. Oaks believes that stores like this, with carefully curated, boutique selections, can be instrumental in shaping dance music trends. “Some stores might have a collection of trance records, but they won’t put them all out at once. Then over maybe three months, they’ll gradually sell them. I think it’s an interesting way of shaping the sound of a scene.”

And this scene has inevitably undergone many changes since Oaks’ relocation to Berlin. From his days as a raver to playing sell-out shows, he’s witnessed an influx of new, younger audiences with a zeal for harder sounds. “The crowd is also much more open-minded these days,” he continues, taking a seat by one of the in-store listening booths. “Before, the scene used to be focused on a certain kind of techno and you could only listen to that style. Berlin techno now is quite diverse.” And Oaks is all for the continuous evolution of the dance music landscape. “I’m always trying to incorporate the new.”

This article was taken from WIP magazine issue 09, available from Carhartt WIP stores and our online shop. 

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