Olivier Mateu has been on the cutting edge of music for the better part of twenty years. From his early live sets in Southern France to signing with Laurent Garnier and touring the world with an immense discography as Rodriguez Jr., Olivier sets the precedent for an artist evolving to find the balance between producing, performing, and family life. I found myself with Rodriguez Jr. in Playa Del Carmen for The BPM Festival, where we discussed his origins and technical approach to music with the beautiful Caribbean skyline as our backdrop.
Tell us about your origins in music.
I grew up in the south of France, in this little city called Montpelier, by the sea. Beachy, like here in Playa Del Carmen. It was a Mediterranean lifestyle. The music scene was really big back in the day. There were a lot of warehouse and field parties, ones where you’d have to rendez-vouis in another place. This is how I started. Playing these kinds of events.
Producing was where I started. Then I began performing live. It was totally different. I had to travel by car with my keyboards and computer—back when screens were a proper size—and a full-scale mixer.
Daft Punk was a big inspiration. Laurent Garnier. I’ve been working with Laurent for ten years now. The French thing was very strong between ’96 and ’99. There was this French-Dutch stuff. But it was very small at the same time, a small network of people. It was a very exciting time.
It became professional when I called my parents and told them I would stop my studies. In 2001, I signed this contract with Laurent Garnier, I felt like it was an opportunity to really focus on what I love.
Who are your biggest inspirations now?
Where do you draw the line between work and partying?
It’s difficult. That’s one of the problems of my life. Drawing this line and reaching this balance between things. But I never get tired of partying. Usually my wife draws this line for me. We have an eight-year-old daughter. When I fly back home it’s back to reality and waking her up to go to school. I like it, it’s a great way to reach this balance and to avoid getting wild. My dream for an off day is staying at home and watching a stupid movie with my wife.
Tell us about your production process.
I try to arrive in the studio with a strong idea of what I want to do. Usually it’s a bassline or melody. I’m not a very good keyboard player, but I have just enough skill that if I have an idea in my head I’m able to write it down.
For the kickdrum at the moment I use this plugin from Sonic Academy. The presets are shit, but it’s great because you can import your own samples for the beginning of the sound and the high frequencies. Then you can program the envelope and balance things.
I record my own sounds. Claps. Shakers. Tamborines. It’s a little naughty, but sometimes I record reverbs. Basically I put a speaker in my stairs with a mic at the second floor, then I send a signal to make this kind of organic, real life reverberation.
I’m using a 909 for my snares and hi hats. A lot of stuff with white noise. Moog synths. I sidechain inside Live. I don’t like when it’s too evident, when you can feel it working too much. I try to find this spot where the compression just gives a bit of headroom for the kick, but not too much. I use Universal Audio plugins for my EQing. So it’s either that or the Neve 1081, which is really nice on kickdrums and claps. You can push it really hard, there’s always an organic sound.
I remember when Cubase audio arrived, it was the late 90s and the audio rack sounded like shit. It was useless, and now it’s hard to tell the difference between the plugin and the real version. I mix out of the box; I have this little SSL mixer. I mix out of the box because I feel like it sounds better. I spread all the sounds out on the sound card, mix down, then it goes into the computer again.
What balance have you struck with producing and touring?
I spend at least eight hours a day in the studio. And that’s still not enough—that’s one of the big frustrations I’m having at the moment. I’m traveling so much. I love traveling, but it’s three or four days away each week. It’s difficult to save time for producing and experimenting in the studio. Working on your sound signature and developing new things require a lot of time.
I don’t have enough time for producing because I’m traveling. Spending a lot of time in airports. I like it, but it’s frustrating at the same time. Because I’m not in the studio, and for producing I really need to be in my place. On the laptop I can record some raw ideas, but I need the studio. I have this oldschool workflow so I need all my synths and drum machines. I use VSTs a little bit as well, like Sylenth and Diva. The hardware is great because you have this physical connection with your sound. Meanwhile the VSTs offer you more flexibility and more power. So I like both. It’s not about the machine, it’s about the balance.
The first computer I produced on was an Atari. It had this black and white screen with a cracked copy of Cubase. I had a Roland JD800 and two or three synths. You had to deal with it. You had to be creative with a small amount of tools. Nowadays it’s the opposite; you have too many things. VSTs these days can make billions of sounds. It’s so easy to get lost in possibilities. I have a lot of respect for new producers because they manage to find their way.