Name: Andrea Oliva
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current release: Andrea Oliva's Alley Rave EP is out via Trick. Also still available is Playa, via his own, Ibiza-focused label All I Need, which includes a remix by fellow Swiss DJ and producer Deetron.
[Read our Deetron interview]
If you would like to find out even more about Andrea Oliva, his music and schedule, visit his official website. Or head over to his profiles on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter for current updates.
Tell me about your first DJ gigs, please. How did you approach them and how do you look back on them with hindsight?
My first DJ gig was when I was 12 or 13. I was practising in my friend's studio, all his friends were there, friends of my older brother. I was practising every mix, I played that way, practising for a week.
I also remember my first very first gig, I went with my two friends, Alex, and Michelle, who taught me how to DJ, was hiding under the DJ booth. He would give me like a sign when to pitch the record perfectly. It was very funny.
What were some of the artists, technologies and clubs/events that changed your perspective on what DJing could be?
I must be honest, I grew up in a time where DJs were very hands on with the turntables. They’d have two, three turntables. I was watching Derrick May going totally nuts behind the DJ booth. All the US House DJs back in the day, technically speaking, they were something out of this world - looping vocals, playing instrumentals.
Also, at that time, every record that was out there had a beat to top mix - CJ Macintosh for example. From any sort of sound, he was mixing two of the same records, but mixing one record off beat. It was all very technical.
There were a few DJs I was looking up to, even if I wasn’t going to take the style that they play. But everything was more technical.
How would you personally rate the potential for expressing yourself with DJing compared to producing? What can be expressed through these two different disciplines?
I think there is DJing and then there's producing, and they're very different.
You produce, and you try to express your emotions throughout the music. You're in a certain mood, and you try to express it through the music you’re making. Then, when you DJ, you play your own tracks, but you really absorb the energy of the crowd. For example, there are tracks you play at a certain time. DJing is all about having a feeling for the moment, for the night, the situation of the crowd, for the environment you're in – it’s giving back to the people what they give you, mixed with the value you can add to the night.
I could take people on a journey, and at the right moment I could play a track which is epic. But if I don't play it at that precise moment it's not epic. It might be cheesy.
DJing has always – at least partially – been about presenting exciting music. In a club, however, people are dancing and in a community with other guests while they're listening rather than sitting at home or listening on earbuds while travelling. How does this change our perception of the music, do you feel? What makes the club experience unique?
All the musical hype we have now with certain artists is because now you can play more organic music, which you can also hear at home. But there are a lot of tracks that don't work as well at home while you're chilling. You can just play raw beats in a club and it goes off because it's energetic. And then at home, you will want to listen to something with vocals, maybe something more downtempo. In a club it's totally different. You can’t compare the two things.
We live in a time now where you can release organic music, like 7,8,9 minute tracks that are more melodic, more organic, more down tempo, and they also work in a club because clubbing has changed a little bit, and hypes come and go.
Spotify is a great reflection of what's going on in our scene now. We have artists that do like 10,20,30 million streams with these tracks.
What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about where and how you're looking for music that excites you and music that will work in a set?
The work I love most during the week, besides being in the studio, is digging through music, picturing myself playing.
I listen to music and then need 20 seconds to see if I like it or not. Where I can play it, when I can play it, which clubs, festivals, and so on. I'm lucky enough that I'm pretty openminded and I try to fit music in my sets, which certain DJs would have a hard time putting in a set. You can play an electro track, a techno track, a house track in a set, but as I said before, you need to know the right time to drop the right track.
So, selecting music during the week is a very important part because it gets us excited to play and test those tracks on the weekends.
I've always wondered: How is it possible for DJs to memorise so many tracks? How do you store tracks in your mind – traditionally as grooves + melodies + harmonies or as colours, energy levels, shapes?
It's a bit of a compound effect. I think you need to have the courage to test certain tracks. You make a selection of tracks you loved at the set you played last week, then you mix them up with a new folder with new music, and then within maybe a month, you’ve played like 10 shows. And then you pick your cherries from the 10 shows and you mix them up with new tracks you have.
So, at the end of the day, I always make new folders for new shows. I have folders for Fabric, Madrid, Ushuia, Printworks, London and so on.
In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, are you looking more for one consistent level of energy or a shift between peaks and troughs – and why?
Definitely peaks and troughs. I think the most important thing is, you start your set, you feel what's working, what's not working, you see how people react. It's all about feeling, and it's all about making people go on that journey with you. Once you have the crowd, you can do whatever you want. But you must win people's energy for yourself. You must get to that point.
When I was very young 15,16,17, I was playing intro sets for all the big artists who would come and play in Switzerland. And I was always disappointed, because of course, the big producers would become very famous and they would play all the headline slots, most of them were American back in day. They would come and a lot of them would ruin the night, because they weren’t DJs. They were amazing producers, but not DJs. They would come and play whatever they wanted and ruin the night, because there was no structure in the set. There was no consideration for the crowd. They would just do their thing, and they would go home.
I've learned that you must work with the crowd. Get them on the same energy level, and you want to have them, and then you can do whatever you want with it.
Many DJs have remarked on collaborating with the audience. Others rather want to present their vision without external input. Where do you personally stand in between these poles?
Sometimes people are very patient, you have audiences who are very patient, and they want you to take them on a journey. Maybe you play like four hours, and at one point you get there throughout the set, and then magic happens.
Sometimes people are not patient, maybe because the DJ before you was playing the shit out of the night, and they were playing one banger after another. And then it's very hard for you to go on a musical journey. You also have to be open to a DJ who is also playing a longer journey set. You have to be patient, and you have to trust what the guy behind the decks is doing as it pays off.
Nowadays, you go to festival you only have one hour, every DJ is an hour. Everybody wants to get the hands up videos from the crowd. Everybody wants to smash it.
There is a reason why there is an opener, a headliner, and someone who closes the night. There is a reason why you go to a restaurant, and you order an appetiser, main course, and dessert. And nowadays, everybody wants to be the main dish. Everybody want’s to be the headliner, everybody wants to smash it.
I remember when I was young, playing all the intro sets for the guys warming up. I always played for the headline DJ, always played the build up of the night. This is rare nowadays because everybody wants to be in the spotlight.
A DJ gig, just like an improvisation, is a fleeting experience which can not be repeated the way listening to a record can. How has DJing affected your view on life and death and the importance of memories?
This is the art of DJing, this is the magic that can happen when you mix two records. The frequencies, the power of two records mixed together, or the power of melody, the power of the beat, the power of the record itself. These can set standout moments on a night and can create those magic moments, which you take home and remember, and ultimately you take that inspiration back home to the studio where you try to recreate those moments in one of your tracks.
It's all about energy, feelings, and memories, and I always try to give people memories.