“Techno is poetry”: The rebirth of ex-EDM DJ Rocky G
To the untrained eye, it seemed Rocky G had it all.
A rising star in EDM with high profile shows from Australia to Austria, Vegas to Venezuela. In a matter of years of emerging in 2008 the Portuguese DJ had performed in the 50 countries and represented brands such as Redbull and Ministry Of Sound. Proud mother to a growing family by day, proud DJ to growing crowds by night, she was living the dream. So much so, she made a video to celebrate what she’d achieved and spread the positive message.
The problem was her video was almost too popular. Viral status certified; it now clocks at over 15 million views and within months of uploading it last year she found it attracted some unwanted attention and unnecessary advice. In the months that followed, it led to complete crisis of confidence and some deep musical soul searching. For a moment she almost quit.
Then, thanks to a serendipitous encounter with an old DJ friend she found a new path. A much deeper musical path that’s inspired a much darker side to her creativity and given her an entirely new outlook on the art of DJing and the power of music. She’d found techno. And rather than inspiring a new chapter in her career, it’s inspired a whole new book.
As her comeback track earlier this year ‘Rebirth’ suggests, Rocky (real name Rita) has experienced a creative paradigm shift and she’s relishing every moment of her new journey. The switch, as you can imagine, has been turbulent with many people she previously worked with in the EDM world no longer along for the ride. But you get the impression that’s how Rita likes it best. “I’m the underdog and I love that,” she grins on Skype from her Amsterdam home. “People have always knocked me; ah she’s a mom, she’s a girl, she’s different. I don’t care, I’m not doing this for their appreciation, I’m doing it for myself and people who understand that.”
Time to understand her journey and where she’s at, this one goes deep…
You’re going through something of a rebirth…
I am! 10 years ago, when I started to DJ, I was proud to play all genres. Hip hop, house, mainstream, everything I love. I was proud to play like that and I get huge excitement to read my crowd and find out what they want and try to take them on a journey. To me that was an art. It is an art. But a while ago, between this year and last year, I had some realisations.
I had a video that went viral and suddenly everyone wanted to take a piece of what I was doing. I had a lot of people telling me to do this, do that. I found myself in the studio doing tracks I didn’t want to do, getting results I wasn’t very happy with. I wasn’t getting the goals I was looking for and I knew that was totally my fault. I told my husband I was going to stop DJing, it wasn’t taking me to where I wanted to be.
You weren’t being true to yourself?
Yeah. I was done. The music wasn’t giving me anything. I didn’t understand it. I thought ‘okay I quit’ and I disassembled my studio and went to Portugal for a wedding. And something funny happened… I saw my old friend, a DJ who I have respected and looked up to forever. I told him about my decision and he told me not to quit. He said I had a deep soul for a DJ and I was only scratching the surface, I just needed to find music that resonated with me again.
So he sent me these techno tracks. A little later I was playing at a DJ school and I decided to go live. I hadn’t done it for a while, but I did it and instead of 100 people watching I had 400 people watching and giving some lovely feedback. I was so happy about this! And those tracks were such fun to mix. So I started to dig much deeper into techno and really think about the sound I wanted to play, it was bringing out my darker side, a side I hadn’t experienced in music before. In my productions, too. I’ve been inspired by the music I’m mixing and the crowds I’m playing to.
Yeah you said on your vlog that techno people appreciate the music on a deeper level…
They know! They can enjoy a track with just a kick and those subtle elements. It’s about the groove, not the drop or the lyrics. They don’t care about how you dress, or how old you are, they go out to listen to techno, they don’t want the hits like ‘oh my god! When is Martin Garrix playing Animals?!’ It’s different, and the crowds are smaller but it’s more intimate, I feel on their level. You know something I’ve noticed too?
In EDM, for a long time everything was based on numbers. But now on social media and more in techno, I’ve found it’s much more about engagement and interaction.
Yeah it’s better to have less fans who really care and invest in the artist than more fans who are more casual.
Exactly. It’s about the quality of fans. And I respect that. I respect them! I get back to people directly and have conversations. These are people who are supporting me. People have got it wrong. They want to ‘sell sell sell’ but you can’t do that. You need to give first before you can even think about selling. I spend a long time replying to DMs, you know. Actually I have another funny story… Someone sent me a techno set. I didn’t check their profile or anything, I just listened to it and thought ‘super cool’ so we were talking and I realised he was 13. So he came to my studio and then we came to Denon. It was DJ Creeps.
Awesome, I love internet stories like that…
Exactly, you don’t know what will come from any conversation! If you can help someone then that’s amazing.
Who was that DJ you mentioned earlier by the way?
Oh, XL Garcia! He’s a legend. A DJ for 30 years and the king of techno in Portugal. I love him. We’ve connected many times, spending hours chatting about music. That’s something I love about music; connecting and sharing and inspiring. You don’t get that so much in EDM. There was always a feeling of people trying to push you down in the mainstream. It feels a lot friendlier in techno. People are open to more ideas and inspirations.
You must have been open to great variety of music yourself growing up. You grew up on an African island, right?
Yes, Sao Tome. A very tiny coconut island. I had so many musical influences from so many different colonies and nationalities; African music, Caribbean and salsa, Russian music, Brazilian music and Portuguese fado which is very deep and strong.
What a melting pot!
Yes! My first memory was at a family friend’s house and everyone was dancing. That’s what we did growing up. We all gather, we eat BBQ and we dance. Music and dancing. Dancing relieves you from sadness. Music is the only extra thing that can change your state in a second
Amen! You mentioned the art of DJing earlier. Let’s talk about that…
I think the art is reading the crowd and knowing what will work. And this helps you as a producer. You need to know the soul of the groove and what will work in your set. You do this by either doing it yourself or working with producers to help you realise that soul. But there are some producers don’t know how to find that soul because they haven’t DJ’d and they lose the soul and groove completely. They make these tracks that are so perfectly produced but they feel empty.
You’ve rediscovered that soul through techno, right?
I have played a lot of EDM so I will never say it’s terrible because that’s what I DJ’d for many years. But I have unlocked a darker side to my own soul as I am exploring my techno. I love to write poetry and it was always the sadness that inspired me and got me writing and I think that’s what I am feeling now. For me techno is poetry.
Do you still write poetry?
I wish my English was better so I could write the way I do in Portuguese. But the poetry I have experimented with is in the stories. I have done visual sets and my next tracks will have a little element of vocal. It doesn’t need to say much but it can grab the listeners attention and give a message. But no, I wish I had more time in a day to write poetry!
Finding the balance is hard when you have so many roles to fulfil as a DJ, a mother, a producer, an artist…
It’s never balanced. You can’t expect everything to be balanced. You need to embrace the fact that sometimes things will be a priority more than others at different times. You need to forgive yourself and accept that things in life are like seasons, sometimes it’s summer, sometimes it’s winter.
Sometime said something beautiful to me the other day… Life is all about rhythms
That’s it! That’s the mix of life. We go from left to right and we find those moments when things mix perfectly. That is the rhythm of life. But I love it. When you love what you do, you never actually work.
That room with the LEDs that you stream sets from is in your house. Your kids must love that room!
They don’t care any more! My 3 year old seems interested in it but I keep the kids out, the studio is my haven and I’m scared something might get broken! Something I do explain to my kids is that DJing isn’t just about putting your hands up and the adulation. I worry because they’ve grown up with me DJing and they could very easily become DJs in a quick time and I’m not sure I want that.
They need to do the long path and learn the craft!
They do. I keep saying to DJ Creeps that he can take time and not be in a rush. I’m a hundred times a better DJ today than I was 10 years ago. Not because I started terrible but I’ve realised it’s much more than just mixing. It’s also about giving. And I still feel like I’m on the start of that path. I’m still reconstructing my career so I have to give! That’s how things move.
You mention reconstructing. I understand you were advised by people you used to work with that you shouldn’t mention you’re a mother?
I had a few bad pieces of advice. First I was told it was a big mistake to move to techno. I said ‘well it’s techno or nothing’ so I left. Then I was approached by another agency who told me I shouldn’t mention my kids or that I’m a mom. They said I need to have more of a profile that techno fans like. How do they know what techno fans like anyway? I don’t post about my kids every day but I am a mom of a big family. That is my life, that is me.
How old are your kids?
They’re 18, 17, 15, 11, 10 and 3. And I love everything they’ve given me. The reason I have so many kids is because I lost my own mom when I was 10 and with her I also lost my father because he never recovered from her passing away. So since then I had a deep need to make my own family. I was married at 18 and had a kid at 19. I was a baby having a baby but that was my choice and I’ve always fought against the idea that women need to choose between a family or career. You can have both.
That’s an important message to give!
Absolutely. I want to show people what is possible. We don’t need to play in these stereotypes. Like when guys on social media say ‘I love you babe’, I’ll say ‘excuse me, I’m not your babe.’ Or I love your eyes. Try listening to my track instead, it’s much better!
Speaking of which. What’s coming up next release wise?
Voyage is out December 10. It’s a good name for a track you really go on a journey with. It’s not as deep techno as Rebirth but it has elements of trance. Then after that I have three more tracks ready and you know what?
I think I’ll give them away for free. My husband says I’m crazy but I’m like ‘look, we don’t get money from music but you can get respect and appreciation.’ It’s nice to give and pass on to other people whether that’s music, knowledge, support. That’s how it all works, right?
Rocky G ‘Voyage’ is out December 10, on Outcode Recordings: https://www.beatport.com/release/voyage/2445183
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New Record label: ‘Maxime 12’