We interview Berlin-based Electronic Music Production & Performance alumnus Cristian Marras about his journey as a DJ and producer since graduating from Catalyst.
‘Come to Berlin and be a DJ,’ they said. ‘It’ll be easy,’ they said. More likely, they is actually the wishful voice in your head. Establishing oneself as a techno artist in the concrete chaos of the underground capital is many things – exciting, inspiring, fulfilling, eye-opening – but it certainly ain’t easy. With more DJ-producers in Berlin than there are Eurorack-compatible synth modules (fRiCkIn tHoUsAnDs), professional success in the scene is most often a product of many years’ hustling and hard grafting.
Electronic Music Production & Performance alumnus Cristian Marras gets it. From day one at Catalyst to his 2015 graduation and beyond, his unshakeable dedication to his passion is starting to seriously pay off. A regular at the city’s most iconic clubs – check. A member of well-known collectives Disconnekt (IPSE) and Rituals (Suicide Circus) – check. The founder of contemporary techno label Rebels Conspiracy – check. A talented, up-and-coming music producer – oh, yes. It’s no wonder he’s always smiling.
We caught up with the Italian man-about-town to learn more about his journey.
Featured photos by Christian Cuomo Fotography
“I understood immediately that establishing myself and making a living as an artist would be much more difficult than I had imagined”
It’s been a few years since you graduated from Electronic Music Production & Performance at Catalyst. What have you been up to since then?
Big question. Catalyst is what brought me to Berlin initially. During the school year, I realised that after my diploma, I wanted to stay in the city to try to actualise my dream of building a music career as techno DJ-producer. I was definitely in a good place to do it. I wanted to start by getting experience; playing as many gigs as possible, no matter where. This would allow me to gain confidence and understand how to behave behind the decks in various situations and locations, and with different crowds. I spent my first two years in Berlin playing gigs only at an amateur level – mostly in bars, house parties or very small events.
I was mostly playing for free, of course. At the same time, I was just starting to practise playing records at home.
I understood immediately that establishing myself and making a living as an artist would be much more difficult than I had imagined. A few months after school, I had to face the average recent graduate’s reality: I needed to work. I quickly found a job in local street food for four days a week to pay for my rent and living costs. It was the hardest work I have ever experienced, but I don’t regret it; I reckon it was very useful for me. In the meantime, I kept working on my music, while doing my best to live and breathe the city’s techno scene and understand how it works. I attended events and always made an effort to meet new people in order to create a new network of friends and contacts.
“With a bit of determination and self-organisation, I manage to organise my time in a way that I can handle keeping up with my music”
Soon, I realised that I wanted to stay in the city much longer, and that to do so it was important to learn at least enough German to be able to communicate and perhaps find a better job. By September 2016, I had stopped working in the street food place and started full-time German classes. During that time, I had to live on unemployment money from the government. Besides studying German, I was busy working on various projects, organising events in different clubs, playing gigs, making music, and so on. Another year ran through, and by the end of summer 2017, I was actually able to understand the language pretty well and have some basic, decent conversations.
Meanwhile, I was starting to play around more regularly – here and there, sometimes in other countries.
However, I was still very far from being able to make a living from my gigs, especially considering that I was also spending a lot of money on records and stuff.
So, I started to look for new employment, and on my friend’s suggestion, taking advantage of my earlier university studies. I applied to a German company that produces medical technologies for people with cardiovascular diseases. I’m still working there. The job put me back into a normal routine, occupying most of my time during the week. Still, with a bit of determination and self-organisation, I manage to organise the rest of my time in a way that I can handle keeping up with my music as well. Most of all, it gave me the opportunity to invest capital into my current music projects, bringing them to an even higher level.
“I think some people struggle to understand that these social moments should be dedicated to having fun with others and enjoying the music together”
Next month, you’re releasing a new EP. Tell us about your journey from conception to creation.
It will be out on the 8th of August. It’s my second solo EP and the third vinyl release of my label Rebels Conspiracy. The inspiration for the music and the entire concept came last summer when I was in Malta for a few days for a gig. On my last night there, I saw a tomb with a typical RIP sign on it. I thought I could use it as the title of one of my tracks, changing the abbreviation of Rest In Peace to Rave in Peace. I thought it would be a nice word game that expresses a message.
When I hear or read news about violence, accidents or abuse, it makes me very sad – even more so when that happens during parties, festivals and the like. I think some people struggle to understand that these social moments should be dedicated to having fun with others and enjoying the music together.
With the title of this EP, I aim to communicate a message of peace. I want to remind the new generation of clubbers in particular to care for and respect each other.
The record is comprised of four tracks: two originals and two remixes. One remix is a collaboration between Inhalt der Nacht and Echoes of October, talented Berlin-based DJ-producers who have been doing some great music together. I was really happy to have them involved in this release. The other remix is by Schacke, another young talent, from Copenhagen. After a chat with him, he agreed to make a remix of the second track, which was very exciting for me. I’m quite happy with the result of this record; the original tracks are very different to the others and I think they perfectly reflect the variety of my influences.
“I don’t consider my music as something that ‘impresses’ yet. If I got to that point, I’d still have much to improve”
You’ve got one chance to impress your idol – dead or alive. Which track do you play them from the EP and why?
I don’t consider my music as something that “impresses” yet. If I got to that point, I’d still have much to improve before making something impressive. But I have shown my EP to a few big artists that I admire, who give me a lot of inspiration. They all gave great feedback; that was quite satisfying for me.
I stumbled upon your amazing techno re-edit of Linkin Park’s ‘In The End,’ mastered by our audio mastering tutor Conor Dalton of Glowcast. I can’t help but feel it says a lot about where you’ve come from and who you are as a DJ and producer. What’s the story?
Thank you for the compliment.
I’m often inspired to make music while I’m listening to other music. When I’m working, I have the chance to listen to whatever I want. I go through different genres, depending on my mood. One day, I was listening to Linkin Park, who I used to play a lot when I was younger. I got caught up in the melody of the song ‘In the End,’ and I had the idea to use it to make a techno re-edit in my own style that I could play in my sets.
Conor Dalton is definitely one of the best contemporary mastering engineers when it comes to techno. I’m actually sad I didn’t get to learn from him when I was at Catalyst, because he wasn’t teaching at the time. But I’ve been working with him lately on the masters of my latest releases and the result is great.
“This was my little ‘act of rebellion’ against what’s happening in the majority of the music industry. Where most labels seek out renowned names, I decided to build a platform to release records from unknown talents”
What is the ethos behind your record label Rebels Conspiracy?
In recent years, I spent a lot of time searching for a good label where I could release my music on vinyl, but without much success. When you’re a small artist, it’s not easy to have your music signed on wax, especially on a decent label, because there are so many good producers around who are also trying to do the same thing.
While pitching around, I got all kinds of feedback; some people told me they liked the music, but they couldn’t release it because I didn’t have a name; other times, I was told my music wasn’t good and I was wasting my time, and so on. But I’ve been pretty stubborn since I was a kid, always fighting for what I believed in, doing everything to achieve my goals, no matter what. So I nurtured the desire to found my own label, where I could finally express my vision, release my own music, and the music of other unknown producers who have probably endured a similar struggle.
This was my little “act of rebellion” against what’s happening in the majority of the music industry. Where most labels seek out renowned names, I decided to build a platform to release records from unknown talents. Not only do I look for artists with a sound that fits the label, but those who are really determined and motivated. They have a desire to communicate something through their music, following true passion rather than the trend – even if it means going against the direction of the market.
Of course, in every EP it’s nice to include remixes from some more renowned artists, but I’m not looking for big names. Even in this case, I’m more focused on finding artists who fit the musical direction I want to follow. For these reasons, I decided to call the label Rebels Conspiracy. It is still only in its first year, but I am quite happy with the releases and very excited to reveal what’s to come in the near future.
“Catalyst influenced my musical projects on many different levels”
How has your Catalyst study influenced your musical projects, and what were the most important things you learnt?
Catalyst influenced my musical projects on many different levels. There I learnt most of the production and synthesis techniques that I still use today when I’m making music. It gave me the chance to develop and refine my organisational skills, which are fundamental in optimising production time without getting lost amongst files and folders. Catalyst also understands how the music market generally runs today, including the different organs that comprise it – such as record labels, promotion companies and agencies – and how they are structured.
Were there any tutors who particularly inspired you?
The Sound Creation and Manipulation class held by Charlie Baldwin (a cool guy with a big knowledge of production techniques), was definitely one of the most influential for me. There I learnt multiple ways to turn an idea in my head into something concrete on Ableton. I guess this could be the most important part of the production process: finding a way to realise the ideas you have in your mind. The classes held by Philippa McIntyre have also been quite important for me. I learnt lots of theoretical stuff, about the music business or how to properly listen and analyse a tune, for example.
“I always thought that the biggest learning tool for a Catalyst student is the other students”
What advice would you give to current students wishing to follow in your footsteps?
I always thought that the biggest learning tool for a Catalyst student is the other students. My advice to them is not to limit themselves to learning only from the teachers in class, but to spend as much time as possible together, working on common projects, and exchanging information. These are the best ways to get ahead.
What does the future of music, technology and performance look like to you?
I’ve seen this happening for some years already, but I’m interested to see how, in the future, music, technology and performance will develop in the audio-visual direction.
Lately, there have been more and more artists presenting shows based on this concept. I saw some really cool ones last year, and I found some of them very interesting, especially when there is one artist who controls both the visuals and the music.
What events can we look forward to in the coming weeks?
I’m personally looking forward to my first label showcase happening on the 10th of July at About Blank! Other than that, the one event that always excites me every summer is Krake Festival. I’m looking forward to playing there this year for the second time. Another interesting and inspiring annual event is definitely Berlin Atonal.