Romania's deep tech don on his new album 'Motion Manifold' and more
There's no denying that Romania's prominence on the global dance music map has grown considerably over the past 15 years, ever since pioneers like Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Horatio helped establish a thriving deep tech, tech-house and minimal scene in the country: one that spawned a sub-genre all of its own in the form of Rominimal, and one that continues to throw up an endless stream of fresh talent to this day, as well as supporting several internationally renowned festivals, not least Sunwaves.
Another DJ/producer who's played a big part in his homeland's emergence into the international limelight is Mihai Popoviciu. A native of Cluj, a city in the Transylvania region, Popoviciu made his production debut in style, with his first release appearing on no less a label than International Deejay Gigolos way back in 2005, when he was just 24 years old. And now, a decade and a half later, he's about to release his third artist album, Motion Manifold, on another leading German label – Poker Flat, this time.
For anyone who's somehow yet to get acquainted, Motion Manifold will provide the perfect introduction to the distinctive style that Popoviciu has made his own: one that owes as much to the mellifluous house of Larry Heard or Ron Trent as it does to the sparse twitchings of Hawtin and Villalobos. Deep, groovy and somehow sultry and cerebral at the same time, it's a sound that puts him in a league apart from some of his more single-minded Romanian contemporaries… and it's an album that made us want to find out more.
So we did.
Firstly, as you haven't featured in iDJ before, tell us a bit about how you got into DJing and making dance/electronic music in the first place…
“Hello, thank you for having me! As a kid, I was a fan of the cheesy rave sound of the mid-90s. In 2001 I started to produce music and it took me a few years until I had my first vinyl out on Gigolo Records in 2005.
"Meanwhile, I also picked up DJing and my passion for electronic music grew stronger and stronger. It turned from a hobby to a full-time job, and over the past 15 years I've released hundreds of tracks and toured all over the world.”
How do you describe the music you make - house, techno, tech-house, deep tech, or…?
“I like music in general and I've always been an eclectic guy when it comes to it. My sound can be deeper or more techy sometimes, but it is always groovy and dancefloor-orientated. Over the years since I started producing I have surfed through electropop, deep house and minimal – I can't just stay in one particular style.”
You're about to release your third album, and your first on on Poker Flat – definitely the biggest of the three labels that have put out Mihai Popoviciu albums so far. Does that feel like stepping up league, or would that be unfair to the other labels?
“Yes, Poker Flat is bigger than the other two labels where I have put out albums and I guess that should give me a push. I feel like releasing Motion Manifold on Poker Flat is the natural step forward, given my long-term connection with the label. I've been constantly releasing music with them since 2013 and when they proposed to me to make an album I was excited and took it as a challenge.”
Tell us about the making of the album. Was it a case of gathering together a load of tracks you've made over several years, or did you say, "Right, time to make an album!", go into the studio and write/record a load of tracks from scratch?
“It was somewhere in-between. Working on the tracks for the album took around one year. I did not have the pressure of time or a deadline to finish it. Most of the tracks for the album were made from scratch and targeted for Poker Flat, but I also had others that were added because I thought they fit into the context of the album.”
And physically, how do you tend to work: are you an outboard hardware nut, an all-in-the-box kinda guy or somewhere in-between?
“I'm an 'all in the box' type of producer. I don't have a fancy studio with lots of hardware gear, but a very stripped-down work station at home. I rely a lot on samples and I use a handful of virtual gear that I know well and have been using for years. This allows me to be very comfortable and flexible about producing. I have no time pressure or a fixed schedule for doing music… I take things very easy!”
How would you say the sound or mood of this album differs from the previous two, if at all?
“This is an album for the dancefloor, just like my previous two. My music style has not changed dramatically. Many say that my sound is instantly recognisable and I like to believe that this is a good thing. It inevitably evolves but the vibe and texture is the same. I like to produce deep, groovy and hypnotic tracks.”
Someone's approaching the album for the first time, they've never heard your music before, and they've only got time to check out one track - which should they go for, and why?
“It's a hard choice but if time is that short to check only one track then maybe Chrome would be the one. As the last track from the album, it is a deep and emotional, yet playful and groovy.”
You also record as part of Hermannstadt Collective with Jay Bliss and others. What are the pros/cons of working solo vs collaboratively, for you?
“Unfortunately Hermannstadt Collective is a project that's been on hold since both me and Jay moved to separate cities. However, I like collaborative work and I am generally open for it because you can always learn something new from other producers. I have many tracks together with Markus Homm or David Delgado, for example, and it feels great to come out of your producing routine and see how others work and share ideas.”
Romania's very much associated with the 'Rominimal' sound these days… do you see your music as being part of/linked to that, or is the 'Rominal' association a bit of a burden?
“I am proud that Romania got famous for this sound! I can't say that my sound is 'Rominimal' although I sometimes produce music that goes into a more minimalistic direction. I have seen all the evolution of the Romanian sound and I think that it changed over the years, and that it is not that minimal anymore now. But people may call it what they want – it's just music in the end! It's no burden for me, I am always happy to hear people speaking nice about music coming from Romania.”
I've never been to Romania… if I did, what clubs/festivals/labels/producers should I be checking out?
“Romania is going through a very prolific phase at the moment. Everybody is producing music and there are a lot of parties all over the country. There are so many young and talented producers that you should keep an eye on. Make sure you check out music by Mihai Pol, Bryz or Suolo. Apart from the famous Sunwaves Festival, I think that 3SOF Festival and Mioritmic are worth paying a visit.”
And speaking of clubs… how has the closure of nightclubs during the coronavirus affected you? Has the loss of DJ income been a big worry or does more of your money come from production/other jobs anyway?
“The closure of nightclubs affected me because most of my income comes from gigs. I focused on producing during these months and took some remix jobs to make money. I also had few gigs here and there, but nothing compared to the pre-pandemic times when I used to travel for gigs every weekend.
“On the other hand, the bright side of it was that during these months I had time to move to a new apartment and be around when my wife gave birth to our baby girl! I don't have big expectations for this year regarding gigs, but I hope that next year things will slowly get back to normal somehow.”
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
“I am working on my second sample pack for Samplestate, which will probably be out sometime next year. Also expect a bunch of remixes from myself coming in the next months.”
Words: Russell Deeks
Motion Manifold is out on Poker Flat on Friday (25 September)