A chat with DJ Vibe

When it comes to house and techno in Portugal, few people can match up to DJ Vibe. A hard-working DJ and producer, he’s been involved with music since he was 15, and is widely recognised both inside and outside his native country as its most renowned electronic music export. Vibe’s musical journey began when he assisted his father at a record shop located in downtown Lisbon. This establishment served as a crucial hub for DJs to acquire the latest imported vinyl records, marking the beginning of Dj Vibe's passion for music.

In the ‘80s, Vibe was invited to open the Plateau club in Lisbon, which would transform the nightlife scene in the city. Later on that decade, Vibe became a resident DJ at Lisbon’s Kremlin club, where he held his longest-ever residency spanning almost seven years. Notably, Kremlin was the first club in Portugal to host After-Hours parties. From 1998 to 2008, he held a monthly Friday residency at Lisbon’s famous Lux Fragil, turning his nights into iconic events that attracted crowds from all over Portugal. 

Alongside his involvement in launching prominent clubs in Portugal, Dj Vibe was also a featured guest at the country's most significant events. Following this, a period of international recognition followed, as Vibe left his musical mark on countries across the globe. As busy and as dedicated as ever, his latest endeavour is the Playground EP, released on the Home Made label alongside Bessone e Fragoso. We caught up with him recently to learn more…

Can you share with us how your journey as a DJ began and what inspired you to pursue a career in music? What was the scene like in your native Portugal back then?

I was 15 years old and I was helping my father in his record store that he had in Lisbon and one day a client came in who was a resident dj in a club in the city that was called Bataclam and asked the employee of the store if he was interested in going to work for the club to which he said no and I took the opportunity and said I could, I was a minor obviously I had to ask permission from my parents my mother was with some fear but my father did not think twice and gave me the Ok. I went to do a test and that same night the manager told me that I was accepted to work every day of the week from 10pm to 4am because it was the time allowed by law except Monday was a day off . What inspired me was that I started going with some regularity to the record store of my parents where it was then that I started to get interested in music in general and got to know it. In Portugal in the 80's it was a country where you could hear mostly Rock, Pop, so it was a completely different scene only later in the late 80's the music scene began to change more precisely in 1990 with the arrival of Ecstasy.

What do you miss about that time? And what’s changed for the better?

Of being a guy with no responsibilities. Some things, one of them is that today we have an established scene/industry. The valorisation of buying music, the editions that only came once a week to Portugal every Wednesday and Thursday we always had a group of DJs that would wait until after the store closed so they could be the first to bring the news was exciting to deal with the music physically and the way it was promoted having the Test pressing a few weeks in advance was also an advantage.

You’re famous for holding a residency at Kremlin, which you pretty much played at every night! How does playing that regularly change how you play? How does it make you a better DJ?

Kremlin was the club that was on at the moment when there was a boom in electronic music in Portugal. It was a very crazy time. It was a club where everybody would end the night. My way of playing has been changing according to the tools I have and not because of where I play. Not just any DJ can have a residency in a club and play practically every day for more than 7 years every day of the week. That made me a better DJ. I remember one day talking to my boss and asking him if I could buy a Korg M1 to put in the booth. I always wanted something different, but the four turntables weren't enough.

Your sets are known for their diverse range of musical styles. How do you approach selecting tracks for your performances, and what factors influence your decision-making process?

My sets were rarely less than 6 hours, and during that time I did not play the same genre of music. Until 1990 it was the clubs that bought the music that was chosen for me, I had a certain budget per week to spend. It wasn't until 1992 that DJ's started to buy music for themselves because that was also the time when freelance DJ's started. It was only later when I started my weekly residency at the Lux when it opened that I would bring my own music where I had to bring at least 8 hours of music every Friday. Nowadays you only need to select 3 hours of music to play two, each night is a night and there are no equal nights. There are several factors that are determinant in the selection of music, the event, the venue and the time.

Tell us a bit about Home Made, the new label you’re a part of alongside Bessone e Fragoso, who you’re about to release your new track, ‘Playground'...

These guys from the beautiful city of Aveiro have been developing a very interesting work with their label, they have been keeping what I call the "Underground" alive. One day Diego came to my studio and I showed him some tracks I was working on and he particularly liked one that he and Fragoso came to collaborate on and that is now edited on Home Made. What makes me particularly happy is that we have been able to collaborate from different generations but with the same feeling for music and also to help them in their visibility as producers and label. 

Collaboration is an integral part of the music industry. Are there any artists or producers you would love to collaborate with in the future? What do you believe makes a successful collaboration?

I think a collaboration with Barac would be interesting. A successful collaboration is when there is equal frequency between two producers in the studio who love what they do.

As a DJ, you have travelled extensively and performed in various countries. How does the cultural context of each place influence your musical selection and the overall energy of your sets?

I always like to know what I'm going to, the venue, what kind of event, whether it's a festival, a sunset on the beach, or after-hours, I prepare for each gig and that obviously requires some work during the weeks beforehand in selecting the songs.

Many aspiring DJs look up to you as a role model and seek advice. What advice would you give to emerging artists who are trying to establish themselves in the electronic music scene?

It's a lot of dedication and availability that will interfere with personal and family life, not following the musical trend but really knowing what you like and the style and focusing on that without doubting. So it is many hours of music research to understand the evolution of the scene and not just focus on the present. The important thing is to create a knowledge so that you can work on it later.

Technology has had a profound impact on the music industry. How do you strike a balance between innovation and maintaining a connection with the roots of electronic music?

Mix them together, so you don't lose anything. And the result is amazing and unique. One of the examples I can give is to get old music vinyls, record them to digital and add my personal touch through new technology material.

Your contribution to the electronic music scene extends beyond DJing, as you are also a mentor and educator. Could you tell us about your experiences in teaching and guiding the next generation of DJs and producers?

Thank you for the compliment. It is with great responsibility and professional sense that I decided to give my first Masterclass in person and with the aim of transmitting my knowledge and techniques of the profession that goes through vinyl and then digital. With 40 years of career, it was time to share my passion. It was also a great challenge for me and I enjoy the experience. I recognise what I represent for many and obviously that gives me even more responsibility to get the message across so that they can then decide to pursue a professional career. We are now entering the last week and seeing the evolution of each one, it is an incredible pride!

Your podcast, "VibeCast," has gained a significant following, featuring interviews with prominent artists. What motivated you to start the podcast, and what do you hope listeners take away from each episode?

Really? I didn't know you had a Vibecast! I had two programs that unfortunately ended. It was on weekends on a national radio station, Antena 3 in 1994 for 20 years. One of them was a mix show and the other we talked about producers and did interviews with international DJs/promoters who came to play in Portugal to promote their work and give news of the news, but that was a long time ago. What I did recently was to create a concept "Portuguese movement" where everything started during the pandemic where I would stream sets dedicated to Portuguese electronic music in order to sensitise the public to know more local music. And then invite new emerging Portuguese talents to play with me and stream with the same goal, recognition.

You’re playing at Waking Life soon, which honestly has one of the best line-ups we’ve seen anywhere this summer. What are you most looking forward to with that one? 

Yes I agree, a quality line-up, I am grateful to be part of it and also looking forward to it. In all new experiences I always go without expectation, I try to stay neutral to be surprised afterwards, that's age talking! It will be a nice experience and a challenge because the public knows me in a different register, more clubbing. What I hope is to create diversity, obviously not running away from my style. Also, I don't run away from what I do because this concert fits with my project launched in 2019, my alter ego ANTOS which is more Organic or Deep House. My perspective will be a mix of what I know how to do and will be depending on the audience and interaction.

Looking back at your career, what are some of the most important lessons or insights you have gained along the way, and what advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time?

For the new guys starting out, start playing with vinyl and don't go straight into digital, that's what I taught from my masterclass. The vinyl record experience is where everything begins in the disc-jockey profession. Open your curiosity to the area by researching the history of electronic music, not limiting yourself to the news on social networks but improving your culture and knowledge through documentaries (on streaming platforms), reading news in online magazines... Dedicate many hours of your days to researching music, the profession is not a hobby. It is a lot of dedication. Another tip is to be attentive, take into account the places where you are going to play, the ambiance, the interaction of the public, and not go automatically. So it is important to improvise and adapt your set.

If I could go back I think I would have dedicated more to my international career. So the other thing I advise is to try as much as possible to go beyond the borders.

What’s next for you - musically and personally - that you’re most excited about?

Continue with the productions, pull me and feel active on a creative level. And discover and support new talent. 

DJ Vibe, Bessone e Fragoso - Playground is out now Home Made. Listen to the premiere below, and buy/listen to the release here

DJ Vibe plays Waking Life on 7th June. Buy tickets for that one here