In conversation with Rei Calero ahead of his Tzinah Records release

Rei Calero is one of Puerto Ricos most prominent DJ/Producers, quickly growing in the electronic music scene. He has quickly become a "go to" choice for opening and closing major events and international artists always setting the groove accordingly. His style is product of a developed ear inside and outside the electronic music realm, studying in the Conservatory Of Music and Berklee various instruments and genres keeping things melodic and musical in a way. Working with a blend of minimal groove and ever evolving color along the ride.We sat down with him before his release on Tzinah Records...

Rei Calero

Let’s begin by talking a bit about Puerto Rico. How was it as a place to grow up?

It’s nice in PR. At times I take it for granted and get homesick when I’m gone. I grew up spending half my time in San Juan, and the other half in Aguadilla with the rest of my family. Lately I just take it easy surfing and chilling with my dog Bruce. Those things fill my heart. Tropical weather, great food, lot’s of nature and easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It has its difficulties like every other country but I’m grateful for being brought up there.

Can you tell us about your journey into the electronic music scene and how you developed your unique style as a DJ and producer?

My first “rave” was a Deadmau5 party, since then I became more fascinated with the culture. I listened to artists like John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, Calvin Harris, and that Telepopmusik track “Breathe” within others. It wasn’t until I heard Stimming’s song “Melodica” where I had my first taste of “Minimal” which was really influential. From then on I heard tracks like Booka Shade, M.A.N.D.Y “Body Language” and things got more underground, especially when I dove into vinyl-only music in 2015. Playing vinyl really helped me develop my style and taste. Some of the first records I bought included music from Einzig, iO Mulen, Octave (RO), Kirik, VID, Arapu and more.

How has your background in studying various instruments and genres at the Conservatory Of Music and Berklee influenced your approach to electronic music production?

I’ve played piano from an early age and picked up the guitar a few years later. I studied and practiced my craft in the Conservatory Of Music and did a 5-Week Jazz Fusion program in Berklee. Sometimes I’ll play guitar/keys/bass on tracks to give it a more organic feel and find cool effects with pedals.

Was this in Boston? What was the scene like there? Was there a lot of discerning electronic music stuff going on?

At that moment I liked electronic music but wasn’t so immersed as later on in life so I didn’t find much going on. There’s a cool scene but most people travel to NY which is more consistent.

How do you think your work there impacted you as a producer? Does a lot of it translate to electronic music? Are the fundamentals the same?

Back then my interests were more in  jazz, funk, and indie stuff. It wasn’t until a friend studying in Berklee introduced me to Ableton. From then on I incorporated influences from multiple genres into my music. I believe in every genre the fundamentals are sort of the same in a sense that there’s a set of rules but it’s all about how we bend them to make things unique and our own.

What are some of the key elements you focus on when creating your tracks, especially in terms of maintaining a balance between minimal groove and melodic richness?

I think drums, trippy textures and percussion give the tracks a minimal feel. Adding atmospheric and tonal elements give it that melodic richness. Sometimes hooks and melodies drive a track while other times the rhythm section does a lot of work. Sometimes it’s both. It’s all about finding the balance between these things.

Could you share some insights into your creative process when composing a new track? How do you typically begin and develop your ideas?

Generally I start with drums and percussion, I try not to encompass myself with a certain idea but a general thought of where I want to go. Sometimes I’ll listen to a few labels if their sound is specific and I want to create something similar and from there start adding components that define it that way. Likewise I take time to experiment and do some trial and error to see what works best with a track. I’m also extremely ADD and learned to take breaks from time to time instead of closing myself hours on end in the studio. Sometimes I’ll switch between projects, go out for a jog, chill and get back to it.

What inspires you the most when it comes to creating music, and how do you stay creatively motivated over time?

Hearing other colleagues inspire me to push myself. Listening to artists I admire in events also motivates me and gives me ideas at the time of creating. Also as mentioned earlier I give my mind rest. The way I find balance is sometimes I'll be overly creative in the studio for a few days and then I’ll take some other days to do other activities, not all life is about music and studio time, it can be overwhelming if you think like that, at least for me. I am most passionate about music but I enjoy other things in life as well, especially other forms of art.

Can you describe the significance of musicality and melody in your work, and how you incorporate these elements into your electronic productions?

When referring to these elements I’m sometimes incorporating real instruments as well as taking influence from tonalities in other genres. It creates something cool and melodic. Sometimes I wont end up using the instruments but I’m able to build the general ideas on them.

How do you perceive the evolution of the electronic music scene, and how do you see your role within it?

Some branches of the electronic music scene are really fascinating, pushing boundaries with interesting interpretations and significant mental effort. I remember minimal mainly used to be more stripped-back and experimental but now it’s very groovy and danceable, while still retaining its trippy elements. Lately it’s engaging, rich with atmosphere, feeling and psychedelic features. It’s ticking all the boxes. However, I feel many innovative artists remain underground and deserve more limelight, as some lineups often feature the same names repeatedly. I’ve also noticed artists adapting their sound to fit popular trends, changing their original essence for commercial success. My main role in this is to always be true to myself and push the sound I’m passionate about, whether it be throwing events, sharing music, content and always supporting those who have genuine intentions with the same interests

What do you hope listeners take away from your music when they experience it?

I hope I can transmit different feelings with each piece I’ve made. I find that to be one of the most beautiful things in music and why I am so enthralled with it, leaving me always wanting to create more. It’s a form of communication within. There's so much I’d like to express.

Rei Calero

Could you walk us through the concept and inspiration behind your recent track released on Fast Lane?

When I was crafting the track “Biome 4447” I actually was aiming to make something different but it took me in another direction. Long and sunny road trips, listening to groovy and dubby vibes led me to take that route.

What influenced the sound and mood of this particular track, and were there any specific experiences or emotions you were trying to convey?

I think the chill laid back groove along with the relaxed and cool vocal delivery compliment each other really nicely. The monologue says a lot about envisioning life in another planet or parallel universe, if to say things were different. I think that speaks a lot on what we would like to see in the current state of the world we live in. At least that is what I take from it.

How do you approach collaborations, such as remixes, and what led to Nima Gorji and Marcos Calegari remixing your work?

Every collaboration is different, I have always been a fan of Nima Gorji and felt this track was influenced by his style of music and thought he would compliment the EP nicely. His team was very quick in responding to my email and I am deeply grateful for him accepting the task and delivering in dope Nima fashion! That is not always the case but it was with him, that speaks a lot about an artist's diligence and workflow.

I got to know Marcos Calegari and his music through the Fantastic Friends Recordings Family Affair Vol.2 VA, we casually started talking through IG and we traded remixes for this project. He remixed one of my tracks and I one of his which was released on “Colour In Music”. Marcos is a very talented up and coming producer. I was able to visit him recently, play an event together and share great moments. I can say he has become a really good friend and you can expect more collaborations in the future!

In what ways do you think remixes contribute to the overall electronic music landscape, and how do they impact your artistic vision?

I think remixes are beneficial in so many ways, creating relationships, building your profile and adding different colours or more coherence to an album.

Are there any specific artists or musical movements that have had a significant influence on your work?

There's almost too many to mention, though mostly anything that directly has impacted my career. I’m grateful for some of the friendships I’ve built with artists through their labels and platforms such as with Mandarin, Nicolas Duvoisin and everyone I’ve met through Fantastic Friends Recordings, Octile from Double Trouble, Isaac Elejade (Intaresu) and much more. I just recently visited Europe for the first time and was able to build on these relationships, bond with their colleagues as well as create new relationships with people that I admire and visit places I have only dreamt of, the electronic music culture in Europe is very rich and inspiring, I have made it a mission to visit more often.

Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations you're particularly excited about?

Sure, I don’t know what music will have been released by the time this interview is out but I have some collaborations with some friends mentioned here, possibly some demos going to labels I’ve worked with before and some on different ones, as well as countless mixes!

We’ve also premiered your new track, [Delorian]. Can you tell us a bit about the production story behind this one? Was there a certain mood you were trying to capture here?

I was going for something very Tzinah oriented, very fractal and futuristic sounding as they would describe. There are certain tracks on their label that could fit some other places but generally their sound is very specific.

Finally, you’ve released music on a host of esteemed labels, such as Kindisch, Fantastic Friends Recordings, Conceptual Deep and recently, Fast Lane. What would you say your proudest moment has been to date? Why?

Each release has a special place with me, whether it was on a prestigious label or because of the relationships I built with its community. Though as of this moment I’m really excited about my release with Tzinah as it is a label I’ve admired for many years now and I can finally be proud to consider myself a part of it. Pretty sick promo pool as well, not going to lie!

What’s next for you that you’re really excited about?

I’m really happy to be making electronic music again after some complicated years. I have a lot to catch up on but I’m focusing on new music, travelling, building new relationships, collaborations and maybe even throwing a party every now and then. I would also like to contribute and give back to everyone who has supported me throughout my life, career and travels and have made me feel valued and comfortable throughout this whole process. Lending any resource I have at my disposal, whether it’s supporting their label with music, contributing to their events and projects, helping to build a network with others etc. The possibilities are endless as long as I follow my intuition and stay as healthy as I can! :)

Keep up with Rei Calero on Instagram, Beatport, Spotify and Resident Advisor 

Listen to our premiere of {Delorian} below.