A key player in the Balaeric House Music scene, former resident at Space Ibiza, highly respected producer and notoriously nice guy, sometime around 2011 Kiko Navarro went a little bit quiet.
Re-emerging recently with a new album ready to share with the world, I think I can safely speak for the entire House Music community (too late – I’m doing it anyway) when I say we were all delighted and relieved to know Kiko Navarro was still around, and still making music.
Born on Mallorca, Kiko Navarro has traveled the globe as a DJ for over two decades, always returning to recharge and draw inspiration from the unique energy of his island home. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Kiko’s DJing and production styles have always sounded like a reflection of some slow-living, sun-drenched paradise. The islands wove themselves into his music, and in return he and his contemporaries made them famous all over the planet.
Although he’s probably best known by househeads for Jimpster’s groundbreaking remix of his track “Siempre,” Kiko Navarro’s music has an uncanny habit of popping up in the most unlikely places, most notably on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto. A devotee of soulful sounds of all shades, from Afro to Boogie to Latin, Kiko’s new album Everything Happens For A Reason feels like a love letter dedicated to his favorite records. Having had a sneak preview of the LP, I have to confess that it shouts “classic” from the first note to the last, also groundbreaking in its own subtle way, blending acid basslines with Soul and Jazz touches without forcing the issue, something I’ve never heard done successfully before. His cover version of Maze & Frankie Beverly’s “Twilight” is nothing short of inspired, his heartfelt dedication to friend and collaborator Luis Depestre exceptionally poignant.
Featuring Julie McKnight (the voice responsible for all those goose bumps on the Kings Of Tomorrow track “Finally”), “All Because Of You” is the first single taken from Kiko’s new album and it’s available now, so what better time to check in with the man himself…
It’s been a while since we heard an album from you. What have you been up to in the meantime?
Yes, my last album was released back in 2010. Since then I have been doing many things. I became father of my first son who was born a few weeks before that release. I have released singles and remixes for several labels. I’ve also been DJing a lot. I was doing some very special work organizing entertainment programs for a multinational company, producing events during the races at the Moto GP world championship up until 2014. That job became all consuming, so since I stopped doing it I’ve found the time to work hard in the studio, making the year 2015 a very special one release-wise.
I’ve been getting tracks released on some of my favorite labels and receiving some lovely feedback as well.
There seems to be a return to the more soulful side of House Music in the last year or two. Why do you think this is? Do you notice this in the response your DJ sets?
I’m not really sure about what you mean for Soulful House, but it’s true that for House in general it’s a better time now than a few years ago when most of the more well-known DJs where playing only Techno and Minimal. That age is over.
In my opinion Soulful House doesn’t work in the clubs anymore. I think when you make a track with a complex chord progression and very good musical arrangements, unfortunately people get lost on the dancefloor. Believe me, I have experienced that.
But in my opinion Soulful House doesn’t work in the clubs anymore. I think when you make a track with a complex chord progression and very good musical arrangements, unfortunately people get lost on the dancefloor. Believe me, I have experienced that. When I started to produce music, during the first years I was trying to make very rich tracks in musical terms, working with top musicians who were adding their own knowledge. If you listen to my first album Perceptions on Pacha Recordings you will hear what I’m saying. Years later I realized that those tracks weren’t working at the clubs and I decided to produce tracks where the groove would take more importance than the musical information.
That’s why my answer is no, in general, Soulful House doesn’t work at the clubs, only in a minority of venues which have a tradition of that particular genre. But the good House Music is having a good time for sure.
As for my sets, from my early days I’ve been playing what means HOUSE for me, including anything from Deep House to Techno, vocal, funky, Afro, Latin… the list goes on. I haven’t changed that much – just adapted to the new times, and yes, probably a less soulful “classic” sound than ten years ago, but still taking care that my sets have a good dose of soul and groove.
As a hard working DJ, how much does playing in clubs inform your approach to production?
The clubs are the best place for testing my productions. Normally I need to play the tracks a few times before I do the final tweaks or little changes to finish my tracks. It’s there that I realize if it works or not, if any part should be changed and if everything feels well balanced. Often when playing in clubs I have new ideas for the tracks I’m working on, or find inspiration for new ones.
Onto the new album: What’s the story behind it? Does the title hold a special meaning?
The idea of making this album honestly came from the person I was working with for my press in Spain last year. She asked me, “Kiko why you don’t make an album?” And I thought, “Mmmhh is it the right time?” I said to her that I’d produce some tracks and then we will see if all of them together work as an album. Since then I simply followed my instinct and inspiration making different tracks and this is what happened. About the title – Everything Happens For A Reason – it’s nothing new, but it’s something I firmly believe. In my experience we spend a lot of time trying to make sense of why things happen and it’s true, unfortunately sometimes it’s hard to understand the reason, especially with tragedies.
The record feels like a love letter to classic House and boogie sounds. Which artists do you feel influence your style the most?
Glad you feel it’s like this. I would say the record is a declaration of who I am as a DJ and producer. A good friend of mine told me recently after listening to the whole album nonstop: “Kiko I love it, excellent tracks and sonically perfect but I miss something: the concept of the album, because I hear many styles in it. Normally an album follows a concept, one style or one vibe.”
I said: “My friend, you know me, right? The concept is me.” Really, when I play DJ sets I don’t play only one particular style in House Music because that would be boring, so the same thing happens when I work in the studio.
About artists, it’s difficult to name only a few, but if we focus just on this album, I can tell you that the track which names the album, “Everything Happens For A Reason,” happened after attending a Steve Reich concert in Singapore. “Twilight” is the tribute to the love I have for Maze & Frankie Beverly’s albums. “Right On” is heavily influenced by Kerri Chandler, “All Because Of You” by Ashley Beedle’s Ballistic Brothers and “Cranc” by Larry Heard. Probably the most important track is “Painful Goodbye”, which was written after I lost a very good friend, an important person also in my musical career and without doubt the best sax player of my beloved island of Mallorca, Mr. Luis Depestre.
The cover version of “Twilight” is inspired; one of those “I wish I’d thought of doing that” moments. How did the idea come to you?
I remember perfectly, last December 2015 a friend opened a bar and he asked me: “Would you like to come to play some of your favorite vinyl for the opening event while people are having dinner?” I said yes, so he prepared a nice chair and two Technics on a low table to let me play music sitting down. When I played the original version of “Twilight” (which is on the B side of the very popular “Joy & Pain” 12″) I thought it might be good fun to try to make an up-tempo cover, respecting the old-school flavor it has. At that time I’d just bought the Roland TR-8 and TB-3 Aira series so I had the equipment to try to get a sound closer to the original, with the addition of recording my own vocals. The following day I woke up early and I went straight to the studio and I just made it, the flow was magical. I played all the parts in a few hours, one of those sessions when you forget the time for lunch and you are totally into it. I just needed another day to finish the arrangement and the structure. I think the original is very upfront for the year it was released, I love that 303 acid bassline and once I did my cover I thought would be worth it to make another version, more into the raw acid Chicago style, adding new patterns and some dramatic, hypnotic pads. “Twi-Dub” will be released alongside my version of “Twilight” on a super-limited 12″ in early 2017.
I love the interplay between Soulful and Acid House sounds on some of the tracks. Do you think “Soulful Acid” might be your new invention?
That would be great! I think nowadays is very difficult to really invent something in music, almost everything is already invented (and I say “almost” to leave an space for things that still can surprise us). I think is a matter of combining different things, but the most important is to do it with love, to really feel what you do, trying to transmit an emotion, a message. I think there is a lot of love in acid basslines; the filter, amount of resonance and other parameters permit you to express different feelings. Could be rage, could be happiness. It depends how you express them by tweaking the knobs. I suppose you refer to my song “Right On” or even “Cranc” and “Twilight” on which I used the those types of lines over soulful elements.
With venues and record shops across the world closing fast, what do you see emerging in their place? As a DJ, what are your predictions for the future of dance music?
I think it’s about a cycle. 10 years I think people wouldn’t expect that labels would still press vinyl today. I remember going to Miami WMC for the first time with an empty record bag and returning home with more than hundred pieces of vinyl. People started to give more CDs and less vinyl progressively until the last time I went there in 2008 is was almost strange to be given a record – everybody was giving out CDs and some USBs, nobody was playing on vinyl. Now you can see more people buying wax. That’s why I think it’s a cycle.
With venues it’s the same, some old will close and some new will open. People want to go out at night, some for the music, some for other reasons, but humans need clubs to have fun.
I can’t predict what will happen, I think music will adapt to the new technologies and some tastes good or bad, but it’s something that will stay with us forever.
Do you still play vinyl much? What does it mean to you, releasing “Twilight” and “Cranc” on a 12″?
At the moment I have a monthly vinyl night with a good friend of mine at one of the best venues in Mallorca called Garito Cafe. Apart from that I really don’t take records off the island anymore. I just don’t want to travel with all that weight anymore and I’ve grown used to traveling light. Still, I buy vinyl, not as much as before, but some special things that you can only find on that lovely format.
I’m so happy to still be releasing my music on 12″. Together with Peter from BBE I chose those titles to be on the first vinyl because I think “Twilight” might be good for those DJs who like to play Disco, re-edits and Balearic and also for those who like the old school House and Acid trax. Same reason for including “Cranc,” which is inspired by the sound of Chicago.
There is a lot of love in acid basslines: the filter, amount of resonance & other parameters permit you to express different feelings. Could be rage, could be happiness.
Which artists and labels are you loving at the moment?
Always difficult to list names, but if I just write what comes to my mind… At the moment some of my favorites are KiNK, Chaos in the CBD, Deetron, Jose Marquez, Kyodai, Detroit Swindle, among many others. As for labels, Yoruba Records, Innervisions, Mo Black, Heist, Lumberjacks In Hell, Eureka Records, Midnight Shift and of course BBE!
In the current climate of “pick and choose” digital consumption, what relevance does the album format have?
I think it’s not the best time for selling albums to be honest, but at the same time when you find a label that supports you in releasing one, it’s a very good opportunity to show who you are or what you have been doing for a period of your life. Just because an album includes a longer list of tracks than a single or EP it allows you to tell more, you can speak more through your music, just to express whatever you want to say, to release all the music you have inside. It’s like a complete piece with a particular sense, with a reason why you have done it like this.
I’m sure people who are really into it will buy the whole album but most of the people will listen briefly to the tracks, hopefully all of them, and will buy just the cuts they can use in their sets, or the ones they like.
When I finished all the tracks included on the album, some people asked me, “Why don’t you just release EPs on different labels and forget about the album?” Yes, that could be an option, but finding a very well established label with great reputation, like BBE, which opened their door to do it, I would be stupid if I’d said no.
Where are your favorite places to DJ?
I had great time lately playing at different cities in Greece, Italy and Eastern Europe such as Montenegro and Serbia. Also in Asia: Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Bangkok… To be honest I would like to play more in Europe. I hope this album will help me to reach some places where I haven’t been playing for a while.
If you had some advice for your younger self when you first started out in music, what would it be?
Stay true to whatever you love. What you like isn’t enough. You must love it.
Kiko Navarro’s single “All Because Of You” feat. Julie McKnight is available now. His album and the Twilight 12″ are slated for release in early 2017 from BBE.
Originally published in 5 Magazine Issue 141, featuring Sumsuch on Kiko Navarro, Paris’ legendary soulful mecca Djoon, Rondell Adams & more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full Access to Real House Music.