Rave Revolution: Héctor Oaks

"Techno is the real punk."

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December 7 was a day of particular significance to us; celebratory, to say the least. Tbilisi’s renowned club Bassiani released As We Were Saying, the first ever full-length album on its fledgeling imprint ‘Bassiani’. This meant only one thing: all day and night plans cancelled, we succumbed to the LP’s heartfelt techno beats. Masterfully crafted by Bassiani (and Herrensauna) resident Héctor Oaks, the collection of 11 tracks carries the club’s charged atmosphere all the way from the basement of Dinamo Arena stadium, Bassiani’s homebase, straight to your body and heart.

But this is no coincidence. Oaks, also known as Cadency, is the Madrid-born and Berlin-based DJ, producer and label head to whom the underground turns when in need of a serious dose of raw, emotion-driven techno. With inimitable love for vinyl, he’s celebrated for his eclectic mixes and marathon-long sets that draw from both contemporary and historic techno references. Oaks’ involvement with this culture does not start or finish with the DJ pool or the music studio, however. A restless raver himself, he’s unapologetic when it comes to protecting the community’s freedom, safety and longevity.

When local Tbilisi police raided Bassiani earlier this year on grounds of five drug-related deaths (proven to have nothing to do with the club), Oaks naturally found himself in the midst of an upsetting event—part of a larger governmental attack on LGBTQ+ safe places and drug awareness—that generated powerful and rebellious upheaval. It was that unification of ravers locally and worldwide, together with Bassiani’s distinctive spatiality and vibe, that turned out to be major catalysts in the creation of As We Were Saying, and in Héctor’s own (re)confirmation of the power of music and raving.

Héctor, tell the people why we rave.

I’ve always said that techno is the real punk. Musically, there are no norms that limit the genre as long as the intention is to make techno. What we do in clubs or at raves every weekend goes totally against what we’re told is acceptable to do. Go to work, marry, have a kid, get a car and a house—raving puts everybody on the same level; you aren’t judged for what you have but for who you are. Isn’t this the biggest challenge we can present to any social norm? 

Why are safe spaces important in today’s political climate?

Safe environments are more of a social necessity than an answer to any political climate. I can’t even count how many of my friends, including me, were always part of the group in school that thought they’d never be good enough, that they’d always be weirdos and freaks (my favourite kind of people). Through raving, however, we found our place in the world, we felt accepted and we were able to discover our sexuality.

As a DJ, producer and head of a label, you’re someone who definitely has power when it comes to defining what a safe space is and the ways to achieve that utopia. Could you give insight as to what steps you personally believe should be taken if a truly intersectional environment is to be created?

Most safe spaces emerged organically, nobody gave instructions on how to behave or what you can or you can’t do within them. These environments are normally frequented by the same people too, and they somehow become a self-sustained community that takes care of itself. Unwritten rules are respected, with each new member getting to know and accept them in order to be part of the community’s space. Such utopia attracts curiosity, however, and it is here, I think, where door policies become really important. Letting in those who may not be 100% part of the community but are respectful of the people inside the safe space is a way to spread awareness and educate.

We’ve seen quite some work being done on intersectional line-ups and safe club spaces, still I can’t help but feel that certain clubs or labels use that as a marketing strategy only…

Although intersectionality may be used as a marketing strategy, I think that promoting equality, respect and freedom can only have positive results. Nevertheless, using it solely for economic profit is lame, and I do hope nobody is so shameless as to do this.

Couldn’t agree more. Can you tell us a bit about the process behind your sound? What drives you to create a track? 

Before I create a track, I always spend time thinking about it. I write tracks that evoke a certain feeling, situation or memory, but at the core of them will always be a purposeful message I wish to communicate. 

You’ve said that coming to Berlin from Madrid has been an eye-and-ear-opening experience for you in terms of techno music. But have you found the immensity of the scene in Berlin limiting in any way? How do you overcome that?

Not so long ago, I did find myself stuck in the techno scene. I used to categorize techno as “good” and “bad”, and anything that fell into the latter category, I simply wouldn’t touch. At that time, however, I began working at The Record Loft, where I stumbled upon music that nobody was willing to play. And this is when everything really started for me. It opened up my understanding of techno as a concept, making me perceive almost any electronic sub-genre, which contains a certain mood and energy, as a potential fit to my sets. The experience was so liberating and fun! Instead of just showcasing sound palettes, I could now actually tell a story and leave the audience feeling as if they had watched a film with a strong message. 

And how did your involvement with Bassiani come about? 

My first time playing in Tbilisi was in 2014. I had just one record out, but the team that runs Bassiani, as we know it today, booked me nevertheless. Them and I had such a great time that we repeated the night again and again over a couple of years. Then, Bassiani was established and things fell in place quite naturally. Tato, Zviad and I are actually the same age, we share the same interests, the same love for this music and its culture, and we became friends above everything else. We’ve grown together professionally too and now we’re in the same boat, which I’m really happy and proud about; being a member of the family. 

We’re beyond excited for the new As We Were Saying release! Can you tell us what prompted the creation of this LP?

In 2017, I played 3 very long sets in Bassiani, and through them I learned a lot, taking tons of energy and inspiration back with me. The space itself has always been special to me because of its distinct energy, regardless of the fact that I had no tangible way of proving why exactly that is so. I simply knew I wanted to write an album, the tunes and atmosphere of which would fit perfectly with Bassiani and its space. In May 2018, however, the government raid against Bassiani happened—an overall attack on safe and queer clubbing spaces—and the entire community showed me the particular reason why I’m so drawn to that place: for people there, raving is important to a point where they will fight the government if it threatens to take away that freedom of expression from them. And in that moment, it all felt like a full circle for me: the writing of the album, its sound, the space and the political happenings there. 

Is there a certain atmosphere you want the record to establish? 

As We Were Saying is conglomerate of different moods and styles. If you want to put a name on it, I’d say that it’s techno on “rave mode”. I think that although some parts of it might sound dark or tense, above all there’s a light of hope. Such hopefulness is representative of the climate of the environment of Bassiani.

What are the messages you wish the tracks could send to the listener?

This album tells my point of view on how raving affects our lives, choices and sacrifices we’re forced to make if we desire a certain level of freedom, joy and self-awareness. I’m sure that if you’re part of the culture, you know what I’m talking about and you’ll enjoy the listen.

Words by Valkan Dechev

Photography by Paul Krause 

 

As We Were Saying is out now! Order here

Follow Héctor on Instagram and Soundcloud

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