ROBERT BABICZ – ROB ACID EXCLUSIVE FRONT COVER FEATURE INTERVIEW

ROBERT BABICZ – ROB ACID EXCLUSIVE FRONT COVER FEATURE INTERVIEW

June 18, 2020 0 By Editor

[This article is the 6 page front cover feature interview for issue 18 print and digital copies]

Polish-born, Malta-based: Robert Babicz is embedded deeply into the heart of the electronic dance music world at all levels. With almost 30 years of live performances, 1000+ genre-spanning tracks, and seven albums – not to mention being a highly regarded mastering engineer – Babicz is a true force of nature.

Early forays into European techno under names like ‘Acid Warrior’ and ‘Department of Dance’ seen him churning out acid-soaked tracks in the early 90s; but it was under the guise of ‘Rob Acid’ that really ignited his career, playing fast and loose live techno sets on an ever-expanding collection of equipment, ensuring no two sets ever sounded the same by deleting his instruments’ programming after his gigs.

At the dawn of the millennium, Robert Babicz emerged from behind his various aliases and began producing and performing under his own name. Temporarily parking the 303 and focusing on technically perfecting his unique and distinctive sound, infusing it with an emotive and human feel and then marrying it with his other passion of photography and film; resulting in an all-encompassing audio-visual sensory experience that reverberates on a very visceral level.

We are certainly very happy to be sitting down with the man to discuss and learn about his trials, triumphs, and tribulations; as well as hear what he has to say about the evolution of electronic music over the last 30 years and how he views the changes in the soundscape, technology, and culture in that time.

 

 

Mike Mannix: Robert it is amazing to speak with you. You know you’re one of those people that persisted in the dream and here you are three decades later talking about it. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you because it sets an example for others that are trying to pursue their dreams. That persistence, dedication, hard work, and focus pays off eventually; even though it might be a very tough and horrible road at times.

Robert Babicz: It’s an endless fight. Really! It’s worth it though.

Mike: Exactly! Let us kick off … so from early monikers such as ‘Rob Acid,’ in the 90s, to the wizard of the dark arts that you have become, can you trace for us some of those seminal moments that have helped shape your musical career; your distinctive approach to life, love, and music?  Give us an overview of the ‘Babiczstyle,’ from cradle to stage. 

I heard Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” the first time on the radio.

Robert: Okay Mike. I came from a family with no art and no music. I’m an immigrant, born in Poland, and we moved to Germany. We were quite poor. Anyway, I got a small radio when I was nine years old; and, I was always listening to the radio. One thing I did quite often was to take the radio into my bed and listen to it under the pillow when I should be asleep. So, one day … and that’s I think a very important day … I came across a radio show … I came across a radio station that was playing electronic, experimental music; and, at that time, I never heard of this before. For me, I thought, that I tuned into an intergalactic transmission! {Laugh] I thought there was a big spaceship over the Earth and I could listen to their communication, and I got really afraid! Like super afraid, because I thought: “This is real.” Like all these sounds. They touched me so much. I think even up to this day this shows how much sound can affect me. For me, this was like real communication … with sound. Even many years later … I think I was 16 … I heard Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” the first time on the radio.

Mike: Yeah great track!

Robert: I already loved House music and I’m a kid of the ’80s as well, so I’m inspired by Italo Disco; and ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood.’ Then I heard the “Acid Tracks,” from Chicago band ‘Phuture’ (DJ Pierre, Spanky) after one or two minutes I started to cry because I had that sort of intergalactic feeling again! It was so abstract, where the bassline was moving and changing and morphing … I was sitting in front of the radio and crying. This touched me so deeply, that … I had to find out what it was.

it was music for freaks … made by freaks….I loved it.

A few years later, a friend of mine at that time, he let me borrow his 909, 303, 606; and, a DJ mixer. At that point, I had no idea what these instruments were. And then I found out that this TB-303 was the sound of Phuture’s “Acid Tracks.” First I was disappointed by this little plastic box because I’d originally thought it was a giant synthesizer. Two meters high, because it’s so intense. And the second thing, I was like, “Wow! Yeah, let’s try this.”

I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a studio mixer, I just had this cheap DJ mixer; and, I connected the TB-303 to the phono input and it’s a mistake because the sound will immediately distort you know? But I had no idea, and I super liked the sound. I loved this distorted TB-303. Of course, this DJ mixer didn’t have panning pots, so I had to put everything in mono so everything was in the centre, and I connected the 909 and the TB-303 and just recorded many, many tracks on a cassette. A few weeks after I had to give back the instruments and I saw an advertisement in a magazine around 1990 and took this cassette, put it in an envelope and sent it away. The only copy of everything I had done and sent it away. I was lucky, two days later I got a call, “Hey, are you Robert? I got your tape, this is amazing. We love this! We have to release the record, can you please send us the master, we want to do vinyl?” I said, “Yeah, cool. You have the master. You have it.”

Mike: Fucking ell man!

Robert: Haha so, yeah, this was my first record. It came out of a cassette tape. Somehow I was in this thing doing records. At that time I was still at school so I didn’t have my own instruments when I wanted to do something I had to do this at a friend’s place. And then, a few months later … I had done my second record … I got a call from a promoter in Cologne, my home city, and he told me he got my number from someone, and that he really loves my releases and he has a party tonight and his booked act from Holland is not able to come and he’s searching for a replacement. He asked me, “Do you want to come and play?” Without even thinking I said, “Yes, of course!”

 

I connected the TB-303 to the phono input and it’s a mistake because the sound will immediately distort

Mike: What age were you?

Robert: Like 17/18 … So I said, “Yes, of course, I can come, but I have a small problem.” He told me, “Okay, what problem?” … “I don’t have any of my own instruments.” He said, “Hey, we can figure something out.” So, I came there like two or three hours before the show and he somehow managed to borrow some instruments, but instruments I never saw in my life. So I had one or two hours to program and imagine the music I wanted to play … and then play a straight one hour of improvised music. I had no idea what I was doing. I just had fun. But … and this is the magical moment in this … right before this show, I had no fucking clue what I wanted to do in my life. I was just going to school to lose time.

Mike: Yeah, because you had to. 

Robert: Yea, because I had to and my parents wanted me to go to school, but I had no idea what kind of job or whatever I should do. From this show, it was like the first time in my life that I was just myself, doing what I love; and, people liked this. You know? I didn’t have to please anyone. I was just myself. This hit me deep. And then from that moment, after this show, I understood, “Okay, this is what you want to do in your life.” At that time, Techno was really new. All these clubs were dirty little places and nobody could imagine that it would become what we have today, it was music for freaks … made by freaks. But I loved it.

So yeah, when I finished school, and I told my parents, “I will not go to university, and I will not take any job: I am an artist, and I want to do music.”  You can imagine that my parents were not amused at all! They hated this idea. Like, completely. And the thing is, they thought … because I was a very, very shy guy … that when they put pressure on me, I would forget music and go to university. But I told them “No. This is what I want to do” so they said, “Okay son if you don’t do what we want you have to go.” And, without thinking, I said, “Okay, I go.”

“I will not go to university, and I will not take any job: I am an artist, and I want to do music.”

At that time I had more records and I was starting to earn money and was able to buy my first instruments out of this. So the music paid for everything. I didn’t get any help from outside. First money came in and I thought, “Okay, I’ll get a room somewhere,” so I got a small room, I had just a used mattress on the floor … and my instruments! And that’s all. But I was completely happy.

I took my life into my hands; and, I know doing this was crazy, but I had this deep, deep feeling, “I have to do this. I have to,” and, nothing could stop me. All my friends said, “You are crazy,” my parents said, “You are crazy,” everybody said that I am crazy to give my life to music, but  I knew, deep in my heart, “This is what I want.”  So, I started to fight for this. And, slowly, it started to work out. I was quite poor, but I didn’t care. At all.  I was just happy and doing music, music, music, music like crazy! What was quite interesting as well as in the first years when I was playing as Rob Acid, people came to me and told me, “Hey man, your music is so amazing! But please, smile…. at least once!”

Mike: The typical serious techno head. 

Robert: Yes! The other thing is because I was so shy and I was so afraid … you know, if somebody told me, “Hey, after school you will be an artist and will stand on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people,”… no way! I wanted to be invisible, not on a stage.

 

 

So I took this advice … because it came quite often … and I thought, “Okay, try at least smile a little bit; or look into the crowd a little bit.” Slowly, slowly, I became more self-confident. It took many, many years really, to fully accept this because I was really afraid on the stage; but, I had to do this because it was music and I loved it. So, I had to. And, quite interesting, after all these years of Rob Acid, I understood … because when I changed around 2004 to Babicz, you know, my real name. And before, I had many, many project names. I think 15 or 16 different projects. But one thing with Rob Acid was that when I was playing I had this feeling that I am burning the dance floor. It was like it was the weight of the fear and aggression inside me, transformed into music, this healing aggression. I was known to destroy speaker systems. So many speaker systems I destroyed with my super-aggressive, loud music back then.

Mike: {laugh} I would love to have been there!

Robert: I remember parties where the whole system just started to burn and only my monitor speaker was working and then I was turning the monitor speaker around to the people and they were dancing. Like totally rock and roll, it was amazing.

All my friends said, “You are crazy,” my parents said, “You are crazy,” everybody said that I am crazy to give my life to music, but  I knew, deep in my heart, “This is what I want.”

Mike: Yeah, improvise on the go man. Fuck!

Robert: Yeah, and one thing that was typical for Rob Acid at that time, or for my music, was because the way how I did my first show was I was improvising completely and it was also the way how I did music: I was not working with a computer, I just had these machines and I recorded the tracks so many times until I was happy. It was like made in real-time. So it was the same on the stage. I took this as a rule for myself that I would not prepare myself. I will go there, put all equipment on the stage, be there one or two hours before my show and start to program … and make the music for this location and these people only.

Mike: That’s incredible.

Robert: I didn’t want anyone to record this. For me it was like: if you are there, you are there; if you are not there, forget it. You know? It’s this being in the moment. Present. I love this concept. And, I did the shows, and after the shows, I just deleted all the patterns again.

Mike: That’s mad!  

Robert: Totally insane, but somehow this was a good school to learn to produce because I Iearnt to be fast; and, one of the most important things, when you are an artist, is to decide, when you are doing something and you decide, “Okay, this is the bassline, I stay with this. This is my drums, I will not change it. And make the track out of this.” You know? You have millions of possibilities, but you make a choice, stay with this and finish it.  This improvising phase was helping me to learn this, and be fast; because even today I would say 95% of all my tracks were done in one take. Almost every track I have made, are made because I want to make music out of this moment.

 

You have millions of possibilities, but you make a choice, stay with this and finish it.

 

So yeah, this was Rob Acid. It was many years of craziness. I think I had my first US tour in 95′, and then I was playing in Chicago and Detroit. I met all these classic heroes at that time, and I was very thankful that I could play there and I got nice feedback from the guys there. So, super cool. I was doing this techno/acid thing for many years, and maybe one side note is that from the beginning on when I created Rob Acid, there was always a project on the other side called “Dicabor,” which is Rob Acid spelt backward. This was my ambient side. Because I was doing calm, very soft music. It was like my opposite side. My anxious side, you know? This came out because I was, as well, experimenting with psychedelics at that time … like so many people … and I simply was not able to find the right music to calm myself. So I made it for myself very ambient, soft music; and somehow, this came together around 2003/2004 when the Techno music changed a lot into Hard Techno, Schranz … Chris Liebing. It somehow got very industrial, and for myself, it lost its soul. There were no basslines anymore. No melodies. Just drums and rides smack into your face.

So I thought, “Okay, let’s start again and experiment and find a new sound for myself.” So I started to release under my name, Robert Babicz, and I think this was one of the best steps I could do because somehow people had no idea who I was. People didn’t have a picture in their mind when they were reading, “Oh, a new Rob Acid track,” or something.

So I could start again … I had releases on Kompakt Records, in Cologne, and other labels. It gave me total freedom. And then when the first bookings came in, there were girls again on the dancefloor, having fun. And boys were smiling, and people were happy because the music was different. So, yeah somehow this changed, and then slowly I said, “I don’t take any Rob Acid booking anymore. I have to do this.” Yeah, the Babicz sound came in. But then, because I’m doing so much music I made over 1000 tracks already. I am insane … it’s okay, I accept it!

Mike: It just shows how much creative energy is in you that you have been able to extract over the years.

Robert: There’s constant music in my head. It’s never stopping; and it has maybe to do with this synaesthesia thing because everything I hear is directly creating something. Always. Every moment. It can be very distracting. It’s sometimes strange. In every situation, I’m hearing music in my head.

Mike: Can we talk about that a bit more? Because I know you hear colour, and you see sound. How did you know you could do that? I mean was it something that developed or did you always have it as a kid? 

Robert: I had this as a kid but without knowing it at all. I thought everyone has this. I had no idea that this was not normal. For me it was completely normal because I loved to walk as a kid … because I was so shy as well, I enjoyed my time alone in the forest, and watching animals and looking at nature and stuff like this. Back then I had a game for myself, where I would take my bicycle and cycle as far as I can until I had no idea where I was and try to find home again.

I made over 1000 tracks already. I am insane … it’s okay, I accept it!

Back to this synaesthesia thing, it increased when I started to experiment with psychedelics. Then I understood, “Wow this is something you have every day in your life, but you can work on this and take this.” Something I understood then was that in my personal view, music is a sculpture in time. A frequency sculpture in time.

Mike: Yes, yes, great way to describe it. 

Robert: You can take this sculpture, and this sculpture has this kind of geometry, and that’s how I am so fast. I understood why I am so fast when I am doing music, because without thinking I feel this geometry and these forms. And so when there are some errors or something it’s not right. The geometry is distorted.

Mike: I wish I could fucking see that. 

Robert: It’s also why this mastering came in for me, and why it’s so easy for me because I need to hear a track from a client and even after a few seconds of hearing, I immediately know, “Ah, this, this, this,” because I see it in my inner self somehow. So I see this geometry, “Ah, here and there; this kind of …”  I thought everybody has this. This is like a novel way of hearing music.

Mike: I wish we did. I wish I knew how you did it so I could switch it on. 

Robert: {laugh} It took me some time to realise that it’s only me having this, inside me; and when I was speaking about music and how I work, people looked at me and thought, “Okay, maybe he took too many drugs.” I thought everyone has this.

Music is a sculpture in time. A frequency sculpture

Mike: When you were tripping on psychedelics, did it just enhance the visual aspect of it? Like could you see it with your eyes open as opposed to say, going within the mind; could you see it out in front? 

Robert: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Totally. The sculpture was very clear and … it’s very hard to find words because it’s somehow that melodies, rhythm and sound, and sound structure is connected geometrically.

Mike: Yeah, yeah. Sacred geometry.

Robert: Yeah, and that’s why later on I got very interested in this topic as well, of course, because I saw it naturally.

Mike: Yeah, and that everything in the universe is based on that as well; and how the planets align, and how the vibration runs through the universe.

Robert: And from the smallest particle to the biggest structure, everything is connected. And, I had this as natural thing going on; and I had no idea till I found out, “Oh, there are other people, and it’s an old story already. Many thousand years, people are after this.” So I got very interested in this because I thought, “Okay, I may be not so crazy and alone. It’s an old topic.”

Mike: Yeah, primordial.

Robert: Another part is, when I’m talking about my music, people ask me, “How do you do this, and this?” And you know, trying to get me into this technical thing, and one thing I am trying to explain first is that I see myself as a storyteller. So that means when I start a track I imagine a kind of theatre stage, and every element, every sound is an actor or a decoration on this stage that I bring together all these little moments into one epic big story.

Mike: {laugh} Love it!

Robert: So this is kind of the visual concept I have when I’m playing. So I’m connecting with the people and for me, it’s very important because we are together. And, from an energetic point of view, it’s like when a show is really good, something very interesting is happening; it’s that because everybody is connected to everybody and when a show is really good, there’s this moment after a few tracks … I mean, it can be like half an hour or 40 minutes; or maybe one hour. It depends … there’s this moment where people start to trust. They trust me. And they stop to think … You know? They don’t think of this daily, “Oh, I have to go there. I want this,” blah, blah, blah. They just start to trust and then, let themselves go in this flow; and I can feel this moment. I can feel this in the people.

From the smallest particle to the biggest structure, everything is connected.

And then, slowly, there is a life form born out of this energy, because when people are connected there’s this energy that comes up and you feel how the dance floor … When this kind of energy … this thing is growing, and it’s there, and everybody can feel it. You see how the people look into each other’s eyes and feel connected; and at the same time, time is gone. There is no time anymore. You are just here and this music is taking you deep into yourself.

As I said, I’m a storyteller; but, I’m creating stories, while people fill in their own … It’s very interactive. I try to make music, where I’m creating space and people, fill in their mind and their visions, and create their own story inside their heads. And, I simply love this.

Mike: It’s a beautiful thing. I suppose it’s just one part of you that you could say is open and generous in your energy and how you want to create and share that. It’s also been said that you are quite open as regards how you do things, and the way that you share your energy … share your stagecraft. Is there anything you would be reluctant to divulge; or is everything open?

Robert: It’s open because I’m still very connected to this inner child of myself. The little Robert that is inside me is playing. And that’s why I would call my studio my spaceship, but at the same time it’s my playroom; and with all my toys I’m playing this, like a child. And it’s the same when I’m on stage. We all play like children.

Mike: Any tips or advice for any aspiring producers today to make themselves stand out? We have now such a saturation of electronic music that’s being thrown out there every day. How can they stand out? What would you say to the aspiring up-and-coming producer?

Robert: I think what’s very important is to find out for yourself why you want to do this music thing; and what it’s giving to you, because … Like for me, I’m simply doing the music for myself. I do the music I want to listen to. And, just as a side effect, people like what I’m doing and I get so much back that I’m able to live from that. Don’t look so much at what other people are doing and why they are doing, or if they are famous or earning money because all this is not important at all? And I think you can feel when an artist is coming on the stage, that they love what they are doing. People feel this as well.

A few months ago I was listening back to all these productions from Trevor Horn at that time. Like all this, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and all of this. And one thing is that in the 80s, when they first started to do this 12-inch versions of tracks, I loved the way how Trevor Horn was doing this; because he was taking the track apart and started to be a storyteller somehow. When you listen very closely to my tracks, I see similarities to this old 12-inch versions. How tracks are built up. How elements come in and out because I think I got super inspired, without knowing. I just saw the similarities recently. That, “Oh, wow! Yeah, it’s the same way how I do it.” A super, super cool producer, this English man.

Mike: That’s pretty cool that you can recognise that inspiration he gave you indirectly, and here you are all these years later … That you’ve taken something from him and you’ve made something new from it. It’s like it was passed on. Evolved. 

Robert: Yes, and I’m super thankful. That’s also why I don’t have any secrets. Everything I know and learnt all these years I’m giving out. I’m happy to teach everyone. If someone wants to learn from me, I’m happy. I don’t have to hide any techniques, anything. I’m just happy to …

MM: Fair play to you man, that’s inspiring! Can you touch then on your latest body of work? Your eighth album … my God … Utopia. Which funny enough, because we’ve been talking along with the spiritual aspects as well … Can you tell us a little bit about that please; the work process and that? 

Robert: You watch all this news, and how our world is going, and then I remember how this electronic music started, and back then everyone I got to know around 1991/1992, we all thought we were doing the music of the future. The music for a better world. It was like we do the soundtrack of the future. And, yes somehow I think it’s time again not to forget this because I see so many people … it’s trendy to look back like, “Oh, I’m old skool. I’m so cool because I do music like people in the past.” But this electronic music was always this wish for a better world. This hope, you know? So I thought, “Okay, let’s work on this again,” and really at the same time look very deep into myself. So, it will be a very, very, very personal album where you will be able to feel my pain, my sadness, my melancholy, my happiness. Everything. It’s a very, very personal picture of a human; and, all the time … in every track, you can feel this hope of a better world. We humans should live in peace and respect together.

I mean I was travelling almost all around the planet as a live act, and I saw all these different cultures, and when people usually ask me where I am from I say, “I am a human of planet Earth. That’s where I’m coming from. I’m not this German guy born in Poland. Yeah sure, I am, but it’s not what we all are. It’s just a little part. And I hope … we should focus again on this positive love because too much sadness is going on and people should follow this path. So somehow it’s a statement. I know many, many artists have done the same statement, but we need this. It’s still super actual.

Mike: And very necessary.

Robert: Yeah it’s necessary and will stay necessary. So yeah, something interesting about this album is because I work so fast, I decided to do it a little bit different this time because I was always working super-fast and for this album, I think I have done … let’s say 80 tracks; but, I deleted everything, just 12 tracks stayed. It was an experiment for myself to let the music grow and see how it changes because usually, I have this kind of law for myself when I’m doing a track, I start around 10 AM or something and work on a track, I play around and then maybe I find an idea and I think, “Oh, okay, I can stick with this and make it something.” So usually, the track is ready around 6 PM/7 PM; and then I do the mastering. So around eight, nine, the track is ready. 100%. And then I do a few tests. One is called the toilet test, where I am playing the track and I go to the toilet. It’s in another room, far away, and I try and sit down and try to listen to what is left. What can I hear of the music when I’m far away? This is an interesting thing when you change your perspective. When you are far away, all the details that you were working on … you know, this hi-hat, this special effect and all this … all these details are gone. You just hear the basic structure. And if the track is still interesting and is touching, even without all these super amazing special effects and amazing automation, all these technical things that you have done, then you have done something right.

Another test would be listening to music in the lowest possible volume. This is a good test if you made your mixdown … If everything is all right because when you are listening to the lowest possible volume you just barely hear the music. If the track is still there and you can hear all the important elements, your mixdown is right. Because everything that is maybe sticking out to much … Like you are hearing this and the hi-hat is coming too loud, you understand, “Oh, this is way too much.” Or if some elements are gone, you understand, “Oh, they’re not here.” This is a trick, or a tip how you can be sure that your mixdown is very balanced; because, when you’ve done everything right, the track will work even on the lowest possible volume.

This technique can help you when the room is not acoustically treated, or you don’t have amazing speaker systems; or whatever. From the technical point of view, if a mix is well balanced, you will hear everything even in the lowest volume. So this can help people I think.

Mike: I think so, that’s a really good tip.

Robert: And then comes something strange, if I don’t like the track … even if I worked on it for so many hours and done whatever … but if I don’t like it, I delete it. I delete the whole project and start the next day from zero. This way I don’t have any unfinished songs in my hard drive. At all. I don’t have anything unfinished. Because when I speak with people and they tell me, “Oh I have hundreds of unfinished songs on my hard drive,” it feels like it makes them sad.

So, that’s why this new album is very interesting to me. I took the tracks, let them stay for a while, saved them when I loved them, and just revisit the track after one week or two weeks, or months. But without this inner thing of, “Oh, I have to repair something or I have to make it better,” just with this mindset of, “Okay, how is it?” Try to talk to the track and, “Do you need something from me?” And some tracks they’ve stayed for two years without many changes, and some of them changed a lot because my feelings changed and …. but every time for me it was very important that I work with this heart energy, with this emotional body of myself. I don’t care if I’m fulfilling any style or if something is modern or trendy. I don’t care. This is not my topic. I was trying to make tracks as intense as possible in an emotional way.

Mike: Very good man that’s been a fantastic conversation, Robert.

Robert: Thank you, Mike.

 

Live Interview Mike Mannix, Dax Malone

Intro Dax Malone

Transcription, Dax Malone, Raphaela Pauwels