WHP FEATURE 040
Colourful times with Andrea Oliva
“I come from a small town in Switzerland, and if I hadn’t been lucky I’d probably still be playing in front of seven cows.”
If Andrea Oliva is anything, it’s candid. A bonafide big gun, with two huge jobs in Ibiza this summer- Ushuaia’s ANTS, which brings him to The Warehouse Project this October, the other at newbie Hi- he’s also behind one of the season’s biggest tracks, that remix of Thick Dick’s Welcome to the Jungle.
Yet to paraphrase some of the best sleeve notes in dance history, he still remembers the golden rule. To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.
“I was lucky enough to get into this music when I was very young, maybe 12,” Oliva explains. “At that time we had a really strong rave scene in Switzerland, there was a lot of raves. We also had a lot of great artists in trance, in techno, in house. And nowadays we still have a very strong club scene in the country.
“It was a good school for my international career, because I played so many gigs, and played thousands of intro sets for amazing national and international DJs. So I was prepared for the big world, so I’m very happy to have grown up there in a musical culture like that. I came from a background working in records stores, DJing every week- that was a good learning process as once I got to an international crowd I already knew how to read a night and pick the right track at the right moment.”
In comparison with neighbouring Germany, Switzerland’s dance music heritage is less documented and celebrated. Look closer, though, and you begin to see things differently. Oliva’s own past touches on pedigree venues like Terminus and Pravda. Then you have Nordstern, something of a second home for the man in question, where the reputation of those sold-out Banditz parties still threatens to dwarf the nation itself. Needless to say, then, the country famous for Alpine peaks, chocolate, and clockworks has much to answer for when it comes to nurturing this thing of ours.
“There were a lot of illegal parties and raves when I was first starting out. In Basel Sven Vath was there a lot and Derrick May played his first international gig. In Zurich, there was a club called Rohstofflager, where all the techno DJs were from the beginning of the 90s. Also festivals, you know trance was very big. I remember Tiesto playing in front of 25,000 people while Bob Sinclar played to 1,000, and I’m talking about Bob Sinclar from 20 years ago.”
Free parties, dark warehouses, and thundering kicks are often associated with tensions between licensing bodies and venues. Perhaps the result of his maturity and experience, maybe simply just an obvious logic and understanding that co-operation is so frequently the only real solution, when I ask about Swiss authorities he couldn’t be clearer on the benefits of working together. “I have to say we are very open-minded in Switzerland. So of course you need a license for everything and blah blah blah, but even today we have clubs that don’t really have a closing time. So in Zurich you can party for 24 or even 48 hours. But then clubs are a real cultural thing there. So in Zurich or Basel a lot of young people travel to these cities only because of the clubs. And then we have festivals like Polaris and Caprices, which are good for the places they happen in.
“For example Polaris, or MDRNTY at Caprices, those take place in locations where you only have winter tourism, and they often happen off-season, so they bring thousands of people to the mountain. They have a good time and maybe come back with their family skiing or whatever. So in Switzerland we have this advantage that the authorities respect and take this seriously.”
It’s an attitude that, reassuringly, he also sees here at Store Street.
“It’s not because I’m speaking to you right now, but The Warehouse Project has a similar impact. They are influential in terms of nightlife in Manchester, they are really involved. The more you have clubs and festivals that have direct contact with the authorities, and work with them instead of being against them- they work together to solve problems- the more it reflects on how a crowd can behave.
“It’s not everything about anarchy and against the system all the time. You see when a club is working with the authorities, with the police, with the city, then you as a clubber feel the difference. For example speak to some nationalities and they say ‘Oh shit country, shit politics’. But if you have clubs where you can hang out every week and see each other in this world and feel that the city and police and everyone supports our world as a movement you can be more open yourself.”
He should know, too. Speaking on the phone from sunny Ibiza on a(nother) rainy day here in Manchester, his touring schedule alone affords a rich knowledge of club culture in a huge variety of countries and territories. He sees how these engage with the wider societies they exist in. In July alone, for example, he played some 25 shows, near enough one each day of the month. A relentless calnedar, the likes of which have gotten the better of artists in the past. Panic not, though, Oliva’s head is more than screwed on.
“I think it’s a personality question, and also everything is about the balance when you have an artistic job. Especially when things go very well, you know, you tend not to keep that balance and it’s really important,” he responds when I ask how energy, not to mention sanity, are maintained when air tickets and sessions are regular as meals. “You know, sometimes you have to just say ‘I can’t go too crazy tonight’, even if you want to.
“I always tell myself that I have to deliver, and the most important thing is that I catch the flight, and when I step on the stage I give my best. At the end of the day I’m here to grow my profile but also make people happy and be the best I can. If you think like that you can do hundreds of gigs and still be happy. If you fall into a loop where it’s all about partying, excess and success then you lose it with time. And if you lose it you lose the motivation and appreciation for what you do, and what you can do.”
The demand for his time isn’t remotely surprising. Whilst techno and tech house have always been there, rolling and stomping in a way only they know how, these sounds have been visibly resurgent over the last ten years, drawing in ever-bigger crowds and catapulting many names towards the top of the running order. But for Oliva, it’s as much about the crowd opening up, as it is a boom in truly dedicated disciples.
“Well, you know what I think is the crowd in our kind of world became brighter, a couple of years back you would have maybe only techno heads or only house heads at a party, now the crowd is a bit more mixed. That’s probably a result of festivals becoming so big, because there are not only ravers going to festivals but also a crowd that listens to a bit of everything.
“It also really helped with people like Luciano and Solomon, who took our sound to another level. I always say that they didn’t go to the mainstream, but the mainstream came knocking at their door. At the end of the day that helps us all, from artists to audience. Things are much more colourful again in the scene now. I think that evolution is great.”
Ladies and gentlemen, a toast to colour and community then.