Before the world got too cynical, dance music used to be about inclusivity, protest and community as well as the inherent futurism in exploring the new human-machine interface. But while the ‘community’ or ‘scene’ is now crawling with heart-hand festival chancers, business techno number-crunchers and shameless plague rave saboteurs, it’s refreshing to come across a label that’s run like a family.
Portuguese label Discotexas is such an extended family, set up by adoptive parents Luis Clara Gomes (Moullinex) and Bruno Cardoso (Xinobi) in 2007. They formed as a loose collective to throw parties in Lisbon, and without much rigid planning they started releasing their own music and picking up like-minded artists and friends along the way. Over 100 releases later, DTX is a bit of an underground national treasure in Portugal, from its forward-thinking club nights and world tours, to a freewheeling, loose music policy that veers between deep house, disco, electronic abstractions, soulful techno and even vibrant updates on Portuguese traditional Fado balladry and música popular brasileira (MBP).
Moullinex is releasing his fourth album Requiem For Empathy this week (April 30), and it’s another collaborative affair, with guests including GPU Panic, Sara Tavares, Alfonso Cabral and Selma Uamusse. Before the big day, I gave Luis a shout for a deeper dive into Discotexas, the scene in Portugal, their lockdown coping mechanisms and his dormant alternative history as an experimental software engineer. Adding to the inclusive vibe, Xinobi joined in the conversation a bit later, and they both came up with a collection of tracks that’ll give you a stepping stone into the Discotexas world — as well as a Spotify playlist.
‘Requiem For Empathy’ is out on Discotexas on April 30 — preorder here
You describe Discotexas as a “family affair”, was this a mission statement from the start?
Moullinex: When you do what you love, it easily overflows into all aspects of your life. The personal relationships you build stem from the job, and many important events in your life happen while on the job. It almost feels weird to call it a job. So, for us it was just natural to choose to work with people we also admire on a personal level.
Xinobi: Discotexas was informally born as a collective of DJs and producers that would work together to build their dreams operating in a DIY mode, following our hearts and learning from mistakes. So, since its inception the family concept was always present. We’re not quite sure if it was a planned statement but we were definitely presenting ourselves as a family, as a group, as a community, as a gang…
How do you go about working with artists, inviting them into the family?
Moullinex: nowadays we’re not signing a huge number of new artists. We decided to focus our efforts in supporting a few artists up close as opposed to having a huge roster. Through the years we found that is the most effective way to help: from advice in composition, mixing, communication, over to allowing artists to freely use our studio and equipment, to actually releasing and promoting their music, we’re mostly valuing the quality of our connections rather than their quantity. This being said, we do listen to demo submissions, skipping those that start with “dear LABEL_NAME,” etc. We’ve had such amazing discoveries from demo submissions.
Is this family vibe based on a sense of inclusiveness and positive activism that’s been a part of dance music culture, from disco, house, techno, acid house and beyond?
Moullinex: Indeed. We are very much aware of the importance of these values, as we’re only able to do what we do because of pioneers in all those scenes. Many of these movements stemmed from the necessity of otherwise marginalised individuals to find a community, to have a sense of belonging and purpose. So, we feel the need to give back to the community that allowed us to have a career. That includes supporting up and coming artists, organising inclusive events and making sure that the clubs where we play are safe spaces.
Xinobi: That kind of translates onto The Discotexas Band. The band started with the idea of having an in-house band to play songs released on Discotexas and eventually do an original appropriately named Family Affair that really represents that sense of community you mentioned earlier. The lyrics are also representative of it.
You’ve said before that in Portugal, “culture is seen as something secondary” by the government, which is depressingly familiar in many countries. What have been the biggest obstacles you face in Portugal as an underground artist or label?
Moullinex: Portugal is a country heavily dependent on tourism. And tourists visit us not only because of our beautiful beaches, which you can find all around the world, but also because of our culture. That includes gastronomy, architecture but also performative arts, especially music. And successive governments have been myopic to that, only focusing on golf courses, golden visas and Airbnb paradises in historic city centres. Quick but unsustainable sources of income. As rents increase city centres are becoming deprived of their lifeblood — citizens creating community and culture in the process.
Despite this happening in large scale and the lack of support from local governments, the underground scene in Lisbon has been thriving, and I can’t help but imagine how much more sustainably it could grow if there was an active strategy from local authorities to boost these creative forces. Because most artists involved in the scene are not able to make a living from it and have to find other jobs, their patience will eventually run out.
There’s been a lot of chatter in recent years about so-called ‘business techno’ and commercialisation of the culture. Do you think it’s more difficult for electronic music to be considered protest music these days?
Xinobi: We can look at it in another way. Should electronic music be protest oriented? We truly believe protest, social conscience, activism etc, can be, are and should keep being part of the scene. It’s very important to have a dynamic dancefloor where dance and discussion can coexist. And they do coexist. What “business techno” can destroy is the genuine part. By absorbing all these important matters and packaging them as mere products, “business techno” will just ruin the authenticity of the messages and reduce them a bit to the most superficial part of it.
Your Bandcamp bio could almost double as an ethos for coping through the last year as an artist and label curator — thriving in intersections… “isolation and community… music that can live in the boundaries of the dancefloor and still allow for introspection”. Is it hard to balance this and not let introspection take over when a lot of the ‘real life’ community and social aspect has been paused?
Moullinex: Completely. During this period, I tried to focus only on my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others immediately around me. I wasn’t really inspired to make much music, and I think it’s because that community aspect of dance music had been taken away from all of us. So, the result was a lot of free time, which meant a lot of introspection, and diving deep into different topics: AI in arts, 3D, programming, neuroscience again. It was time for rediscovery. After a year of pandemic, I realise the common thread in all these endeavours has been human connection, and how these tools can explore it in different ways.
Could you [Moullinex] give us an insight into your transition from software engineering to producing music, DJing and running a label?
Moullinex: It was a long crossfade! I was invited to do a PhD in Munich, and during the time I was making music and putting it online, which led to remix requests and later booking requests around the world. I did love the subject of my research (Brain-Computer Interfaces), but the research environment itself (an intensive care neuroscience department) was taking its toll on me, so I guess I was escaping that through the music, until I eventually quit the PhD. That led me to find a part time job, which I did in astronomy research, and managed to remain doing research and music back-to-back for a few years. Slowly music took more of my time, and without noticing I was doing it full time.
I was reading up on one of your projects, linking brainwaves to control a synthesiser — that almost seems like a non-physical evolution of the Kraftwerk Man-Machine interface or Daft Punk’s robot personas!
Moullinex: Nerdbait! When I first did it as my MSc thesis in 2005, it was very early days for this technology. It required applying conductive gel to your scalp and wearing a very uncomfortable helmet to measure your EEG. After a bit of training, the user was able to control a point in a XY axis, so when thinking of applications I immediately thought of synths – Cutoff / Resonance for example. Nowadays you can buy these sensors as a consumer product (e.g. Muse BCI) and they are really accurate. So I am currently looking to include the technology in our live shows, as it’s a great performance tool, obviously besides the sci-fi vibe.
You’ve held up Modjo’s Lady as a life-changer after hearing it randomly in a club, and electronic music finally ‘clicked’ for you. What music did you [Moullinex] grow up listening to?
Moullinex: I grew up listening to Brazilian jazz, Portuguese singer-songwriters, some rock, some soul and R&B. I liked some of the more experimental electronic music, but house and techno did not resonate with me until I heard that bassline — it all connected suddenly, the idea that a perfect loop can hypnotise you for an entire track, and the DNA of jazz, soul and Afro-Latin music traditions being present in house and techno through sampling. That led me to dig deeper, starting both in the 1960s onwards to the late 90s backwards.
Earlier tracks like ‘Lover In Me’ and ‘Valsa In NJ’ really have a Roule/Crydamoure vibe. Were you a big Daft Punk fans?
Xinobi: Daft Punk and their Roule/Crydamoure labels were definitely a big influence on us. We were (are) big fans of most of Daft Punk’s output and also from all the French Touch first generations starting with Motorbass, Etienne De Crecy, Air, Alex Gopher, Cassius etc, and the second wave built around Ed Banger with Justice as the biggest act. Those tracks you mention were part of our exploration of 70s and 80s music and our first experiments on sampling. Sampling is one of the best ways of learning the music that is the genesis of the music you’re actually making. I would say that Hypersex wouldn’t be possible without Moullinex previous learning through sampling.
Discotexas releases have a distinctive visual presentation — whether that’s presenting images ‘framed’ within the EP or album, or the experimentation with design and fonts. How important is this idea as a whole art project?
Moullinex: We grew up loving records because of their visual identities too. Before the internet, the very few visual windows you had to artists you loved were photos in interviews, videos and mostly record covers. Many labels we admired had an identity that was cohesive, but not too imposing, so that each release could have its personality. Labels like Elenco or Blue note come to mind, but also International Deejay Gigolo, Output Recordings or Kitsuné more contemporarily. We tried to emulate that common thread in our own label. Lately the focus has been on typography, through Rita Matos’ amazing work for us.
You took this to a next-level degree with your album Hypersex, with an art piece for each track — what was the inspiration for that?
Moullinex: Fanzines! The idea of different artists looking at a common theme from their own personal viewpoint. As Hypersex was conceived as a love letter to the dancefloor, Braulio Amado, who has been designing all my albums’ artworks, suggested we turn it into a visual narrative for each track. We then reached out to several visual artists to contribute to a fanzine we released alongside the vinyl.
How has Bandcamp and streaming reshaped your thinking about releasing music?
Moullinex: Streaming in general allows us to reach niche audiences around the world. We probably wouldn’t be able to run a label if it wasn’t for the digitalisation of music. However, the music industry collectively has contributed to the devaluation of recorded music over the years, and the income for artists (and independent structures like ours) has been decreasing alongside it.
Fairer streaming, digital downloads and physical store platforms like Bandcamp help mitigate this effect, but where’s the rhetoric of “recouping the investment through live shows and DJ sets” floating around for so many years, now that we’ve had a worldwide pandemic shut down that industry? There are millions of true music fans out there, and most think what they pay monthly to a streaming service ends up going to the artists they listen to, but that’s not the case.
NFTs and other types of blockchain applications seem like a solution for the long term, and while the space is full of speculation at the moment, I believe we’ll see very interesting business models arising from it, ones that truly restore the direct connection between artists and audiences, like we felt in the early social internet days (MySpace, Soundcloud).
On a similar note, how has the last 12 months forced you to rethink the way Discotexas operates?
Xinobi: We panicked a lot in the first weeks of the pandemic. We even considered to pause releases. But after trying to figure out what we could expect from the pandemic (by reading a lot and getting the most answers we could get about the unknown) we managed to step out of the darkness and just went straight to doing stuff. No tours also meant more time to do music, to learn new stuff, to test things etc. Once more we brought the family concept above, streaming together, releasing vinyl, cassettes, merch as we’ve never done before. Very limited presses to sell on Bandcamp Fridays, for example.
Moullinex: We started building a new studio from scratch in January 2020. Due to the pandemic, we had to put that on pause. But we’ve finally resumed the construction safely, and we look forward to having a space where we can work and also allow others to do their thing.
Have you any other projects or releases you’d like to hint at for the rest of the year and beyond? Basically, what’s next on the Discotexas journey?
Moullinex: After my album Requiem for Empathy is released, a remix album will ensue, with edits and remixes I did of my own tracks, and a few more remixers we invited to have a go at it. Possibly a live EP release of a performance we recorded. Xinobi’s On the Quiet Expanded is coming too, including previously unreleased music from his last record. We’re also releasing new music from GPU Panic, Oma Nata and more.
Moullinex & Xinobi’s personal Discotexas Moo Kid primer
Xinobi – Far Away Place
It pushed Xinobi (and subsequently the label) to new audiences, widening all the potential DTX had built so far. A potential that needed new people out of the niche we grew popular until then.
Moullinex feat. GPU Panic – Inner Child
A landmark. The beginning of a new Moullinex era? Maybe one of the most emotional tracks of his, if not the most. Certainly will open new horizons for him and, of course, being a major artist on the label, it will grow DTX as well.
GPU Panic – Just Go
As mentioned, Discotexas operates in Family Mode. GPU Panic has been a friend since forever and an active musician in the Moullinex live band. Naturally we were excited and pleasured to release music from him right after he timidly started showing tunes to us.
Bufi – Salvaje
Discotexas has a long relationship with Mexico. We’ve toured there several times and made a lot of friends. Bufi was an instant click. He showed us three tracks that, of course, we felt the need to release. Salvaje was one big underground hit at some point and it still feels like one of the most important tunes we’ve ever released.
Oma Nata – Everything
Amazing melodic tune from one of the most important DTX artists. Authenticity is the word here. No one produces like Oma Nata and ‘Everything’ mirrors a very particular way of doing music.
O Terno – Bielzinho/Bielzinho (Xinobi) Remix
Our love for brazilian ‘MPB’ is deep at the label. This unofficial edit Xinobi did of O Terno was an immediate dancefloor secret weapon, and got picked up by many DJs, from the Keinemusik crew to Diplo. We had to put it out as an official release. It’s also one of our favourite artworks by Rita Matos.
Diana Oliveira – Goal
Diana’s debut release was on DTX and we’re proud of it. She’s been a reference Portuguese DJ for several years now and just released her first EP last year, from where we extract the melancholic ‘Goal’ and its very enjoyable emotional breaks.
Moullinex & Xinobi – AZUL
Despite working on each other’s projects, this is our first track together in years. Laurinha’s evocative vocals enumerating colours and Sandro’s trumpet are a vibe.
Rebeka – Stars
A pretty great example of how beautiful an electronic pop song can be. Addictive melodies layering under the outstanding and unique vocals by Iwoana Skawrek. This song is a landmark in our catalogue as it somehow raised the bar on our journey.
Xinobi – Bogotá
Bruno’s music has evolved over the years, but ‘Bogotá’ pretty much encapsulates his sonic sensibilities. Emotion, euphoria and energy in equal measure. The added plus of reminding us of the amazing nights we’ve had and friends we’ve made in the Colombian capital.
Mirror People – Kaleidoscope (Pyschemagik Remix)
We love Psychemagik’s music, so when we reached out to them to do a remix, we knew it would take the original’s potential and make it a dancefloor bomb. We’ve both absolutely overplayed this one.
Xinobi & Gisela João – Fado para Esta Noite
Fado is hard to touch coming from electronic music. We grew up listening to it, but it’s a very orthodox genre, with very few artists taking chances and steering outside its old rules. Gisela João is such an artist, and Xinobi took her very deep, emotional composition into dancefloor catharsis. We’re so proud of this one.
Moullinex & GPU Panic – Luz
This one was done during the first 2020 lockdown here in Lisbon, and took a couple of days to finish. Luz is “light” in portuguese, and we were in need of that during those weird times. We still are.