Inbetween two breakups, César Urbina decided that it was time to reboot his production habits. Instead of focussing on rhythm, the young Méxican producer went back to his post punk roots and focussed on melody and handmade sounds. He has just published his first full length album on Agoria‘s InFiné Music label and besides that he has collaborated with Apparat and remixed Aufgang. We caught up with César aka Cubenx and learned, that a 43-year-old Scott Walker song and a New Order record can turn a career upside down.
César, how come that you’re first proper album comes by the title of Scott Walker’s song ‘On Your Own Again’ from 1968? Walker’s original is just a little bit shorter than two minutes. Why did you pick this tiny sequence from Scott Walker’s massive body of work?
I’ve been listening to Scott Walker over and over again during the past years, his records 4 and 3 are very great albums to me. But especially with this one, there was a connectio to it. I was returning from Europe, and in New York during a turnover of my flight. The moment was very intense after breaking up with my girlfriend in Berlin in 2007. When I was listening to it in Shuffle mode, the lyrics fitted perfectly.
Have you listened to this one previously or was it one of those moments, when you really listen and understand, what the artist is reaching for?
I don’t remember that I’ve listened to this one before, so I think it was new to me in both directions. It was a very poetic moment to me that winter, at the airport in New York, alone, the city caught in ice, and Scott Walker singing about grey buildings and departure … And later then, right in the moment when I was finishing up the album, I broke up another girlfriend. It was the day of the album’s mixdown, the studio was already booked, and i was emotionally fucked up, depressed and melancholic. Then there was my lifestyle of moving every six months, from Berlin to México, moving within the country to different places, me being without work. I figured On Your Own Again was a perfect title.
This song is like a start and an end point for your album then?
Exactly. Right after returning from Berlin, I started working on new material, and finished in April 2011 after the last breakup …
Did you have an artistic direction for the album in the beginning?
Not too much. My first album The Cold Swells was mostly stuff I made over the years, kind of a compilation. I wasn’t thinking of a concept or a certain sound and mood for the album when I started working on it. I just let go. I once spoke to Sébastien (Devaud, aka Agoria) when he was visiting México. I asked him for advice, and he just replied: “Just don’t care, just do what comes out. Do it, make it sound good, natural, and put in whatever you like – we’ll figure out which songs work …”
That sounds like a hell of an advice when you’re looking for a creative direction …
Indeed! This is the reason why there are dance tracks as well as dreamy shoegazer and ambient tracks. Without a direction, it was a very honest way of composing …
But there are only two or three dance tracks on the album, pieces that might work inside a club, such as ‘Wait & See’ or ‘Lovebirds’. The album itself has a much more post rock feel to me. Or even score music, without being desultory, of course. And then I learned that you actually did film music in 2009 …
Ah, yeah … Actually I was working on this project at the same time as the album. I did the music for a short film, which is now on tour in Canada with a good friend, the director of the movie. But the main thing of the musicality of my own album was that it was always driven by musicality, and not so much by rhythm. My earlier approach was always rhythm-based, the texture, sound design and engineering. But I wanted to leave this behind and focus on the melody. To build up tracks from the piano controller, and later creating the rhythms. This is the thing that holds everything together, melody was always very important as a starting point.
And how did you record the record? With a computer or did you actually play all the instruments yourself?
I used a wave piano and guitar controllers pretty much. I finished up all the details on the computer of course. But a lot of the recordings came from experimental sessions. In ‘Noir’, an ambient track, there is a lot of distortion in the beginning, because we were recording an old Juno synthesizer during a jam session late at night. That was a very dark moment in my friend’s studio. He asked me: “Can you use this synthesizer, it’s a bit broken?!” He recorded this in Pro Tools, it was a 45 minute session in total and I picked my favourite bits from and included the stem on the song. A lot of my music came from this kind of rock approach, rather than from designing with a mouse. It felt better like this.
Have you been playing in bands before?
Yes, during my teenage years. That was nice, but it wasn’t too important for my artistic development. I didn’t relate too much to the sound of mexican rock’n’roll or electronic music. I don’t sound very local, I guess.
The only obvious references to your home seem to be some of the track titles …
There is an intention, or inspiration from the psychedelic side of México. The title ‘Sueña Con Venados’ for example is an old cult imagery, an ethnia in México that still do their rituals in the desert, taking the mescaline or peyote cactus. Their ritual is the consumption of these, then going to the desert and confessing their sins. It’s a very serious thing that is also very controversial, the police tries to stop them since it’s a controlled thing. “Venado” is like a symbol in this tradition: the guardian of the cactus. There’s also the scorpion, a guardian of care. There is a big variety of symbols from this tradition, which was an inspiration for the song. It’s a very long track with acoustic sounds, the strumming guitar resembles being lost in the desert to me. Kind of like a trip, but I’m not speaking of an experience. There is another track called ‘Grass’, which is about a first person psychedelic experience …
Cubenx – Sueña Con Venados by Electronic Beats
The one with the piano and slide guitar …
‘Grass’ is an explanation of how I was feeling during an experience of salvia divinorum. This one’s kind of serious, but with an respectful approach.
You previously mentioned that your background in bands didn’t have a big effect on your musical direction. But while listening to the track ‘These Days’ I was very much reminded of post punk, specifically because of its bassline and 80s feel.
The sound of 4AD records, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Peter Hook … All these were so important to me. I think for me it all started with Joy Division and New Order. Joy Division was an introduction to straight forward rock’n’roll to me, and New Order was the perfect explanation of how electronic music and rock can come together on the dancefloor. As a teenager, this was the start of everything. And I think I’m heading more and more to this kind of music production. I love the term ‘epic’. Even when making techno, I can’t escape from using epic sounds.
A huge source of inspiration came from my hometown, Uruapan, which is a city in the state of Michoacàn. This area has a very high grade of migration to the U.S. since a hundred years ago. Younger generations were born in the United States, especially in California and Chicago, and they would come several times a year to visit my hometown. So, long before the internet, these guys were very important for musical distribution. They would bring the whole catalogue of 4AD, Bella Union, Beggar’s Banquet, and we had these a month after they were out. When I was 15 years old my friends were 20, and they had all these records. Everyone around me was obsessed with music and clothes, such as Doc Martens and Fred Perry. Great people! After moving to university in Puerto Vallarta i was kind of disappointed that the city only has reggaeton and popular clubs for US tourism …
Cubenx – Grass by Electronic Beats
What did you study there?
I’m an engineer in communication. The university was next to the beach. Culturally speaking, the city is boring, there’s no real cultural life pesides partying. But the landscape’s very important to me. And Sascha recorded there …
You’re talking about Sascha Ring aka Apparat?
He was playing MUTEK festival, and a friend asked me if I could give one of their artist a lift. I met Sascha at the airport and shuttled him around, this is how we became friends.
You also share a singer with Apparat: Alfredo Nogueira, who previously worked with Telefon Tel Aviv …
We all met when Apparat was recording his most recent album The Devil’s Walk. It was all very relaxed with the guys, especially with Fredo. He sent me over some music of his, and then there is his project called Endian, it sounds like My Bloody Valentine made for the year 2011. So we decided to collaborate for the track ‘These Days’. He wrote all the lyrics, recorded and engineered himself singing and sent the whole thing over. It all went that well, we decided to do a second album together.
‘On Your Own Again’ by Cubenx is out now on InFiné Music. Besides some dates (see below) in France and Spain, he’ll be playing as support during Electronic Beats Recommends Apparat in Berlin.
December 3rd FR-Rennes – Bar en Trans (dj)
December 9th ES-Barcelona – Apolo w/ Apparat
December 10th FR-Paris – 48h InFiné Music @ Point Ephemere
December 15th FR- Toulouse – Café Connexion
December 19th DE-Berlin – HAU w/ Apparat (sold out)
Photos: © InFiné Music / Homero Ramirez / Baptiste Leonne