A 10-Track Beginner’s Guide To Rominimal, The Underground Tech-House Sound Of Romania

From Rhadoo (pictured below) to Vid, these are some of the tracks that have defined the uniquely trippy sound of Romania's "Rominimal" tech-house scene.

Words by Elissa Stolman

When the promoters behind the Romanian party and festival series Interval announced its closure last December, we took it as proof that their project to open up their countrymen’s hearts and minds to international sounds had failed. Romanians, we thought, had signaled once again that they would only dance to an insular group of homegrown DJs who push a particular sound purveyed by local artists known as “rominimal.” “There’s absolutely no demand or awareness for someone like Ben UFO or Jackmaster,” Interval’s Stefan Maritiu told us in 2016 in our feature on Bucharest’s response to the fire at a concert venue that took the lives of over 60 people in 2015. “They wouldn’t gather a crowd of 200 in Bucharest even if they were playing back-to-back.”

Rominimal DJs, on the other hand, draw thousands to never-ending parties in their home country and to festival stages abroad. That’s especially true for the style’s number-one flag-bearers, [ar:pia:r], the trio made up of Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Raresh. While older tech-house DJs are credited with creating the initial germ for “rominimal,” it’s [ar:pia:r] whose names have become synonymous with the style’s post-Villalobosian squelch and click, its simmering atmospherics, dubby basslines and hypnotic micro-melodies. Their work over the last decade or so has inspired a wave of newer Romanian artists—all of whom are male except for Alexandra, who DJs and runs a label but hasn’t yet released a track of her own—who have collectively made rominimal into a bona fide genre that we’ve traced in the guide below.

Rhadoo, Petre Inspirescu and Raresh, [a:rpia:r] 01 ([a:rpia:r] 2007)

Of course, the story of rominimal begins with [a:rpia:r], a phonetic contraction of their initials: R(hadoo), P(etre Inspirescu) and R(aresh). We’ve decided to start our guide to important rominimal releases with this first offering on their record label and to leave it there, as an overview of the sub-genre could easily be entirely taken up by cuts from each individual member (i.e. Inspirescu’s “Sakadat”, Raresh’s “Vivaltu” or Rhadoo’s “Circul Globus”). This first release contains the blueprint for all that followed: a dogmatic application of Villalobos’ school of minimalism with meditative loops, clicky drums, swinging basslines and subtle, emotive pads that eventually rise from the low end.

Dan Andrei, "Just Music (Frederico Molinari Remix)" (Be Chosen 2008)

Dan Andrei made his place in the rominimal landscape early on, when he released his first solo EP on Frankfurt minimal tech-house label Be Chosen in 2008 (he had contributed a track to a various-artists compilation on [a:rpia:r] the previous year). The takeaway from the Just Music EP was Frederico Molinari’s remix of the title track, a cut that’s entirely mood and muted kick drum thuds. It paved the way for his later releases on labels like Kurbits and [a:rpia:r].

Priku, "La Patinoteca" ([a:rpia:r] 2012)

Within four years, Adrian Niculae managed to rack up credits on significant labels including All Inn, Pressure Traxx and Eastenderz, but it’s his contribution to the [a:rpia:r] catalog that takes the cake. The Motif and Atipic label boss imbued “La Patinoteca” with the kind of eye-popping minutiae characteristic of the Romanian sound: the pops and crisp crackles give it a three-dimensional quality that would bug out any dancer under his spell.

Vid, "Legacy" (An|dromeda 2012)

The An|dromeda label released Vid’s “Legacy”/”Lent” as a limited-edition run—but it still goes for a mercifully low price on the Discogs marketplace. It’s a good example of a familiar kick pattern in Romanian minimal, as the emphasis falls harder on the first half of the measure, which adds a swinging or skipping momentum to the 4/4 rhythm. But what really stands out on “Legacy” is the zooming, retracting and snaking bass, which is not so much a line or pattern as it is a constant pressure that grows and recedes.

Sideways Invisibility Theory (Cristi Cons & Vlad Caia), "Channeling" (Amphia 2012)

Cristi Cons is one of the biggest names in Romanian minimal dance music after the sacred trio, and his collaborations with fellow heavyweight Vlad Caia under the SIT moniker and their joint label, Amphia, provided essential contributions to the sub-genre. The Morfoza EP was the third release on their imprint, which they inaugurated with a solo EP each in 2011 and 2012. As is the case with [a:rpia:r], we could fill this list with contributions from the individual members of SIT, but in an effort to economize and spread the love we’ve settled on a joint effort, “Channeling”—a tune that just about says it all.

Dubtil, "Odihnioara" (Metereze 2013)

While foreigners mostly think of Bucharest as a hotbed of Romanian club music, Raresh put his hometown of Bacău on the map both by cutting his teeth at the now-legendary Zebra Club and by taking a few of the local talents along with him. His Metereze label took on the likes of Dubtil, who inaugurated Raresh’s Metereze imprint in 2013 with “Odihnioara”, a seductive and pulsing cut that sounds familiar even if you’ve never heard it before.

Nu Zau & Sepp, "Sensul Epic" (UVAR 2013)

According to the UVAR label’s Facebook page, the label’s core mission involves delivering to its listeners “the many landscapes and values of the traditional Romanian culture.” Enter Sepp (a.k.a. Teo Bajdechi) and Nu Zau (a.k.a. Ștefan Gabriel Zamfir), the latter of whom in true Romanian tech-house fashion cites Villalobos, Rhadoo and Thomas Melchior as core influences. “Sensul Epic” has enough carefully crafted layers to envelop enraptured dance floors, and the interplay of the percussive beads creates an unexpected micro-tribal motion. Rominimal par excellence.

Barac, "Does It Float" (Metereze 2014)

“Does It Float” is like a little rainforest where the animals are different sounds that creak, click, croak, pitter-patter and tock—and it’s best heard at high volumes. It came out on Raresh’s label Metereze as part of the first LP from Barac, a Bacău-bred and Bucharest-based producer credited for helping to push rominimal’s sound from loop-driven abstractions into melodic atmospherics. It was around the time of this album’s release in 2014 that many of his contemporaries, like fellow Bacău-ians Dubtil and VincentIulian, started to release music as well.

Melodie, "Kate" (RORA 2015)

If the late-2000s marked the birth of rominimal, Cristi Tudorache represents the second wave: younger artists more inspired by [a:rpia:r] than the producers they in turn took influence from—or at least, younger artists who grew up with [a:rpia:r] as a central rather than emerging force in Romanian club culture. For Melodie, this manifests not as a penchant for compact, tech-y beats, but as a desire to incorporate other influences rather than explore the limited terrain of what’s already been established. In this case, that’s often acid. While the 303 features more prominently on other releases, our personal favorite Melodie tune, “Kate”, sports a barely-there serrated synth line that swerves through pattering percussion and a remarkable ascending pad.

VincentIulian, "Alpha" (Moment 2016)

The launch of Barac’s Moment record label in 2015 signaled that [a:rpia:r]’s disciples had taken the reigns. The imprint’s third outing, VincentIulian’s Simodul EP, features a sound that’s somehow punchier and richer than the somewhat dry sound that characterized earlier works in the field. However, “Alpha” is every bit as slinky, sexy and subtle.