Behind The Groove EP4: Felipe Gordon
Delighted to have Colombian producer Felipe Gordon on our production series next, as we dive deep into his divine track 'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' ahead of his debut album 'A Landscape Onomatopeya' which drops on Shall Not Fade next Friday. Having landed on the likes of Toytonics, Razor-n-Tape and Quintessentials to name a few, Felipe Gordon has carved out a sound with plenty of feeling and soul and I truly believe the tracks that make up this album are some of his greatest yet.
'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' combines Colombian and North American influences to create a track that is human, that is organic and most importantly has soul. A balance is achieved with Toro Moratto's insane keys and the more electronic, deep chords played by Felipe which sit underneath them. Accordingly we, were absolutely fascinated to pick Felipe's brain about how he put it together and to find out more about the creation of the album itself. A big thanks to Dan Parsons for sitting on the interview with me as well.
Listen to the track we are going to deconstruct below:
Hi Felipe, thanks for chatting with us! Reflecting on this strange year, do you believe corona has changed the way you are making music?
I'm making more collabs with people around the world but mainly I’m doing the same thing. I was used to this situation. Everyday I'm in my place for 6 or 8 hours making music, I'm just used to living in a musical quarantine. I guess now everyone else is in the same boat, I've been able to work with a lot of different musicians.
Yeah, I've [Dan] been a fan of yours for probably about a year and what drew me towards you was the Cody Currie EP, which is so sick by the way. Do you feel like collaborating with people has become more important over time?
When I was younger I was in punk and rock bands. I'm used to the more musical side of things and I was used to this culture of listening to your band mate, checking what he's doing and trying to develop that.
So it was a natural process because I wanted to understand first who I was production wise. When I understood that, I started listening to other people. I really wanted to collab with people that I felt had a musical language rather than an electronic musical language. I feel like there are DJs and there are musicians and you have the DJ who needs to make music in order to survive. You can hear their tracks and hear that there is not this really rich musical element in them.
My opinion is that you will eventually separate the DJs and the musicians in the future. In five years time I guess that Cody [Currie] is going to have his own musical language because he's a musician. You can tell that and he's developing that.
For me, it's more important focusing on music rather than DJing. I'm a fan of DJing, that was the beginning part of why I got into the electronic world, but at the end I am a musician. I like to make music and not play tracks in order to make art. I like to create rather than interpret which is totally different in my opinion.
Moving on to chat about the new album, 'A Landscape Onomatopeya' focuses on a organic and human feel. Why was this important to you?
Yeah again, I'm from the Punk Colombian scene. When I was younger I used to go to garages and warehouses to listen to really shitty music but with a lot of attitude towards life and the audience. For me some electronic music is really soulless, you cannot feel anything. Some music is made for you to be high on something, that's my opinion, otherwise you're not going to enjoy it that much. If you are completely sober listening to a techno track its really difficult to enjoy.
I feel it's cool that people find attractive that kind of thing but for me I have always been a huge fan of afro-american music, that's soul. Even the name says everything. Soul music, it needs to connect with you at some point and level. The [musicians] have that naturally and the rest of us have to work on trying to develop that part of us and trying to get that mood for the tracks.
So my main idea was trying to play everything on the tracks. Trying to play bass, trying to play the drums, trying to play the chords on the synthesisers, trying to get things on guitars, trying to get the melodies in my head and trying to play them on the keyboard. Just trying to play again and trying to interpret the stuff that was in my head rather than just making loops and sample stuff. I did sample stuff but I didn't want it to be the main tool on the track.
When you compose an entire track without samples is there more of a feeling of achievement, of an accomplishment?
I wouldn't say it's my main goal or I would feel better if I don't use samples but I feel that it's important to learn how to use samples and how not.
A sample needs to be a tool you can use and you can bring to something else. You are basically trying to get the feeling out of someone else playing an instrument into your track. You need to compensate and the thing I discovered in leaving the samples behind, and trying not to sample as much, is that the real you is going to start appearing and at some point you are going to face that you are not that good. You are not James Brown or the bass player of James Brown, you are a simple musician and you need to discover yourself and that's a really scary process for a lot of people. That's why I feel like everyone samples and disco house is such a big thing. But when you remove the samples out, that's you. That's the real you and everything you can give is on that track.
That's why I wanted to have the first track of the album without any samples because that's me. That's me at my most vulnerable. I’m not perfect, I can’t speak proper English (laughing), and I wanted people to feel that. I wanted people to be as far from this super musician character, I wanted to be me in my early days in the punk scene, an honest guy that's trying to make it into this world, trying to play again and that's it.
Yeah, there's definitely perfections in imperfections, that's what they say! So why did you decide to put together a full length now?
Because why not? (laughing) I have all this time. Right now my life is pretty good, I have a really nice environment, I have a loving dog, a loving girlfriend. It was about time. I was trying to make it before but with all the touring and playing [it was difficult]. I thought to myself I should give it a go to try to tell a different story rather than the EP thing that is from the house and techno scene. Like you make one good track, another three fill the record and then that's it. There's nothing else to tell about that. I really want to feel in five or ten years that this album made something, that it's a good album and people really appreciate having it in their collection.
Yeah, you can definitely have more character in an album. When you tell yourself you're going to make an album it’s almost like you are putting a lot more passion and drive into that whole project.
Yeah! The thing is I have a couple of electronica, dance music albums and they have like 10 house tracks and they don’t even have an intro or a prelude or something different. It's just a collection of 12 dance tracks and it's difficult to create a mood in order to [keep people interested], I don't want to bore you guys at the 3rd track. [I don't want to be] repeating myself and doing another dance record.
There will be a big percentage of people who are DJs [who listen], which is really important because I feel like the DJ world is a bunch of white guys who suck each other. It's true! Like there are no women, the black people who are making the music are not making the money. It's really annoying because we are not reaching a broader audience. Like, this thing that happened with Daft Punk, they really became a popular thing and everyone was hearing their tracks because they were songs, they were not house tracks. And that's difficult, that's really difficult. If you are able to make a really good track that people are able to relate to that's an accomplishment.
The album keeps the listener interested all the time because it goes from one journey to the next, because it still follows a narrative. You need to have joining points in the tracks for them to really connect. It was my decision to make the first singles 9 minutes on Spotify. The label were like "who the fuck do you think you are man? Don’t do that shit, put the 6th track which is really poppy and is 4 minutes, that's perfect, that should be the first single!" No, that doesn't challenge myself enough, that’s really obvious, that's the last one, even if i don't get playlisted, which is okay anyway because Spotify is robbing me and everyone else.
What's really important is the 700 people who are going to buy the album, the physical record, those for me are the really important people in the whole world right now because they are going to have a piece of that.
Yeah, you’re not making a track for a Grammy, you're making a track for you first of all, and then for the people who actually show appreciation for the music you put out. I think this is so much more important than trying to just get into a Spotify playlist, that's too much of a goal these days.
Yeah! That's like the new Grammy, which is going to pay the rent. I’m not going to lie, it's okay if you have them. But at the end of day I have a few characters in my mind. I have the girl that's like a really good house listener, a huge fan and she's like "ah he did this Glenn Underground stuff" and I'm like okay, if this girl knew my music before, she's going to understand that there is natural development in my music.
Then I have the dude that's really a club fan who is like "oh yeah, I want to go and have drugs and get some girls", that guy at some point is going to relate to the album because it's house music. And then I have this character which I guess is myself. This young guy who doesn't listen to house music at all but for some reason the Spotify algorithm sends him the third single which is a hip hop track and he's going to listen for 2 minutes and says "okay this is not house music, cool." Then he's going to listen to the rest of the album and he's like "oh shit", it's the tourist trap of house music, he's going to end up in that hole and maybe he's going to like it.
So I made the album of course for myself because I need to be happy with it first but also for these weird characters that are appearing in my head. People from all over the world with different musical backgrounds and they can relate. If they like soulful and melancholic music I can bet they are going to like at least one track off the album and that's okay. I don’t need anymore.
What were your inspirations behind creating the album? You can really feel the North and Latin American influences.
When I had the base for making the album I started looking at the groups of tracks like a painting. I have light on some points, I have dark colours on others.
But I tried to make this story about the influences I have in my head. North America is a really important part in my creative process. Three days ago I was trying to find something on TV and I found a Ray Charles movie. I remember I saw that when I was 14 and I have felt since that age that the black musicians were fucking gods. They accomplished something I wanted to accomplish, they had this soul on them. Everything that comes out of America, you have jazz, blues, the early stages of rock and roll. You have punk, disco, soul, you have everything.
I was not trying to rip but rather make a homage to that and tried to fit myself on that, tried to use elements musically. But here is when the Colombian thing comes. We don't have a house scene here, we have a club scene, because as you know guys, we have this really difficult drug problem in our country so we party hard, people really like to go and get drunk and get high and everything else but I feel we don't have that electronic music scene.
We have the Cumbia, the tropical music, the salsa, another kind of knowledge which is really difficult to get, I can assure you that. But electronic music is this new thing that everyone in the world can relate to and you can speak that language even if you weren't born in London or Detroit or New York. So for me it was like okay, we are going to create the Colombian flag of house music because we don't have it.
In Colombia we do not have musicians, we have DJs that wanted to make music and start making this soulless thing. I told myself and the people of my label, we need to do this properly and that's creating music. So, for instance if you hear 'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' you are going to hear this Glenn Underground vibe this really long track with a long evolution, a really great musical atmosphere. But if you sample or disarm the track, you are going to find that the main ingredient of it is the rhythm patterns and those are Cumbia and salsa related. I was trying to put my little hidden ingredient on the mix of the tracks and try to make it honestly Colombian and not force myself into it. I don't want to sample Cumbia and make a house Cumbia track because that's how you make things edible for foreigners.
That's bullshit as you are not respecting the Cumbia musicians who made the Cumbia and you are not respecting the house music, like creating a really bad dish. You need to go to the ingredients first, sample the dish and then start to make your own recipe, which is really complicated but I guess at some point if you don't start you are not going to get to the end of the recipe.
Where did you tend to look when you were searching for this inspiration where there any names or moments that sparked the kind of inspiration behind that specific track?
Actually when I first started trying to make house music I didn't have a clue about electronic music. I was more about bands. I have these great Australian influences, the French influences, of course the British influence.
But it was more band related, band material, so I know the guys from my label and we started talking. I knew I was good at making music so it was a natural process to start making house but then I discovered, like everyone else, Max Graef. The first chapter of house music was these guys like Max Graef. But with time I got to understand the thing i'm trying to tell you right now, is that all these guys are white guys that try to create this whole new thing that really was created in Detroit and Chicago.
So now I'm trying to get as far away from that as I can. I'm trying to hear the new guys from Detroit [and the US] like Kyle Hall, Stefan Ringer, all the stuff that Kyle's releasing. He's not a new guy but he's doing new stuff. I guess for me he is the under-rated one from the legends. So, if you hear their tracks, they sweat Detroit, like you can hear that shit, that is unrepeatable. I cannot do that. Even if I tried I could not do that.
I don’t want to try and copy or emulate them because that's the Detroit sound but I guess the feeling they transmit is something I want to emulate, not the musical structure. So yeah, right now I'm just learning again. When I was in college studying, I learnt about jazz so I knew about chord progressions and rhythm changes and the Coltrane changes. That was learning from the Black American culture. Now I need to learn about Black American culture in the 2000s because they have a totally different influence right now and a different art vision of the world.
For me one of the really special guys is Fritz Wentink. He's like something else, you can't compare him to anyone else. He's got his own sound. And why? Because he came from classical music. He didn't come from electronic music. When you have a total different knowledge for music, like when you came from Cumbia, or bands, or punk and you print that to other genres that's when you create something else. Not when you listen to house music all day, every day because you are going to start repeating what other people did.
It’s so important to look back and know the history of everything and I think the other important thing is to not focus specifically on one thing like you said, you have to open your mind more.
That’s why you have techno, white techno is the most minimal, the most one element music. It's completely soulless, it doesn't have rich changes in it doesn't tell a story of something else which is not a club. That's not good, because I know the main church of electronic music is the club but what happens when you’re not in the club? This is why coronavirus is so important for music right now because we came back to our places and we came back to the most important thing that is our space. What we do in our space is who we are. I want to listen to something that takes me out of this space and makes me think about the sea, or a time i traveled with my ex girlfriend or my parents or the time i traveled to Uruguay, the experience of meeting someone, and having a conversation with someone else.
Right now everyone can relate to that and no one is going to clubs, at least 90 percent of the population. That's why it’s so important to come back to the tracks and create songs. Get the guitar thing going on again, do the chords yourself, write the lyrics. Do a structure, do bars, do chords progressions, do an intro. You can change things round, it doesn’t need to be the same fucking loop for 5 minutes. You can have part A, part B, part C, Part D, make a harmony modulation. Even if it's not the greatest chord progression in the whole of electronic music at least that's something else you are bringing to the plate for the listener because not everyone that listens to house music is a club addict.
The Production of 'The Colombian Excursions of House Music'
How do you go about originally creating a mood for a track. Do you have a structure in terms of where you want to go?
I have some references in my head about what I like. I really like minor chords and 7 with 9 chords. Now, I’m trying to focus mainly on the chords. Before I did the drum parts first and then I started making music. To have like this base, I guess everyone does that, but then when I was at a college I studied drums and singing. So my approach to music is from drumming and then I started understanding the harmony. I studied that but I didn't really get why it was so important to develop a nice progression, to get a mood on a track. Right now I'm trying to focus on harmony, trying to get the ground of the track first emotionally and then I try to write a story with the melodies. That's how I'm trying to approach tracks right now.
'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' reminds me of when Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham did the collaborative stuff like 'Escravos De Jo' which had the Latin influences. I feel like the Colombian side gives it a bit more spirituality and feeling.
I’ve come to understand that it is only black music. If you really go to the roots of Colombian music it's African music. I need to find my way into this culture which I really respect but at the end, being honest it's black music. So you need to pay your homage and pay it properly. Respect the things you are trying to interpret, that's my vision of things like that. I'm trying to make my version of these geniuses' books. You need to try to make something out of that and make your own which is really difficult.
'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' is a real journey over its 9 minutes. It flows so nicely. I remember I got to like 3 minutes to the end and it came with this whole organ section and I was like wow it's still progressing.
I was always trying to make something progressive, I don't like to bring the important parts of the track really early because for me that’s being too obvious. Sometimes people don’t like to wait, you need to be focused. I guess that's something that filters my audience, like the people who really like my music are the people who take time to listen. So for me at the end of this journey, of this track, if you wait you will be rewarded, because I am going to put all my effort in musically.
How long did the track take to fully finish?
A day. I never do tracks in more than one day because I find whenever I try to make a track for more than 2, 3 days, it's going nowhere because the mood changes. For me a track is a mood of one day of my life. This is me, I'm not saying this is the right answer.
When I did this i was feeling this, I was like this is what i'm after. This huge salsa house track. The next day I thought I'm doing the one hip hop beat of the album because I was feeling more in that mood. It’s cool to keep the feeling of each day because you’re not the same person everyday so why not give that to the music. I always do one track per day, that's my rule.
At this point in the interview, Felipe started taking us through the Logic project for 'The Colombian Excursions of House Music'. As per the Behind The Groove style, what followed is organised into sections focusing on different elements of the track. First we dive into his studio setup...
Studio Set Up
If you can get gear, it can really improve your sound and help you find your own sound
I always use my Juno  for making basslines, chords, strings. Recently i bought a bass guitar.
Some reason the Moog is crazy crazy fat, I always use the 303 when I do basic acid stuff. I bought this mixer 5 years that Bose created for mixing synthesisers especially. Bose is like the guitar pedal company of Roland so basically its a mixer especially made for analogue vintage synthesisers, So if you can get your hands on them they are really good. If you pass the 303 to this it has a really nice distortion. That's a really nice part of the studio because you can add this particular distortion that no other pedal has. This mixer has a really cool construction and if you run anything through it its really good. The Prophet 5 sounds really good through it too. I use the Korg MS20 a lot when I do melodies because its envelope is really good, it's really snappy.
Five, six years ago I was really addicted to Ebay, the Colombian Ebay which is really bad but I found the Prophet on that one and it was really really cheap and found this cassette player, the Yamaha MXT3 Cassete Portastudio. I run all my mixes through a cassette.
It’s having the time to develop your craft, I'm a really obsessed character. So I took the decision of making this a full time thing about five years ago. I was still living with my parents so if I wasn't earning any money it was okay. I was like okay, fuck I need to grow up and just focus on this all day, really focus for real. Look at gear every day, really research about music and really get yourself into playing better.
Strings and Piano
What element did you start the track with?
I was listening to Henry Wu a lot and then I found Toro Moratto. He's a piano player. He has the same note, I don't know if you have seen the interview with the Nord, that's the preset of my strings, it's like the second preset of the Nord.
So I was with Toro and he was like "okay you want me to do this house like Cha Cha Cha" and I was like no let's make this more mysterious. Like a feeling you are discovering something. And then we started developing the track. We have a mood now. I have something special now. It's not like a loop of shit, it's not like disco house. In 20 years this is going to sound like when we did something else. You can tell that it has musicality which is really important and then you have these amazing solos, like you could leave the two things going and you wouldn't need the beat, like this a really fucking good track, it could be the intro of a Cuban mystery movie. This could be like a dubplate (laughing).
The congos are like salsa and that's like the whole track. As you can see on the session it never stops. This is the main floor of the track and then you have these layers, piano solos, and those strings, the thing that really opens the track are the strings so if you combine that with the percussion of the track it's going to give you the feeling of the journey.
I do change the dynamics of the kick to make it sound more human but that's it. I played it in on a Roland drum pad with some sticks, which I don't have anymore.
Everything is Toro Moratto. The solos, that's him. I cannot play that. I did the harmony on the
strings and I did the chords. That’s me, I’m totally fine with that. I really like designing synths and this was like a huge accomplishment. It was like okay I made a clubby rhythm with a Juno.
The musicality of the track, it comes more from Toro. He's another funny character. He plays guitar in a hardcore band and he’s the most hardcore person you will see. His hair is dyed and he always wears tank tops and then he starts playing like fucking Bach. He’s cool, he's my kind of guy!
I have the Juno 106 which is giving it a more electronic feel to the track. This is like taking a breathe out of the musicality, taking it back again to something basic and familiar. This is more electronic, this is the stuff people are used to hearing.
I had a minute and a half of listening to Toro ripping the fucking piano, so for me it needed this break from that for a second. I have all these elements, I'm going to put that break in and then let it take me back again to the really difficult part. It’s like leaving the humanity in the track. If you hear the mix, those things are behind and they are okay where they are. You don't need anything else, everything is here. This is Church, this is gospel, this is Latin america, it’s like salsa.
I use some on like the crashes to give the transition some fluidity, really classic stuff, to go to a quiet part of the track but not much else, most of it is just piano or strings [recorded raw].
Imagine you are recording a live band, try to think of it that way. The musicians have the parts and the musicians know what they are playing, they know when to change and chord progressions. I don't have any gimmicks here, that's the secret. You can see I am not using anything here, any crazy techniques. Everything's right here you can see it how it is.
I have a really weird mixing technique. If you see my mixer, you will find that I don’t use that much, you can see the drums, there's only the sampler and that's it. I learnt from this 60s engineering guy who did The Rolling Stones front of house and The Who. My friend who taught me the main elements of logic he studied with that guy and he was his teacher. One time the guy came here and he was with this analogue mixer trying to tell us that the main thing about mixing is just controlling volumes and equalising.
The thing with people right now, in my opinion, is that people tend to compress everything to get volume and that's wrong because you are killing all the dynamics. So, if you have the sample of a 909 kick which is passed through a SSL mixer and then you compress it with a tiny box compressor you are going to kill everything that was recorded just trying to get volume.
If you hear the mix, everything is in its place, no one is killing anyone. I just killed some of the low end of the shakers because they have like other things going on with the sample. That’s it basically, I don't have anything else going on, it's just my volume control going on.
People are so fucking obsessed of looking good, or sounding good or looking something else that they can't understand that the more you are yourself the more people are going to find you attractive. Those errors, those mistakes, those little techniques are those things that at the end make your sound stand out of the other thousands of tracks.
This is weird because I know like everyone has like 24 plugins and a kick and they double the kick, they delay the snare and they have a swing thing on the high hats and everything else. But the only thing you need is there, you don't need anything else. The important things are the other instruments because the percussion has this really important attack, it's right there in your face. The other elements are a bit more difficult to mix but if you have a good technique, if you are a musician playing it, you are only going to need to control the peaks of the recording. If I put my piano track against another track in the song the piano is not going to go away. That's like an exercise I always do at the end of every track.
You just need to control your volumes and that way you are going to have dynamics and that's more important than anything. If I want to sound organic I need dynamics. I cannot kill dynamics because I want to sound really loud. Dynamics are the humanity of the instruments. If you are really unsure about what you are playing you are going to play it really loud. That's being human so why would I like to kill that humanity?
That's my main thing about not using compressors, like I use them but you can see I am only using it for the sake of passing the signal through, nothing is happening here. I’m just trying to give some boost but it is not peaking. If you hear my tracks and you compare them to other electronic tracks they are going to sound super loud, mine's going to sound quiet but it's going to sound right. It’s going to have soul. Or at least that's what I'm trying to do!
Arrangement and Structure
I have an idea of what I want to do with the elements which I want to combine but I didn't have this really clear structure in my head. Also, because if you hear like Glenn Underground tracks they are full of solos, it doesn't have a particularly really organised structure.
As the track developed I was like okay, this should have a different vibe, that's why I bought the Juno in at some points and gave some rest to all the other information that is being played. It has like this disco bassline. The structure was trying to combine some things I had really clear in my head. It's like Latin american, Black american, north american influences and then it all starts to unfold.
A massive thanks to Felipe for giving us his insights into the production of 'The Colombian Excursions of House Music' and for chatting to us about the forthcoming album. Me and Dan truly felt inspired after talking with him.
You can pre-order 'A Landscape Onomatopeya LP' HERE via Shall Not Fade. It's available on
vinyl and digi.