As a father of two, husband and full-time acoustics engineer, Roberto probably doesn’t fit the techno artist stereotype. The man behind Fossil Archive, a label that he uses to release groovy yet uncompromising techno produced by himself and other equally talented artists, he is enjoying a successful career as a DJ, producer and label owner parallel to his every day life. If we rewind the clock and go back to the early 2000s, Rob’s life was very different – he was in his teens, and just getting into music via school friends who introduced him to jungle. Those early days are where we begin with this feature – a time when his first encounters with music and personal self-discovery were intertwined. The roots. Here DLTM takes a look at Roberto then and Roberto now… and he has kindly provided us with a mix featuring some of the drum’n’bass tracks he was playing back in the early 2000s
“When I first discovered that type of music it was friends from school giving me tapes from the jungle times,” says Roberto, who, at 31, has been into electronic music for over 16 years now. “They were from around ‘95/’96 and I loved it. But I didn’t discover the music until 99/2000. Friend told me they’d got tapes from a shop in Leicester called 5HQ, which was affiliated with Formation Records because DJ SS owned both.”
Young Roberto naively went to 5HQ in search of the jungle sounds he’d fallen head over heels with via the tapes lent to him by friends. But the music had progressed by the end of the nineties. In what some attribute to a media whitewash, the name had been changed from jungle to drum’n’bass and the style had evolved. Whatever the reason, or reasons, the music became divided into two distinct styles and, by 1999, the ragga-influenced jungle was quickly fading away as drum’n’bass rose to prominence.
At 5HQ Roberto was confronted with D’n’B, which initially he found difficult to digest. It was a lot more futuristic and minimal than jungle which took a while to adjust to. “I found it a bit weird. But then I realised that the stuff I was listening to was from the bygone jungle era. There was no eBay or Discogs back then, so I didn’t know where to buy that older stuff from. I started to get tape packs from the DnB era, 2000 onwards, and grew to love that stuff as well,” he explains. “It was frustrating at first but I was 15, at that age you don’t analyse things too much.”
The music became an integral part of his life, the soundtrack to his teens. “I used to do a paper round, and I’d always have my Walkman on playing these tapes,” Rob recalls. “It was an escape from doing this boring job. None of my mates were into it, they didn’t get it. There were a couple of people at school, but I wasn’t really that tight with them. It stayed like that until I went to college.”
Rob then fondly recounts his first experience of drum’n’bass in a club environment, chuckling to himself he explains that one of the staff members at 5HQ handed him a flyer for a Formation night and told him to come along. That invite was all he needed to team up with a couple of guys at school and organise his very first night club adventure, which took place in the Student Union at Leicester University where Randall was headlining. “We got our friend’s dad to drop us off, I don’t know how we got away with it!” he laughs. “We got there really early because it said doors opened at 9pm on the flyer. I think we got there at half eight so there were still students milling around at the bar and security were like, ‘It’s not open yet, you’re best off heading down to the shop, getting a bottle of cider and coming back later’.
“We ran around the university grounds for a bit, then came back just as the doors opened. I’ll never forget walking in there, it was like nothing I’d experienced before because I was hearing the music on a big soundsystem for the very first time,” he grins. “That first time was incredible. I thought it was the best thing ever.”
If Roberto was obsessed with the music before that first night out, afterwards it became pretty much everything. Though his mates also had a good time, they faded away after a few more nights out and Rob resided to hitting a few parties on his own before finding a like-minded crew at college.
As can be typical with teenagers, he was a bit of an introvert in those days, much more so than now. As an only child he ended up spending a lot of time alone and was quite content to do so. “My parents were a bit worried when I was younger because I’d just be on my own a lot. I had friends but I was happy being on my own at home,” he says. “I was quiet. Quite shy and introverted. I’d listen to the radio a lot, play computer games though it wasn’t a negative thing at all.”
Going to college to do a Music Technology course, which was an hour away from where he lived, pushed Rob to come out of his shell and, by the time he went to study at Salford University in Manchester any teen awkwardness had all but vanished.
Leicester too, was very different in those days. Formation was the dominant force when it came to drum’n’bass, but the small Midlands city had little to offer teenage Roberto outside of a few clubs and shops. “I lived in a village called Broughton Astley, which is actually quite far away from the city. Initially it was cool heading into Leicester, which was half an hour drive from me, because there was quite a lot to explore. But then it got a bit frustrating because there wasn’t much going on,” he explains. “There were places to buy the music I liked, and other quite decent cultural spots, but it was all quite limited.
“I remember hanging out with my uncle, who’d lived in London for a while before moving back to Leicester. We’d go on nights out and get so so drunk because there wasn’t really much else to do!” he laughs. “Most of my friends are still there, I’m the one of the few who broke away from it.”
But what drove him to leave Leicester, when so many of his friends stayed? “Even though I’d got a bit involved with the Formation crew, I felt like there was more to the world than being in Leicester. My college had quite a close relationship with De Montfort University, and the idea was to study there. The college was also aligned with Salford, but our tutors tried to put us off going to study acoustics by saying it was all maths-based. I decided to give it a chance and went to an open day with my dad,” he says. At Salford’s open day Rob was told that the acoustics course had a 100% post-uni employment rate. “I had to decide whether to stay in Leicester and carry on stuck in the same routine, or move to Manchester were there was much more happening.”
Manchester also happened to be home to one of the drum’n’bass producers he was most fond of – “Marcus Intalex had just started putting out stuff on his Soul:r label and I was really into that sound, I was thinking I could get involved with it. The decision was made there and then and I moved up within a few months,” he says. In 2002 he moved to Manchester and revelled in the delights the city had to offer, hitting club nights and DJing on a regular basis, solidifying his love for DnB and eventually graduating from university…
“The first few years after uni were very difficult. The job required you to work to a very high level and it was so hard because there were so many things you had to be good at; not just maths and acoustics but writing reports, talking to people and lots of things I’d not considered,” he candidly explains. After a while though, Rob figured out his strengths and weaknesses and learned to live with them. He travels around the UK as an acoustic consultant putting together noise impact assessments for industrial installations like oil refineries.
Since leaving uni Rob’s musical allegiances have moved from drum’n’bass to techno, though he is still allied to many of the things he loved about D’n’B; Detroit pads, minimalism, groove… these core elements lie at the foundation of the music he makes and has led to relationships with highly-regarded labels like Fachwerk and gigs at fabric and Berghain, a world away from his early gigs for events like Platoon and Gutter Funk.
“I remember being at a night called Sonic Boom at The Charlotte, a rock club opposite De Montfort uni watching the resident DJ up on the stage in front of us and thinking, ‘I could never get up in front of everyone and play’ – Even though he had an MC in front of him, I didn’t think I had the balls to do it,” he grins. “I think if you’d have said to 15-year-old me that I’d be playing at Berghain in front of all those people on a Sunday afternoon, I wouldn’t have believed you!”
15-year-old probably wouldn’t have believed he’d one day be father to two children either, yet here he is managing to maintain that delicate balance between fatherhood, being a dutiful husband, working full-time and somehow feeding his obsession with music. Though he admits to it being tough at times, Rob is clearly enjoying the challenges presented to him by his lifestyle choices, and the lessons he’s learning, “The family thing has been really amazing, it’s hard work and we’ve got a new arrival to join the one we already have, but it’s so rewarding spending time with your kids. There’s nothing better.”
One of the key lessons he’s learned from becoming a father is to be more selfless, something the young Rob would most likely have struggled with. “I’m still learning and will be for a few years to come. Something will happen with the kids and you get through it, then another thing pops up the very next day. Or the routine you’ve established gets turned upside down,” he says. “You have to be prepared to adapt a bit. The first few months were intense, but our first son started sleeping through the night from around 7 or 8 months onwards, which made things a little easier. It’s a daily challenge though, you’re always learning something new about yourself as well as your child.”
On the flipside, Rob’s DJ career has challenged his parents’ views on life. While his mum has been onside from day one, even suggesting she pops in to one of his fabric gigs, his dad has been a little harder to convince. “It’s hard for my dad in particular to take my music stuff seriously. But I think he’s starting to realise it’s not just a silly hobby of mine. They’re both very supportive though,” he says. “It sounds like a bit of a cliché but every time I play something to my mum she really likes it. She’s always had quite eclectic taste in my music, she’d play Jean Michel-Jarre to me when I was really young, lots of electronica. My dad thought it was the weirdest thing ever.”
Having your parents behind you isn’t always necessary, but a supportive spouse is essential to a DJ’s career. The late nights, touring at weekends, days on end spent in the studio and much more can put a strain on a relationship, especially if the said spouse lacks understanding about the ins and outs of the DJ lifestyle. Rob counts his wife as a key support for his musical endeavours, “My wife is really, really supportive. It can’t be fun for her when I’m off traveling somewhere for the weekend, back Sunday night and then back to work Monday. I’m very very lucky”, he smiles. Although his wife not quite up to speed on “Who’s on at Berghain this weekend”, Rob prefers to be with someone whose interest in music is not as strong as his, “If I was with somebody who was completely obsessed with music, too it would be quite boring because all we’d talk about is the same thing all the time.”
Looking to the future, and with the recent arrival of his second son, Roberto is modest in respect of his career ambitions. “I think it’s going to be a mad few months, now our second child is here. I’ve been building up a lot of music over the past few months to prepare for his arrival,” he says. “I guess in years to come I’d like to carry on with my acoustics job, I get a massive buzz out of it. Maybe if I was a bit more successful with the music I’d like to spend more time on that and maintain a balance between the two. I launched my label Fossil Archive last year and that’s going great… I’d like to just to play more, I think everyone wants to do that don’t they?”