Betoko, aka Beto Cohen, is a unique producer with a rich background in music. His upbringing in Guadalajara, Mexico, as the son of an actress and singer, put him in the entertainment world at an early age. His first forays were in rock and pop until he discovered the magic of London nightclubs in the early 2000’s. After that there was no turning back from the world of underground dance music. He has released on labels like Diynamic and Supernature, in addition to managing his own imprints OKO and Chilli Mint Music. I sat down for a candid Skype interview with Beto, where he covers the scene from Central America to Romania, talks shop in the studio, and even provides a glimpse of his working environment. Get ready to enter the mind of a master musician, entrepreneur, and down-to-earth cool dude.
Beto, thanks for joining us live via Skype! Where are you these days? In the studio, in London – that’s where I’m based. Originally I’m from Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s funny because my friends keep saying my accent is changing and it’s becoming more British now.
Tell me a little about the scene in Mexico. There’s quite a big scene now down there, and quite a lot of good music coming out of Mexico. There’s people from Mexicali, Guadalajara, Playa Del Carmen obviously. I’m trying to organize a tour in Mexico and apparently one of the best spots, Hardpop, is over there. I’m not going to go to Juarez by myself though, that’s for sure…
Probably a good idea. Who were your influences when you were growing up, in Guadalajara? I come from a totally different background – the rock and pop industry. My Mom was a singer and actress. Also my uncle Elliot has been in the music publishing business forever. So I was pretty much involved in the media and entertainment business. I used to play in rock bands and pop bands - used to sing and all that.
At that time there was very little that we had access to in terms of electronic music. There wasn’t enough internet to go around, and there weren’t that many places where we could find out about music. As far as house, there was basically no scene at all. I remember I used to go to the record stores, and there would a small import section where I’d look for music. I’d spend hours there and listen to stuff like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cirque Du Soleil, which is stuff that really wasn’t common at the time. Of course, you had the odd CD from Digweed and Sasha, BT, etc. But that was about it for electronic influence.
So then you moved too London in 2002. Was that when you really got introduced to electronic music and house? Yes definitely. When I moved here I was 25, and doing a score for a Mexican film. Then I started going clubbing in London, and it opened up my eyes. I used to go to places like Heaven, and there was another called Fahrenheit, and other small clubs near Leicester Square. Initially, as a tourist, that’s all I knew. Then I started going to more underground spots like Turnmills and obviously Fabric. Very slowly I got to really love this sound and the darkness of it, the repetitiveness and the way it puts you in a trance. Eventually, you know, you try your first pill, and you understand the music a lot more. I’m not saying you have to, but 80% of us did.
From there on I really started experimenting. I think my early stuff was really musically oriented, coming from my instrumental background, and slowly it evolved to where it is now. I’ve only really been doing dance music in a serious way for 4-5 years. And I wasn’t planning on DJing. I’m a producer; I make music. When you do this though, you need to get out there, play your stuff to people and have a laugh.
Your earlier stuff though is more tech-house and minimal almost, so how did you transition to where you are now? My first ever release that I consider proper underground electronic stuff was called Xuplak. It was melodic and very minimal, in fact it was used by Steve Lawler in one of his compilations, "Viva Toronto." From there I moved on to some sort of dreamy tech with really long basslines, lots of chords and pads and harmonics. Then I slowly went into more peak time “terrace” tech house, in a way, and slowly came into what it is now.
It’s more a natural evolution, not something I decided on. With the stuff now, for example, “Raining Again,” the real Beto influence from the pop era is showing up because a lot of it is song based, ie. with lyrics etc.
Speaking of Raining Again, that’s been big for you. Tell me a little about the record and the inspiration. Is that you singing on it? Yeah it’s me. I try to use my voice on all my own records…albeit a little bit processed, tweaked and freaky. So the story - the backing track for Raining Again was one I did a year ago. It was one of those tracks I could never get to where I wanted, but I knew it was good because I played it in the studio and it would make me dance. So one day, it was a really horrible Saturday afternoon in London, raining like crazy, and I was on the phone with my best mate who was having a terrible time in his flat, where he couldn’t get any sleep.
So I thought, right, how can I make something that captures what we’re both feeling right now? Then the lyric just came to me, along with the melody, and I recorded it quickly in the mic at home, and I thought, yeah, this is it. Hector from Desolat was staying with me at the time, and he kept on shouting from the room “Oy, stop it, that’s enough.” It was really funny. But yeah that’s the story…the track really came from the heart.
Great story, and funny. So I see you’re sitting in this awesome looking studio. What are the main components you use? Well first of all, this is my family’s studio, where some of the biggest hits from the 80’s were recorded, including George Michael’s Careless Whisper. I do a lot of work for my uncle’s publishing company in addition to writing music, for example A&R. My favorite bit here is my SSL 6000E, which we bought in 1989. I have a DBX 162 which I use as a compressor for my drums, and also two hardware Urei 1176’s [plugins for these are popular]. Got my 909, mpc 3000, micro Korg, a really wicked delay – ams 1580, great for pitching vocals. As far as computers, I prefer to use Logic because of the ease of using MIDI. For mixing stuff, I always use Pro Tools because we have a massive and very stable Pro Tools rig.
Editor’s note: Betoko was kind enough to provide a video walk-through of his studio, check it out below! (It’s fun to pretend this video was sent to us from light years away so that’s why it looks like this.)
When you first transitioned to making house music 4-5 years, how did you go about building your skillset coming from a rock/pop background? On the technical side, I don’t consider myself to be a whizz kid. I always have trouble with a computer and always call my friend James. I know it might sound wrong, but I’m not worried about knowing the ins and outs of a software. I know there might be a quicker way to delete a note or something, but I can get to where I want with what I know. I hate manuals, I’ve never picked up a manual in my life. I’ve learned what I know from pushing buttons and fucking things up – compression, limiting, etc. You have to fuck it up to make things work.
"I’ve never picked up a manual in my life. I’ve learned what I know from pushing buttons and fucking things up – compression, limiting, etc. You have to fuck it up to make things work."
On the creative side, I had a guitar in my hands since when I could barely walk, so that musical training helps. But even still, arrangement is one of the most complicated things. It’s hard to get it right, but when you do you just feel it. You have to play it loud in the studio, feel it and get into it. But take care of your ears, they’re valuable…wear earplugs at the club.
Were you always producing in such a well-equipped studio? When I started I just had tape decks actually. I had a Yamaha sequencer with a Roland D-50 synth, recorded everything to one tape, played it through, and then added new parts. But the hiss was awful.
Right before I moved to London in 2002 we built a couple of studios in Guadalajara, similar to this one, but without the desk. We used to have a modeling agency as well, by the way. The studio overlooked a swimming pool in the back, and a Jacuzzi, and then we had the models…well it was perfect.
That’s definitely an inspiring environment. For the producers and those interested amongst us, can you talk about your typical workflow in the studio? I can’t say I have a method or formula for how I work. When I’m starting a new session, I’ll often pull some component like the drums from another session and start testing new sounds. From there, I’ll just look for a sound that inspires me, maybe play a bassline. I wish there was a formula but I don’t think there is. There have been some times where I’ll come up with a lyric and melody and just record it right on to my phone. There’s a track coming out on Nurvous soon where the lyric was written on a cab, as a note on my phone. It just popped into my head then and I had to get it out.
Note to self – be prepared for when inspiration strikes! Something I’ve asked other producers is, how do you overcome writer’s block? Over the years I’ve been so frustrated so many times – I think, right, that’s it my brain is gone. You’ve had the best of me! Then I come back to the studio the next day, and write something great. I think the best advice is to step away, have a cup of tea, a smoke, a beer, hang out with your mates, party, whatever. As soon as you get it into your head that you’re blocked, then you are blocked. I prefer to say, “Ok I have no inspiration right now. “Don’t push it.
How did you get involved with Supernature and Diynamic? Luca and Anthony [known together as Audiofly, the founders of label Supernature] have been friends of mine for some time. We had a lot of crazy times together, and as for the track that got signed to them, one of my friends just played it at an afterparty and they liked it. The Diynamic thing, initially, was simply an email sent and a reply saying “yeah we love it.”
There’s a lot of music out there, especially in this digital age. What’s your advice to today's less experienced producers on making music that stands above the masses? Well first of all, you have to make good tracks. All you need is a laptop and a bit of software. I think a lot of people put blocks together by using sample packs and a bit of delay etc., and then they have a track. 90% of the time that doesn’t work because you’re just using the same samples every one else is using, and you’re one of the bunch.
Writing your own lyrics and recording your own vocals is one way to help the track become more “you.” You should always look for elements that make the track more you. And hey, spend time on the track! There’s no point doing a million tracks that don’t stand out. It’s much better to do one track that stands out.
Also, I know it will sound bad but I don’t listen to a lot of music (promos and stuff yeah, but not a ton of other stuff). I don’t try to copy what the big producers of today are doing, because to me that’s a super erroneous approach. By not listening to a lot of music, what I produce is more about me. If young people just copy what they hear, which is happening a lot lately, there’s no individuality. You can do that as a base, but add a bit to it and stand out. When you’re stuck, don’t look for stuff to copy. Go listen to Katy Perry or something that inspires you in a different way.
Valuable advice! So given the success of your recent music, what fills your time these days? There are a lot of bookings coming through. I’m really busy in the studio doing all the remix requests, and finishing an EP too. It’s something very special for me and it will be very cool. It’s very deep, very melodic, very dreamy. Basically that’s what I’m working on right now, trying to finish that EP.
The gigs are coming along too. There are a couple of festivals, one in Italy, there’s Katerholzig in Berlin which is the new Bar 25, a couple of spots in Ibiza.
Tell us a little about your labels OKO and Chilli Mint Music. OKO started a couple years ago as a way for me to get my stuff out. I wasn’t a fan of sending demos and waiting for replies – it can be a disheartening process. So initially I just put my own stuff out and then it became a proper label – signing friends, getting artists from different countries, etc. OKO is pretty much a tech house label, it’s there, it’s up and running, people like it and respect and we’ll carry on with it.
Chilli Mint is a new project with me and my best friend Sam, and we’re going a bit backward technology wise. Everything is released on vinyl. What we did was put a code on the records so when you bought it, you could register the vinyl online and 2 weeks before we released digital, we’d send you all the audio files and any bonus mixes for free. Now it’s a little different but the same idea. We’re trying to go back to vinyl as a way of supporting the artists and instilling some pride in people for collecting records. We’re on our third record and we’ve already had some great artists like Dirt Crew, James Flavour, and Garnica in addition to myself. It takes time for a label to take off, and right now we’re finding it hard just to break even, but we believe in it and we’ll keep going until the bank says “no more!”
So you’ve been involved in a lot of things, from music publishing, your own labels, and the modeling agency. What’s your vision for your music? We’re definitely trying to do a little more advertising and stuff, linking music and pictures. I have been speaking to a few people, can’t say who, and we’re trying to build a really nice collaboration of film producers and musicians, so that their music doesn’t have to be sourced, and we have a little collective. Some of these guys do some really big, international campaigns so it could be a very cool thing.
What new artists do you have your eyes on these days? There are a lot of really cool dudes coming out of Mexico. Climbers are great, I’ve just done an EP with them. I love them, they’re really cool, and I love the label Culprit too, they’re awesome. Next week I’m in the studio with Louie Fresco, another Mexican fellow. So, we’re getting gangster power here man, the Mexican mafia! I’m happy that those guys are doing well, guys like Miguel Puente, Hector from Desolat, There’s also a good little movement from Romania. And every time I hear a cool promo it’s from someone younger, which makes me feel older.
Anything you wanted to talk about that I didn’t cover? I think it was pretty cool. I’ll tell you a little about what’s coming- we’ve got an EP coming on Sasse’s Moodmusic with remixes from Maurice Aymard and the Climbers. I’ve also got one coming soon on Nurvous NYC, and some Mexican labels, including Akbal music.
Lastly, what do you do when you’re not making music? Well my office (for the publishing work) is in the same place as the studio. So I’ll handle admin stuff in the mornings, and then work on music and handle other business stuff as it comes up. Around 6pm I’ll head down to the studio till late in the evening, and then take anything to my home studio if I need to. Other than that I sit in my sofa and watch TV. Big Bang Theory is fucking hilarious!
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