London’s weather was pleasant on the day I was able to sit outside café 1001 whilst waiting for Valentino to arrive. As I saw him, I waved at him. He smiles: ‘Caterina?’ We sat down and introduced ourselves to each other. Very kindly he asks about myself; it almost seemed as if he was about to interview me and not the contrary. I understood he was in LA for work related projects before arriving back in London, after living in South Africa for the last four years.
Are you based anywhere precisely?
Now London. Bridges for music is legally registered in the UK. I come here more or less every three months, as most of our team and our board of directors is based here too.
I can imagine there is a lot of traveling involved with your job, does it get stressful after a while? A bit. But I have always loved traveling so…. How was LA?
Good, we have some plans there and some campaigns coming up. The US has a very positive and forward thinking approach on the non-profit sector and we love that. Burning Man demonstrates that quite well.
Have you ever been to Burning Man?
No, I’d like to. I’ve heard is the ultimate festival experience. I am afraid that once you’ve done Burning Man, all the rest won’t be comparable any longer.
Are these rumours true?
Well, Burning Man is something completely different. Is the sense of community behind it. It is so amazing seeing people giving without asking anything in exchange, whether you are offered cakes, coffee, drinks or something else. You live that few days with no money and no phone. Just you and the people around you.
How does it work? Do you exchange goods to survive?
(laughs) Not really. You are supposed to bring things for the community, things you want to share and give. It is amazing the sense of co-operation and respect there.
They organize a Burning Man in Africa too, right?
Yes, is called Africa Burn, but is much smaller. (I threw my cigarette butt on the ground whilst scribbling my notes of the interview) “See? You would never see something like that in Burning Man. It is so, clean. NO cans, no rubbish on the ground. It is really nothing like commercial festivals.” (laughs)
Have you always planned to work in music?
Yeah. I planned to work in music many many years ago, when I was still at university in Valencia. I was watching this amazing video of the Love Parade, on the German television Viva and speaking with a friend we said ‘ we have to rent a van and drive to Berlin for the Love Parade!’. So at the age of 19 I went with 5 friends to the Love Parade, we drove all the way there from Valencia and when we got there I was so impressed, so moved to see how music can gather a lot of people all in once place. I think that year was the biggest Love Parade ever, with 1.5 million people. Just seeing so many people all dancing in the streets and the good vibes that this created, it really made me think ‘I wanna work in music’. I always loved it anyway, and then all came together.
In what way?
I started this website, an on-line magazine, kind of like MEOKO, called Arde la Noche. We were writing about people, parties events, about lifestyle. I gained a lot of contacts in this way. Thanks to all this contacts, I was able to start my own agency; I was promoting events, doing my own parties. Then the opportunity to take over Barraca came along. Barraca is almost like Manchester’s Hacienda, it is a legendary club in Spain, and Europe also. They had people like Joy Division and Lou Reed playing there, it has been running for over 60 years. That was what attracted me the most, the history of the club, the strong engagement that the crowd has with it the feeling of people towards it. Probably in Italy you find something similar in the Cocoricò. They both are a kind of club that has a very loyal crowd and where people really live the music. As Manager I had the chance to refresh Barraca’s program. With the team we started booking Dj’s like Richie Hawtin and Luciano, who were a novelty back in the days – I am talking about nine, ten years ago. Barraca became one of the most hyped club in Europe, every week-end we had top parties, like Fabric in London, same kind of line-ups. We also founded a record label, started publishing a magazine and running events in other cities. Unfortunately in 2008 the financial crisis hit Spain really badly so we were forced to slow down. Because of the lack of money we had to cut the budgets, scale down and review the whole team and let a lot of people go. In a way I felt relieved: I had always thought that Valencia was not the city for me, I never meant to live there my all life, I have always wanted to travel and discover new things. When I started looking for another position I received an offer from Amnesia to join their team. At least once in my life, I wanted to live in Ibiza to experience the island. I had always been attracted to its vibes. So I left my apartment with all my stuff in Valencia and moved there, to work at Amnesia as Brand Manager. I stayed for four years, it was an amazing experience.
Do you still work for them from time to time?
No, I quit around one and a half years ago. I wanted to focus full time on Bridges for Music, that is my passion and what really drives me. Besides, I think I gave all I had to give to Amnesia at the time, I put all my energy and effort to the job. That was it for me. I used to do a lot of free-lance work, now I concentrate uniquely on Bridges for Music.
How did the ides of Bridges for Music come to be?
Well, I’d say by traveling a lot and visiting places where I wouldn’t expect to find electronic music. For example I went to the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and I discovered this guy that was running a Dj school. I was just blown away by how he was teaching 30-40 kids how to mix with absolutely no resources. He had a lot of passion. He explained me how hard it was to save money, to buy a new mixer…. That made us think ‘these people are doing an amazing work for the community but they do not have contacts!’. You would really just need to give a call to Pioneer to get them some equipment. The brands are willing to support this kind of initiatives but they do not know about them, that’s the problem. Afterwards I traveled to South Africa and I was surprised by their house culture. House music is the main and most followed genre in South Africa, especially in the most impoverished communities, which are the townships, outskirts of big cities like Johannesburg. Their people live for house music, children want to become soccer players or Dj’s. Coming from the western world, you do not expect to go to a slum and find such a strong electronic culture. You usually associate it with London and the other big cities in Europe and America. In reality is not like that. Electronic music arrives everywhere, I think also thanks to the internet and mobiles. That is where the idea came from. So I sat down with like-minded friends, who also thought that the music industry was in need of a non-profit platform. We put up a board of directors and started calling our contacts. We spoke to Richie [Hawtin] and discussed with him an idea we had back then: to take him in tour to South Africa and push his performances beyond parties, leaving a positive impact behind. So he was the first one you contacted and contributed to the Bridges for Music initiative.. Yes. I have known Richie for a long time. We worked together quite a lot, we have a really good relationship. I knew he was going to be down for the project because he really is that kind of person who wants to push the boundaries of electronic music, who wants to discover new places and engage with all kind of people. He was the right person to start with.
What exactly did your first project consist of?
We did a tour in South Africa, during which we held two commercial shows and two workshops, one time in a township in Johannesburg and the other in a township in Cape Town. Then we had also a show in another township, not a big show but one of the most specials to date. How did the crowd and local people receive it? Surprisingly good. You know, when you go to a township you find that people are really hungry to learn. They are curious whenever there are foreigners in the community, they want to engage with them and exchange information. Everyone in the team felt welcome there and Rich said he had one of the best parties in his career.
Do they normally have many foreign artists playing there?
Usually during the summer, which is our winter, from October to March more or less. I think there are quite a lot of artists touring there nowadays. South Africa is becoming very, very popular.
How are the workshops structured, do you actually teach the guys how to use all the equipment?
Usually it depends on the artists we bring. Anyway workshops never last more than two hours. They start out with an inspiring speech about the artist’s life, from the very first challenges he had to face as a newcomer, his breakthrough, up until the present. The second part is more technical: we have the Dj table set up and Richie, for example, explained how he uses Tractor, the Machine etc. Every Dj has his preferences and things he’d like to share with the public. We pretty much decide the program together.
Is everyone free to attend?
Yes, but we select people very carefully. We want people that are genuinely interested in music, we want to create the right flow between them and the artist. When we open the floor to Q&As we want people to ask the right questions. We do not want fans that attend just to take a picture with the artist. We look for those who are actually going to get the best out of the experience.
How do you select them then?
In South Africa we work with some local entities that act in the educational field. We work with SAE, Red Bull Music Studio and other partners. Through them we can target the right audience. In the townships we also have opinion leaders to help us find the right artists, local Djs that are very known there and people that are very interested in music.
Is it in this way that you chose Dj Fosta, Thibo Tazz, Dj Siphe Tebeka and Lavish 189 to play at this years Tomorrowland and Glastonbury festivals?
It has been a while now that we are working in South Africa so we’ve made our own contacts there. These guys because have more or less collaborated with us from the beginning and we knew they were solid enough to take this opportunity and treasure this experience without being overwhelmed. We chose guys that are really talented but also were mature enough as artists. In most of the cases, is the first time that these people are traveling outside their country. We may think ‘Wow, a chance to play a Glastonbury, it’s amazing!’ but for them can be easily overwhelming.
Other than helping local talents being discovered by creating opportunities to play international stage, are you also nurturing artists there?
Yes. The first step was to organize workshops, the next will be to open a school in one of the townships, Langa. The school aims to become a space where kids can access to resources on a daily bases, where they can train and develop their careers. We are also going to teach music design, music business and all those disciplines that revolves around the music industry. That is what we are raising money for through the RA campaign.
I know Resident Advisor’s team and few more personalities are racing to ADE from London to raise money for your school. Did this initiative come from you or came genuinely from RA?
It was their idea. RA is one of the most known and respected webzine for a reason. They have strong values and an amazing team, who came up with this idea of launching a charity campaign per year, where they all get together, use their network and the tools they dispose of to raise money and awareness for a good cause. We have been working together since the beginning, so it came quite natural for them to start by helping Bridges for Music. Everyone can donate to the cause through RA website, or through our fundraising platform residentadvisor.net/cycle
It seems like you are receiving a great response.
A lot of Djs, other companies and booking agencies donated a fair amount of money and seem very willing to help with this initiative. It is amazing to see how a simple thought turned into something that big thanks to the people support. Definitely we are on the right track. There is still a lot things to do and we still need to raise much more money, but it was a very good start. We feel blessed to have this support and is great to see all the industry getting behind this project.
How does the fund-raising work in the specific?
People are free to donate any amount of money they wish to sponsor a racer. For example there are people from the RA team, Dj’s as Luciano, Chris Liebing and Giles Smith. Each of the riders has his own fund-raising page, that they can share with friends on social media. So you can donate to them. Every rider has set his own target to reach, minimum is £1.000. For example Shaun Roberts from Fabric wants to reach £ 3.000 and he’s killing it.
Is anyone else helping you to reach the budget you need to open up the school?
The RA campaign is the main source of funding. There is an old friend of mine who is an ultra athlete. He is raising money on Just Giving by doing a crazy challenge called Burning Man Quest. He is going to run, ride and swim from the coasts of California to Nevada, starting this Saturday.
When is the school set to open?
Ideally, with the RA charity race happening in October, we could start working afterwards and, if everything goes well, we’ll be finished by May 2015.
Will it involve local artists that you know are mature enough to teach there?
For sure, we’ll have them running workshop alongside international Dj’s. So the school is also going to be a point of connection with the international scene, as guest Dj’s are going to spend a lot of time in the studio with local ones. Also, we are planning to launch a volunteering program, that will enable people to come and support the project and spend some time in the school.
Are you planning to enlarge the Bridges for Music initiative to other areas?
In 2015 we’d like to start doing some events in Kenya. We are still at an early stage though. It will take time.
You have been working in the industry for over 12 years now. How did the Bridges for Music change your approach, if it did in any measure?
Bridges for music has definitely changed my vision of the industry, I believe that this change has also to do with the fact that I am getting older. The music industry, as it is nowadays, at times does not
ake sense to me. We were ta
king about Burning Man…that is a good examp
e, in my opinion, of how the music can be really used in a good way, to gather people together, so they can achieve good things and make the world a better place.
One last question….are you going to ride as well?
Yeah (laughs) That will take you a lot of time! More or less 5 hours a day. We’ll ride 100 kilometers a day for four days. Now we need to train. I need to train, I am way behind (giggles). I have been traveling a lot, its difficult. Well, now that you are in London you can cycle everyday! Yeah, but I do not have my bicycle (laughs again). I need to buy one. I have always loved bikes anyway.
Thank you very much for your time Valentino, it has been great meeting you. Wish you all the luck with your new project and with the race. Thanks! And thank you for the interview, goodbye.
Bridges for Music still needs funding to build the school, help by sponsoring one of the riders cycling to ADE with RA. You can do that on Resident Advisor Website or on the Believe In platform. Every little donation will do!
Written By Caterina Berardi
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