An ode to Ricardo Villalobos’ ‘Dexter’

Most electronic music is made for the dance floor. It’s supposed to be upbeat, happy and it’s main aim is to get you dancing. Even in ‘darker genres’ of electronic music, such as hard techno, the main aim is to get you dancing and fist bumping. Not all music has to have a meaning behind it, but in electronic music, songs generally don’t have meaning behind them.

That’s why Dexter sticks out in my music library. The 2003 song from Ricardo Villalobos’ ‘Alachofa’ album has wedged it’s way into my memory from the first time I heard it. Even to this today, I have never heard another song quite like Dexter.

There is no need for a biographical introduction to the works and the man that is King Ricardo. He is remarkably unique in a world where DJs often appear as carbon copies of one another. His mixing style is distinct, it’s not absent of mistakes and almost automatic like say, Dixon’s. It can be odd, it can be slightly dodgy, but it’s bold and it is distinctive. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to see Ricardo glide behind the decks, you never know what’s going to happen. This expectation is increasingly rare in the underground music world, where mixes and sets are so freely available online, people know what to expect.

The emotion of melancholy within the track ‘Dexter’ is almost bursting within the track. The introduction of the track is rather simple, some repetitive drums, a distorted bassline and the occasional clap. However, at 2:20 the drums speed up and then what has become the famous Dexter melody comes in.

This melody is arguably the most important aspect of Dexter. It’s what gives the track it’s emotional, it’s melancholy, it’s thought provoking sound. The previously mentioned claps become more distorted as the track goes on and ‘ah-ah’ sounds often intrude on the track.

The significant of Alachofa itself cannot be understated. It took principles out of every subgenre of house and techno, before moulding these already known principles into something completely unknown, it gave birth to something entirely new.

In the mid 90’s, hard techno was The King of electronic music, before minimal came in the late 90’s and claimed the throne. But whenever something, especially a music genre, becomes popular, the very essence of it is lost. There are so many people clambering to have a piece of the popularity pie that the roots and purpose of it are lost.

By the time Alachofa was released, minimal had begun declining as a genre, but Villalobos and Playhouse weren’t bothered by people moving onto the next genre. After all, for them it had always been about quality music, no matter who was enjoying it.

What’s interesting about the creation of Alachofa, is that it’s actually just a series of studio recordings, before being formatted into tracks. In that period of time, Ricardo was spending three days a week minimum in the studio and used little to no software. As he told Higher Frequency, “I have like 50 little machines around and things and the machines have their own lives — they are doing what they want.”

We’re used to those odd little sounds in Ricardo’s tracks. Is that a synth? Is that a distorted vocal? Is that a sample from a Slovenian marching band? But in terms of Alachofa, it’s incredible that this landmark electronic music achievement was made by just…playing around in a studio.

The inspiration for Dexter apparently came from his experiences at a friend’s party. As the story goes, the party was for a friend who was moving house and this was their final goodbye. In this moment there was an element of sadness and melancholy but happiness also made it’s way into the emotional equation. While it is a sad moment, joy can be found in reminiscing old memories and the opportunities that lie ahead.

This situation is conveyed perfectly in Dexter. The track is menacingly melancholic, but it’s a reminiscing melancholic vibe. For me, at least, the track does not generate pure sadness, but also nostalgia of past happy memories. These happy memories become intertwined with the fact, I, and nobody else, can return to these happy memories.

Every time I listen to Dexter, I pick up on something new. A new little sound, a new emotion I feel, for me, there is simply no other track like it. Electronic or acoustic.

When I’ve shown people Dexter, I’ve either been hit with ‘Man, this is dark. Can you switch it over?’ or ‘Holy crap! How have I never heard this?’ For me the track will always be timeless, and will most likely always be relatable. Electronic music rarely ventures beyond the dancefloor, so Alachofa and Dexter will most likely always be my most emotive pieces of electronic music.

Thanks, Ricardo.

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