“My idea is to make the most artificial and emotional music possible”, says Leandro Fresco from his home in San Martín de los Andes, a town in northwest Patagonia, Argentina. It is summertime in Argentina and in the background, you can hear birds chirping, Leandro’s voice is warm and calm, he immediately makes you feel at ease as if you were sitting next to him drinking mate while enjoying the Andean breeze and scenery.
In his native Argentina, he was the youngest person to ever release an ambient record. His ambient productions have been praised by the likes of The Orb’s Alex Paterson and Kompakt Records owner Michael Mayer. He’s been a regular contributor on Kompakt Records' long-running Pop Ambient series. His debut EP Amor Internacional (also on Kompakt) is considered by Michael Mayer to be one of the label's best releases. Leandro is an honorary member of the Argentine electronic music scene, along with Hernán Cattáneo, Gustavo Lamas, and his mentor Daniel Melero.
He was a close friend, collaborator, touring band member, and remixer during Gustavo Cerati’s solo career. Leandro was also a member of the backup band for Soda Stereo’s glorious comeback tour Me Veras Volver in 2007.
The Ambient producer, DJ, film score composer, rock and roller, pop star, and now music festival producer spoke eloquently to The DJ Cookbook about his musical journey, music influences, finding his voice in ambient music, and Argentine food.
Q: Hi, Leandro, thank you so much for accepting our invitation! Lets’s begin.
A: Thank you for the invitation!
Q: Foodwise, how does your day start? Which meal is most important for you?
A: It depends on how much time I have in the morning. Usually, I drink lemonade and eat some fresh or dried fruits. Lunch is my most important meal.
Q: It’s summer in Argentina, is there a special dish or seasonal vegetable or fruit that Argentinians look forward to eating during the summer months?
A: During the summer I enjoy eating berries, apricots, watermelon, asparagus, melon, and plums. During the summer months, we tend not to eat heavy foods because of the heat.
Q: In your opinion what makes a great Argentine meal?
A: Fresh ingredients are the most important! Good company, the people with who you share the table and meal. The scenery if you happen to be outdoors.
Q: Steak, wines, and mate are Argentinian food export staples, what are other Argentine foods that you would recommend?
A: Empanadas tucumanas and salteñas, churros, miga sandwiches, pizza and artisan ice cream. Dulce de leche too.
Q: What is your favorite Argentine wine?
A: I don’t drink wine, socially, I rather drink cocktails.
Q: Let’s talk about your roots, are you 100% Argentine?
A: Yes, although on my mother’s side her ancestors were Italian and Dutch, and Spanish on my father’s side.
Q: When your family gets together what is a family dish that is a must in your family?
A: Baked potato pie, made with ground beef, potato purée, olives, and raisins.
Q: Can you describe what is a typical meal in Buenos Aires?
A: Like in every major capital, you can find all types of food, from all over the world. A typical Argentine Asado (grilled meat in its purest form with a combination of red-hot coals and firewood) with chimichurri sauce, alfajores, facturas (Argentine pastries), and picada, known as the Argentine version of the Italian antipasto and the Spanish fiambre.
Q: Which region in Argentina do you like to travel to the most? Can you tell us about the food in the region?
A: I live between Buenos Aires and San Martín de los Andes, which is a village at the foot of the Andes mountain range in Patagonia. The city is inside the Lanin National Park, surrounded by lakes and mountains. The food and recipes in this region are based on trout, deer, lamb, artisan vegetable gardens.
Q: How has Argentina handled the pandemic?
A: Argentina has handled the pandemic quite well considering that it has been an unusual situation. There is a high rate of vaccinated people. Like the rest of the world, we didn’t know what was going to happen, when it was going to end.
I was lucky to have left Buenos Aires. I went to San Martín de los Andes, an area surrounded by lakes and the Andes Mountains in Patagonia. Geographically you can compare it to northern Italy or Switzerland. My parents live here, although we are from Buenos Aires, my parents got tired of the city and have been living here for about 20 years. Two years ago I had to do a change of address for my passport renewal and I used my San Martín de los Andes address on the forms. Once the pandemic began the people who were allowed to travel were the ones whose address was not in Buenos Aires.
I was able to spend most of 2020 in San Martín de los Andes and the virus didn’t arrive there until much later. It is a small city and once you’re there it's like you’re in a bubble because you are in the middle of nowhere, isolated. I was close to my family which was good in case they needed help with anything. We were home like everyone else! Finally, the vaccines arrived and I am vaccinated.
Q: In what way do you think the pandemic has changed you?
A: Musically and personally the pandemic has not really changed me. I have my studio at home so I work from home. But on a societal level, a lot of people have gone crazy. I am concerned about climate change, the fires, the floods all of this is very worrying.
Q: In 2020 you released the single De Todo Me Acuerdo with UN and the album Una Presencia en la Brisa, were these releases produced during the pandemic?
A: Yes, both were released in 2020. Una Presencia en la Brisa was released in January and De Todo Me Acuerdo in December. Yes, we worked on them during the pandemic.
Q: How did your musical journey begin? Can you tell us your earliest musical influences?
A: It started with Abba and Queen. My father used to listen to Argentine folklore, classical music, tangos, and boleros. Later on, I began to listen to as many records I could get my hands on, all different genres.
I was encouraged by my maternal grandfather to start singing, we had a piano at home, I learned to play by ear, I would play for hours. I wanted to be a singer but I took a detour and electronic music and computers won my heart.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was always attracted to bands that used technology as instruments. Bands like Depeche Mode didn’t have the standard rock band set up, drums, and guitars, they were all keyboard players and I found that really interesting.
Q: Is there a song from that era that you fell in love with?
A: I am also a big Duran Duran fan even though they have more of a rock set up, I got really hooked on the melodies, their melodies really spoke to me. Back then many were hooked on their image and look, for me it was their melodies. After I discovered Duran Duran bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Human League, and Kraftwerk also became favorites.
New Moon on Monday from Duran Duran’s third album Seven and the Ragged Tiger was a song that spoke to me.
Q: You’re a multi-instrumentalist, which instrument did you learn to play first?
A: I am not musically trained. I was always interested in how technology played a role in music. There was no internet when I began experimenting with machines. I spent many months reading manuals that were written in English so I also had a dictionary next to me so I could understand how these machines worked! There were many trial and error days just trying to write or compose a song using these machines.
My parents got me a computer when I was in high school and I was a nerd, I wore reading glasses, I didn’t like to go out. I just spent my time learning how everything worked!
I did study singing techniques at the Sadem ( Sindicato de Músicos Argentinos, Argentine Musicians Labor Union).
Q: In Latin America, you are known for your own brand of melodic rock/pop and as a member of the backup band for Soda Stereo and Gustavo Cerati, whereas in Europe you are known as an ambient/electronic producer and DJ. How does it feel to go from playing sold-out stadiums to intimate DJ sets?
A: The sensations and feelings are quite different, but I really enjoy both situations. Visual communication is more direct in small venues, but stadiums are a huge powerhouse of energy sent by the crowd. As in everything, there are advantages and disadvantages, in either case, I think that perhaps it is easier to play in a big place than a small one.
Q: When composing and producing music which instrument do you work with first to flush your ideas?
A: I record anything on my cell phone or a recorder to capture ambient samples, even melodies with my voice that come to mind. A sound loop, an audio sample, any sound that can trigger an idea, any audio generating source can be recorded and be the raw material for a project that I can develop and work on the computer.
Q: How did you become involved in producing ambient music?
A: My beginnings were experimental. I also got involved with the minimalism of artists like Plastikman. Eventually, it led me to ambient. My idea is to make the most artificial and emotional music possible. You can say that ambient music defines me as a person, my personality could be described as that type of music. I am a hermit. I don’t have a problem being alone, I enjoy being in contact with nature and ambient music embodies this. Ambient music can be very beautiful, very calm, like nature. Take the wind, for example, you can have a very subtle breeze that cools and refreshes you or something as powerful as hurricane winds.
When I was 19 years old I sent Daniel Melero a demo of my work. Daniel Melero was my first contact with the electronic music scene here in Argentina. He is known for his solo work and his collaborations with Gustavo Cerati and Soda Stereo. Daniel Melero was a source of inspiration for me. I kept questioning myself as to how I was going to proceed with a career in music when I was not classically trained nor could play an instrument and Daniel embodied this DIY image perfectly.
It took me a while to feel comfortable saying I was a musician. I considered myself as someone who used sounds as raw material to create something. I felt it was very pretentious on my behalf to call myself a musician. I thought if Daniel Melero has forged a career path for himself as a musician who’s not been trained then so can I.
Daniel Melero has released a lot of records, traditional rock/pop albums as well as ambient and experimental records. He’s my Argentinean point of reference. Then there were the lectures and seminars offered at the Goethe Institute in Buenos Aires. I attended a lot of these talks and lectures and there I met my friend Dany Nijensohn, a well-known DJ here in Argentina who owned a record label. I used to buy records from him. I submerged myself in this music universe, listening to experimental music like Brian Eno who was the one who named it ambient, and artists like Aphex Twin and others.
All these influences were reasons why I abandoned the idea of being part of a traditional rock band and I decided to forge my own path.
Q: How many hours a day do you spend in your studio? What are your favorite plugins and which DAW do use?
A: I usually go to the studio after lunch between 14:00 and 15:00 and work until 21:00 or later. Ableton is my main software, my favorite plugins are Spectrasonics, Waves, and Kontakt Komplete.
Q: How did the Buenos Aires-Cologne (Kompakt Records) connection begin?
A: Through the Goethe Institute, the center for the promotion of German culture in Buenos Aires. When I was younger, I attended conferences that were held there, workshops on krautrock, and talks by key figures of German culture, mainly those oriented to the rock and electronic music culture, German artists like Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten), came annually. In 1999, the visitor was Michael Mayer (Kompakt Records label owner). I attended his DJ set that was held one afternoon in the institute's auditorium. That was the first time I met Michael. Then in 2001, I went to Spain, and the same day I landed in the city of Barcelona, Michael Mayer was playing in a club called Nitsa. I went to see him with my demo in DAT format, we greeted each other, and I gave him that DAT tape. Finally, after quite a long time, he contacted me (I'd written my email address wrong on the DAT’s case, and that delayed contact between us). Some of the music on that demo later became International Love my debut EP on Kompakt Records in October 2002. My relationship with Michael continues to this day, he is a very kind and fun person, I have a lot of affection for him and, above all, I am grateful.
Q: Does nature play a role in your ambient compositions?
A: Yes, nature can inspire me, but I can make music anywhere. Any environment affects us. In general, I develop the ideas in my house in San Martín de los Andes, which is in the middle of the forest. In Buenos Aires, I do the final touches and the mix of the project. Ideas are free and can take you anywhere.
Q: There’s a cinematic quality to your ambient productions, do you see yourself directing or scoring films?
A: The other day, a friend of mine told me that my future would be linked to doing film soundtracks! I’ve composed incidental music for 3 independent films already. I would love to do film soundtracks in the future.
Q: Do you remember the first time you heard The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds? Did you ever think you would be remixing The Orb?
A: Yes, I bought Adventures in the Ultraworld right when it was released. That album changed the course of many things in electronic music. Little Fluffy Clouds in particular had a real positive effect on me. Years later, I had the opportunity to do a remix for The Orb’s Wireless, the closing track on The Cow Remixes - Sin In Space Pt. 3, released on Kompakt in 2017. I was able to meet Alex Paterson and Michael (Mayer) here in Buenos Aires, I never imagined I would meet them, let alone be in touch with them. These are things that happen only through music!
Q: When did you begin DJing?
A: It happened gradually. I started DJing at the Morocco nightclub in Buenos Aires, in the 2000s. The club no longer exists. Back then it was a club, a restaurant, and the headquarters of the electronic music label Frágil Discos where I released an album and an EP. Its catalog also included artists like Gustavo Lamas, Leo Garcia, Audioperu, Adicta, Romina Cohn, Ocio (the electronic duo of Gustavo Cerati and Flavio Etcheto). In that club, I was able to meet and see DJs and artists like Michael Mayer, Angel Molina, Laurent Garnier, Dj Hell, Pansonic, Mathew Herbert, Matias Aguayo, Dirk Leyers, Zombie Nation, to name a few.
Q: When DJing do you play by feeling the crowd or do you prepare a set before?
A: I prepare before the set. I always have an idea planned, it's an energetic back and forth between the DJ and the public.
Q: Which South American electronic music artists are you excited about?
A: Yes, many, not all of them are electronic music. I am excited about: Miguel Castro’s (ex-member of the indie band Victoria Mil) project Un, Benito Cerati’s Zero Kill, Surfistas del Sistema, the producer Orodembow. Daniel Melero’s new album is excellent. I also like Remo Qkm , Flavio Etcheto, Gustavo lamas, Tammy, Capri, Rudie Martinez, Romina Cohn, Hernan Cattaneo, Oliverio sofia, Dani Nijensohn, Zucker, Carlos Alfonsin, Tomates en Verano, Avto, Estupendo, Emisor, Matias Aguayo, Bostich, Pepe Mogt, Metrika, Rebolledo, Gabriel Sordo, Marco Balcazar.
Q: What do you have planned for 2022? Will you be touring, releasing new material?
A: I am starting out the year producing an outdoor music festival with my friends and partners Nicolas Urquiza and Oliverio Sofia. The festival will be held in the middle of the mountain in San Martín de los Andes. The festival is called Walüng which means "Summer" in the Mapuche language, which is the original people of this region. It will take place on February 16 and 17. The legendary English DJ Nick Warren will be the headliner. Øostil, Paax Tulum, Soundexile, Lisa Cerati will also perform. I will open the festival with a live ambient set.
So I take this opportunity to invite everyone to enjoy the best music in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world.
My friend and German colleague Thore Pfeiffer and I are finishing up our second album together. The second single from my collaboration with Un (Miguel Castro) is in the mastering stages and should be released soon. I have my monthly ambient radio show on Frisky, New York City’s underground electronic music radio. I’m starting a new project with Rafael Anton Irisarri. I am also working on some pop songs too. Touring is postponed until this COVID-19 fades out a bit.
Q: In which genre do you feel more comfortable? Ambient producer, DJ, rock/pop band leader?
A: All these genres run in parallel. It's just always about the music.
Q: Leandro, thank you so much for speaking with us!
A: Thank you for the invitation!