Techno Tuesday: Chicola speaks on his artistic development, his debut album, and deep bonds in the underground scene
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
A longtime veteran of dance is reaching his second peak — his name is Chico Shuella, but the world knows him best as Chicola. The producer cut his teeth in his home of Tel Aviv, earning the attention of icons like Laurent Garnier early on and cementing his name on the world circuit as a force to be reckoned with. However, Shuella is not one to live in monotony. He took a hiatus from house music to instead stretch his wings and build an empire DJing smaller, private events before returning onto the circuit.
It’s safe to say that a break served Chicola well, as he came back into the scene swinging. This time, he’s chosen to enter the progressive realm, helping carry the genre into the future alongside his longtime friend and Lost&Found owner Guy J, Sahar Z, Guy Mantzur, and other greats from his home country. He’s been released on a number of heavyweight labels — such as Sudbeat, Microcastle, Balance, and Plattenbank — and continues to push his sound and explore new depths.
In 2017, he released his debut studio album Could Heaven Be to critical acclaim. The LP explored all facets of his sound, from delicate ambient, to driving, tech-based productions that showed off his versatility and open mind in the studio. In fact, one of the record’s singles, “Yoav,” even utilized an improvised melody from the Chicola’s own son. His momentous success in 2017 has since translated to a fast-paced 2018, with appearances at Tomorrowland on the Lost&Found stage and a busy tour schedule across Europe.
Could Heaven Be has also received remixes from a slew of top acts — ones not normally seen on the Lost&Found label. Chicola went to other artists that have inspired his sound as of late, booking Diynamic veterans Johannes Brecht and Karmon to fashion re-works of singles of their choice, while also electing Ruede Hagelstein for a high-powered take on the title track. Dancing Astronaut had the pleasure of premiering Karmon’s rendition of “Velvet Afternoon,” which sees the act twisting the original into a mysterious, driving number built for kicking a set into high gear.
We tackled Chicola for an in-depth discussion on his artistic development, Could Heaven Be, and its remixes. He provides some intriguing insight on his outlook and philosophy, while also allowing for a look at what to expect in the future.
You got your start in house music. How did you end up discovering the music back then, and what inspired you to pursue DJing and producing as a career?
Hey Christina! Thank you for having me. I used to play at birthday parties in school when I was a kid, with tapes on a double cassette deck. From there, I worked in the record shop for many years and I have listened to so many different genres of music, from Fusion Jazz to Stephan Grappeli on the violin, to Aphex Twin, to Cesaria Evora. Good music no matter what the genre is still something that excites me to this day. I grew up in a very musical family also as my grandmother used to play me Julio Iglesias & Astrud Gilberto. I could sit down for hours and listen to those records, I believe its something I born with, a passion for music and I am happy I still feel the passion.
For a good chunk of time, you also took a bit of a hiatus from the underground, before being pulled back in. Why did you decide to go back into the progressive and techno sphere? Was it something you’d intended on doing when you went to take your break?
I think sometimes in life you need to search in your heart and ask the big questions, for me I always knew that’s what I wanted to do, but sometimes life can take you on a different path or a detour if you will, but the stars aligned and I eventually found my way back. I never stopped trying to be honest and still there is long amazing journey in front of me. You have to believe in your heart!
I really like lots of styles and genres I do what I like and I am not trying to do something specific like one genre, sometimes it’s more melodic and sometimes its really dark, that’s what I like in the studio.
Israel is a hub for psy trance, and for quality progressive, it seems. Why do you think these sounds have become so big in that region?
That’s a great question!
Israel was always a big place for melodies, since the early days of the Goa Trance. Maybe its something inside us as people? I’m not sure. The Israeli way of life is stressful and often requires hard work around the clock. I also think its something geographic, Israel is a warm country, the intense heat of the sun and the constant summer, this environment lends itself to emotion I think and there is a deep connection to our instinctive and spiritual centre that leads us to the melodies.
On that note, you’ve known the Lost&Found guys for quite some time, and you guys are all practically family. Tell us about how you all have come to know and inspire each other over time! Does your deep bond and constant collaboration lead to stronger music on all of your parts?
Absolutely, we know each other for so many years and the connection between each one of us and all of us is like a true family. We meet with families and we celebrate holidays and birthdays together, we speak every day and send each other music all the time, and when one of us is having a big gig we are all helping, pushing and happy for each other all the time.
We are so lucky to have each other, it’s a true friendship I will cherish in my heart forever.
Who is inspiring you most artistically these days, and why?
Wow there are so many, Nils Frahm because he is genius in what he is doing. I really love Architectural for his super dark quality stuff, Karmon is an amazing producer , Deep Chord does amazing Dub Techno, Johannes Brecht is amazing and also Ruede Hagelstein, which I am so happy they made amazing remixes for my album.
I’ve noticed you’ve been exploring the techier/harder side of your artistry as of late; “Backstabber,” for example, felt like quite a different step for you. Then you shared an Instagram video of another techno-ish heater in the works. What has been the inspiration to travel down this path?
I used to play a lot of techno back in the late 90s. I was warming up for DJ’s like Jeff Mills, Christian Varela, Carl Craig, etc, so I played a lot of stuff from labels like Tresor, Music Man, R&S Records, and I believe I always felt connected to techno. In my DJ sets I am playing a lot of techno still to this day and for me it’s the right balance between the melodies and the techno groove.
You’ve also assembled quite a list of remixers whose names aren’t normally associated with Lost&Found for your latest album. How did the process go of picking remixers? Did you reach out themselves or did you go to them?
I really love what Ruede Hagelstein, Karmon, & Johannes Brecht are doing, each one of them is unique and very talented. Guy is amazing person to work with on those projects and he helped a lot, we talked a lot about the remix EP and we are so happy with how they turned out. It’s a very special thing for me to have them on this project.
Are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with or are already working with currently?
Guy Mantzur and I are always talking about doing something together, I also really want to do something with Sahar Z again. There is always magic when we work together.
Let’s dive into your studio and production process. What gear are you currently using in your studio? Have you purchased any new toys that you’re excited about?
I am using a lot of synthesizers and routing everything into pedals and it sounds really crazy. My last purchase was the Moog Sub 37 and its one of the best synthesizers I have ever had. I also have the Poly Evolver from Dave Smith and the Prophet 12, Virus TI and Moog Slim Phatty .
What about your process? Do you have a particular starting point when it comes to making tracks, or certain things you like to have set in place first? What is the most important thing to “hammer down” in a song, in your opinion? Do you master your own music?
I make a lot of music for my DJ sets, and I play a lot of unreleased stuff so I make special tracks for different parts of the set. Sometimes I start a track from the center and sometimes with just a few loops in order to try and get a certain mood or vibe within the groove, sometimes I start with just with melody and take it from there, so i really don’t have a set process. Every project has a different starting point in a way I suppose. I do temporary mastering for my gigs and when I feel the track is finished I am sending it to one of the mastering engineers I work with.
Finally, what can we expect to see from Chicola in the near future?
We are having the first ever Lost & Found stage at Tomrrowland so we’re all really excited about that. Then I am going to have my first Australian tour and lots of music in the studio as well so stay tuned. Thanks for having me. :)