Artist Feature: Héctor Oaks
Click here to listen to the Carhartt WIP Radio Show featuring Héctor Oaks.
“The barriers between genres are being disrupted, while listeners are becoming more open-minded,” says Héctor Oaks, a producer, vinyl-only DJ, and label founder. “I think that DJs are meant to play music, not genres.” It’s an ethos that can be felt in Oaks’ sets, which have encompassed everything from pure techno and experimental dance, to rap and prog rock.
Oaks emerged from Madrid’s underground dance scene, experimenting with turntables and playing sets at local clubs since his early teens. After completing a degree in sound engineering, he moved to his current home of Berlin and became entwined in the city’s nightlife, cementing his own place as one the most sought-after selectors on the international club circuit.
In 2014, Oaks released his debut vinyl EP titled Knowledge via the imprint KEY VINYL. He began his own label OAKS just a few years later, putting out records of his own music and from the likes of French producer Anetha and Japanese artist Takaaki Itoh. A regular DJ at the Berlin-based party Herrensauna, Oaks joined the collective as a resident in 2017, when the party moved to the city’s legendary Tresor. He launched his second label KAOS in 2019, focused on pushing the limits of experimental dance music. Under FUEGO INTERNATIONAL, Oaks debuted his live act at Sónar Barcelona 2023, with a new musical setup, audiovisual performance elements, and special guests.
For this month’s show, Oaks has made a mix featuring a selection of tracks taken from his labels OAKS and KAOS, exploring the edges and planes of unfiltered techno. As ever, the mix is accompanied by an interview, where Oaks discusses his early love of 1980s synthpop, countryside raves outside of Madrid, and why he’s chosen vinyl as his medium.
What kicked-started your passion for music? When did it all begin?
Héctor Oaks: Everything started at home, really. My father was a huge fan of music. He owned an old turntable and a collection of records, especially Pink Floyd and Supertramp, who formed the soundtrack of my childhood. We were always listening to music at home or in the car. As I grew older, my interest turned towards the creative aspect of music. At around twelve years old, I had a friend who owned a couple of turntables and a mixer. We would spend countless hours at his place, experimenting. Those times were a real game changer for me, when we were messing around with turntables.
When I was around 14 or 15, I started going to clubs in Madrid. I'd do whatever it took to secure a chance to play a set – selling tickets, convincing club owners. We also used to organize raves in the countryside. We'd spend summers at my grandmother’s house where there were no neighbors around, so we would party without any restrictions. We’d connect our setup to a streetlight and the party would only end when the streetlight was turned off in the morning. Those were wild days.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Héctor Oaks: My love for music started with bands like Pink Floyd or 80s synth pop that was constantly playing in my dad's car. My dad was really big on them and that passion definitely transferred over to me. When I first started messing around with DJing, I was all about electronic music. But to get a chance to play and make sure my friends were into it, I had to switch things up a bit. So, I started playing different styles of music, from Spanish indie to reggaetón. Exploring different styles pushed me to expand my music knowledge. Now, my style is a result of all those influences.
Why did you decide to move to Berlin?
Héctor Oaks: I remember visiting the city for the first time and I immediately knew that I had to move there. The vibe, the people, the music scene. I remember the first time I walked into Berghain, I realized this was where I needed to be and I wasn’t going to stop until I played there. So, I finished my studies in sound engineering in Madrid, then found a company in Berlin that would let me move there and do my work placement.
What was the idea behind launching your labels OAKS and KAOS?
Héctor Oaks: I've always been involved with music from a young age, so naturally it led to me wanting to create my own labels. Initially, it was all about having a platform to release my own music, but with time, things changed. I started thinking about how I could help other artists get their music out into the world. KAOS and OAKS aren't just about me anymore – they're about a group who are crazy talented and deserve to be heard.
Also, it's not just about the music; it's about human connection. I believe that if I connect with your music, I will connect with you as a person. That's the principle I follow when signing artists to my labels. So, while the labels have grown and evolved over time, our mission has stayed the same – showcasing good music from artists who inspire and challenge us, and to whom we feel a special connection.
How are the labels different from each other?
Héctor Oaks: OAKS is usually more ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’ sounds, represses, music from already established artists. KAOS is a playground that is more open towards artists and sounds. It’s more radical, more exciting.
Were there any labels who influenced you when launching your own?
Héctor Oaks: The usual, like Warp, Dance Mania, and R&S, but at the time I was very inspired by L.I.E.S. They are so eclectic but still coherent.
How involved are you with the development of the artists you work with?
Héctor Oaks: I’m always open and happy to help, more when it flows quite naturally.
What does a track or artist need to have in order for you to want to work with them or release their music?
Héctor Oaks: For me, it’s all about how the music makes you feel. Does it make me move? Does it take me on a journey to somewhere new, or someplace familiar but forgotten? Did they mix two seemingly incoherent elements? That's what I'm looking for in a track or an artist. But like I mentioned before, if I feel a connection with your music, I'll likely feel a connection with you, and vice versa. I believe that people pour themselves into their work. Their art is a reflection of who they are, their experiences, and their lives. So, I look for artists who inspire me, who have something real to say.
Is there a wishlist of producers you'd like to have on the label?
Héctor Oaks: I’ve learned not to talk about dreams until they are fulfilled.
What have been the biggest hits for OAKS and KAOS so far?
Héctor Oaks: For OAKS, it might be the split I made with Anetha or All This Was Fire – those are still pumping. For KAOS, it’s Schake’s Trained to the Floor, which I haven’t played in ages and should do again. Or it’s No Hay Mañana.
From your live sets to your social media captions, the word “fuego” crops up a lot. What does it mean to you?
Héctor Oaks: In Spanish, it literally means "fire", but for me, it's more than just a word. It's like a mindset. It's about energy and creativity. When I say something is "fuego", I mean it's hot, it's exciting, it's something that's pushing boundaries. I feel the whole concept is truly romantic because the fire destroys everything but from the ashes always something new comes.
What was your process in selecting the tracks for this month’s OAKS/KAOS mix?
Héctor Oaks: That was actually a bit of a challenge, I’ve never made a mix with such a concept. I usually classify records by mood, groove, and energy, but this mix had a different structure. Luckily, I also think about how every KAOS record can fit into the four different parts of my sets, so this way of thinking made it a bit easier.As a producer, your work spans techno, experimental dance with vocals, and genre crossovers like pop with hip hop.
Are there any challenges that come with this way of making music?
Héctor Oaks: I feel very excited when collaborating with people from other subcultures. I think it is truly inspiring and the best way to push the music to the future. I hope that techno becomes another genre as respected as the others and that we can create music, not styles.
Are you working on any new releases?
Héctor Oaks: I've been working on an album for around two years and am very excited to announce that it’s out this September. It’s a collaborative project involving several artists, and has been my biggest project to date. The whole process has been amazing. The opportunity to collaborate with artists from various backgrounds has been very rewarding and I've learned so much from all of them. We've also made music videos, which is something I had never done before but have enjoyed. I had the chance to present the album live at Sónar Barcelona and the response was great, so I am really looking forward to this release. The album artwork was done by my dear friend and contemporary artist Okuda San Miguel. Okuda and I share a mutual understanding and vision of the concept of KAOS in our creations, which Okuda has interpreted and portrayed incredibly in his designs.
You DJ strictly with vinyl. Why have you opted for this over digital mixing?
Héctor Oaks: It's the physicality, the tangibility of it. I have a lot of respect for DJs who play digital, but for me, there's something about dealing with records that makes it very special. It's about digging and carefully selecting each piece of vinyl. Also, it’s the fact that these records can be gifts from people. I can remember where and when I’ve received most of them, which creates a special sense of attachment that I believe is carried into the energy of the sets I play.
I love preparing my set, packing my record bag, and bringing a specific selection of sounds with me to each gig. Of course, there are moments when I'm playing and I wish I had brought along a certain record with me. But that's part of the journey, part of the narrative that makes each set unique. When it comes to mixing on records, it feels more like an organic conversation. You're more directly engaged.
Hard dance and heavy techno sets seem to be dominating club and festival lineups. Why do you think this is?
Héctor Oaks: I think the pandemic played a big role. Having people stuck at home for so long made kids want to rave, and rave hard.
You play a lot of ghettotech tracks in your sets. What do you love about the genre?
Héctor Oaks: Ghettohouse and tech are very influential, they’re a key part of my sets. I love that the production is raw, that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I really enjoy playing with that idiosyncrasy.
Can you name three perfect records to start a party and three to finish one?
Héctor Oaks: I’ve chosen a mix between tracks and albums…
Wendy Carlos – A Clockwork Orange OST
Pink Floyd – Welcome to the Machine
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Player – Player Three
The Doors – “The End
Yung Beef – ADROMICFMS 4.
There are so many epic, melancholic tunes on this one, in all kinds of music from the street.
How do you stay on top of all the new music being made right now?
Héctor Oaks: I mostly dig online record stores or go to Hard Wax every week. Now I’m also in the Spotify world for other styles of music.
What do you think is the sound of tomorrow?
Héctor Oaks: This may sound unbelievable but with listening to music over time, genre barriers in my head are getting blurry. It’s like unlocking a code or understanding a language. I feel that all dance music tends to come from the same place. The barriers between genres are being disrupted, while listeners are becoming more open-minded. For a DJ, it’s a total blessing, because it gives you a sense of freedom, without considering older values like tonality, rhythm, or aesthetic. I think that DJs are meant to play music, not genres.
What albums have you rediscovered lately and why are they special to you?
Héctor Oaks: Eminem – 8 Mile. It was some years ago, but it still blows my mind how powerful every beat and word is in that one.
If you could be in any band, living or dead, for a day which band would it be?
Héctor Oaks: This may sound pretentious but FUEGO UNIVERSAL is the band I’ve always dreamed of being in.
Can you take us through a day in your life and tell us how music is part of it?
Héctor Oaks: My day can look different depending on whether it's a weekday or weekend. Pretty much everything in my life is connected to music in some way. During the week, if I’m in Berlin, I usually go to the studio or record hunting. Sometimes, if I have time, I’ll rest a bit. On weekends though, it's all about the gigs. I’ll catch some sleep when I can, eat, go to the gym, and then it's off to the next one. It's non-stop, and I might not get to do all the above, but I love it.
What has been the best thing about 2023?
Héctor Oaks: The preparation and performance of FUEGO UNIVERSAL, our live set, was really something big. I’m excited to see how it develops. Also to DJ at every club and festival slot has been a blessing, it’s what I love to do.
Héctor Oaks discography