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INTERVIEW with Manu Riga from Belgium about his album Surrounded out now on Bonzai Progressive

Surprise or otherwise, Manu doesn’t hail from Riga. Nor is it his real name. It is in fact the alias assumed by Adriaan Baussens, an underground production wunderkind who resides deep inside the Bonzai heartland of Belgium. 

Teasing, to a fair degree, the world of electronic music with his deeply textured productions and reworks, they have been percolating the mixes of more progressively thinking DJs for several years now. From his earliest Bonzai releases like ‘Time In Between’, to his latest outings like ‘Forgotten’ (as well as remixes on the works of Gai Barone, Art of Trance, Moshic and others), his darkly brewed brand of late night absorption has attracted attention from several electronic music quarters 

Manu Riga with Matt Holliday at Tomorrowland 2015
This month - for the very first time - Manu steps up to the album plate. Artists’ only get one debut longplayer, so it needs to weigh heavy. Manu’s though is nothing short of extraordinary. A 12-track-strong body of work, ‘Surrounded’ serves as an atlas of his exotic musical inspirations and stimuli. Its numbers work as both standalone tracks and – in the album’s odyssey-like end-to-end mix – as a ceaselessly immersive listen. It’s a mix whose transmission moves tactically upwards through tempo & tone phases, whilst largely transcending genre and established categorisation. 

For lovers of less regular forms of electronic music fruit, your deepest wishes are about to be fulfilled, your prayers answered -‘Surrounded’ is among us.

After reviewing the album on Flux Bpm Online, I founded impossible not to request an interview and talk with the very talented producer who has produced such a magnificent album that stands out from the rest and will pass the test of time easily and hopefully after decades it will be a testament of the state of electronic music in 2016. I'm super glad that he accepted the challenge and now you can read his magnificent answers.

Interview was written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias, Music journalist and radio host on 1mix radio 

Manu Riga
Dimitri: First of all I would like to ask how the artist name Manu Riga came from and why you choose to call yourself that way?

Manu Riga: When I signed my track “Good Feeling” in 2005 to Okina Music, I urgently needed a project name. I played with the letters of one of my musical heroes Gary Numan and came up with 
“ Mannu Ryga “, which we changed to Manu Riga. The name stayed and now everyone calls me Manu, even my close friends.

Dimitri: When you took the decision to get involved with electronic music and why you choose progressive with house and even trance influences?

Manu Riga: I am doing electronic music since I was 12 years old. My father listened often to Vangelis, Jan Hammer, Jean-Michel Jarre and other synthesizer legends. I was mesmerised by those cosmic sounds and knew very early on that I wanted to do this. My father bought my first synthesizer and my musical journey started. Till 2004 I wasn’t really a Dance music fan but a friend challenged me to make a House track. Little did I know that it would become a small hit, thanks to a Dr. Kucho! Remix. Because I did not like commercial house, I tried to make something that I could love and still would work on the dancefloor. I started listening to Pole Folder, Sasha & Digweed and felt in love with progressive trance. I combined my love for Enigma and progressive trance and created my own sound over the years. 

Dimitri: When was your first release and on which label? Was difficult to find a suitable label to expose your music and how did you felt when you saw your first release pressed on vinyl?

Manu Riga: Before dance I had quit some music used for documentaries and musical projects, but nothing too big. In 2005 I released my first Dance track on Okina Music , which went incredible fast. I made the track in a few hours and two days later it was signed to be released on vinyl a few months later. It was an amazing feeling to hold my own vinyl, to see your name on the label, even if I did not like the tracks myself. I don’t think I ever really searched for a label, it just all happened.

Dimitri: How it happened to sign an artist deal with Bonzai Progressive. Did you knew Fly and Marnik and what is your opinion for these two legends who control Bonzai output?

Manu Riga: After “Good Feeling” I took 4 years off to create my own style and in 2009 I had a chat with Laurent (Airwave) and he told me to send a track to Fly. I sent “Taï-chi Girl” which I created in 2005 but which I never showed to any label. I got a positive answer of Fly and rest is history as they say. After a few releases we decided that an exclusivity contract was a good move. 

Bonzai is my family, Fly & Marnik gave me their trust and stood by me in good and bad times. I became the artist I am today, simply because they trusted me, they gave me the confidence and all the chances I needed to create my sound. The whole crew at Bonzai are amazing people!! True Legends!!!

Dimitri: During your Bonzai years you had some great original and remixes. Can you please provide your Top 5 personal productions and Top 5 remixes and give a short comment about each release and why it means so much to you.

Manu Riga: Top 5 productions
1- Forgotten (feat Fe Malefiz): The personal story behind this track and Fe’s amazing voice and lyrics will make “Forgotten” always a personal favorite. 

2- Urge To Live: in January this year I became very ill and went through a hard time, this track is made in a very emotional period when I got my diagnose. It is sad and hopeful at the same time.

 3- You Are Contagious (with Matt Holliday): This is the first track me and Matt Holliday did together and was quite a magical collaboration, no matter what we did, it all worked. Just like all our tracks together, a dream team! Which ultimately led to our gig at Tomorrowland 2015 

4- Indigenous Rights: I always loved ethnic tribes & forgotten cultures, one day I saw a video about a recently discovered tribe in Brazil and how tribes are forced to give up their traditional way of living. Only to be able to cut down the rainforest. This makes me incredible sad. This track is made for all those people and their indigenous Rights!

5- When Worlds Collide (with Alex Vidal): Alex is a great friend for years, whenever we talk we always laugh a lot. We are both fan of each other’s music and decided it was time to collaborate. We both have a different approach and style in deep progressive, so we decided to call it When Worlds Collide! 

Top 5 remixes
1-JWM – Wild Soul (Manu Riga’s Ethnology remix): It has all the elements that I love, tribal voices & flutes, big drums and a good dance vibe. The support for this remix was massive, played by legends such as Paul Oakenfold. 

2-Youngen – The Long Way Home (Manu Riga’s Ethnotized Remix): Youngen is such a talented producer. When he showed me this track I knew I needed to present it to Fly and get it on Bonzai. Youngen told me how much he would love me to remix this track. I happily accepted and it turned out to become one of my best remixes ever. 

3-Audiostorm – Seismic Activity (Manu Riga’s Atomic mix): I tried to create a funky but spacey vibe in this one and I think it worked out. The different bassline and classic spacey trance pads did the trick for me

4-Gai Barone –Lullaby (Manu Riga’s Ethnotic Mix): my first remix for the legend himself!! I remember to make three versions before I settled on this one. I gave it my best to not disappoint one of my progressive heroes. A few months ago I had the honor to remix a second track of Gai. 

5-Quadran – Halycon (Manu Riga’s Progressive Mix): This track is far away from being my best one because it was my first remix ever on Bonzai and immediate for a legend as Philippe Van Mullem. Sadly he paste away early 2015. This remix will always be a special one to me. Rest in Peace Philippe! 

Dimitri: You just released your album Surrounded and there are so many positive comments floating on the social media about it. What is your reaction to all these positive remarks?

Manu Riga: It makes me very happy because I wrote the album in the hardest period of my life. The massive support I got for this album made all the sacrifices worth it. You always hope your music will do well but I wasn’t expecting all the comments, becoming number one in the release charts on Beatport and the amazing dj support. I am grateful and more motivated than ever to become a better artist. From the deepest of my soul, thank you all!! 

Dimitri: How long it took you to produce the album? Did you work 9-5 with organized schedule or you produce whenever you had inspiration and an idea for a track? 

Manu Riga: The whole album took 9 months but I did quite a lot of remixes in between. I am terrible at organized schedules, so I basically work from the moment I open my eyes till they shut down again.

Dimitri: Is there a specific concept or a mission statement that support this album or it is just a selection of tracks that can stand on their own? 

Manu Riga: Both, I wanted to create an album that tells my story of the last few years but in a way that my audience could make their own story out of it too. The challenge was to do it in such a way that every track also could stand on its own. Most people told me they love to listen “Surrounded” from the first track till the last one, as one big journey. 

Dimitri: The tracks of the album reflect certain spirituality and universal values. Was this spirituality intentional and if yes do you consider yourself as spiritual person?

Manu Riga: I am not religious but my love for other Cultures and traditions is always been a part of my music. Music is in every culture and religion very important which makes music a universal language. I always loved Enigma and what I learned from Michael Cretu is that you can combine all those different cultures and create universal music that can touch anybody , no matter what religion or cultural background. 
Manu Riga in action in his studio

Dimitri: In your tracks I have notice you have used great selection of ethic samples from various places of the world. Are these samples recorded from or found in sound libraries and why these ethnic samples were selected? Did they symbolize something for you?

Manu Riga: A question I am asked a few times every week. First of all, I barely ever used illegal samples, I am a believer of using samples you either bought, created or asked the rights for. Many of the ethnic instruments I play myself on synthesizers or through Kontakt libraries/Omnisphere. I have a huge collection of ethnic sample cd’s and libraries which I collected over the last 15 years. 

I use Melodyne a lot to create complete new melodies that fit my track. Also I have a huge private collection of vocals I recorded over the years with studio singers. 

Dimitri: Which track of the album was the one that took the longer to produce and which one was quicker to produce and why? 

Manu Riga: The quickest was probably “Immortal Sins” : I just swapped from Cakewalk Sonar to Ableton Live /Push 2 which gave me an amazing inspiration boost. I worked with Cakewalk since version 3.01 released around 1993. “Immortal Sins” was my first track in Ableton Live and I did it in about 4-5 hours. 

Urge to Live” took most time overall to finish. The track itself was finished in three days but I often went back to change little things, details, sounds. In the end I always returned to my original idea because every change I made changed the vibe. 

Manu Riga studio photo shared on his facebook
Dimitri: What kind of equipment did you use to produce it? Is it all made with computer samples or you actually use instruments and hardware as well rather than only software?

Manu Riga: I am a hardware synthesizer addict and collector though the album is a healthy balance between hardware and software synthesizers. I almost never use melodic samples, I really love playing my melodies. I often tried creating music with a mouse and a laptop but it just doesn’t work for me. I need my keys, I guess you can call me an oldskool producer. 

Dimitri: Do you master your own tracks and do you feel that mastering is important on how the actual track will sound like when is out? 

Manu Riga: No I do not master my tracks myself, although I often master tracks for other people. Sometimes it is just better to let go and let a mastering engineer do his/her magic. Mostly you are too emotional attached to your own music to make the right mastering decisions. Rogério Urbano Martinez (label Manager at both Bonzai & Piston recordings +a great producer/dj himself) does the mastering within Bonzai and did a great job on the album. 

Yes it is very important the final sound but a mastering can only be as good as your final mix-down. So it is 95% in your own hands. You can’t polish a turd , right? 

Dimitri: Can you describe for us the usual process to produce a track? From which elements you start and how you build the track from there? Is there a part of the arrangement that seems more difficult than other parts? 

Manu Riga: I don’t know if there is really a process. It took me till 2016 to release an album because I wanted to feel ready to bring something more than just a collection of tracks. Which was the same for my other project “Twins in Mind”. Often I feel that new “albums” are just a collection of tracks without any connection between them. 

Sometimes I start creating my drum groove, often I jam on one of my synths. Other times it can be a movie or something that happens in my life that triggers my inspiration. The hardest part is to actually finish a track. A few years ago I really forced myself to learn to finish a project first before I start something new. Before I had 1000’s of unfinished projects on my disks. These days I really go from start to finish, no matter how long I work on it. Though if you feel it doesn’t work in the early stages of a track, delete it. Don’t spend 5 days on something that doesn’t lead somewhere. 

Dimitri: Are there tracks that you wanted to include in the album and for certain reason are not included in it and why?

Manu Riga: No, I really focused on the 12 tracks of the album. I had sometimes an idea that didn’t work but as I said in the previous question, I tried not to waste too much time on those ideas. I wanted to tell my story without leaving things out or filling it up with tracks that didn’t make sense to me. 

Dimitri: What thoughts were motivating you to complete the album? Have you ever faced moment that you though that you don’t want to carry on doing it maybe because of the pressure and how did you overcome it? 

Manu Riga: The reason I waited to create a Manu Riga album was simply because I was aware that once I started I needed to finish it. I am quite hard on myself I guess and you never know what tomorrow brings. I owed my followers and fans what I promised them! They were my motivation and always will be.

Dimitri: Have you changed any tracks of the album because of people’s reaction or maybe after comments from the record label? 

Manu Riga: Of course I ask good friends what they think of my tracks, often while I am making them. Luckily Bonzai never rejected a track of me and only one remix ever was rejected for being not my own sound. For the Album one idea I started was been called “too depressive” by some of my friends but that was only a very small demo, so not really a huge waste of time. I kept the main idea and made it less depressing (big smile)

Dimitri: Which tracks from the album do you think can stand as good singles with remixes and which one is going to be your next single and with who will remix it?

Manu Riga: There will be a remix album soon. I asked many of my producer friends to make a remix of one of the tracks. I really tried to match the right tracks with the right producers and I can tell you it will be a massive remix album. I will not give all names but you can expect remixes by Matt Holliday, Anthony G, Rick Pier O’neil and many more. 

“Get Me Down” & “Cry to Oblivion” are both possible Single releases. 

Dimitri: Let’s finish of with your advice to any upcoming producers who may read this interview and wish to follow your career path.

Manu Riga: First of all: follow your heart, do not try to copy your musical idols. Be yourself and don’t be scared to be different. Also force yourself to learn the boring but necessary basics of music theory (such as chords, harmonies and scales). This will bring your music to the next level. 

Dimitri: Many thanks for your time!

Manu Riga: My pleasure, thank you for having me!!!

Thanks to Tim at Stark Profiles for organising this interview.

Thanks to Marnik & Fly for being wonderful friends and so inspiring force for many years! 

Manu Riga - ‘Surrounded’ Tracklist:
01 First Steps 02 Moments Of Sobriety
03 Migrations
04 Indigenous Rights
05 Surrounded (featuring Mimi)
06 Immortal Sins
07 Cry To Oblivion
08 Urge To Live
09 I Don’t Need You
10 Get Me Down
11 When The Day Is Gone
12 Forgotten (featuring Fe Malefiz)(Last Day On Earth Mix)
13 Surrounded – Continuous Bonus Mix (album only track)

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