As the founder of Florence’s esteemed party and label, Tropical Animals, Ricardo Baez is surely one of the most seasoned and versatile DJs in Italy. Each week, for ten years solid, Tropical Animals has welcomed some of the world’s finest and rising DJs to it’s rave catacombs on the fringes of the city’s integral student, music and art scenes. Few parties evolve and persist as long as Tropical Animals, and Baez’s sense and integrity as both a DJ and booker are central to its success.
Having spent years artfully warming up for or cooling down from sets courtesy of DJs including Bradley Zero, Daphni, Jayda G and Levon Vincent (to name but a few, quite literally), it’s safe to say that Baez’s adaptable club wizardry have not been dulled by eighteen-months rather free of reverie. Track down a spritz and treat yourself to an assured and diverse hour of club music from friends and further afield, the latest entry in #PHANTASYMIX.
Ricardo spoke to John Loveless in June 2021, detailing the roots of his record collection, an upcoming collaboration with legendary house vocalist Robert Owens and treats us to some off-the-map tips for pre-club apertifs in Florence.
Tropical Animals has been a part of the Italian dance music scene for ten years now; no small feat for a weekly party. In what major ways has the party sustained, evolved and survived?
I think that the best formula to have a long-lived party is to always get involved and to be original, take some risks and do a lot of musical research, looking for quality and not hype. Our community is large and has been coming to our parties every Thursday since 2010, regardless of the guest on duty. The key to a winning party is having the audience trust your choices.
As the DJ at the centre of the event, you have had to play alongside - warming up and closing - a broad range of guests. Does this mean your own record collection needs to be fairly expansive?
In my opinion, being a resident is an art in the art of djing.
You have to be prepared and prepared .. to have done a lot of apprenticeship and have a lot of experience. In addition to a huge amount of music. I've been a DJ for 20 years, I played in suburban bars for 8/10 hours a night, I put records in shops, gala dinners, fashion shows etc. And I think I've learned a lot from all of these contexts. I'm not ashamed at all :).
I have a collection of jazz, blues, soul vinyls given to me by my father who is a saxophonist as well as all my records that start from rock, new wave, grunge up to of course electronic music. I'm by no means a vinyl purist so I have tons of music on hard discs too!
What do you think might be different when the party returns? And what do you hope remains exactly the same?
In the utmost sincerity, I believe absolutely nothing will change. All the major clubs in the world will only call the mainstream names again as long as they are a security to fill the premises. The only thing I hope is that there is even more desire on the part of clubbers and professionals to be more curious in discovering new realities, new artists and new music.
In comparison to the party, what challenges does running a label present in comparison to a party?
I am happy to say that the scouting work I do for the party, I also apply it on the label. I don't think there are many differences between managing a Label record and managing a party. Having been a promoter for many years, I was able to bring all my know-how into the organization and planning of releases and relationships with artists. having founded the label and making it grow every day .. helps our party in turn. It was a natural step.
Your next record features house vocalist legend, Robert Owens. How did that link-up happen?
The next Tropical Animals album is by LONELY DANCER. LD, a project that comes out of every scheme and doesn't have a well-defined genre and I wanted to bring out the part of me that I always try to keep quiet. It can be Pop, rock, disco, acid, techno, house it doesn't matter. After this difficult year I wanted to do what I wanted without rules or restrictions. In the LD project I usually sing, write and compose. This time I decided to invite a voice that I have always loved that of Robert Owens, I called him and hearing the instrumental track he immediately wanted to write the words and sing over them and I am very very happy.
Tell us a secret tip about Florence - a restaurant or bar that is perhaps underappreciated?
“La Manifattura” In front of Marino Marini Museum it is in my opinion one of the best cocktail bars in the world. Fabiano the head barman has created a bottle selection with spirits only and exclusively made in Italy and honestly it is so incredible that it should be known all over the world. Tommy's “Vini e Vecchi Sapori” is a very small restaurant in the historic center, where traditional Tuscan dishes are eaten and served just like grandma would. With love.
Finally, tell us a little about the mix?
I've rounded up some of the tracks I love most from 2020/2021. Many are from friends artists whom I respect and admire a lot and many others are tracks from Tropical Animals Records! Hope you enjoy this trip :)
John Loveless, July 2021.