Alex Urdininea has got his hands full. Between his songwriting and production work as Beatcotheque and as one half of the pop duo, The Retrogradez, the RAC alum has no shortage of infectious new singles planned for 2021.
More than anything else, Alex Urdininea is dedicated to the craft of music-making. Having already received an impressive formal education in music, Alex’s in-depth understanding of his influences and their signature styles is one of the major factors that makes him so good at what he does. Whether he’s writing or producing hip hop and R&B tracks as Beatcotheque or sharing songwriting duties with Melanie Hanniman as the pop duo, The Retrogradez, Alex’s innate ability to fuse multiple genres has allowed the Torontonian to forge a sound that is entirely his own. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with the talented RAC grad as he readies a series of new releases to kick-off the new year.
Born in Mexico City to Mexican and Bolivian parents, Alex Urdininea’s family moved to Ottawa when he was five years old. His exposure to music and his resulting love affair with beat-driven sounds would come early. “When my family would get together, they would always play guitar and sing Latin folk songs”, he tells us. “As a kid, I joined in the fun by playing this big South American drum called a bombo. I think this is probably what gave me a strong sense of rhythm and fostered the connection I feel to the beat when I listen to any type of music”. At the age of eight, Alex would start learning the piano–first studying classical music, but quickly leaving his comfort zone to try his hand at jazz, movie soundtracks, and pop songs.
In high school, Alex started to make some observations that would inform his own creative process in the years to come and inspire him to look at music as a legitimate career path. “I became fascinated with underground mashups”, he says. “I loved how some combinations were totally wild and yet worked flawlessly. For example, The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ with Michael Jackson’s ‘Blame It on The Boogie’. Hearing how the same melody could take on a totally new meaning with a different set of chords inspired me to experiment with my own mixes”, he tells us. “And after receiving positive feedback from friends and family, I started thinking that maybe I could pursue music production as a career”.
With the die now cast, Alex headed for Toronto to gather the tools of his trade– first studying jazz and contemporary music as a piano major at Humber College, and then sound and music production at Recording Arts Canada. “Studying jazz re-shaped how I understand chord progressions and melodies”, he tells us. “I can listen to a song and know right away why certain patterns work and sound pleasing to the ear. Likewise, I know which chords to use to create tension in a song. It’s an advantage when I’m collaborating with another artist who may have a great melody written for a potential track but needs help developing the right chord progression to make it stand out. I also owe a lot of what I learned about recording and mixing to my time at RAC”, he continues. “From recording through to mixing and mastering, I feel confident using Pro Tools at every stage. As an independent artist, this has allowed me to release professional-sounding tracks without having to hire someone else to mix and master my music. This skillset also gave me the ability to freelance as a mixing engineer for other artists.
While he was busy honing his already considerable skills, Alex took careful notes on his favourite producers, starting with Timbaland and Max Martin. "Timbaland was the first one I aspired to be like when I imagined myself as a producer", he explains. "He's someone who has a unique and identifiable style that can easily navigate between pop and hip hop. When I first listened to Missy Elliott, his frequent collaborator, I was blown away by how outright bizarre many of their tracks were. I loved that they were making hits that stood out from mainstream hip hop at the time". As for Max Martin and his "Midas touch", "He's the songwriter/producer I admire the most", Alex tells us. "I often use his tracks as a reference when I'm working on hooks or building the layers of an instrumental. Whether he's working with Taylor Swift or The Weeknd, I love how he'll always honour the sound of the artist".
More recently, Alex has taken cues from artist/producers such as Calvin Harris and Daft Punk. "When creating dance-pop tracks, I try to emulate Calvin Harris' production style in EDM," he explains, "especially in how he builds up excitement before the drop. As for Daft Punk, I'm particularly fond of their more low-key songs like 'Something About Us' or 'I Feel It Coming'. Despite being emotional, almost melancholy love songs, there's still an underlying funk that drives the rhythm of the track”.
Alex's ability to home in on such specifics is evident in his own music. He explains the emotion cited above: “I tried to capture this mood when I wrote and produced my third single, 'No One Quite Like You', which I released last year. The vocals were done by my best friend, Ceecee Quinne. While she's not a singer, I chose her specifically for this track because of the sincerity in her voice. Much like Daft Punk, I aimed to enhance and manipulate her vocals into an almost synth-like instrument to suit the electronic vibe of the song. I'm also proud of this track because of the unusual transition I came up with that switches the beat halfway through from synth-pop to R&B hip hop. It was my sneaky way of splitting the track and honouring both of the main genres that influence my music".
With The Retrogradez, his pop project with high school friend Melanie Hanniman, Urdininea is just as meticulous with the details and in playing to the duo's respective strengths. "Mel's just a phenomenal songwriter," he says, "and since I struggle with lyrics and she doesn't play any instruments, we make the perfect match by filling in each other's musical gaps". The project, which began in 2016, was meant to be a series of demos to be pitched to other artists. "I realized her voice had a unique timbre," he explains, "and although she considered herself more so a songwriter than an artist, I thought, 'Why not release this music ourselves?' I convinced her to give it a shot, and so I've been using my time in lockdown to polish our demos and turn them into songs for The Retrogradez. We have two songs out so far, and our third single, 'Long Way to Go', will be released at the end of February. It's a synth-heavy, shuffle rhythm call to 80s new wave. Since both of us love a good throwback, this is how our duo's name was born!"
The road hasn’t always been easy, however. For Urdininea, who has struggled with social anxiety for most of his life, relying on family, close friends, and the community he found at RAC were all integral to finally putting himself out there as an artist. “It’s only in the last few years that I took steps to overcome some of my fears and really take care of my mental health”, he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to have close friends who’ve always been supportive of me and have encouraged me to keep making music. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would have been able to get to the point where I am now. Another thing I enjoyed about RAC,“ he continues, “was being able to connect with like-minded people who were passionate about music and the recording industry. I’m still in touch with friends that I made at RAC, and we help out on each other’s projects to this day”.
For Alex Urdininea, 2021 promises more collabs, more solo tracks, a music video and more. “Currently, I’m collaborating for a second time with a talented singer-songwriter from France named S-Jee on an R&B-flavoured reggeaton track called ‘Problem’”, he tells us. “I’m particularly excited about it because I’m experimenting with a style which is closer to my cultural roots in Latin music. I also have a track titled ‘Gold Shoes’ in the works that I plan to release this summer, along with my first music video. The track is influenced by 90s new jack swing, but with a darker edge and vocals reminiscent of garage house. I love to try new things and push boundaries by mixing different genres, so you can expect a lot more of that from my releases this year”.