Eight years after touring as The Bloody Beetroots, Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo has embarked on a new musical vision that is taking Rifo around the world again with a fresh, anti-genre, ever-evolving soundscape.
“Music should be wide. That’s why I don’t believe in music genres. It doesn’t make any sense,” Rifo explains. “How many emotions do you have to express? Why do we need to hide emotions?” For Rifo the artist, music is life and therefore must paint as inclusive and complicated a portrait as life itself. It’s an ambitious mission.
At 10PM, two hours before a performance in Hollywood, Rifo is calm and articulate. “Touring is tough sometimes because you’re far away from your love, your family. But music is my passion so that’s my main drive.”
He approaches touring, like his music, with rigorous discipline. “I do not drink. I don’t smoke. I try to workout as much as I can.” This strict adherence to substance-free living has allowed him to stay upbeat and clear-headed, despite grueling touring schedules. “I never partied. I don’t do after-parties. I don’t do drugs. I’m super clean,” he explains.
After being in the EDM scene for a decade, one might wonder how he stayed so true to his regimen. He steers clear, however, because he refuses distractions. Whether you aesthetically appreciate his music or not, his passion and intelligence are undeniable and he speaks almost reverentially about it. “I love making music and that shit makes me very far away from what I want to do. Music is life. So if I’m not able to express myself, I’m failing.”
Rifo strikes an unassuming figure, slim and wiry, but his confidence radiates. His fingers are crusted in silver rings, the largest of which is boldly emblazoned with the letters DIY for Do It Yourself: “That explains it all,” he says with a small smile.
His voice is quiet, almost whispered, and lilts with Italian inflections. It is impossible to listen to him without leaning forward. When asked about his ever-present face mask, he talks about his Venice, Italy origins and describes the Commedia dell'Arte, decoding the mask as both a cultural signature and a necessary prop. “The power of a mask is huge,” he explains. “It’s an incredible catalyst. You ctn bring attention just because you have a mask. And then you can drive people to your music. That was the main reason. How can a little guy from an unknown city, lost in the fields get to know the people? How can I get my music discovered by people?”
There is no pre-show ritual, no overt superstitions. “I just put my mask on five seconds before and I go.” He compares it to a spotlight that draws him out of the darkness and onto the stage. “Like a light, I’m here,” he says.
The skinny kid from Venice commands your attention. And it’s hard to imagine him in a scene where he wouldn’t be noticed or draw focus away from the crowd. In that sense, he also recognizes that the role of the mask has evolved with him into a protection against the unwanted side effects of fame. “ It protects my persona, my privacy. So I can go around, no problem. People don’t give a fuck about me. And that’s beautiful. I can enjoy life. Which is rare and it’s a gift.”
Other performers in the electronic music scene have used masks, notably Daft Punk, as a way of de-emphasizing themselves and shining a spotlight on the music. Though he does not acknowledge that reason for himself, he appreciates the sentiment. “It has to be all about the music. I will insist that even for the future of The Bloody Beetroots and SBCR, it’s going to be all about the music.”
He finds fault with current performers who, he feels, are driven by pure ego. “I don’t think it’s about the music at this point. It’s about being on stage.” SBCR, his new musical venture, is a response to his disillusionment with an electronic scene that he finds apish and repetitive. “In the last three years, music has become more of a replica of a replica of another replica. Music is getting lost in this process of recycling other songs. Is this real meaning of music ? I don't think so.”
He created SBCR to devote two years to experimentation and to challenge himself artistically as a producer and sound designer. “For me, it’s a priority. I don’t like revivals. I love evolving. Life is about evolution. If you don’t evolve, you stay in your fucking corner forever.”
Unlike many musicians who strive to replicate their most popular sounds, both to satisfy their labels and fans, and to mimic past successes, Rifo specifically does the opposite. He describes the experience of reinvention with an apt metaphor reminiscent of the Emperor’s New Clothes. “You put away your old suits and naked you start walking into a direction you don’t know.”
He recognizes that his decision to constantly uproot his sound may alienate but dismisses that as a concern. “You lose and you gain. If they’re going to follow you, they’ll follow you. If they really love you. If they judge, probably they’re not your fans. It’s way better to fail and to make mistakes and to learn. You’re stronger.”
Thankfully, his label Ultra is supportive and has allowed him to produce and create unchecked. “The label gives me pure freedom. I can do whatever I fucking want. And I have so much music to release, I don’t even know where to start.” In fact, he has more music than his label can immediately distribute and he’s considering new avenues to release his music directly to fans. “I love doing free downloads but in a way I don’t want to do it because there is value in my job and people need to understand. We spend hours of our life working. It’s important.”
His music is deeply personal, a colorful reflection of himself, with an unmistakable foundation in the fundamentals. Harmony and melody: he repeats this litany constantly. One hears echoes of his classical training, alongside Latin jazz and the 1977 British punk influences that he reveres. “The palate is so wide,” he explains. “Eighties New Wave was a big influence. Post-punk music from ’70 to ‘85, my strongest root. And classical music was the start of that.” He is, in fact, an ardent researcher and his knowledge of music history encyclopedic. “That’s my story. It’s all in there.” He doesn’t just want you to listen, he strives to inspire.
Ultimately, his goal is altruistic: he hopes that SBCR will impassion a new generation of kids and artists. “We need to push art as much as we can. We need to push people to have the time to make art. Art deserves time.”
Interview By : Brooke Nasser
Photographer : Robiee Ziegler