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If there is one sound that unites young South Floridians, it is Eighties dance music. Indeed, if you talk to a native twentysomething about music, you will likely hear zealous preaching about the great legacies freestyle, Miami bass, and electro have bestowed upon youth culture.
Robert Guertin, who produces electro tracks under the name Uprokk, is no different. Growing up in Fort Lauderdale in the mid-Eighties, Guertin became part of the "bass generation" when he attended Lauderhill Lakes Middle School. "I think everybody was into that at that time," he says. "It definitely hit my soul. Then later on I [realized], 'Okay, now I know the feeling. I've just got to add to it.' But that didn't happen until six or seven years ago."
Guertin was into other pop culture subgenres as well. Like most sci-fi-crazy teens, he watched Dune and Star Trek. "When you see those movies, obviously there's computers, maybe some sort of robot," he explains. But what really grabbed him were the sounds. He remembers watching Doctor Who on TV with his dad and waiting eagerly until the end of each episode, when Ron Grainer's haunting electronic theme music would play. "Those sounds were futuristic," says Guertin. "Therefore, electro has that sound. It's very eerie, like you're lost someplace in deep space."
Throughout his teens, Guertin rooted his interests in music. When he got into skateboarding, he formed various punk rock bands with his friends. After he started going to raves, popping and locking with his b-boy crew while soaking up "chillout" tracks by Spacetime Continuum and Aphex Twin, he started DJing, too. "It came fast for me because I played drums," he remarks. It was the sight of his tall, lanky frame break dancing that led his friends to call him Uprock. A few months ago, he modified the spelling to Uprokk "so it would look different."
Much of this attraction to music was family-grown. His father, Bob Guertin, often played in bands himself, and when he moved the family to West Palm Beach he opened a recording studio, Sounds Great Productions, where he engineered tracks for local and national acts such as Dion. "I was always into music because of my dad," says Rob Guertin. However, when he started producing tracks in 1997, his father initially disapproved. "I think he wanted me to become an engineer like him," he says, admitting that engineering provided a more steady income. "But I wanted to be an artist."
Ironically, it was at Sounds Great Productions where Guertin met electro producer James "Jealous J" Schaffer. "I slipped him a demo of some stuff I had made, and he was like, 'This is some cool stuff,'" Guertin remembers. Jealous J invited him to contribute a track to a 1998 album Jealous J released under the name DJ Devistada, Power of Darkness. But the two producers' styles contrasted: Jealous J was loyal to the popular, breaks-heavy electro, while Guertin was more interested in the creepy, minimal electro emerging from the works of Jackal & Hyde and Anthony Rother.
In 1999 Guertin met James Wolfe and Larry "Exzakt" McCormick, the two guys behind the West Palm Beach-based Frajile Records. "They were the only guys [I knew] that were on the same tip as me," he notes. The next year, Frajile put out a three-song EP, Florida Electro Artists. It featured Guertin's "Klockwork Oranj," a skillful segue between rapid-fire keyboard punches and light, watery synthesizers. "There's a dark side and a happy side to it. The quirkiness of the movie A Clockwork Orange was like that," he notes. "Then there's the sound of Kraftwerk, which I mixed into the track."
Garnering spins from electro DJs around the world, the popular "Klockwork Oranj" track announced Uprokk's arrival on the scene, though he still goes to work every weekday as a tile and marble contractor. "Hopefully, if there's enough money in the business, the music can be my full-time career," he says.
But until then, Guertin, who is now based in Miami Beach, collaborates with his business and romantic partner, Iris Cegarra, on Mi Chika/Chiko Force, a company that promotes occasional parties around the world. He is also helping Cegarra finish an upcoming documentary on electro that will follow up her 2002 critically acclaimed look at mutant forms of electronic music (IDM, electroclash, bass), Electro Dziska.
For someone who has seemingly dedicated his life to the sound of electro, Guertin has a remarkably slim discography that consists only of "Klockwork Oranj" and a few other tracks and remixes. But he hopes to change that this year with a new EP and, by winter, a full-length debut. "I don't have a lot of stuff because I've gone through a lot of transformations," he says. "I have a lot of stuff I did that I never put out, because I didn't want to sound like somebody else."