Antoine Rolley, DJ and owner of ChillhouseSaturday, March 22, 2014
‘BA was like Europe in the 70s’
From: Biarritz, France
Lives in: Almagro
Profession: Owner of Chillhouse guesthouse and DJ
Education: Economics and Finance at University of Toulouse
Reading: Les champs de braises by Hélie de Saint Marc
Last film watched: Her
Gadget: ‘It’s not a gadget, but I’d say my bike’
Antoine Rolley goes with the flow. Born in the French beach town of Biarritz, he began globe hopping during university and ended up here, in Buenos Aires. Ten years on, he’s now come full-circle: a French-born lover of music who lives in the Abasto district, the heartland of the country’s dance of love, the Tango, and home to the genre’s biggest legends, including French-born fellow Carlos Gardel. Coincidence abound, Antoine and his business partner also run a guesthouse out of the home once occupied by another Tango great, Roberto Rufino. But times and tastes change, and today you’ll find Antoine, who’s also a DJ, spending his free time mixing some more contemporary sounds at BA’s best bars and clubs.
There’s something about the Abasto district, Antoine says. “When I walk around the streets they don’t know that I’m French. Obviously, when I open my mouth and they hear this French accent, they soon realize.” The Biarritz-born boy certainly hasn’t lost his accent. But then again, the Abasto district – like Buenos Aires more broadly – has never really batted an eye at migrants. “I know everybody in the neighbourhood. They know my name but they prefer to say ‘el francés.’ I do everything here – I get my vegetables, my bread here. Everything. And everybody knows me. It’s wonderful; a bit more real than other neighbourhoods in the City.”
From France’s southwestern coast to the middle of BA’s metropolitan mayhem, Antoine’s neck of the woods is now essentially the same as Toulouse-born Carlos Gardel, otherwise known as the El Morocho del Abasto (The Brunette of the Abasto). Coincidentally, Antoine completed his undergraduate studies in Economics and Finance in Toulouse. And the crossed paths don’t end there; today the 34-year-old sits atop the roof of a home once inhabited by another Tango legend, Roberto Rufino, where Antoine and his business partner Esteban run Chillhouse, a 10-room guesthouse set in a renovated relic that was first built in 1907.
A coffee in hand, Antoine recalls the first inklings of BA on the brain.
“I’d been living in Madrid for one year. In Madrid I knew a lot of Argentine people, whom I built some good relationships with. During my Masters in France, I had the option to do an exchange in South America, so I ended up coming to Argentina, to Buenos Aires. I came here in 2003. It was a six-month programme and did another six months at an internship at a company. I loved Argentina, Buenos Aires, the people. I fell in love, as soon as I got off the plane, something happened. I don’t like big cities that much; I’m from a beach town in France. But I had fun here, perhaps it was the people I knew.”
A big bienvenue
Antoine recalls spotting similarities between the Buenos Aires of 2003 with the Europe of yesteryear. “When I arrived in Buenos Aires, there were all these Peugeot taxis. And in general, the city – everything about it – made me feel like I was returning to the past, like I was arriving in Europe in the 1970s.”
A European himself, and in a city where any mention of the Old World instantly catches people’s attention, the twenty-something-year-old also had a bit of cultural favouritism on his side.
“When you’re French, something happens to you in Buenos Aires. Everybody opens doors for you, everybody asks, ‘Oh, where are you from? You’re from France?’ They try to practice their French. They’re very welcoming. It’s obviously not the only reason, but being French is a huge plus in Buenos Aires.”
With a mix-match of life experiences in London, Madrid and a few places in France, Antoine is no stranger to the often-complicated process of adapting to a new city and its culture. But in Buenos Aires, things have been fairly natural, he says.
“The people are very welcoming; they hug you for example. I remember as a French guy at the beginning I would put my hand out to shake. Now I go back to France and hug my family and friends intensely, and they look at me in wonder. In my case, living here has changed my personality a bit.”
While he says he admires Argentines for their determination and hard work even during moments of economic difficulty, Antoine does note that it’s not all roses and red meat here, with one of his biggest – and only – issues with the locals being that they seem to prefer talking up places like France, while talking down places like their own country, which he loves like his own.
“I often get asked ‘What are you doing here? Everybody here wants to leave the country, why are you here?’ And I tell them it’s because I like it. I have my life here, but I always have to justify why I’m here. You start to think, ‘Oh wait! It’s true. What am I doing here?’ They start to contaminate your thoughts a little.”
Be that as it may, in 2003 Antoine decided to stay and rarely – if ever – has he looked back, managing a business and a social life that ticks all the boxes.
“We didn’t know anything about guesthouses, about hotels. We rented out a house in Palermo, renovated it and started welcoming people,” Antoine recalls of his and Esteban’s decision to start a business project. “We worked really hard. At the beginning, we’d go to the Retiro bus station to hand out flyers. The police kept kicking us out. Then we started going to Ezeiza. We had a lot of energy and we made it happen.”
This unfolded in the wake of the country’s infamous financial crisis, which for this pair signified some significant pros and cons.
“Rent cost nothing at the time but the regulation was minimal. It was a two-year contract, so after two years they doubled the rent, even though we ourselves weren’t charging our guests double. And after three years, they wanted to double it again. Chau! It was impossible to stay there. You can’t project your business beyond three years with the issue of rent in Argentina, in US dollars to top it all off.”
The search was then on for something more stable. The pair also wanted a challenge, after a solid start in Palermo that had begun to flat line.
“We were looking for around a year or two. We decided to close the other one and dedicate the time we had to the renovation of this house. We took about two years to complete the renovations, because it was completely ruined and run down. But the building structure was beautiful, and we fell in love with this house. It was like a fresh start,” Antoine says. “Chillhouse is now doing very well; we’re in all the Lonely Planets, and the guides for example.”
Mixing things up
Life for Antoine is fairly relaxed and he spends a lot of his time among guests at Chillhouse, which, handily, is just three blocks from his apartment.
“My business model is based on what I, as a customer, would expect from the same type of service,” he says. “Every morning I’m here, excited, pleased to welcome people and give them advice about the City. I continue to be really excited about this project.”
In his off time — because he insists it remains a hobby — Antoine can be found all across the City, mixing House tracks at bars and clubs as an up-and-coming local DJ. He’s even started producing.
“At one point I got bored, and just want to start playing my own music. That’s how it started,” he explains. “I’ve always loved music and had a lot of DJ friends. When I was young, I used to do a lot of surf, body boarding, snowboarding. I like this sort of adrenaline and here it’s hard to find. So, I transpose that adrenaline into the nightlife.”
Antoine plays at the Four Seasons bar, Pony Line, on Thursday nights and is a regular at the City’s exclusive “Unlock” parties. Oh and this Sunday (tomorrow), he’s opening for a “really good DJ” at Niceto Club, he adds.
“When I first arrived, the music scene was really good. I suppose we often tend to say things were once better. In 2004 to 2005, that’s when I started to notice the local scene was dropping. Now I see something happening again; it’s picking up and people are looking for something new. It’s a good time to be involved in the music scene.”
Antoine describes his style as somewhere between the new and the old, blending sounds like soul with more contemporary tracks from the minimal and cosmic House genres, for example.
And what about the tango tunes of Gardel and Rufino? Well, to ask him, you now know where to find Antoine Rolley in this City – he's that blondo from the Abasto.