Four decades of a distinguished career under the microscope.
Gatherings of friends enjoying fine cuisine prepared by the maestro himself, lively conversations and “speeches with the hands” around the dining table, walls of records including Italian pop-rock and synth music, warm human and artistic atmosphere, the Italian culture invites itself in Donato Dozzy’s home.
Inside, the master of the house is rarely alone. Many artists come and go, they are veterans such as Neel, Mike Parker, or new talents such as Filippo Scorcucchi from LF58. They are experts of gear, curious, enthusiast; they all share the same passion and musical language.
Deeper inside, into Donato Dozzy’s mind, a larger artistic world expands, both in time and space, made of African percussions, shamanic rhythms, Indian mantras, folk, Japanese nostalgy, Occidental legacy, with unsurprisingly, Italy above all. Decoding such a rich language requires a long descent down the past, from the first discoveries of a child, different from the others, to the notorious deep music the experience led him to.
Born to parents both in love for classical music, the young Donato studied piano for a few years. Behind the pleasure of playing notes, he developed an ear for the rhythmic patterns and learned how to channel the energy. At school, the music class was delivering him the best marks, also for his singing talent. At home, his mother and two sisters—also fervent music lovers—round out his culture by regularly bringing him to record shops. Donato’s first discs were the soundtracks of his favorite cartoons.
Making music requires a hint of passion and Donato’s awakening to it came with the upsurge of Japanese animation, which reached the European coasts during the ’70s. Spectacular, relentless, and hugely entertaining, it first invaded France, Italy, and Spain, revolutionizing the cartoons with its epic battles of super robots. Through shows such as Astro Boy and Mazinger Z—the precursor of Grendizer—the Japanese anime was creating generations of addicted children, with, somewhere at the top, the young Donato.
From the video cassettes to the metal toys, “made to last” at that time, the diligent fan started to collect all the items made in Japan as part of the mythology, and since 1977, aged 7, he decided to also buy the soundtracks. Looking back over this period, he analyses:
“Some of the Italian versions, more acid-oriented than the Japanese ones, were produced by very talented musicians of the disco and prog rock culture; a pretty high standard for the needs of a kid. I was fascinated by this music and lucky enough to have several shops around which were selling it. I’ve been also honoured to receive regular copies from a friend of my mother also, who was working in RCA, one of the biggest Italian Record Companies, behind some of these top productions.”
With a hint of nostalgia, Donato released one year ago a mix of his favourite 45s from his childhood. Aged 7, the interest for the mecha gladiators and for the synth music was equally important for him.
From around 1978, he opened his collection to other disco and pop rock records, dancing on tracks such as “Video Killed The Radio-Star” and “My Sharona“. He then crossed the bridge from collecting to DJing, after having listened to two mixtapes, one in 1983 by a charismatic schoolmate, Gianluca Marziani, who became later a distinguished art critic in Italy, and the other one in 1984 by Maurizio Laurentaci, a well-known resident DJ from Bari. With regard to the latter, Dozzy comments:
“I got Laurentaci’s tape thanks to my cousin who was friends with him. It was eclectic, like most sets at that time, but exceptionally well-mixed, featuring lots of different artists such as Gaznevada, Herbie Hancock, Richard Bone, Malcolm McLaren. I was blown away by the flow and the connection between the tracks; I thought ‘okay, this is art.’ I was listening to it two-three times per day.”
In 1985, aged 15, Donato got an Audiojap mixer—with faders only—and two Technics SL-B200 turntables, which he upgraded some years later to the Technics SL-1200, followed by an entire collection of turntables. Because let’s say it, a collector of Japanese treasures rarely loses his omnivorous habits, thinking also for instance of Dimitri from Paris who took a similar path.
Donato’s first mixes were made of the music he was enjoying at that moment: “I was first mixing tracks from Simple Minds, The Wham and a lot from Prince. I was a little bit obsessed with him, and his innovative music made with drum machines was very playable from the DJ point of view, a further advantage,” he shrugs.
During the following years, Donato crafted his technic:
“In 1985, my DJing was chaotic, but in 1986, I was mixing more decently and started experimenting. I wanted to add sounds on top of my records and started to play around with records and tapes. The need to work with layers came in a very natural way.”
This seemingly innocuous creative process constituted Donato’s first signal to join the path of producer, which became more serious in 1990: “The real curiosity about how the studio works came when I met Pietro Micioni.”
In the late ’80s, students were flaring up the game of seduction on the dancefloor of the old Piper Club in Rome, but not Donato, mesmerized by the DJ moves of a legend, Pietro Micioni. In 1990, they got introduced to each other. Pietro challenged Donato to mix with him two nights later and they ended up playing together during the entire season. “Remember this young man,” shouted Pietro to the crowd, “he’s going to be good!”
Through their nascent friendship, Donato and Pietro also regularly met in the studio of the latter—the mythic 250m2 “Gimmick” in Rome. Pietro and his brother Paolo are not random talented artists, they’ve created the foundations of Italo disco in the early ’80s—from the side of Rome—along with the La Bionda brothers from the side of Milano. So when Donato entered “Gimmick,” more than being honoured and fascinated, he was facing the weight of history. Sat in the control room, he observed, learned, and sometimes shared ideas.
In parallel, Donato was also a firm hip-hop lover, a passion born during the school years, after having discovered artists such as Africa Bambaataa and Public Enemy. From the late ’80s, he started to follow a charismatic turntablist, Lory D, who won the DMCs in Rome. Like many hip-hop artists at that moment, Lory D was also close to the electro world.
Donato, on his side, privileged the instrumental and alternative music, abstract hip-hop, 2-step, trip-hop. His taste moved toward electronic music in the mid-nineties, with the early work of Aphex Twin and of The Future Sound of London. The various music genres all had in common the “sampling technique,” which interested Donato to the point that he bought a sampler in the late ’90s.
In his electronic music journey, Donato got impressed by the path that Lory D was taking in the techno realm: “Lory D has been one of my biggest influences. With his creativity, he brought the Italian electronic music to the future. His EP Unfinished Trax, in particular, shared the codes of the hypnotic techno I’ve been leaning toward years later.”
It’s in 2001 with Kitchentools, that Donato started to produce more effectively. The electro band, including members from diverse roots—from jazz to trip-hop—got an honourable success in Italy. Donato contributed from the DJ point of view: “I was bringing lots of records for sampling, sharing ideas and doing a bit of editing with Pro Tools, which I was learning along with Jacopo Carreras and Michele Braga.”
It’s also in these years and the ensuing ones that Donato got some memorable DJ residencies: one from 1999 to 2009 at Brancaleone, a renewed squat representing Rome’s headquarter of the alternative scene, and one from 2004 to 2006 at the mythic Panorama Bar. This is through the weed culture of Brancaleone and the space of Panorama Bar that the artist explored the more trippy side of music. In between both experiences, he moved up to Berlin in Spring 2003 with his first music creations to meet Denis Enos. Together, they created the label Orange Groove and released Minded? in 2004.
Denis Enos was an acquaintance from the Kitchentools’ circle. The band opened many doors for Donato, sometimes also indirectly. He met for instance Giorgio Gigli, after having heard that the DJ and producer emeritus from Latina was often playing Kitchentools’ music in a local club/restaurant. Donato explains: “We had a common friend, Rossella, who reported Giorgio’s enthusiasm to me. Being a DJ, she was supposed to play in that club so I accompanied her. I liked Giorgio at the moment I saw him.”
Both artists became friends, started to make B2B mixes together, and produced in Dozzy’s family home. They shared their project to Remix Store in Rome—their favourite record shop—and its owner, Sandro Maria Nasonte, decided to launch a label to release the EP. Donato Dozzy came with the name Romana Elettronica and Sandro suggested to reverse the words.
The label’s first records were slowly crafting the sound Elettronica Romana is known for today, but it became really decisive when another old friend joined the crew. Dozzy remembers:
“Right after Giorgio Gigli came Brando Lupi. He is a music genius, he can play almost every instrument, he can also sing and he’s a very skilled producer. We already collaborated together on Orange Groove and he got involved in Elettronica Romana when I made the track “Destination Eskimo“. I requested him to mix it, which he did. He liked the track very much and we decided to make a second version, which is a lot of him. The track turned out to be a crucial moment for the development of our sound.”
Elettronica Romana’s reputation to do “different music” rose and caught the attention of other talented artists, such as Dino Sabatini and Gianluca Meloni from Modern Heads. They added an important building block to the label, as Donato Dozzy shares with us: “They left us a memorable demo CD which we decided to release. Then, Sandro invited them to build their studio in the basement of the store—the headquarter of Elettronica Romana was born. Both Dino and Gianluca were taking care of it, which was a lot. They are amazingly nice and we became friends.”
Another fan of Elettronica Romana, Tom Bonaty, created later the label Prologue, which popularized the Italian hypnotic techno outside the country, the occasion to discover new talented artists such as Cio D’Or. “She has such a delicate art-oriented way to make music,” comments Donato. “She’s one of a kind, with great musical knowledge, heart, and technical skills.”
On his side, Donato Dozzy grew his notoriety thanks to a mix at Labyrinth, a mythic festival dedicated to Mother Nature, one of the first of its kind. The event, held in Japan, became a new important DJ residency for the artist.
The course of history can have an interruption here, Labyrinth being the last important episode which installed Donato Dozzy’s musical background. What happened next deepened the vocabulary, but at this stage, there are enough elements to define the language.
It’s worth affirming that Dozzy’s fine cuisine is mainly composed of three ingredients: an infinite passion shared with close friends, genuine creativity, out of the ordinary, and an extensive experience in various music scenes. The first one, the passion, arose from the Japanese manga culture, tainted with synth music, and from important human encounters, including Pietro & Paolo Micioni, Lory D, Giorgio Gigli, and Brando Lupi. The second one, the creativity, is Dozzy’s “intelligence having fun,” to paraphrase Einstein, with for instance the innovative track “Parola“, entirely made out of words taken as instruments, featuring the wonderful Anna Caragnano. Last but not least, the third ingredient, the experience, has been built up behind the decks at an infinite amount of events, from intimate clubs to iconic festivals, and in recording studios, such as in the fascinating “Gimmick” then run by Pietro & Paolo Micioni.
Donato Dozzy’s musical language is repetition, born from the hip-hop sampling technic, with basslines inspired by Lory D and by the acid house, layered with trippy vibes from the weed culture, itself divided into ambient, dub, tribal, and chill music. As a result, Elettronica Romana’s hypnotic techno mixture, defined as such by Dozzy:
“I would just say that it’s a language, creating a repetition in which we feel comfortable. You don’t expect annoying elements inside, but rather you get lost in the loop and it somehow helps to better concentrate on your inner thoughts.”
The language is set, written. It allowed the creation of resounding forward-thinking releases, such as K, with its ethereal oceanic flavor, or Plays Bee Mask, a music festival on its own. Donato Dozzy’s discography is an invitation to dance around the fire, to find the cerebral connection with the soundwave, and to get lost in the shamanic rhythms. The following interview on his musical language unveils inspiring views and continues the journey through these four decades of musical dedication.
Can music really be qualified as shamanic according to you?
Not in the true sense of the word. Shamans are other people; they are in the forest somewhere. But in a urban context or language, DJs can be shamans somehow, in limited situations, when reaching a conscious state of complicity with the crowd. The DJ is then like an Orchestral conductor. He’s leading the way. In this sense, when the DJ creates a connection between people, music can be entitled as shamanic, in my opinion. This doesn’t occur all the time. In my career, it might have happened five or six times.
To make a link between past and present, let’s talk about Il Quadro di Troisi, which Eva Geist and you have recently released, and which is your first official collaboration with your mentor Pietro Micioni. The album surprises, seduces, for going off your techno path. What did Eva Geist and you tried to achieve with this project, how did you two meet?
I’ve never considered myself as restricted to one particular genre. I do ambient, techno, house, folk even, whatever comes to my mind. With some projects, I have crossed other genres. I grew up listening to new wave and music with lyrics, so for me, Il Quadro di Troisi represents the sum of all the journeys I’ve experienced together in these many years of music. This is therefore a very important project.
Doing Pop music took time, this is the most difficult thing to do. I love minimal music and for me, it’s a religion to be able to express the maximum using the minimum amount of instruments. But with Il Quadro di Troisi, I went right the opposite way. There are so many layers, it’s the most difficult production I’ve ever done.
I met Andrea (Eva) in June 2018, when we were both invited to perform at Primavera Sound. I loved being around her from the very first moment and we’ve connected in ways I wouldn’t be able to express here. I’d just say this record is a tangible example of what we could do together and we definitely wanted to reach as many hearts as we could, that’s our ultimate goal.
Pietro Micioni worked on the arrangement of the album, please detail that episode where you two met back in the days, which made you start mixing in a club for the first time.
He was the resident DJ of a stylish club called Nautilus, which was built under the swimming pool of a famous hotel in San Felice Circeo, the coastal town where I used to spend every summer with my family. I knew very well who Pietro was; he has a long, important story as a DJ and producer.
One day, thanks to the intervention of a common friend, he asked me to play with him; I couldn’t believe this was happening for real! I ended up assisting him for the whole season, it was a blessing to see him in action and feel he appreciated the way I was handling the new job. From that moment Pietro (and his brother Paolo) took care of me, they really showed me how to DJ, make sounds and handle a studio; they were—and still are—a constant, warming presence. Pietro and Paolo are some of the greatest people I ever had the luck to meet in my whole life.
You’ve repeatedly affirmed that your musical evolution is like a book composed of chapters. Could you detail the ones that have led to the hypnotic aesthetics you are known for in particular?
Much has to do with the sounds I used to hear when I was a kid. It stayed inside as an imprint. I used to listen to the space-disco music of Giorgio Moroder or Cerrone, and at the same time loved cartoons like most kids. Japanese Cartoons in Italy had soundtracks that were made by amazing musicians coming from important early ’70s Italian prog-rock bands; that meant quality all the way. I was so much into that, all of this music was filled with incredible synth sounds and there were all sorts of things that could hit the imagination of a kid.
Later in the ’80s, Italian wave pop had a large impact on me, it was adventurous, there were songs so powerful as to be still absolutely intact nowadays. If you only imagine La Voce del Padrone by Franco Battiato, that’s an incredible statement of poetry and sound avantgarde from 1981, a record which was capable to be complex and appealing at the same time, which is rare in music.
In 1989, I got to discover techno music, thanks to friends like Leo (known today as Lerosa), whom I met at school. One day he invited me to join him to a rave near Rome and that’s where, for the first time, I heard Lory D playing techno. I saw the future, he simply played sounds that were never heard before. That’s how I felt a turning point. Lory is still as cool today as he was 30 years ago: still ahead of his time.
In the mid-nineties, I fell in love with new electronic genres and especially Trip-Hop. I started being into more stoned beats, bands and projects like Portishead, K&D, Massive Attack, The Future Sound of London, Archive, and Boards of Canada kept me busy for years. Right afterward, I had a fortunate meeting, I was chatting about new music with Jacopo Carreras in a record store; Corrado Rizza, also inside, heard us and invited us in his studio in Rome. We ended up creating The Kitchentools project, together with Jacopo and later with Michele Braga. It was lots of fun and we put a cool album together called Harmonoize, released by Extra / Labels (sub-labels of Virgin Music). The project lasted a couple of years and then our respective paths split, as it often happens in life.
I finally started producing my own stuff during 2002/03, the period where my sound aesthetics pretty suddenly came together.
Regarding your career as a DJ, you had various DJ residencies, please share some stories about the one in Brancaleone, then during your after-hours in Panorama Bar.
Brancaleone and Panorama Bar represent two different chapters of my life, with one being the consequence of the other, right after I graduated.
At Brancaleone, I was free to play what I wanted and my experimentations in trip-hop, dub, drum’n’bass, in the globally trippy side of music, were somehow slowly crafting the techno I became known for years later. I’ll never be thankful enough for the freedom I got in this place, doing my thing, testing out my early productions, splitting my time between the main stage and the chill out area. It’s all they asked for, especially Riccardo Petitti, the man behind the weekly event called Agatha (together with Andrea Lai), who has contributed to giving Brancaleone its musical identity, may he rest in peace. I’ve also learned to surpass myself in that room because it had the pickiest audience I’ve ever experienced. If the guests didn’t like what you did, they would just leave. I had no other choice but to fit their high level of expectation.
At Brancaleone, I’ve also experienced some political involvement. The squat has been restored and managed by a collective of left-leaning activists, who were doing both musical and political sessions. As a DJ, I couldn’t “just” play there. There was a strong community spirit and I participated in meetings, organized around specific urban and environmental topics, with more or less big battles, sometimes involving the police. I stood for the collective because I could also identify myself with the alternative culture that the place was growing over there in a very unique way. At Brancaleone, I loved, I struggled, and I made significant friendships; so many things that, mixed together, consistently contributed to forging the person I am now.
Then, Berlin. Once there, I figured out that I was a world citizen. The dancefloor was filled with people coming from all over the world, a color field of energy which helped me to understand which music I wanted to play and at what stage. It was a much needed evolution from my previous life as I started to understand more about myself. Panorama Bar has somehow provided exactly what was missing to that path. I learned for instance that my repetitive beats would fit better to daytime than to night time, and that they should last longer. My sunny side was waiting for me in Berlin. That was a beautiful discovery and I got lucky enough to experience it together with the new friends I made between Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer, my new family. All of us were in the same place, a Sunday per month for two years in a row, Panorama Bar was a beautiful starship going its way to the stars. The crowd was amazed into the bliss and so it was as if we found a common language. What we shared during those parties is difficult to put into words so I won’t even try, certain memories are supposed to not leave that room.
The Labyrinth Festival left a special imprint on you, not only because it nicely contributed to share your sound, but also because it has been particularly memorable in many aspects. Tell us more about this project, from its specific identity to your point of view on the Japanese culture.
The Labyrinth Festival is a shared vision, a ritual gathering, quite simply the deepest experience I ever had in my life. You hear sounds and experience the floor in a way never lived before, inside a beautiful forest and surrounded by beautiful people. The man behind the event is Russ (assisted by Yasuyo, So, and their wonderful staff); he’s a true artist of his own craft, and one of my personal favorites. He is capable to “DJ with DJs,” meaning he knows very well each DJ’s vibe and places each artist smartly in the grid of the event to compose a wonderful consistent journey. He builds stories like nobody else I know, chapter after chapter and year after year.
As for the Japanese people, they are some of the purest, most careful, and respectful listeners I ever interacted with. They join the festival to live “a profound experience.”
An episode related to my 2008 set: it was the first and only time in my career I left the stage in the middle of a set and went hugging the people on the floor, dancing with them till the record ended and setting the first encore. What a day that was…
Festivals like Terraforma, Inner Varnika, and Parallel have also played a big role in your career, please share how special these projects and locations are for you and how ideal they have been to play your sound.
The three of them were very important but in different ways.
Terraforma is something I saw in the making from the very first year. Ruggero Pietromarchi, the founder, is a good friend and a loyal music companion. It’s a true pleasure to support his music vision and to challenge each other with new experiments in Villa Arconati’s Eden. Terraforma stands as one of the most forward-thinking festivals in Italy, a true gem. I could tell many stories, but if I have to pick one, then it has to be the final set from 2017. It was unique, we were ONE on that night and we experienced all possible peaks together. Nobody saw this coming (except the organizers, of course), I just showed up on stage at the end of the festival and started playing some dub; I ended up with way more extravagant stuff and people pulled their shirts off in their excitement.
During the last 30 minutes of the set, I got very sick and, right after the music was over, I had to leave in an ambulance amid the general confusion. Ruggero came with me and, during the ride to the hospital, we repeatedly looked at each other, smiling in wonder because of the beautiful feelings we still held from just an hour before.
Two days later I got my inguinal hernia surgery and all was good, but that was special indeed!
Different story goes for Inner Varnika in 2015, which I attended only one time, but what a memorable one shot… We left by car from Melbourne and drove I don’t even remember for how long. Every time I travel around Australia, I can’t stop being amazed by the land, its creatures and the varied sounds, that was just so beautiful to me. We arrived in the middle of nowhere and I realized the festival was held on a dried lake. I knew it was going to be special, it was a feeling I couldn’t hide and was looking forward to seeing what would happen once the music started. I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but then I immediately felt a powerful connection with everyone out there as the intensity of the music started escalating moment after moment, then I remember heading to territories that were absolutely unique and new to me. The fog came to embrace all of us and then the moon eclipse did the rest. That night remains one to remember: a deep, ritual and primitive gathering. Anyone who was there knows!
About the Parallel festival: we arrived in the mountains knowing this festival had a good reputation and got welcomed by a very warm staff that cheered me up all the time since my bags had gone missing at Barcelona airport. Two days of uncertainty until the records arrived just a few minutes before I was scheduled to go on stage for the closing set. Things went smoothly until the first half and then dark clouds surrounded us; just a few minutes and it started raining very heavily. In many years of Labyrinth, I’ve learned that bad weather could also mean exciting moments and this Parallel experience was strongly confirming that; everyone got soaking wet and that’s the exact moment when the crowd turned into a tribe. All I could hear were screams of freedom which I simply can’t forget. Now more than ever.
The weather has such an important role and definitely is the main guest for each outdoor festival. Music should always go with it, good or bad.
Your peculiar DJ sets leave the impression that there’s a serious collection of records behind them. How big is your vinyl collection and what can we find inside? Could you pick three records and comment on their story?
I never counted them all but I think we should be around 20,000 by now. You can find any sort of genre from the ’50s to contemporary and each of these records has a story to tell.
The first one would be Protection from Massive Attack, which I found exactly when needed, during the year 1995. It allowed me to turn a page and start a new one. The band is incomparable when it comes to making smokey beats, that are both dirty and beautiful, a combination that still influences my music today.
The next summer, I remember being invited by Michele, a good old friend, to attend their concert at Pisa’s airport. I didn’t doubt for a second that I would go. A few minutes after the call, I left the beach where I was with my family to drive around 300 km all the way to Pisa. What an amazing concert that was! There I was, wearing just swimwear and beach shoes, and I couldn’t miss a single note of the music, the quality of the sound was as amazing as the stage presence.
Another record which I am very fond of is Purple Rain by Prince. I bought it in 1984 when I was 14 years old and after that, I had to get all of his releases. Prince has been my obsession throughout the ’80s and in 1985, I finally purchased the ticket to attend his concert in Rome. I was waiting for that moment with great excitement but then it got canceled. I can’t even explain how big my disappointment was at having just missed the occasion to witness such an extraordinary artist in one of the true peak moments of his career. Always hoped to have another chance but it never came out.
Eskimo from The Residents is my third pick. My cousin Sandra introduced me to it in the very early ’80s in Bari, and I remember being instantly blown away at hearing something I didn’t know existed before. Sandra obviously noticed it and never forgot about it; 40 years later she attended my wedding and came to me to put that record in my hands. “Now it belongs to you, it’s your world,” she said. I love it when life unfolds in circles.
How and where do you dig for music today? Do you go far into the past or do you give the new music a chance? What makes a mix creative or artistic for you?
I used to go to local record stores a lot (Goody Music and Ultrasuoni), and didn’t miss a chance to go digging in my favorite shops over the world while traveling for gigs. Some of my favorites are Discos Paradiso in Barcelona, Mount Analog in LA, Red Light Records in Amsterdam, and Hardwax in Berlin, just to name a few and, of course, I buy online, I go in every possible direction, I love to make discoveries in the new and in the past catalogs.
Concerning creativity, I get interested when I hear someone telling a story, which is rare but not impossible in this era of self-referencing and insta-posing celebrities.
Let’s move back to the context of your early productions. Your Elettronica Romana peers have also played a big role in shaping the Italian hypnotic techno aesthetic. Please tell me more about the spirit of the collective back in the days and how the defunct project Prologue, some years after, has become such an influential label for the deep techno scene.
We had no idea we were shaping anything. I only know that Brando Lupi, Giorgio Gigli, Maurizio Cascella, Sandro Nasonte, the Modern Heads, Rossella, myself of course, and a small group of other music lovers got thrilled, all at the same time and in the same place, Remix Store. That was a unique and once-in-a-lifetime moment of genuine common inspiration, a very exciting period of life that unfortunately didn’t last too long.
Prologue had a similar path but with wider international recognition, a sort of bigger step after the experience of Elettronica Romana. Things seemed to be going pretty well for a few years thanks to the music of a cast of amazing artists but those moments weren’t destined to last either.
Apart from the way things came to an end, and that is life, I’m glad and honored these imprints have partially contributed to shaping the sound of today’s techno.
Regarding your first label Orange Groove, an artist left a significant impression on you: Mike Parker. How did you two meet and start working together?
I discovered Mike Parker’s music at Remix Store. His record Ceasura was one of these secret weapons that no one in town knew at that moment. I bought it, listened to it at home and couldn’t believe how great that was. At that moment, Lory D was at my house. He listened to it too and got very impressed. Lory said he made similar sounds some years ago in his album 9 Tracks 4 A Fine Road-Hog. Some of the instruments of this album can be found in the early productions of Mike Parker, which built an instant connection between the two artists. We sent Mike an email. He was happy that “someone noticed his music in Roma.” I sent him my early productions; the first Orange Groove and the first Elettronica Romana, and he sent a copy of his first Inversions records. That’s how we got linked. Mike really knows how to create addictive repetitions. With this type of music, you build layers that you play one on top of each other to create the flow. His layers are astonishing. In 2006, he released Substratum on OG. It was quality stuff. One year later, we had a party in Brancaleone, Mike Parker, Lory D, and myself, a very memorable moment for us.
Since then Mike and I meet almost every year in Rome, we are buddies, we love hanging around in the studio, eat good food, watch movies, and pet Tao the cat. We understand each other language and that’s profound.
Orange Groove is not the only label you’ve founded or co-founded, there have been also Dozzy Records, Aquaplano with Nuel, then more recently Spazio Disponibile with Neel. What have been the highlights of your collaboration with Neel, also through your common project Voices From The Lake, and with Nuel, with whom you had a shorter experience in time?
Neel is an important friend and collaborator, probably he’s the one I’ve been working the most closely with over the years. I met him at Brancaleone when he was just 17. He was there very often, he literally grew up listening to my music, Mike Parker’s, and a few others. When younger, he was very good at replicating music, at recreating a track after having listened to it; he was understanding very well and very fast the technical process that was behind it. It took him a while to understand where he wanted to go with his talent and at the same time he grew up as a sound engineer. Becoming a great one requires skills, knowledge and a great ear, he had all of that. He crafted his art, more than emulating a track, he started to improve the sound, to listen to other people’s work and to make it brighter and better, then of course to create his own music.
In the project of Voices From the Lake, I gave a lot of creativity; he also brought a lot of ideas and sounds plus elevated the quality of the rendering to the maximum level with his skills. He knows amazingly well how to make a spectrum of frequencies complete. He’s as great at using software as he is with analog equipment. If the sound is bright, crispy, and beautifully colored, it’s thanks to him, to the big work he put into the project. About the genre of music we wanted to develop, we were simply doing the music we grew up listening to, there was no discussion about it.
We spent years making lots of tracks. I can’t really recollect what a massive amount of music we did together till at least 2018. Then we took a break from everything and we focused on our label. We have also incessantly traveled all over the world, shared truly epic tours filled with many meaningful highlights.
Between him and I, it’s not just about the music, Giuseppe is more than that, he is a life companion, the younger brother I never had. There are some concerts that cannot be forgotten and I feel lucky for having lived them. During the tours, we met beautiful people and shared great energy. Finally, the moments I will also forever cherish are the ones we spent in the studio, just the two of us.
Nuel is also an important presence for me, we had a short but intense voyage together. We have mostly collaborated during the years of San Felice (2006-2009) and ended up making two EPs that represented a significant turning point in our path. Aquaplano has been a very cool experience, I had plenty of fun with Manuel but friendships are sometimes like meteors and they’re not meant to stay.
Your sound is also known to have a cinematic side, which is particularly obvious in releases such as 12H, dedicated to a music bridge, Sintetizzatrice, featuring Anna Caragnano, and of course, Il Quadro di Troisi, referring to the movie director Massimo Troisi. Which cinema inspires your music in general? Would you be interested to produce a movie score?
Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati (1958) immediately comes to mind, a movie in which the sound itself is one of the main actors and that still feels miles ahead of its time. I like anything where the sound is relevant and it gently plays with the visuals. I feel I’m made to produce effects and music for movies and/or documentaries, but I haven’t yet met the director who would turn my creativity on.
Art can be a purpose on its own, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Could you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
We’re going through difficult times. Besides the entertainment aspect which is also very relevant, it’s important for artists to express their art form on a deeper level today and show people that life can be sensed in different ways. From art, you can switch to politics in a matter of seconds, by creating a public piece that will have an impact on people’s representation of what it is “to live.”
Working with institutions is crucially important in that sense because you have a chance to make your musical message known on a larger scale and to a vaster audience, out of our usual electronic music circle.
For instance, at Biennale in Venice in 2013, I made a project together with Rabih Beaini and the technical support of Funktion-One Italy. We played with people’s ears, organizing a bizarre game of ping-pong sounds inside the famous Olivetti Museum in Piazza San Marco. We recorded and used only the sounds that were available in the room and amplified, developed them. Even famous Italian politicians were there and came to ask, with vivid curiosity, some questions about what was going on with the sound. Many people like to be challenged, while others, unfortunately, don’t.
A similar story applies to the 100th anniversary of the sports institution Coni in Italy, which happened during the summer of 2014. I built the sound installation 12H, which you mentioned earlier, on the Ponte della Musica (the Music Bridge), assisted by Neel and, for the second time, by the Funktion-One team Italy. I wasn’t supposed to be there all the time but I decided to stay for the entire duration of the project to see people’s reactions. While the concept was explained on panels, most of the walkers, lost in their thought, weren’t reading and were crossing the bridge without paying much attention. But on the way, each of them was waking up at one point, realizing that something special was going on. It was the result of a sound simulation, built with various spatial effects through 24 surround speakers. I basically divided the channels of the mixer through “groups of speakers” so that some sounds could migrate from a group to another, with for instance the beat in the south, the strings in the north, and then crossing both. This 3D movement was my musical message, and it touched the walkers the way I wanted. There is a lot to do creatively with art to change people’s cognitive state.
It’s very interesting for me to witness people’s reactions to my sound ideas on a more institutional level. In general, the old persons are among the most genuinely curious; they asked questions I was excited to answer.
Peter Kember from Spacemen 3 considers that everything in the world is musical. For him, radiators, fridges, lawnmowers, and jet planes are all potentially inspirational to design drones. You regularly record various sounds on your own, how important is the use of field recordings in your creative process?
He’s just right. I deeply love him, Sonic Boom and the rest of the Spacemen 3 are probably one of my favorite bands ever. I’m a big fan of field recordings and I like them both as stand-alone and as hidden elements within a more complex musical composition. If you listen to my track “Il Canto Della Maga“, you’ll hear distant choirs that are apparently coming from a human source, but that is not human at all; it’s all about the recording of crickets at night consistently pitched down and treated with a wide reverb. In another track, I definitely have recorded my Frog Coffee machine, but can’t recollect which one that was.
Some artists from Napoli such as r²π and Retina.it have injected a more experimental touch into the hypnotic techno sound. You’ve recently collaborated with Retina.it under the alias Men With Secret. Can you tell us more about this collaboration?
We connected from the first time we met and have a lot of fun together, we are very good friends and I feel they are family to me now. Lino and Nicola are modern poets, each in his own way; they are people that live in a parallel dimension bringing their craftsmanship to extreme peaks, even too high to be noticed or understood sometimes. They invited me to Pompei a few times and I had the pleasure to play with them and most importantly, cook for them. Besides being great musicians, they also have the ability to put a lot of artistic people together and create vibrations in their own region.
Your recent release on Samurai Music, and the DnB mix you’ve done for its podcast series, shows your interest in this DnB label. What does this musical genre represent for you?
I don’t like sticking just to techno. For me, music is all interesting and all genres should complement each other. I was interested in DnB since the years of Brancaleone, especially because I could witness Riccardo Petitti’s incredible sets. Then I played it myself in a few circumstances and somehow I knew that thing had to come to the surface again at some point. It eventually did and, most definitely, in the right spot, Samurai is among my favorite labels around.
Hip-hop also runs through your veins. Please detail your transition from hip-hop to electronic music, and share the electronic music DJ sets which have particularly impressed you at that moment.
I’ve switched from many musical genres in my life and hip-hop was really relevant, because I was relating to it, even if I never played it in clubs for example. You must understand that back in the days, hip-hop was just emerging and we were seeing it as the future. It was also interesting for me regarding the way its artists were using the Roland TR-808.
In 1989, when Lory D won the DMC’s in Rome, I was in the room. I got fascinated by how he played hip-hop in his own very creative way. There was this double face, too: those who were into hip-hop at that time were also into this new electro and new beat. It was no exception for Lory D, who I continued to follow.
In the early nineties, I witnessed lots of cool concerts/DJ sets with my good buddies; we used to listen to hip-hop, dub, reggae, house, disco, and whatever would catch our interest. Years later, being a resident DJ at Brancaleone, my ears got refined and I had the chance to attentively listen to all the guests that we invited to play over the years. Mathew Herbert and Laurent Garnier were above all the others, I clearly remember them controlling time and space on their respective nights; it must have been between 2002 and 2003. I have a particular episode in mind, I remember when in a club the closing time was set at five in the morning, but when Laurent Garnier played, the staff was afraid to tell people at six that it was over. The place was exploding with energy like I’ve never seen before.
Today, what do you love and dislike regarding your own growing success?
Positive: I meet wonderful people all over the world and I feel lucky to experience such an intimate exchange of energy with them.
Negative: my body doesn’t like the traveling part anymore and makes me struggle sometimes.