E: Hi, Donato. What’s it like playing at the Labyrinth festival(http://www.mindgames.jp/) ? What feelings or emotions can be generated by an event like this?
D.D.: It’s the total ad complete interaction between one person on stage and 2000 people who are in front of you a who are exactly the same as you are. It’s a massive amount of energy poured upon you, and you can only pour it back on them. It is a real loop with no negative vibes whatsoever, it’s all about people who want to have fun and create something special with you, making you feel at home.
Emotionally, it is an unparalleled party. Regarding the setting, a wonderful natural reserve – but wherever they choose to hold the Labyrith is special, it is a place where sound can reach unparalleled heights in terms of cleanness and purity (thanks to a state-of-the-art Funktion One setup), wher spaces are well-distributed (access is limited to 2000 people), and where all DJs who happen to play tend to remain friends.
Another important thing is that the festival is made to create a real link between the acts. Management (Russ, in particular) makes sure that each artist plays at a certain time, because they know he can be at his best at that certain time. And it’s how it goes.
No one is in his place by chance, we are players, we are Russ’ records.
He’s the best DJ I know! (laughs)
E: So the management looks into every detail to the excess?
D.D.: I won’t say to the excess. It’s just that everything is as it should be.
E: Do you think there is a sort of “snobbish” feeling towards other genres, considering the closeness in styles DJs are proposing in this festival?
D.D.: No, let’s clear this up. This in an event dominated by… ritual music, psychedelic music, and at the same time there are some DJs coming to the Labyrinth who don’t play that kind of music, but prefer to play “lighter” rhythms completing the sonic cycle with their own color.
On the other hand, attending a four day event where the same kind of music is played over and over again is not that cool.
I can tell you that there is a perfect balance between the different acts. Labyrinth is a jigsaw puzzle where every piece is carefully placed to be perfect.
E: For some years now, Japanese market has been seen as a sort of “restricted area”, so much that some producers publish their albums exclusively there. Do you think that Japanese public is more adapt to receive these musical inputs? What’s the difference between them and the others?
D.D.: I believe that music fans from every nation have nothing to envy on Japanese fans. What differentiates them is that they probably are a little bit more of a collector, and that they follow music more deeply, both from a technical and a musical point of view.
There are still strong record stores (like Disk Union) and they sell a lot of vinyl on top of the other formats. I can tell you about a musical instruments shop called “4G” where I saw at least 5 refurbished “909”s and as much “808”s and sold one next to the other, many other vintage instruments and tons of turntables that people buy.
This attention to music makes them follow all the foreign artists who play there, and they know a lot! I had the chance to talk to many of them over the years and they know an awful lot of things.
E: Can you tell us 3 dance tracks and 3 ambient tracks from your selection which represented the festival's emotional top?
D.D.: Wow... let's start with the ambient ones.
The ambient set had its moments, first of all because I was brave enough to play a track I never played in front of an audience. It is called “Rude Boy”, and it is a track I produced which, unlike the things I usually do that are pretty much instrumental, is sung by great friend Habib.
I wasn’t sure it could get a good feedback, I was afraid of judgment, because it took me 4 years to make it. I must say that Chris from Mnml Ssgs was the one who pushed me to play this track, and I outright thank him. He convinced me after listening to it some months ago in London.
So I thought about it… It came out like that and it was surely one of the most emotional moments of the set.
The second one is “Global Communiation – 14:31”, we talked about it before, it moved both me and the audience.
The third one is a track by Mike Parker called “Arena”, which will soon be published by Aquaplano. I felt the air thicken. People stopped talking and “took in” all of the track’s frequencies for six minutes without making a sound.
…Let’s move to the dance tracks.
One of the strongest moments was when I put on “alone” by Shura on 3B or Cio D’or’s “Pssst!” by Motoguzzi Reocrds. It is a track with subtle frequencies that kinda lull you, but with a robust bass track. I saw people gasping!
Lastly, I will say “Blue” by David Alvarado by Strive. The people went crazy on this one! I am sure I’m forgetting something, and maybe the end was the real exciting part.
E: What track did you close to?
D.D.: The last track I played is “Classic 909” by Scott Grooves for Natural Midi, a track with a Roland 909-ceated rhythm structure and a really sweet melody on top of that. As soon as I finished playing, I turned the turntable off and it started raining! (laughs)
E: Attending one of your sets means getting completely off reality and becoming one with the main focus of electronic music: the journey. How much preparation goes into your sets? What I’d like to understand is the relationship you create between the records you play and how long does it take for one to become part of your great selections?
D.D.: It’s important to point out that nothing is prepared in my sets, everything goes with the flow. I usually start by choosing a “color”, a basic theme based on my mood that day, and once I start everything goes on following things happening around me. There is no setlist in my bag.
I always try to know the tracks I play as well as I can, I listen to them over and over until I create a relationship with them.
I take mental notes about instruments they use or frequencies they generate. This way I can match tracks easily.
In can also tell you that I love digging out the story behind each record, tracking info about the techniques it was produced with, the instruments used, the graphic choices, etc. Let’s say that I try to research both on felling and on dynamics.
E: We can isolate two major sections in your selections, the first based on hypnotic and “wrapping” techno, and the second based on downbeat and softer atmospheres. I’d like you to describe us the sensations you get by playing these two different styles.
D.D.: On the “stronger”, faster set my body and my mind work in a faster, more urgent way. I am stressed during a techno set because I know that I have to go full throttle.
E: What do you look for in the audience at that time?
D.D.: I look for trust! The audience must be won from scratch every time and that’s what creates stress.
Again, I know I have to be my best at that time, and if I see a response, then all goes down easier. People go crazy, and I want to go crazy with them!
E: You have a craftier way of managing the audience, while most DJs use some kind of “trick” to create that feeling of starting over and explosion. You just lead them in state of trance using simple tone shifts.
D.D.: You’re right. As far as I’m concerned the variation in the detail is more important than the one on the mass. You can have the break using just a straight bass drum waiting for the next arpeggio. This is my way of feeling rhythm and I understand that not everyone wants to join this kind of group experience.
In the ambient set, times loosen, and I don’t have to make people dance. So the pleasure stems from matching sounds, knowing that the audience is relaxed and listens to you. It is a real ambient sonorization, the true flipside of dance. These are sounds you can easily find in a techno set, only without the obligation to be danced to.
E: What do you think is the maximum time frame beyond which you will not play your set?
D.D.: I was once asked to be part of an event where each DJ had 20 minutes to play. It was so surreal that I enjoyed it! Express all of yourself in 20 minutes…
E: Are you talking about Combo Cut?
D.D.: Exactly. It was held at Rome's Metaverso. They had this crazy idea to have the DJs play one after another at 20 minutes intervals. The nice thing was that everyone got in the right mood, so the mini-sets were all very inspired and everything turned out to be a lot of fun.
You know, what bothers me is when you're called in a place you know you don't belong, where you don't fit in with the line-up or the general mood, and when you get there you're told to play for an hour. That is a hard time to manage, you can't express a thing in a time like that.
In fact, I am quite scared when they ask me to play for an hour, because I know that it will turn out as the hardest set. This is even more true if you deal with psychedelic music, because the audience has to adapt to certain sounds, and they could have a hard time getting in the right mood and feel you music the wrong way.
So I was very afraid approaching this event, like it happened in the past, and my sound reflected that. This makes you play tracks with a lot of attitude, “thicker” tracks, so it's hard to play things I like sometimes.
I love tracks I can play from the third hour, when the people is “taken in”. You can do everything, obviously, but things like that don't excite me.
E: You lived for a while in Berlin, the renowned capital of electronic dance music, which hosts many DJs and producers. How would you describe the atmosphere of that town and why did you choose to come back to Rome?
D.D.: I got old! (laughs) Berlin is like heaven, you can be a musician or a person seeking confirmations, and you can find a bunch of people to relate with because they do the same things you do, and this is a great motivation.
Then, when you find what you were looking for, you have to find a reason to stay. I lived a quite good life back in Italy, before moving.
The thing is that I struggled to find an identity in this country, so I moved there to relate to people, to find new friends to get to know other cultures. That's the great thing about Berlin. You go there a find people coming from all over the world, who are ready to share what hey know with you.
Moreover, talking about music, many of these people are very well-prepared. I made a lot of progress technically speaking, in 2 years and I could not have done that if I stayed in Italy. I started out at the Panorama Bar, where became resident DJ after a week, luckily ignoring the “weight” of the venue. That was the most important training I had regarding interacting with the audience.
I met a lot of down-to-earth DJs, good folks, people I am still in touch with. Even just living there or breathing that air is useful. People are humble and there is a more sane competition. Then you have to sum up the things, because in Berlin there is a lot of shit as well as a lot of good stuff. There are a lot of inputs because almost every DJ in the world went to live there.
The background allows a kind of collective maturity, and a lot of things that are seen as a taboo here are allowed and encouraged.
You can learn a lesson in tolerance and respect. Every color is well accepted, and the more you are colored the more you are welcome! I will keep this in my heart.
Furthermore that this is a city where living is easy, it's not expensive, it's man-sized. There are a lot of social initiatives from the municipality for the citizens and arts are vastly supported. That's why artists are welcome there.
This tolerance can also generate excesses. You can go out on Monday and come home the next Monday after attending only parties. Every party there is just another one's “after”, and this often reflects on art and creativity, which can be hurt.
E: So it is a double sided blade, isn't it?
D.D.: It is! If you are bound to self-destruction, you can dig your own grave in Berlin.
E: Where do you buy the music you play? Do you still feel the charm of spending the day digging through the records in a record shop?
D.D.: Well, yes. I can tell you about the time I spent at Remix in Rome, as well as those spent at Hardwax, where I dug through every shelf. It's great, the record shop is a socializing place. You can meet people like you, people who share your passion. And then there is the feeling you create with the owner. I grew up with thing like these, and I don't like just ordering things over the web. The web can make us lose touch with other people apart from the events. You can meet passionate people who you'd never meet in a club, and this is cool.
E: Tell us an artist you buy every time, knowing you're not going to be disappointed.
D.D.: Robert Henke.
E: You are becoming more and more of a producer thanks to the growing number of tracks and collaborations. When did you start feeling the need to produce music and how did you approach the operative phase?
D.D.: I started to approach production early, back in 1989. When I started DJing I focused on how the records I loved were made. I was lucky to have mentors like Paolo and Pietro Micioni, who still own a studio called Gimmick. They helped me understand how records were made. Keep in mind that we're talking about the Eighties, so it was analog instruments and stuff!
The first step has been loving music, then I set to put down what I learned, then came awareness, then I slowly started collecting instruments. The first one was a sampler (I was into Hip Hop at the time and I wanted to sample and ake beats). Then things began to focus and I started using computers and in the end all the pieces came together, but we're talking about a 15 years path.
E: What are the main problems you encountered in this new adventure?
D.D.: That’s an easy one! The hardest part is transforming what you have in mind into music. Translating it.
I’m never satisfied when I write a track. I think I’ll never be, because converting your inner energy in something physical outside of you, while remaining true to your feelings is the hardest part of this job.
E: Can you overcome these problems by rehearsing over and over again?
D.D.: You can be lucky, because something crazy can spawn from an error. You have to be as true as you can to make your emotions come out for the audience.
E: Is it possible to “fabricate” a song?
D.D: Yes, but you have to be really good to do that. There are a lot of artists great at creating tracks that they “designed” earlier, that’ what they do. I can’t do that, but I admire those who can.
I am more impulsive, so I like to create a kind of wave, ride it, and see what happens.
Anyway, I an understand those having different deadlines, like those working on pop productions or for big labels. They have different demands, and they need people who can write music “at will”.
E: You have two Roland TB-303 in your studio, one with the Devil Fish tweak. It is a famous machine among electronic music fans. What can you tell us about choosing this instrument?
D.D.: I was born in 1970, I was 18 in 1988 and when acid came out I was blown away! I already knew the sound of the 303, but I couldn’t link it to a machine like this. I liked that sound, I was charmed by it. I was young when I first listened to Heaven 17’s “Let me go” and I thought “Wow! This stuff comes from another planet!” Or Imagination’s “Just an illusion”, which has a very well-programmed 303 bassline.
The real awareness for my generation came when it began to be used “unproperly”. We all thought that this tiny machine was changing the course of electronic music.
I bought one after many years, actually, because I believe you have to be prepared to use a 303. You can recreate that kind of sound using different pieces of software that emulate it very well, but owning and playing one means creating a thread with that time you lived.
E: Can you be more specific about the Devil Fish?
D.D.: I was fascinated by what Mike Parker told me about this little machine, so I decided to buy another 303 and turning it into a Devil Fish, thanks to Robin Whittle in Australia.
I composed demos I never published for two years. They were a training ground to get acquainted with this instrument. The Devil Fish can really take the classic bassline sound and turn it into something completely different and mysterious.
You can create almost finished tracks with this instrument because it has such a full, complete sound, and you can have really dangerous basses!
E: Can you tell us a record not produced by you in which you think they used the 303 at its best, and in which one of your records do you think you uesd it best?
D.D.: Let's start with my stuff, so we can reduce our scope. (Hesitates) Ok, here we are: “Real Love”, a track I made with Giorgio Gigli, because I got exactly what we wanted out of the machine. That is, a bassline that would be a rhythm thing and at the same time a thing that worked on many different frequencies. I wanted to make a track that used as less instruments as possible, and thanks to the Devil Fish we made it!
Regarding basslines used by others, I go back to “Let me go” by Heaven 17, then I'd say “151” by Armando or “Acid Tracks” by Phuture. What I really like, though, is the “alternative” use of this instrument, not necessarily in house tracks. I can point out “Protection” by Massive Attack or the Kruder & Dorfmeister's remix for “1st of the month” by Bone Thugs 'n Harmony, in the famous K&D Sessions record.
E: Do you think your sound has achieved a maturity such as you can tell that it represents you completely?
D.D.: I'll never be able to be so clear-minded about my music, and I couldn't say something like that. You know, some times I start many different projects that remain unfinished because of lack of enthusiasm. This happens quite a lot of times, and if we go searching in my hard drive we'll find dozens of unfinished tracks. I think everything depends on the mood I'm in. Sometimes I am excited and I finish a track in a short time, while many other times it remains only a spark that never caught fire.
E: Can you think of the possibility to make your stuff using software only?
D.D.: Probably as a challenge. I am so used to realizing my production using analog instruments, but I am not a fundamentalist, so I don't want to exclude digital instruments. So sometimes I end up starting some software and trying to sink into that kind of sound. The interest me and I am fascinated by them. I want to point out that accept all kinds of technique, as long as there is an idea behind them.
E: What is the minimum time for a “wannabe” to become a real producer?
D.D.: I think it is a very subjective thing. It depends on how much time it takes you to materialize your ideas. I tend not to trust those who produce many things back to back, making a no-stop path. I think it shows a lack of self control, I think that a producer should have some sense of his limitations and should be self-aware. All this while keeping his honesty and consistency towards his audience. This makes you mature and allows to make that final leap to become a real producer.
E: We think that this term is abused in 90% of the cases, and just rarely we can sit down with a producer sporting a studio like yours. We can gather some criticism, but we think we should someway go back to a more elitarian situation like 10 years ago, when we could listen to a lot of good stuff. What do you think about the massification we are witnessing?
D.D.: The mass of music poured everyday on the web obviously created a sort of uncontrolled dispersion. This can be good or bad, in a sense that now there is a need for selection more than ever. At the beginning of the 90s we had artist like Future Sound of London, who owned a studio and an uncommon set of instruments, and they loved what they did. If you listen to one of their tracks you can feel there's more in that than meets the eye. You can feel the experience, the passion, and the technical skills they acquired in years of work.
I don't want to say that you can't replicate technique with a computer, but this new “accessibility” made it possible to produce much more music, so it is harder now to find something really good. Obviously, technology today helps both the producer and the consumer. In fact, today we have very refined music search instruments, while in the past you had to jump on a plane and fly to London or to the United States, if you could afford it, to find good stuff. At the end of the day, I think there is a balance even today.
E: Is it possible that, entering the production maelstrom, you risk isolating yourself from the musical scene, looking down to everything you didn't create? I ask you this because I happen to interview artist (or read interviews) who proudly state that they don't belong to the electronic music scene, and in some cases they even say that they don't know fundamental artists or records for the history we are telling.
D.D.: I think this is a subjective thing, too. I know totally self-centered people, who know just their music, but they are so good that it's great to listen to their creations. On the other hand, I know other artists that gather up as many information as possible, big time fans. The are a category of itself.
E: What are you working on today? There are people talking about an album. What can we expect?
D.D.: I will never make an album! I can't do that! (Laughs) No, ok. I was starting to think about an album at a time when I still believed in the music industry, but immediately after that there has been the great fall that led to a drastic reduction of sold records and to a worse management of things. I came back to Italy at that time and I had to reconsider everything, and the idea of an album was not as real as before.
If I have to think about an album today, I see it as a product made with no compromises, completely free. Just what I have in my mind. Strange as it is, this would be a good time for something like that, because who buys a record today really loves it. I would make an album in that format only.
I was recently contacted to make ambient music to be published on tape, and I find this proposal very stimulating. I always like the idea of a very limited number of copies with hand made artwork.
Right now, my interest towards an album is focused on “listening” music just as much as on dance music.
E: Have you ever thought about making soundtracks?
D.D.: Yes, I did. I'm very interested, and I'm waiting to be “enlightened” by someone’s ideas!
E: Any other projects?
D.D.: I can tell you about my favorite creation at the moment: Aquaplano, a project I make with my friend Manuel Fogliata, aka Nuel. We just understand each other on a technical and personal level. Aquaplano wants to be an authentic musical project. A product respecting deadlines and focusing on the only thing that counts, music. We will be making a our third record shortly, but what's more important is that Aquaplano is the story of a friendship. It's something true and sincere.
E: What is your record collection made up by? How much is there in your life, and how much of that besides techno?
D.D.: My collection is made up by every kind of record. Each one represents an important step in my life. It spans from rock to reggae, or hip hop, dub, drum 'n' bass, classical music, folk, sonorizations, Italian music...
E: What are the Italian artists you like the most?
D.D.: Paolo Conte, Franco Battiato, PFM and De Andrè above all. Then Gino Paoli, Mina, Rino Gaetano and many others...
E: Were you influenced by disco music?
D.D.: Very much, I was fascinated by it. Moroder's “The Chase” is a track that blew me away when I was a kid! It anticipated a lot of things that now make up my style, from basslines, the bass drum to melodies. It never happened yet, but it's a track I could play in one my sets.
E: It's time for a sort of closing rite. What is the record you listed to most in your life? I want only one name, just the one who ended up the most in you player and why.
D.D.: “Tommy” by The Who.
D.D.: It comes from a psychedelic period. It's got some tracks that travel through time. It's got a very, very acid theme, some wonderful arrangements and rhythm solutions, a great descriptive power. As far as I'm concerned it represents the generation it came from. I believe that today's most psychedelic techno is a consequence of that kind of music. I believe that attending a Who's gig had the same impact of, say a Jeff Mills. I always listen to that record.