|Davide Squillace: Be water
The Italian-born producer had a breakthrough year in 2010, but he's not done yet. RA's Grego O'Halloran talks DC-10, Bruce Lee and more with Davide Squillace.
"It still hasn't happened," insists Davide Squillace, when asked if there was a moment that he felt he finally made it. After gentle persuasion, he reluctantly admits that "things were a bit different in 2010," though. Amongst the differences were a residency for Circo Loco at DC-10, and a hit EP for Desolat, with tracks like "Cubism" resonating in Ibiza and beyond. All this was very much part of a discussion I had with the Italian at the start of December in London. It should be no surprise, however, where the conversation started.
Tell me about what it means to be Neapolitan.
When you come from Napoli and go abroad, everything is easier. You see people and they might be struggling, but it's kind of easy for us because in Napoli everything is pretty tough. You have to be really creative, not in terms of music or art, but even in parking your car. You struggle so much for everything, that when you go out, London or Ibiza or wherever, everything is just easy!
But the beautiful thing about Napoli is that it's always been a city between the Middle East and the West, so this 2,000 year old city has so many cultures. I had to leave, though, because my problem is that they were all Neapolitans and I wanted to move to London as that was the cool thing to do when you were 18.
Music-wise as a teenager, what were you into?
Things like Laura Pausini, kind of soft pop stuff, kinda really bad. It's my guilty pleasure! But, when I was 15 with a bunch of guys, I started to promote parties with people like Darren Emerson, Charlie Hall and Billy Nasty.
Yeah, we had for the first time Richie [Hawtin] playing in Napoli and the Detroit wave blew our minds, because before that we were into this English sounding progressive thing and with this new wave from America, this was the sound we wanted to promote and what we wanted to do. We did Jeff Mills, Model 500, Derrick May.
I'm a huge fan of Richie back in the day because it seemed to me that he'd just put one huge record on, the flow was so logical. It didn't sound like mixing records, it just sounded like one big long vinyl. You know when you are a kid and you have a hero? My brother's was a football player. Mine was Richie.
"I kept hearing,
'We like your music,
but it's not hard enough.'"
Was there a big scene then?
Actually, it was a really huge scene. That's the good thing in Napoli. For 15 years, every Friday and Saturday night there has been house and techno DJs playing. We've been really lucky, because we've been able to listen to a lot of different music, compared to the North of Italy where it was mainly house and local DJs; they focused mainly on the local DJs, whereas Napoli was always the centre for techno music. International techno music.
What did you do in England when you were there?
I was mainly studying, learning English and just listening to music, exploring music.
And what did you find?
You know music is everything, really, the feeling you get from the music, it's amazing, better than sex even. You know a fuck is like [clicks fingers] and it's over. But the feeling you get from the music, it stays with you, it's deeper.
Then you left London about 2001?
Yes, when I came back to Italy, I started at this sound school and it was very technical. I've always been very technical, with everything I've done. I'm a bit of a geek about it, but I was interested in the mechanics of music. The technical side of making music. I had tried and played with lots of things, but I wanted to know the ideas behind it. So I was learning about things like composition and tone and structure. More importantly though, I was learning my technique in terms of sound engineering. By then I had some kit too: an Atari computer, a 909 and synths.
When you studied sound engineering in Napoli, were you actively DJing then?
Just in Napoli, but yes I was DJing. But the funny thing was that when I was doing straight techno, my techno wasn't hard enough, it was still very funky and not that melodic—but more melodic than the rest. So I kept on hearing "we like your music, but it's not hard enough for the club," so I didn't get a lot of gigs.
Because you weren't playing hard enough?
Yeah! But that was when I started the Eriko Tanabe project, which I really enjoyed. Then, the stuff I was doing was mixture of the techno thing with the Eriko Tanabe thing and it slowly began working. When my sound changed and the sounds around changed, I gradually started getting more gigs. It's like when I go to the studio... I don't know what's gonna happen.
How do you make a track?
The first approach is always like you mess around, you play the synth or some chords, then if something begins to take shape that's interesting, that's where the intellect comes in, so you know "Now, I have to do this" to give it a feeling or so [that] it makes sense. But, I mean the first part is always just "whatever."
Is there a formula for how you insert that "intellect"?
I get to a stage doing a track where I see myself dancing to it—because I'm a clubber, even when I'm DJing, I'm dancing—and I see myself playing it. So I see it from both sides and if I enjoy it from both sides it works. But I don't think I have a magic formula, no. I love the quote from Bruce Lee, "Be water," so basically there is no technique, there is no particular way.
I'll be honest, and admit I struggle to keep up with your portfolio of labels.
OK, well, the first label was Sketch, which I ran for two or three years, then Mini.sketch after that, which was just a project of ten numbered releases. Then with some friends from Napoli, not the techno ones we talked about before, some really underground geeky ones—we did Titbit and it was more like weird, glitchy house.
Basically I kind of left everything, then I started something fresh with Hideout. After the first release, I approached Luca Bacchetti and I asked him if he wanted to run the label with me. I love his music and we're good friends, and he has a great vision on music and how to promote it. Right now, we are doing the Deconstruction Revisited series, remixing old Hideout tracks. We had Paul Ritch and D'Julz just remix two of Luca's records and we will have others from people like Martin Buttrich, Mathias Kaden and Carola Pisaturo.
Did you you realize that the Desolat EP was going to be a smash when you produced it?
That's what makes you realize that one record can do more than ten. I had come back from Winter Music Conference, just a week with all my friends, listening to music, enjoying myself and within a week I'd done two tracks. Dice already had two tracks and it was that moment when I thought, "If they don't like this, I don't know what more I can do!"
Without it leading to a conversation about genres, I want to talk about what they sounded like, "The Other Side of Bed" and "Cubism" especially.
Ha! Good, I don't want to be in one genre or have one sound, I don't want people to say "Davide does that." Maybe the next track I do will be something totally different. I think that's funny. When you go through a label that's really niche, it's good for a while, but I get bored of that. I get bored of myself, that's the problem. I just need to be changing. I mean, how would you define those two tracks?
I dunno. Kind of techy and tribally and housey!
But at DC-10 though this summer, there were definite trends in what everything sounded like. The classic house sound was never far away and tribal popped up regularly.
The thing is, house music for me is a new thing because I never listened to house music. I listened to techno and progressive, so it's new to me and it's really exciting and has given me a spark.
How did the relationship with Circo Loco and DC-10 come about?
I actually have to thank a friend of mine, Eliott Shaw. We've been friends for 20 years and he was close to the people at Circo Loco. Andrea [Pelino] was looking for new DJs for DC-10, Eliott told him to check me out and I spoke to Andrea and almost had an interview with questions like "Where do you wanna go?" and "Where do you wanna be?" I just wasn't prepared for these questions, so I just responded "I wanna play music." My first gig was actually New Year's Day 2007. I was always playing inside at the start, because generally inside always had a more techy sound and outside was always a deeper sound.
"I get bored of myself…
I always need to be changing."
You generally played outside on the terrace this summer and, by the end, it was usually back-to-back with Tanzmann. Why have you connected with him?
We played together [at the same gig] three years ago and we've been friends since then. I think he's one of these Germans who are non-Germans, in terms of really being able to express his feelings [laughs]. Music-wise I also feel like we've gotten closer. He's gotten a bit harder and I've probably gotten a bit softer and, of course, he's a great DJ. We did it maybe three or four times this year in Ibiza and we're now also playing gigs outside of Ibiza too, like Magazzini Generali in Milan.
You two, along with Tania [Vulcano], have the type of sound most people are now expecting to hear from a Circo Loco event. I mean there are exceptions of course, but...
Well, the new thing this year was what Jamie and Seth were playing, with a little bit of this disco sound in it. I mean, the truth is that everyone was playing a different sound, so I don't know if DC-10 had "a sound" this year. Tania always plays the deepest and people love it, me and Matthias were in the middle...argh, it's so difficult to describe the kind of sound!
The one time I saw you play inside, your set was very different, you played a lot of Johnny D hits.
When they told me I was playing inside, I thought I'd play a bit harder and angrier. Otherwise what's the difference from when you play on the terrace? As for the hits, I don't really have a schedule at any club I play. This past year I had about 1500 mp3s on my hard drive, so instead of going through 1500 of these, I just made a directory of 150 songs that maybe I really want to play. From this I'll be using 30 or 40.
This is using Traktor?
Yeah, I've used Traktor since day one. Right now I couldn't see myself playing without Traktor because the way you can interact with the track is incredible. You can take a hard track and make it play deeper, you can stop it, you can destroy the sounds in it. With two vinyl records, you can only ever do so much. That's kind of boring. From my point of view anyway. With one computer I also have Ableton, which is just a bunch of drum kits that I can play live using an iPad, so I can put some effects on there, but there is no sync at all, so sometimes it goes out of time and that's what makes it fun. I love Traktor.
Do you find that, internationally, clubs are now expecting DJs to be using Traktor or laptops?
Last time I played in Miami, we went to this club and there were no decks. Then the decks came and they didn't have needles, then we had to wait another hour for needles. It depends more on the country. In America, they are expecting you to play with CDs usually. It also depends on the type of promoter. If it's a new generation promoter, then they'll be expecting you to play with Traktor or Serato. But an older promoter will be expecting anything.
How healthy is the Italian scene right now?
Right now, the main issue is that you have to stop serving [alcoholic] drinks at 2 AM. You can imagine if you can't have a drink after 2 that people will be more likely to leave. So the promoter gets pissed off, the club owner gets pissed off and they don't make enough money, so they tend to just book huge DJs so that they know it's going to be packed.
Do they stick to this law?
They do, they don't even try to break it. OK, in Napoli they do, but in the North no. I think they're working on it again to change it, because it's killing a lot of the clubbing business there.
But the scene is still strong right? Do you think people are generally aware of how strong it is?
Maybe the public in general outside of Italy aren't aware of what the scene is like there. But the DJs, they know it. They get paid a lot of money and they always want to go there. I personally don't go crazy for Italy at the moment. Maybe that's because Italian people are really trendy. So when you go there, they are always expecting something, waiting for that sound or that song. For example, Richie [Hawtin] is really big in Italy and Minus is huge there. I think the problem in Italy is maybe an ego thing we have with each other as producers. Apart from Napoli, we never really connect with other producers from the North of Italy.
I don't know. It was just in Napoli we were so close, like a pure passion.
But you're not living there anymore?
No, after I went back to Napoli to study, I got bored again. In Italy we say "you have got pepper up your ass." So I moved to Barcelona in 2004. I didn't want to go to Berlin because everyone was going there and I wanted something different. My friend Paco Osuna told me to check out Barcelona and it was really cool, with a lot of producers from around the world. The scene was better, there were less problems with the police and there was more freedom.
Napoli has been colonized by Catalan for a long time, so when I went there I felt at home. It looks like Napoli, the food is amazing, the weather. You know all the classic things. The city just works. I have international friends there. I don't go out a lot because I have this commercial space by my home and it has my office and my studio. From Monday to Thursday I have what you would call a "normal" life. But actually I've gotten a little bit bored.
Ha! So where next?
The master plan is to buy a little apartment in Berlin. It's so cheap there. I can get a place for the same price as a small garage in Napoli. Just to have another place that I can stay, you know like have two homes. One in Barcelona, one in Berlin. Not in the winter, of course...too cold!
Finally, what are you aiming for when you DJ?
[long pause] To connect with people.