|Luciano: Force of nature
These days minimal star Luciano is living the quiet life in rural Switzerland. Björn Schaeffner takes the train to Carouge to knock on his studio door.
I am late. Forty minutes late to be exact. But it’s no problem, Luciano assures me. Frankly, I assumed he wouldn’t be pissed off, given his reputation for being, shall we say, carefree when it comes to the administrative side of things. We shake hands in front of a limestone building in the old town of Carouge near Geneva. It’s a marvelously mild and sunny day in January. The Swiss-Chilean DJ and producer leads the way to the new Cadenza studio on the second floor.
The studio is set in a century-old room with a low ceiling and wood-panelled walls. Gear is everywhere. A metal Buddha hovers over the equipment as if to guarantee the good karma of the productions. The room is also home to a tiny recording booth, where Martina Topley-Bird, best known for her collaborations with Tricky, has recently been lending her voice to his productions.
Luciano is slightly hungover. Not from partying in that way, though. “We were celebrating a birthday in my family. There was lots of wine,” he explains with a shrewd smile. He’s wearing a black sweatshirt emblazoned with a hippie-friendly slogan: Love is Power. The moustache is off and his shoulder-length locks dangle around his cheeks. There is no Panorama Bar blowout or marathon afterhours on the schedule this weekend. Instead, Lucien Nicolet is looking forward to a weekend of domestic fun in The Alps snowboarding with his wife Francesca, his daughter Lilou (6) and his son Amael (4).
This lifestyle change happened approximately a year ago, when Luciano moved from Berlin to Bossey, a small Swiss village near the French border. His new home even looks over a golf course, apparently. Why the change? “The main reason was my two kids. Berlin was too hardcore for my family. I was always playing out and it was often just nonstop partying,” he explains. “You would come back from DJing and there would be five friends at home having an afterparty. A never-ending thing, basically. So I needed to find a balance between the party-filled weekends and the days after.”
“I like to change the formula of the way I make music. I guess curiosity is the only way to stay alive in art.”
“Here, the standard of living is really good, the education system is nice and of course the nature is beautiful, which is really necessary for me to survive somehow,” explains Luciano. “It’s just great to come here, step out of the car and just breathe in the air.”
Permanent excess might no longer be on the agenda, but the thirty-year-old DJ is far from retiring. “I am refuelling my resources here,” he explains. “Sometimes I do three gigs per weekend. After ten years of doing that, it really drains you of energy.” We talk about the difficulty of living up to the expectation that minimal DJ equals party animal. “Sometimes people get really upset when you say you’re not DJing on a free Saturday. They don’t understand. I decided to take it a bit easier in order to be as fresh as possible, to be motivated. Otherwise the whole magical thing is gone.”
The magical thing. Over the past year, those paying close attention to Luciano’s sets will have noticed a change in his music, too. In a nutshell, Luciano is playing house these days: there’s less techno, more organic sounds, more older tracks, and mostly noticeably, more vocals. “DJs all too often limit themselves to just playing the hits of the day,” Luciano explains. “When I’m DJing I like to compose. I’m always bringing vocals or acapellas into my sets. Vinyl is like an analogue instrument and you must do something with that instrument. It’s meant as material for young DJs to do something with. DJs should do things like record keys at home and then mix things together. I think that makes things more exciting, when people at a club night suddenly hear an acapella from a seventies hit. You are bringing two worlds together. This allows you to advance electronic music.”
“My philosophy is that a DJ should always try to transport emotions onto the dancefloor. To dig deep and bring everything up that mattered emotionally in their life, that made them laugh, everything that caused sensations. To try to transport that from their childhood to the now. You know, I’m very influenced by melodies I heard in my childhood. I never studied music. All my skills came from my own ear.”
Luciano in the clubs: What was the best party of 2007?
Luciano: "DC-10 in Ibiza is always a very special location. I also loved DJing in Japan. They have amazing clubs. But the highlight of the year was Romania. It reminds me a bit of the time when I was eighteen or nineteen and we were throwing our first parties in Chile. That was really the best time of my life. The energy at the parties in Bucharest reminds me of that spirit. The people are good, they are humble, they live a simple life. It’s pretty magical.”
One of the things that matters emotionally to Luciano these days, of course, are his kids. In fact, children themselves a recurring theme in his work. “Children in music, they represent freedom,” he says before enthusing about his new project: “It’s a children’s chorus. In a few days, we will record it at my kids’ school. The children will write the lines by themselves. In my opinion, a chorus doesn’t get any better than one which is sung by children.”
His kids are present here in the studio, too. Two huge Mac screens display pictures of Lilou and Amael firmly pressing their hands on their ears, as if in protest at their dad’s choice of occupation. “My children don’t give a shit about me being a star DJ. When you get too full of yourself, what we call in Spanish “los humos de la cabeza”, then my children help me to stay down to earth. They are my personal exercise in humility.”
“On the weekends there’s always a big commotion being on the club tour with everyone just jumping on you. And when I come back home, I’m a normal guy with two kids,” he shrugs.
A normal family man, sure, but he’s not about to join that Swiss bank quite yet. There’s something child-like about Luciano himself, too. During the interview, he plays the entertainer, grabbing my mic and swinging it around with glee. His speech patterns alone are a melodic sing-along, peppered by sudden sonic outbursts such as “brrrrr”, “ta-taa-taaa” or “jck-jck-jck” which can’t help but jump from his mouth.
I ask him to what extent he sees Cadenza as a family rather than a business. “It’s very important that we work together in such a way, with my sister, with my label manager, etc. Also the acts on Cadenza. For example, I am very much inspired by young people, such as Petre Inspirescu. He is like this super special person. He’s using the same gear as everyone, but his sound sounds so different and so simple. You know, the artists from Bucharest very much live super-united, like a family.”
“You know, I didn’t want to actually run a label. I just wanted to put out a record once in my life. So we found a deal with Kompakt to press one record. The feedback to 'Orange Mistake' was immense, suddenly we had ourselves a hit. So from day one, we had something that I basically didn’t want, not because I don’t want to run a label, but because I’m simply not cut out for the administrative side, writing e-mails etc. But everybody around me was insisting.”
“You could build a track on pure mathematics, but that's not my thing. Sensation is something that is higher than everything.”
“On the other hand the option to run a label was always intriguing, also the idea of working with other people. It took me like three to four years to find the right crew. Now we are like seven or eight people.”
We talk about what Luciano has in store for Cadenza. “Right now we are rethinking our release policy. We are considering releasing whole albums on CD each time we release artists on vinyl. We have a big demand from people who want to listen to us at home.”
One of those upcoming CDs will be Luciano’s new album. Any release date set? “It’s not like I have a work schedule for it. But I do have an excuse to come into the studio for two months and I can make music without any intention or plan. So basically, I arrive here, and I’m free to make music. In two or three months I will compile these tracks into an album. At the moment I don’t know what direction I’m going to take, whether it’s going to be more dance-oriented or more downbeat or a mixture between the two. At first I had the idea that I would do an album of dance music but without the kickdrum, so basically only the atmospheric and rhythmical things would be left. Because the last thing I add to a track is always the kick drum.”
Our meeting finishes with me getting a good earful of the productions Luciano is working on. There is a ballad sung by Martina Topley-Bird, and snippets of local origin such as yodelling and alp horns. He also gives me a live demo of his favourite instrument of the moment, the hang drum. Without a doubt, the calming presence of nearby Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps will be leaving their mark on this production. “I feel there is more spirit and freedom for the mind here, because you’re not constantly attacked by information as in a big city,” Luciano tells me on the way out. “Nature doesn’t attack you. It refuels you.” So let’s take a deep breath with Luciano.