In the world of techno these days, there are a few dominant narratives. Any reader of Resident Advisor will have a general idea: Berghain, Birmingham, Prologue, dub techno. Stroboscopic doesn't quite fit. Luca Mortellaro, AKA Lucy, agrees: "I feel complementary with labels such as Prologue or Sandwell District. [But] in the end I care about having a general identity, [not] a sound identity, I think it's possible to have a strong cultural identity with a label so that when you say 'Stroboscopic Artefacts? Ah, it's this kind of thing,' but if you ask them 'What kind of thing?' I'm happy for them to say they can't explain."
When the Berlin-based label boss heads to Berghain late on Saturday night, he's as liable to be seeing Len Faki as he is Marcel Dettmann. There are things that bind together the young imprint's releases. But it's also a label that has been around a little bit less than a year and already has three distinct avenues for its releases—the main imprint, a digital-only collection of samplers and the Monad series—reflecting Mortellaro's sometimes impatient approach to SA's management.
As a lazy journalist, I've been drawn to the Monad series, a collection of clearly defined four track digital-only EPs from a single artist. "Usually one [track] will be more in the electronica direction, and the other three are more club-oriented with often one of those three having a dubstep or breakbeat influence," explains Mortellaro. "All of it is on request, there are no demos on it....[so] the schema is always the same when I approach the artist. It's a really introspective series...and I want them to be extreme and make things that are so different [that] they say another label probably wouldn't take it."
As wild as Mortellaro makes it out to be, he's also cognizant of its ultimate function as well. It's a balancing act. "It's a way of showing people something new without pushing them away: 'Inside this box of dance music we can have a lot of things, and this is one of them.' I always like not to be too intellectual in the music that we [have] released over the three series. I would never have done a pure IDM series because I want the dance floor party people who are listening to SA stuff to get involved in this field, and get interested—like it was for me in the beginning....I really like this kind of interconnection between things. This ring function—IDM, electronica, drone and dance floor stuff all in one place—of the Monad series is the main point for me."
Mortellaro's closest kinship came with the Stuttgart-based Meerestief, and he eventually moved to the Germany's capital in the hopes of opening up his own imprint that followed—to some extent—in its image: "Meerestief has always been open-minded and—from what I saw—they never really followed hypes…. When I started SA I had a lot of ideas in terms of creativity. But in terms of running a label practically, it was from them that I got a lot of suggestions and information because I liked the way they were doing it. They weren't arrogant in their promotion; they let the people come to them, they didn't push too much. They said, 'Just present your thing with a strong idea and believe in your idea and they will come to you.'"
What's the idea? In a recent interview with Pulse Radio, Mortellaro points to dub music and something he calls "compressed dub" as a thread that runs throughout Stroboscopic's releases. Basic Channel is another huge formative influence for Mortellaro, but unlike many artists who slavishly attempt to recreate dub techno in sound and style, it's merely a jumping-off point. On solo releases from Lucy, Xhin, Frank Martiniq and Lucy in collaboration with Walter Ercolino, you can hear how the ideas—"analogue imperfections, spontaneous variations"—are taken up.
"When I listen to a techno track that I like, I have to feel that the producer enjoyed making it with no pressure of making the typical intro, breaks, etc. [I'm] more into obsessive repetitive things that can take ten minutes. We've released a lot of tracks that are even 12 minutes, and when I hear that I understand that the producer really enjoyed adding these loops going on with slight changes," says Mortellaro. "It's like in dub music. If you ever see a dub producer like Lee Scratch Perry mixing live he always has in every channel the same thing going on, and [on the mixing board] it's just going up and then up again and then going down, then pushing buttons, you know what I mean? Everything just sounds natural."
How this plays out in the music of Stroboscopic is down to the artists, of course. But some of it is also due to the imprint's unique take on mastering. Along with a visual arm which takes care of all of the label's graphics called Oblivious Artefacts, Stroboscopic has lent its name to Artefacts Mastering. The studio is largely run by Giovanni Conti and Daniele Antezza, AKA Dadub. "I warn our artists when I sign them that they'll hear their track differently after Dadub are done with it. I call what they do creative mastering," says Mortellaro.
I e-mailed Conti to ask him what Mortellaro meant by this phrase. He wrote that "big subs and loudness [are] a starting point, [but] then we search for atoms of 'narrative flow' in the mid-high frequencies, trying to bring under the spotlight the hidden gems that lay in the background. Like taking the hands of a shy creature and giving it power and beauty. We try to adjust the character of the tracks to give them some pulsating life, enhancing the musical elements that have more expressive potential....[it's] sometimes doing more the work of audio post-production than just mastering.... Sometimes we're really 'drawing dicks on the mosquitoes' as we say in Italy. Haha!"
It's a contrast perhaps to the more subservient mode that the mastering engineer often plays. And Conti downplays the idea that their mastering makes the tracks sound too different from what comes in the door: "Even though we try to bring something personal to the tracks we master, we don't disrupt the original content. That would be a remix, not a mastering job. We just use equalizers, compressors and maximizer, plus some secret weapons, but nothing that could be considered an 'effect': We sculpt and slightly color the sound, but not in a destructive way….When a mastering job is not well done, it's really a big disappointment for the artist: You got the test lacquer, put it on, and you see all your expectations flushed down the toilet, and you think 'WTF happened to my beloved creature?' We always give the opportunity of revising until the producer is satisfied with the results."
Nonetheless, you can hear how Mortellaro, as A&R, and Dadub, as mastering engineers, work in concert together to craft something that is approaching an SA sound. Conti may put it best when he writes "we like to bring the vibe of the track on the edge of exploding, inflate and project the sound into deep space!" Somehow Claudio PRC's droning, alien epic "Aphelion," Perc's furious breakbeat techno wonder "Wooden Art" and the elastic bassline lead of Donor's "Portal" all fit that description.
The most celebrated of the label's releases thus far, though, is Xhin's Fixing the Error. "Link" was picked up by DJs like Silent Servant, Ben Klock and Peter Van Hoesen. Mortellaro connected with the Singapore DJ/producer via Meerestief, and he's quickly become a key player in Stroboscopic's development. "I still remember Walter Ercolino of Meerstief showing me the first CD album of Xhin that was released two years ago or so. I was really impressed. It was so innovative. I remember at that time, I said, 'If I ever own a label, he is the first artist I will ask!'"
Since the success of Xhin's track, the demos have come fast and furious from around the world, which resulted in the founding of the label's digital-only sampler series. "We try to accept and listen to the demos because, for me, accepting demos is the base of being underground and innovative. With demos you can discover newcomers, and without newcomers a label has no sense. It's part of the mission to let people discover new things. I didn't want to be a label [that is a] compilation of big names, it's really not my thing. I like the way they mix together. With the public there's naturally a prejudice that attracts you to the big names. 'Oh, X? I listen immediately. Oh, Y? Who is that guy? I don't know, in the garbage.' When you put it together like we did with the Sampler series, when people found Frank Martiniq or Perc together with Claudio PRC, you can get people to listen to it."
This sense of discovery is a driving force for Stroboscopic Artefacts and Mortellaro. Presenting a variety of things, in the hopes that they may lead you to different strands of electronic music. This box, he seems to be saying, is big enough for Berghain, Birmingham, Prologue, compressed dub and anything else we might want to put in it.
Download: RA Label of the Month 1008 Mix: Monad Continuum: A Stroboscopic Artefacts Mix
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Filesize: 181.2 MB
Markus Suckut - Cosmos (Monad VI)
Xhin - Key (Monad III)
Donor - Confine (Monad II)
Pfirter - Repeticion (Monad IV)
Chevel - Fulcron (Monad I)
Markus Suckut - Parsec (Monad VI)
Perc - Bozo (Monad V)
Xhin - Mutate (Monad III)
Pfirter - Supraventricular (Monad IV)
Perc - Stoq (Monad V)
Markus Suckut - Wormhole (Monad VI)
Donor - Portal (Monad II)
Pfirter - Arcon (Monad IV)
Perc - Rowan (Monad V)
Donor - Rethoric (Monad II)
Chevel - Portego (Monad I)
Xhin - Mind (Monad III)
Pfirter - Materia (Monad IV)
Lucy - Krishnamurti Acappella Extended (SA001)