Peter Gabriel is the first cassette I ever owned. I had to send my Mum to buy it for me because I was too small to go to the shop on my own.
How old were you when you got that album?
I think I was ten years old, and I remember it was quite famous in Italy because it had "Shock the Monkey" on it, and that was the first video on TV that was really striking to me. I can't remember much else around then, but the videos really stayed with me. There weren't that many bands making videos at that time. In Italy we were getting the first adaptation of MTV. It wasn't even 24 hours of MTV, you would get maybe four or five hours because there weren't actually enough videos to fit on it! "Shock the Monkey" was this kind of edgy pop, and it led to me getting the cassette and I was a bit shocked because I wasn't really ready for the rest of the album which is quite experimental.
Some of the tracks ended up being used for the movie Birdy, and the soundtrack is quite weird with sequences of him flying, with these drums from one of the tracks from the album. Later Peter Gabriel went quite poppy, and then went all New Agey, but this one was really interesting.
Did you grow to love the rest of the album in the end?
Definitely. It was one of the good things of the time that you would get into one song and discover this other stuff. It didn't really open up a new genre as such because I can't really put my finger on what kind of pop that was. It was just experimental. But it gave me a taste of something a bit different, which happened again with other things like the Eurythmics.
I think I bought Touch in London when I was on a school trip. I was 12. "Here Comes the Rain" was the big track, and then the rest of the album was really interesting. This was one of the first pieces of music of my own that was detached from what my parents listened to. We didn't have many TV channels or radio stations in Italy, so I wasn't so aware of underground experimental electronics going on at the same time, but the music that I had access to was this kind of thing. There was all the early Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet, but that Eurythmics album had a moodier edgier.
There's definitely a lot of tracks on there that wouldn't work well as singles.
"No Fear, No Hate" is really strange. It's almost like a kind of Afro track! And it was the same thing for Kraftwerk. They were quite shocking as well.
The video that got me hooked on Kraftwerk was "Boing Boom Tschak." I think it was one of the first examples of computer graphics in videos and at the time it was like, "ooh, cutting edge!" It was quite striking that there were no actual people in the video, just computer images, and the music to go with it was quite shocking. There was this massive influx of new synthetic stuff and it really caught my attention, and paved the way for hip-hop which was already going in the background.
The Whodini Electro 5 Track EP
Did hip-hop catch on quite quickly in Italy?
A friend came back from the States when I was around 14, and he brought back a tape with all these things like Run DMC, early Roxanne. I'd never heard anything like that, and that was a bridge between that slow pop and this electronic sound with people talking on it rhythmically, the scratching and everything, it was the future! It's as nice a cliché as any! Whodini was probably one of the most accomplished ones, it was the connection between hip-hop proper and that more European sound like Mr Magic. It has that synth line like it could almost be Kraftwerk. I remember finding that in London on one of my trips when I was 17 or 18.
Do you like to drop these kinds of records in your sets these days?
If I can! Most of the tracks are quite slow, but if I'm playing a warm up set where I can be a bit more adventurous, I always like to drop something from the '80s or something a bit unusual. Last time I was in Berlin after a while playing house I switched to playing stuff like Eurythmics, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I've started listening to DJs again, local Irish DJs like Kenny Hanlon and the guys from Lunar Disko, and they're quite far out as DJs. They go from electro to Chicago, and then to Italo, and I associate that with American DJs like Ron Hardy. At the moment there's this tendency to this homogenous kinda house, almost slow tech house, or slow techno, and it all has a similar sound. It brings up the energy a lot when you switch from one style to another. I play Whodini if I have a chance or Egyptian Lover or whatever.
How much do you think the '80s music you grew up on has fed into the music you make now?
With some of my unreleased music, and the early tracks I made when I was learning the studio, it definitely did. With the album, I was trying to develop what I've been doing for the last few years. It was a sort of romantic album, so I tried to keep a mood throughout so nothing's too out of place. I think there's more of an influence from Chicago, and when I started properly listening to house Trax would have been the main label I could actually get my hands on. Larry Heard was a massive influence.
I think that was the first Fingers Inc. record I bought and I still have it. It was a strange house record. It's an amazing record. It's one of those tracks that has a really good balance between rough edgy Chicago and a melodic sensibility that's never overbearing, it's always between being sexy and sweet, but not too sweet!
That balance between being sexy and being sweet comes across on the new album, particularly on the tracks with The Oliverwho Factory.
I didn't give them any brief on the album. I had been buying their EPs, and I just gave them the finished tracks and said, "find the parts that you like, I can rearrange them if needs be." I didn't give them any indication of what it was about, and I had not worked with vocalists before. I didn't know how much guidance they needed. They just did it. What came back went really well with the music, and the lyrics are quite ambiguous. I'm not really sure what they're on about sometimes, but there's this sense that they're not happy songs and they're not happy lyrics. At the time it wasn't about trying to establish if they were positive or uplifting. It was always about the ambiguity of feelings or regret, so I think unprompted they fit perfectly into what I was doing.
This was another one of those happy accidents. I bought this because of the video for "Tutu," and I wasn't really sure about the album because it was a bit weird. It's one of the first albums he did with new digital synths and drum machines, so there's this really strange cold kind of feeling to it, but it definitely grew on me. My favourite Miles Davis would be that afro '70s time when he got really mental and experimental, but "Tutu" I really liked because it fitted my own time. The album really captures that feeling of that '80s edginess. It's a shame that I didn't put Herbie Hancock's Futureshock in the list actually. That was the first type of jazz I was getting into, and Futureshock especially because it had "Rockit" on it, which I loved for the mental video with all those machines moving around.
Futureshock was a definitive album for a lot of people at that time.
I imagine so, but it wasn't so big in Italy. In England there was probably a better scene. Electro funk was around as a progression from Northern Soul, whereas in Italy it was more like a vacuum where I didn't have many friends that were sharing that interest, so Futureshock was a big album for me even though it had already been out for a few years. That came out much earlier than some of the stuff I mention. It links to another of the albums I put there which is Sly & Robbie.
A Dub Experience
Were you familiar with much dub when you were growing up?
At that time it wasn't obvious to me where dub was meant to be listened to, or what it was. I had one of Sly & Robbie's earlier records which was called Boops, and it had a CJ Mackintosh remix on the back which was one of the first scratching records I had. So I went back to try and find another record from Sly & Robbie, and the only one I could find was A Dub Experience, which was very '80s dub, with loads of digital drum machines. It wasn't like Kingston, Jamaica dub which I imagined I would be listening to. It was really coldly produced, with loads of reverbs in a different sense. They have a mad production style which I'm quite fond of. I don't think it's dated badly but it really identifies that period and they all seem to be part of the same school, putting reverbs on the drum machine snare. It was funny to see that across the board from jazz and dub to pop but it all had a very similar sound. All these new machines were coming on the market and I think it all affected the music.
Sly & Robbie seemed to be the ones to actively embrace new technology in reggae and push the digital side of things.
They were working with people like Grace Jones around that time. That Boops record is a great example of how they were doing something different. It wasn't until later that I discovered King Tubby and this real '70s sound. Whereas King Tubby you can maybe confuse with other guys like Prince Far-I or other '70s Jamaican producers, that Sly & Robbie album is quite peculiar. It's mixed between that Jamaican sound and that European, almost industrial sound, like the way the drums go, or the effects being a bit more varied than proper '70s Jamaican dub. Sly & Robbie didn't have that organic sound.
The industrial angle is something that really comes across with the Peter Gabriel and Kraftwerk albums too.
I think they were trying to capture a mood with that dark sound. At the time I wasn't aware as I was just going to school but I think music in the '80s had a rebellious nature left over from punk. There were a lot of happier producers, but I think I have a tendency to like the more morbid artists that look a bit at the darker side of things.
Kool & Deadly (Justicizms)
I used to have a ridiculous amount of hip-hop records. One of the first gigs I ever went to in Rome was a triple bill with Public Enemy, Run DMC and Derek P. Derek P brought this DJ, I think he was called DJ Scratch? He would jump on the table the decks were on, and start doing this cutting, and I'd never seen turntablism. This was in '87 or '88, and it was shocking stuff, so I had to get my set of decks after that. I started saving up for a really shitty pair of decks and then eventually when I managed to save a bit more I bought a set of Technics, and one of the first things I learned to do was a bit of turntablism. Me and my friends would have little turntablism competitions in our bedrooms with our mates giving us marks on the deck routines.
I think initially I was hearing Run DMC and The Fatboys and a lot of poppy hip-hop because it was being processed by the majors, but then you started getting this nice independent hip-hop, like Public Enemy, Just Ice and Ice T. I was just trying to understand what they were saying at first but thankfully they were printing the lyrics on the sleeve notes, and actually I taught myself a lot of English through Ice T and Public Enemy. Just-Ice was one of my favourites because he had such a raw production and such a raw delivery. He best expressed what I like about hip-hop. It was the most basic medium in terms of production just to allow someone to talk. There's one tune where the drum track finishes and he's still talking and talking, and the producer is coming on saying, "yo the record's over, the record's over," and he just keeps on rhyming all by himself, I really liked that!
There's also some interesting dancehall influences on Kool & Deadly.
There were some other hip-hop things coming out of England that had that kind of ragamuffin influence. There were some nice things on the label that Derek P used to be released on that had this Jamaican style over hip-hop beats that I liked. There was loads of different scenes or different hip-hop styles, but I think Just Ice and Schooly D were doing really interesting things.
It reflects the time when people were just getting to grips with the technology, and different cultures around the world were starting to overlap.
It didn't have this codified rule like it's supposed to have this drum machine or it's supposed to sound like this. Everyone started grabbing onto it and trying to use it the best way. Hip-hop was originally more like an extension of disco, and eventually people like Just-Ice and KRS One appropriated it and did different things with it. They used different samples and they had a political aim on those records. They weren't talking about just partying and dating. Those were the early records where people started associating hip-hop with something a bit unsavoury, a bit risky.
Were you finding it hard to track down these records when you were in Italy?
We weren't so well serviced in Italy, I had to really dig around in far out record shops. I remember going on a record shopping mission to London when I was about 17 or 18. Me and a friend came back with maybe 200 records each and ended up paying a fortune each in extra weight. We almost got arrested as we were leaving because we had to steal one of those trolleys from a supermarket to carry all the records from our friends place in Chelsea to the tube. The police spotted us and followed us to where we were going with this trolley. They thought we were burgling this flat, two scruffy Italians going into a flat while our friend was away. We looked like we didn't belong there at all!