These two friends from Italy bring a distinctively deep touch to techno. We take a look at what's in their crates.
The duo gained international recognition thanks to the blog mnml ssgs. The site picked up on a 2008 mix called Hypnos, and went on to host a wonderful run of natural/electronic.system. mixes. "Chris [Hobson from mnml ssgs] noticed us and gave us space to share our sound, which we were really happy to do," Gomez De Ayala says. In 2009, they were booked at Japan's much-loved Labyrinth festival.
DJing had long been the focus for natural/electronic.system., who for many years had just one digital release to their name. But in 2016 they made their vinyl debut on Tikita, a low-key label based in Berlin that pushes atmospheric techno, with "Emersione," a dreamlike 120-BPM track that feels tailor-made for moonlit forest dance floors. A few months ago, they reconnected with Tikita for their first full release on wax, Sicut Erat, which delivered on the promise of "Emersione." An EP of trippy, slow-burning beats that matched the sound and restraint of their DJ sets, it brought to mind Donato Dozzy, who they count as both a friend and an inspiration.
The selections below reflect Giova and Gomez De Ayala's love of electronic music's deeper zones. We started at their roots, with a record from Naples.
Zucchine Alla Scapece
OK, tell me about this one.
Giova: Magic. Vesuvian magic.
Gomez De Ayala: Yes! Retina.it are one of our early influences when we were teenagers in Napoli.
Giova: This track is one of our favorites from Retina.it but there are many others. And zucchine alla scapece is a typical dish from Napoli. I think that's another reason we chose this track.
Gomez De Ayala: They were very fresh-sounding musicians in Napoli. We mostly went out to hear guest DJs rather than local artists, but Retina.it I think were the only exception.
Giova: For us it was the best electronic music coming from our city at that time. They were doing something that was not only club-oriented. It was more underground, with an eye on the artistic side.
Gomez De Ayala: They were pioneers in some ways, and they've been a great inspiration for us, for sure. We loved the way they were playing live with racks of gear. At that time, no one was doing that. They're very serious studio animals.
Giova: Great guys, really into music and very humble.
Valerio, you live in Rome, and Antonio, you live in Berlin. How do you work together on your music?
Giova: We have separate studios, sometimes we exchange instruments. We have a lot of material from the past, old projects never finished, and we like to listen to them again after many years and rework them. If we're in the same city, we work together—it happened recently when Valerio was in Berlin for the Fullpanda gig at Tresor. We have an online server where we share music and projects, and sometimes we send each other ideas and if the other gets inspired by it, he starts working on that.
And beside Retina.it, what are some of your other favorite live acts?
Gomez De Ayala: The last electronic live acts that I enjoyed were Alva Noto at Electric Campfire in Rome, and Dorisburg performing live for our Strati event in Rome. Monolake/Robert Henke is always nice to see. Juju & Jordash live really impressed me last year. Voices From The Lake, of course. Varg, his first-ever gig was at Strati and he was great.
Giova: I remember that gig... a great live set. I've never seen anyone playing with that intensity. For me, there's Kangding Ray—the first time I saw him was in Salerno, in 2008 or 2009, when his album Autumne Fold was out. He was with a drummer and he was also singing on some tracks. There was the vibe of being in the right place in the right moment. I saw him again at Atonal 2013 and it was definitely different. More techno, more intense, but still beautiful. There was Voices From The Lake at Labyrinth, I think I saw people crying. They played after a techno set from Function. They lowered the tempo a lot, and took us on this amazing journey of downbeat, atmospheric techno.
Selected by Antonio.
Giova: I feel like this is an endless track. I remember listening to this track for hours.
Gomez De Ayala: We grew up in Napoli, but then around 2004 we got in contact with electronic music from Rome. In Rome there was a very vibrant techno and electro scene in the '90s, and ACV is a pretty seminal label for that sound. This track is so beautiful, made so many years ago but still sounding so fresh. We heard it in a set from Donato Dozzy.
Giova: We found Leo Anibaldi, Lory D, D'Arcangelo, Modern Heads, Brando Lupi, Claudio Fabrianesi, Neel and many others from the Roman scene. And we were amazed to know that Roman artists released in the past on Rephlex.
One thing that makes this a great track is that it also works at 33 RPM instead of 45. I would imagine you guys pitch this down.
Giova: I personally prefer it slow.
Gomez De Ayala: Slower!
Giova: You can play it fast or slow, you can play it forever. The notes in the background play like a lullaby. I can't imagine how he made this track. I ask myself: did he start with the melody or with the drums?
It has that tribal-techno sound, like it comes from the jungle.
Gomez De Ayala: It's a shamanic record, and if you slow it down you have even more details.
Giova: Leo Anibaldi, and also Lory D, made tracks that never got old. They have been a huge influence on Italian techno.
Gomez De Ayala: They were pioneers at that time and still produce great music.
Fullonica Di Stephanus
Maybe we should talk about this one next.
Gomez De Ayala: Two great inspirations. We have a test pressing of this—Donato's present. Excavations is dedicated to the excavation site in Pompeii, not far from our hometown. We used to play this a lot.
Giova: It's a link between two of our favorite artists and our home. Mike is an art teacher, he is very attracted to Italy and its history. He also made an EP, Vesuvio Tremors, inspired by Mount Vesuvius, the volcano on the Gulf Of Napoli.
I often hear a Mike Parker track in your mixes. Valerio, I think you once told me, "There's always time for a Mike Parker moment."
Gomez De Ayala: He has a unique style of techno, something not so common nowadays.
Giova: Yes, he can cover an entire spectrum with just a few sounds. We saw him for the first time in Rome at Brancaleone, in 2007 I think. It was around the time of Dozzy Records—also a piece of the sound of Rome.
Tell me about how you guys discovered Donato Dozzy.
Gomez De Ayala: We found him through his early productions on Elettronica Romana and Orange Groove. We discovered in Donato an artist that was doing similar stuff to what we were looking for. We fell in love with his DJ skills also.
Giova: Yes, an amazing style of mixing.
Gomez De Ayala: We slowly became friends, and we're really close, like what Antonio and I have. We're honored we had this opportunity.
The Leo Anibaldi track and this Parker and Dozzy track both feel like they can go on forever, and kind of require more time in the mix. How long do you like to DJ for?
Gomez De Ayala: We like to play longer sets because you can build the atmosphere much better.
Giova: And play those tracks that, as you said, need more time in a mix, more time to be understood.
Gomez De Ayala: We really try to tell a story during our sets.
Giova: The longest set we were officially booked for was a mnml ssgs night in Tokyo [in 2012], we played for eight hours. Sometimes the organizers don't stop us from playing and we keep digging records for much longer. It happened in Basel last time.
Gomez De Ayala: We used to do open-air private parties with some good friends on the slope of the volcano Vesuvio in Napoli. We would play very long sets, just me and Antonio. We experimented a lot there, trying stuff out to see how people would react. We also brought some friends to DJ, and we were still doing these parties until last Christmas. But recently there was a huge fire in the woods there and the place was damaged. We're not sure if we'll do more parties there in the future.
Selected by Valerio.
Gomez De Ayala: This represents the influence that techno from the '90s had on us. All the Damon Wild Subtractive Synthesis records on Synewave are brilliant.
It sounds like the one straight-up techno track from your list.
Gomez De Ayala: We really love the more hypnotic sound of this kind of techno. Damon Wild, and Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, Steve Stoll, Steve Bicknell, Oliver Ho, James Ruskin, Surgeon, Rob Alcock. We had two tapes from Hood and Hawtin playing in Napoli clubs in the late '90s. They were playing that kind of techno—less funky, more mental. That's how we started to get interested in that, and nowadays we always have some of these records in our bags.
Giova: This one is for Mika Vainio.
Gomez De Ayala: He was an amazing inspiration for us. It was very sad news when he died. He was the master of minimalism. For us, there are no others. He was an artist with a really unique touch. Beautiful, hypnotizing music. Pure electricity.
He's made so much music in different styles, why did you two choose this record?
Gomez De Ayala: It was one of the first records we got by him. The first cut has such a strange beat.
Giova: We like this kind of techno. When I was a teenager, I read about this concert that happened in Napoli, about an electronic music duo from Finland doing experiments in the countryside with huge soundsystems and low frequencies.
Gomez De Ayala: And we discovered Pan Sonic.
Giova: They would close themselves in a room for hours without water and food, listening to low frequencies at high volume. They were interested in understanding the power of sound, not only from an aesthetic point of view but the actual physical impact of it.
Selected by Antonio.
Giova: The entire album [Incunabula] is amazing. We picked this one because it's an alternative to Autechre's alien, futurist style. It's full of soft electronics and rhythms—organic instead of mechanical. And it tells a story.
Gomez De Ayala: It's also on Warp, a label that's been very important for us, especially the earlier releases.
Giova: For sure, Warp was one of our first connections with electronic music when we were still young in Napoli. You could find their music on the TV sometimes, especially late in the night.
Did you discover a lot of electronic music through the TV, or radio?
Gomez De Ayala: No, much more through the internet—file-sharing, but also buying records online was new at that time. We had no good record shops close to us when we were younger.
Giova: Yes, almost nothing. I remember there were some in the center of Napoli but in the early 2000s it was mostly house and tech house.
I actually wanted to ask, where would you go clubbing in Napoli?
Giova: The parties were often moving from one place to another. There were big venues outside the city.
Gomez De Ayala: And let's say three or four big promoters that organize different types of parties.
Giova: There was Angels Of Love, there was International Talent...
Gomez De Ayala: Loose Club, Orbeat... Our first gig as natural/electronic.system. was with Loose Club in 2005. We were trying to play around the city and Mario Manganelli from Loose Club was the first promoter to invite us. It was at Old River Park, in Caserta. A famous venue, a huge place near the river. It closed down a few years ago. We also went there for the big techno names—Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke, Richie Hawtin. There were also lot of outdoor parties on the beaches north of the city.
And you two were often going to these events together?
Gomez De Ayala: Yes, almost every time.
Giova: And when we got a car, we started driving to parties that were even further away. I remember we were going to Rome. Fucking far, 250 kilometers, but I have lovely memories of those weekends.
Gomez De Ayala: Robert Henke was very important for us, he expanded our views on music. His ambient works, experimental stuff, techno—he's really diverse and always on point. We saw Monolake live for the first time in a church (Chiesa Di San Severo Al Pendino) in the middle of Napoli in 2005. The show was for a very interesting festival called Sintesi. He was playing live with the first edition of his Mono Deck controller for Ableton, around the time the Polygon Cities album came out.
Giova: I think he really influenced the way we do music now. His interest in experimenting with electronic sounds, natural sounds and field recordings, I love it. Our track "Terrae Nullius" for Tikita is full of field recordings in the background. It was an ambient track at first, we built the entire atmosphere of the track from those field recordings.
Where are they from?
Gomez De Ayala: Our travels, mostly. We like to record sounds while traveling. We always try to carry a recorder.
Giova: Japan and places around Napoli. Yeah, when you go somewhere you want to keep a memory of that place, of that specific situation, and audio recording is such a powerful tool for that, it gives you the opportunity to create something new and more personal. And Monolake is a master at this.
Giova: This track is actually not on the Tikita reissue. Like Anibaldi's track, it can be played slower, which we love to do.
Yeah, this record is interesting because three of the four tracks are around 120 BPM, at 33 RPM. This one, you have to play it at 45 RPM to get that tempo, otherwise it moves nice and slowly.
Giova: An endless tribal groove, voodoo calls, lots of melancholy.
Gomez De Ayala: We really like that.
Giova: It's like being lost in an unknown place, in search of something. We love this voodoo touch in music. It's what we love about Stratosphere, and what linked us with Tikita and [the label boss] Karim.
How did you discover Stratosphere? It seems somewhat overlooked, aside from the reissues on Tikita.
Giova: I remember we found a track from the label, maybe in a mix, and I'm sure I heard Mike Parker playing something from the label a long time ago. Then we bought all of them on Discogs.
And how did you get in contact with Karim? What made you interested in working with him?
Gomez De Ayala: He wrote us, he was following our work actually. When we started to speak to him, we noticed we were really tuned on the same frequency. He's also from Morocco. This made it really interesting to us. The south of Italy was occupied by Arabs in ancient times and we still have this influence in our traditions and architecture.
Giova: Karim is definitely an interesting person and a real music lover. We liked his project, we were already following Tikita because of the Stratosphere reissue. So when he asked for some tracks we were more than happy to collaborate.
Did you make the tracks specifically for Tikita?
Gomez De Ayala: Some material we had already or we were working on it, other stuff was new.
Selected by Valerio.
Gomez De Ayala: This is from a series of three EPs, 3D Concepts, on an Austrian label called Toytronic. We play tracks from every part of it. It's a beautiful work. We really like the blend between downtempo, experimental and ambient. I bought the set of all three records from a seller on Discogs that sent me them in a plastic bag made for the whole release. That was nice. We love to include tracks from this series when we do DJ sets focused on ambient, downtempo and experimental music—something we really like to do, too.
Gomez De Ayala: We love Ilar's work and we especially love his album Everdom. It has a very unique way of building melodies and rhythmic textures, from more ambient and experimental to house and techno. It's a beautiful record, and very creative music. We opened our set at Labyrinth 2009 in Japan with this track.
Giova: This guy's music takes us to another universe, musically speaking.
Gomez De Ayala: We saw him play live at Flussi Festival in Avellino in 2010, not far from Napoli.
Giova: It was lovely. It was on a kind of terrace, an open-air space, with a dance floor and spots to lie down and listen all around. The people behind Flussi Festival, they're one of the small groups around Napoli that spreads good music. But I would imagine listening to his music in a forest—that would be the right venue.
Gomez De Ayala: He's from Sweden, and Swedish electronic music seems to be very connected to nature in some ways.
Selected by Valerio.
Gomez De Ayala: We are really into deep house stuff too—artists like Jus-Ed, DJ Qu, Fred P, Omar-S, Marcellus Pittmann, Patrice Scott and others, they add really fresh touches to the deep sound. It's kind of hypnotic and subtle. I bought this record at Clone in Rotterdam, the old space in Mauritsweg, when I lived there in 2008 and 2009. I was studying at the SAE Institute, and when I had free time I would go to the old Clone shop, spending a lot of time digging. I discovered a lot of amazing music there, so this record for me is really connected to Clone and Rotterdam.
I was sharing this period of my life with Neel, a very good friend of ours, who was also studying at SAE. At that time there was not so much electronic music at all there. We were just the weird guys, but I needed to learn theory to be used for our production, and it was very useful. You learn something and then you apply it to your way of making music.
I was actually wondering, in 2007, you guys put out a digital EP, Human Fragility—your only other EP besides the one for Tikita, right?
Giova: [laughs] Yes, our first experiments as producers.
Gomez De Ayala: For a short time we ran a net label, Stomafunk, with another guy, but we had different tastes and visions in music. It didn't last long.
Giova: I would love to rework some of those tracks actually.
So you were focused on DJing instead of producing music?
Giova: Yes, we were experimenting for a long time but only recently, in the last three or four years, we started seriously producing. We always thought of ourselves as DJs mainly, rather than producers. We just wanted to get gigs to play the records we love.
What has changed in how you approach DJing and producing music over the last ten years?
Giova: DJing? Not much. But producing—to put in music what you have in your mind is a complex process, but as you do more and study more, you have more tools to do what you have in mind.
Gomez De Ayala: We always had an idea of our sound in our minds. We try to stay unique. We can be ambient, techno, house, but we always try to put our idea of sound in it.
Tell me about what you're doing now. I know you're playing Paral·lel Festival in Spain again.
Gomez De Ayala: Paral·lel—last year was a very good starting point and I'm sure this year will be even better. The crowd was very nice and respectful and really into the music. It's good to have a festival like this in Europe.
Giova: Yes, very intimate and the vibe was the right one. It's in the mountains, very close to the French border, two hours from Barcelona. So you are basically far from everything, lost in the middle of nature, woods, mountains and music. I don't like to make comparisons, but it feels somehow like the vibe and concept at Labyrinth. The promoters were actually inspired by Labyrinth and Artmospheric in Bulgaria.
And it won't be another ten years until we hear a new natural/electronic.system. record, right?
Gomez De Ayala: I think you'll hear about us putting out new music within the next year. We are working a lot on music production now.
Giova: Yes, we have several projects we are working on. We're trying new ideas, not just techno-oriented.
Gomez De Ayala: The records are very different from each other, we want to do different stuff.
Giova: So hopefully you don't have to wait ten more years to hear from us again.