House and techno from the Midwest's new wave.
Earlier this year, Gianpaolo Dieli self-released an EP called The Abolitionist. (Track titles: "Abolish All Police," "Abolish All Prisons.") All proceeds from the record went towards the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which works to reduce pretrial detention and campaigns to end cash bail in his hometown of Chicago. He plans to do more of these records, each with a different cause. Dieli also has a party at Good Room in Brooklyn (where he lives now) called U-ME-US. There he tries to shine a spotlight on some of dance music's unsung heroes—staff, organizers, community activists—moving beyond the DJs and producers we all know.
Much of Dieli's career has been about lifting others up, which is fundamental to what makes him a great DJ. He's got his ear pressed to the American house and techno underground, and he plays records from the country's best up-and-comers. His RA mix is proof: selections from the likes of Ariel Zetina, Flora FM, Richard Holhburn, Davis Galvin and Ali Berger give you some names to look out for in the future. But Dieli also has a timeless taste that brings him to older tracks from Sterac and DBX, UK curveballs like Peverelist, even an old Roll Deep dubplate from 2005. The mixing style is brash but fluid, something he learned from dance music in Chicago. It's an approach that Dieli himself refers to as the "Midwest school." This is a jacking mix that keeps you on your toes as it bulldozes through eras, genres and countries, and, sneakily, actually slows down as it goes on.
What have you been up to recently?
Finding a new balance with habits and rituals in a new city. Trying to be a sponge! I moved to New York City in December after nine years in Chicago, and I've spent the last six months observing the energy and pace here and working to learn how to exist healthily in it. Same goes for navigating social media and the hierarchical games played in this scene. Impostor syndrome can be a real one! So, actively trying to be kind and open, make new friends, and cultivate partnerships on the road and in my new home has been the big growth project as of late.
Musically, I've been polishing work from last year to continue these charity releases, which started with The Abolitionist in March. That feels right for me right now, and a nice way to get music directly to people. I'm also writing new material and, as always, working to develop a more stable and fun practice that produces music that feels genuine.
My partner Anne and I work on a variety of projects together, and in 2019 we started a residency at Good Room called U-ME-US. It aims to celebrate folks in the scene who are dedicating time and effort to their craft but are perhaps not celebrated widely yet. Both a reaction to social media attention economy and a dedication to the folks who are in the field doing the work. The day of the party, we spend most of our time at Good Room installing lights, fabric, plants, and other materials to help flip the space into something that takes the room somewhere else. It's been wonderful to be able to offer friends and artists we admire a space where they can play as they want, and to be able to offer the dancers something different in a space that they may have frequented before.
How and where was the mix recorded?
This mix was recorded over the course of four months and about eight live takes. It was recorded in the booth at Good Room in Brooklyn, with additional recording and editing at home in Queens. I've never been one for a "one-take mix" or the mythology that goes with it. I love the format of long-form studio mixes, and I'm chasing the feeling I get when a mix really sucks me into someone else's perspective.
For the Good Room recordings I used three CDJ 2000NXS2s, a Pioneer DJM900NXS2 and my own Eventide H9 pedal, which I use for a frosting of delay, reverb and twisting things up. For the sections at home, it was two XDJ 1000s and a Xone 23C. At Good Room the recording was direct off a Midas digital board, and at home via the internal sound card on the Xone. It was compiled and mixed down in Ableton.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
I think about DJing much like the rest of my projects, in that it is better for showcasing different voices. I wanted to share all the music that peers and friends are making that I love—like Ali Berger, Ariel Zetina, Davis Galvin and Richard Holhburn—putting them next to music from across genres that, IMO, has a timeless quality. So it started there, and then I worked backwards (or downwards) in tempo, as an experiment. Trying to create contrasts between different time periods and styles, and trying to find that line to ride between them. And then, I guess, there's always a presence of what I think of as the "Midwest school"—less focus on genres and more on music that makes you move. Not in a dogmatic way... more so a principle that opens you up to playing whatever the fuck you want! I'm perennially looking for the "WTF" moments.
Your last EP was called The Abolitionist. In our world today, how do you think dance music can contribute to/participate in politics meaningfully?
I realize there's a contingent of readers of this website that think "politics should stay out of techno." I realize, also, that there are a lot of white people in the scene who are terrified by conversations around race and class in dance music. I want to tell them that these conversations are necessary. Anyone who says dance music isn't political should study the roots. Anyone who says discourse and critique don't belong in the booth, or on the floor, or towards establishments like clubs, festivals and publications: check the arc and the history.
Be critical of your sources of entertainment and media. Understand that dance music reflects the rest of the world—the structures of racism, patriarchy, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism... they all apply here in different ways. We should be examining what our spaces, parties, editorial boards, clubs, festivals and ownership positions look like. Equity is about more than gender parity. It's also about things like livelihood and access, and about doing justice to the people and their stories. It's part of our responsibility to the culture, especially if you are white.
The Abolitionist was meant to clarify my position on police and prisons, but also with the hope that a public gesture can help normalize these sorts of conversations. Giving all the money away from a release is not a new idea, but it does set an example, and that felt genuine and important to me. I have decided that as a white person active in a music born of black and brown struggle that I should be redirecting opportunities towards those around me, especially womxn and the marginalized across the spectrum.
At the same time, I think "meaningfully" is the crux of your question here. With the power structures as grinding as they are, can a scene as niche and resource imbalanced as underground dance music actually shift wider politics? I don't have the answer. I think it's both no and yes. On the individual level, yes, I think you can absolutely shift the politics of the person. I've had my understanding of the world fundamentally shifted by the people of this scene and potent experiences on the dance floor. This is where the potential of the dance floor never wears off for me, and it's what keeps me going.
You're an important part of a vital American house and techno scene. Who are some of the American dance music DJs and/or producers that inspire you the most right now?
Many of them are included in this mix! I am as excited about electronic music in the US as I have been in the last ten years. Bandcamp has levelled the playing field in some capacity, and you can hear so many fresh ideas coming from any number of corners if you look for just a moment. That is beautiful.
I probably wrote five versions of this list before I sent this interview. If you're reading this, know I couldn't mention nearly everyone who I'm geeked about in 2019.
AceMo, Ali Berger, Analog Soul, Ariel Zetina, Ase Manuel, Ash Lauryn, the ALKHEMY / Black Hole crew, Bodyman, Carry Nation, CCL, Davis Galvin, Eris Drew, Flora FM, the Futurehood crew, Ghostly / Spectral, the Hot Mass family, the In Training crew, Jaqi Sparro, Lauren Flax, Katie Rex, MoMA Ready, Octo Octa, Richard Holhburn, Russell E.L. Butler, Stefan Ringer, Turtle Bugg, Sublimate & Smangtasia fam, the Teknox crew, Tony Fairchild. These people are all pushing me forward and there's so many more!
That said, I think there are a lot of folks outside of the DJs and producers who are integral parts and who contribute significant and equal labor to scene building, maintenance and stewardship. From crews who throw parties, to programmers, writers, designers, thinkers and labels, these folks contribute energy and time but are rarely celebrated in the same breath as DJs and producers.
What are you up to next?
My next self-release will happen sometime in July, along with the amazing Smangtasia weekender in Upstate New York, which absolutely deserves everyone's attention. The next U-ME-US is on August 30th with MoMA Ready at Good Room, and I'll be continuing my residency at Ved Siden Af in Copenhagen for as long as they let me stay. It's been an incredible experience in that city so far.
I hope to keep working as much as I can in the studio and deepening my practice around it. Continuing to DJ for folks at home and away is the greatest gift, and something that truly keeps me alive, so I will happily continue doing that wherever I'm given the chance.
And after all that, I hope to stay kind but critical, and be a resource for friends and peers. x