Before your ground breaking and award winning release ‘Basta Poco’ in 1991, which turned out to be the first Italian raggamuffin album, I gather that you were also into New Wave and Punk. Which genres of music were dominating the Italian scene back then? When you released the album did you anticipate it would do as well as it did? Especially considering that six of your reggae singles were play listed on MTV.
Commercial pop music has always dominated the Italian chart, back in the days and also nowadays. So imagine me, coming from the underground culture, all of a sudden being catapulted into the top ten chart, introducing dancehall music to an audience that was totally unaware of this “form of expression”, which was more than just music.
It was certainly a bit of a culture shock at the beginning! I always strongly believed in that project, since that day in 1984 when I wrote my first reggae song, but frankly I wasn’t expecting all of that, to sign a major record deal with Polygram and subsequently having six of my singles on MTV, broadcasted in “heavy rotation” for several years to come!
Your progression from Ragga to Dub seems natural considering your need for expansion and growth as an artist. What specifically is it about Dub that has kept you fascinated and interested in the genre until now, since you launched your first Dub project the ‘Dub Alchemist’ round 1994?
The first Jamaican “music bug” I caught was Dub music, it was 1980 and I was 17 years old. What fascinated me the most about this music, was the silence in between the notes.
I felt this was an important element and it should be treated with the same importance as the notes themselves.
That made me feel that Dub is a very ‘respectful’ form of music. I still clearly remember saying that one day I would create my own Dub project experimenting with synthesizers. The problem was that in Italy back in the days record companies really wanted to associate your face to your music, there was no way that a label would have signed you just for the music you composed, you basically needed, for media purposes, to have your music presented by your face, i.e. be a singer.
Only once you were well established, with a good credibility and respected profile could you have possibly released music without necessarily showing your physical persona. Well, this theory created a conflict with my vision of music, where my “music heroes” were artists who’s faces I’d never seen, such as King Tubby, Coxon Dodd, Lee Scratch Perry, or even more accessible examples such as Giorgio Moroder or Brian Eno, do you know what John Barry looks like?
I personally didn’t, but I absolutely adored his music compositions, and he was another of the music heroes I followed.
So, before embracing my dub project, I basically had to establish myself as a credible musician, and also as a public figure.
I did it pursuing my love for reggae music, then in 1994 I could finally release my Dub album without showing my face on the front cover. All those years were very helpful for me to understand the many hidden complexities of the music industry.
Is the label you founded in 1995 ‘Sub Signal’ after your move to London, a further extension of your appreciation and understanding of the endless possibilities of Dub as a genre? How do you further plan on continuing to contribute to the world of music with this open ended style of music?
Yes, in 1995 I founded my dub label SUB SIGNAL, I did it with the intention to give more freedom to dub music and suddenly I felt totally not free. I was working 24 hours a day to keep the label running, no more time for creating music, which was what I wanted to do in life. That was another good experience that helped me understand what my role in the music industry was: composing, producing and performing.
I have this natural predisposition of adding dub elements to all the different types of music I work with so, to answer your question, I’d say that this is my contribution to dub music, adding it to other music genres in order to reach a wider audience and make more music listeners aware of the existence of this important sonic phenomenon.
The concept album you did with Pauli Atzei on that label also in 1995 was all about the sound of the human anatomy mixed with electronic music elements. What inspired the delving into the sounds and rhythms of the human body? How and when did you pinpoint the relevance between music and the sounds of human function?
It was many years before that, that I had this idea of creating an album using exclusively sounds created from/with the human body, I remember that my girlfriend at the time offered her help and suddenly became my guinea pig for this music experiment.
I was sampling her sneezes, hand claps, finger snaps, yawning, bone crackling noises, then when I started the actual composition of the album I really didn’t like it, it sounded very cold and “antiorganic” so I abandoned the project for a few years. Then I met multi-instrumentalist Pauli Atzei, I proposed him to join forces for this music experiment and “Ultraviolet Zero” was born. We released only the album “Sound of anatomy” where our major source of inspiration was the1966 sci-fi movie “Fantastic voyage”.
Considering the name Alchemist for a moment and your career that spans over thirty successful years in music production, the remixes you have done, the three gold discs & one silver, the movies and the list goes on. It seems as though you are and have been a musical scientist constantly trying out new music formulas to see what works. Mostly, coming up with sounds that are extraordinary. Did this happen purposefully as a result of your intention, or did you simply find that happening with your music as you continued experimenting?
I really appreciated your kind words, but let me say that not all my 30 years in music have been so successful, in my career I’ve had interesting peaks of establishment of course, but I also had many delusional moments, especially in the first decade. All of it in the end has contributed to shape my musical identity, identity formed by multiple faces, because music has so many interesting faces, and i love MUSIC in its totality.
So many different “musical territories” and possibly even more in the future. The sound that I manage to create with my “sonic amalgamation”, is simply the fruit of fearless experimentation; many other musicians seems to be attracted by the idea of opening new musical boundaries but in order to do that, most of them create different “alias names”, as if there’s the need to hide behind pseudonyms in order to have full freedom of musical expression, I’ve personally never took into consideration making music under a different name in order to have “free musical range”, when I released music as “Dub Alchemist” it was exclusively for bureaucratic contractual reasons, at the time I was under a five year recording deal with Polygram as Gaudi and I had to stay with their timing and marketing strategies. By the way, it was the same year when Prince had the same problem and created his alias names Tafkap, Love Symbol, New Power Generation etc.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to the stuff you made in the early nineties to some of your more latest releases such as ‘No Prisoners’ and the music is timelessly genius. Different producers consider different things when making music i.e. to sell, widen or grow a genre they love. What do you take into consideration or make top priority when producing music?
The main thing I consider in my productions is that no matter what music genre I’m working on, I need to make sure that my own style of making music is recognisable enough for the listener to identify my “musical signature”. – we’re going back to the “identity” subject I was referring to it in my previous answer. Record sales? Well, nowadays you can’t really rely purely on royalties, so in my opinion what’s more important for an artist is the longevity.
Your passion and hunger for diversity led you to Africa in 2000 where it said you drew the first burst of inspiration for your album “Bass, Sweat & Tears”. Please tell me what the meaning is behind the album title and what being in Africa specifically did for your own personal growth as well as the depth of your music?
To put it simple, my trip to Africa was the deepest experience of my life, and because my life is also my music, my music got naturally modified and enriched by that experience. Everything I learned from that chapter, unavoidably affected my sound and added to my music vision a radically different prospective, because there in Burkina Faso your awareness towards simple things gets automatically amplified so you pay more attention to details and your senses are much more receptive to. That was in fact when I realized that my music was hiding a dark side. In all my productions until then, I was subconsciously trying to impress the listener with complex textures, intricate arrangements and unnecessary virtuoso, which was exactly the opposite of what I was experiencing in Africa where all was raw and unsophisticated, but with a clearer and more defined impression. This introverted discovery was the catalyst of my “Bass, Sweat & Tears” album, adopting this new formula of “more heart, less brain” I recorded incredibly talented musicians, I met the most beautiful and genuine people (tears), I worked my ass off on the production of the album (sweat), and I achieved the right vibrational satisfaction (bass).
I noticed that the tracks you used to put together on your latest compilation ‘EVERLASTING’ are all downtempo, making for a very inspiring thought inducing mix. What was the idea behind sticking to a mellow sound for this compilation release?
The concept behind EVERLASTING has nothing to do with tempo or genre, but it is entirely based on “music flow”.
I had in mind this two hours sonic journey and I just followed my taste in music, I wanted to express my concept of “music as a style” instead of “music as a genre”, so in order to achieve this result I worked with artists associated with different music genres, using elements also part of my own music compositions such as, electronica, dub and psychedelia.
On that note, could we expect the wonder of your sound travelling to South Africa this time for a live treat of one of your performances?
Bringing my music to South Africa has been in my plans for a long long time. I’ve always been attracted by South African culture and music, I have so many friends from there, but unfortunately a Gaudi live performance has still not happened!
My 2012 tour looks already pretty full but I’ll talk with my booking agency, Origins Music International and see what we can do.