What motivated you to participate in the next Cxema?
I've been following Cxema for a few years now. I don't remember how I discovered it, but the Eastern European scene is something that always fascinated me. There's this idea that because it's the poorest area in Europe, kids still rave there as they did in Western Europe in the past. It's a stereotype that's probably true. I’ve never raved in Eastern Europe when I was 20, but you can get the vibe from the pictures. I think Cxema is one of the best when it comes to vibe. It's very open-minded. I like the fact that it's a huge party and it's brave enough to bring different kinds of music. And not for 100 or 200 people, but for thousands. That's insane because this kind of music can change every 6 months, and my set can change as well. My name can be prejudiced against, I get put in a box because of it, and I opened the project to break these boundaries. So the idea to play at this open-minded and hybrid place is the best for me, it’s where I can share my vision and my sound.
What do you mean by getting put in a box?
When you hear “gabber,” you know it's about hard and punchy music. People expect this kind of thing from me, but I don’t play only hardcore. I play different kinds of music across the spectrum of sound that isn’t necessarily hard or fast, it depends on my vibe for the night. I'm a DJ and I like the idea of telling a story. Sure, I chose the name, that's part of the game, and I don't regret it. But when I try to do a tour, people who don’t know my project say, “we don't usually do hardcore nights.” They see the name and the conversation stops. It's funny, you start to realize that changing the visual image, which my blog has helped to do, doesn’t necessarily change the sonic perception. That’s a new task. That's why I did a mixtape that's very hybrid, and that’s why my DJ sets are not strictly hardcore. I like the idea of breaking boundaries and playing outside of the comfort zone.
Do you ever feel limited by the name?
I like my name. I'm very proud of it, it's born out of a process, and my process is sometimes very naive, nothing strategic or complex. For me, naive relates to this idea “I want to do it, so I do it.” I like the do-it-yourself style. Sometimes it's rough and dirty, and I like it just because it's there. It's part of a passion-first approach, it's very soulful. If you process the idea too much, you can lose the essential part of it. The idea needs to be the simplest because then it’s the most powerful. To keep adding things — that's not my style, I like the idea of a first take. Sometimes, of course, I need to try it a few times, especially in production. But in general, my attitude is very intuitive, and I like a little primitive, dirty approach.
Is that what DIY means to you?
Yes, but it’s not just an aesthetic, it's an approach. It's about what you can do with your own skills. For example, I didn't study production, but I like the idea of doing a track with skills that I have and not looking to sound complex or designer.
How did your relationship with the project change since it's become your full-time job?
Speaking of the DJ side, nothing really changed since I started doing it as a hobby ten years ago when I began promoting nights in the independent scene in Bergamo. The only difference is that I stopped promoting and now I just play music. The other side — production, labels, and artists (I'm not only DJing but also consulting and working as a visual artist) — that changed. I feel pressure sometimes, I don't really like deadlines. This is the struggle: you don't want to lose your freedom, but you need money to do other things. Now I'm in a good balance because I can say “no.” I'm not doing this to make money. I used to be a gabber when I was a teen, so this is a very natural evolution of my experience.
Of course, you're going to lose a part of your naive attitude somewhere. You need to schedule and prioritize what's important because you have a deadline. I can feel very oppressed because I'm very spontaneous: if I have an idea, I want to start immediately. That's the struggle for many creative people because you can't really start a new project when you have another one. I was actually afraid of losing interest in all this, but I'm going to stop if it happens. I feel so sad when artists become their own cash machines. Money is an addiction like drugs and other things, it can definitely change you. But when you have a good balance it's OK. That's why I want to keep it independent, not to lose the ability to say “yes” or “no.”
You also do reinvent yourself, like with Never Sleep. Would you say it's a separate project or a continuation of Gabber Eleganza?
It's an evolution. I keep the archive online, but it's quite rare that I upload stuff. I started it with the purpose of changing the visual idea about the specific subculture, and people have accepted this new visual now. My mission is done. If I find something that I think is cool, I can upload it, but I have tons and tons of amazing pictures that I’ve never shared online because it's not the point anymore.
I keep it as part of my project, but now I work in the offline world: DJ sets, performances and, of course, the label. I like the idea of spreading music on the multimedia platform. Starting with publishing a book Hardcore Soul, I keep respect to something that I’ve put online from offline, so now I take it from online and put it offline. Thus, I switched from the post-Internet blog to pre-Internet blog. It's actually more complex, of course, but I like going out of my comfort zone and I like having a multimedia platform/brand to cover everything that I'm doing.
You often describe the book as a remix of old and new. Is there anything else new that you're excited about?
In the past few months, I've only been listening to ’90s music, I'm not really into new stuff, but I still like some, especially this intellectual approach to rave music.
Do you mean things like conceptronica?
Conceptronica can be very boring for me sometimes. I come from EDM background also, and that kind of music is usually a little rougher, it’s making people dance and putting it on another level. And conceptronica sounds more like a personal approach in the bedroom, there’s more ego. Some parts of it are interesting, though, especially from people who don't come from a specific scene. They're remixing in their own way to bring something new, and I like it. Lorenzo Senni, for instance, is my friend, and everything he does is incredible. The guy comes from post-punk, hardcore punk, rave, and he invented his own world. Or, take similar artists that come from rave and are doing beatless things.
It's probably more difficult to remix something that you know when you want to pay respect to that thing at the same time, so for me, it's a completely different situation. But in general, this outsider approach to dance music is interesting. If you listen to this podcast, you can find very different things, from an old Italian poet to a very rough MC with cheesy jungle tracks and abstract deconstructed things. I like the idea of a paradox. That's part of my name and my project too. I’m really into everything that's in contrast and out of the ordinary.
Your blog's like that, a collage of different things.
Yes, and its stance is very tough. Especially now with the political situation in Europe, people like something more radical in sound. That's also why hardcore needs to be more accepted by the club and the young kids as they start to realize that the sound like techno is very conservative. You know, the festival techno scene, people call it business techno. It's OK if it exists, but I also understand why the young generation doesn't want to be like an old raver, they feel that there is a range of new sounds, and they're ready to embrace it.
Would you refer to hardcore as underground?
It's not underground. It's just that people don't talk about it as much as about techno and other things. I don't like it when people say, “oh hardcore's cool again.” It has always been there! In places like the Netherlands, there have always been festivals for like 1000 people. Also, pop electronic music like EDM comes from hardstyle, which is an evolution of hardcore. Maybe in a specific scene — white, middle-class, artsy, and “classic media”— it definitely is a new thing, but underground is still not the right name.
Do you think the concept of the underground even means anything today?
No, it means nothing. An approach, how you choose to do things can be underground, but then “independent” makes more sense. Do-it-yourself also means a lot of things today, but underground is just an aesthetic. If one track is listened to by 10 people, it doesn't mean it's underground. Or you hear a track and think it sounds underground, but you go on YouTube and it has 1 million views. Like, what the fuck? What's the meaning of underground? Is it something that the mass media don't talk about? It doesn’t make sense.
You mentioned EDM quite a few times, why are you interested in it?
Because it's hardstyle that's been slowed down a bit. In EDM, you can find trance vibes, progressive house vibes, and hardstyle vibes. There's a lot of elements from hard dance.
Why did you choose Lizzitsky for the first release on Never Sleep?
I work on the label with a partner, a guy from Glasgow. Joe is also my manager, so he’s helped me figure everything out. And he introduced me to this guy who sent a track that was made with an analog hardcore approach. It sounds very much like back in the days and also extremely contemporary because the rhythm is a little crazy and out of the 4/4 scheme. It's rough and fearless, very hardcore but also intelligent. For now, you can only listen to one track from the EP, but there is also a hardcore reggaeton track, for instance. We call it a concept EP because it's a very personal vision of the artist.
This label, I like the idea of doing it to express artists, to tell a story, to bring different vibes from rave and post-rave, mixing old and new. There is this postmodernist approach to things. I don't want to be strategic with my sound. I don't want my label to be a “serious business.” I don't care. I'd like it to be a laboratory, a place to express yourself and to be free.