The Grandfathers of Italian Minimal Techno
Techno, music that seems beamed in from the dystopian cityscapes of a JG Ballard novel, has always enjoyed a reciprocal relationship with its surroundings. Where grey industrial buildings dominate and the decay of capitalism is at its most vivid, you’ll find techno. Widely assumed to to “belong” to Detroit and Berlin, the genre – or the creation of it, at least – has only rarely thrived beyond these borders, bar in one, ostensibly unlikely, place: Italy.
Italy’s fascination with electronic music is as old as the artform itself, and can be accurately dated to the early part of the twentieth century and the work of revolutionary composers like Alfredo Casella and Luciano Berio. As electronic music grew into mainstream prominence in the late 1970s and on through the 80s, Italians accepted it with open minds, establishing genres like Afro-cosmic and Italo disco, transforming Rimini into the Ibiza of the Adriatic coast. At the same time, DJs like Baldelli and DJ Mozart started segueing an Italian narrative into the history of the DJ, plotting a path for future generations to follow.
Theirs had always been a more fervent sound, one that stuck close to disco’s sanguine roots, while techno pursued an austere inner-city earnestness devoid of the rich colour that to this day is associated with Italian cultural life. In cities like Rome and Florence, where impressive antiquities juxtapose and enrich their verdant natural surroundings, techno never quite found a footing, until the mid 2000s when that all changed with minimal techno’s steady creep across Europe. Nobody embraced the genre quite as intensely as the Italian population.
From Fabric in London to Panorama Bar in Berlin, Italians spent the early part of the new decade wandering the continent in their droves for club experiences with minimal and techno, while back on home soil people like Dino Sabatini and Gianluca Meloni – known collectively as Modern Heads – and Donato Dozzy were conducting their own experiments in the genre. These artists were creating techno not merely for their region, but as burgeoning stars of the international scene, noted for their impressive sound design and idiosyncratic approach. Labels were tough to apply – theirs wasn’t an “Italian” sound; this wasn’t “Mediterranean techno made with a Balearic flavour”. Rather, they were auteurs, with innate ears for what felt novel and free.
As interest in minimal fell to the wayside, techno in Italy abided. Dozzy became one of the most prominent figures in techno the world over, while in Meloni and Sabatini Modern Heads produced two fertile solo careers, the former under the pseudonym Laertes. (Sabatini also established the prolific label, Outis Music.) They would put Italy on the map for techno at the same time as they led the genre to its most extreme musical outposts, and from Dozzy’s visceral percussive arrangements and melancholic atmospheres can be drawn a direct link to a newer generation of techno stalwarts, like Lucy. Lucy – the nom de plume of Palermo-born Luca Mortellaro – delved into techno’s more obscure dimensions with releases on his own experimental label Stroboscopic Artefacts. Channelling the sophisticated techno of his forebears through the experimental legacy of Italian composers, Lucy’s discography and live performances have cemented his place in the upper reaches of the scene’s stratosphere. He continues to push boundaries – his most recent album, “Self Mythology”, brought an organic dimension to techno’s usual stark, electronic landscapes, the record evoking cities consumed and reinvigorated by fauna, antithetical to the usual tidings of clanging industrial decay.
Lucy is not the only Italian helping to establish this more abstract and innovative style of techno. Acts like Valerio Tricoli and Giuseppe Carlini have aided the rise of an intellectual form of the genre with a focus on sound design and new rhythmical devices that has hauled it into the 21st century. Not that all this cognition has anyone feigning dance floor enthusiasm: nocturnal Italian bodies continue to gravitate towards techno club nights worldwide.
Currently, Gang of Ducks are the label spearheading Italy’s techno party scene. Coming to prominence among the Baroque architecture and ancient piazze of Turin, the label and the artists they produce rally around an unusual sense of the macabre. Often referred to by the acronym GOD, they inhabit the darker, paganistic corners of techno, where obscure artists like Vaghe Stelle, XIII, Traag and Sabla dwell. Not merely confined to the strict parameters of techno, the obscura-pop of DYD and dystopian ambient soundscapes of Dave Saved have also found their way onto the Turin label. Gang of Ducks bring together a unique and eerie collection of people from one of the most unlikely regions in the country – and they’re just the latest in a long line of technocrats advancing the cause of techno on Italian soil.