Twenty eight years after cutting the proto-electro classic “Problemes d’Amour” – a staple at clubs like the Box, the Loft & the Garage – the Italian mad genius Alexander Robotnick (aka Maurizio Dami) is still twiddling knobs and smashing pads with a restlessness & creative spirit that puts younger producers to shame.
“I’ve never been able to stick to one specific music environment for longer than a short period,” he says. “It’s because of my personality and the curiosity I have. Often, different styles and influences converge into the tracks I compose and it’s very difficult for me to fit them into a label. I’m always asking myself: what kind of style is my track? Is it Nu Disco? Progressive House? Garage-funky? It’s always hard to find an answer…”
Robotnick’s Archives isn’t the first volume of a greatest hits compilation or what not. Can you tell me about the project and why you decided to release this material to the public?
In 30 years of activity I’ve been stacking a huge amount of support material: tapes, floppy disks, DATs, CD-ROMs, hard disks… Last year I turned 60, so I decided to put some order into my archives – getting rid of many of them but saving some projects that hadn’t got to the stage of being released but contained some interesting ideas that I deemed worth developing and completing. This is how the idea of Robotnick’s Archives came about.
Many of your early recordings had a huge impact in Chicago, as they made up so much of the soundtrack at the Music Box, Playground and other early Chicago clubs. When people here began making the early House tracks, did that have an influence on you?
Not much, because in ’85/’86, I got away from the dance music scene and started to work on video art, soundtracks for theatre, movies and fashion exhibitions, and later on, World Music. It was only in 2000 that I understood how my early tracks had influenced House Music.
I loved your A Boozing Day EP, while I was perplexed by what to call it. You’ve used the term “disco tech” for a compilation, which is how I’d describe it. How do you refer to your sound, or is it even something you consider beyond post-creative marketing?
Although running my own digital label (Hot Elephant Music), I must admit that I can hardly understand how today’s music market works. Most producers become popular for a specific music style – and then they keep on doing that for the rest of their lives. So it’s easier for promoters, labels and agents to promote them.
In my case, unfortunately, it’s more difficult because I’ve never been able to stick to one specific music environment for longer than a short period. It’s because of my personality and the curiosity I have for many different genres of music (and cultures). Often, different styles and influences converge into the tracks I compose and It’s very difficult for me to fit them into a label. I’m always asking myself: what kind of style is my track? Is it Nu Disco? Progressive House? Garage-funky? It’s always hard to find an answer…
Unless I am counting wrong, you’ve spent more time in your career doing other sorts of music – World Music, Ambient, film scores and so on – than you have electronic music, but the latter is still primarily what people here at least know you for. Has the resilience of Italo Disco come as any surprise to you?
Yes it has. It’s because during the ’80s I listened to (and didn’t like) the most commercial part of Italo-Disco – the shitty one. I was really surprised when, in 2003, I discovered some real gems in that style that I didn’t know, such as “Spacer Woman” and “Hypnotic Tango”.
I was also surprised to find myself considered a representative of Italo-Disco movement. To me, my track “Problemes d’Amour” was closer to early ’80s Electro-Pop – that was essentially my term of reference.
You made quite an impact with Ludus Pinsky and The Analog Session last year. These days the suggestion of “analog” appears in almost a political context. So I have to ask: for your personal use, do you still rely on analog machines in music production? Without giving away any trade secrets, how do you get that thunderous sound on your Hot Elephant releases?
Yes, I still use analog synths to produce my music. I need to say that for a long period I gave up using that equipment. When I worked on soundtracks and World Music, it wasn’t worth using them. I mostly used samplers and digital synths, because it was easier to combine acoustics and electronics in such a way.
But when I went back to Alexander Robotnick’s music I understood (although not immediately) that I couldn’t reach Robotnick’s authentic sound using digital stuff. So I bought the equipment I used in the early ’80s and now I’m very happy with it.
You seem to have adapted rather seamlessly with Hot Elephant to operating in a digital environment. I don’t know if you feel that you have any original thoughts on the subject, but I think they would be interesting coming from you regardless: how do you feel about the actual “industry” part of the recorded music industry in 2011? From what I’ve read in the past, you were never a great fan of vinyl to begin with?
Very few people of my generation (I’m 61) are fans of vinyl. Just collectors or those who nostalgically look back to the past. I’ve always been interested in the future, in what comes next.
Having said that, I think that today’s music industry is just like a preview of its own end. Or, at least, the kind music industry that developed since the records came in. There is an obvious discrepancy in the digital music market. Those young people who are smart, cool and quick-minded can now find a thousand ways to listen to their favorite music for free, without necessarily buying it from digital record stores. That’s the truth.
And that’s why majors are quite happy selling commercial stuff while underground and innovative artists don’t sell anything. Actually they never sold much, but at least they could find a niche that allowed them to keep on making music and throw the seeds for next music revolution. Now, it’s too hard for them to survive just selling their music. Only DJs/producers can survive because they are paid to play tracks in clubs. Nowadays, playing live is the only way to make money for most innovative artists of the dance scene.
Robotnick’s Archives Volume 1 was released in December; Volume 2 will be released January 16, and it appears a Volume 3 is on the horizon as well. alexander-robotnick.it/ is your source for everything having to do with Alexander Robotnick.