Every release you hear from DJ Rocca is a surprise. For other producers you’d throw out words like “eclectic” or “versatile.” These apply to his catalog too, but on a whole different level. You just never know what a DJ Rocca record is going to sound like until the needle hits the groove.
It could be Italo, it could be deep house, it could be disco — a lot of disco, like the Erodiscotique album with Dimitri From Paris. It could be strange, leftfield, untranslatable electronic music that doesn’t have a genre yet, or even a roll back to 2002 with the breaks and proto-dubstep the Daluq project with UKG hero Zed Bias. The DJ Rocca discography is a trip, man — one of the great, in some ways undiscovered and certainly underrated catalogs of any contemporary electronic producer.
But even DJ Rocca himself is a little surprised by Code 041, his EP out in March from the new sibling label to Freerange and Delusions of Grandeur, Cyphon Recordings.
“I’ve been a longtime Jimpster fan, since his first records in the mid-’90s,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to send him my stuff. A year ago, I did a remix for a Delusions release (Lex & Locke). So after that I sent him a big folder of my unreleased tracks.
“Jamie (Jimpster) picked the one I wasn’t expecting.”
The four tracks with their spacier, retrofuturistic vibe wouldn’t show up on Freerange but it turns out they were absolutely perfect for the vintage Detroit techno, electro and IDM-influenced sound of Cyphon.
The title track from the new EP, “Code 041,” really sounds like an authentic artifact from the ’90s. It was created using “some of my beloved vintage synths,” Rocca says, “a Roland Juno 60 for the arpeggiated bass, a Roland Jupiter 6 for some chords, a Korg Poly 61 for another arpeggio, and of course my Roland TR808 for drums. There’s a Boss DE-200 delay that helped on some phrases, and of course every sound passed through a Solid State summing mixer and a SSL4000 glue compressor. In Code041 there’s also a sample from Idris Muhammed, and maybe this helps it to have a retro sound.”
“The Bigger Lake” suggests vintage Detroit electro with that moody, submerged sound familiar to records from James Stinson and Drexiya. “I composed ‘The Bigger Lake’ after a short visit to a friend who lives on Como Lake, in northern Italy,” Rocca says. “It’s not the biggest, but it’s one of the most beautiful Italian lakes. I was listening to a lot of UK IDM music from the ’90s at the time, and also the [Stinson produced] 2001 The Other People Place album on Warp, so you’re right! I tried to capture that kind of vibe and sound.”
“Omega” (appropriately the last track) throws in a wild card with a kind of space age jazz dub. The sound is strongly influenced by yet another excursion — an album released last summer with Franco D’Andrea. The jazz pianist, Rocca explains, is to Italy what perhaps Herbie Hancock is to America. “He taught me a lot about modern jazz,” Rocca says, “so in this song I tried to compose a kind of broken rhythm swing piece, using jazz chords on the piano and a Fender Rhodes.” (The album in question, Franco D’Andrea Meets DJ Rocca, was released last July on Parco Della Musica Records.)
When it comes to creating music, “I really like discovering new genres and new types of expressions and styles,” Rocca says. “If we talk about dance music, there are many, but mostly I focus on those that come from black music. Within this musical field there is a lot to explore and I have to say I’m not done discovering it yet. When I decide to make a piece in one style over another, it’s usually a balance between intentional and pure expression.
“Another reason is that I get bored doing the same things for too long, I have to vary, otherwise I lose the inspiration and joy of composing music.”
DJ Rocca’s Code 041 is out now from Cyphon Recordings.
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