The Culture: 5 Mag interviews with DJs on DJing – the culture, the craft, the technique, style and importance of the art of DJing. Often with an exclusive mix.

Veteran DJ and producer DJ Rocca has been a force in electronic music since the late 1990s. His music has appeared on labels that together represent a kind of gold standard for modern dance music, including Compost, Rekids, Futureboogie, !K7, Gomma, Hell Yeah, Slow Motion and Paper Recordings. He’s worked under a gaggle of production aliases and partnerships with serious characters including Dimitri From Paris, Daniele Baldelli, Fabrizio Tavernelli (as “Ajello”), Marcello Giordani (as “Supersonic Lovers”) and legendary Italo vocalist Fred Ventura.

It’s a cliche to say this in any other context, but DJ Rocca truly has a sound that can only be described as “adventurous” – an ear that can take in all manner and styles of music and a soul that can synthesize it into something special.

Rocca is working on two very important records: Works, a new 12″ with Dimitri From Paris on the Toy Tonics label featuring their amazing track “Ero Disco Theme,” and ISOLE, Rocca’s new full-length LP out in June on Nang. We’re thrilled to have him talk about DJing with us and premiere a new 5 Mag Mix.

You’ve had such an eclectic production career and even now your sound is hard to put in a box. What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

I’m more than glad that people can recognize my eclectic soul. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up listening to lots of different music. When I was child my family used to listen to classical music, so I studied flute at the Music Academy. In my teenage years I then discovered the clubs, or better, the alternative clubs where people like Baldelli and Mozart used to play… so I was shocked by black music: James Brown, Airto Moreira, Herbie Hancock… Then the New Wave period arrived, and bands like Human League, Depeche Mode and Simple Minds blew my mind, until house music started to be imported in Italy.

Later on I decided I wanted to study jazz on alto sax, and I spent nearly a decade during my twenties listening to, studying and playing be bop, hard bop, free jazz and fusion.

In the mid-’90s, with some friends we opened a club called Maffia in my town where I was the resident DJ. We invited lots of UK artists, so I was deep into the drum & bass and break beat culture until I started to produce in the early-’00s, thanks to some friends such as Pressure Drop and Zed Bias who encouraged me to try this new adventure. And that’s it.

Historically, Italians wanted to copy or at least take inspiration from American or English musicians. But every time we completely misinterpret it. our Italian spirit comes out, even if we don’t realize it.

I’ve always been fascinated by Italy’s electronic music scene because there’s a variation and many people like yourself who have excelled at a wide range of sounds across the electronic music spectrum. So I guess I’m saying “Italians do it better” but I don’t know why.

I’m glad to hear that because, on the contrary, we Italians are very little aware of it. We experience a kind of “inferiority complex.” We overestimate everything coming from abroad, and we do not always understand our potential. Historically, in the whole music scene, from jazz to house, from rock to disco, we Italians wanted to copy or at least take inspiration from American or English musicians. But every time we completely misinterpret it, just because our Italian spirit comes out, even if we don’t realize it. Every time an Italian, in any artistic field, is aware of his own innate artistic potentiality, he manages to be known all over the world. It has always been so in the fashion world but in recent years, we have begun to realize it even in the electronic dance scene, although not enough, yet. This is the reason why I still cannot fully accept the motto “Italians do it better.”

But let’s go back to your question. Why? In my opinion it is our forma mentis: for centuries the best world composers were Italian, and perhaps this has remained in our chromosomes. But the truth is that we Italians try to achieve great results with few means, and this is a point of strength which comes out in every form of art.

Italo has always, to me, remained a quintessentially Italian genre. Even back in the day, a large number of “Chicago House classics” were Italo tracks from Emergency and other labels, many people from around the world make it and play it but I feel like it’s still so very ITALIAN disco. Do you think Italo has retained a quintessentially “Italian” character?

If you consider the way Italo Disco was born you fully understand my previous answer. In the ’70s, progressive rock was very popular in our country, but the early-’80s music changed the market completely. So these great musicians needed to earn money with different music. They tried to make disco as they used to hear from US, but they did not have big orchestras, or horn sections, or lots of musicians available, so they tried to do stuff by themselves using the technology that was improving… a drum machine, some synths, and in few cases also guitar, bass, and a singer… That’s it. The aptitude to produce music for discos in this way was the origin of house music that was born in Chicago some years later.

As I said before, Italo Disco continues to give the best results when a producer has few resources, but uses a lot of musicality and imaginative art to make up for the technical deficiencies.

I’m a big supporter of the imperfect mix. Technology has led many DJs to focus more on the perfect mix, rather than on the best selection, and on the service you’re doing to the crowd. People want to dance and enjoy great music, and if your mix isn’t perfect, who cares?

A lot of DJs are afraid of funk and disco records when they begin because the variable BPM (from having a real drummer vs. a drum machine keeping perfect time) throws their timing off. Is there a secret to mixing ’70s and early ’80s disco records without trainwrecking? Do you just have to be “zen” about it and live dangerously?

I’m a big supporter of the imperfect mix. Technology has led many DJs to focus more on the perfect mix, rather than on the best selection, and on the service you’re doing to the crowd. People want to dance and enjoy great music, and if your mix isn’t perfect, who cares?

There are no secrets about mixing music with variable BPM, only many hours of practice on the decks or CDJs, and if you’re not a champion in mixing, but a great music selector, the crowd loves you because you make them dance. In the last few years, ’70s and ’80s disco maybe is back again, thanks to the re-edit culture, just because a variable BPM now is warped in a stable BPM, and the majority of the DJs are no longer afraid.

Listen: DJ Rocca – A 5 Mag Mix vol 78

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How long were you playing before your first record came out? How does DJing influence your music? And do you make music with DJing & the needs of a DJ in mind?

It’s a balance, and to be honest, not all my tracks have respected the DJ’s needs, but more the musical needs. I’m a musician and a DJ, and sometimes the two personalities come into conflict, just because the DJ wants more simplicity in the track, and the musician wants more music into it.

I first studied music and then started to DJing, and this helped me a lot to be able to make a journey in my set as if it were a jazz solo, and not to make dance music as a producer.

The first productions in my career were really full of music, so when I used to play them as a DJ, I was really disheartened by the negative reaction of the audience. I spent many years, and attempted many times to understand the art of “less is more” by listening to great dance producers, and learning from them.

You’ve had a collaboration ongoing with Dimitri from Paris for all of this last decade. How did it start and what’s your latest?

Dimitri wrote me a comment, back in 2010, on a track on my Soundcloud page: “I’m your fan.” I couldn’t believe that he could be a fan of my music, so I took courage and made a higher offer, asking him to do a remix for one of his tracks. He said yes so I asked him if he wanted to make music together, and the first Erodiscotique single was born. We have big respect for one another, and this helps a lot to achieve big results that up today consist of an album, six EPs, and many remixes.



Our House Is Open To Everyone: Originally published in 5 Mag issue 172 with Dawn Tallman, Hot Toddy, Benji Candelario, DJ Rocca, Detroit’s Filthiest & more. Help support 5 Mag by becoming a member for just $1 per issue.



Please tell me about the making of the “Ero Disco Theme” that dropped on Toy Tonics in April. If there has ever been a record that needed DJs to buy it in dubs (as we say – double copies, as in two copies each), that is it.

In fact I have two copies myself and every time I’m DJing, I drop the track and it is always a banger!

“Ero Disco Theme” was born in a very spontaneous way: I used a Trillian VST to play the bassline, and a few guitar samples on a disco drum. I sent the stems to Dimitri, and he edited everything in his way, adding his vocal through a vocoder, some percussions and few Simmons effects. He gave me the track back again, I added a Jupiter 6 solo and Dimitri did the final mix.

Can you tell us about ISOLE? It’s another wildly divergent record that skates across a bunch of genres but doesn’t really “belong” to any of them.

ISOLE is an Italian word, that is translated ISLANDS in English. I love the meaning of the Italian word “isolamento” (isolation) that comes from the word “isola.” Isolamento means exclusion from relationships or contacts with the surrounding environment, mostly motivated by reasons of security or incompatibility.

Well, there are many islands on this globe, and I visited some of them, and I’d love to visit some others, just because the life you may live on that “world apart” is every time different, but with the same feeling… be unique, happy to be one, and with a sense of exclusive community that makes you happy with your diversity.

When I composed the tracks of my album I was thinking about the capitals of the islands where I had been and to some other islands where I want to go. To be honest I have tried to keep that feeling, instead of following a specific musical influence, and maybe such an approach has led me to the expression of a grammar – which is that of rhythm and journey – rather than to a specific genre.

Do you make DJ mixes with a different mentality than you would if you were playing live? Would you make a mix differently than a set at a festival or club?

Yes, definitely. I do not only mix different at a festival, or at a club, but also according to the duration of my set, or to the way the DJ before me has played, or according to what I’m feeling at that moment, or the food I have eaten and the air I have breathed…. The DJ set is a personal and artistic expression that fortunately can never be the same as the previous one. It is an artistic act of the moment, unique and unrepeatable.

How do you find new music? How do you find old music? What’s the oldest record in your set right now?

I discover new music in different forms. There are some labels that I follow, or some DJs friends that help me find good stuff in the “ocean”of the new releases. I normally receive lots of promos too, and sometimes I find some really great stuff.

As for old music, I’m a big collector and a sick digger! Here in Italy there are some great second hand records shops: one – Awesome – is in my town! I also buy at flea markets or in second hand record shops in the cities where I’m playing, or more simply, on Discogs. The oldest record I’m playing now is a 1975 track by Patrice Rushen, called “What’s The Story” – a funk jazz tune with a big energy and rhythm.

Do you think the best days of DJing are ahead or behind us? Do you think the culture will survive technology & popularization, and has the latter made DJing better or worse?

The best days of DJing are when there are good DJs. In the past there were crap DJs and heroes, as now, and I think it’s going to be the same in the future. There’s no technology or popularization that are going to turn a bad DJ in a good DJ, only experience, love for the music and tons of talent can do that.

Most recently the DJ has become a sort of superstar, and this has led to give more importance to imposed hype, and less to the true and unconditional judgments. But when we talk about music and positive feelings, the good DJ and skilled selector, always emerges: maybe he won’t become a star, but he will always enjoy respect from the people.

DJ Rocca’s ISOLE album is out June 28 2019 on Nang.

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