In Conversation With Enrico Sangiuliano
The iconic Enrico Sangiuliano – a producer, performer and sound designer from Italy who today is one of the most ubiquitous names in the contemporary techno scene. As one of modern dance music’s most influential talents he holds many classic no. 1 records and plays at stages all over the world, all the time. All this while he portrays such a recognizably genuine and balanced artist. During this conversation we talked about his origins in music, lifestyle and balance, Awakenings, exciting upcoming projects and much more…
When you were young you already played percussion and drums – how did these experiences influence and help you in starting to produce music digitally?
A few of the memories that I have, from when I was a child, are moments when I’m listening to music in the car with my mom or my dad. And I remember it as if it was yesterday, when my dad was passing by the place where I was living with my mom, and he was calling me from the street – I was on the balcony – like: Enrico, come with me, we’re gonna go for for a drive and I’m gonna play you a solo from Led Zeppelin, for example. And those things are pretty much a big influence on me. I started being very sensitive to music in general, since I was very, very young. Rhythm is what triggered me the most, and melody as well. At some point, I started selecting and recording music that I heard on the radio and putting it on cassette, dividing it per genre. And so, I had all these cassettes from 1995/96, when I was 9 or 10 years old, divided by genre with all pieces of music that I liked, such as drum and bass, techno, trance and hardcore. Plus, I always manifested my love for rhythm from a certain point onwards by literally playing on my school’s benches with my hands. So that was my first approach to music composition – playing with my hands on school benches to a point that, at the final school party of my last year at elementary school, I was doing a solo performance on a school bench. Then, I started playing the drums, the real drums. And at a certain point, I had this encounter with a computer, which made me realize that I could conceive and create any type of sound whatsoever and make it reverberate and interact with non-existent spaces. So for me, I discovered a whole new world, and from that point onwards everything changed.
You have been a big contributor to the early emerging illegal rave scene in Italy. Since 2003 you have been playing on the most important Italian stages. How has the techno scene in Italy, in your eyes, evolved over time until now?
The techno scene in Italy in those years was incredible. You had a lot of very iconic clubs all over Italy. And a lot of people were willing to drive for hours and hours or weekends to reach these iconic places and spend a wonderful time together. There were way less limitations in terms of time – closing time, opening time – so clubs were literally doing marathons. And there was a lot of musical diversity; techno was very, very wide. I remember that resident DJs were the most important DJs. If you were a resident DJ, you were the one with the closest connection to your crowd that was coming from all over Italy and Europe to listen to you and to get your records. You had to travel all over Europe: to Berlin, to London, and even to Detroit in the United States to get records that nobody else had. It was such a fascinating system; to hear a certain record or type of music you had to drive for several hours to reach that iconic club, to dance to that magical rhythm. While now, a lot of those clubs don’t exist anymore. Some legendary ones are luckily still there, but there are also a lot of new ones. Overall, I think we have less clubs compared to 20 years ago, but still very good quality ones.
The approach in clubs has changed though, and those legendary resident DJs that were shaping the personality of clubs started being less and less valued. That space has been taken by guest DJs usually coming from abroad, who are now the stars. So every night, they focus more on the special guests than on the resident DJs, almost everywhere. And I think they should both be valued.
In addition to Italy, you are playing on events all over the world – The Netherlands, South America, Australia, the US and many more on stages such as Awakenings, ADE and Sonar. What are some of your favorite gig memories?
Some great memories of some of my gigs are several shows where I had a very early time slot, like my first time at Awakenings, or my first time at Kappa FuturFestival. Those big festivals where you usually play an early slot when it’s your first time. And this is also a test. I remember starting with a couple of people in front of me and ending up with a full crowd going crazy. To me, that is so satisfying and those are moments I will never forget. Something that I also love about Awakenings for example, is that it’s one of those festivals where you really feel at home if you come from a techno world, and you connect with all your colleagues. You see each other, you spend some time together, have a drink, listen to someone else’s set. These things are really, really cool. Another thing I will never forget is the tour that I did with Carl Cox in Australia a couple of years ago, the Pure Tour. I did it with Joseph Capriati and Marco Carola. And that was also one of the most exciting and fun experiences of my life. Being next to Carl and getting to know him a bit deeper really showed me how humble and how experienced and wise he is. A truly incredible man. It also gave me the idea that I’m on the right path, because if Carl is one of my references, it really gives me faith in the future of techno. Other things? Well, for sure, the craziness of playing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every time I play there, the crowd goes completely nuts. It’s crazy, there are people who treat you like their God or Maradona, one of the two. These are some of my best memories, for sure.
You have been playing on the stage of Awakenings numerous times now. The last weekend of July you are going to play again at this year’s Summer edition of the festival. What is so special for you about Awakenings?
What I always loved about Awakenings is that it’s a festival dedicated to techno in all its shades. So whatever kind of techno you like, you’re going to find that at Awakenings. I think they almost represent the entire spectrum. I also like the fact that it’s always the same circle of people behind it. This is something that embraces you as an artist, and makes you feel part of a community of nice artists. And all together, you express the power of techno from a massive sound system and massive production in front of a beautiful, beautiful crowd. I think that Awakenings is probably the festival with the most ‘aware’ crowd, with a crowd that really knows a lot about techno. They know what they’re doing and what they’re listening to. If I play in front of such big amounts of people somewhere else, I sometimes might have to think twice before dropping tracks. Whereas when I play at Awakenings, I know that I can decide myself and that I can also play tracks that aren’t necessarily easy festival tracks, because I know that the crowd can go deeper there. And you also get so much energy back, you feel very connected. It’s beautiful.
Considering your busy lifestyle of traveling from gig to gig, how do you manage to balance this with your personal life and still find calmness and harmony in between?
Good question, this one. Now that my lifestyle has become very busy, it’s actually difficult to have personal life, studio life and time for yourself. You need to take care of your things, take care of your relationships, your friends, your family. You have to be conscious that you can’t always do all of this. There’s not enough time in a day to answer all your messages, to pick up every call, to listen to every promo, to sleep enough, to take care of yourself, to do sports, to eat – it’s quite difficult, especially after two years of pandemic. During those two years, I got used to taking care of myself, going back to a very regular rhythm, while now since March, I’m back in the game and went from zero to a hundred. My body still hasn’t completely adapted to that, and is trying to tell me: “Enrico, what are you doing? Why do you wake me up at three in the morning to stay awake till ten? What’s happening? Why do you give me airport sandwiches and not nice salads like a few months ago?” But it’s a transition phase, and I think I just need a couple of months and then the balance will be there again. I’m trying to not play too many shows but to do all the shows that I really want to do. There’s no need to show off. The most important thing is to be motivated and to do what you really like.
A good way for me to find calmness and harmony in my busy life is when I have some days off, and especially weekends off. If I take a weekend off, I know that I have those couple of days where I don’t look at my phone, I don’t do anything. I let my body rest and have a bit of regularity at home for a few days. Hitting the studio is also something I really need to do to make myself feel complete. The studio is the translation of the experience that I have on stage and at the same time, what I make in the studio is what I want to bring on stage, what is missing in my record bag. So, time off for me is the secret.
Together with your fiancée, iconic techno artist Charlotte de Witte, you mixed a set around the Belgian dance classic The Age of Love combining your steady rhythm with her heavyweight drums. How is it for you guys to play together and are there any more b2b’s between you two coming anytime soon?
That story is crazy. We were suddenly in lockdown together and after a couple of weeks of rest, we thought: why don’t we make a track. We were at home, we had time, all the time we wanted. And we immediately felt that for both of us The Age of Love was something mega iconic. It belongs to our past and to our heritage, both Italy, and Belgium. So that’s how we decided to work on that one. We actually weren’t even expecting to release it, but we did, and it became such a massive hit! It’s still in the top ten after a year, and it became our biggest track to play. When we have a show together and I play it, she comes on stage, and when she plays it, vice versa. That’s always a magical moment: it brings us together again, and the people as well. The Age of Love is a track that expresses our love for music, but it’s also our love for ourselves, for each other, for me and for how much I love her. It’s really a track that is symbolically ours through that remix. And people feel it. We really spread love when we play it.
Usually we don’t play back to backs. Only at home 🙂 And I think we’re gonna keep it like that for now. Unless we decide to do it for a special occasion. You never know, let’s see.
Your style of mixing has always varied – from breakbeat and downtempo rhythms to big, epic, and euphoric – what influences or inspires you most in experimenting with new styles?
What inspires me for my style of mixing is simply my background, what I feel like playing and what I like playing. When I started playing in the rave scene, I was mainly playing at psytrance events. I was playing my self-made productions, which were like a hybrid between psytrance and techno already, but I always loved breakbeat a lot as well. I was dancing to drum and bass in a very famous club in Italy called Maffia. I went there every Saturday. I also went to hardcore parties several times. There was a legendary club called Number One in Corte Franca, Italy, which was a very good club for hardcore warriors. My background in terms of electronic dance music is pretty wide. And I feel that I have no boundaries whether I produce or dj. I just play whatever I feel like and I embrace all styles of electronic dance music.
What are some of your most exciting projects or gigs coming up?
I started a new project called NINETOZERO which is a temporary label and it’s going to release 10 times counting down from nine to zero and then it will disappear. The idea of having a temporary label comes from bringing back importance to music, into a world where music is over-released and there’s not enough focus on it, on what’s actually happening. Plus, I want to tell a story and I want to tell it in chapters. So creating a temporary label was the best way for me to express myself. The first EP Silence was released on June 10. I had the number one on Beatport, and it’s still in the top two on Beatport now. The track on Silence that is smashing every dance floor is called Future Dust. When I played it at Awakenings earlier this year, it really tore off the roof! Chapter Nine also had an all-nighter linked to the release. It was an all night long solo show that took place on June 11 at De Marktkantine in Amsterdam. After we knew the venue was going to close forever, we decided to do the show in that club. Chapter Eight will be out some time soon and will be linked to a second all-nighter. This concept will go on until the very end of the story across three years. Reactions have been crazy because it’s a new project. It’s an independent and small thing. At the same time, people really feel that it brings importance to the music. The fact that it’s a temporary label that has an end also makes you want to follow the project from the beginning until the end, while a usual label goes on forever. At some point, as a label owner, you have to look at your past, and look at your future. In some cases, you make compromises that you’re going to regret because you want to sell records or because you want to be cool, and you follow a certain trend. In this case, I’m just myself, right here right now. On NINETOZERO.
There are a lot of emerging talents out there who are starting out in the industry – while your work has always been experimental and characterized by perfectionism, what advice would you give newcomers?
To the newcomers, I would advise to not focus too much on social networking because it pushes you too far away from the reason why you’re doing what you do. Next: have fun and play or produce the music that you like! Don’t worry about following trends, and copy sounds, but develop your own sound. That’s what’s going to make you resonate, having your own sound identity. I think I do have my own sound identity and that’s how people recognise my tracks and how I got where I am now. It takes time, but if it’s something you love, you’re going to give your whole life to it, so good luck! Another piece of advice to DJs – when you play at a club or at a festival, always treat it as a whole. Try to create a dialogue because I think when there is harmony overall, throughout the whole night or set, that’s when the people have a perfect sound experience and fall in love with our music. And we’ll come back and we’ll spread the love and we’ll have more people falling in love with our community. We are all together. We have to make it fascinating and strong and magical altogether. No competition, only doing what we can do, what we like to do, in our best way. There’s space for everybody. And if you found your spark, sooner or later, you’ll get there. There’s no need to ask, those doors will automatically open to you.
Want to see Enrico live in action? There are still some tickets for Awakenings Summer Festival left here, but act fast!
Photography by MARIE WYNANTS
Interview by THORE DAMWERTH