IN CONVERSATION WITH FREDDY K
The Italian techno DJ Freddy K, born Alessio Armeni, remains an icon and native to the underground scene in Berlin. The vinyl advocate is well known for his till in the early morning hours lasting iconic closing shifts and a true master of his craft. Coming from Rome, where he raised a whole movement and fascinated a new generation of techno with Virus. The entire scene was involved, and Virus became more than a radio – a club, a label, and a record shop.“It was a big movement that infected everyone like a virus.” The medium of radio would define his further steps and shape Alessio as a person and artist. It really became a trademark – with his show Krzrzrz he kept people and the community together when clubs were closed in 2020. His mission and passion is being a DJ and playing for the people in front of the booth. “I have a working-class mentality – because the crowd is there and trusts me, I am there. I have to make them happy with my taste. If there’s a connection we can go everywhere.” he says, and adds how deeply he appreciates the connection to the dancefloor and its dedicated ravers.
We had the chance to speak to him about his beginning in the early 90s, how he found his way to Berlin, the label KEY, and what matters most to him.
Interview by Magdalena Roe
Photography by Nuša Hernavs
Special thanks to Engels Berlin
Tell me a bit about your journey into the techno scene back in the days? How did you first become involved with it?
That’s a long time ago but it all started at the beginning of the 90s. Back then I was a professional swimmer in a national team which kept me quite busy. However I was always fascinated by the radio, so I really got into music through that medium and I slowly started to dig my first records especially hip hop in the beginning that was around 87’, 88’. One day – I was not really into mixing but at one point I got asked if I wanted to play at this restaurant. So I took my records and went there and started playing for hours from Samba to Pop, Hip Hop to House, and I guess that was the first time when I realized that I was doing okay at this and really into it. But as I said I was always following the medium radio. There was a famous show in Rome called the ’Mad show‘. It was techno, and they would tell you on a Saturday night where the next rave is and everyone would show up. Because I was such a fan of that show I knew all the DJs there, names like Luca Cuccetti, Aphex Twin, Joey Beltram. There was also a show in the night called ‘Centro Suono Rave’ from eleven to eight o’clock in the morning. One time I got asked to do a mix there, and that was my first time playing on an FM radio show. From that point, Luca and the crew asked me to continue playing regularly and from there I slowly started my career as a DJ.
You have always worked with the medium radio. In which way has this shaped you or your creative vision?
The radio was an important medium because simply, there was no internet. You had to listen to the radio, everything was about that. After years, when I was already DJing the radio show called ‘Mad Show’ disappeared and I was missing something. I already had a name and was playing regularly, at one point this guy approached me and told me that his father has a radio station with a big signal reaching the center of Italy. They told me that I could try it out and start my show at eight o’clock in the evening. So I did that and it was wonderful – I still remember it was the 24 April of 1993. After eight pm we started to blast techno and people loved it, it went so well that we decided to start the radio show every day for hours and on a Saturday night also live with DJs. It was a big movement which I eventually called Virus – it has infected everyone like a virus. Everyone was so dedicated to tuning in at eight o’clock and listening, you didn’t want to miss the show, all the records – it was pure dedication.
I did this show for about eight years. I actually built all my name and my career on that. I did the shows and also my first parties through it, I was announcing the location only on the radio without flyers at the time. At the first party were like 3000 dedicated ravers only there for the music- it was all about techno. The whole scene was involved, Virus became more than a radio – a club, a label, a record shop we had merchandise, it was crazy big and I believe something like this could still be possible nowadays.
How did you come up with your stage name?
It comes from Freddy Krueger, very simple – the nightmare. Also I have a hip hop background so we were used to putting letters after the names like Ice- T, Adam X, Lory D, and Lenny Dee. On top of this, and as far as I can remember, I was always the one who played a little bit too hard or too heavy, a bit strange because people liked it. And I’m a big fan of horror movies in general – so Freddy K was just really fitting.
You lived and played during the rise of techno in the 90s. What was that like?
I was lucky growing up when techno and house were born because I don’t think that there haven’t been any more new genres like these in dance music till now. It was a social phenomenon, electronic music was spreading over to people all over the world. It really made a change in the generation, it was revolutionary as music and as a concept itself. I’m coming from Rome where there has always been a certain dress code in clubs whereas at those techno parties you finally could go out and dress however you want. Whatever color, naked or not – there was no dress code. As a Dj and a person I loved the night, dirty places didn’t want to have an office job and going to sleep when people would go to work. We lived an alternative lifestyle, and we never thought that this could be our future – it was pure passion. Eventually, it started paying my rent, when the whole virus movement got big. It was amazing, traveling for the first gigs, and all of a sudden you saw that people in Paris or London or wherever were playing the same music. Techno and raves became the symbolization of unity and peace, connecting people all around the globe.
Have you experienced a change in the electronic music scene?
It’s different now, of course, people know that you can get successful and earn money with it. There are some steps that you have to do and it will eventually get you there. Of course, that’s normal after 30 years, maybe less revolutionary. It’s not better or worse it’s different. Nowadays there’s nothing new anymore, it’s more like a reference and crossover to the past. Sometimes I wish for better references, and that techno and the electronic scene would be less commercial.
What is a lesson you’ve learned throughout the years?
Try to be yourself, always. As an artist, it maybe takes a bit longer, but always play and do what you like and where you feel most comfortable. When you get three people to like what you’re doing, then these will be your people because they feel that you’re doing it with love and with a sense. Being successful means being yourself and not changing for anyone. I’m doing what I like, and I’m happy to do it for 30 years.
Your album “Rage Of Age” came out in 1995. Do you still have a desire to produce, has your sound changed since then?
That was my first and only album in 1995. It was a different time, I did two EPs on ACV records, some compilations, tapes, CDs, and vinyl. I was young, and I was really on fire, producing in the studio of that big label. The sound at that time was really influenced by this Chicago sound from Robert Armani but with a little bit of rock or metal in between something even a bit funky, but heavy. It’s a style that in my evolution of sound somehow is still present in my sets but in different ways. I’m not producing anymore. I was always more DJ than a producer. And I believe these are two different things. If you’re good at both it’s amazing. I think I have a profile as a DJ that really represents myself and I don’t think I would be able to produce at the same level as a DJ. I like to mix, and this is already art in itself.
You’re the label owner of KEY. How did that evolve?
Key simply represents the door to my music, music that I like and opens the doors for new artists, but mostly it was born out of the idea to open the door to my concept of techno. I started that idea when I moved to Berlin. As I said I’m not a producer so it’s all about my selection and the releases of the artists. I’m super happy with Key Viny and the artists, there are more than 40 releases and the concept is spreading all over. Even when I stop Djing at some point, this will be forever.
What’s important to you when collaborating with different artists?
I need to have a good feeling about the artist, and the other thing is what is most important for me (that’s where I’m a little bit old school), that the person I’m working with has to understand that somebody with 30 years of experience, is investing money on a full release. It’s a big showcase, it’s four tracks of you and not four different artists and vinyl nowadays is expensive. I need to feel a certain kind of respect for the choice that I’m doing and that I believe in the artist.
You have a famous show called Krzrzrz, where you regularly invite other artists to discuss music. When did this start and do you have any visions with this for the future?
When the pandemic started, which was a scary and super strange moment, I was missing the connection that I’ve always had with the people around me. So I decided to start a radio show super spontaneously, every day at the same time for one hour at three o’clock which I’d upload on Soundcloud. Everyone was at home, and because of all the lockdowns people from all around the world tuned in – it was an incredible experience. People commented, messaged me, and created stories on social media – I had the feeling that everyone felt alive in a moment of loneliness. My goal was to feel connected again and to give a voice to the the artists and ravers. After 100 days I stopped, then I continued weekly, and after that twice a month but with interviews and more information about music, techno, and electro in general. Soon I will start again but in a different way and in a bigger format, stay tuned!
You are well known for your all-nighters. When playing for that long, the crowd and energy change. How do you maintain the level and the energy of the crowd?
It became my specialty. I simply realized that I can maintain a level of energy over a long time so the crowd doesn’t get bored. In the first place, I always play the stuff that I like so that I don’t get bored, that’s my state of mind. For me, the essence of Djing is creating a journey together, in a place where you have a connection and you can become one. And if you like something and if there’s that beautiful connection – you cannot stop. I’m a DJ because you’re dancing. Otherwise, it would just be me playing music. I have a working-class mentality – because the crowd is there and trusts me, I am there. I have to make them happy with my taste. If there’s a connection we can go everywhere. My challenge is to find this click and connection everywhere I play. I love long sets because I can handle everything by myself. Sometimes some people stay there until the last minute and that’s what I call creating a journey together. Starting from ambient, slowly going, going faster, and coming back – it’s beautiful. As a DJ it’s the best expression you can have.
You recently did a movie called “Ghiaccio”. Tell me about this, what is your role and how did you find the experience transitioning between DJing to acting?
This was an incredible experience because the reason I was part of the movie was that the directors knew me from back in the day and the Virus movement. The movie takes place in Rome’s suburbs and is about boxing players wanting to escape their grimey lives in the 90s. One of the protagonists escapes to all the raves, to Virus, to go to listen to Freddy K. They wanted to have the real one in there and it was the best being able to play my real self – kind of a payback from Rome, as we didn’t always have the best relationship. It was a great experience, getting treated like a real actor (haha), and playing next to two of my favorite Italian actors. I guess we will see what else this leads to.
What does fashion mean to you and how would you describe your style? You just launched eyewear in collaboration with Kreuzbergkinder. Is that something you enjoy doing, and can we expect more collaborations in the field of design and fashion?
Actually, I’m always wearing the same, I had my own merchandise but I’ve never thought that I could design my own sunglasses. Sometimes there’s even too much fashion for me in the scene, coming from the 90s when it wasn’t that big thing. Lately, I enjoy doing shootings and all that which has somehow become part of the job as well. Great is that 15% goes to K41 which I’ve always felt very connected to. Very special people which I want to support in those horrific times. I really enjoyed the collaboration with Kreuzbergkinder and Playfulmag. Me and Miss Kittin could modify our own models, it also has my own sketch on it. It’s a special project they turned outexactly the way I wanted them to be. That’s what you need after a long closing night entering the daylight.
For the future, do you have any wishes for our music scene and community?
I honestly feel that something happened during the two years of the pandemic which I wished wouldn’t have happened. I see a lot of mediocrity in the music, and that other things got more important than the music. I wish that our community finds again a way to not be only a source of cheesy entertainment. In general, it’s not that interesting anymore and got a little bit low level. Give people more time to be ready to go on the stage, especially DJing is something that you have to feel and what takes time. Don’t look at a one-hour set of streaming because that is just one hour without people in front of you on the dance floor. We have to be careful and more selective, the culture has to be more solid again. There should be a reason why you can’t miss the club to see a particular DJ. Also lately I feel like clubs are lacking communication. It’s important to trust each other, bouncers and the club staff should be your friends and not your enemies. You should never risk anything, not for yourself and also not for the sake of the community. We have to be united again and take care of each other, that is what’s most important.