Each new release from Queens residing Matteo Ruzzon, aka Madteo seems to act as something of a curveball to any preformed concept of the Italian born artist's ‘sound’. The breadth of influences crammed into his productions is only matched by the far-reaching range of genres which make up his selections as a DJ, melding a hazy array of hip-hop, soul, disco, house & techno influences with startling coherence.
With an appearance in Farringdon scheduled as part of Morphine Records Room Two takeover on the 26th, we decided to catch up with Ruzzon whilst at his hometown of Padua, to discuss the Italian clubbing scene, Matthew Herbert, and the problem with expectations.
So you're at your hometown Padua in Italy at the moment, how long have you been over there?
I got here on Sunday but then I left on Monday to go to Ibiza – I had to do a gig there and then I came back Wednesday night. It was crazy man, very stressful! Basically I didn't get to play because they left my records behind. I was really incredibly excited about going back to this place. I hadn't been to Ibiza until last year. I had heard about this club night Circa Loco for many years - it's the night that rode the wave of minimal techno’s explosion in the early 2000s. Now there are other clubs attempting to bring more discerning sounds but I think Circa Loco everyone agrees preceded them all. I was really excited to go there but I couldn't play – I was fucking bummed!
And you have gigs over there in Italy as well right?
Yeah I'm playing tomorrow with Sotofett for a Dimensions festival kind of launch party. I mean it was really a party organised by this local group of promoters in the area and it's associated with a club called Link. Link is a club in Bologna - I've actually have never been, so tomorrow will be my first time ever. I left in the early '90s you know so this club for example opened around that time.
I was quite surprised when I was nearby in Verona a couple of months back to find a bit of a clubbing scene there – as such an old city it can seem pretty far away from dance music culture...
You know about Danielle Baldelli and those guys right? Around Lake Garda and Verona there was a club called Cosmic Club which was a central club for this scene called the Afro scene. We're talking about the early to mid '70s here. Then with the big Disco boom, obviously Disco became the staple genre for clubs. DJs would of course mix Disco with Funk and whatever, but in this case, these DJs were eschewing the kind of uptempo, four on the floor galloping beat of Disco and its variants, and were going for a much more trippy, percussive and generally super dubbed out, slower approach to their selections. By doing this they were able to encompass a much larger pool of different music, creating this incredible melange of different styles, together with a hyper-developed sense for syncing different rhythms and tempos. Some of these guys are to this day the most mind-blowing beat matchers.
Verona in the Veneto region is one of the few main areas where this underground scene developed from the Disco era. In the Italo-Disco phase (late 70s’ to mid 80’s) there were tonnes of records made around all those three regions basically; Veneto, the Emilia-Romagna region where Bologna is and also of course Lombardia. There were records made in many other places but definitely those three regions - if you look at where all the record companies and many of the distributors where based, many were in one of these regions. Also Veneto had and still has concentration of American-NATO bases with lots of military personnel, many of them talented musicians.
Based out in Italy a lot of these kids had a lot of time to kill! When I’d go to Jesolo, one of the main summer beach destinations and night-clubbing Rivieras in the northern Adriatic - an hour from Padua so that's where I heavily participated in a lot of the debauchery if you know what I mean (laughs). I would run into a lot of these American kids and they would be some of the wildest kids, like tripping on numerous hits of acid while on leave from the base!
I was in Arco as well on that trip and was talking to a guide up there who said they have free-parties out there up in the mountains.
Yeah, especially places like Arco because in Trentino which is the region above Veneto - it's a beautiful mountain region, so ironically it doesn't seem to be the place where a lot of these things happen but there's a history there too. In fact the same scene from the '70s – the cosmic, afro (also known as ‘Baiano’ scene from Baia degli Angeli, actually the original club where that scene developed from and where Daniele Baldelli was resident with Claudio “Moz-Art” Rispoli, another legendary musical connoisseur and DJing pioneer ) – the other main thing about that was that it only lasted a few years then died because it was frequented by heroin addicts. They were anti-conformists in their attitudes towards music and people who didn't like the glamour of Disco. They didn't like the fact that the people that hung out at those clubs were typical Italian bourgeoisie showing off their Dolce Vita, care-free living.
These guys who were more alternative – they were into heroin when many in the other side were into cocaine. But generally I think it's amazing the variation and quality of selection. Overall I would root for these guys, but because of the fact that it was an unhealthy scene it died. But to make a long story short in the Trentino region and in South Tyrol, all that area has become an Afro-revival area with these Afro gatherings in the woods with some of the old DJ’s playing those classic sets by Alpine lakes in the Dolomites region (although last time I checked most played off CDJs …)
Going back to what you were saying about the DJs in that area mixing a lot of different styles, would you say that had a big influence on your DJing?
I definitely think so. I realise it more and more in the last few years, that that influence I got was filtered through a NY lens because I've been there more than half of my life now so my proper musical eduction is New York centric. But funnily enough, after decades in the US I came to understand that this style was influenced by the more free approach to selecting that a lot of DJs in New York have or had. They still do if you go to any place in New York that has less of a euro style.
(the original resident DJs , before either Baldelli or Moz-Art at Baia Degli Angeli were two NY DJs by the way ! And they got a lot of respect even if apparently they then disappeared and not much is known about them…)
The European style of clubbing has almost kind of taken over in America now. Especially in New York there's sort of a European remaking of the New York clubbing scene with bottle-service clubs. Traditionally though, the New York style of DJing is cutting up anything and everything to keep people excited. Since you're in a melting pot, you pretty much got to! I recall one of the times in the mid '90s - I went with my roommate to this little bar in the East Village and a local DJ/ Prod. (Eric Duncan) was DJing and the place was packed. Everybody dancing - mostly a hispanic crowd – Dominican, Puerto Rican etc… Duncan was rocking an all classic Salsa set, and it stayed with me because it was like 'cool that he giving them that’. I wasn't really into Salsa music back then but with time living in NYC I understood that classic salsa records are some of the funkiest , most soulful dance music you’ll ever hear anywhere so I eventually ended up getting bit by that musical bug too.
When I saw you at Kristina Records last year I was really amazed by the amount of styles you managed to cover in a couple of hours without sounding totally all over the place. I read that you're often not especially familiar with the tracks your playing before you mix – you just cue them up and go with it.
Dude, this is the whole idea! The $treet Wax thing - one of the things I'm more excited about that I've just kind of stumbled on. I found a little flea market that happened to be a block away from a spot where I was DJing for many years every week, and it got to be like a weekly ritual. I'd pick up a stack of records for a dollar or less each, so instead of spending like twenty of thirty bucks a week on a couple of records, all of a sudden I could spend the same and get like twenty or thirty records! I'd have a ton of other music with me, but then I'd literally spend ten dollars and show up an hour later at the bar with a fresh stack each time and those would be the records that I'd mostly want to play ! I wouldn't care about all the other shit that I have, I’d just pick from the dusty pile, clean with paper napkin soaked in water and let the needle drop scanning through the stuff for things.
That flea doesn't have a large selection; sometimes you go and get a new crate, but most of the times there's no new crates so you spend a lot of time going through the same few. I've been so impressed by how you can go through the same crates for months and still every week pick up a few jams.
Getting most of your music from this flea market - what proportion of the music you listen to would you say is retrospective? Do you make much of effort to stay up to date with new releases or does this not interest you too much?
I do listen to a lot of new stuff, sort of in addition to that. I'll go through Hardwax and listen to the new stuff. In the last few years I've come to be close with a few amazing producers who give me some really incredible new records - a lot of them are like superb dance records. For example these guys like The Analogue Cops and Xenogears – since we’re form the same city (Padua) I went to Lucretio's house and came back with a stack of some of his latest stuff. They have so many projects and collaborations, and to me they are like some of the best producers ever!. From one guy I get many different projects so I have a stack of new records. Then I have the SEX TAGS/WANIA DJ Sotofett , the ACIDO man Andreas aka Dynamo Dreseen, his partner SVN with SUED have been blessing me with their growing catalogue of amazing releases. Basically all the labels I’ve worked on, SAHKO, WORKSHOP, MEAKUSMA , TTT , ACIDO and then some (EARLY SOUNDS, MOOD HUT, L.I.ES. etc.) have been hooking me up with gear and I’ve got to say I’m impressed and do not take it for granted.
So a few labels which are like my favourite labels, all provide me with hot wax. Spoiled? As a music junkie needing that fix – I guess I'm in a lucky position. So a lot of the hot new stuff, it's people I know, so I don't need to be on top of what's going on because it's part of a circle.
Then the records I get at the flea market are like the cherry on top. A mean balance if you ask me! That's in a way where a lot of the stuff that's done now comes from, because nothing's really new now, it's just about reinventing.
I find the records I'm most excited about that I've bought aren't new things. It's always older records where I don't necessarily know the full context of it and you approach it with a fresher perspective. One of the best records I've bought in the last few years was an old Matthew Herbert record, and it was the best find for me as I'd never heard of him before this record.
Ah that's fantastic, which one?
It was this one - 'A Machine Drilling For Oil’.
That's amazing man, Herbert's one of the originators for me of this new production aesthetics in electronic music. Jazzy but clicky, glitchy, classy and still deep. Herbert is a massive inspiration. In the late '90s I was working for this newly opened music distributor in NYC called Studio which was part of !K7 Records. I would go there and do the mailing for all these records – that was when 'Bodily Functions' came out, maybe one of the first stylistic shifts and curveballs in Herbert’s discography ?. It's the one that features ‘body-sounds”. I remember getting a CD promo pack and that record was huge for us in the office.
I was going to say I bought Memoria the other week, and that reminded me of some of the Herbert stuff especially the found-sound percussion and stuff like that.
Well that's an incredible compliment, you can say that I'm definitely influence by Herbert, no doubt! Now you're making me think about it, I realise that in my experiments lately I've been recording ambient sounds with the mic – whatever environment I'm in. Obviously that's another thing that Herbert was doing decades ago (laughs). To go back to the earlier point, there's no invention, only reinvention. No-one of us can really invent anything musically I think. Only new hybrids, maybe, or new hybrids done well or better than last time.
Listening to Noi No and Memoria, it struck me that you'd gone quite a long distance between the two – they are very different sounding albums...
Yeah, the funny thing is the next one that's coming out on Wania Records - that will be another leap. It's a sort of throwback to times that are even earlier than Memoria. Sotofett has a bit of a joker attitude in typical Sex Tags fashion. He picked some of the tracks for this upcoming LP from an ‘ancient hard-drive’, shit that went back to ’05 and that's his way of being like ‘Oh so you think Madteo now got this SAHKO kind of style now?' (Laughs). These tracks are a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of moody-disco, kind of dubby – there's definitely a retro feel to it.
A lot of this stuff is about timing, actually everything is about timing actually – how an artist might be in the beginning and then towards a more advanced stage so you can see an arc.
Are you doing more tracks with Senssational for it?
Not regularly but that's another thing - those tracks go back to the time where we were spending time at my house. I need to get him to come over again, but he's in Jersey. I have to kind of live with someone or at least hang out, keep in touch on the regular with someone to collaborate you know what I mean?
I can make remixes for somebody – that's what I've been doing, people offer me tracks to remix and it's become a fun project. There's pressure involved because you're getting money but I try to put my heart and soul into it.
I wanted to ask about the one you did for Pedro Vian a couple of months ago actually…
Oh man! That's great that you asked me that. The last thing I said - If they don't like it I'll give them their money back... that's what happened with that remix man (laughs)!
So basically I'm finishing up the remix over Christmas – this is when Sotofett spent like a month at my house. He's kind of pushing me to finish it because he had heard some of the drafts and being the musical instigator he is, he's like 'come on man finish this remix!' Basically in three weeks we'll get a lot of stuff done – he'll be in the kitchen with his laptop, and I'll be in the living room with my laptop (laughs). I played him this mix and he thought it was pretty good, so I sent it off and a couple of days later this kid Pedro replies saying 'Hey man, I'm here in the studio sitting with my engineer, and I don't know man, we both agree that this remix is kind of tiring.’ I said if he didn’t like it fine I’ll take it back, refund his deposit then take his sounds off and use that track for some other project but then he changed his mind!
Since more gigs and stuff have started coming in, have you found it difficult to adjust to travelling much or is it something you are keen on anyway?
Definitely man, definitely. In my case I've definitely had to adjust a lot to the travelling. Also the fact that I've found myself initially unsure of the European club scene. I didn't know the European club scene outside of the earliest '90s Italian club scene. When I showed up I always felt like, some bedroom producer from New York DJing. Then I realised very quickly, first of all that I had to adapt my DJing – what you heard at Kristina Records - I mean, I could do it anywhere I wanted to, but it would be a bit myopic. If you have a party that's hopping and I'm gonna play my super downtempo, experimental tracks then a lot of people aren't necessarily going to feel like I’m adding some up-up energy to the vibe. So I had to kind of adapt, but adapt in a way that was fun for me too.
Still in the beginning it was rough, a lot of the time I found myself gigging with these records – I'd play these cool Italo tracks, and then some old school House tracks. I felt like in some of these early gigs, people were expecting something different. It kind of synchronised with my first sorta big year, just last year. I did a bunch in a few months. The first few - I figured out a lot of the people know me for my tracks not for my disco-funk selections! I could see them like wishing that'd I'd play almost like a live set of my own stuff or something.
But you're doing that as well now right?
I'm doing that, but I'm also having fun trying to hone my craft DJing. That's what DJing is about, rocking the party, and if I'm an artist that makes weird stuff, that's another thing that I could develop but it will be parallel, two different roles. You can't expect to throw on a weird track and expect many people at a party to be like 'hey, cool!’ you know what I mean (laughs).
Do you ever find people like surprised by what you play? Do you get people coming up to you and making comments on the sets?
Yeah, a bunch! But then also in the last year too I've tried making sure I'm playing hot tracks and I'm getting better at mixing. Initially it kind of bothered me - because in a lot of these cases I'll mix up Disco or whatever so a lot of these records aren’t really easy to mix. I'll try and manage it, and if you don't then you screw up a bit of the mix, but I just don't worry (or I wish I didn’t…) about it too much! I try to make it as clean as possible, but the feel and track selection to me is more important. So if I get a critic like that, it's a bit pointless, because you're really looking at a small part of the whole picture.
But as far as people's expectations go, it happened once when I was in Brooklyn at a restaurant – New Year’s Eve, a weird one because we didn't have much promotion so there weren't many people. It was me and a couple of friends. One of the people with me went to the bathroom, and they were in the stall and could hear these people say like 'man, I wish Madteo would play his own shit!' and when he came back from the restroom and told me I was like “Really?!” it's New Year’s Eve for Christ's sake!
I guess what that shed light on was that some of the people that like my records aren't necessarily as into the more classic eras of records as I am. They are a bit focused on these slightly experimental scenes – maybe ‘cause of their age but expectation is always a bitch!
And you're joining us at on the 26th, is this the first time you will have visited the club?
Do you have any expectations of what it'll be like?
I know it's got a great sound system, there I'm going to try and rock it. I'm not going to play too much old school stuff there.
I'm really excited about the Xenogears live set too, I don't know if you've ever heard them but they're rocking. These guys are a blast. Also I'll kind of hear their set and then plan around how I'm going to build my set. I hope I'm going to play a faster set than usual in my case.
Have you spent much time in London before?
I lived in London almost two months I think Maybe a month and a half in the '90s. But that was way before I DJ'd or produced tracks, but I was definitely a music fiend. I also flew in 1995 from New York just to go to the Blue Note on Sunday for the Metalheadz nights. Downstairs was really like a serious basement session.
That was not the first time that I went to London, but the time in 1995 was a music indulging jaunt. We had a small but quite tight D&B scene in New York in the '90s.