“The absolute arts are a sad modern impertinence. Everything is falling apart. There is no organisation to foster all the arts together as Art” – Friedrich Nietzche
While much of the attention at Sonar is generally on the big names and stages, festivals like this also serve an important purpose in providing local and/or upcoming bands with a chance to present their music to a bigger audience while rubbing shoulders with the big boys. In Sonar’s case, the Red Bull Music Academy has had a critical role in both breaking new talent, as well as fostering unexpected collaborations between promising youngsters and more established names.
One group of such young hopefuls to benefit from both Sonar and the RBMA is Italian indie-dance four piece Esperanza who have pounced on the success of their eponymous debut album released in December on German punk funk and indie-disco label Gomma to play the festival and used it to crack the fringes of the Kompakt camp. A quick conversation with the band backstage shows that there is nothing like hard work, luck and talent to start climbing the long way to the top.
Cyclic Defrost: Introduce yourselves. Who are you and what do you do in the band?
Jacamo [J]: Jacamo and I play drums.
Carlo Alberto [CA]: I’m Carlo and I play synthesizers and some percussion and programming.
Matteo Lavagna [ML]: Matteo, bass player and Moog synthesizer.
Sergio Maggioni [SM]: I’m Sergio and I play guitar.
Which part of Italy are you from?
CA: We come from the north, from Milan. We all live there although we come from different parts of northern Italy, some from the west coast and some from the east coast. We all met in Milan and that’s where we started making music.
How did you come together?
CA: We all met through different projects. For example, Matteo was involved in a project that I was involved in for an Italian label. We just met through that and started making music since he was already at my house! Then we both knew Sergio. It just kind of fell in place naturally. Jacamo just jumped on the bandwagon when we needed to perform live. The album was produced as a trio without Jacamo, but live we are a four piece just to have a more punchy sound and more power on stage.
Tell me about your show for Sonar?
CA: It went really well, probably beyond our expectations. Our time slot was 13:15, which could have been good or bad, we didn’t really know how many people were going to show up. Pretty quickly a nice rowdy crowd gathered. It was really good.
ML: After the show some promoters from Spain came to us to book us for September and October, so we will see.
Have you been to Sonar before?
ML: Not for playing, just for visiting.
CA: I played here in 2009 at the Red Bull stage. We also came a few times together.
Judging from your album and your set-up you seem to have a lot of influences in your music from jazz, to dub techno to Krautrock and minimal classical.
CA: There are a lot of different influences on there, sure. We all tend to like different stuff and we like to show each other new stuff. Often when we are making the records, we will produce some stuff on our own and one of the other’s will say “Hey do you know this tune?” We also have a lot of Italian taste for harmony and melody and acoustic instruments. There is also some ethnic music thrown in there like tablas and Indian strings.
Is this ethnic influence the basis for the Jaipur song and video, which is somewhat
confusing as it depicts Arabic people?
CA: The juxtaposition between the Arabic and the Indian is not intended to be serious. It’s kind of naïve and doesn’t really want to make any statement. Those images just somehow fit the song. Originally it had another title. When we were making the song I had an epiphany and I saw camels running in the desert and I found online this video that a production company had found in Dubai. I wrote to them and they sent me the footage to edit it. We did the subtitles as well. They were speaking English actually, but we made it up to be a little story.
What do you think is the aspect most particularly Italian about your music?
CA: Harmony and melody definitely. One big influence on the album was Lucio Battisti. He’s one of the greatest songwriters of Italian history.
ML: I really like Serge Gainsbourg for example, but Battisti was into a musical scene that was really, really precise, Italian pop songs from the ’60s and ’70s. He was the reference. He redefined the standards and he was always in the charts at number one for months at a time with some really experimental stuff. I mean it was pop inspiration, but totally experimental, especially in the mixing and the production. In Italy in the ’70s for example, in all the pop songs the vocals were very high in the mix, but Battisti was mixing so low because he said “If they don’t understand, they have to listen to it again.” He died in 1994.
What about contemporary Italian influences and the scene in Milan?
CA: We are not really part of any particular scene in Milan. We have a lot of collaborators all over the world, some of them Italian. Friendship for us is more important than any scene. Being like-minded just helps the music making, even if you’re not necessarily in Italy, or in England. Like Alessio Natalizia who is now part of [Kompakt group] Walls and he sings for us on the album as Banjo Or Freakout.
ML: I used to play with Alessio in a [post punk] band, Disco Drive. We played 300 or more shows in two years all across Europe. We were getting really big in the U.K., but we split up. But Alessio and I have kept going in parallel between London and Milan, always exchanging stuff to listen to. When we recorded the first single ‘Sirena’ for our album, we didn’t have any vocals. We thought that this track deserved some vocals, so Alessio was the first person in my mind. He recorded the vocals and then sent them to me with an email saying it was really rough. We told him “Man, this perfect!” Its pop music, but wearing an experimental dress. It can be pop, but this is the challenge: being pop, but experimenting with sounds. It’s easy to write a techno suite for eight minutes, but try to write a pop song in three minutes. It’s not easy.
Are you playing pop songs live or are you extending them into longer durations?
ML: We play longer songs.
CA: But we don’t really improvise. The album was really based on production and quality of sound, so for the live show we have to translate it to something playable. We have to use sequencers on Ableton and launch stuff as we go, so there’s only some degree of freedom that we have between parts. This is just to keep some of the sounds and the palette of the album. We sometimes improvise in the studio or when we are writing tracks. To make the tracks on the album, someone usually brings in an idea and then we build on top of that. But sometimes it’s different and we each take a different instrument and do a jam on a backbeat. So in the studio, sometimes its layers on layers and other times we just lay it down.
What are you working on now?
CA: We had a remix that came out a couple of days ago for Walls which came out on Kompakt.
ML: We wanted to catch up with [Kompakt boss and DJ] Michael Mayer while we were here as he just opened at Fabric in London with our remix, so we wanted to thank him for that. That is nice praise to get!
CA: Now we are going to go back to the studio, or actually we’re going to go to the sea side and record some new material. The studio is in my flat in Milan. For the album we ran all of the stuff from the laptop through a nice console and then master it.
ML: We’re not going to play many other festivals this summer because we are going to record the new album. We will start again to tour in September. We will play mostly in clubs.
CA: We also did a tour around Italy coming up to Sonar.
How does the Italian audience react to your music?
CA: The audience view us a little more international which means that the crowd are a bit more open-minded and there’s more people than a normal gig. We played some nice venues with great sound systems, but some others that were crappy. Nasty! That impacts a lot on how people enjoy the music.
Are you working during the day as well or only making music?
CA: We are all only doing music, although Sergio is also a producer for other people. He produced some pop records and some other alternative acts in Italy.
SM: I produced pop music and indie for major labels, like the group Syria [Cecilia Cipressi]. Sometimes it’s boring. But I didn’t produce our record. We are all free minds here. I was playing and touring a lot in the band Hot Gossip as well.
CA: I also did some production for Gomma and a remix for Vampire Weekend as Cécile, but we are all doing the production for Esperanza together. Sometimes there’s fighting, but that’s usually when there’s something interesting to decide.
What level of ambition do you have? Do you want to be there playing the bigger stages or you prefer to stick with the intimacy of smaller clubs? And what about image for the band. Sometimes it seems to be big you have to have some kind of “show”?
CA: We have a solid visual counterpart. His name is Dario Moroldo and he makes all these artworks out of geometric shapes that we use as the covers and he will continue doing that. When we are surer about the live show and how it will go we will try some projections or something else as the next step. Every time Sonar invite us we’ll come back for sure! Maybe we’ll play Australia, you never know?
Photo by Bianca de Vilar