My approach to DJing
I started DJing 10 years ago, in 2003. At that time the music I had produced and performed live in the 90s (world music) was no longer in fashion. So I decided to release “Oh No…Robotnick!”, the album that contained and re-launched my early works. A French promoter sent me an e-mail , asking: “Are you still DJing?” I ‘d never done it in my life but I promptly answered “Yes!”. That’s how I got my first gig as a DJ in Aix-En-Provence, at a party where The Hacker and Kiko were playing too and it was successful. Since then I started traveling around the world almost every weekend to play in clubs and festivals.
At first the motivation to get into DJing was purely economical, but I soon grew enthusiastic about it and I started to work on my DJ-Set to make it original and somewhat different from most DJs’. It’s because I always need to find my own way to do things. Being a musician, I have a better technical understanding of music than a mere DJ and can draw more benefits from present day technology.
Being a musician my approach to Djing is a bit different that of most DJs. I edit many of the tracks I play, I pay great attention keys and BPM, I don’t like to pitch tracks or change their BPM dramatically because I respect the composer’s work.
I started studying music very late when I was 27. I started with jazz guitar at a popular school in Florence and played Jazz standards for a couple of years . Than, in 1980 I fell in love with electronic music. By that time I was already 30 and had already listened to and appreciated a large variety of music, starting from French and Italian songs when I was a child, the Beatles & the Rolling Stones when I was a teen-ager , progressive rock and Jazz later on. When I started composing electronic music my references were the Kraftwerk and the electronic pop music from the UK (Human League, Depeche Mode etc.).
Anyway my music references are many . I still love Jazz, Opera, Classical Music and world music (especially Indian music).
Since the time I played guitar I was more interested in composing my own music than reproducing others’. I obviously had to study and play Jazz standards while attending the music school, but I never played in “tribute bands” or stuff like that . To be honest I still prefer listening to a good recording rather than learning and playing a song by someone else. But I do like to remix or arrange existing music in my own style.
My first project was called “Avida”, a kind of electronic dance cabaret, sang in Italian.
After that I invented Alexander Robotnick, my imaginary alter ego. Here is the short story of how it all came about:
One day a friend of mine (Giampiero Bigazzi , the owner of Materiali Sonori, a Florentine indie label) told me: “You can make good money with disco music. Just put a bass drum in 4/4 and you ‘ll sell 10.000 copies”. I did so and produced “Problèmes d’Amour”. This song is still labeled as Italo-Disco but it’s not. It’s more electro or proto-house. In fact that song was hugely inspirational for the emerging house- and techno – scene in the USA.
After a while I got bored with the Electronic Dance scene , dominated by Italo-Disco which sounded too commercial for my taste because I wasn’t aware of the underground Italo production which is actually what I’m playing now . So I turned to composing soundtracks for theater pieces , fashion and movies because I still wanted to earn my living by making music.
In the 90s I worked a lot on world music. My bands (The Third Planet, Masala) included musicians from Kurdistan, India, Algeria.
Since I’ve returned to be Alexander Robotnick I ‘ve been working quite often with Ludus Pinsky (Lapo Lombardi).
We made a project ironically called “Italcimenti”:
And then we made “The Analog Session”
Here is our best-known video:
And here is our latest one:
As to The Analog Session: Since 2006 my friend Lapo has been drawing me more and more to his “all analog”philosophy . Thanks to his talent to learn technicalities he built a modular synth that became the base of our equipment.
Our concept is: Do not limit yourself to using synths just as production tools. They are real music instruments, so… play them live and improvise with them. Present electronic dance music needs a little bit of fresh life that improvisation can provide.
Hot Elephant Music
In 2002 I started my own label: Hot Elephant Music, at first releasing CDs but becoming a “Digital Only” label a few years later. For some reason I don’t release vinyl anymore: too much work, too little profit and no use for my Djing as I’m using my laptop and keyboard/controller.
Then, honestly, my generation never loved much vinyl as a medium. We loved the large covers but hated the noise you got after just a few listenings. I know many youths who are in love with vinyl, but it’s just because they are in love with everything that looks old because they don’t trust the future. This sounds a bit sad for my generation.
As to my studio in these days: yes, true, it looks very old (most of the synths are from the 70s) but it’s only apparent , the computer technology behind it is very cutting edge. Just a note for nerds: all my old synths are controlled by a very innovative software called “Silent Way”. So that is my concept: the “oldest” combined with the newest.
As to the electronic music styles I like to play and produce:
I liked and played and produced what in the early 2000s used to be called “electro-clash”, and later on “electro-house”. That scene was really exciting for me because it recovered the sound of the early 80s. And then, when the tech-house and deep-house started to rule again (because everything comes back 20 years later) I did’nt get depressed at all, because, as I said before , I never stick to one style only . My love for music is 360 degrees. I always have fun at playing and producing different styles. That’s what I do in my DJ-Set which is very flexible and adapts to my audience: New-Disco Deep and old Italo for a somewhat adult audience ; tech-house, electro-house and progressive (not the commercial one) when the audience is younger. To me it’s always fun. There are more than 30 hours dance music in my hard-disk.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Problèmes d’Amour”: you can download for free its most played version here :
Alexander Robotnick : Electro Revival
By Hervé Lucien, October 2003– Grosso Modo Production
Translated by Raphaël Messand
Robotnick is a cult musician for the electro buffs who immerse themselves again in the Eighties production. Miss Kittin, Kiko, The Hacker and a wave of bootlegs (about twenty up to today including one from Carl Craig) paid their tribute during last months. Yet, at this juncture, the unpredictable Italian is back to business with some new productions and a surprising and totally new live act/DJ set…
Robotnick aka Maurizio Dami made himself known in 1983 with a few Ital-electro –disco singles such as Problèmes d’Amour or Les Grands Voyages de l’Amour. Those tracks released during the very beginning of the electro-dance music would bring him a passing fame in Europe: the slightly trash exoticism of this middle-of-the-road popular song in French with a strong transalpine accent will make him a kind of electro Jacques Dutronc. Yet, very quickly, Robotnick lapses into theatre and audiovisual music and, in 1987 he made a complete change of direction taking over the register of world music.
During years, Robotnick would cease to exist for the general public making endless collaborations on his own label Hot Elephant with African, Indian and Kurdish musicians.
Was it the end of Robotnick first version? Actually, it wasn’t: Miss Kittin brought out again Dance Boy Dance (a 1983 track) on her mixed compilation Radio Caroline while Kiko lines up a series of reissues and remixes thwarting a rush of bootlegs. Moreover, Maurizio, which Grosso Modo met again in Italy, has not consigned his first love to oblivion.
This acknowledgement results since a few months in several live acts and DJ sets by Alexander Robotnick across Europe! The Florentine blithely blends his own cuts remixed with the must in modern electro and that electro he simply contributed to fond in the early Eighties. Is there a Robotnick method? “Usually, I prefer dance music which makes more way to the melody and the originality of structures. I don’t dislike house or techno as long as they are of good quality. But when I started to work with those kind of sound, I rapidly got bored because I found all that too cold”.
A common point with his new friends The Hacker and Kiko with whom he has started a new collaboration. As, on the melodic dimension of his compositions, the producer is intransigent as well when it comes to make his tracks known to clubbers. Beside, he intensifies this occupation “I’ve never thought seriously about deejaying because I’m not very cautious with vinyl… I developed my DJ set in April 2003 when I eventually managed to get a computer gear, which met my needs.
This laptop Djing allows me to bring a musician touch in my sets and to play my own tracks live”. That is an original aspect on the current electronic scene, strengthened by this fifty years old young fellow playing behind his desk, who is likely to be the more reserved pioneer in the present electronic music
|Alexander Robotnick: The Godfather of Italo-Disco Breaks His Silence
Benedetta Skrufff 20.7.2004
“I only made Problems d’Amour back in the 80s because someone suggested to me that I write a dance tune in that genre because there was a lot of money to be made. He told me even crap electro-disco tracks would shift 10,000 units then ironically Problems d’Amour sold exactly 10,000 copies, a pure coincidence that convinced me the track was crap after all. After that experience I decided to leave dance music completely behind, also because I couldn’t speak English.”
20 years after he first released Problem’s d’Amour avant-garde electro artist Alexander Robotnick still prefers to do interviews in Italian though his English is much better and Problems d’Amour is finally acclaimed as an italo-disco classic. He’s also a fast-rising name on the still-growing global electroclash circuit, in marked contrast to his earlier 80s electro-disco career.
“I remember a few friends coming back from London and New York City back then told me that they saw my track in the shops, but I never quite believed them at the time,” he admits.
“Don’t forget I’m a very provincial guy from Florence, who sung Problems d’Amour in French only because I couldn’t speak any English; I lived a very provincial life and never took any risks. It wasn’t until 95, when I started using the internet, that I realised what impact that track actually had. Before that I had no idea whatsoever.”
Appropriately, the track appears on his critically acclaimed new mix CD “The Disco-tech of Alexander Robotnick’ which mixes 80s anthems from the likes of New Order, Yello and Visage with cutting edge electro tunes from FPU, Miss Kittin and Bangkok Impact.
“The critics seem to like the choice of tracks and the sense of continuity I’ve managed to create between tracks that were written twenty years apart,” he points out, “that’s what I wanted to achieve and I feel I’ve fulfilled that goal.”
Skrufff (Benedetta Skrufff): When did this new cycle in your career actually begin?
Alexander Robotnick: “Everything started last September, when I was approached to do the mix CD though initially I was reluctant to accept the offer as I had previously made a decision never to record or do any promos. My attitude at the time was if people wanted to hear me, they should come and see me playing live, which I also wanted because when I perform live I manipulate and remix absolutely everything I play.”
Skrufff: Though you’ve also started DJing recently. .
Alexander Robotnick: “Yes, last year I finally decided to let go of my dislike towards vinyl. Someone sent me an email asking if I was still DJing which was something I’d never actually done before, but on this occasion I decided to respond differently for once, to not refuse the offer. So I said yes I’m still DJing, though with a laptop, then immediately went out and bought a laptop straightaway. Fabrice Guarnascione of the French label Grossomodo was the first to book me to play at the club Spartacus in Provence (France) where I ended up playing with Kiko and The Hacker. The club was packed, I felt great, people liked my set and my career has taken off since then. Even now I’m very busy with DJ gigs.”
Skrufff: How does the DJ role compare with producing, are DJs the new rock stars?
Alexander Robotnick: “As a DJ I need to keep my musical knowledge constantly updated whereas a producer I never really had to care about it before. Because doing that takes up a lot of my time I consider it the least appealing side of the job, also because I don’t like going to record shops though luckily I have people who help me out and others who send me promos. I’ve also tried to minimize the distance between being a musician and a DJ, by completely manipulating and layering the tracks I play in my set. On top of the vinyl I use a keyboard and a laptop, I sing, do voiceovers and perform a little though I always try to keep my equipment to a minimum because I usually play in tiny spaces that I share with pints of beer, bottles, people and so on. As far as being treated as a rock-star is concerned, my audience is into electro, electroclash, and italo-disco and is not really into commerciality, it’s a smaller scene, but in my opinion it’s an amazing one. The artists are extremely talented and friendly, respectful and helpful, which is something I’ve never experienced before. There’s a constant desire to share and collaborate with one another, which I initially found almost shocking. ”
Skrufff: How surprised are you by italo-disco’s comeback?
Alexander Robotnick: “I’m not really surprised because I believe that in music there is always a twenty year cycle. Personally, I was lucky to meet younger musicians from the scene to keep me in check and to share my experiences with. I have been part of so many scenes throughout my career that it’d be easy for me, whilst I’m writing a track, to unwarily slip into other styles of music.”
Skrufff: Have you always made a living as a musician?
Skrufff: You seem to have been very much living the life of an artist . .
Alexander Robotnick: “Well, so far I haven’t reached a level of fame which would allow me to live with no worries, though having said that I’ve met a few very famous artists who’ve also been through difficult times financially. Fame doesn’t exempt you from worries forever. It comes and goes very quickly.”
Skrufff: Which other instruments do you play?
Alexander Robotnick: “I started out playing jazz guitar, towards the end of the “70’s I had a quintet and played standard jazz, then in the “80’s I was captivated by electronica, left the guitar behind, which now I have completely forgotten how to play and took up keyboards which I still play today. I studied music but I’m mainly a producer so I don’t really need to play instruments for what I do. Though knowing how to read music is always very useful.”
Skrufff: Was Problems D’Amour a big success when it was first released?
Alexander Robotnick: “Under certain aspects it was, but not for me personally. I did it only because someone suggested that I write a dance music track since in that field, he said, there was a lot of money to be made. He also said that even a crap track could have shifted 10,000. Ironically Problems d’Amour sold exactly 10,000 copies, a pure coincidence that meant I always considered the trackto be be crap after all. After that I decided to leave dance music completely behind also because my English was awful. Thinking about it, I should have moved to America, since the track sold well in Detroit, Chicago, New York and San Francisco but it did absolutely nothing in Italy, which left me disappointed.”
Skrufff: I was under the impression that at the time you were part of the Italo dance music elite, hanging out with Moroder, Grace Jones, Donna Summer and people like that. . .
Alexander Robotnick: “Definitely not. Don’t forget I’m a very provincial guy from Florence, who sung Problems d’Amour in French because I couldn’t speak any English. It was only around ’95, when I started using the internet, that I realised what impact that track really had. I had no idea whatsoever.”
Skrufff: How did you proceed after giving up electro?
Alexander Robotnick: “I went to work with a multimedia group called Giovanotti Mondani Meccanici who initially made their name by drawing cartoons for the Italian cult magazine Frigidaire. We threw ourselves fully into the art world by doing some beautiful work; we travelled, did video installations for events connected with contemporary art, but essentially we were moving into a very difficult and closed scene, and eventually we got burned. We were the first at doing something that today is a standard, but back then it was almost considered sci-fi.”
krufff: Are you still part of the world music scene today?
Alexander Robotnick: “Yes, I still play in a group called The Third Planet with an Algerian, a Curd and a Sardinian musicians, we’ve recently released a CD in India and we are well known in the States too, but even that hasn’t been an easy ride because in the World music scene you are judged by your political stance, so if you don’t align yourself with certain ideals that go from general protest to green issues, you are not taken into consideration, even if your music is the best in the world. This is especially common in Italy, and since I still live here it’s a problem.”
Skrufff: Do you disagree with these political issues?
Alexander Robotnick: “Not at all, it’s just the way they try to brainwash you that I don’t approve of. To me it’s ludicrous to judge art from a political angle. Music is the expression of an individual, we should learn from history how political regimes have often annihilated artistic expression in the past.”
Skrufff: You said in Time Out recently that we’re now living in post-modern times, what did you mean by that?
Alexander Robotnik: “I meant that realities don’t die and get replaced by new ones any longer in the way it used to happen. Our societies are now layered, they tend to overlap each other and co-exist, a little like in Phillip Dick’s Bladerunner where the old and the new live side by side. I find that India, and especially cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, offers the perfect example of the ancient blending with the futuristic, in a well integrated manner that shows no contradiction. That to me is a post-modern society, where there’s no longer the illusion or the utopia of continuous progress. For something that progresses something else regresses, effortlessly, and that’s the reality of the world nowadays.