It was the hottest weekend so far in the year, the first Sunday of July 2015 Officially, the thermometers missed the historical record of 40,9 by less than one centigrade; unofficially, everyone in Berlin knew that we would be sitting in an urban sauna anyhow, and that a swimming pool or a lake on the outskirts would be the only logical escape. How strange, then, that instead of avoiding the heat, a few hundred loyal partygoers again gathered at the Griessmühle in Neukölln to effectively multiply it with their own bodies. The sprinklers were on almost the entire time, and a dozen pictures of sneakers destroyed by the dirt were posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning. But no one would be absent if they had the choice – because Cocktail d’Amore happens only once every month, and it certainly did not become one of Berlin’s favorite queer parties without good reason.
Its first incarnation took place on September 4th, 2009 with Boris, Giovanni, and Giacomo as its residents, and it has moved through an astounding variety of locations in the city – a very old brick-walled basement in Ritterstrasse near Moritzplatz; a massive warehouse in Ziegrastrasse near that hotel which hosts Elvis and Whitney Houston impersonators; a former brewery in Rollbergstrasse which became the new SchwuZ a while ago; Chez Jacki on the Spree river bank, which is now a reggae club and miniature African village; a trashy, non-descript storefront hidden between 60s Plattenbau apartments and the Kino International; and an odd farmhouse-like structure behind the Hamburger Bahnhof which costs a fortune to heat in those winter months – but everyone remembers that mystical, inexplicable Sunday which was freezing when the party started, but sunny and warm when we exited at 11 o’clock in the morning.
The fans maintain their loyalty to Cocktail d’Amore for many reasons – the free-spirited atmosphere, which is still a given at most queer events in Berlin; the generally excellent sound system and lighting effects, which are usually assembled especially for the event; for the eclectic DJs who have played there: Chida, Soft Rocks, Vladimir Ivkovic, Prins Thomas, Tuff City Kids and many more. The fans and friends are themselves the participants, and the proportion of tourists remains low, which protects the intimacy of this small biotope of bodies, faces, dancers, hustlers, boyfriends, intrigues, dramas, and dirty revealing outfits. Let the Easyjet crowd try their luck at the Wriezener Karree. Without becoming some insider-tip for the hawks of nightlife, Cocktail d’Amore has maintained its credibility by brushing aside supposed coolness, decadence, recognition, and the profit motive in favor of that most elusive and precious quality of all: fun.
The loyalty of its thousands of fans, however, rests, on one central and consistent feature of the party: the DJ sets of Giacomo Garavelloni and Giovanni Turco, who form the team known as Discodromo. They always play as a duo, never apart. Their fingers are always carefully manipulating the tempo and the knobs on the mixers, and when they are performing, they are never intoxicated, hysterical, or unattentive. Often, they seem to be in a deep state of concentration. They seem to share what the French call a „complicity“, which is something like a sympathy, an understanding, and a subtle conspiracy all at once. Personally, the author of this article has heard them countless times and almost always admires their wide command of the possibilities of the 4/4 beat of the dancefloor: how they move smoothly from a contemporary 909 techno track to a rousing, hand-clapping disco anthem from the late 70s, from a blues-inflected rock guitar rhythm to the break of some obscure Italo record from 1984, and then back to a spacey balaeric piano solo over a deep house groove. They have turned us on to new producers and LP B-sides which we never knew existed. And most of all, their mixes seem to go on and on, making you feel lost in time. Two weeks after that mad summer weekend, I was happy to finally have the chance at a long conversation with Giovanni and Giacomo, to peek behind the curtains and to share the results with our readers here…
So when I came into your apartment, Giacomo, you were re-editing this Nancy Martin track „Can’t Believe“…
Giacomo: Yeah, the music is nice, but the vocals are a bit cheesy…
Giovanni: But kind of cute too, with a distance. It’s a little silly.
Well, it’s got that 808 kick drum, and we were saying „What were those Japanese engineers thinking, because this doesn’t sound like any real kick drum.”
Giacomo: They didn’t get it right! Luckily. (laughter)
And then you played me some British 12″ which was 146 bpm…
Giacomo: It’s actually German, from the 90s, we bought it in France. The original tempo is unbearable, but when you play it at 33, it gets very sexy, it becomes like 114, so this was the idea for a re-edit we are working on.
I was going to save this question for later, but you guys are very conscious of BPM when you DJ, right? Are you using a clock to measure it, or do you see it in your software..? When I hear you two DJ, your BPMs are among of the most consistently groovy of any DJs I know. You never suddenly lose the groove – I’ve seen you do this for 4 to 6 hours easily. Is it more instinctive and physical, or do you have the numbers in your head? Do you know already that this is 114 or 121 or 128?
Giacomo: Mmm… Not exactly. I guess it’s more about the groove itself in the tracks. We can play very slow or faster, but we tend to keep a certain type of groove so that it feels effortless, hopefully.
Giovanni: It depends. If it’s a record, I don’t know. I don’t have a BPM counter. But when I am at home, if I let it play and beat-match it with something on my CDJ, then I can see the tempo on the display. That’s my little trick!
Giacomo: Or you can easily download an app for your smartphone…
Unfortunately, the BPM doesn’t tell you how the track grooves.
Giacomo: Exactly, it’s just a number.
So not anyone can reproduce the special Discodromo feel just like that, eh! Now, let’s rewind to last Sunday: it was 40 degrees Celsius in Berlin, and you guys did your monthly Cocktail d’Amore party. It started at midnight Saturday night and ended on Monday at 8 a.m. That’s 32 hours non-stop.
Giacomo: We got there at midnight. Personally, I stayed there for half an hour to make sure the night started properly, then I went home and slept.
Giovanni: It’s funny because all the drama started after he left! Trouble at the door… We have issues sometimes with straight kids (young heteros) passing by. They don’t know where they are or what’s going on in there. I stayed until 4 in the morning, then I went home, tried to sleep a bit, and went back at 11:30 a.m. and stayed the entire time. I was really dead towards the end.
So how did you feel about it this time? Everybody said it was one of the most amazing parties in a while. Maybe because the heat made everyone take their clothes off, and with the sprinkler, it was like being in a very sexy steam room. But there must be a distance between what the partygoers are experiencing, and what you two as both DJs and event organizers feel. Were you able to enjoy it yourself, or was the responsibility overwhelming?
Giovanni: I always have mixed feelings towards Cocktail when it comes to enjoyment. When I went there on Saturday night, it was only about work. But Sunday was more fun; after we played, it was finally time to enjoy. But I also knew that maybe we had to play again at 2 or 3 in the morning – if people are still here, and they want to hang out, then who else can take over? It’s always like that, oscillating from one state to another. Relaxing when I’m done DJing, but in the back of my mind, I can’t relax too much… I was better prepared for the first set, I knew that I had to commit to the DJ set for the next 6 hours and give the best I could. The second set was more stressful to me – we had been there for so many hours, and we had to pull it together and do it again.
Giacomo: And people really didn’t want to leave!
Stream: Discodromo Live at Panorama Bar (excerpts)
I know you guys just DJd the weekend before that for Gay Pride at Panorama Bar, and you said that went fantastically, you were very satisfied with your performance, but you feel bad when people come to Cocktail to hear you, and you cannot give them as good a show as somewhere else. How did your DJ set at Panorama Bar differ from the one at Cocktail?
Giacomo: The Panorama Bar was Sunday morning at 5 a.m., definitely peak time, when people are really up for partying. So we prepared a very energetic and fun set. You know, uplifting, groovy, and faster tracks. Mixing a lot of genres – although we always do that. It was celebrating being gay, especially after the news came from the US about legalization of Gay Marriage, so there was this euphoric mood which you could feel. At Cocktail, it was sunny in the garden, but outdoors is different – we don’t present the same sound for that situation.
You said celebratory – I’ve always felt that you guys are very conscious about setting specific moods. It’s not good or bad music in absolute terms, but there are certain moods you create, like more dark and sexual, or more bright and happy…
Giovanni: it’s all about the mood. First, it’s always different DJing in a club vs. outdoors. The sound systems are going to be different too. It’s about the genre, the specific features of each record, how much bass you need. On top of that there’s the mood: when it’s sunny, there’s the heat, people are feeling good..
But Berlin has cold long winters, does that mean you’re playing gothic nights? Sometimes the sun doesn’t even come out. I remember having lots of fun with you guys at those parties too.
Giacomo: That’s a different mood again. For me, outdoors means luscious pads. It’s really all about the pads, the emotions, but not too dramatic, not melancholic – beautiful, airy pads.
Giovanni: I can only agree with that. How much fun is it to play those „balaeric“ records.. I know it’s really obvious, right?
But recently, you guys also especially prepared a set where everything was about 105 to 114 BPM. It’s a deep groove tempo, and very few DJs in Berlin would do something like that. At least not if they’re booked to play in those more well-known places.
Giovanni: Yeah, we love that tempo too. It’s not a coincidence that we did it in the Cosmic Hole (the smaller dancefloor at Griessmuehle). We had the chance to open a second room, because it was so crowded and unbearable with only one room open, and we were wondering „What kind of music should we present in there?“ In general parties have a House/Disco room, then a more Techno/banging room. We wanted to do something different which didn’t exist, which is very much needed, I find. We love slow tempos.
„Oh, everybody HATES Italo in Italy.“ (Giovanni Turco)
Funny because I just remembered that in New York, when I was going out in the 90s, it wasn’t a Techno room and a House room; it used to be the „House“ room, which was fast, and the „Lounge“ room, which was slow, Jazz-Funk, R’n’B. And i think it was like that in the 70s too. Perhaps you’ve recreated that era accidentally? Anyhow – with the success of Cocktail, even Berghain has booked you 3 or 4 times to play the Snax Party, New Year’s Eve, or to close out Panorama Bar on a Monday morning. Are you feeling under pressure to please not just your selected audience in Berlin, which is heavily queer and alternative, but a wider audience? Let’s expand that question to all dancefloors in general. Not just Berghain. You’ve been traveling much more in the past year or two.
Giacomo: Every place has its own cultural and musical background, and how its scene was created and curated by the locals DJs and promoters. So you have a specific atmosphere which belongs to each city: a party in Lisbon might be different from Finland. In Italy for example, House music has been around for so long. It was everywhere in the 90s. Even Italo disco – you cannot imagine playing Italo disco in Italy.
Giovanni: Oh, everybody HATES Italo in Italy.
That’s really interesting! I wouldn’t expect that.
Giovanni: It’s common knowledge, they consider it part of some medieval, dark musical era. Of course there are good Disco people in Italy, like Marcello Giordani and those guys. But generally, for most people in Italy, it’s just cheesy.
So you’re saying that there is a difference in the way Americans, Brits, and Germans outside of Italy perceived this as an interesting, exotic „other“ dance music, versus the perception of the natives who had to live through it.
Giacomo: It was too much a part of their history, when they were kids. Some of the most successful tunes were always on the radio, and you sort of learn to hate it, especially when you want to be cool and get into a clubby sound like techno or deep house. But it’s funny that the Dutch and the Scandinavians (or Jeffrey Sfire, a DJ from Detroit) are so obsessed with Italo Disco. On the other hand, Minimal Techno was super big in Italy about ten years ago! In Scandinavia, where there’s snow all the time, they want this tropical fantasy, whereas Italians want this cold world of synthesizers and drum machines.
Stream: Telephones – Lotusland (Discodromo Remix)
Some basic DJ questions then, since we are talking about Italy. Your childhood musical experiences: what did you listen to when you were kids, before you ever heard of house or electronic music?
Giacomo: I was obsessed with pop music when I was growing up. My first vinyl record, which my mother bought for me, was „Radio Gaga“ by Queen. And some compilation from Disco Magic, with that little baby with the hat. That was huge, because it was connected to Italian television. They also used to release all the opening titles of cartoons from Japan. They composed new music for them, Italo disco, and my mother bought these for me. This was in the 80s. She noticed that I enjoyed it, so she bought it for me and my sister.
Giovanni: Well, I grew up with a hippie father, so when I was a kid, he exposed me to a lot of psychedelic rock and classical music. I have a lot of early memories of listening to Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd. My father used to listen to all that when I was a kid, and I remember being really scared by the Pink Floyd, for example. Every time he would play The Wall, I would start crying, because all the vocals would freak me out, and only classical music would calm me down. My mom was mostly listening to Italian pop music, like Mina, and other big singers. I was definitely less interested in that, but I still have memories of my mom and me listening to the radio, hanging out at home, and that was a really nice part of my childhood. But I listened more with my father. Oh my god! – the thing with putting on records is funny because the first shock I had related to turntables was: when I was 5 or 6, one day I was alone with my friends, and I tried to play a record, and I fucked up everything. I broke the needle and started crying, and from that day, it took me many years to try to put the needle on a record again…
Another question which I was saving for later, but I am going to ask it now – it’s interesting that Giacomo talks about pop and dance music, while Giovanni talks about Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and so on. Because I’ve heard more than one person comment that the strength of Discodromo comes from the combination of two different personalities which are both always present in the mix. And you two are both always deciding consensually how to mix these personalities. The quote is: Giacomo is cocaine and Giovanni is marijuana..
Giacomo: (huge laughter from both) That’s a great combination! I’ve never heard anyone say this…
Giovanni: It’s kind of true, and it definitely makes sense. If you think about it, in a DJ set you have different moments; you have energetic moments, and you have trippy moments, because your body needs to rest, or your mind needs to trip… (chuckles)
That’s very interesting, because it makes me think of Tai-Chi or Yoga which both talk about moving in two directions at once. Like in Tai-Chi, if your arms move up, then lower body moves down. If your head is turning to the right, then your waist is turning to the left. I always thought this is part of the deep science of DJing. Because you guys do very long sets, sometimes for 6 to 8 hours, and you are very aware of steering people’s moods up and down… So now I’m curious: when did you start going out to clubs? Was it in the town where you grew up, or did you hear some mix on the radio and think, „I want to play music and make people dance“?
Giacomo: Well, I was obsessed with music since I was really young. I would make mixtapes from the radio, and I listened to radio constantly, much more than I would watch TV, from 7 or 8 until I was 18. My tastes changed and developed over time, and I followed different programs as I got older. Basically I started going out when I was 15 years old – i was already clubbing on Sunday afternoons while the other little kids were going to school. This was close to Vicenza…
Giovanni: We both come from Vicenza. Twenty minutes away from each other.
Giacomo: But we didn’t know each other until after our teenage years, even though we were frequenting the same clubs.
Giovanni: It’s funny that we went to the same clubs but we never saw each other. We even had friends in common in those clubs. And we’re about the same age, it’s only one year’s difference.
Giacomo: The first one was this club called Scala, which means „ladder“. It was in Padova, and it was kind of an outrageous, extravagant club, with drag queens performing; it was a straight club but very mixed. And they were playing this music which I had never heard before. It was really exciting. It was 40 km away from where I lived. At that time, I would go there on a scooter, by night.
(gasp) Oh! But you were 15! That was illegal, wasn’t it?
Giovanni: Yeah, quite illegal! (chuckles again)
Giacomo: Obviously my parents didn’t know, but we were a bunch of kids who went partying. Once I had to go on a bike because my scooter was broken, and I was grabbing the arm of my friend who had a scooter… That happened only once and never again, because afterwards my arm was like non-functioning for a week. But it was fun. Eventually I started doing public relations for that club, so even though I was underage, I had older people around me with cars, so they would bring me there… That was 1996. Through this club I was exposed to all the house music at the time, and then many other clubs, and then I was doing PR for other clubs too…
„Once someone said to me ‚Why are you going out with that faggot?‘.“ (Giacomo Garavelloni)
At this club Scala, was there a gay scene? Were you aware of other gay people?
Giovanni: Not really. At that time, my sexuality was still „in the making“. In limbo. For example, I knew this guy who was working there, but I never quite figured out that he was gay. I thought he was a little bizarre, eccentric, super-feminine, but it was more the way he was acting. I was like wow, but I could never put everything in place. Just random thoughts here and there. The gay connection, for me, was not very established at the time.
Giacomo: I have to say, in this club, a lot of straight guys looked gay! One of my best friends would wear makeup and a pink furry scarf, and once someone said to me „Why are you going out with that faggot?“ (laughs) And I thought, aaaah, you got it completely wrong, actually it’s ME! (more laughter) But he had a lot of success with girls with that look, you know, the girls were really into his „beyond metrosexual“ in a straight man. So it was very confusing. And I was not really aware of my own sexuality either, so it was an interesting time…
Just curious – did you make friends with the DJs there? Were there older DJs who showed you things?
Giacomo: No, only with other kids in the clubs.
Giovanni: I find that the DJs from that era were very distant. You wouldn’t have the chance to talk to them. Nobody could go into the DJ booth, it felt like some sacred space… My experiences were so similar to Giacomo’s. I went to that club too. And it’s funny that Giacomo mentions becoming friends with older guys to get a ride, because that’s exactly what I did. You had to hitchhike. Because in Italy, everything is far away and spread out – even if you live in Milan, or in the big cities, you need a car anyway, because clubs are in different corners. It’s so not like Berlin now!
Giacomo: At that time, it was really a thing. People were commuting like crazy. They would go to a certain club for the night, and then an after-hours 150 km away, driving for two and a half hours… It was a commitment.
Isn’t that just the geography of Italy? Because Daniele Baldelli said, even in the 70s and 80s, people would drive to Cosmic Club, or Baia degli Angeli, and there would be hundreds of cars in the parking lot outside there.
Giovanni: I think I read the same interview where he said that people weren’t even going into the club. Everybody would just hang out in the parking area.
Yeah, they would stay outside, smoke pot, and listen to his mixtapes! Ok, there’s this period where you were not DJs yet, but you moved to Bologna, Milan, or where? What were you doing before you moved to Berlin, between your teenager years in Vicenza and now?
Giovanni: I was a university student, in Padova. Padova is only 35 km from Vicenza, it’s not far. We met through that common friend, the gay guy who used to work in that club. We actually met in a gay bar in Padova – he introduced us to each other, years later. It came full circle.
So what did you guys study in school? You didn’t know you were going to become DJs.
Giacomo: No, of course not. I studied fashion actually, more the technical side.
Giovanni: I studied communications, which was mostly about marketing, advertising, planning events. Then I realized halfway that I hated almost all of it. I ended up throwing parties, but I hated the whole marketing side.
Giacomo: Which was good, because it was like learning about all the bad things which you don’t want to apply to your events.
Giovanni: Yeah, like when you listen to bad music, and you’re like, „This is exactly what i DON’T want to play“. (laughter)
Wait, what years are these?
Giovanni: 2002, 2003… I finished university in 2006. My course was five years. It took me six, six and a half years. But university courses are really long in Italy.
What? I’m really surprised, because there was already so much going on here at that time. I mean, Ostgut was happening in year 2000, with their sex parties and all, and you guys had just started school? Parallel universes! So what happened after graduation?
Giacomo: I actually worked for a fashion company for several years, while I was still in Italy, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Eventually I got sick of that job, and I had the chance to get some money from a family occasion, so I quit my job and started my own magazine. It was really fun, a lot of work, but very exciting. It didn’t last for very long. It was a lifestyle magazine, like a free press thing which you could find around the city. Giovanni was in charge of the cinema section.
Giovanni: I was writing about films, because I started hating almost everything I studied, but film has been one of my biggest passions besides music.
Giacomo: Mine too. We watched so many movies together.
Stream: Discodromo at Boiler Room
Hey, let’s talk about this. Randomly, just name a few films that really inspire what you do. Your life, your music, your DJ sets.
Giacomo: I love Wong Kar-wai, I love „Happy Together“… That is probably my favorite movie, it was really formative for me because I discovered it at a certain time in my life. It’s a very dark movie, but very romantic, an impossible love story.
That’s interesting because nobody ever thinks about the immigrant men – especially the Chinese or Vietnamese men who work in these kinds of restaurants (which are portrayed in the film). At our parties, we don’t see guys who might be serving us rice noodles in the daytime. So what kind of interior emotional life do they have, especially if they’re gay? It’s like a hidden world.
Giacomo: Yeah totally, it’s a desperate life, looking for happiness, happy just together but not even happy in life. I also like Cronenberg a lot, Lars Van Trier but only when it’s good it’s good. Old movies, Billy Wilder for more fun – those comedies which we used to watch together from the 50s can be amazingly written, so clever, such smart humour.
Giovanni: I would say „Fanny and Alexander“ from Bergman, who is one of my favorite directors. I really love every movie he made Then there is one movie which I am especially attached to, which is „Gohatto“, also called „Taboo“, by Nagisa Oshima. It’s about a gay samurai – kind of like, what’s that Pasolini movie… „Teorema“? This young guy arrives in the samurai central, and he is gay, so he is hitting on all these older guys. Desire starts growing in all these men, they all want to have sex with him, and because he is fucking up everything, they kill him in the end. There is this beautiful scene where a sword goes through the air and cuts down a young cherry tree, and all its petals fly in the air. Innocence, and beauty… You have to watch it!
So are you two killing the old order with your beauty and your music? (laughter)
Giacomo: I don’t know, maybe you can tell us?
Giovanni: We like to be a little subversive! It’s nice to be a little subversive… With grace, though. (more laughter)
So Giacomo, you did this magazine and you were working in Padova, and Giovanni was writing the cinema column and studying… Is that when you started coming to Berlin?
Giovanni: Yeah, that was a couple years before I finished university. At some point we decided to live together with a bunch of people in a big apartment – students, workers, some girls… Not all gay but about 75% gay. That’s when we both started coming to Berlin and got to know the city and the people living here. We met Boris, we met Alessandro and Eusebio. And mostly Basso (created by Yusi Etiman, who still does the graphics for Berghain). For me, Basso and Berghain were the two points of attraction. That was around 2004 to 2006, then we moved here in 2007. Basso was such a great experience for me: people getting together to enjoy art, movies, diverse activities in this multi-functional space. I miss it a lot.
Yeah, it felt like „school“ again. But it was a cool school! Another question now – sometimes I feel like Berlin is also a big school, with its good students, bad students, crazy ones, boring ones, the pretty people, the weirdos… but if this were a school, you two are definitely getting „top marks“ because you really do your homework much more than the others. Every time I visit you, you are almost always at the computer, editing sounds, looking for tracks that no one else has heard… you’re very disciplined, actually. I want to know how you guys prepare for your gigs – do you have a regular work schedule? Do you decide, we’re going to meet for 4 or 6 hours today just to prepare?
Giacomo: It depends, of course. We always have things to do, whether it’s a mix, a gig, preparing for the party, the bookings, the organization, or talking to an artist to release a track on our label… There’s a lot of work, so depending on the deadlines, we organize our week accordingly. We meet almost every day to work together.
Giovanni: For example, since we are playing before Harvey this Friday, the whole week is dedicated to preparing that set. (winks, laughs)
„We want to give the best that we can, and that doesn’t just drop out of the sky. You have to work on it..“ (Giacomo Garavelloni)
So without saying that you feel competitive, do you feel the need sometimes to show people how good you are? When I lived in New York, I often felt „it’s not good enough just to play some nice music, you have to maintain a certain level of performance as well“…
Giacomo: We want to give the best that we can, and that doesn’t just drop out of the sky. You have to work on it.
Giovanni: For both of us, especially when we DJ in Berlin, we feel a lot of pressure, because we know that a lot of friends are coming – the people whom we really don’t want to disappoint.
I’ve heard you say that 2 or 3 times before – it’s like a very strong impulse to make your friends happy. A more technical question would be, how are you organizing your files? Is it all digital? I see you buying vinyl, but do you still play vinyl at clubs?
Giacomo: No, not really. A lot of things have to be edited anyways. Mostly, when it comes to older music, it was not made for a clubbing experience nowadays. There’s 20 seconds of intro, then the full melody and the chorus starts – that’s not how we mix. A break is too short, or too long, or a certain interesting part comes just at the very end, and you want to feature it before that… Yeah, so we are adapting the music to a more modern experience. We listen a lot to the tracks, then we try to understand where each belongs – what kind of atmosphere or moment, what can be attached to it to create a certain effortless flow which lifts people into different territories. We play so much music from different genres, so it is really important that we know all the characteristics of the music that we play.
I’m amazed at how conscious you are in your approach. It’s not accidental, it’s more like a good movie director who thinks out every scene. You can’t just shoot randomly. Although Wong Kar-wai does that, but the thought processes happen beforehand, so there can be spontaneity when you’re actually doing it. Maybe that’s a good comparison?
Giacomo: Exactly. Obviously, when you’ve done your background work, then you can be really free to play with the rules that you’ve set for yourself. There is a lot of feeling the moment, and making the right decision based on the reaction of people on the dancefloor. Just trying to be on the same level as them..
But I’ve heard you both be quite self-critical sometimes. When you don’t play well, you seem very aware of that also.
Giovanni: I feel like every DJ knows when they’ve played well or not.
Not if they’re drunk or taking drugs. A lot of DJs don’t give a fuck. We know who some of those people are!
Giovanni: Yeah, I guess. But besides those guys, usually, when you’ve done a good job, or you could have done better, you can feel it. If I am not happy with what I’ve done, I will say it. I’m not afraid of that. Like some people, every time you ask them how their gig went, they always say „Oh it was great, blah blah“. I’m not into that… Is it like a self-marketing strategy? I don’t want to fit into that DJ myth. I don’t care about that, I will just say what I think.
Moving onto your recent travels now. Besides Berlin, where you’re very popular, where were some of your best experiences lately?
Giacomo: Well, I liked Holland and Belgium. Ghent was really fun. You could tell that there was so much passion for electronic music from the 80s, those people breathe music, and they have a lot of knowledge as well.
Giovanni: And they’re into Italo! Let’s not forget that.
But you guys are not playing the typical Italo!
Giovanni: No, but we do play the darker stuff. I have to say that the last gig outside of Germany which I enjoyed a lot was in Amsterdam. We played some Italo, people are familiar with that sound, and they really enjoyed it. That was nice. Depending on where you go to DJ, there are some genres you can pull out – I would never play Italo in Italy, for example, going back to what we said earlier.
I guess the bookings have a lot to do with the right promoter and the right club for your kind of music. You said that your experience in Japan was not so good when you went there about 2 years ago? It was a quite commercial gay event, wasn’t it?
Giovanni: Yeah, the event wasn’t ideal. It was organized by a New York promoter who had connections, but in a club with 5000 capacity… But it is true that often, you end up playing in situations which are not so well thought-out. Sometimes I really wonder if the promoters listened to what we do, because so often the DJ before you is playing a super-banging set, and you don’t know what to do.
You also played in USA last year, how was that experience?
Giacomo: It was… fun. We played in many different cities, like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, L.A., Denver… We had already played in San Francisco and New York a couple of times before. Maybe, thinking about it afterwards, I would have made some changes in the musical direction which we chose. But you know, that depends as well. L.A. was amazing with Chris Cruse, and Denver was really fun too.
Well now, we are having this conversation in English, and dance music started out mostly as an American phenomenon from the 1970s and on. Do you feel a distance from that, like when you listen to American soul music? You both speak English very naturally, or does it still feel foreign?
Giovanni: I have various feelings toward this, because on the one hand, American culture is everywhere. The first time I went to New York, I had this feeling like „I know this place, I’ve been here before“, although I never had, but all the music videos and movies… I have kind of the same feeling towards Disco – I heard so much of it in my childhood, I understand what they’re singing about, and I feel it, because I learned English at a very young age; it’s a sound I’ve been used to since I began to have memories. But then, on the other hand, I also feel the distance of coming from a different country and speaking a different language.
Giacomo: That’s interesting, because until I had really improved my English, it was more about the melodies. The vocal parts were like instruments, since I couldn’t understand the lyrics. It became really fun when I started understanding what they were saying. (laugh)
You two are living in Berlin, and your home and your popularity are really based here. But when you go back to Italy to DJ now, your perspective is from a more pan-European position: you’re no longer these two boys from Vicenza. Do you look at Italy through different eyes now?
Giovanni (quite seriously): I have to say – when I think about it now – my life in Italy seems like a previous life. We both share this feeling, actually. When we moved to Berlin, it felt like being reborn. Completely. Sometimes I look back and I feel like I never had a life before Berlin. I was asleep, kind of.
Giacomo: The same for me. It feels like there was another life which I didn’t really live.
Stream: Man Power – Trance (Discodromo Remix)
Specifically about being Italian in Berlin.. From an outsider point of view, it seems remarkable that we have not only you guys, but a group of Italian boys who work at the door and behind the scenes for you. There’s also Francesco, Mr. Ties, who does Homopatik. So let me read a quote to you from this book „Turn The Beat Around“ (by Peter Shapiro, 2005): „Broadly speaking, the typical New York disco DJ is young, Italian, and gay“, journalist Vince Aletti declared in 1975. Remarkably, almost all of the important early disco DJs were of Italian extraction: Francis Grasso, David Mancuso, Nicky Siano, Tom Savarese, Bobby Guttadaro… For whatever reason, Italian-Americans have played a siginificant role…“ Obviously we are all individuals doing our own thing, but how do you see yourselves as Italians doing dance music today? How would you explain it? Is the influence maybe unconscious? I don’t know how to formulate this question exactly…
Giovanni: It’s funny that you brought that up, because especially after reading „Love Saves The Day“ (by Tim Lawrence, 2003), I learned a lot about the New York disco scene and how much the Italian DJs back then…
From 1973 to right now! „Love Is The Message!“
Giacomo: Oh my god, I was born in 1978! And Giovanni, in 1979, „1979 It’s Dancing Time“… (laughter)
Giovanni: Yeah, I was really surprised by how much the Italian DJs were such a driving force in the birth of disco. The book is so well-written and organized, I would recommend it to everyone. And in the same way that those kids were doing it, the main mixed-gay parties in Berlin are also mostly made by Italians.
By „mixed“, you mean that it starts out as a queer project, but it welcomes everyone.
Giovanni: Yes. But I don’t really know what that has to do with BEING italian. Maybe it’s the shallow openness – talking to people, being very social. But shallow.
I think this is what Pasolini and Luis Buñuel both satirized in their movies: this bourgeois society of everyone always eating dinner, talking, being chic, being seen… That is the form and structure of the parties, in a way. As a personal comment, when Massi and everyone invite me to go eat pizza together in Friedrichshain, for example, I always get a bit annoyed – by everyone sitting around at the table, waiting for the pizzas.. this whole ritual. I am very individualistic. Chinese people like groups too, but I’m not that way. But when I went to eat pizza with you, I realized that this was a ritualized form of communal interaction – it might come more naturally to people who grew up with a certain kind of background.
Giacomo: Yes, when I spent some time in the USA and experienced situations with families or groups of friends, it seemed normal not to eat lunch or dinner together. Everyone is on a schedule to work or study, you have food there, and each person eats when they feel comfortable. In Italy, the meal is traditionally one of the most important moments to socialize with the people you care about. So the family always eats together at a certain time. At dinner, it’s common to just hang out, cook, enjoy the moment with your loved ones. It’s very Italian, this communal experience. And probably you can transpose this to a party – it’s like an intimate moment which you can share with strangers as well.
Giovanni: Yeah, we like people to get together. Exactly! (giggles)
Any comments about the Cocktail d’Amore compilation? It’s been out for a while. How did it come about?
Giacomo: Some were friends whom we had worked with on previous releases, others were artists whom we approached because we really like their music… so it was a mix of newcomers and more familiar names. Basically, it was just presenting 360 degrees of our musical influences. You can go from one more Ambient track to a more Toy-Techno track, like Heatsick. There is some Disco, some Electro. Different inputs from different artists which we like.
Well, connecting to that – when I came in here today, you were playing some records, but you were also singing the melodies, more or less. It sounded quite good, I thought. A lot of people like your voices.
Giovanni: Funny that you say so, because I’ve been thinking about taking singing lessons. I can reproduce melodies quite easily…
I feel like the really good DJs are doing more than just playing records. It’s like singing an extended symphony in your head, and it has to last for hours and hours. Maybe it’s a sublimated form of singing. So what do you like to sing? Like when you’re alone, in the shower or at home, and you just open up your mouth..
Giacomo: Basslines? 303 basslines? (laughing) I cannot even bear hearing my own voice.
But Giacomo, you WERE singing the melody when I came in.
Giovanni: When I’m in the shower, or in a good mood or cleaning my house, I like to sing those Disco or Italo tracks which come to mind easily. I just start singing them… But for our own productions, we are going through a technical impasse, because we don’t have a studio at the moment. For the last year, we’ve been working either in Giacomo’s room or at my place. And that’s been annoying, because we really need a space to set up everything.
Giacomo: It’s been a nightmare trying to find a proper space. We want to go to a place that’s not where I’m sleeping, so I can switch my brain into „studio time“.
Giovanni: And that would open a whole new topic – gentrification in Berlin, real estate..!
Stream: Discodromo & Massimiliano Pagliara – La Luna Nera
I want to end on a philosophical note here. I have read that in the 18th Century, in Europe, there was sometimes a mass hysteria called Choreomania. Dozens of people would start dancing nonstop until they became sick or even died. And was it a famous Russian ballet? Where this girl puts on her red shoes, and once she starts dancing, she can’t stop…
Giovanni: It’s a common disease in Berlin too! (laughter)
Well, that’s what I’m saying! Like the last Cocktail d’Amore was 20 hours nonstop for you. So is everybody in the EU flying to Berlin to dance themselves to death?
Giovanni: The answer is obvious, YES! (more laughter) And we are the „pied piper“ (whistling)…
Giacomo: How macabre! You know in Puglia, there was this tradition. There were women who were thought to have been bitten by the tarantula spider and thus became crazy. The only way to heal them was to surround them with musicians and play music to them, and these girls should dance and dance until the demons or the poison would leave their bodies. Then they would be saved, or cured. That’s how the music form Tarantella was born – it can go on for hours and hours. Also in Africa, these polyrhythmic patterns can go on forever, you fall into a trance from the sheer repetitiveness. We have all been doing the same thing since primitive times, these pagan rituals which still happen nowadays, even if it’s in a different context. So I guess when people come to Berlin, they feel like it’s a surreal island which does not exist in real life, but it’s a place where they can lose themselves, get rid of their demons, and dance, dance, dance.
And at the same time, it’s a huge tourist attraction! (laughter)
Giovanni: It’s all our fault.
Finally, just to get personal, are there any special tracks or songs which you like to dance to? When you’re dancing for yourself in your room – not to please your audience. What do you fantasize about, in your head?
Giovanni: (after some thought) Eh… Shirley Lites?! „Heat You Up, Melt You Down“. It drives me crazy. It grabs you, you get into it, and you can’t stop.
Giacomo: One of my favorites is Chris and Cosy, „Walking Through Heaven“, from 1984. If you listen to it, it’s like the first Trance record ever, without them even knowing that they were making this sound. It’s like seriously Techno, Trance, a beautiful slow track before all those categories were invented.
Any other ones? Dancing into the pagan paradise…
Giovanni: So many tracks come into mind, I can’t really pick.
Giacomo: Almost everything that Maurice Fulton has done, I love him. He is an underrated genius. He should be up in Mount Olympus.
Giovanni: His last album was like, wow. Boof -The Hydrangeas Whisper. It’s been out for a while. And one of my favorite tracks ever which gives me joy every time I listen to it is.. what is it called? „MC1 – Basic“ by Beppe Loda.
We have to end the interview, so let’s listen to that together right now! Thank you, Giacomo and Giovanni!