Photo: Press (Men With Secrets/Donato Dozzy & Retina.it)
Donato Scaramuzzi, Lino Monaco and Nicola Buono have been working together before. Under the name Le Officine Di Efesto, the three Italians have released an EP with lush leftfield techno on Scaramuzzi’s Spazio Disponibile, stylistically finding the perfect middleground between the music they have become known for under their respective monikers Donato Dozzy and Retina.it. When the trio announced their debut LP for The Bunker New York as Men With Secrets early this year, it came as a surprise to even their most ardent followers: Psycho Romance & Other Spooky Ballads had very little to do with the intricate rhythms, dense textures and complex arrangements that characterise their approach to techno and IDM, but everything with weary synth pop and icy cold minimal wave. It’s a unique record by all means and the same can be said for Men With Secrets’ mix for our Groove podcast: it is the first and only one they will ever record, comprising some of the music that provided inspiration while they were writing their record.
First off, how are you doing and what have you been up to lately?
Lino Monaco: We are all okay here, just having had a lot of time to do our own stuff in total isolation up until a week ago. I was reading a lot of books and comics, Nicola has been building a lot of crazy instruments and Donato is currently going through the whole Twin Peaks thing.
How did the three of you initially get to know each other before eventually forming the techno trio Le Officine Di Efesto?
Monaco: At the start of the noughties. We knew about Donato because he was involved in some of the best nights at Rome’s Brancaleone club. At that time, the only news available to us came through the press or some small HTML platforms on the internet, but since we kept up to date, we met the guy virtually at first.
And what led to you coming together as Men With Secrets?
Monaco: Donato came to our hometown to enjoy some studio time and also some free time with us. That was a good occasion to get to know each other better eating good food and also listening to some good music from the past. Discovering our shared passion for some old music was one of the things that brought us closer together.
The musical references for the project are early 80s bands like Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League or New Order and your debut LP has been described as a take on minimal wave. What drew you to this particular era of pop history and this style of music specifically?
Monaco: Donato and I were teenagers during that time, not Nicola though, he is the youngest of the trio but he has lived through the early 90s and cyberpunk. That was the era in which synthesizers become more prominent in music because cheap prices meant that a new generation of musicians got to experiment massively with them. Also sequencers gave everyone a chance to express their own ideas without having to be an expert musician. That’s the spirit of the punk generation.
All of you have collaborated extensively with one another or other artists, however for this project you took a different path stylistically. What did your working process look like? Did you approach things differently when you entered the studio together?
Monaco: For this project we worked mostly through the internet. We shared the stuff in real time, so we have had the chance to follow the process step by step. The beauty of the new era is that the distance is reduced, and this gives us the chance to out an idea into practice in real time, each of us with his own equipment in his respective studio.
Notably, some of the songs feature vocals. Who wrote the lyrics, whose voice do we hear and which topics informed them? Track titles like “Elle est nihiliste” or “Angelus Novus” seem to hint at philosophical themes.
Monaco: I started as singer in a new wave band in the second half of the 80s. I stopped singing because I didn’t feel satisfied with what I did with my voice. Then I started again at the beginning of the decade with the The Ne-21 side project by my colleague and long-time friend Nicola and I. After Donato’s suggested that I sing on some of the instrumental tracks we had already recorded for Men With Secrets, I gave it a shot. I spend lot of my free time reading classic literature or watching old movies, especially black and white ones, good Italian adaptions of classic literature, most of them more theatrical. However, I get inspired by a lot of things. As a thinker from the last century, Walter Benjamin was a step ahead and already foresaw what we are experiencing now. He committed suicide when the nazis threatended to capture him. His essay on the concept of history had me fascinated by his interpretation of Paul Klee’s painting “Angelus Novus”, the angel of history caught in a storm from the future, looking upon the disaster of human history without a chance to help. “Elle est nihilist” is a French quote from Fedor Dostoevskij. One of his characters says it about her own rebel daughter. The song itself talks about beauty and its indomitable and sometimes elusive qualities. Also Dostoevskij is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. His life has been not easy, he was sentenced to death, but was acquitted and saved just in the moment when he was to be shot. We need to read the classics to better understand the present day and have a better idea for the future.
Apparently, your contribution to our Groove podcast will be the first and only mix you will ever make. What was the idea behind it and how did you record it?
Monaco: We thought that one good mix would be enough for now! We have chosen some good old italian underground music such as Gaznevada, Pankow, Traks and Der Blaue Reiter and some of the music we listened to on repeat at that time, like Visage, Simple Minds, Fad Gadget. Donato, who is the DJ between us, recorded the mix using the tracks we have chosen collectively for this.
Last but not least: what are your plans for the future? Will the Men With Secrets return at some point or will it have been a one-off project?
Monaco: Well, we loved to do this album! it has been kind of a challenge for us and now we feel really proud of it. Actually, we got lot of different recordings, too, with a more experimental approach. Maybe we’ll put it out as Le Officine di Efesto. We don’t want hide that we still are talking a lot about Men With Secrets, so we do not rule out to start something similar… But let’s see what the future has in store for all of humanity first.
Stream: Men With Secrets – Groove Podcast 259
01. Lena Platonos – Bloody Shadows From A Distance
02. He Said – Pump
03. Gaznevada – Japanese Girl
04. Richard Bone – Men With Secrets
05. Traks – Drums Power
06. Shock – R.e.r.b.
07. Blancmange – Feed Me
08. Pankow – God’s Deneuve
09. Fad Gadgets – Collapsing New People
10. Clock Dva – Sound Mirror
11. Simple Minds – Theme For Great Cities
12. Der Blaue Reiter – Lights Off
13. John Foxx – Plaza
14. Front 242 – Operating Tracks
15. Visage – The Steps
16. OMD – The Misunderstanding