Photo: Kevin Rashid Giaquinto (Katatonic Silentio)
In a sense, DJs are always both researchers and educators, explorers of music history and its mediators. This is especially true in the case of Mariachiara Troianiello, and not only because she is a literal academic. Also her work as Katatonic Silentio is concerned with the questions of the contexts of music and how to recontextualise it. Her mix for our Groove podcast might be aiming at the dancefloor, but takes a slow toward it, highlighting the different roles textures and rhythms have played and continue to play in different strands of dance music.
You are based in Milano but made your first steps as a DJ in Napoli, starting out with hip-hop and then gradually pivoting towards club music. What initially drew you to dance music?
My relationship with clubbing is curious. I started going to clubs at the same time as I started playing there, around the age of 15. I wasn’t a frequent attendee, as an introvert I didn’t feel too comfortable with all those people, yet I felt protected behind the console. Anyway, the transition to dance music was a natural step driven by curiosity and a desire to pry into new things. With the internet at my fingertips, I started reading up on DJing and the different genres of music. Digging back into the past, I discovered that there were quite specific movements – and historical moments – linked to as many specific subcultures. I remember that I had started to delve into all of house, the US-American one first and then the Italian one. I often went to a little shop that sold both records and DJ equipment, and I was there looking at the instruments and then the records and CDs, understanding the genres, understanding the artists – in short, even before listening I was trying to understand how things worked. At that time I remember there were several CD compilations out there with Gene Hunt, Franckie Knuckles, Larry Heard, Marshall Jefferson, Jackmaster, Silk, among others. I started collecting them all, listening to them and trying to imagine what those times might have been like, and trying to understand the stylistic differences between genres or between countries. Let’s say the Pandora’s box opened from there. I kept poking around, I went straight into the Italian scene of the 1980s and 90s, and then everything that had happened in Ibiza and Manchester in the same period. I read books and listened to whatever I could find on the subject, plus – records aside – it was the peak period of peer-to-peer with programs like Napster, eMule, WinMix, and the like, so it was really easy to access entire libraries and digital archives from the past. I remember very well the feelings I had when reading and listening to certain things, and the feeling of belonging I had despite obviously never having been a part of it. The next, and even more natural, transition was to techno – and there I was completely captivated. Moreover, in the early 2000s in Naples there was a discrete movement linked to house and techno and I must say that, although I did not attend events so assiduously, I followed the comings and goings of artists who came to the city to play, and this allowed me to become acquainted with the whole strand of Detroit techno and clearly German techno. Once I got into techno, it was as if I immediately felt that I belonged there, I felt perfectly comfortable listening to it and playing it. I felt like I had finally found a specific language that represented me.
In Milan, you took up studies in the fields of music production and sound design. Assuming you started making music even before that, what did your first steps as a producer look like?
My first steps into the world of production were timid attempts to try and get in touch with another aspect of dance and electronic music that was not playing it while DJing, but creating it. In the beginning it was quite frustrating because, when I wasn’t working or studying, I was spending my free time in the studio, but of course I was very confused about what I wanted to do and achieve, I was going by trial and error. There was a long period of let’s say experimentation and practice, where I was doing a lot of different things, until I realised what kind of sound I was interested in achieving. Let’s say it took me about three to four years before I reached a certain awareness, knowledge, the kind of sound I had in mind and above all something I liked.
What impact did your studies have on your creative path?
Definitely a positive one, they helped me open my mind and apply alternative ways of working to those I already knew. And above all, the opportunity to have a confrontation with other people with often completely different backgrounds.
Your debut album Prisoner of the Self drew a lot on tracks made for or during your live performances, however your latest Ilian Tape EP was made during lockdowns. How would you describe the relationship between live performances—or the lack thereof—and your working process in the studio?
The thing that the first and second works have in common is that they came out of an important communicative need of throwing out things of impetus. Clearly we are talking about two different moments, one let’s say more explosive, the other more introspective, reflective and mature, probably even more aware. The process I have in the studio is never continuous and equal, it’s always very erratic and chaotic, I must admit. What is more or less constant is the fact that I always start with experimentation, I try to do new and different things to push myself beyond my comfort zone, even if sometimes it is difficult and I end up going down established and known directions. On the other hand, when I have to prepare for live shows, that’s when I try to be more concrete and more focused, even if it’s a sort of constant battle: I’m never completely satisfied with the set-up, the way I work or the way I set up the whole workflow. It’s a never ending story!
You have said that you conceive of “sound as a critical tool.” What does this mean, especially in the context of club culture?
There are various nuances and aspects to this question, some more humanistic, others more scientific, from which both qualitative and quantitative data can be derived. The first, may be more sociological: sound, and music in general – like much of art – when made with a purpose that is not merely commercial, are called upon to represent existence, the historical moment, good or bad, bringing awareness to the public, stimulating reflection and subverting certain paradigms of thought. They can, in short, provide a key to understanding society and what is happening. Another aspect may be anthropological/ethnographic, concerning for example the study of popular and ethnic music of specific populations and tribes, both present and past. Still another may be more topographical and geographical, creating sound maps of places, for example rural, natural, existing or remote, or even industrialised places, and then analysing the various soundscapes that emerge. Yet another can be more scientific, for example measuring the noise levels and noise pollution of a given city. But we can go on and on … If we narrow the focus on club culture, it means understanding the evolution of the times and musical strands, understanding how DJing is changing – also in technological terms, how the generations approaching it are changing, and above all – as has been happening for a while now – how the club (and festival) space itself is changing, starting from an analysis of the artistic proposal, the political positioning (or non-positioning), the ability to innovate, the fruition of events themselves, and so on. We are certainly at the gates of a significant change – cultural, political, environmental – which presupposes the arrival of a new wave, but perhaps we should not be too melancholic towards the past to welcome it. It is good to leave some room for the new.
Several of your projects in recent years would fall into the category of sound art and installation work, however you used your pseudonym for most of them. What does the name stand for and why do you use it in such a way that the—sometimes quite different—sides of your artistic works are linked to each other?
The name Katatonic Silentio was brought up by a friend. I was looking for possible names that would reflect me on both a personal and artistic level and he came up with this. I like to combine everything I do under the same pseudonym, they are all aspects of my work and indeed of my personality that I like to co-exist. They correspond exactly to my reality. And as a result, I like to have both clubbing- and dance music-oriented projects as well as research- and academic-related projects in the same orbit.
You are indeed still active in academia. After graduating in 2015 with a thesis on radio programming, you are affiliated with the USMARADIO: Interdepartmental Research Centre for Radiophonic Studies at the University of San Marino as an independent researcher and have conceived the Expanded Radio Research Unit, under whose name you host a monthly show on Radio Raheem. How exactly does the latter connect the dots between your artistic and academic work?
I have always been a great radio enthusiast, but after doing my thesis I must say that I stopped a bit in terms of research in that field to devote myself more to the study of sound itself. In recent years, however – also thanks to the boom of independent web radios – my curiosity and desire to continue investigating the new forms of radio and its transformations have returned. Expanded Radio Research Unit was born precisely in this way: it started as a radio programme on Radio Raheem three years ago (starting from September, it will be broadcast on German EOS), but it is at the same time a way of going outside the radio itself and doing research, often conveying content that is not strictly musical. It is certainly a growing project that will go beyond the strictly radio field, as is already happening in part.
You have also worked at Milan’s Serendeepity record store. What impact does that have on your work as a DJ?
It was a wonderful experience: working closely with often rare and out-of-print records and meeting inspiring people, friends and artists, veterans of the scene … All of this certainly had a strong influence not only on enriching my library and knowledge of the music industry, but also on the possibilities of listening to things outside the box and to have a confrontation with people who have experienced specific cultural movements.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
Returning a little bit to where I started, namely clubbing. After months and months of slow, abstract and experimental mixes, I now preferred to stay on a tighter rhythm, straddling techno, bass, breaks with some dub and IDM influences.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
Still figuring it out! I don’t feel like making long-term plans and projects given the times that change so fast. Definitely continue and eepen what I already do, from DJing to record production and research.
Stream: Katatonic Silentio – Groove Podcast 349
01. Meat Beat Manifesto – Token words
02. The Future Sound of London – Everyone In the World is Doing Something Without Me
03. Facil – 115
04. Consulate – Chimera Dance
05. Earth Trax – Disintegration
06. Big Ever – Burst Dial
07. Nathan Kofi – Platonic Intimacy
08. Kessler – Aspect
09. O-Wells – Conscio
10. Lisene – Moral Panic
11. VC-118A – Endless
12. Calibre – Hostage
13. Shackleton – Fireworks
14. Mark – Incantation For The Protection Of JC
15. Brainwaltzera – A Star Is Bored
16. The Future Sound Of London – Triple Circles