Italians do it better: Alexander Robotnick Talks


Alexander Robotnick has been creating music to make people dance for so long that he predates anything so pedestrian as dance genres. His breakthrough track, Problemes d'Amour, released back in 1984, has been cited as an influence over everything from techno to house to electro – for Robotnick it was just an attmept to make the sound he wanted to hear. Now the 55 year old Italian has returned to the analogue kit he made his name with, putting together a series of EPs called Music for an Imaginary Club, covering everything from jazz to house to electro, the soundtrack to the kind of nightspot the endless suave Robotnick would hope to find himself in. We gave him a call to discuss what fans could expect – 

So, I just wanted to talk to you about the new Music for an Imaginary Club releases. Why release it as a series of EPs, rather than an album?

I’d been thinking about Music for an Imaginary Club for a long time, and in a way I never actually reach a club. Often in clubs they have a really strict style of music, they don’t change music and sometimes the situation can be a bit slack and boring. The kind of club that I’d like to play in would be very open to every kind of dance music. As you know, there are many different styles and many different things to listen too and I’d like the clubs to be a bit more open too these types of music. I often play in spaces that are quite dark and dirty but I’m wishing for a club that’s open air and warm so that you can stay comfortably and have space to talk with your friends, and have a dancefloor that isn’t always completely full of people so that you can dance. So I thought to make an album about the music that I would like to hear played in my imaginary club.

It’s interesting to me to hear you talk about your ideal club because you’re someone whose been active in making dance music, in an electronic form, pretty since it began. You must have experienced such a wide variety of different clubs around the world.

Yeah, a lot of them.

I’d be fascinated if you were able to tell me which places you remember being particularly special.

Okay. I like a club in New York called The Loft, it was very good for it’s sound system, but it was also very dark. You couldn’t see anyone. I think that is because I often find American people to be quite shy, so they need darkness to dance, but I personally like clubs with a bit more light. Then there was another club in London with a great sound system called Plastic People but then that has the same problem of being underground and a dark corridor. Last year I went to a beach on Goa and I hadn’t been there for a long time. So to my surprise I saw a lot of very good clubs that backed onto the seaside that all had a great mix of people in them and a lot of the music was Tech House. So these places on the beach were quite close to my imaginary club.

It’s interesting to hear you say that Americans are shy and need the darkness, do you feel that Italians are more open to dancing?

Yes, it’s a different attitude. Italians go to clubs because they want to show themselves off and for that they need light and mirrors. It’s not quite like that anymore but clubs in Italy are normally lighter because people want to be able to see one another. In America, it’s very difficult to see one another as it’s almost like they need the darkness to dance.

I feel that Italy’s contribution to dance music has been massive, but maybe hasn’t been given the same recognition as Germany, England or America’s. Do you think this is the case?

Uhh, I think that Italo Disco has been very big in the 80’s and Italo House was very big in the 90’s. Remember in the early 90’s in London, every shop was playing Italo House. So no, I don’t think it hasn’t been recognised. At the present it’s a little bit down, it’s not really as big as German music but this is just this period and there is always an Italian out there making high quality electronic music. So I’m not afraid about Italians not being recognised. I think nowadays though, people don’t care very much about where the music comes from. They like an artist; they follow their music and a lot of the time they don’t even know where it is coming from.

Were there any Italian nightclubs of the 80’s that were particularly influential on your sound?

Things in the early 80s were a little bit different, because around then Italo Disco was very much English speaking, Oriental kind of thing and done in a very bad way. The acts at the time were terrible, but it was aimed at the English speaking market. I looked at things a bit differently, hence my name Robotnick which is Russian for worker and I studied French, because I couldn’t speak English and my mother was a French teacher, so I grew up around French music and the French language. In the 80’s I also found that the Italo Disco was a little bit cheesy and I didn’t really like that style.

So your current music, you’re making that on analogue machinery that you were writing your music on all those years ago. First of all, were there any pieces of kit that really drew you back to those tracks? And secondly, does it change how you write, when you use the analogue stuff?

When I started, it was just the analogue equipment, but when the digital came up all the musicians, like me, welcomed it because it was almost a kind of freedom from the analogue environment. In the 90’s I worked with samples and all digital stuff and when you play with a real band, especially with ethnic instruments, the analogue stuff just doesn’t match and it’s almost like it’s from another world. So I used digital stuff and so on… But then I went back to Alexander Robotnick and I tried to make the same kind of music with the digital stuff, I got a lot of criticism, as people didn’t think that it sounded like Robotnick. Slowly I began to understand what they meant, so I decided to go back to the old instruments that I was using in the 80s and bought them all again as I’d sold them all. Now, my studio is just analogue. When you want to make electronic music, the analogue stuff is much better as even though it’s an artificial world that the sound is coming from, it sounds more real. Something like a guitar sound, it’s not an actual guitar but it’s something artificial and sometimes the digital sounds they’re too abstract and create something that you don’t recognise. That’s bad for some electronic style as when you go to pure Techno the pure analogue sound could be better, you know. You can sample, you can create an environment but with analogue it can be quite hard to create. Then when you want to create something like Electro that’s really hard and tough you need analogue stuff.

Having been making dance music for so long do you ever feel like you’ve heard it all before and it’s not moving forward? 

Yes, but I’m always undecided as to whether it’s because something has been re-edited or if it’s just because I’m 55. It’s quite normal, as when you’re younger and in the first part of your life you feel like everything is progressing. But then when you’re in the second half of your life, you feel like everything has regressed! It’s natural though. There was a time when we never really talked about styles, as every artist was different and if you made music that was similar to that of another artist at the time you were an imitator. Nowadays however, you can do that and not be an imitator, you are just inside a movement of that style. In this way, you end up creating thousands and thousands of dancefloor tracks from artists that are making the same sounding stuff. That’s a problem. For someone that’s not already in the core of it, it can be very hard for them to come up and be noticed as there are so many artists making music these days.

When you talk about imitators, how do you feel when you hear tracks that very obviously copy your style?

I don’t think that people are copying my style. For young people now, everything from the past is better than now. I don’t know why they feel that, as I didn’t feel that when I was young. When I was young, the music of my father and his father was not interesting. I was interested in present music. Now, people are very interested in music from the past and I just don’t understand it really.

Did you expect that you’d still be DJing in your 50’s when you started out?

Yes, as I’m 55 now and I only started when I was 53. The reason being that they music I was making before was nothing special and so I decided to come back to Alexander Robotnick. Someone said to me, ‘I was really poor in that period so I never got to see you, are you still DJing?’ So I replied with a yes and I started DJing- I hadn't actually done it when I was younger but it wasn’t rocket science. I always look for my own way to do things and work things out myself and so I created a way of DJing. I took the job seriously and I was listening to the other DJs, I was learning without being pretentious and my goal was always to make people happy and for them to have fun. I think I work well in this way.

So finally, the next EP that you bring out, am I right in thinking that it has some covers of Jazz music on it? Did you cover Herbie Hancock?

Yeah. I liked Jazz before I became open to these other types of music and I also have training in Jazz. I have books about it in my studio and I listen to it in the car and so it’s always in my mind and Hancock is always in my mind too. I listened too it in the late 70s for the first time and the idea was to make this music like Disco. The people that trained me in Jazz will probably not be too happy, but I had a lot of fun and it really took me back about twenty or thirty years.  Anyway, the result was quite dance-y and I was very proud of it and these are my thoughts on the Music for an Imaginary Club.

So what will be on the second and third?

So now I’m releasing my thirteenth album and that is a two volume thing and the third will be released in February and then in January I have another release as Robotnick on vinyl. Then in February I’ll be getting on with my Imaginary Club and hopefully at the end of February it’ll be ready for the fourth release.

The first installment of Music for an Imaginary Club is out now. Buy over on Juno.