Cosmic collaboration: Daniele Baldelli & DJ Rocca in conversation
It’s been a decade since Daniele Baldelli and DJ Rocca first locked horns in the studio.
A synergetic pairing, the two Italian producers have collaborated several times over the last 10 years, showcasing their contemporary take on disco and Balearic, done the Italo way.
So far these productions have been shared via labels like Nang Records, Real Balearic, Is It Balearic? Recordings and Rogue Cat Sounds, which was the home of their last collaborative outing in 2019.
Now, three years on, the duo reunite for Cielarko: a collection of vibrant, playful tracks on Gottwood Festival’s Gottwax imprint.
Both Baldelli and Rocca have rich, storied musical careers, and extensive discographies to show for it. Known as the godfather of the ‘cosmic sound’, Baldelli was a pioneering force in the Italo disco scene, who brought his own signature funk-driven, tribalistic touch to his productions and DJ sets.
Rocca has also been peddling his own take on the sounds of Italo and electro since the 90s and, along the way, has proved himself a worthy collaborator, teaming up with producers like Dimitri From Paris, as Erodiscotique, Leo Almunia, Fred Ventura and N2B.
Following Rocca and Baldelli’s Gottwax release, they got together to talk about Baldelli’s legendary Vito Van, their non-dancefloor projects, record collections and getting over fears of flying.
DJ ROCCA: Your vinyl collection is nearly six times the size of mine. What would you put in the safe?
DANIELE BALDELLI: These kinds of questions always put me in trouble. It’s not so easy to choose just three records when you have around seventy thousand! However, having to do it, I would say:
1. Weather Report – Sweetnighter
2. The Third Ear Band – Air
3. The Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord
But I’m sure Pink Floyd will be very angry, and also Frank Zappa, George Benson, Crosby Still Nash & Young, Teresa De Sio, Eberhard Weber, Jimi Hendrix, Lonnie Liston Smith, Stanley Clarke, Bob James, Tangerine Dream. Damn…but if you want to put me in trouble from the first, I do the same question: and what would you put in the safe?
DJ ROCCA: In the safe, I would put the three albums that are essential for me but also have a good value on the market.
1. Don Cherry – Brown Rice
2. Wagon Christ – Phat Lab. Nightmare
3. Bennie Maupin – The Jewel In The Lotus
Your mixes are legendary and well documented on cassette throughout your entire career. Do you have a favourite or two?
DANIELE BALDELLI: Also, in this case, it is a difficult choice considering that I have recorded at least 400 DJ sets.
I’ll choose a cassette made at Cosmic in 1980, the C 20. Contains different tunes, from Patrick Moraz to B 52’s, Passport and Ike Turner, Nina Hagen and Peter Gabriel, Tony Joe White and Michael Zager Band, Blackbyrds and The Korgis.
I heard about you as the Maffia Club from Reggio Emila DJ resident. People said they played Drum & Bass there, a style that never attracted me. Why did you like it?
DJ ROCCA: My approach to Drum and Bass starts in 1995 and was thanks to awesome artists, such as LTJ Bukem, DJ Krust, Photek, and Roni Size. In those years, the D&B stood out for being rich in ambient music, jazz and soul nuances, but also a lot of experimentation and use of accelerated breakbeats. In short, for me, it was a radical transformation, a vision of a utopic future. I came from funk, from Jazz, from electronic music, so I fell in love with this musical revolution that started from the dance floor, to get out of clubs until coming to the abstraction of sounds for art exhibitions. The club where I was resident DJ and partner, Maffia Illicit Music Club, aimed a lot to make the Italian crowd discover this new radical transformation, so I found myself in the middle of a cultural and social progress, and moreover, as a protagonist. I guess it was the same thing for you when at Cosmic, you used to play music that was totally out of the box, and you were a pioneer at the centre of a musical upheaval.
You often travel with your legendary Vito van. Tell us what you take into this sort of your ‘second home on wheels’.
What did you know about me, and how did you find out about my way of DJing?
DJ ROCCA: I was lucky enough to be a teenager in the early 1980s, and in those years, I started to go to alternative nightclubs. Also, in my friend’s crew there was a good circulation of cassettes from La Baia Degli Angeli, Les Cigales, Chicago and Cosmic, the clubs where the older kids went, which were an example of the style to imitate for us younger ones. Listening to that fantastic music, which I absolutely could not hear on the radios or in the clubs of my city, I unconsciously shaped my musical taste.
As soon as my friends and I had a chance to get around by car, we started travelling to the clubs we listened to tapes. Unfortunately, the Cosmic and the Baia Degli Angeli were already closed, but luckily DJ Lodola, one of the DJs in your scene, was playing records in Parma, the city next to mine. The following summer, when my friends and I were able to take our first vacation without parents, we went to a ‘Woodstock DJs’ in the Rimini sports hall, and there was the first time I heard you DJ live. Obviously, I was struck by that mix of electronic, Brazilian, African, funk, synth-pop and new wave music.
If one day we had a huge budget to make our own album with musician guests, who would you like to have?
DANIELE BALDELLI: If, in addition to having a big budget, we could also go back in time, I would say Jaco Pastorius, Joe Zawinul, Dizzy Gillespie and Jimi Hendrix!! But anyway, always with a big budget, today we could ask for the collaboration of Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, David Sanborn and Al Di Meola. What do you say? Could something good turn out?!
When you drive in your car, what music do you listen to?
A self-centred question: which of my releases allowed you to know me as a producer?
DANIELE BALDELLI: If I remember well, I was playing a track called “Give It To Me (Ajello Black Hole Remix)”. A 100 bpm electronic tune that lent itself well to my early Cosmic Sound style set. Someone then told you that I was playing one of your songs, so you decided to come and hear me during one of my nights, and that was the opportunity to get to know each other personally. It was 2006, and a couple of years later, in 2008, our first collaboration was released on the Belgian label “Radius Records”, your EP Ajello – Magic Feet contained the song Cosmogony by Ajello & Daniele Baldelli.
Do you prefer to be a DJ or a producer?
DJ ROCCA: I love them both. They are both artistic expressions of my personality that reveal themselves in adrenaline and joy. In the productions, I can explore all styles, trying to give emotions with arrangements and research of always different tones and melodies. As a DJ, it is a sort of choral expression, a feeling of living together live, trying to make a musical journey together on the dance floor, following a dynamic of ups and downs between rhythm, excitement and happiness.
I know you used to be afraid of flying… how did you solve the problem?
DANIELE BALDELLI: Yes, I was properly terrified of flying… so for many years, I travelled around Europe by train. I tried to organize my weekends according to the requests. So I agreed on the various booking requests, for example on Friday I could be in Paris, the day after in Manchester and on Sunday in London at the Horse Meat Disco night. I also remember Todd Terje’s request that he wanted me at his Strata Vari party, and so I reached Oslo after 29 hours by train.
Again for fear of flying, I also refused a request to Moma Ps1 in New York. I continued to receive emails from all over the world, so many, so that I replied to everyone with a copy and paste sentence: “Thanks for your request, I would gladly come and play with you even without a fee because I like my job, but to get me on a plane you have to pay me at least 15,000 euros…ha ha ha (laughter) and so I received any replies. Until one day to yet another request, the answer was: ‘what’s the problem you can have your fee’. So I flew to Sydney for two gigs at the Sydney Opera House – Australia for the Vivid Live Festival in May 2011.
Do you find many differences in your way of DJing in Italy compared to abroad?
DJ ROCCA: The clearest thing is that abroad, learning to dance is more natural than in Italian clubs. For the rest, there are no major differences. In Italy as abroad, I am always an underground DJ who offers alternative music, so those who choose a gig where I play always have a curious attitude.
When you moved from La Baia Degli Angeli to the Cosmic Club, what happened from a musical point of view? What were the changes?
DANIELE BALDELLI: My residence at the Baia Degli Angeli in Gabicce in 1977-1978 was obviously influenced by that period and by what the two previous American DJs, Bob Day and Tom Sison, had bequeathed. So, Disco Music, Philadelphia Sound, Funky Disco. In 1979 at the first Cosmic Disco opening in Lazise on Lake Garda, I played the same music. But in the same period, I didn’t just buy music just for the Dancefloor. I used to buy everything from when I was 16 and listened to everything. I mean Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Still Nash & Young, Miles Davis, Progressive Rock, Deep Purple, Genesis, David Bowie, Ron Carter, Ravi Shankar, Black Sabbath.
Also, I love music Fusion and then comes the New Wave, Punk, and Pop, so from 1980, I started to mix various styles together and discover many tracks that were certainly not conceived for the dancefloor. All this melting pot then became my way of being a DJ. I always been obsessed with doing perfect mixes (which, of course, not always happened), mixing together electronic music, funk, ethnic, rock, jazz, afro…and the result of all this, I like to call it “Cosmic Sound”.
Tell me about some of your projects that have nothing to do with the dancefloor.
DJ ROCCA: I am super proud of the jazz project with the most influential Italian pianist of the last 60 years: Franco D’Andrea. I was lucky enough to be among his graces, and he brought me into the world of modern jazz, allowing me to express my knowledge of electronic music, the science of breakbeat, and improvisation, putting it at the service of his projects. We started with a trio album, piano, sax and live electronics, then moved on to an octet lineup, and now the top pride of my career, our new triple album in duo, piano and electronics: Franco D’Andrea meets DJ Rocca.
We do a lot of live performances, and people are pleasantly surprised every time by the futuristic vision of the way we play jazz music, including atonal music, free jazz, synthetic music, ambient music, instant sampling and interplay. Each performance is an experience in itself.
Which of our tracks would you recommend and why?
DANIELE BALDELLI: I would definitely recommend our first album released in 2012 for Nang Records. It was a CD album called Podalirius with 10 tracks. Among my favourites is ‘Complotto Geometrico’. I have no words to describe it… it’s one of those tracks that you can say, “it’s just as I wanted!” But also ‘Roba che Scotta’, ‘Teorema’ or ‘Flugdisko’ and ‘A TB show’, we have had great satisfaction from this work. Andy Weatherall declared on DJ Mag, “in my set, I can’t do without the tracks of Baldelli & Rocca album”. Then one year later came out a 12” with ‘Complotto Geometrico’ remixed by Andy Weatherall himself, plus ‘Space Scribble’ remixed by Prins Thomas and ‘A Tv Show’ remixed by Luke Solomon.
But how did you start, did you leave your studies to devote yourself to music?
DJ ROCCA: To be honest, my studies were precisely on music. My parents enrolled me in both compulsory school and music academy. I studied surveyor and attended music school, graduating in classic flute. At the same time, as I said above, I fell in love with the music that you and the other DJs in your scene used to play: African polyrhythms, the deep sounds of electronic music, the value of bass and drums, so I grew up with enormous respect for both the role of the musician and the DJ. Unfortunately, in Italy, this hybrid of DJ / musician was never really recognized, so I used my surveyor’s graduation to work as a clerk until, in the late nineties, I decided to devote myself completely to the art of music, both as a producer, musician and DJ.
Last record you bought?
DANIELE BALDELLI: Let’s say that ten days ago, I left the Le Disque Record Store in Verona with a bag of 15 vinyl. I choose a few at random. There is Puma & the Dolphin – Oddball Fantasies, another is LTJ Xperience remix to Vasquez- Afrolizer, a double album by Horse Meat Disco – Back to Mine, another double vinyl by Faze Action – The Balearic Sounds of Far and an album by Phonorem – Algorythm.
Our first Daniele Baldelli & DJ Rocca ‘Podalirius’ album from 2012 is still a must. How has your way of production with me developed since then?
DJ ROCCA: Basically, there are always those references in our music, which can be BPM, tons of arpeggios, like the importance of vintage synthesizers and drum machines. In these last ten years of collaboration, the evolution for both lies in having been enriched with other points in common, with a deeper knowledge of both tastes. We have developed a broader vision of the dance floor and the need to be able to play the music we produce in our sets, also approaching languages that we previously avoided. I’m talking about the grammar of house music or the psychedelic side of techno music, but obviously from our point of view. Another element that helped us was inspired by the mixes you did in your 80’s cassettes, that is, when you mixed an African song with a new wave track or an electronic one with a Brazilian tune.
What’s the label of which you have more records?
DANIELE BALDELLI: Considering that I have only catalogued 18,000 records of my 70,000 total, of course I can say that the major labels such as RCA, Blue Note, Ariola, Polydor, Columbia, CBS, have the highest numbers. But allow me, among those catalogued, can I? ..and I say… can I boast of having 208 ECM label albums?!
What’s the last album bought you love from the first to the last track?
DJ ROCCA: It’s an album from a few years ago, which I discovered in 2022: John Hassell’s’ Power Spot on ECM Records. A Brian Eno produced album from 1986, full of ambient and experimental music, but with a jazz approach. Truly a work of great depth, very topical.