dadub talk


Italy’s Dadub are arguably some of the most influential figures in modern techno. The pairing of Daniele Antezza and Giovanni Conti are in charge of mastering at Stroposcopic Artefacts, working behind the scenes to drive a label that has become renowned for its own distinct take on the techno scene, whilst simultaneously garnering a reputation for their own productions. Delicately toeing the line between functionality and emotionality, the Berlin residents apply their own background in sound engineering to create techno that manages to transcend the dancefloor… 

I guess Ill start from the beginning, how did you both get involved in techno and electronic music?

Daniele Electronic music is something thats been in our lives for years and years, in Giovannis even more than mine. In terms of techno, thats a relatively new thing, its not something we have a huge background in. We come from a country where the club culture is mostly shit clubs for posh people, so its something that we related to the trendier end of the spectrum, whether it be illegal parties or squat raves. Since we moved to Berlin we really started to discover and appreciate normal club culture. After a meeting with Lucy from Stroboscopic Artefacts this new interest became part of our lives.

How long have you known each other, what was the trigger that made you want to make music together?

Giovanni Even though we studied at the same university in Tuscany, we never got to know each other there; Berlin was the first time we ever met. The story is quite long and complicated but its nice so Im going to tell it (laughs). When I was finished at university I started an apprenticeship at a company in Florence, designing software and hardware for interactive audiovisual systems, like making a system that interacted with visitors at a space we were working on. For my university thesis I created a piece of software that was designed to mask urban noise. The basic idea was that microphones would pick up the sound of cars or whatever from outside, and then create music from this in real time by analysing the noise and triggering sound files from an archive. This music was played back with a multi-channel soundsystem in the street to render the noise less stressful on a perceptual level. After my degree, the chief of the company sold the software to another Italian company and then, as Italians always do, he didnt want to pay me (laughs). He said it was his idea and I didnt have any rights on the commercial use of the software. I obviously told him to fuck off and left one copy of the software on one of his laptops. He started looking around Italy for people who could understand and back-engineer the software because he actually didnt understand how it worked at all. Daniele studied in an electronic music school in Rome and one of his teachers gave his name to my boss as someone who might understand how the software worked. Daniele went to a meeting with my boss, but he didnt show, so he went to Sienna to meet some friends. By chance, he met a friend of mine from Milan and they started talking and my friend quickly realised that the meeting that Daniele was there for was about my software. Daniele got my phone number off my friend and when he moved to Berlin he gave me a call and we met. He was looking for an apartment so I let him stay in my spare room for the time being and we immediately became friends.

Youre in charge of mastering all the releases at Stroboscopic Artefacts. How did you get involved with Lucy and assume that role?

Giovanni Daniele had been a friend of Lucys for a long time and when I first met him was around the time that Stroboscopic Artefacts first record had been released. Lucy asked Daniele if he knew anything about mastering because he wasnt really satisfied with the first release. We did a bit of work for Lucy and he liked our way of mastering a lot more and thats how it all started.

Mastering and producing are intrinsically linked when it comes to quality electronic music, but are still distinctly different. How do these two elements of your life interact when you are trying to create music as Dadub?

Giovanni When I produce or master music, there are always two levels that are connected and pretty much impossible to separate. One is the technical and functional level of music, the management of sound pressure coming out of the speakers, and the other being the aesthetic level, the narrative if you will. When we produce, the most important thing is the latter, with the technical level always being kept in consideration, but its not the main focus. When we master, we rebalance this approach and the function of the track becomes the most important. 

When I master a track from someone else, I take for granted that the producer has already taken care of the aesthetic level, like frequency balance or which elements should be most important and which elements should simply be a support for these main elements. It helps a lot to understand what these necessities are when youre mastering a track, especially techno as you want to have a final frequency balance that is quite different from mastering rock or pop music. The subwoofer is really important. Its almost 50% of the track and if you dont get that right, you have a techno track that isnt driving as it should. One of the keys of our relative success in mastering is that we always go past the consideration of the technical level. We always know what the producer intends and we can put ourselves in both roles at the same time.

Daniele Exactly, its just a risk when you produce sounds when youre mind is already in the stage of post-production. Its easy to lose the creative flow and it took us years to understand that when we produce its easy to make an interesting sound, but when we focus too much on the mastering process it can be risky. I think now, we can manage it quite well now (laughs)

Obviously youve got the technical skill in mastering, but theres never sterility in your music. Do you have to actively engage your mind to achieve this organic sound?

Daniele Each piece of music is different and has its own requirements, so if you try to apply the same techniques and mind structure to each piece of music youre going to find yourself in trouble. Some tracks we receive can be perfect in a technical point of view, so all we have to do is equalise it a bit and add some loudness and thats it, while some tracks were produced on headphones or small speakers, so the level of work you have to do to make it sound professional is much more and it goes much deeper into the mix-down. Depending on the starting point, what you have to do varies quite a lot.

When youre creating a track, whats your creative process? Do you sit in a room and experiment or do you follow set ideas? How does it work creating music as a duo?

Daniele There is no method, each track has its own history. Sometimes I can make some loops or Giovanni can start the process, its like an endless chain of feedback between us. Sometimes we dont even know who is doing what because after the first exchange, the sound starts to be independent. We just try to understand when there is a particular inspiration behind the track that will help us to further it. Weve learned how to understand each other and give each other space when appropriate. A lot of the time it can be difficult to express in words what you are feeling, almost impossible, so the best way to communicate these emotions is through sounds and recognising what each of us is trying to achieve. 

Giovanni Through time we have learned how to work together, because in the beginning we were sitting in front of the speakers together and we were trying to work at the same time on the same time. Sometimes that worked well, but most of the time it was quite dangerous and frustrating because inspiration is not a logical or straightforward process. We both try to produce using the instinctual part of our bodies rather than our brain, so if youre sitting together I might hear a sound that I really like and I want to develop, but Daniele probably wouldnt hear what Im hearing and wouldnt get what Im doing. He would try to push in another direction and we would be working for 6 hours and wouldnt manage to render either of our ideas clearly. So after a while we started layering ideas at home with cheap earphones, or even laptop speakers, and then meet in the studio to work a little bit together and then go and work on our own again to develop it independently. We like to use the chain of effects that we use in our live show as well. Once we are satisfied with the arrangement, we process the most important layers through the chain of effects and we record three or five passes overdubbing the effects and then pick out the parts that we like and they become an integral part of the arrangement. This allows us to have a live or more rock band (laughs) feeling in our tracks.

Is this live element very important for your artistic vision then? You seem to favour live sets over more traditional DJing.

Daniele Yes I think so, we do sometimes perform DJ sets, but its not often. Even then, there is that of dubbing and over-dubbing chain that allows me to create a complex groove between different tracks. Giovanni takes care of all the narrative flow, creating intensity, so I can focus on that side of things. Its part of our DNA basically.

Is there any narrative behind your new LP, You Are Eternity? Were there any direct intentions when creating it?

Daniele When we started to produce the tracks, there was no particular concept behind it. We didnt construct any conceptual architecture; we just gave space to our feelings and emotions. At the end, when we collated the tracks and put them on a timeline we were surprised that we immediately felt a current of feeling through all of the tracks, but we really didnt think about it for one minute. This meant that, in the very least, what we are trying to communicate is sincere and experiencing these emotions created it.

Giovanni We didnt start working on the album with a clear idea of what we wanted to express or what kind of beats we wanted to use, but the tracks that came out were a development of the beats that were using both in our live sets and in the old release tracks from Dadub. If the album sounds coherent and if it has a homogenous sound, its mostly because we worked on the album almost every day for the past two years. Its quite easy to get a result that sounds like something coming from a precise part of our life in a certain moment when you are at the studio almost every waking moment. I think the experiences that weve had in the past two years of our lives were quite an important part of the production phase of the compositions. Mostly, we didnt want to make a techno album and we didnt want to make something that could be easily label or put in an already existing category. That was the main driving source. We want something that was obviously Dadub from the moment you press play. We tried to explore beats that could be enjoyed from a home-listening point of view, as well as being effective on the dancefloor. 

We played in Berghain a few weeks ago and performed a live set using a lot of tracks from the album overlaid with techno beats, we were in Berghain after all, we didnt just want to be the arty guys (laughs). We were really impressed by the reaction we got, people started going crazy and we had the confirmation that we are not mad. You can play broken beats and complex textures on a techno dancefloor and still capture the attention of the people who are there to dance and dont give a shit about whos playing, whilst still satisfying the people looking for something more than just a straight kick. It was really important for us, it gave us a lot of self-confidence for the future and we now know that this can really work and we can be accepted and understood by the general public.

Do you think that techno is an art form then, with it transcending the people who are just there to dance? I know it can be quite easy for a lot of people to dismiss it as something lesser due to perceived inadequacies.

Daniele Techno is its own language with its own set of vocabulary and syntactic rules. In the beginning, if youre not into techno at all, all you hear is a straight kick with every track sounding the same. But once you get under the surface of this, there is a set of rules and tools that a techno producer can use to create meaning out of his sounds. We arent really familiar with the more minimalistic and hypnotic brand of techno, we prefer for our own taste to utilise the language of techno by hybridising it with the broken beat heritage of Warp Records from the 90s or with the more experimental techniques of sound design and working on the surface of sound. We use the language of techno for the structure and the arrangement and the language of experimental music for the surface of sound, the effects, the reverb and the management of pressure and tension that comes from the frequencies you hear. 

Giovanni – We use a lot of build-ups of feedback, reverb washes and sweeps from the really low frequencies to the really high, and I find that by balancing these two levels, you can achieve the best of both worlds. You can have the huge physical impact and the hypnotic effect of techno and, at the same time, keep the mind busy by providing a lot of detail in a continuously changing surface of sound.

You mentioned Warp Records as an influence on your sound, what other labels or artists would you say have impacted on Dadub? 

Daniele I got a lot of inspiration from listening to old roots and dub reggae recordings in the past. One of the main reasons for this is its ability to use the music to convey a message, with the sound communicating something really spiritual. Im not involved with Rastafarian in any way whatsoever, but the way they communicated that feeling was huge. Dub was a completely different way of thinking to create sound, it was more than innovative. 

I was into the old school IDM scene a lot as well, even some metal recordings like Sepultura and Messhuggah Basically I was always interested in the free interpretation of different elements of music. I was in love with the grunge scene, like Alice in Chains and so on. For the electronic side of things, the vast majority of my background comes from the more experimental side of things, whether it be noise, ambient or whatever. Im pretty open and always impressed when I listen to something emotionally rich in any way, with the presence of something behind the music, rather than it just being something to be sold. I need to stop, otherwise I can go on forever!

Giovanni As you say, Warp has had a massive effect on me, but other than that the records that really influenced me were the first Autechre albums, Boards of Canada a bit later and then Pan Sonic as well. Aaltopiiri was the first record that really opened up a new channel in my mind. When I was a teenager I was going to Pisa and there was one of the biggest record shops in Italy called Wide Records. I was playing drums at the time, so when I was going there, there was one guy who was my mentor. He was the first one who introduced me to Don Caballero or Slint and a lot of other post-rock and I think thats where I got my first introduction to a type of music that didnt even try to be commercial or to be mainstream. The complexity of the emotions and language coming out of this music was going a lot deeper than most of the commercial shit we are confronted with every day. I think Cannibal Ox was another thing that really affected me, specifically the first album, The Cold Vein. Still, after almost 12 years, I keep listening to that record, maybe 500 or 1000 times to the same set of songs and still I find inspiration.

Youve been successful enough to travel around the world a fair amount by this point, where would you say the crowd really get what youre trying to achieve? You said that gig in Berghain was especially good

Giovanni I would say in Moscow and Russia. Western Europe isnt quite on the same page as us, for the moment at least, but it is definitely getting there. I think it comes down the fact that that in Western Europe we are used to mental labelling and hearing music that has already been categorised as something already known or people are somewhat sceptical. There is so much music flying around that people become apathetic and lazy when it comes to newer artists and dont care about something that isnt already established. In Eastern Europe, the musical scene is more recent and still fresher. I feel theyre more open to new things and they dont care about your name or label, they just listen to the music. If they get something from the music, they support you a lot.

Daniele We also felt a strong connection was in Leipzig for a party called Vertigo, which is held four years ago. The location was simply beautiful, but the most beautiful thing was the people and the mood that these guys created.

Do you feel that people have become more liable to be responsive to being spoon-fed the same rehashed music now then?

Giovanni I think for a certain kind of music scene to develop in a healthy way, the producers have always got to strike the balance between repeating and confirming what has been produced in the past whilst simultaneously innovating it. The problem that I see from most producers is that theyre a bit scared to create anything new, so they just keep re-producing the same sounds and syntactic rules that brought the techno scene up to the current point. For instance, the Berghain sound is already old. Its something that reached a peak a maximum potential and now its trying to develop, but the direction I see it taking is more towards the past 80s and Chicago style rather than into the future. I dont claim to be the definitive voice of techno, I am not the one to judge or anything, but it seems to be easy to look to something thats been already been done before. The Berghain sound was pushing so far into the minimal end of the spectrum that it was getting towards I dont know doom metal techno (laughs) and now its just rehashing the past and trying to say its something new. 

Daniele What were trying to do is take the intensity and the pressure that the Berlin sound has reached in the past two or three years and keep that really powerful impact whilst adding soul, but not in a cheesy way. We want to transcend the stylistic limitations of techno. I think in the beginning, most people who heard our tracks though that we were stupid because we didnt understand what techno is and we were trying to pretend we were making techno. Either that or they thought we were mad and making techno that wasnt going to work on a techno dancefloor. But now Im happy because were getting a lot of exposure and a lot of great feedback from a lot of great classic techno producers and DJs. I think were on the right way for sure We just have to see how things develop, but if the feeling we have at the moment is right, I think we are definitely in a good way for the future!

Thanks for talking to me guys!

Dadubs debut full length on Stroboscopic Artefacts, You Are Eternity, is available now.

Patrick Henderson