Italy's legendary house DJ, producer, trendsetter and culture innovator, Enrico Mantini was kind enough to give us some of his previous time for a handful of question where we talk about the 90's, his studio, the state of the house scene in Italy and so much more, you just have to keep reading on. If you haven't already, make sure to check out his latest release for Verona's Veniceberg Records debut release, which we already covered here some time ago. Huge thanks and a big shoutout to Valerio from Inground Bookings for setting this up, he's been responsible for a good amount of content on We Play Wax and we can't thank him enough for all his help and support. Have a great read everyone!
Let’s start with a bit of history first. The 90’s seem so distant and so much different, we can’t imagine how it was like back then. What can you tell us about the house scene and the whole club culture back then, especially compared to how it is now?
Early nineties have been pioneering years for the modern club culture. Those were the years when house music became known around and got a proper audience. Born in Chicago during the mid-late 80’s as a home-made music style, House reached Europe around 1987 and progressively took its place into clubs. Its simple 4/4 beats arrangement made it easy to dance, and to produce for deejays. I was 15 and started deejaying playing disco music when I heard Steve Slick Hurley’s Jack Your Body for the first time and I remember I immediately fell in love with it. That was one of the earliest house track reaching Europe and was something very inspiring to me. The advent of house music basically setup a new underground culture in the disco scene. There were some clubs playing disco music, some others playing funky and afro music while some were starting spreading the all-new electronic house music. It was more like a sub-culture at first but, during the 90’s it got a proper relevance, getting plays everywhere in its different forms. House revived interest in the nightlife during the 90's decade, gradually involving more people into its movement, setting up a new trend and arriving at the point of turning popular around 1995-1996.
A lot of people say that the 90s were the best times to be in as far as the true underground vibe goes. Were people better-cultured musically back then or do you think the newer generation is much too spoiled? People have access to a lot more media and information these days, but somehow you rarely see them partying like they used to do. Why do you think this is happening?
If I think about the 90's today, yeah they were magic! But I remember while I was living them I was thinking about the 70's and how creative and colourful they were! History is always fascinating, obviously because it’s where we learn from… For me 90s were the years when I was a teenager and was stimulated to discover and search my identity through music. Nowadays culture overall has increased and what was considered to be a miracle a few years ago, now appears like something obvious or sometimes even ridiculous. Too many people are doin’ things just because the others are doin’ them, plus there’s too much going on around us everyday and this contributes to distracting from keeping a track. Everything now is too easy to obtain and losing interest is quite natural after a while.
As a veteran DJ and Producer, how do you manage to keep your style and sound so niched? You went through 30 years of constant change and revolution in sound, technology and culture, yet all your music has that distinct vibe and unique Mantini sound. How do you “keep it real” and avoid being polluted by todays’ shallow media/music scene?
It’s something happening so natural to me that I can’t honestly explain! I think it’s all about being myself and keep on doin’ what I really like, no matter what happens around me. I have my own style and it’s something that came out of my musical learning and been working on over the years. Keeping it real, house and dirt is not about technology nor trends, it’s just the way I figure it and, fortunately for me, it seems that it’s still working today!
Let’s talk about production for a bit. Tell us about your first piece of gear and what was it like making music without Ableton or the aid of computers at all. How does your studio look today compared to how it did 30 years ago? Any particular instruments you are fond of and still use today?
My first tool was an Ensoniq Mirage sampler bought back in 1988. At the time I had no idea about the fact that some digital midi sequencer were already available on the market, so I started practicing and doin’ my musical experiments with an analog tape multitrack recorder. Try to figure what a mess was the result! Parts were first played live and then laid down together and all was happening not properly in time… Fortunately I approached to a Kawai Q80 sequencer within a year and things got definitely better. I recorded my very first 1990 release with it and then moved to an Atari ST512 computer running Cubase 2.0. All it was able to do was sequencing midi events… nothing more! But it had a primordial graphic approach to edit them and that was like ‘being able to fly’ at the time! Machines were still generating sounds mostly because computers generally had only 512kb of memory and weren’t able to process large amounts of data. I personally changed my setup many times over the years, constantly chasing technology (as a young kid is supposed to do) so I went through analog, digital and hybrid gear. Also I came across the new DAW concept and I produced my first track totally made by the computer using Cubase VST24 back in 1999. But what made me revert back using machines is the fact that I started with them and they’re so easy to use for me, plus the sound they have when they play real-time is ages far from anything Ableton, Logic or Cubase may put together in my opinion. My current setup is very basic and includes an MPC 1000 as the core of my studio plus a couple of analog synthesizers and two drum machines, all driven into a 90’s small Mackie MS1202 analog desk.
Speaking on hardware, we are going through an analog revival today, not only with vinyl, but almost all music companies such as Juno, Yamaha, Arturia, Korg, Roland or DSI are either inventing new tools and gear or even re-releasing their legendary instruments (Like the newly announced Yamaha line or Roland's Aira). Do you think analog gear will slowly replace midi controllers and VSTs and get their spot back in the musical production studio or are they just a cool hipster novelty thing that will pass in a few years as digital technology gets more advanced and refined?
Not sure yet which is the case but… yes, it’s an interesting issue. Of course the use of hardware could help in the creation process whose quite flattened nowadays because of computer’s easiest approach. That’s my point of view at least. No matter if it’s digital or analog, the important thing is to put hands on something physical and experiment without using presets or loops. On the opposite side, technology is evolving very fast and softwares such as Ableton Live 9 are very intuitive and helpful in live performances. I think in the future we will keep on seeing interaction between real machines and computer based DAW systems for a while. I will personally stay true to my roots, having tried both worlds but still being caught by my first love!
I am seeing more and more DJs, producers or label owners from Italy making a huge impact on the house scene in the last few years. It’s exciting to finally hear something else besides dark techno and deep minimal coming out from Italy, so why do you think this is happening and why did it take so long?
We italians never had a solid reputation in the house music scene, (especially) if you look back to the 90’s. Who had the fortune like me of getting released by international labels such as UMM was known abroad and supported by the americans but the UK, Germany, Netherlands and a great part of Italy were all about techno, progressive or commercial dance. Now that pure house music got back strong and has earned a wider audience even in Italy, things have changed for the better and even more deejays started producing it.
Speaking of tradition and reputation, Italy had an incredible moment in electronic music with the whole Italo Disco movement. Do you think it will ever get back on the radar? London and Berlin seem to be the undisputed leaders for too much time, what does it take for Rome to be up there with the big guys?
Italy’s got some disco pioneers in the early 90’s who actively contributed to develop a strong and proper club culture in the country but it was all confined to some areas of north Italy such as Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Rome went house only recently thanks to venues like Goa… I’m currently playing a lot of great parties in Italy but I honestly don’t think we, as a country, will never be able to recreate the hype we had back in the 90’s mostly because of many political and religious barriers we’re having (to deal right) now…
This might sound like a personal question, but can you tell us how much of the old school 90s music finds its way into your DJ sets? There are a few DJs like Jeremy Underground or MCDE whose sets are very heavy on the old sound. Is it something you support and encourage, or should we look more to the present and future, rather than to the past?
Taking for granted that we all know the past, we should definitely look to the future if we’re gonna do it with a good taste of course! Despite of what you might think by listening to my productions, my sets are currently influenced by all new stuff and probably my tracks are the only ones sounding ‘like-old’ which I still fit into them. Being sticked to the past wouldn’t lead us to any change or evolution. That’s why when I produce my music I try to experiment new solutions while preserving my distinctive raw sounds.
You have an upcoming release which we had the honour of reviewing recently for a brand new label, is a part of Verona’s Veniceberg Collective. What do you think of Miche and Frank’s project and how did you end up signing their debut release ? Did you know the guys, or did it happen by chance ? Also, what can you tell us about their club from your perspective as a performer?
I didn’t know Miche and Frank before. It was Miche getting in touch and offering me to join their collective, after having given me an explanation of what was their project. And as soon as we met we also discovered sharing one another’s ideas about music so it all came easier. Both him and Frank are lovely and reliable persons and what surprised me, when I got into their venue for the first time, was the fact that they built Veniceberg around the soundsystem and this is quite unusual. Result is probably one of the best clubs in Italy to play at as a deejay and as a clubber it’s also an intimate spot where to listen some great artists performing and meet an open minded audience. As mentioned before Veneto has a long time culture in clubbing and Veniceberg couldn’t be an exception… I’m happy to be part of a family which is consciously growing and expanding its horizons just for the love of music.
Finally, which advice can you give to all the young producers starting out on their musical path or even to the older guys who just want to grab music making as a hobby or even possible side-job?
Independently of what’s your purpose, always do what you like and what makes you feel good, don’t be influenced by others’ opinions or critics.
Thanks to you guys.