Interview: Silvia Kastel

Flowers From The Ashes: Contemporary Italian Electronic Music is a new compilation from Stroboscopic Artefacts. It’s a wide-ranging release that explores a variety of sonic modes being employed by artists from Italy. From the slow dank rumble of Andrea Belfi and Marco Shuttle to the ritualistic techno of Ninos Du Brasil and Lucy; from Alessandro Adriani’s searing electro to Chevel’s take on ‘weightless’; the nervous dance of Lory D and the virtuosic electronica of Caterina Barbieri and Neel. The album opens with strange, open-eyed splendour from Silvia Kastel, who recently released a stunning album, Air Lows, on Blackest Ever Black. We caught up with Silvia to discuss life as an Italian artist, Belgian fries, collaboration and progressive trance.

Dear Silvia, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! How are you? “I’m good, thanks. At the airport in Berlin, waiting for my flight to Brussels. I’m fantasising about the Belgian fries I will have later after soundcheck.”

Air Lows, your album on Blackest Ever Black, came out early this year. How do you feel about it now that it’s out there in the wild? How do you feel about the reception it’s had? Is that important to you? “Having the album out was a big relief! It took a while from the moment I finished the music, to the actual release, almost a year. Partly because I had a hard time finding the right artwork that resonated with the music, and also a combination of the label’s schedule and the usual manufacturing delays. By the end of last year when it was finally announced, I could not wait for it to come out. So January was a happy month for sure. I think the reception was pretty good. As an artist of course I do care about it, but I also try not to take reviews too literally or too seriously. After all, the writers’ perceptions can’t always match mine. Overall it was quite positive, some reviews even ‘nailed’ it, so to speak, so that’s lucky. I’m most interested in people’s feedback. Some musicians who I really respect got in touch about it and that was nice.”

It’s quite haunting, in a gentle and beguiling way. Tracks like “Heart 2 Tape” seem quite beautiful but are underpinned with a sinister edge. How do you capture that feeling? “I was trying out some kundalini yoga classes at the time and for some reason they were really triggering emotionally. I cried after each class, it was a release but I couldn’t tell if it was doing me any good. One day I was in actual physical pain. I decided to fix those feelings in the quickest possible way with painkillers, my synth, voice and 4-track tape. So that track is the result of a confusing yoga experience and the joy induced by opiates. Ha.”

The reason we’re talking is the new collection, Flowers From The Ashes: Contemporary Italian Electronic Music on Stroboscopic Artefacts. How did you get involved with the release? “The SA label manager approached me a while ago, I thought it was a great initiative and I said yes right away.”

Your track opens up the collection, which features everything from slamming electro and techno to strange synth noise and sound art. How do you feel about the current state of Italian music? Do you feel community with the artists on this collection? “I think Italy has produced incredible contemporary music for decades, despite not being a very artists-friendly society. You are constantly treated and scrutinized as an outsider, which can be stimulating in its own way, but eventually it’s really tiring to be a contrarian all the time, at least from my experience. So people who make things happen there have to work really hard against the general close-minded attitude, tangled bureaucracy, etc. so to answer your question, yes I do feel community with the artists on the compilation, even the ones I don’t know personally, because I’m familiar with the struggle of being an Italian artist. Every artist on the release has their own style and this is why they got picked.”

Moving to a different era, you recently tweeted: “YT comment threads on Italian progressive trance are gold” – what’s your relationship with Italian progressive trance? “Oh, I’m so dumb on Twitter, ha. The truth is I’ve only recently found out that my very first synth, a ’90s Korg that I’ve had for 10 years, was used on a lot of trance records, so I got curious and dug more into it. I’ve found some brilliant stuff but I’m a total novice to the genre. The comments are amazing, kind of similar to a lot of the nostalgic rave/hardcore threads, but with Italian references and slang, more entertaining for me :) “

You’ve performed with Wilted Woman as SHAKEY – how did that collaboration come about? Will you be releasing music together? “Lizzie (Wilted Woman) and I were initially ‘chosen’ to perform together as part of an improv event in Berlin, called Thalamus, about a year ago. We enjoyed it so we continued to play and finally chose a name for the project. We’re going to finish some recordings soon and release them at some point.”

What informs your Ultramarine Transmissions shows? How different is your approach to these versus your DJ sets? “Sameheads (who streams the radio show) approached me about three years ago after hearing a couple mixes I had put out independently on my SC. The broadcast takes place in the actual venue so it’s open to the public and there are visuals as well. Some shows were thematic or specific, in general the music has simply been an honest, straightforward representation of my current influences. I also like that they gave me freedom to keep it as irregular as I want, both musically and in terms of how often I want to do it. They differ to the dj sets because I don’t need to adapt to a space, a PA, a set time or the presence of a crowd. I really enjoy the challenge of those limitations too. But radio has none.”

You’ve put out several tapes, for Goldtimers, Sameheads and BEB/Id Mud. Is there anything in particular that draws you to that format? “I used to put out tapes on my label as well, Ultramarine. In fact, my very first release was on it. Tapes look nice, are easy to manufacture, so cheap to ship and sell, have no limitations in terms of length and chrome tapes can actually sound pretty good.”

Flowers From The Ashes: Contemporary Italian Electronic Music is out now on Stroboscopic Artefacts. Buy here.

Aidan Hanratty
Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ... @adnhnrt | @Bandcloud

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