Interview: Madteo

Stream: Madteo – Deliverance (Meakusma)

“Detroit is such a fucking powerhouse of music,” Matteo Ruzzon sets forth. The Italian musician who produces under his Madteo alias moved to New York back in the early nineties, and has been a fervent listener of the crème de la crème of music coming from Michigan and its environs for as long as he can remember. He also displays a predilection for Italo disco and rap music, buying a median of twenty physical records a week which, over the years, have added up to an impressive collection of thousands of records lying around his apartment. The listener will hear his extensive knowledge of as well as his ardent love for music back in his own productions – an unconventional and sundry intermixture of house, techno and hip-hop: raw, slow, brain melting slabs. “Sounds,” Matteo stresses, almost mimicking Dizzy Gillespie, who once declared he simply wasn’t into music that much but preferred listening to sounds instead. “Yeah, I like sounds. When I’m producing, I like the exploration of different sounds. It leads you to eschew whatever categorizations to begin with and limits the quantity of different layers that go into making a track. With this approach, the limiting, I realized certain sounds didn’t always have to be a part of the picture. I only work with one or two different ones sometimes.”

Having started producing about ten years ago, Madteo started releasing his music over the last couple of years and currently has one full-length record and five EPs to his name, divided over the labels Meakusma, Workshop, Morphine Records, Lanquid and most recently the young English Hinge Finger imprint. His release on the latter, “Bugler Gold Pt.1”, happened quite unexpectedly. It was the premier release on the label ran by producer Peter O’ Grady (Joy O.) and artist Will Bankhead. “We didn’t know each other on a personal basis before the release happened,” Matteo says. “Peter approached me. I was familiar with his single “Hyph Mngo”, which is an amazing song. I tend to stay away from most music akin to dubstep, but this single was different. It has a soulful edge to it and has this stripped-down vibe that I can relate to. I didn’t realize at first he was talking about a new label and I just assumed he was asking me about a release on Doldrums. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about this new label with a funny name.”

The label’s name comes from the word “finger hinge” an Australian invention that prevents fingers from getting crushed in the side of the door. A race to the most ridiculous label name, Matteo states. “As an Italian, I can quite relate to this self-indulgent British humour. I’ve hidden some little word jokes in my track titles on there as well.” HINF8672 comes with a track named “Biz R Us (Whore Power Resolution)”. “Biz R Us” is a pun on Toys R Us, the American children’s toy company, he explains, and “Whore Power Resolution” comes from the War Powers Resolution, a joint resolution concerning the war powers of Congress and the President. On his approach to the release he says: “While Bugler Gold was a planned release, my methods have become a little different because I realized that I couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, want to continue making what I considered to be ‘club music.'”

How would you describe this release compared to your previous ones? “All the music I’ve released since ’07 are different picks from different people running different labels, but there’s no real difference between them because they were made in the same era. This would be the first decade of my production era, which is how long I’ve been making music for. The music released over the last five years, some tracks you hear might be older than others but they’re from the same batch.” You’ve also moved around quite a bit between labels, starting from Morphine. “Although Morphine isn’t as active as it used to be, it’s my mother label because it’s the one that gave me my first break. Rabih Beaini (aka RaH aka Morphosis of Morphine records) knows what he wants which is good place to be sound-wise. He has good taste. It’s all about ears, not always about technical experience (though that doesn’t hurt) but it’s the heads who count. They can make a record stand out from the crowd.”

From what I understand, you’re already at work on your next release as well. Has your approach to making records changed much relative to your older work or Bugler Gold Pt. 1? “Yeah, I’m going to release this on a label which is an important label in electronic music. They have been known to pioneer this minimal, rather more minimalistic maybe, sort of techno. It’s electronic but folky at the same time. They pioneered this minimalistic post-modern kind of music.” It must be awfully inspiring to gain recognition from the labels you admire like that. “This label, because it had a history, gave me a boost of encouragement, because I’d been dealing with some personal issues. As you get older you start to feel like things happen for a reason at a certain time, and can happen when you’re not capable of pulling them off. No matter the opportunity, you have to be prepared and ready. And then also there’s this hierarchical status for musicians when it comes to the instruments and hardware versus software debate: I started producing with hardware which were like toys for me, nowadays I use a computer. For some reason though, people think that if you use a machine that can only do one thing it’s so much better than using software. This label that I’m going to release on is one that has put out all kinds of music, and is associated with the kind of electronic music that isn’t made on a computer necessarily – but it didn’t really fucking matter how it was made for them, that’s why it was so inspiring and encouraging to me and my sound is changing as we speak.”

Stream: Madteo – Mad See Scrolls (Marcellus Pittman remix) (Meakusma)

The forthcoming 12″ on Meakusma named “Recast” has Marcellus Pittman, Kassem Mosse, and Anthony “Shake” Shakir remixing your songs – that’s a pretty legendary lineup. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about? “Kassem Mosse was the first one who we approached, through this German link he’d already played for the Meakusma guys. With Anthony Shakir, my label approached him. I think the mix he did is really good, he nails this  instrumental hip-hop sound. Shakir’s production style is very heterogeneous: on a kind of instrumental future hip-hop tip, with a spacey vibe. I got into him relatively recently after I got his 12” on Morphine, then heard some of his classics through a Rush Hour compilation. Thats how I learned about the real Shake. People refer to him as the unheralded pioneer of the true Detroit techno. Marcellus Pittman, I’ve known him for over a decade through his association with Theo Parrish and the close-knit crew who go by the name of 3 Chairs: Kenny Dixon, Theo Parrish and Rick Wilhite – they’re this very closed, heavy, tight and amazing production outfit.” So Marcellus Pittman could be considered as the fourth chair. It must’ve been a honour to work with him. “I knew this guy came with the right juice and I was really excited with his feedback on the original track to begin with. A lot of these Detroit guys (and understandingly so) are not that easy to reach.”

Your music has this late-night, hazy, underground sound to it. It kind of moves between house and techno, but you’ve also dabbled in hip-hop in the past. What have the main influences on your sound been? “I used to go to house music clubs in the early ’90s, I liked to hang out in the after-hours and in the regular clubs, which is what they call VIP clubs here. They’ll be playing different music there, not the usual big-room music that was around, it was deeper and they also played a bit of ’80s. The DJs I loved showcased ’80s proto-house with some disco thrown in.  My family would listen to ’80s new-wave, a lot of Italo disco that I didn’t like at the time but I re-discovered it over the last fifteen years. I think I currently own about a few hundred Italo records but there so many expensive, difficult-to-find records out there that I don’t even want to think about it.”

What would you consider important elements for a healthy music culture to arise? “Digging, definitely. People need to dig, and dig deeper, because what are you gonna do? Dig a little bit and move on to different eras then scratch a little under that surface and move on again? You have to pick one of the eras you’ve looked at and go way deeper under the surface.” As someone who’s travelled across the globe quite a bit and encountered all types of music and musical cultures and scenes, to what extent and how do you think location can affect music and the growth of musical scenes? “Everything has changed a lot because of the internet and the like, which is very interesting. Club culture has always had epicentres around the world but now in places like North America, England and Germany it’s become easier to investigate club cultures and scenes. I love the States: the history of it, everything. American culture and art – music being the first. They’re assimilating these styles from European, African and American cultures and it keeps things interesting: then there’s the development of blues which played a big role in the development of every genre ever (pop especially). It’s what keeps me here. When you talk about the country DJ culture-wise, you see all this vinyl floating around most of them made in and distributed out of New York.”

Since music and club culture is such a global community as you said, what is it about New York that keeps you here? “I enjoy very few things but I consider my only luxury the music, the vinyl I can get my hands on around here. For a music fiend like me, it’s kind of pathetic but I’m happy as I have a good place that satisfies my craving and my need to feel like life is worth something. As someone living in  New York, I feel like it’s a city of lonely people and most people can deal with having that solitude by creating this flimsy circle of friends.You can go to the met, enjoy the city, go for nice dinners, but that’s boring.. it’s a decadent and self-destructive society. You have to isolate yourself here, I would’ve done nothing of this music stuff as seriously if I didn’t.” Has the move from Italy to America played a role in your artistic maturation at all? “Yeah, moving to America has kind of gotten me hooked on down techno and on what I will call dub music, and everything in between like instrumental hip-hop beats  beats and its preceding eras that were influenced by Jamaican dub… some of it was more ambient, post hip-hop or whatever. I’m kind of struggling to define the music here, haha.”

From reading previous interviews, it seems like you know the city inside out by now – from your experience, what’s NYC’s best kept secret spot? “My life is pathetically simple, I’m going to say this would be the place where I buy my vinyl. I like to go to Other Music, but my real hang-out spot is this little flea market. As soon as I got my first gig I started buying vinyl exclusively which became an expensive hobby quite quickly. Even when I had no money I would spend at least thirty dollars a week on records.. I’ve never really gotten into downloading music, it’s a ritual for me to spend my time in record stores and pick up physical copies of the things I like. This little flea market I stumbled upon, it became my sole source of new music. My budget is limited and I can’t afford all the records I want to buy, but if you can get ten amazing records for ten dollars then that sounds like a good deal to me.  It becomes an addiction to go there, you have to go through all this junk but when you find something good that’s amazing. The atmosphere at this market is amazing too. The cool thing about these flea markets is that there are people who love frequenting them and you get to know them.” How many have you bought here, at a guess? “I’ve bought about a thousand records every year over the last seven years. I buy most from Henry, a loved guy at the market. He’s one of the most warm-hearted people but very lively, loud and funny at the same time. There are a lot of people who come by this guy’s stall and chat with him for an hour easily. He’s a Spanish man from East Harlem and has probably been living here since he was a young kid but at the age of sixty he still sounds like he’s only just moved here. It’s an endearing quality because he’s such a sweetheart. I like to go there now to hang out with him as much as I can, the place is a goldmine of amazing vinyl.”

Can we speak a little more about music you like as far as hip-hop goes? It’s definitely audible in your own production that you listen to a huge variety of music. “I enjoy classic hip-hop and early ’90s New York hip-hop. Wire magazine published an in-depth piece on a movement called Illbient, a sound I like that came from the era of Brooklyn post hip-hop with DJ Spooky on the front lines as probably the most publicized artist associated with that sub-genre, and Brooklyn’s Wordsound records ruling during that era. Dub hop as I like to call it. One of the greatest groups to come from New York hip-hop is Antipop Consortium, so-called  backpack hip-hop. They’re incredible and very underrated – if you look at how hip-hop has changed so fast, and a lot of the older guys have not gotten nearly as much attention as they deserved.. It’s almost like a law, people never get as much recognition as they should. The way you perceive success versus the recognition people get, you never get to see the business side. Hip-hop has changed so much and you see all these new kids and I think wow, this stuff is not nearly as good as what came out about fifteen years ago. You might find good rappers or producers out there, but skepticism towards hype is a good stance to have.”

And what other kind of things are you into lately? “I listen to a lot of deep stuff like Virgo, music from Chicago like Marshall Jefferson, music from Miami like Ralph Falcon and Oscar Gaetan who produce under the aliases Murk and Liberty City. I’m also into that late ’80s, early ’90s New York vibe, such as Masters Of Work. It’s funny when I find these records and I remember hearing them back in Italy at clubs when I was young and on drugs – that was during the golden age of club music that went hand in hand with ecstasy use. Back then I thought they were the best, and fifteen years later I still think the same. When hear these records, it’s like they make the E kick in after 20 years, ha! That’s what keeps me motivated after all this time, I can enjoy it and reminisce. There were so many labels back then around for anywhere from five up to twenty years, and some of them released hundreds of bombs. Prelude Records, South Soul Records, the Italian imprint Plastic Labels.. You have to have hundreds of records from these labels to consider yourself to be a collector as they probably put out over thousands and thousands.”

Have you made any discoveries recently that have caught your attention? “Only yesterday I was record digging with my friend and we bought a stack of Latin labels which I found out about through Dez Andres. I’ve been a huge fan of him since his first record came out. He does these Ustream sets in his basement, where he’s DJing live or does MPC sessions where he makes tracks on the spot. The other week he did an amazing Whitney Houston special. I didn’t know he was Cuban, but he played a four hour set of strictly Latin music the other week and introduced me to so many new records.”

Stream: Trushmix 10: Madteo

As you’re clearly such a fanatic music listener and producer, it would be a treat to be able to hear you select a set. Do you DJ often in addition to producing? We heard a few of your mixes that left us curious to hear more. “I’ve been DJing for over a decade but for a long time I only played in restaurants and little bars, I never was and I’m still not on the radar. I still DJ sometimes but I never built a following or anything like that. I love playing gigs, though. Part of the reason why I like to DJ is the hope I can get to the point of getting asked to play what I like to play. What you hear in my mixes is what you should expect, I hope I relay an openness and familiarity with my DJing. I’m quite adaptable too, I think one of the most important things people need to do when they play out is read the crowd and adjust to the place. If you want to get paid and make the party happen, you can’t just whine about the crowd. I try to make people happy but at the same time I cater to my own preferences as well, I’m always trying to slip in my own personality because otherwise I’m just dead behind the decks like a robot following an order.”

Are there other DJs or sets that you’ve seen that you thought were particularly special? “At Movement in Detroit several years ago, 3 Chairs were playing a big tent outside, it was on a Sunday afternoon so it was packed. It was really hot outside so people squeezed themselves in the tent to shelter from the sun, it seemed like a couple of thousand people in there. Marcellus, who had the upper hand behind the decks as the others were mostly dancing and easing off, was literally pounding the floor with amazing mixes. Although all these guys produce a refined sound, they DJ in a dynamic way where they mix techno with sort-of like confident flexibility. It’s raw. Maybe primitive would be the right word, they blend loose yet sharp sounding primitive house and techno together, which they subsequently mix with softer things. The combination of these two wildly different sounds necessitates a certain skill to put it together because you can’t just fool around. It’s not simply mixing one record into another because the sounds are wildly different from each other. If you fuck up it’s going to sound so much worse. Then again the people in the crowd will understand there’s an effort being made and the guy is not any other DJ. It takes balls.”

~*Cayley MacArthur b2b Immy Soraya, picture by Will Bankhead*~


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