An inside look at one of Italy’s most prominent and innovative producers.
Mai Mai Mai is the namesake of one of Italy’s most prominent and innovative producers. Having originated somewhere at the beginning of the decade with a noise-ridden, techno-induced and, most importantly, psychedelic production ethos, Mai Mai Mai is one of the most interesting artists coming out of Italy’s already engrossing experimental scene. We caught up with the Mediterranean maestro to find out what’s been going on amidst his mystical cycles of noise [interview took place in 2018].
You released Φ (Phi) in 2016 as the final part of a trilogy of albums, but what is next? Is there another full-length in the pipeline?
Phi is the last part of the Mediterranean Trilogy, which started back in 2013 with Theta (Boring Machines) and Δέλτα (Delta) (2014, Yerevan Tapes), plus Πέτρα (Petra) which I consider as an appendix (2015, Corpoc). It’s conceived as a soundtrack for an imaginary travel through the Mediterranean (sea and cultures), a journey which made me wonder around Greece, Turkey, North Africa and the south of Italy. And the south of Italy is the end of that journey and the beginning of something new, the raw material for the new album (working on it right now, it’s called Nel Sud [which is now out and can be heard here! – ed.]).
You recently released the God Unknown Split with Sly And The Family Drone / Dead Neanderthals, as well as a collaborative track on a compilation with Lamana, what does collaborating with other artists give you the ability to do that being a solo artist doesn’t?
I grew up in this amazing musical world as a drummer. On one hand, I always had bands and projects with other people, but on the other, I always had the freedom to play and improvise with different people I met on the road. I kept this attitude with Mai Mai Mai as well, which is my first solo project. I love to play with other people, friends or unknown. It is highly stimulating, it shows different paths and ways to make music/art, it is a relation which never ends in simply the “sum” of the people involved, rather it creates something different. It is the best way, I found, to learn (about music, about myself, about those around me). Being a solo artist pushed me to do it as often as possible, sometimes challenging myself, sometimes just having fun with other musicians.
In all my previous albums I asked friends and musicians I admire to join my journey: I had the pleasure to have Donato Epiro, Lino Capra Vaccina, Gianni Giublena Rosacroce, Luca Venitucci and others, play on my recordings. I started from zero with new projects, as we have done with Luciano Lamanna (check the LL/MMM 12″ out on Instruments Of Discipline), or I joined friends on their own projects: like with Go Dugong, on a track we recorded together called ‘NOMMO’ and released on his last LP. By the way, my favourite collaboration so far is with Gnod, which goes way over the simple music side. I spent two weeks on tour with them and I joined them for a few days in the studio (playing synths and electronics), recording what became their most recent album, Chapel Perilous on Rocket Recordings. It was a great time and a great experience with them – in the van, on stage, and in the studio. I’m glad and proud I joined them in the studio and on stage (last time in June at the Supersonic festival in Birmingham, terrific!).
Your musical output and live shows focus a lot on ritual and performance. How do you think this has progressed over time in your music? And in the noise scene as a whole?
Once we are on a stage, there is an audience which listens and looks. I try to take care of the visual part as much as the audio. The live set is a performance and it has to transmit something to the people on each level; the costumes and stage outfits, the video projections and lights, the sound. The show has to be inclusive and enchanting. I try to establish a relationship with the people around me, rouse feelings in the crowd. This is what can be felt as a ritual and this is the most important aspect of my live sets.
This makes the difference when I am attending a show as well. It has to be something which goes beyond mere entertainment.
Noise music and power electronics being incorporated into bands’ live sets has become very prominent in recent years. What’s your take on this?
It’s a common praxis for bands since the ‘60/’70s to add layers of sounds which are considered new or contemporary, in order to evolve the sound, discover new ways to build and experiment on the song-form. The avantgarde always used to push music, art and sounds forward and the best way is usually to join a more popular form of art. Noise is particularly intense and effective, above all during live performances. I reckon it came naturally for bands to try and incorporate such a sonic weapon. I actually have a lot of fun playing heavy electronics on stage with a proper band!
You collaborate with as many electronic acts as you do bands, is there a preference for you or do you see both as equally key to the evolution of your sound?
It’s all part of the same game. Every situation teases a different mood or attitude and I try to make something that I enjoy and that is stimulating. Mostly it’s something I can feel in my stomach! It happens to have way different experiences, there are so many factors. I try to keep them connected as one, building a unique path, which sometimes goes in the directions I want, sometimes far away to unexpected places. It’s a never-ending evolution, made of all these little tiles.
Rome is a historic and architecturally magnificent place, how has the city informed Mai Mai Mai’s output?
Actually a lot. Rome and the south of Italy, where I grew up. The aesthetic of Mai Mai Mai is strongly influenced by these places. What has always fascinated me is this tough clash between the majestic heritage left by great past cultures and its actual decadence, through time and the effects of human behaviour. Falling Greek temples right beside huge concrete grey apartments or 12-floor hotels; medieval cathedrals surrounded by broken rubbish containers, stinky and dirty; ancient beautiful crumbling buildings obscured by polluting factories; a breathtaking sunset on the Ionian Sea flanked by a huge noisy cargo ship entering the Port. All my aesthetic is based on keeping this tension visible/audible: mixing acoustic instruments, field recordings and south Italian and Greek folk sounds with dark electronics, heavy beats, industrial vibes, using distorted old footage, like memories which are a bit blurry and nebulous. The pleasure of getting lost around all these haunted places.
We’ve seen from your live sets that you utilise field recordings to add another layer to your overall sound, what do you look for when finding and seeking out sounds to record?
It’s all focused on the atmosphere of the track. Sometimes I build it from zero, recording acoustic instruments or asking friends to play something I can use for a song, giving them some input or ideas they can develop (i.e. Lino Capra Vaccina playing gongs and vibraphone, Luca Venitucci playing accordion, both on Phi) or recording ambient sounds and noises during my travels. Sometimes I steal archive sounds from the past, mostly from south Italian and Greek folklore. I use it as raw material and work adding layers of sounds and rhythms. All those recordings are on tape and during the live set I play them on cassettes. I love the fact that, in this way, it is not predictable how they sound and mix with the rest of the instruments. It is like playing with someone else, every time different and particular attention is needed to make it work in a good way.
You’ve said before that Mai Mai Mai is about importing past experience and memory into sound and music. What is it about memory and these childhood excursions that made it the primary focus of your music?
When I started thinking about a solo project, I felt the first thing to do was to dig up my roots, my heritage, and my background, both personal and musical. I loved this personal research and I tried to keep together all the different aspects I found. The concept of Mediterranean culture made for a mix of sounds and images, which I have experienced since I was a child, through my father’s family (seamen, working in the port and on boats). The fascination for the darkest and archaic aspects of the southern Italian culture and religious traditions. As I told you before, my entrancement for the decadence, in the spirit, in nature, and in the human artifact. These are the memories which lay the groundwork for Mai Mai Mai.
Most of our readers won’t be too well versed in the underbelly of the underground Italian experimental scene. Are there any artists (past and present) you would suggest our readers check out?
Wondering about Italian music usually brings people to the golden age of horror and Giallo soundtracks, mondo movies, the spaghetti sound, Italian prog and avant-garde musicians from the ’70s. Names such as Ennio Morricone and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Egisto Macchi, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Piero Umiliani, Goblin, Area, Franco Battiato, Aktuala, Futuro Antico and so on… This is the common musical background for an Italian music scene which a few years ago was defined as “Italian occult psychedelia” and it might be considered a kind of Italian hauntology. Absolutely check out bands such as Heroin In Tahiti, Father Murphy, Gianni Giublena Rosacroce, InZaire, Squadra Omega, Mamuthones, Lay Llamas, Donato Epiro.
In the electronic music, there’s a lot of great stuff going on. Starting from Lorenzo Senni and his recent works on Mego and Warp, Caterina Barbieri, Still (great album out on PAN), Nicola Ratti, Matteo Vallicelli, VIPRA (out on Senni’s label Presto!?), GO DUGONG. Going toward the techno/dance fields: Luciano Lamanna, Donato Dozzy, Neel, Inner Lakes, Gabber Eleganza and the Haunter Records crew.
Great labels to follow: Boring Machines, Yerevan Tapes, Avant, Maple Death, Holidays Records, Second Sleep, Arte Tetra, Hundebiss… and check out my own NO=FI Recordings.
There is a lot of stuff going on right now.
And finally is there anything coming up that you would want out readers to check out? Tours? Releases? Collaborations?
I am working on the new LP Nel Sud, which was born as an A/V project I made for the Pesaro Film Festival. The recordings are done and I am really happy with it! I should finish the mix soon and hopefully have it out in late 2018.
I’m currently on a break from touring: I just did a couple of weeks around Ireland and England and a few summer festivals. I will start touring again when the new album is out, again under the flag of Swamp Booking. Look out around the end of 2018!
Mai Mai Mai’s new album Nel Sud is out now on La Tempesta International. Find out more here.
Words: Tom Kirby