Artist Feature: Donato Dozzy
Click here to listen to the Carhartt WIP Radio Show featuring Donato Dozzy.
Next stop: Italy. This month’s Carhartt WIP Radio show features Donato Dozzy, one of the country’s most profound electronic music producers and DJs, internationally renowned for the hypnotic and manifold ways in which he can create deep, absorbing techno trips.
Dozzy first honed his skills at the mythical squat-slash-club Brancaleone in Rome, before moving to Berlin in the mid-aughts, where he elevated his signature style even further with his “Dozzy’s Night” residency at Panorama Bar. Since then, he has gone on to grace line-ups alongside esteemed peers, such as Marcel Dettmann, Jeff Mills, Surgeon, and his compatriot Marco Shuttle.
As a producer, Dozzy first began to make waves in 2004, and has since gone on to release a string of EPs and albums on labels such as Spectrum Spools, Tresor, The Bunker New York and Samurai Music. In addition, he also runs three record labels. The first one, Dozzy Records, was launched 2006 and functioned as a platform that sharpened his own minimal techno language. His second, Spazio Disponibile, was established in 2016 together with DJ and producer Giuseppe Tillieci aka Neel, who is both a friend and musical collaborator. An imprint that initially released club music, it has slowly shifted into other territories like ambient and downbeat in recent years. In 2020, Dozzy also launched his latest label, together with the Spanish graphic artist and DJ Alicia Carrera, titled Maga Circe Musica. Unlike previous ventures, this is a label that defies categorization, and is dedicated to all sorts of music from all stylistic niches.
Collaboration is a recurring theme of Dozzy’s career. It is this urge to work with others which has seen him release numerous leftfield works with artists from seemingly disparate worlds, such as his recent project Il Quadro di Troisi together with Italian synthesist and singer Andrea Noce, which leans towards Italo Disco and synth-pop, or his tribute to the Buchla synthesizer, made together with Italian percussionist Daniele Di Gregorio.
For Carhartt WIP Radio, Dozzy conducted a mix that gently immerses the listener into his rich body of work playing classics like Gol and remixes he has done for other artists, like the legendary experimental electronic group Cabaret Du Ciel. As ever, we also sat down with our host, to discuss his musical upbringing, the exhausting life of a DJ, and politics on the dancefloor.
Where does your passion for music come from?
Donato Dozzy: The tape that changed my life is from 1984 and made by DJ Maurizio Laurentaci. I recently reposted it on my Soundcloud page. It was a tape that was mixing the music together and I was very interested in learning how it was made. That mix makes a connection to my early days as a wannabe DJ. My roots also played an important role. Even though I was born in Rome, my family all come from Bari, and it was my cousin from there who made me listen to this tape. After that, I found out that a friend of mine, a classmate, actually was trying to mix tracks together. One day he made me listen to his tape, and after that I knew what I wanted to do. But there was nobody that could teach me how to mix. The tape became my mentor, because I was listening to it two, three times per day. And now, 40 years later, I ended up mastering that tape to let it shine again. I think people need to hear it, because it made me wish to be a DJ. You can hear Michael Jackson, you can hear Queen, you can hear Grandmaster Flash, you can hear Lionel Richie. But you can also hear more obscure stuff from people like Richard Bone, as well as tracks that I wasn't able to identify. This eclecticism influenced me, too.
Donato Dozzy: That’s right, but when I started, the art of DJing took off a little more. Since the 70s, Italy has always had a big club landscape, but in the late 80s and early 90s new styles like hip-hop and early electronic music from Detroit changed it all and elevated DJ culture.
You have DJ'd for almost 30 years. Have you ever lost your taste for the nightlife?
Donato Dozzy: No. I still really do love DJing. Only, I don't love to travel anymore. It makes me sick. Year on year traveling is getting heavier, and because of that, I am forced to take less gigs. But it is how it is. I have colleagues my age who have no problems and still can play like there is no tomorrow. But I can't do that.
But you’ve never been a DJ who loves to play five gigs during a weekend.
Donato Dozzy: For me, three is already too much. I prefer to do one per weekend, because when you go on stage, you start exchanging energies with people. At least, this is the way I see it. I literally inhale the energy that is coming from the dance floor. I transform it, process it and send it back. It’s psychological work. And it absorbs a lot of energy from you. So, I can’t do it all the time. I am not the person that acts like a robot, plays music and starts all over the next day. I prefer to do it less often, but when I do, I really give all of myself. I think it's more respectful and somehow it makes more sense to me.
When you go on stage, you start exchanging energies with people. At least, this is the way I see it. I literally inhale the energy that is coming from the dance floor. I transform it, process it and send it back. It’s psychological work. And it absorbs a lot of energy from you.
Have you ever considered stopping traveling altogether, so people have to travel to hear you DJ? Something similar to the residency you had back in the day at the club Brancaleone in Rome.
Donato Dozzy: Well, firstly, I wonder if I deserve to have people coming to me? If so, I would be very pleased, because that would make me avoid the traveling part. I could even focus more on the music, to provide the best I could, like I used to do 20 years ago, when I was resident at the Brancaleone squat. I was playing once a week, on the Saturday, and it was so intense. I would prepare for my gig the whole week before. I didn't have to worry about going somewhere. I just had to go to Brancaleone, which was close to my house. At Brancaleone, I was creating a real bond between me and the crowd. This is how I realized that I could be a medium for the crowd.
Let’s see. Maybe in the future, I will not need to travel anymore, and I will organize something monthly and people will come to hear me. I think about this a lot. I'm 51 now and I don't see myself traveling like crazy in the next decade. I can only see myself traveling for a few more years. And I don't want to be a super-DJ at 60. I am just finishing the works of my new house at the beach, where I plan to move in the next few years. That's where I want to get old. I want to make music and maybe organize some nice music sessions at the beach and have people from all over Europe come to enjoy and embrace. That would be really good for me, my musical ideas, and for the community of the little village where my house is.
A look at your discography shows that you deeply love a sense of connection, as you released a lot of records together with other artists. What makes collaborative work special for you?
Donato Dozzy: I simply love to exchange energies with people. Especially when I detect a sort of potential common flow with someone, I need to investigate it. I really like to co-produce things. And this has led me to create some interesting things over the years. I like my solo works, but I also need the company of other people.
There are many artists who don't like to make creative compromises.
Donato Dozzy: Yeah, and I understand that also. But I am different. I even like sharing my recording techniques. It's not meant to be something exclusively for myself. I like to share these with other producers. At the same time, I get ideas from them. It's always about exchanging.
In the past month you have released exciting collaborative projects like Il Quadro di Troisi, together with producer Andrea Noce, and the Buchla & Marimba record with Italian percussionist Daniele Di Gregorio.
Donato Dozzy: Daniele Di Gregorio is not from the electronic music world, but he shares the same passion for music as I do. He comes from a completely different background. For 30 years, he has collaborated with [the singer] Paolo Conte. He is mainly touring with him, but at the same time, is very curious about electronic music. His son put us in touch, and we have become very good friends. We know that we come from different backgrounds, but we complement each other with our experience. And that can be heard on “Buchla & Marimba.”
You have launched three different labels to express your musical vision and experiments. How do you distinguish your imprints Dozzy Records, Spazio Disponibile and your latest enterprise Maga Circe Musica?
Donato Dozzy: Dozzy Records was launched 15 years ago. At that time, I was defining my own techno sound with that label. A few years later, we founded Spazio Disponibile together with Italian DJ, producer and mastering engineer Giuseppe Tillieci to embrace a wider spectrum of music. The first releases were dancefloor-leaning. Then, we also started switching to other stuff — more downbeat and ambient music — and we will continue to do so. With the new label, Maga Circe Musica, we are now going deeper into all kinds of music. We do not have plans for dancefloor music. It's just about music. Whatever we like from folk to Musique concrète. If it fits, we release it.
How do you find artists for all the labels?
Donato Dozzy: They find us. Sometimes we also have ideas. We know many people around. So, we ask those who interest us. We try to be challenging and ask them: please do something with us in mind. Currently things are running really well. Spazio Disponibile is established and our releases find their audience.
It seems like you love progress and new frontiers. Many musicians prefer to stick to a successful formula instead of going deeper into new territories and sounds.
Donato Dozzy: Sure, it's very important to progress. I love music and its never-ending research. In the early days, my music was more about dancefloors. But getting older has made me embrace many other musical styles beyond that. I like music. I still buy a lot.
What’s the driving force behind your creativity?
Donato Dozzy: It's life. The experience itself. That’s my driving force. And these experiences have shaped my aesthetic. Of course, you need to go through dark times, but that is part of the process. And if you take it seriously, after a while a unique art form emerges. At the end all I do is sublimation. The more life you go through, the more stories you have to tell.
Do you still like the work you created in the past?
Donato Dozzy: It depends. There is music that I made years ago and when I hear it today, I ask myself: what was on my mind when I did it? But some other music, I perfectly remember the process that led me to making it. I feel all the episodes that pushed me to make it. Especially my early years, when I was in Berlin, I was like a fountain spreading water around. I had so many ideas in my mind that I wanted to share with other people and the new friends that I was making at that time. Some of the most important music I wrote during that time was not even made in my studio. In the beginning, I didn't have one. I had a friend that was my neighbor, and he gave me one of his rooms. I put my equipment in and wrote the track “Gol”, which has become a bit of a classic in my discography.
Did your time in Berlin in the mid 2000s inspire you?
Donato Dozzy: Very much! I was escaping from the culture in Italy. I was escaping from being just Italian – I needed to become a world citizen. That was one of the main reasons that pushed me to leave Italy. And I was just at the right age. I was 33-34 years old. I’d already had a very long residency at Brancaleone, and I had graduated and finished my studies. I needed to meet new friends and embrace different cultures – and in Berlin I got what I needed.
Did you also sharpen your DJ skills during that time?
Donato Dozzy: Not really. I had already played for a long time in Brancaleone. How I play as DJ is always variable. It all depends on the space and people. Sometimes I play a whole track, sometimes I use a track as a tool. All this emerges out of the moment. Sometimes I feel like tracks need to be on top of each other as much as possible. Other times, I feel like one specific record is enough for describing a specific moment or feeling. And this is something I already had in my mind before I moved to Berlin.
So, when you prepare for a gig, you think about the room in advance?
Donato Dozzy: First, I decide on a color in my head. And I think about what I approximately can do. But when I face the audience and channel their energy, I know exactly how to express myself. I have never prepared a set, I always improvise completely. I like to create a mix between the harmonics of the music I play, and I try to stick with the tonality. I like to create a sort of continuous flow between the tracks. But stylistically, I need to change the game all the time. I like to play music from any genre. That's why I often play with three turntables because I can use some records as a tool. I can use ambient music, place it on beats, and something new comes out of it. On top of that, I play another track that rhythmically brings the other tool into a different place. And that’s something you can’t prepare in advance, because in the moment you make it, you're surprising yourself. That's where the excitement, the magic comes from.
Your first residency was at Club Brancaleone, which was in a squat, you played to a very conscious audience that had an anti-establishment attitude. Today, DJ culture is established and big business. Do you miss the subcultural vibe from back then?
Donato Dozzy: Oh yes, I miss it dramatically. During my time at Brancaleone, there was still a powerful left. And the culture belonged to the left. It was important to read books, to be conscious about what was happening in the society. Squats and social centers were providing cultural spaces where people could freely live, counter-culturally. Brancaleone was a place that was not controlled by the dominant culture. A place where young generations could embrace things that were not spread by the mainstream media, or by mainstream politics. After 20 years of Berlusconi and after all the political disasters that happened consequently, here in Italy, right wing politics are strong again – something that was unthinkable before. To me, that happens because young people have less free spaces. We are missing places where you can get close to art that has an eye on politics. It’s a problem that is touching many other countries too. And that was fantastic about Brancaleone: you would go there, hear great music, and meet all kinds of people who were politically engaged. They were spreading a message with a social consciousness through music and other art forms.
This is missing today. I am very concerned about it. Look what happened in the 70s, when the hippies influenced the rock movement. It all started as a reaction to the politics from the 50s and 60s. Somehow, the youth became socially aware that something needed to change. And I hope this is going to happen next, as we have to do something for the social community and foremost for the planet. I believe that new generations need to build new spaces where the tentacles of the government don't have control. They have to build their own political ideas for a new future, because everything they get now is coming from TV, from social media and other smart phone apps. Today, we cannot even say the word communism, because it's immediately connected to something bad. And this connotation does not come from history. It’s made by the media. When I think about all that, I feel a bit hopeless, to be honest.
Do you consider your own music as political?
Donato Dozzy: I don't put direct political meaning in my music. I prefer to talk about it. I like to discuss social and political ideas with people or, like now, in an interview. But as I do not make music that aligns with the dominant mainstream music narrative, my music is political, too. Releasing an experimental record is already a political act.
Can you name us an unmusical artwork that symbolizes this kind of political act? Something like your favorite movie for instance?
One final question: how did you select the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Donato Dozzy: I just selected music of mine that fits together and that speaks deeply to me. Putting a mix of my own music together was not simple. Also, it’s a mix that should speak to people who are not so deep into electronic music. It’s a bit of everything that my music stands for.