Label Feature: Mannequin Records

Click here to listen to the Mannequin Records radio show.

Since 2008, Alessandro Adriani’s label Mannequin has been spreading cold waves for the melancholic. Launched in Rome, Italy, and now based in Berlin, Germany, his label started out launching his own music under various aliases – Peter M., Newclear Waves – before going on to release Mannequin’s first archival compilation. Named Danza Meccanica Italian Synth Wave 1982-1987, it featured long-forgotten wave and industrial music from Italy, by artists such as Tommy De Chirico and Janitor Of Lunacy

A kid from the MTV generation, Adriani received his musical schooling in the techno clubs of the Italian capital. For a while, before the turn of the millennium, he’d visit “goth clubs” and dabble in various underground scenes, before settling on the gloomy signature sound of Mannequin – which is showcased in all its glory, as part of a bi-monthly Berghain residency, geared for dark, industrial-leaning techno fans.

To date, Mannequin has racked up 140 releases, featuring contemporary music by Adriani and likeminded producers, such as Spanish DJ and producer Jasss, Tropic Of Cancer, Black Merlin, De Sang Froid and, just recently, Greek musician June. Additionally, the label’s index of archival work has also grown, with projects by electronic, industrial and wave veterans like Bourbonese Qualk from Great Britain, Italian synth queen Doris Norton, and Berlin’s infamous Din A Testbild, to name but a few.

An avid producer, Adriani releases a steady flow of music, both on his own imprint, as well as other labels, such as Stroboscopic Artefacts – which is run by fellow native, DJ, and producer Lucy – and Pinkman from Rotterdam. His live shows, meanwhile, show a deft aesthetic touch. Recently, Adriani performed alongside visual artist Imaginaria, aka Paulina Greta, at Berlin’s new art space Trauma Bar und Kino, as they showcased their new piece “Phosphine”.

Despite a busy working schedule, Alessandro Adriani found some time to prepare a Mannequin Records Carhartt WIP Radio show, introducing a fine selection from his label’s extensive catalog. As usual, we also spoke with our host about the roots of his passion.

Hey Alessandro, when and how did your love affair with music start?

Alessandro Adriani: I have a clear picture of me throwing 45 singles with an orange Fisher-Price portable turntable in the early 1980s. I still have it somewhere. Mid 1980s to early 1990s it was all about cassettes. You would copy from friends, or just record radio transmissions. Sometimes I was preparing my own playlist with the tracks recorded. Creating compilations was something I always had a natural feeling for.

When the CD revolution arrived, I remember buying the Pink Floyd: The Division Bell the day it came out together with a CD player. It was literally a revolution.

All the early 1990s were deeply influenced by what we had on MTV and Videomusic – the Italian answer to MTV. I didn’t have any friends listening to the same music, so I think I just had a natural inclination for some genres.

Coming from Rome, Techno music had a huge impact and influence on my approach to electronic music. In 1994/1995 you could turn on the local radio and hear Freddy K's IL Virus' radio program. I have tons of cassettes recorded from him – you can even find some on Youtube.

Later, I was going to goth clubs at the end of the 1990s. I started buying, collecting, downloading and then releasing all the music I loved during the past years, alongside materials from new bands I along the way. We’ve just reached the 140th release.

What was the initial idea behind starting and running Mannequin and has it changed over the years? Did you have any role models or inspirational benchmarks when it was launched?

Alessandro Adriani: My vision was deeply influenced by people like Tony Wilson (Factory Records) and Ivo Wats-Russell (4AD). 

Mannequin initially started as a mail-order service for importing labels in small quantities, and in 2008 it turned into a record label. I had the feeling that something was missing in Italy. I was sure that there was a huge interest for it from the audience, so I started to import labels like Minimal Wave, Wierd Records, Captured Tracks, Sacred Bones and all the minimal synth related stuff.

Friends like Pieter Schoolwerth (Weird), Veronica Vasicka (Minimal Wave) and Caleb Braaten (Sacred Bones) helped a lot initially. New York was really alive and kicking on the cold waves and minimal electronics. I miss these times a lot, there was a sort of generosity and spontaneous approach to the music, without many calculations or a thirst for glory. Booking agencies barely existed in that underground movement.

How did you come up with the name Mannequin?

Alessandro Adriani: The name of Mannequin comes from a real mannequin head (I suppose it's from the 1970s, I found in an old perfumery) that I have in my recording studio, where I used to put my headphones on. That was the original logo before Giandomenico Carpentieri redesigned it completely.

How important is the “dancefloor” in the music you release and what does music for the dancefloor mean to you?

Alessandro Adriani: Dancefloor has no meaning, as it is a subjective perception of a multi-sensorial experience. I do think that in every release I did there's a mechanical obscurity, but with a human touch. Emotions are the lifeblood of Mannequin. 

And what process do you follow for finding new, contemporary artists?

Alessandro Adriani: Sometimes it could be a friend bringing music to my attention, or sometimes I like digging in Soundcloud or Bandcamp. I do think that following the [music] media is absolutely necessary to have a proper vision of the good things that are coming out. And also that advice from a friend counts more than one thousand reviews on the notorious electronic music magazines.

How do you search for the music you re-release?

Alessandro Adriani: Doing reissues is an archaeological affair, but in some ways, the work also has sociological and psychological qualities. The internet has made it much easier to contact people, but beyond this lies a longer and sometimes more complex situation. I started looking for bands that ended up on "Danza Meccanica" compilation five years before the release date. Artists can be hard to reach, hard to deal with, and sometimes they don’t want their music to resurface. I’ve contacted people and they don’t want to know about being reissued. The music we want to get back is obscure, complex and personal. And it often corresponds with dark times in people’s lives that they’d rather not revisit.

Was it always your plan to eventually release music from the past?

Alessandro Adriani: I’m looking both at the past, present and the future with no particular order. “Danza Meccanica” was the first proper release (followed by a second volume) and was a project I developed during the years prior. I was basically frustrated by the fact that there were so many great foreign “wave” compilations and Italy was totally ignored. So, I decided to do one myself with my record collection, and I think the result was definitely great. I didn’t expect so much positive feedback honestly. I just wanted to say: “Hello, I know you had a lot of great bands in UK, Belgium, France, and Germany – but we had them in Italy too.”

How important are the non-musical components of your releases, i.e. packaging, album art, and especially liner-notes?

Alessandro Adriani: I pay a maniacal attention to the art direction of each release. It's a sort of fetishism. Without going back to Freud, ethnology defines fetishism as a form of primitive religiosity that provides for the worship of fetishes, or objects believed to have magical powers. Let's stick to that.

What is your opinion on the increase in unearthing and releasing lost music in recent years? Will there be an end-point, with no more holy grails to look for?

Alessandro Adriani: I have to admit that during the past few years I lost my initial enthusiasm as an “archaeologist”. In fact, I can tell you that when I started in 2004 to search for the artists that were later included in “Danza Meccanica”, I spent almost four more years to find them all. It was all new, fresh and pioneering. I don't know how deep the game can continue. As you can see, there's a new reissue label popping up every week.

As a producer, what led to you making music and who are your biggest influences? 

Alessandro Adriani: To make it easy I will name three top records in my electronic music formation: 

John Carpenter In Association With Alan Howarth: Escape From New York (Varèse Sarabande) 1981

Kraftwerk: Radioactivity (Kling Klang) 1976

Coil: Love's Secret Domain (Torso) 1991

My introduction to pure analog music production is completely the fault of the guys from Minimal Rome (Andreas Herz, Dave Grave, Heinrich Dressel, Teslasonic).

Besides releasing your own music on your label, you’ve also left footprints on imprints like Stroboscopic Artefacts and Pinkman. How did this come about?

Alessandro Adriani: I always hated releasing on my own label, I found it very easy and without compromises. I'm always looking to improve myself, to push myself into new territories and experiences. I found in Lucy and Marsman, two great advisors and experienced label owners. They made me grow, in a professional direction. I really have a lot to thank both of them for. 

What’s next from your side? Any new releases with original Alessandro Adriani coming?

Alessandro Adriani: I'm actually recording a lot of music. There are ongoing talks with important labels, but before to speak openly I would love to confirm and see how it goes. For sure I’ll have a 12'' split with Cosimo Damiano coming out later this year as Neurodreamers. I guess the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 will increase the number of productions worldwide towards the end of 2020 and in 2021. 

A couple of weeks ago you presented a live A/V show with Paulina Greta called Phosphine. Do you plan to do more live shows that bring visuals and music together?

Alessandro Adriani: Ignes Fatui is my new audio-visual project in collaboration with Imaginaria aka Paulina Greta. She's just an incredible talent in the visuals field. All the elements are created with an innovative technique of VR sculpting. Our name comes from the Ignis Fatuus or Will-o'-the-wisp, which are traditionally faint lights floating above a swamp or a bog. While urban legends, folklore, and superstition typically attribute will-o'-the-wisps to ghosts, fairies, or elemental spirits, modern science often explains them as natural phenomena such as bioluminescence or chemiluminescence, caused by the oxidation of chemical elements (including PH3, Phosphine) produced by organic decay. 

Our first gig was presented at Trauma Bar und Kino on February 15th, as the worldwide premiere for Borshch Magazine, alongside Rrose and Animistic Beliefs. We presented a continuous immersive cinema installation and an A/V live performance.

How did you select the tracks for your Carhartt Radio show?

Alessandro Adriani: You will find a fine selection from our extensive catalog. I tried to go very deep into it, also bringing back tunes that are maybe forgotten nowadays. In twelve years a lot has happened.

When did you arrive in Berlin and what were your first experiences in the city?

Alessandro Adriani: At the beginning, it was not easy at all. I don’t speak a single word in German and you can imagine what that meant to deal with bureaucracy and all this stuff. But after some years it was time for a change and I realized that Berlin is really one of the few places in the world where our message is received and appreciated as it should be. 

We have been reminiscing about your regular nights at Panorama Bar, what has changed over the years?

Alessandro Adriani: Naturally some things have changed since I started the Mannequin Records night at OHM in 2016, inviting JASSS as resident DJ. When we got this amazing offer from Berghain, we both decided to accept it and try the new adventure. Initially, it was at Säule on Thursdays, then after one year we got the opportunity to move to Panorama Bar. The party is still made up of music people, friends and whoever wants to gather to listen to our artists. 

What “DJ conversation” are you most bored of? 

Alessandro Adriani: I love honesty and true minds. Pick the answer you prefer.

What is the most obscure record you have in your collection and why?

Alessandro Adriani: Probably RNA Organism LP on Vanity Records from 1980. A mind-blowing, minimal synth -industrial-experimental DR-55 driven release from Japan. 

What is the most valuable thing you own?

Alessandro Adriani: Experiences.

What are three albums that you'll never get tired of listening to?

Alessandro Adriani: It's impossible to reduce to three, so I keep changing this question in rotation on my all the time favorite for today:

Lory D: Antisystem (Sounds Never Seen) ‎1993

Ride: Nowhere (Creation Records) 1990

Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Glass Records) 1987

I leave you with this message: It's important to buy the music of our friends, and of all the artists we respect – digital or physical. Supporting them as much as we can and not pretending everything is for free, as if we deserved it. Do that all the time, not only because we have a dramatic plague hitting us or Bandcamp says so. They need your constant support. 

Mannequin Records discography