If you're over reading about the trials and tribulations of another artist whose productions have been rinsed so thoroughly that even your Soundcloud stream scoffs at them in boredom, then you have come to the right place. Luca Mortellado, aka dark techno wizard and Stroboscopic Artefacts label boss Lucy, entertains thoughts as deep and tripped-out as his music, which means that what follows is no standard interview. Last week, the Berlin-based producer released Churches Schools and Guns, a full length effort that charges into the darkest corners of the techno catacombs, so we caught up with him to mine his creative abyss.
THUMP: I read a Facebook comment on your wall which said that your album title pretty much sums up America.
Luca: [Laughs] Let's say there are different levels of interpretation to that title. As a label manager, I have artists that don't care too much about titles and words, but for me, it's something that's immensely important, because it's the first frame you give your work before the public has a chance to listen to it. I always spend a lot of time not just finding the right title for the music.
That Facebook comment is interesting, because the idea of the title came actually came to me when I was in the US. I arrived a couple of years ago and was tired on very little sleep in this hazy dream type mood. I was looking out of the window of the car and the first three things I saw was a church, a school, and a gun shop. I subconciously thought that I had to write this down, so I wrote: Church, School, Gun Shop. A long while after, when I was trying to figure out the main structure of the album, I read through it and I thought, "This pretty much sums it up." What was interesting about it is that we usually associate churches and schools with education and other positive things but when you put guns next to it, it reverses the meaning and shows another perspective. The sound frame of the album is very dark and critical. It's like looking at our own western DNA.
Do you have a notebook where you note these things?
Yes, a notebook, paper, my phone.
When you read these words again, could you remember the moment?
Of course, very well. I just changed it slightly from "church, school, gun shop" to Churches, Schools and Guns to make it more general. But I remember the moment because it was pretty strong, and these things appeared literally in a row.
The situation you just described reminds me of the movie Memento.
Yeah, that's one of my favorite movies of all time, and ties in to how music production often functions at a higher level. It's a sort of subconscious and conscious dynamic, because sometimes you never know how much of what you do is something you consciously wanted to say versus what is just coming out as a natural flow. For me it's like a struggle, a continuous battle between the conscious and subconscious. I have this flow coming out in a very wild way when I'm in the studio and often what is hardest is to govern and control the flow. It's like trying to captain a boat in the wild sea.
It's like when you decide to build up a complete architecture instead of just launching inputs. That's when you try to calm down that flow, or at least funnel it into understandable channels.
But it's pretty common in the electronic scene to launch all these inputs. Albums don't have such a value as in other genres. I know it's a general attitude, but still a lot of people would never put something out just like that. And these kind of people are like my spiritual godfathers in electronic music. The main thing I like about them, besides their music, is that they are always conscious about the responsibility they have as artists.
Electronic music and music for clubs is followed by a very huge amount of people, so it's a powerful medium, and that carries with it a great responsibility. I don't think it's very smart to just put out stuff for the sake of having as many releases as possible. You don't just want to have "episodes," but an overall story. I'm more interested in the story then the individual episodes.
For a lot of producers it's important to put out stuff constantly.
Yeah, which in my opinion doesn't make a lot of sense for many reasons. If the point is that you want to get famous and gig around, then that's not the right way. Believe me. People get interested in you because you have a story to tell, because you can tell them something they didn't know or something they knew, but were are not able to say. And you are the one who can say those things.
People give you that position, and that's what I mean when I talk about responsibility. It's a matter of respect, even in a two-way relationship. You're alone in your studio, but these things come out. You can't think that this dynamic does not exist at all. For me music is still communication, even if it's something that in the end people perceive as a very personal product. The main point in my mind is still that I'm trying to say something to someone.
Do you try to give this point of view to all your label artists?
There is a lot of communication in Stroboscopic Artefacts. There are a lot of ongoing main topics, like this one we're talking about. There is even a lot of friction and fights, but in friction comes creativity, at least for myself. When everything looks like a calm lake, I don't come to the studio. I need friction to be able to create something.
Do you sometimes miss vocals and have the desire to say more in a lyrcial form?
Yes. But at the same time, in friction and in contrast I see creativity. I wanted to say so many things about my thoughts, things I read, things I see and the way I see them, it was kind of a choice. So either I write an essay or I produce an album. When you take out the voices and lyrics that say things in a more [traditional] way, you're expressing your thoughts in a more universal form, the music.
Language is much more restricted, it's a very coded system. If I start talking to you in Italian, you probably wouldn't understand a word. Music is different, because you still might recognize what i'm trying to say. When you avoid the lyrics and go into the music you use a much wider, more foggy, but incredibly powerful language.
You mentioned earlier that you come from a writing background.
Yeah, I was writing a lot a few years back. At one point in my life, producing music took the place of writing. I've been writing since I was 14, and I was writing a lot of very strange novels, thoughts, all of which was very metaphysical and surrealist. At some point the music production started to be so strong that it was one or the other. I don't know why but there was no space in me for both—I just needed one medium of expression which I could explore very deeply.
Would you say you express the same things with the music as you did with writing?
Yes, I satisfy the same lust that is inside my soul. I must say certain things, It's not a choice. I would not say it's a pleasure for me to come into the studio and produce music. It's something I have to do. And this lust is now satisfied by the music while in the past it was satisfied by writing.
So it's complimentary?
Yes, it's a continued story in my head. I would say it's the same asthetic in a wider sense, in a sense of structure and functions.
Now I really would like to read a novel for this album.
[Laughs] That's actually an idea, to translate the album into a novel. That would be interesting to see.
I saw that FACT Magazine had you in their "albums we actually give a shit about" list.
I saw that too.
Is it important for you that people actually give a shit about you?
To be sincere, I'm not that kind of artist that says, "I don't give a fuck, I just produce the music." I don't give a fuck while I produce the music, but after that, it's very important to me. And I think it's very evident with the structure, the title, the artwork. There is a strong need of communication inside. This is something I learned about myself in the last years. I have a huge need of communicating things and I'm probably not that good at this when it comes to normal life.
It's important for me that people get it, it's almost like on a survival level. I know if I go too much in my own way, I get into a state of mind that is on one side very beautiful and almost mystical on the other side, often I can completely lose contact with reality. So it's very important to sometimes be grounded and get the feedback of people who love my music. It's an incredibly magical way of staying grounded while being pushed to go ever further. It's more of a need than a choice.
So it's a must to do the music and a need to get feedback?
Kind of, yes. I feel pushed all the time. But it's good. I don't take it in a negative way, sometimes you are the medium of yourself. There are a lot of things that work in your mind, but you eventually learn and you start to analyze and then there is a huge part of you that acts subconsciously and keeps working even when you think you're outside those things. And at that time you start feeling that you are a medium of yourself.