Even though Matteo Manzini has lived in London for more than six years, certain values from his hometown of Bologna remain: duty, equality, with a dose of revolutionary. He leads matters in DAMAGED parties with a headstrong attitude, while showing his soft, even mischievous side when he gets behind that DJ booth. Whether it is a dark, minimal 30-minute track or a classical Chopin piano piece, Matteo is in love with music and partying, and has been since the ripe age of adolescence. Here he opens up to us while also providing a playlist of endearing and stranger than usual tracks that have inspired him over the years…

You talked about the various sub-genres you were involved with when you were younger such as hardcore and gabber. What is something you think all electronic music scenes have in common, which makes them so important to people and so hard for them to let go?

Music in general is very important to people. For us it’s all about electronic music, we’ll never let go of that. In the same way my mum keeps listening to Italian pop songs, she’ll never go of that either.

In the past I tried to understand more about music and read books on the subject, for example, there was one book called “The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It” written by Philip Ball. It took me almost a year to reach the last page and I don’t actually remember what the conclusions of the author were so I now believe that there’s no logical explanation for it – music, whatever genre, is a human need.

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How did you arrive at the style of music that you play today?

I think it’s a matter of music styles finding the right people: some frequencies move your body and some others don’t, this is something you have to stay true to. At some point in my life I tried to force myself to stop listening to electronic music and partying because I believed it didn’t look mature enough for someone of my age, but as you can see this didn’t work out (luckily).

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In your sets you sometimes include sounds that are not made from instruments. Why do you choose to add these sounds in your music and how do you do it? What is the most absurd recording you have?

I love words, and before moving to London I was writing a lot. I used to dream about becoming a professional writer.

Now, I add vocals in my DJ sets to act as extra layers and fill tracks that I like for some parts but that I still find a bit empty overall. I get the vocals from many sources, for example, the Web, films that I have on DVD or even field recordings. Sometimes they are pointless in their content and I just like the sound of a particular voice but sometimes there’s a precise reason why I choose them. Amongst them, one I consider to be one of the most absurd is from 2011 (in the middle of the economic crisis), where a trader is filmed on BBC2 saying things like “the governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world…the savings of millions of people are going to vanish.” I’ve always wondered who put him as a guest on that TV show and if someone was fired at the end of it.

How about your most absurd musical experience?

As a listener, if I have to pick just one experience, it would have to be Petre Inspirescu closing his 2012 fabric set with “Clair de lune” by Debussy. This was when he had started to use classical music influences in his music but at the time I wasn’t aware of this and it really left me speechless. There’s a YouTube video of that moment with a guy shouting at him asking for some proper 4/4 music and the rest of the room standing still and almost crying for happiness.

As a DJ, a few months ago I played a Britney Spears song in the middle of a set with who I consider to be my main professional inspiration present in the room and actually listening to me. If I look back on it I can consider it to be a risky and almost absurd choice but in the end I played that song in that moment because I wanted to play that song .

This summer you attended Burning Man. Can you tell us about your trip and your thoughts about the festival?

Laura and I attended Burning Man thanks to two friends I met at Sunwaves a few years ago: Jeremy and Lonni. The first thing to point out is that without their support we would have never been able to make it as it involves months of extreme planning. In exchange, I had to help to take care of the sound system at the camp, a Martin Audio system – a similar size to what we usually hire for DAMAGED. The mission was to bring “our” music to the bouncy environment of Burning Man otherwise made of mainstream hits with big breaks and DJs mainly keeping their hands in the air.

Nothing I’ve seen in my life will come close to Burning Man in terms of the involvement of the participants – you can almost call it devotion, and I find it impossible to express just one opinion about it. During that week we had ups and we had downs and then ups again. Many nights were painfully cold and some days our faces were covered with dust from breakfast to dinner, but the landscape is wonderfully teleported from an unknown planet and I would honestly go back right now to play another DJ set or for one more bike ride through the camps and art installations.

You run and play as resident at DAMAGED along with Georgio Oniani. How do you two complement each other?

I’d say that if you think of DAMAGED as a rock band, Georgio is the front man and lead singer whilst I play a few instruments in the background and add some chorus here and there.

(Apart from jokes) looking at us from a distance your first thought is that the differences are so obvious that a collaboration between the two would never work. Come closer though and you will notice a massive mutual respect and this is probably the key to everything.

When in June 2009 I decided to start DAMAGED and I was in need of a partner I went straight to Georgio. He was my first choice even if at the time we didn’t know each other extremely well. On that occasion I admit I had no plan B but luckily he accepted.

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This year DAMAGED showcased their party in fabric’s room 3, as well as Studio338 for HardLizeSoftDamaged. To what extent was it challenging to bring DAMAGED to fabric and Studio338?

Being asked to bring DAMAGED to fabric on a Saturday was obviously a dream come true – I don’t have to specify what fabric means for us and the London scene. Receiving that proposal was just a starting point and the only result that mattered in the end was that we deliver a DAMAGED to the best possible standards, which I think we did.

We faced a number of changes – from being on a different night of the weekend to a higher door price, from a completely different way of managing guestlists to a room 1 crowded with high profile DJs playing at the same time. I think that the most challenging part was working for months together with the fabric team trying to match the highly professional standards that they brought, and always bring, to the table.

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fabric room 1: Zip, room 3: DAMAGED. Photo credits: Nick Ensing

And then the London chapter of HardLizeSoftDamaged happened in the loft room of Studio338, with a stellar line-up playing in the main room for the Art Of Dark Summer Closing. For me it’s crazy that even one person would prefer to listen to us instead of Petre Inspirescu or Margaret Dygas, just to mention two of the involved names, but that actually happened and we kept our dancefloor happily jumping all night long.

Let’s talk about HardLizeSoftDamaged – the project involves the coming together of three parties: HardWorkSoftDrink based in Frankfurt, Lize Records based in Berlin and of course DAMAGED, based here in London. How and why did this connection start?

The fact that we live in a world that is more connected now than it has ever been has played a big role in making HardLizeSoftDamaged happen. Social media sends constant updates on what many music crews from different countries are doing and low cost flights give people the chance to go and check out these interesting realities in person or to invite some of their key components to London.

In this particular case, the starting point was with HardWorkSoftDrink – we booked Manuel Schatz to play at DAMAGED in March 2013. After that I met the rest of the guys and we kept things alive through many visits to Robert Johnson, I even rented a room for one week in Frankfurt last year. Then in London we randomly met Sebastian Rudolph from Lize Records at some after party and step by step we all started to feel very comfortable with each other: like minded music crews are little magnets attracting each other despite the physical distance. I don’t even remember who first had the idea of connecting the three crews, or who proposed the HardLizeSoftDamaged name, but it immediately sounded wonderful to my ears.

Do you remember one particularly unforgettable DAMAGED?

Amongst all the stories of these years, I would say that I will never forget when we first started charging at the door (I just checked and at the beginning we did thirteen free entry parties). I remember I was so scared of upsetting people by asking for money to come inside and listen to us playing music.

Can you tell me about your involvement with the record label, Sylphe?

We brought Sylphe to DAMAGED for their first London gig at a time when very few people had heard about the label, right after their second EP to be precise.

Georgio and I are still very proud of the first Sylphe booking because it was done via our ears: we liked the music, we got in touch with the guys and after some emails we decided to put all of our budget on an artist no one could vouch for because no one knew who was behind the label. It was justified only by our feelings telling us to do so.

The night went well, we then became friends and I started helping Sylphe to spread their music. To be honest it’s quite an easy task as I really like what they do and electronic music is one of the rare subjects that I feel the need to talk about.

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What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I managed to get a classical piano for my studio (thanks Meg) and I’d love to start playing again after a thirty year break.

You put together a playlist for Say What? Can you tell us a bit about the music you selected?

I tried to explain each choice of the playlist with one or two sentences, you will find many of the artists that have inspired my current perception of music, or those that have been essential turning points along the way:

The KLF “Chill Out” – 1991
A sort of perfect walk through a mixture of sounds and words, with neither of the two elements oppressing the other at any time, driven by a perfectly crazy tracklist (have a look at the titles). I find the Wikipedia page as entertaining as a short novel.

Ricardo Villalobos “Minimoonstar” – 2008
If you let me for a minute be the producer this track is everything I would have loved to have composed myself.

Frederic Chopin “Nocturne Op.9 No.2” – 1833
Classical music is my first choice after electronic music and the piano is my favourite instrument by far. The first notes played by the right hand of this Nocturne are tattooed on my wrist.

Kraftwerk “Showroom Dummies” – 1977
At some point in my life I started being obsessed with Kraftwerk, listening to everything available and buying many books about them: “Showroom Dummies” is not as famous as the other tracks they composed but to my ears it has all the will of someone who wants to be remembered forever despite growing up in a not so glamorous place like Dusseldorf in the 1960s.

Ricardo Villalobos “Minimoonstar (Shackleton Remix)” – 2008
Would you accept to remix one of the most complicated and respected tracks in electronic music history and end up with something completely different but almost as respected and fascinating? Welcome to the Shackleton world.

Cocorosie “Turn Me On” – (maybe) 2008
In my opinion only genius could “turn” this (Kevin Lyttle “Turn Me On”) into something with great musical value, and Cocorosie did it. They are genius indeed, one of the very few bands I’m looking forward to seeing live again.

Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer “Reblazhenstva” – 2011
Heaven with all its angels.

Ricardo Villalobos @ DC10 playing Petre Inspirescu “De Bou” – 2006
This link is about a moment, in particular Ricardo Villalobos playing an unreleased track at the time, which was released one later on the first [a:rpia:r] EP. It was the early days of the synergy that is currently leading my music world.

Petre Inspirescu “Anima” – 2013
My clearest memory of the first RPR gig in Robert Johnson that I had the chance to witness, the best possible line-up in the most enjoyable club in Europe, and on top of this, a track coming from the second most present producer in my music collection.

Datura “Yerba Del Diablo” – 1992
The opening track of the first tape from Cocoricò I had in my hands. I spoke about this in the interview for the “Keep It Deep” blog and I realize now that I confused the dates a bit: it was the summer of 1992, me and some friends around a portable player in a park listening to sounds that were totally different from what we had known up to that moment.

Cherrymoon Trax “The House Of House” – 1994
My end-of-high-school trip was a mission through Europe to visit all the clubs that a friend and I had heard about, plus some unexpected ones that we found along the way. Cherry Moon in Lokeren, Belgium was for sure the biggest surprise and this track was their summer anthem, also highly played in our dear Cocoricò – music connecting dots that already existed in that pre-Internet era, despite the physical distances.

Thanks again, for reading and for hopefully listening. M.

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Text edited by Kaajal Shah