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Interview: Max Durante

"Music and art have lost the power to break out, to precede, to experiment and thus to transgress"

by François Zappa

Legendary DJ and producer Max Durante confirms in the interview what we already guessed: The Futurists invented techno. With an artistic vision with roots in the works of Russolo and Duchamp and survivor of thousands of raves, Max Durante reminds us that Rome was an important point in the map of electronic music. He will be playing some records on the 26th of November at Razzmatazz as part of the line-up of Ombra festival. History on the mix.

Photos: KEYI STUDIO/KEYI MAGAZINE 

—Were you interested in the first Italian electronic bands such as Kirlian Camera, Neon or Die Form (the Italian one)?

—1979 to 1982 were the years of pure experimentation, and in my opinion the best period for many Italian and foreign bands. In fact, I am attracted to this period, but I learned it a few years later! I was born in 1970, I was too young at that time but then in 1983/84, I had the luck that my middle brother took me with him to his first Punk concerts. He often performed at the Legendary Uonna club in Rome. When I was only 13 years old in that club I was listening to New Wave, EBM, Industrial, Punk… Those were important years that formed me, where I received many influences in music and art.

I was open to receive all those inputs that slowly went to enrich my cultural background. Having two older brothers I was fortunate to indirectly listen to their music too, but I never dwelt on one genre.

But what initially distracted me from music was my love of sports! In 1981, I fell in love with American football, started playing on a team and thought I would become a professional American football player, until I fell in love with the figure of the DJ and became a DJ!

—I am also a big fan of Futurism and you have said that the theories of Russolo were important for your way of understanding music. Do you think that in a way these Italian artists have foreseen techno?

—Absolutely yes!

Russolo is the evolution, without him maybe artists like Einstürzende Neubauten would never have existed (in their first interviews in fact they stated that Russolo was their greatest Inspiration)

Russolo showed us the way he has been fundamental to everyone since Stockhausen, John Cage, Luciano Berio, Kraftwerk… even to us visionaries of the 90s. Between Russolo and Techno there is an umbilical cord!

Russolo was not only fundamental to techno. He is the father of all of us, who preceded the future and noise! He was fundamental to musical evolution from 1913 to the present day! Russolo is the one who wrote the Art of Noises (hence the group Art of Noise gets its name)

The Art of Noises is considered one of the most important and influential texts in 20th century musical aesthetics.

The Art of Noises is a futurist manifesto written by Luigi Russolo in a 1913 letter to his friend and futurist composer Francesco Balilla Pratella. In it, Russolo argues that the human ear has become accustomed to the speed, energy, and noise of the urban industrial soundscape; moreover, this new sound palette requires a new approach to musical instrumentation and composition. He proposes a series of conclusions about how electronics and other technologies will enable futurist musicians to “replace” the limited variety of timbres that the orchestra possesses today, the infinite variety of timbres of noises, reproduced with appropriate mechanisms.

Russolo not only showed us the Noise but actually went further with his instrument, the “Intonarumori” (the ancestor of the synthesizer) bequeathed us the formula of the future sound source: the synthesizer.

He was the true creator of experimental music the basis of all musical currents from experimental music, noise music, industrial, New Beat, EBM, Techno and beyond!

—Together with Russolo you have named Marcel Duchamp as influence because of his apology of the underground. But do you think that today it’s possible to be as transgressive in music as he was in art?

—In the present there is no trace of either Russolo or Duchamp.

Today there is no transgression because is replaced with conformity. We are in the era of globalization.

But in fact, to understand the present, we have to talk about Warhol, and if there is no more transgression or underground, we should look for the answer in his words

Transgression is no longer an avant-garde form… in the 1990s, we were able to transgress through our music! We were the last transgression artists! Then mass culture killed the seed of transgression and the conformism take a place!

I studied art history at art high school and by studying Russolo, Duchamp, Warhol I created my own point of view. I fell in love with Russolo, I was attracted to Duchamp’s Words. I have always claimed that Duchamp was the first one to show me the concept and the word Underground but I have to be honest… until I knew Punk! Duchamp with this concept had created a lobby, an elitist movement! So Punk broke the words and my interest in Duchamp! Because Punk showed me the way of free expression and introduced me the true way of the underground and the independent artist! Punk left a tangible legacy in the way art and music were conceived, freeing it from its elitist dimension and making it available to all.

Warhol, I hated him immediately. He gave me a lucid vision of our future.

If we have to talk about the present/future, we should talk about the son of capitalism <ladies and gentlemen Andy Warhol>! Who argued that art should be consumed and sold at the supermarket and that instead of creating, we should communicate! He was the picture of the present!

Music and art have lost the power to break out, to precede, to experiment and thus to transgress. The only transgression that still exists is in society, but only in the modern citizen who transgresses the canons of an obsolete and conservative society and strips himself of all identification, gender and belonging!

But music has lost value and art is DEAD!

The latest record I produced together with Crystal Geometry (Max Und Max) was recently released on Sonic Groove! And precisely in the press information we claim that: ENTERTAINMENT HAS PROSTITUTED ITSELF AND MONEY HAS KILLED ART!

Now transgression would mean shutting down social network! Russolo or Duchamp would do this but the spirit of Warhol seems to have triumphed!

—How and when did you discover that you wanted to be a DJ?

—(It’s life that led me to become a DJ)

Every time I stood in front of a DJ I was mesmerized! Scratching brought me to the turntables, and from there, I realized that I wanted to manipulate music. I didn’t want to listen to it, I wanted to create it, touch it, change it…

In 1985, my mother’s untimely death was the spark! I locked myself two years in my room and started practicing the art of DJing as therapy because I was very angry with life. I didn’t go to school anymore; I gave up sports and everything around me! But I turned my anger into pure energy! In 1987, I performed in my first club. I became the resident then I went to London. I came back in 1990 and I created a Warehouse party in 1991, one of the most important Italian Rave.

And in 1992, I created the first Industrial techno music band! (Automatic Sound Unlimited)

It has been my Mission since 1987

—You said that one of the DJs that inspired you was Marco Trani. What did you learn from him?

—To be myself.

—In the 80s you started doing graffiti, breakdance and scratch. Were you interested in the hip hop culture or just in electro?

—Hip Hop culture was a great lesson, street art taught me a lot! This culture actually led me to become a DJ.

Probably if I had not fallen in love with scratching, I would not be a DJ now!

I started from scratching then I decided to become a DJ but without a doubt electro belongs to me. I produced and played this genre!

—How was the Rome of the years you started djing?

—A Rome that has boasted a great stable of DJs since the 1970s! In the 80s, Rome was the capital of Italian club culture! Rome boasts of having given birth to the best DJs since the early days! I inherited a lot from them and followed many DJs of the 80s who showed me creativity and a refined technique in the turntable world!

—What kind of music was popular?

—Italo Disco (something I found interesting), Italo House, Disco Music and Pop.

NOT FOR ME 😂😈

In fact, I used to play Electro/EBM.

Then in the 90s, we broke it all with the advent of Rave. We killed “the club culture”, we were like an earthquake!

I’m proud of it. In 90’s, Rome was the capital of the Best Italian Rave and genius artists were born. We talk a lot about Detroit, but to understand the evolution of techno and the roots of industrial techno I suggest you to go and dig into our productions. Rome was fundamental for the mutation of techno!

—How did you discover industrial music?

SPK , Throbbing Gristle, SUICIDE, Einstürzende Neubauten… being born in 1970 I was lucky enough to grow up with the musical evolution, so my musical beam is immense and thanks to my brother taking me with him, I lived a second life!

—How were the first raves that you assisted to? Nowadays every party is called a rave but how would you describe the spirit of the originals?

—It was in London 1989/1990: the real revolution after taking part in Acid Party. The first rave was a real revelation for me, I was discovering the map of my future! Immense industrial warehouses, colors, new sounds, new codes, new inputs! It was an explosion of emotions inside me! 

If we have to talk about Rave, we have to talk about techno because everything comes from there!

RAVE was born because we DJs needed to play our own techno.

After Margaret Thatcher banned acid parties in England in 1989, the revolution was born, and the DJs orphaned by acid parties gave birth to the Rave.

We are talking about 1989/90. Then Thatcher in 1994 hit the scene again by banning Rave and England passed the law which forbade the organization of a Rave, so FREE ZONE was born (which some people call illegal Rave – wrong term). Here the travellers became Ravers and so were born the tribes, the free parties and the T.A.Z.  the Temporary Autonomous Zone took place! In 1995, the Rave became a social phenomenon like today, where at the time it became a refuge. The rave became an area where the social was at the forefront where precisely the model of the self-management of the punk movement was fundamental in the techno / Rave scene!

1994/95: The emergence of post-rave culture (FREE PARTIES) is situated among the countercultural experiences and libertarian practices that develop in England in opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government: squatters, travellers, and post-ravers compose a mobile constellation with indefinite contours that expresses, in various forms, conflict or estrangement from the values and norms imposed by the new order of economic liberalism. The front of resistance is rather jagged with modes of struggle and protest that unfold from codes of symbolic subversion to actions of political antagonism.

The roots of Rave and Techno you have to look for them in other areas from what they have always shown you!

TECHNO IS THE DAUGHTER OF THE PUNK! [Max Durante].                                            

This is a sentence I wrote many years ago that I am proud of because in 1990 with the advent and evolution of technology came the opportunity to create the punk of the future! That we called TECHNO! Rave culture, inherited the philosophy of 70s Punk, claiming freedom of expression, anarchy and DIY culture!

The DJs, as non-musicians, created a new musical expression by inheriting the expressive power of Punk.

Techno was born as a protest! It was born as a manifesto of subculture. An expression, a form of revolt! But RAVE originally was born in the hands of the DJ and then after 4 years was picked up by the Anarchists and Activists!

Today TECHNO is being raped by mass culture!

New generations are seeing RAVE and especially Techno as something different from what the origin represents, we are no longer talking about subculture!

RAVE MEANS DELIRIUM, EMOTIONAL DELIRIUM, TO GO INTO ECSTASY FROM PLEASURE, NO DELIRIUM INTENDED AS CHAOS! (Rome, 1993 – Max Durante)

“What made the rave age magical was the concept of breaking down the sound barrier, the need for large spaces, the escape from clubs. The Rave was the village for a modern society. We were a tribe with a unique creed, techno and dance. Every weekend, people were waiting for the Rave as it was a ritual, a ceremony. That’s why the 90s generated so much magic and energy.”

The rave in the modern era acts as a self-regulator of a community’s psycho mental complexities.

The Rave today becomes a new world with which to identify! Where techno music acts as a catalyst in a society orphaned of social evolution! (Berlin, 2021 – Max Durante)

The big difference was that before we were serious now it’s all a SELFIE to put on social media! A losing battle in a world that instead needs a real revolt and to bring the system to its knees like we did in 1990. 😈

First of all, the Rave does not exist anymore. Now they call every party Rave… but we are very far… the spirit has changed, now all the young people dress the same, they are no longer free mentally as we were.

We have lost the freedom to express ourselves, to be different from others. Young people need a jolt, a new input. They need more personality, more courage!!! 

Probably what they have inherited from the Rave is the desire of sharing and staying 24 hours dancing non-stop… but we’ve lost the true essence unfortunately.

—With the D’Arcangelo brothers, you organized the first PLUS 8 rave. How different were these Italian parties compared with the ones you lived in the UK?

—We organize not the first Plus 8! We organized the most important Italian RAVE, Called Plus 8 because it was the showcase of Plus 8 records.

We brought the difference by focusing the rave exclusively on Techno music

In London, in the early raves hip hop was played at the beginning of the event, and then break beats, early jungle, UK hardcore, and early techno and acid house productions.

Most played UK hardcore, is quite different from its Dutch or continental namesake.

To understand it, UK Hardcore is the sound of Prodigy‘s early productions!

—What can you please tell us of the days with Automatic Sound Unlimited? How did you get the idea of creating this project?

Automatic Sound Unlimited was born around the time we organized the Plus 8 Rave!

More than an idea it was a mission! We wanted to create the most important Italian Rave and every time we met to organize the Rave, at the end we locked ourselves in the studio to experiment with new sound theories. We wanted to create the music that would be the soundtrack of the Rave and we succeeded!

We are talking about the 1990s where repression, globalism, and capitalism hit us like a hurricane, so Rave was a great vehicle to disobey the owners of the world!

As artists of the Rave/Techno movement, we thought of creating the music of the modern and post-modern phase.

WE COULD HAVE FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF DETROIT TECHNO, BUT ACTUALLY OURS WAS A DEFINITE CHOICE TO DEFRAGMENT TECHNO AND SO WE CREATED INDUSTRIAL TECHNO!  [AUTOMATIC SOUND UNLIMITED, 1992]

With our visions we accelerated the mutation of techno!

—You released your first EP in 2001, entitled Human Turntable EP, where you come back to your electro roots. And you collaborated in the following years with some of the big news of the style such as Aux88 and Anthony Rother. How did you feel being part of this scene?

—I made my first records in 1992 as Automatic Sound Unlimited! In 1995, for the first time I used my name Max Durante for the track “The Prisoners Clank their Chains” for Plasmek records.

Then I started producing electro under the name Prodamkey Crew! And since 2000, I decided to sign all my productions only with my name Max Durante!

The electro scene welcomed me with open arms. I was part of the first electro scene of the 90’s. We were a great team, many of them are clamouring for my return! Anthony Rother several times told me that he expected to hear me play electro once in HÖR.

I produced a few records with Keith Tucker and with Anthony Rother. I produced an immensity of electro on many labels and many in my old netlabels but now they are unobtainable, and I like that because it gives me the desire to redesign them, especially productions that I signed as ELECTRO PUNISHER (in fact I’m thinking of also reintroducing DJ SET under my ELECTROPUNISHER nickname)

It felt like family! The electro scene is more united than techno but has elite affinities if you go outside the canons of composition you go outside the typical electro sound. So they tell you “this is not electro”!

Anthony and Keith are dear friends and with Keith Tucker (DJ K1/AUX 88), we have produced another new electro record together that will be released soon!

Together with them, I brought strength and innovation to the electro scene!

—What can you please tell us of your first full length, The Experiment? It was also one of your more experimental works until the date.

—I actually reached heights of strong experimentation long before The Experiment.

The Experiment is the realization that my soul does not belong to any musical genre. It’s the collection of my experience in life! The record had no real titles and no graphics but only the color gray! I called it The Experiment not because of the sound but in the way it is presented. So, I gave strength to the music and not to the image!

My musical influences should be sought in art and not in music.

—Your latest Eps, Order and Chaos and Fear and Desire were supposed to be released together like a full album but you decided to split them, right? What was the general idea of this album? What’s the new order?

—I took the 8 tracks to listen to Philipp Strobel. We listened to them together and it was all very engaging, Phill was immediately impressed with the tracks! I had come in with the idea of a Full album because in my opinion it told a story, but Philipp made me reason that I was bringing a new sound into the aufnahme + wiedergabe and two EPs would give a footprint and continuity to the sound. Which I didn’t know what to call that day, but a few years later I came up with the name DUB EBM! He told me these are two powerful EPs and told me that “RELIGION AGAINST RELIGION” would be the Hit of the first EP (and so it was, everyone wanted to play this track! Two female DJs I won’t name now, were competing to see who should pass it first and it all just made me so happy).

On a conceptual level, I preceded what we experienced in the Pre and Post Covid. The EPs represent what we experienced during the pandemic, a chaos generated in a false order and the fear and desire to escape the MIND CONTROL (in 1979 in the United States, they experimented the Mind Control generating deaths and many people were used to do their experiments and became mentally ill). Of course, I was inspired by this, I had no idea that we would be in this situation seriously!

Sonically, it is a fusion of reduced Industrial Techno and precisely DUB EBM!

New order is that not the climate has changed but the system has changed, and the lobby is taking us into the Metaverse (new order to be executed) because we will also virtually become their slaves and digitally, they will bombard us and BRAINWASHING us. With a click we could also buy VIRTUAL HAPPINESS! Aah!!! We are in deep shit! Welcome to mental dystopia, digital memory in the jungle of capitalism! We would be prisoners of a pixel that will carry our DNA!

—Your music also has some EBM influences. How do you see the style today, with so many producers going back to it?

—Obviously, being the sound I was mixing in 1987!

I used to mix electro, EBM and Brooklyn Freestyle. What drove me crazy was the strength of the Snare which was called FAT SNARE! Which in fact I brought back in my productions (example “Religion Against Religion” on aufnahme + wiedergabe)

I’ll tell you what I really think about the new EBM scene:  boring, but there are many interesting productions I love especially those who went further!

The problem that at first everyone started cloning the sound of aufnahme + wiedergabe. Everyone started cloning Phase Fatale, Schwefelgelb and so on! At some point they all sounded the same!

I don’t like cliques; I can’t stay confined that’s why I also left electro because they are genres that are meant to get stuck in their canons!

That’s why I don’t play EBM anymore because now it’s obvious to my ears. It was the sound I started with! But I recreated my own vision of the EBM by subtracting the melodic synthesis and the bass line. I created the DUB EBM which are the productions I signed on the a + w.

EBM can evolve in a modern key and in my opinion Ancient Methods did that.

—During the pandemic you created Dead on Monday on HÖR with Philipp Strobel. Did it help you to cope with the situation in a better way?

—In reality the program started before the pandemic and shortly after we were in the pandemic! As usual, it was initially a vision of mine. When we were in the pandemic, we turned it temporarily into WE ARE STILL ALIVE. I have to be honest; we were geniuses!! It was an explosion of input for everyone. We created a program that became an icon, and we were the medicine for everyone during The pandemic! I started Playing at HÖR from September 12, 2019, and we start with “Dead on Monday” in February 2022. Without a doubt, we helped to spread the radio around the world! We reached an incredible success, those two years gave me a lot and we gave a lot to the radio and to the world, it was the beginnings of HÖR. We contributed to their growth; it was an exchange of energies! We brought to HÖR what it now lacks again: culture, talent and substance and I am the one who first wore the balaclava in HÖR. I inspired many people BUT I AM THE ORIGINAL BALACLAVA DJ and everyone started imitating me! It was so funny; the whole world was watching us and now the whole world wears Balaclava from hip hop to techno and it’s come into fashion. I’ve sent everyone into a frenzy I’ve contaminated the world!

We are in the most fertile period of narcissism and fake protagonist. I try to inspire young people with content and by giving them the motivation to go against the grain.

Everyone is free to do what they want. I try to inspire people and I wear the mask because I value my music not my figure!

Anyway… I was talking about the HÖR and… In 2019 I was very excited about performing at the HÖR and initially I helped them to get other DJs involved, talking to the scene. Then I pitched my idea to Philipp and as soon as I told him the name I had in mind, DEAD ON MONDAY, he immediately fell in love with the concept. We were the first Resident and everyone else followed suit. WE WERE VERY IMPACTFUL!

—What happened with your DJ camp project? Any update?

—Too much effort. I wanted to do it around the world but this covid drew a new world!

Now it is still too early to express myself about it, but I will create something very interesting here in Berlin.

—As I am writing this interview, the far-right has won the elections in Italy. How do you see the situation?

—I am the wrong person to answer this question! I left Italy many years ago because otherwise I would have put a gun to the head of the Pope and the President of the Senate! Italy is forged in the chronic corruption that lurks among the dogmas of the church and politics! I love Italy but equally I hate it because I escaped from there, it is a prison!

—You have created two labels, Prodamkey and Analog Dust. How would you describe the experience? With vinyl being popular again, don’t you feel like starting a new one?

—The analysis of the experience could be summarized by saying: you either DJ or you run a label!

Now it’s a game. You open Bandcamp and make your own label! In the Past it wasn’t that easy and then vinyl was really selling you had to keep up!

For example, Prodamkey was born in 1998. I cut the first vinyl issue sold out, but then I didn’t produce any more issues as I was too busy with my DJ gigs.

Then, there was the vinyl crisis around 2004! I made Prodamkey digitally, we were called netlabels at the time. Then I made Analog Dust too to counter the advent of tech house, minimal shit, deep house all these half-measures this fake techno! Analog Dust had a 90’s techno imprint…

But honestly, netlabels… I made them go a few years. I put out many releases then removed, eliminated, deleted the labels…

Beatport doesn’t pay and that other one sends you the mote and then was coming in, what is in vogue today, it’s no more buying or downloading a track. Now you listen to it online (Streaming). The artist from that doesn’t get a penny out of it…

I would like to create something different… but now it is too early to talk about it.

—Last year, you released an album on Hands, entitled Der Graue Geruch Nach Metall. The music could be described more like rhythm noise, the style the label is famous for. Why did you move in that direction?

—Actually, the record is not rhythm noise, maybe my DUB EBM is deceiving. There are electro tracks, there is a cold/minimal wave track, mostly industrial techno tracks (which many critics fail to recognize) and there is actually Dub EBM! (As I explained before maybe this confuses and leads the critic to call it rhythm noise)

It is my usual way of composing, where I give priority and strength to the rhythm and wrap the sounds around the rhythm.

If you listen to the first ep I produced for a+w, the sound is very similar.

After I delivered the two ep’s to a+w I immediately designed this LP because I wanted to build a lp and it is a continuation of Order and Chaos because I talk about corruption, consumerism and still this record is about COVID and the end of the world (the titles are in German, so for the people who don’t know German, the titles talk about that!). In the music, there are German phrases that bring back to the end of the world or English phrases that talk about the new generation of the new order! This is another record I produced at the end of 2019 before the pandemic and the record because of the pandemic came out two years later, in 2022!

More than a record, it is a book to read with your ears, to listen carefully!                    

It is an experimentation that led me to minimize in order to optimize, using the typical techno arrangement in which we work on the sound layers so that the cyclic repetition makes the sound an incensing rhythmic pattern!

—What can we expect in the future of Max Durante?

—I AM THE FUTURE.

—What kind of set are you preparing for Ombra festival?

—I never prepare my shows, I go by moods, no doubt I will be powerful, raw without compromises or the usual cliques! No digital, only vinyl. I will have the honor of doing the closing set on Saturday and this is my specialization. I will take you to infinite places and you will have no escape. Between distortion and sound pressure, the audience will be a prisoner of my rhythmic pattern, I will stink of industry and I will represent through my sound the decay of the world!

I will be your PUNISHER!

Thank you for inviting me and for the kindness. Forgive me if sometimes I said more than the questions asked for.

But I suffer boundaries and like to go further even with words.

Unfortunately, I have a defect of disobedience.

 

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