Interview conducted by Michael Cupoli
Mai Mai Mai is an experimental electronic/noise musician from Italy will be performing in Beijing this week and then touring other cities in China. Mai Mai Mai describes his music as \’a mix of drone and ambient, steamy technoid rhythmics, percussions, field recordings and sound-scapes which lead us to ancient and arcane ages, on the border between east and west.\’ In addition to being a musician, Mai Mai Mai runs a DIY label out of Rome called No:Fi Recordings which releases different types of experimental music on cassette, vinyl, and digital. For the tour, Mai Mai Mai will be releasing a tour mix tape called \’Haze\’ that will be available at his show. Catch him in Beijing at School Bar Tuesday April 26th and at fRUITYSPACE on April 28th.
- What is your background in music?
As a teenager, I started listening to Punk and Garage Rock\’n roll. Quickly moving to more experimental stuff: the New York No Wave, German Krautrock, Industrial Music and Noise. In the same years, the Techno Rave scene in Italy was getting pretty big and since I was 15 or 16 years old, I started following these crazy illegal parties. It was a big mix of different music genres, but what I felt was coherent about it was that there was a common attitude to the approach to the music.
- How long have you been performing as Mai Mai Mai?
I started this new solo project 4 years ago. I am basically a drummer and I always played in bands. Mai Mai Mai is my first experience to be alone on stage and my first experience not drumming! Anyway, I work a lot on the rhythmic parts of the music. It is the beginning of the creative moment and it takes on a huge and important part inside of the \”song writing\”.
- In your bio, you describe Mai Mai Mai as \’a mix of drone and ambient, steamy technoid rhythmics, percussions, field recordings and sound-scapes which lead us to ancient and arcane ages, on the border between east and west\’. What does that mean to you?
I grew up in the South of Italy, close to the seaside and my father\’s family was basically working on the sea: sailors, fishers, ship owners. My first experience of a cross-cultural society was connected to the Mediterranean Sea, more than to the \”new Europe\”. My culture is closer to the one of North Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Greece then to Germany, UK and Scandinavia. In the music of Mai Mai Mai you can hear and feel this connection between \”our\” Western World and the Middle East. A connection that is made through the sea, which reveal common roots and influences. I use a lot of field recordings and archive recordings of folkloristic and ethnic music, taken from those Mediterranean countries. I use them and mix them with synths and rhythms, building a kind of soundtrack of an imaginary journey around the Mediterranean. Europe, right now, is living in a really difficult time, with hard topics such as cohabitation and coexistence. There are a lot of talks about \”borders\”, cultures, enemies, differences. It\’s so bad… I think that it is better to feel connections and similarities right now and rediscover an Unity through Music and Art .
- What kind of equipment do you use to make music?
I work with synths (analog and digital), drum machines and sequencers. Also, I use tapes to play field recordings.
- What is your live set up like? Is it different from being in the studio?
I am often on tour and one important thing to keep in mind while touring is that it has to be easy (or not too hard) to bring equipment around. It means that on tour I have a basic set up which gives me everything I need. My rule is that everything has to stay in my trolley and can\’t go over 20KG. I bring tapes, a couple of synths, effects, my mixer and a sequencer. In the studio, it is totally different. For example, with my friend Luciano Lamanna (great techno producer) and I are working on new stuff using a big modular synth system. Something that would be impossible to carry during a tour!
- Is this your first time to come to China? If so, what expectations do you have? If you have been to China before, when did you come here and what did you do?
It is my very first time to China and I am really excited. My expectations is to find something really FAR AWAY from what I experience in my daily life. And I have great expectation about the DIY and experimental music scene in China. It seems to be made of great people and great music. I am looking forward to share the stage with different local acts
- You will be touring with Mei Zhiyong who is part of Nojiji. How did you get in contact with them?
Mei Zhiyong toured in Europe in 2014 together with Dave Phillips. I organized their show in Rome. They both told me great things about China and the music scene there, so I started looking for a chance to come over. Mei helped me a lot with the tour, info, suggestions and other contacts. It would have been impossible to set up this tour without his help. The Nojiji stuff looks wild, extreme and great.
- Where are you going to be playing on your China tour?
I will play two shows in Beijing, one in Shanghai and one in Shenzhen. Then I will take part in the Luff Festival in Macao and Hong Kong.
9. For the tour, you have made a mix tape called \’Haze\’. What is the idea behind the mixtape? What is the music on the tape?
I got a few releases out but i don\’t think that my music has arrived to China yet. Since it is me going there, I decided to make a cassette which contains some stuff that I released on vinyl in the past. Something made specifically for this tour which I will bring around with me. I discovered that in the Chinese language the word \”haze\” can be pronounced \”mái\” : so haze haze haze would sound as Mai Mai Mai. This is the reason why it is called that.
- In addition to the mixtape, are you going to have any other merchandise available?
I will have some T-shirts done for the China tour with the artwork made by the Italian artist ANDRECO for my release called PETRA. However, instead of Mai Mai Mai, I will have the Chinese character \”haze\”. Plus, I will try to bring some LPs.
- I have heard you mention the \’Italian Occult Psychedelia\’ during our conversations over the past several months. Could you explain what that is?
It is a particular music scene in Italy, which is pretty active from the last few years. In 2011, the Italian music magazine Blow Up published an article titled “Italian Occult Psychedelia”, where the author Antonio Ciarletta described the existence of a particular local scene informed by a series of common traits:
– a general psychedelic vibe;
– a typical Italian atmosphere inspired by 60s and 70s soundtracks (spaghetti westerns, Giallo movies etc);
– a fascination for some of the darkest aspects of Italian culture and society: Catholicism in its most archaic aspects, neorealism, “sun and violence” and so on;
– a sort of “Mondo aesthetics” which relates to the Italian Mondo Movies tradition (exotic names, imaginary takes on different cultures, cannibals and Hawaiian dancers and so on)
– a Mediterranean approach to the Anglo-American stereotypes of psychedelic music and a rediscovery of the local psychedelic tradition of the past (musicians such as Franco Battiato, Nuova Consonanza, Aktuala, the most obscure Italoprog etc).
As it happens, almost all the bands mentioned by Ciarletta were (and still are) friends. They shared stages, collaborated together and so on, and they all come from a “noise-experimental” background. Here are a few names:
Heroin in Tahiti, Father Murphy, Mamuthones, Cannibal Movie, In Zaire La Piramide Di Sangue, Squadra Omega, Architeutis Rex, Eternal Zio, M.S. Miroslaw, Golden Cup. The great part of the records by these bands are released by Boring Machines, which is somehow considered the reference label of the scene. Other labels are Yerevan Tapes, Sound of Cobra, NO=FI Recordings and Backwards which released a great double LP compilation called \”Nostra Signora delle tenebre\”. In the last four years, the venue Dal Verme in Rome (the headquarters of this scene and main place for experimental sounds in Rome) organized a sort of “Italo-occult” three-day festival, Thalassa. In past editions, almost all of the bands are connected with this music scene played and it became a kind of festival/manifesto. The Wire did a report of the second edition of the Festival and wrote about it on Global Ear (Issue 364/June 2014) This year, the 4th Edition of THALASSA was dedicated to the 10th Anniversary of the Italian label BORING MACHINES and it took place on March the 31st, April 1st and 2nd 2016 at DalVerme – Rome. Check it out here http://thalassafestival.blogspot.it/
- NO=FI Recordings is a label that you run in Italy which makes tape and vinyl releases. What kind of music do you release on the label? Which artists are on the label?
NO=FI Recordings is mostly focused on stuff going on in Rome: weird music, experimental, arty and so on. So, music wise it has a wide range of genres ranaging from garage, to ambient/drone, to synth punk to psych whatever. Plus, I release the music of bands or musicians I love and spent time with, touring together or bringing them to Rome for a show. You will find more known bands/musicans such as Mike Cooper, Heroin in Tahiti, Cheveu, Neptune or Talibam. And more underground local acts like Holiday Inn, Rainbow Island, Nastro. Check it out here http://nofirecordings.blogspot.it/
- Why do you like to release music on tape and vinyl?
I like to release good music together with a beautiful object. Tapes and vinyl can be great objects. They are nice to own, look at, touch. I am not a fan of CD\’s.
- Do you ever get people asking why you make tapes because they don\’t have a tape player? If so, what is your response to their question?
I explain my deep love of cassettes to them and point out the fact that they can get the digital for free once they buy the tape. You can listen to the music on a mp3 player or on a computer, but at least you got something nice to own.
- You have two shows set up in Beijing. How are they going to be different from each other?
In big cities, usually different promoters and organizers get different crowd of people. So what i expect is to meet a different audience at the two different shows. We will see. Anyway, I am really excited about it!