Darkness and light are two faces of the same element, and we experience a continuous transmutation between them. For Alessandro Adriani, absolute darkness is where the source of life is hidden. His pure creativity also starts when the night falls down. In our conversation, the founder of Mannequin Records reflects on how the alienation from reality affects each of us when we go out at night in search of self-integrity.
Adriani’s vision for music and art is closely related to the culture of darkness born out of the protest against fixed stereotypes. On the eve of our first collaborative night with Traumabarundkino featuring the premiere of Adriani’s audiovisual performance together with Paulina Greta as Ignes Fatui, we go back to the conversation about our perception of light and darkness in music and the world in general published in our current Dark Side issue. While working on the new performance, Ignes Fatui also prepared a selection of music that surrounds the atmosphere of their first piece entitled Phosphine.
Mariana Berezovska: You are one of the artists often described as a ‘dark techno’ producer. The same goes for many producers released on your Mannequin Records. What do you think makes listeners feel like some music is dark?
Alessandro Adriani: I grew up listening to a huge amount of obscure music. I’m not coming straight out of the techno scene, though it was indeed a big influence all over my city, Rome, during the 90s. Whenever I listened to was post-punk, industrial, post-rock, or shoegaze, I was attracted mostly by the emotions that music was able to drive and trigger in me. I don’t necessarily disagree with the tag people give to my music. A listener can easily give themselves an idea of how to define the music they are listening to.
MB: Do you, as a listener, sometimes catch yourself thinking, “Wow, this is very dark music?” And what musicians make you feel this way?
AA: Well, this happens of course. As I previously said, you need to set yourself up for a certain level of emotions in order to receive something back from what you are experiencing. It’s not only about a band, but can even be a certain sound or note in a specific sequence. It must be something epic. Growing up, you also keep changing the range of emotions that move you, and so the music is following according to these changes. When I think of ‘dark’ music, the artists who come to my mind are Coil, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Spacemen 3, Rachel’s, and Low.
MB: Club culture and nightlife mostly exist by night, if we are not speaking only about Berlin. Do you think we can show ourselves better and open up more in the darkness?
AA: Darkness and light are two faces of the same element. We experience continuous transmutation between them. If we want to think about entering a club as entering into a dark space, then we could use a metaphor. We could think about the entrance to a cave. The cave is a place of absolute darkness, but in Mesopotamian culture, it is also a place where the primary source of life is hidden, an immense underground ocean that feeds all the terrestrial water sources.
MB: Would you agree that in ‘our’ dancefloor culture, away from the empty spectacle of social media, we can experience a special kind of freedom, forget about the masks, and let our egos and fears dissolve in the darkness?
AA: Every time I go to a party, for sure I have hope of finding total freedom without links and masks. Reality can be more cruel than that though. Still we are talking about a human being in a specific environment that is subjected to precise behavioral laws. From John Watson on, Behavioural Psychology has shown this widely. Watson, principally, affirmed that manifest behavior is the only unit of analysis that can be scientifically studied by Psychology, since the internal processes of the human mind, imperceptible to the external observer, cannot be considered the object of scientific analysis. So everything that is found in the environment is the product of the internal and cerebral world. For this reason, it is possible to infer brain function from the observation of behavior. Watson has carried out several experiments, among which the best known is the experiment with little Albert, which was used to show how fear is the consequence of environmental conditioning. According to Watson, it was possible to study the evolution of emotion in a systematic way through observation derived from a stimulus. Another interesting topic that I leave open here, is that people can easily fake behaviors and schematics of behavior in different contexts.
MB: From your experience as a DJ in techno clubs and also, I believe, as a listener, dancer, and researcher in other music scenes, what spaces, venues, and music communities best encourage equality and democracy? Do you feel like our club culture used to be more challenging and ‘alternative’ to the mainstream? Or is it the other way around now that the scenes are not that separated and everything in music and audiences is more mixed?
AA: Traveling a lot means meeting a lot of people. It’s an equation made of interesting and passionate people, social climbers, and assholes. There are still some amazing promoters and venues around the globe and I’m proud every time to meet them and share my opinions if asked. They know who they are, so it’s worthless to give names in the interview context. Our club culture is still very challenging. And unfortunately, sometimes the challenge can turn into a competition.
DJ careers are moving up very, very fast nowadays in the Instagram society. I don’t have to agree that this is the correct way of building up a proper and durable career. I need to observe and decide for myself what I want to do and where I want to go professionally. We need to understand and preview where our society is going in the future. The seeds have been thrown.
MB: It’s funny that you use the seed metaphor because that’s how I define one of the purposes of Borshch magazine — “to plant the seed of the disquiet.” Anything specific you mean by throwing the seed? Could you elaborate?
AA: We need people, ideas, projects, initiatives that could radically change the world. We are the farmers of tomorrow. Communities are learning, growing, and experimenting together. Are we really building something stable? Or are we leaving our ideas in the hands of some bigger corporations that pay us a good amount of money to expose them? I’m curious to see how what we are doing today will reflect our subculture in ten years. Everyone hates the power they undergo, so I hate the power of these days with particular vehemence.
MB: Would you agree that the culture of darkness is more democratic and makes people more equal, and helps symbols and status disappear?
AA: Well, what is more, democratic than dressing in black [laughing]? Of course, I agree with that. What you call the ”culture of darkness” is born from a form of protest against fixed stereotypes but this eventually found in a certain sensuality of being in the fashion world.
We can track down the first traces of a ”culture of darkness” with Jean-Paul Sartre and his partner Simone de Beauvoir, who were gathering young anti-bourgeois people to talk about politics and Marxism, ushered in a new intellectual season that would later develop in a structured way into anti-capitalism. “No gods, no masters.” They were only going out at night and wearing black — it was a real rebellion against the dominant system.
Thirty years later, the seminality of Sartre will find new fertile soil in the Gothic culture, which was a well-articulated movement that cannot be simply interpreted as an offshoot of Punk. We experienced an effect of alienation from reality in search of self-integrity through music, fashion, and art. This is a specific xenomorphic subculture. An adaptive and open subculture, susceptible to infection from outside and permeable to the contribution of a single individual. For this reason, ”dark culture” was the antithesis of highly encoded, closed subcultures like punk and was able to produce bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, and Sisters of Mercy who are still highly influential to different generations of artists.
Finally, we jump to our time, with all the contrasts and shapes that the world is breathing. Here I agree with the general idea of ”culture of darkness” as democratic. We experience a sort of equality watching a crowd of people dressed in black uniforms, waiting to gather into the new Techno temple to look for their desires and freedom. The paradox is that the absence of a symbol of a status transformed them into a status symbol ready to be commodified and marketed. This is what I define as the ”dark side” of the ”dark culture.”
Talking about democracy, though, my soul can’t ignore how the world is changing around us. What we see is less and less democracy. This is what emerges from the latest reports by the authoritative US Freedom House. On the long list, there are no European countries or any of the world powers, but instead geographically or economically small societies like Armenia, Ecuador, and Ethiopia. Some, like Armenia, have distinguished themselves for having forced the elite to resign or change course through democratic demonstrations. Maybe there’s still some hope hidden somewhere.
MB: Considering your career path in the music scene and a very personal and meticulous approach towards the curation of Mannequin, there is a feeling of obsessiveness with what you do. Because otherwise it probably won’t be possible to be engaged with so many projects, most of which are DIY and demand particular dedication and discipline for things to really happen and make an impact on people around you. Would you describe your approach to digging music, collecting records, and releasing music as obsessive?
AA: I might consider music my specific obsession. You are right about that. And everything related to it — from a rare vinyl record to an impossible to find drum machine. Sometimes it turns more into a ”Retromania,” as Simon Reynolds [English music journalist and author of the book Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, 2010] has observed intelligently.
My mind can’t stop thinking about the Japanese artist Kusama at this moment. Obsessions are thoughts, images, or ideas that won’t go away. You are stuck in an eternal loop of living them. Sometimes, some external elements pass through you and your obsession and they are able — even if, for a moment — to free you from that. It can be anything, literally. That’s the exact moment when you are able to face your obsessions and have a clear idea of what is going on, and if there’s a possibility to turn them into something positive and energetic — into powerful art. Explore our limits, experiment, find new ways of expression, and keep a strong identity. I will keep trying.