With his recently released debut LP on Renegade Hardware tearing up the charts, the Italian-based Maztek checks in with a free tune and a heavy look back at the philosophical framework driving his best work to date.
First off, introduce yourself to our readers, where you’re hailing from in the world, and the style you represent.
Hello world, my name is Matteo aka Maztek. I’m an Italian electronic music producer who recently relocated to the Netherlands. I’ve just released my debut album on Renegade Hardware which is called Three Point Zero. It represents my journey into production and on it you can hear examples of the styles of music I like to produce, from dnb to hip hop to trip hop. If you like non-conventional electronic music, grab your copy of the LP, sit back relax and enjoy the interview.
Coming from Italy, what are some of the main questions you get asked when you travel abroad?
I get asked a lot about food and the weather. I always tell them that the food and weather are perfect and we have lots of new d&b producers as well. The scene is growing up and I think you will start to hear more from new names who are doing great things at the moment. One name above all that is destined for big things is Disprove who features on my LP.
For many bedroom producers out there who aren’t from hotspots like London or Los Angeles, drum & bass may seem to be out of reach – what sort of advice do you have for those who may feel like they need to be closer to the center of the scene to make things happen?
I would tell them not to worry about where they are located. I had the same “problem” when I started because in Italy there was just one label which doesn’t even exist anymore. I didn’t think it would be hard, I just started producing music and sent it around which is easy with internet platforms like Soundcloud, Facebook, etc. Then I started my own label to release my own and other people’s music and from here I started playing international gigs.
Once you are in the game you just need an international airport that’s it. I think it’s good to be close to the center of the scene because you can meet more producers and promoters but at the same time it’s not essential. There are really many good parts of the scene right all over the world right now, not just in one or two main cities, so you have to keep doing what you’re doing and stay motivated and focused on what you want to achieve.
What kind of music were you listening to growing up? Any tune that transports you back to those days?
When I was younger I used to listen to rock, reggae, hip hop and trip hop. Some of my favourite bands in no particular order were: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, Peace Orchestra, Tosca, DJ Krush, Groove Armada, Wu Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, Thievery Corporation…
My parents were not really into music but they had some Beatles on vinyl along with some other classics which I used to play on the old portable turntable. One of my brothers was a DJ and he used to play house music. I actually learned how to mix by watching him but never fell in love with house music like he did.
I think one song that instantly transports me back to those days is Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” because it represents the beauty of adolescence when everything is new and to be discovered.
It seems as if you’ve hit a sweet spot in the studio lately as you are just cranking out the tunes. Give us a sense of what sort of rig you are using and if there are any specific plug-ins or outboard gear that you cite as being essential to your process. Any tips for up and coming producers hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I use Cubase Pro 8 and I have Adam A77x monitors, TC Electronic Finalizer and a Virus TI Desktop. For me all the Waves and FabFilter plug-ins are essential. Also Ni Massive and FM8 synths are always in my tunes as well as Image-Line’s Sytrus or Harmor or the new Xfer Serum which is a monster synth; and of course the Virus TI.
I’ve actually made some in-depth production tutorials recently for Sample Genie if you want to check them. Basically I like to start with drums or a bassline riff and then build the tune from there. I start writing a cool groove if I’m making a dancefloor tune or I start with a nice ambiance if I’m making a deeper kind of thing which gives me a clear image of where I want to go with that particular tune. Once the idea is there it’s all about the technique to finish it. Layering is the secret of cool snares, kicks and basslines.
Looking back over your discography it’s worth reminding people how versatile you are as a producer. You’ve released on imprints as varied as Hospital, Program, and Dutty Audio, collaborated with the likes of Cern and even older Hardware tunes like “Odyssey” reflect a deeper side of you that doesn’t always get recognised… Do you feel like people see you “only” as a “dark” dnb producer? Are you afraid of being boxed-in or typecast at this stage of things?
To be honest, I’m not afraid of being boxed in because I’m a producer and a “musician.” Music for me is to experience new things or just have fun, describe a feeling or image or vision you have in your mind. This is a bit of rhetoric but music is life and life can’t be boxed-in. I am part of what I compose so every different style or vibe is just a piece of my personality. In other words, I hope people who really follow my music know who I am and hopefully do not expect something to be dark or heavy but just “funky” and to have my particular style.
When did you start your Subculture imprint and what is the basic philosophy behind it?
Subculture recordings was born as a multi-purpose project in 2004. We used to organize exhibitions with varied artists (painters, VJs, performers, and everything concerning arts in general). After a few years I was really focused on my music so I decided to start the label to release my own tracks and also music from new producers I liked.
In terms of a philosophy, the label looks for original but dancefloor-oriented neurofunk but we also like deeper styles. Right now Spiko from Modulate Recordings is going to work with the label so it will start to move a little bit faster going into next year and you can expect to see some new releases from myself and my neurofunk family.
Why not release your album on your own imprint? What is it about Hardware that makes it an ideal place to host your debut LP?
I decided to release it on Hardware not only because I needed someone who would help me with the graphic, promotion, and production process (vinyl, CD, etc.) but also because it was the perfect home to host this kind of album. I wanted to be free to make my “3.0” experiments, something different which other labels might not appreciate. I needed to be free to experiment and try different things and Hardware allowed me to do exactly that. Another reason is I’ve never made a proper old school tune and now I have “Three Point Zero” which is clearly inspired by the old Konflict sound.
Speaking of the album “From the Shadows” and “Like a Boss” with Coppa are so sick! You seem to really be in your element when you are blending these two styles. Talk about your evolution on the hip-hop side of things, especially how you linked up with Dope D.O.D. and Coppa.
The first time I heard them was when they released their tune “What Happened.” The video for that tune was really sick and their style was basically different and new and I was totally into it. It was early 2011 when I decided to link up with them and I sent them a beat to make a collab for my EP but the answer was that the beat was sick and they wanted it for their own “Evil EP” so that beat became “Brutality” which was actually 172 BPM half-step dnb.
After that I made other beats for their “Da Roach” EP, one of them featuring Redman and now we are about to release our video for the “From the Shadows” tune we made together for my LP.
I really love to work with MCs and I think both dnb and half-step dnb fit to the hip-hop/grime kind of sound I like the most. Coppa is a great MC too and I will definitely make more tunes with him. I also worked with Virus Syndicate and others who are about to release their EP with the Dope D.O.D. guys so stay tuned for more in this style.
When did you first start thinking of an album project and at what point does the “3.0” framework emerge?
I had been thinking about making an album for ages and this was the right moment because my personal taste is changing a little bit and also my approach to music and life in general and it is here the 3.0 framework emerged as the idea of a mutation or transition; trying to take the best from the past and the present but looking at the future.
The techniques used today in the production of drum and bass are highly advanced. Probably more so than in any other genre of electronic music and this progression of audio technology is something that has always appealed to me. However the technicality of drum & bass music is not the only element that drew me to it. To me there should always be an element of soul in the music, the kind of soul you used to hear in tracks back in the day that somehow became obscured by technical ability. I believe we are coming full circle and starting to bring back that original soul and vibe also pairing it with advances in sound design and I find that really exciting.
I grew up during the ’90s when many of the technologies that we use today were born. I didn’t have a smart-phone. I couldn’t look for answers via Google or YouTube. Everything was learned through trial and error or via the knowledge of others. As I mentioned before my brother was a DJ and he used to play me his music on turntables and produce his tracks with early production software like Fast Tracker on a Commodore 64 or Amiga 500. Fast forward to today and I find it breathtaking how far we’ve come and how far we’re yet to go with the tools that are available to us now. I find that very inspiring.
This seems to link up with your idea of exploring “the relationship between the real and the cyber world.” How do you see these ideas being realized in the actual arrangement or production of the album?
To people like me, electronic music is also our personal religion, bringing us closer to our own God, and enriching our lives. I have always been fascinated by technology, science and new discoveries, but as a counter point to that I love nature and the essence of the simple things in life. This is why I think that “we as a species have come to a point in our own evolution where man, machine and spirituality have all merged together” and this is reflected in the resulting tunes.
When viewed this way, you can see the album as a personal journey through different experiences and sounds using the machines (my DAW, synths, etc.). It starts with hip hop (protest) before going into the dancefloor (energy) then deep inside the soul (love) until the complete mutation (evolution).
Does being a graphic designer mean that when you produce music you are thinking “visually” in a way? Are you seeing the music and the album as cinematic in anyway?
I always like to try and tell a story with my music, the album project gave me the opportunity to realise some of these stories with a visual representation, we’ve actually made two videos for two of the album tracks: “Anunnaki” and “From The Shadows,” both very different tracks and the videos we’ve created represent that.
One is very atmospheric, using organic scenery merged with sci-fi objects while the other is a fully animated video with a strong comic book feel in which I and the Dope D.O.D. are the heroes who kill the rich and powerful (represented by zombies) who are corrupting the world. I’m really excited about releasing these videos and I think it allows me to show how the music appears to me in my minds eye.
You receive support from heads like BTK, Audio, InsideInfo, and even Friction who is often breaking your tunes on BBC Radio 1. In many ways these relationships represent the ultimate realization of your notion of a “3.0” existence: your recent mix for Friction circulates in a virtual space that connects Rome to London to Los Angeles and beyond … talk about that network and how you see dnb as being on the cutting edge of that culture.
DnB has always embraced technology; from the ways the music is created to how it is played, it’s always evolving. Back in the day people would cut dubplates and now music is transferred all around the globe via the internet, meaning I can make a track and send it to another artist living in another country who can play it out that very same day. It’s pretty crazy when you think about it.
This mindset and culture helps me as an artist to be connected to like minded people and artists and we can work together to create and showcase new music or ideas. Its very exciting to be part of something like that.
Before we get too deep, I understand you’ve got a free tune for us as well – give us the story behind the tune, how it got its name and what kind of vibe it represents.
The track I’m putting out there is a project that came together over many months. I compiled a beat called “Nu Era” and put it out there for lyricists to take and write their own flow for it. I got a great response and shortlisted my favourite vocalists and produced the final track using their input, again going back to that connectivity that the internet brings us. One MC is from America and another from London and I created the beat in Italy but I’m giving it away from the Netherlands – so a real multi-national production!