Watch the archives of our Dekmantel broadcast here.
– Following Vakula, the second artist to be announced for our three-day stage at Dekmantel Festival this year is enigmatic Italian deck wizard Francesco De Nittis, aka Mr Ties. As someone who once admitted to spending in excess of €1000 a month on records alone (+ this figure has likely ballooned as his stock has rapidly risen), there should be no lingering doubts as to the man’s dedication to his craft.
But the dedication of pouring money, time and resources into perfecting your art is one thing; the dedication of valiantly slugging through an explanation of the minutiae and intricacies of archaic circuitry, dancefloor etiquette and woefully inadequate festival setups in your third language is quite another. Read on for his delightfully impassioned – and heavily sub-edited – thoughts below.
We’ll endeavour to get everything spot on for Mr Ties on the Saturday of Dekmantel…partly out of fear. –
GABRIEL SZATAN: I’ve heard that you got into a phase a few years ago where you started reading a lot of books and became deeply interested in the specifics of audio and dynamics. Or has that audiophile nature been the case for as long as you’ve been into music?
MR TIES: No, it’s more like I did a big essay but not the final exams. My career was already starting as a DJ so I had jumped off directly there, learning the basic stuff. Then I bought books on PAs, and now to acoustics – which is even more important in a club than the soundsystem.
How is that loft space we’re familiar with rigged?
At my home I have two ADAM Audio systems, little but full range with sub-woofer and everything. I stopped to acoustically fix the room and soundproof the walls, because I’m building a studio in my new home. Sadly, I’m giving up the Boiler Room room.
Yeah for sure, but all this expensive gear is only because they have expensive hardware inside. You can have Gucci on the bag, but if the material is shit it’s still is going to be a shitty bag.
That’s a very amusing way of putting it.
The material inside matters. Big firms have to compromise by building much more complicated ‘new’ stuff and suffering a loss in hardware quality. It’s the same with soundsystems: you can have a £2m system but if you put it in a room with shitty acoustics, it will sound terrible. The soundsystem needs to be the second step, not the first.
“A stereo soundsystem in a room that is acoustically shit is hell – it’s the nightmare of the nightmare!”
You surely have to make concessions on your preferences as you travel around and play more festival slots, right? Do you find it hard to give up that element of control?
Soon I’m going to be really strong and give up playing festivals that don’t give space for soundchecks, or place enough importance on the quality of the music, and instead just shrug like, “ah yeah, it’s a festival.” What even does that mean? It’s a festival, so it has to be shit?
There’s a problem with the basic environment and basic organisation of a festival itself. Indoor festivals think they can fit the soundsystem in a single day just by putting these big line arrays in a room they’ve never entered. A stereo soundsystem in a room that is acoustically shit is hell – it’s the nightmare of the nightmare! Instead of spending a week fitting the room acoustically, they place you in the middle of a useless high-rise stage with two lights either side, destroying the soundsystem because nowadays you have to see the DJ, and not feel the music.
That’s why I love to play in clubs like Robert-Johnson, which by the way is the best club ever. You are on the same level of the people and the soundsystem is not perfect, but somehow more than perfect. It should be like this everywhere, instead of taking 2000 records to a festival only to have limiters put in the stupid fucking system and my music fed through digital controllers so in the end it sounds digital and unrecognisable. They’re so ignorant, but it’s like I am the only one ever arguing the point! I’m getting really bored with people not giving enough thought to the audio quality, or spending ‘just enough’. I’m not playing for money, I’m playing for the fucking music – and soon I won’t be playing them anymore at all. That’s it.
It’s not all bad. I was at a really nice festival in Australia, there was one floor and one Funktion-One with no wreckage, no big set-up, no cuts, nothing: just my records, an amplifier, small speakers and that was it. But normally the problem is stage hands thinking they are all big sound engineers. They are not. They probably don’t know nothing, they don’t know Fourier or they don’t know wave physics or anything, so they pretend to be sound engineers even with much less experience and training than you need to listen properly. They pretend, just because they assemble a couple of speaker stacks and a mixer.
I listen to audiophile sound, and I just cannot say that it isn’t better, you know? It’s not to do with whichever music you listen to; any music played in a typical valve system would be more friendly to your ears. I want to reach this quality, that’s why right now I’m building a soundsystem just for myself.
You mentioned Robert-Johnson and being on the same level as the dancers. How did that contrast with playing at Trouw?
I always played downstairs so it was perfect for me. I’d ask especially because that floor was a bit like being twenty years old in the raves; I like having this illegal feeling even if in a club. I’m actually really sad that I won’t play there anymore.
As you say, it was a proper club – and an art institution – but had that gritty feeling. A serious soundsystem, basic layout and no real barrier between the audience and DJ. Shame it’s gone [though perhaps not for long].
This is also a point: one of the reasons the DJ was so high in Studio 54 was a feedback problem, which they solved by putting the booth higher, free from the bass frequency. It’s the biggest problem when playing records – even a little bit of feedback is totally wrong and modifies the sound so much. So being higher is actually better because then you will not get any signal feedback. But for me, I prefer to be at the same level and just protect the booth with strong re-enforcements. Still I’m only the DJ, and not the main sound guy, so they are the ones whose job is to understand the limits.
I’ve clocked you down early at gigs, standing at the back of the room and watching the audience before your sets. What’s going through your mind?
I need to check the volume range and max output of the soundsystem; it affects my mixing so much. From there, I can already imagine what to play and what to avoid. For example, if the soundsystem is less dynamic I would probably put stuff with less instruments into my set. A full orchestra might sound like four people and not like fifty. It’s a tricky thing.
Speaking of orchestras, you performed with one recently at Distortion Festival, right? That must have been a ballache to soundcheck for.
We had problems with monitors which we had to fix on the fly, but everything was quite straight in fact. Nobody noticed the problem. But it was my first trial with the band and made me understand I needed more time to soundcheck than I thought. Try imagining DJing, mixing, directing a live act and trying to fix the sound at the same time. I am still just a man with two hands, and limits! [Laughs]
Are more live performances the goal moving forward?
Yes, solo. I’m playing live myself this summer before Crystal Waters in Berlin for like 45m, and in this summer period I would much prefer to play live with drum machines, and build new music. It’s funny for me to play fifteen or twenty records in one hour. I can technically play thirty records if I must, but it’s still a one hour DJ set. I cannot stand it anymore.
Makes sense. You’ve recently started producing under House of Ties and, as you say, you’re building a full studio.
I’ve always produced. If someone asks me to do something, okay – but when it comes to my music, I’m like a really shy guy. I just produce what I like: a little disco, a little art sounds, a little techno. I can sit on a computer for a long time, but I much prefer to be creative on the spin. Because you must understand I trained a lot by myself alone to play live, because I love to jam live with machines. It’s so much more of an alive feeling.
“You have to see the hardware as the water for the pasta. If you have shitty water for making pasta then the pasta is shit.”
It’s really interesting to me that, given your perfectionism about the specifics of sound and extremely passionate sets full of curveballs, you’re seemingly happy to play together with someone like Spencer Parker or Hunee. That’s giving up an element of control in a big way.
Yeah, but all the people that I play with know me; they know I like to control the soundsystem and they know they should not give too much output, and so on. I play with people that know how I work and respect that.
In the case of Hunee though, you’d never met previously and yet played b2b for eight hours on the night?
Ah yes but with Hunee, we have common friends and were talking and talking for a long time. Even without knowing each other, the connection was there. For sure, that night was particularly crazy as you might remember.
As soon as you reached for “All Night Passion” most of the audience were topless in no time. It was really intense. London does not party like that normally and –
I thought it was always like that in London!
No fucking way man.
[Giggles] It was a good time! On the Bozak AR-6 mixer as well, which is on my rider. The ones that sound top, top class are the refurbished old ones, all cleaned up inside but still containing this really precious, really thick hardware. You must understand that a lot of this kind of 70s hardware is not even produced in Europe anymore because they’re toxic.
Yeah, a lot of the electronic circuitry contained tiny toxic elements, so the European Union banned it. In my opinion, it was why they sounded much warmer and crisper and everything, and didn’t end up damaging the speakers even though the max output is two or three times stronger than your average nowadays. Going all out with no limiter can break the systems of most clubs.
It’s all about hardware. You have to see the hardware as the water for the pasta. If you have shitty water for making pasta then the pasta is shit. It’s similar as if you have good hardware inside, the sounds also come out good. I’m going to prove it because I’m going to hand build mixers and they’re going to be really easy to show people the difference. The complication in new hardware is totally because people have shitty quality of music, so they have to put the sound back to a source that can handle that weak quality and weak frequency. It is all about hardware!
Do you have any particular hopes for your audience? Not everyone is going to come with awareness of specialist sound, which will only magnify as you play bigger shows. Do you find that hard to deal with, or try and bring them round to your way of seeing things?
I try for sure. Like, the Australia thing was super nice. I wish for a thousand gigs like this: a proper soundsystem, proper dancers who are themselves proper listeners. A proper dancer won’t dance to anything; if they do not like the music they do not move a centimetre all night. They won’t even try to fake it, they just won’t dance, but if the tune is immediately there, they will give you the dance move you ask for. That’s my ideal. A problem in clubs right now is they’re filled with show-off people, looking for some girl or some man, and not real dancer-listeners. I just have to play in the situation where I love to play.
I’m not playing just for some coins. I’m playing entirely because I want to see the crowd going in a proper direction, not just going to the club to get so drunk that they don’t remember any of the songs, you know? Even if I was fucked, I still remember a riff or a bassline. It’s important.
Anything else you particularly want to get off your chest while we’re on topic?
Yeah. [Long pause] I want to say something that is pretty romantic, but I still feel I need to: no matter what I say, it’s all about love. I love this, and I’m going to keep loving. Maybe the way I explain stuff is particularly hard, but I still have love inside, and I still love the music. I won’t give up the love for music that I have. Just that.
It evidently comes from a very real core.
That’s right. As you can see, I want to follow this path. I try to reflect what David Mancuso said. It all goes back to him really; he invented everything and I think we are losing this concept. Mancuso came forty or fifty years before me, it’s not just something from yesterday. In the late 70s in New York there were clubs with shitty soundsystems, and clubs with really good soundsystems. So even after so many years we are still in the same environment, which has not changed. The club remains the same. But the sound environment from ’79 to now has changed for the worse.
Food for thought. Thanks, I’ll let you get back to the beach.
– Mr Ties plays Day 2 of our stage at Dekmantel Festival 2015. Full line-up announced Wed 10th June. Keep eyes peeled. –
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