INTERVIEW Massimiliano Pagliara

Full-blooded Italian DJ/Producer and bounded Berlin DJ/Producer — Massimiliano Pagliara — just released a four-track EP Nothing Stays In place for Long on Permanent Vacation, stands as a triad LP producer on Live At Robert Johnson, whips around the OstGut family, and snaps a favorited diorama in his residency at Panorama Bar/Berghain. Unconventionally sounding the whistle of modern-day electronica, he always tunes into a relic of landmark predecessors through a spectrum of art form’s purest shades. Massimiliano Pagliara appeals to the better gadgets and persons in life – as seen in his synth (s)layers, diverse drum throttles, which texturize our cosmic rascalities. He reveals the truth behind his uncanny theatrics and how it has contributed to the ambient structure of his verbose vestige… As it never hurts to have a DJ/Producer that knows how to count beats of, our (at times) — innately uncoordinated steps — into robust technical bars. No matter where he goes, his wonderment nails at the scene, and finds music fanatics here; setting those aside who will experiment and discover a cure into electronica’s evolving mutations. On an outbound flight, we chat with Massimiliano to uncoil his cobra tail of antiquity which has mediated a merriment of genius.

Torture the Artist: Ciao Massi! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us! What’s in store for today and what’s to your immediate right and left?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Ciao <smiles> Thanks for having me! Well, right now I am sitting on a plane, on my way to Madrid, where I will be performing at Goya Social Club tonight, for a party called Nude…[Editor’s note: the interview took place before the tremendous outbreak of the Corona virus all over Europe] Pretty excited about it! Meanwhile, I am listening to Sarah Bates’ Fantasy Modulation while other passengers are on my right and left. <winks>

Picture by Victor Luque

Torture the Artist: In your latest EP, Nothing Stays in Place for Long, did you have a certain “moving part” in mind that personifies your purpose or were the tracks pieced together less intentionally and more organically… Or rather, did they go hand in hand?

Massimiliano Pagliara: With this EP, I wanted to say that I am pretty open to all kinds of musical journeys. Therefore I am not afraid of crossing different territories and challenging myself every time, with slightly new sound aesthetics. I wrote these four tracks at different times and each of these times, my approach or mood was different. Then, very much inspired by the Cage-Cunningham aleatory theories and experiments, I happened to have these 4 works together on one EP. Well, to be more precise, it’s like three tracks, as I consider both mixes of Avenue of the Palms apart of the same project.

I have tried to create different little spaces for different moments and purposes within the same apartment.

Torture the Artist: Places, places, places… What’s the longest you’ve stayed in a place and what is it that ties you to one? On that note, what’s your favorite place in your Berlin apartment, and why? 

Massimiliano Pagliara: Berlin. I have been living in this city for the past 19 years, which is almost half of my life. And the reasons why I am still based here are different: work, friends, love, and my studio-apartment. The city has changed a lot but is still a great home-base and I am in love with it. I have lived in my current apartment for ten out of those 19 years. So I feel quite attached to it. Also, I have the luxury to be able to have my studio at home and work from here since day one. (Before this apartment, I used to live in a smaller one, next door, but same building, for five years, where I had my first studio). My home is very curated, I am very much into interior design, so I have tried to create different little spaces for different moments and purposes within the same apartment. In this sense, I’d want to say that I do have a few favorites spots, such as the cosmic hole, the ambient-meditation floor, and the studio.

Picture by Massimiliano Pagliara

Torture the Artist: Your collaborations with Jules Etienne, Daniel Wang, James Booth, etc. seem to play a sentimental and instrumental part of your life. When in time do you find yourself collaborating the most and the least?

Massimiliano Pagliara: I have always been collaborating with different artists from the early days as well as now. Jules Etienne and Daniel Wang have been some sort of teachers for me and so I have learned so much from them. Collaborations are indeed a good way to learn and exchange ideas and every time I feel more enriched. At the same time, I also very much enjoy being alone in the studio and jam around and see what happens. Lately, I am mostly working alone (started working on a new album) and once a week I am meeting up with my friend Paramida to work on a new project.

Picture by Robin Kirchner

I am a perfectionist in many other things, not only in the studio.

Torture the Artist: We get the sense that you may be a “perfectionist” in the studio. With that in mind, can you tell us how you organize your music library?

Massimiliano Pagliara: I think I am a perfectionist in many other things, not only in the studio. <smiles> That is a lot of work! Especially, because I do listen to many different types of music, and so I have multiple libraries which I have to organize; from iTunes to rekordbox and my record shelves. But I generally tend to organize all my music by genres or specific moods/ moments.

Picture by Massimiliano Pagliara

Torture the Artist: What does your typical preparation look like for a DJ set? Do you have a selection of tracks set aside or do you just dive into your folders with spontaneity?

Massimiliano Pagliara: I check out and select new music every week and I organize that into playlists in my rekordbox. These playlists vary according to time slots, genres, and venues. So for example, when I am on opening duties, I do prepare a playlist with some slower gems. Another way around, if I am playing a peak time slot, which is often the case, I then make sure to have enough groovy stuff to make people dance. <smiles>

Dance training was my drug at the time, as music is my drug of now.

Torture the Artist: You’ve stated before that you are an ex-dancer and choreographer. Did you have a specific focus/training in contemporary dance? What was the determining factor that transitioned you from a professional dancer to a DJ/Producer?

Massimiliano Pagliara: The dancing thing all started in Milan. My very first flat-mate was (coincidentally) a contemporary dancer and dance teacher; somehow he opened the doors to that world to me. I started going to his class, and stopped right away, as I felt pretty embarrassed and unable to do anything. Then I decided to start some acting-theatre-training courses and eventually joined my flat-mate dance class again. After a few attempts here and there, I enrolled at Scuola D’Arte Drammatica in Milan, and this thing became proper: for 3 years I had everyday intense training routines, from 9 am till 6 pm (at least), such as Ballet, Cunningham and Graham’ techniques, Feldenkrais, theatre improvisation, rhythm, and singing. All of this combined with more theoretical stuff such as the history of dance, music, and art. It was a full-on program and I was 100% committed to it. Dance training was my drug at the time, as music is my drug of now.

Picture by Victor Luque

After graduating, I moved to Berlin in 2001 intending to continue my dance studies, research and create some new choreographic works. Which I did, but then through the intense nightlife and all the incredible club experiences, my love for music became so much stronger and, so 5 years later (2006) I started buying gear, setting up my studio and taking the DJing more than just a hobby. I gave up my professional career as a dancer/choreographer and dedicated completely to the music business.

I saw for the very first time Chris Cunningham video of Come To Daddy by Aphex Twin. That changed my life.

Torture the Artist: How have the genres you’ve listened to as a dancer influenced your musicality as a DJ/Producer?

Massimiliano Pagliara: It was through my dance works and routines that I got more and more into electronic dance music. When I lived In Milan I went to see a group show, and among all the pieces which were shown, I saw for the very first time Chris Cunningham video of Come To Daddy by Aphex Twin. That changed my life. Up until that moment, I was more into Indie Rock. But that video and Aphex music did open some new doors for me. So I went and started digging into all his music as well as other Warp Records artists such as Autechre, Mira Calix, Squarepusher. I used those as soundtracks for my dance pieces and workouts, meanwhile, my passion for electronic music was just taking off and I started going out to illegal raves in squat houses and danced my ass off to drum & bass. Often people asked me or my friends if I was a dancer, when they saw me out dancing, as I wasn’t being so shy about it. <smiles> My body was possessed by the music. And I have to think of that marvelous book called Dancer From The Dance right now, by Andrew Holleran.

Torture the Artist: Do you ever choreograph or mark (in your head) while you are producing a track?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Very much so. Every time I write music, I always imagine or sense a certain space, and all the new sounds I create are like choreographed movements that happen in that space over a certain time.

Torture the Artist: Famous choreographer George Balanchine stated, “Dancing is music made visible.” What style of dance would you choreograph if you were to shoot a video for Nothing Stays in Place for Long (or your choosing)?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Balanchine was indeed an amazing choreographer, and I did like his work a lot. Classical, yet with a modern twist. In fact, his neoclassical ballet style and vision, have influenced many generations of choreographers. And on this same path (classical with a modern twist), I would go for a Merce Cunningham or William Forsythe dance styles – if I had to do that. Since both of them have been a huge inspiration for me.

But instead of giving up, I insist and try to find a way out until I finish what I am doing.

Torture the Artist: When you face a technical obstacle, do you use the “trial and error” method to find a solution or go rather retreat to the drawing board?

Massimiliano Pagliara: When that happens, I do face the obstacle and try things out until I feel good about it. For example, when I am in the studio, and I start working on a new track, sometimes it is just not going anywhere, and I feel lost: I am not sure what to do or how to proceed. But instead of giving up, I insist and try to find a way out until I finish what I am doing. I face it. I always finish every track I start. Regardless of if the track will be released or not. That’s the biggest challenge, to finish each track, and I believe this is very important.

Everything is super neat and tidy.

Torture the Artist: We see you have some older machines such as the Juno 106 and SH-101. Other than regular upkeep, do you have any unconventional tendencies to assure your machines are in pristine condition?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Now, this makes me laugh. <smiles> Because, every time somebody comes over to my house and takes a look at my studio they go like: “Oh wow! Everything is so clean!” And It’s true, everything is super neat and tidy. I do treat all my machines with extreme care and love. I wipe the dust off and cover them up if I am gone for a longer time. Other than that, I play a lot with them and I do take them to the doctor when they get sick. <smiles>

Picture by Robin Kirchner

Torture the Artist: What was the last machine you read the manual for? Is there something that can you share that perhaps refreshed your memory?

Massimiliano Pagliara: My Yamaha CS-40M, which is the very last synth I bought, about 2 years ago, off eBay. I never really owned an old analog Yamaha synth before. It is a wonderful duo-phonic synthesizer with interesting features and capable of unique sounds. One of the features that made me want to check the manual was the onboard Ring Modulator. By doing so, it reminded me of what Ring Modulation does: it brings in a new frequency which is different from the one of the keys being played. And I also learned how the Envelope Generator of the VCO can affect the speed of the modulation.

Picture by Massimiliano Pagliara

Torture the Artist: On a study note, what book are you currently reading, or is there another favorite read on your shelf?

Massimiliano Pagliara: I usually read several books and magazines at the same time. These are the current ones:

  • Patrick Cowley – Mechanical Fantasy Box
  • Shunmyo Masumo – Zen (The Art Of Simple Living)
  • Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles – Ikigai
  • Apartamento (Issue 24)
  • Die Dame (Fall/Winter 2019 Issue)
  • Architectural Digest (February 2020 Issue)

Picture by Victor Luque

And there’s definitely a few favorite reads on my shelves. I am a huge biographies- autobiographies reader, and these are like my bibles:

  • Grace Jones – I’ll Never Write My Memoirs
  • Tim Lawrence – Hold On To Your Dreams
  • Nile Rogers – Le Freak
  • Catherine Cusset – Life Of David Hockney
  • Kay Larson – Where the Heart Beats

Torture the Artist: Notably, your residency at Panorama Bar has flocked music-heads near and far to the world-renowned hotspot. Since you began your residency, have you noticed its influence on your style and direction patterns?

Massimiliano Pagliara: I have always had a very eclectic approach towards music I’d say. And I think that one of the things which I like the most about playing Panorama Bar is that I can be as eclectic as I want. The crowd is very open-minded and responsive. I never feel too shy about trying things out. And I guess this has been good training for me, over the years. It is very important to be true to yourself and your school and show that to the crowds. It’s not always easy, but once again, the challenge is important.

I love closings because they allow me to go in many different directions.

Torture the Artist: What would you describe the most recent highlight you’ve had at Berghain/ Panorama Bar?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Definitely my closing set for NewYear’s Eve at Panorama Bar. I played for 12 hours. And it was quite a journey. I love closings because they allow me to go in many different directions since I have all that time and I don’t have to compress what I have to say in like 2-3 hours set. In a way, it’s less pressure than playing a peak time slot of two hours.

Torture the Artist: On top of your residency, it’s also been a year since your label Funnuvojere Records was founded. The label has weaved a golden thread of melodic synthesis and Balearic rip currents. What wonderment triggered you to incorporate the “deep abyss” into your discography?

Massimiliano Pagliara: The deep abyss is where I dive into and discover all of these incredibly talented artists, which have delivered beautiful works, that are shaping the sound aesthetics of my label. It is really about the music, how it sounds, and those deep feelings generated from it that reach straight to my heart and which words cannot describe, rather than thinking about genre or style. In other words, I am not trying to stick to any specific direction, I want this label to be as eclectic as possible.

Torture the Artist: Funnuvojere is a beach in southern Italy and diamond in the ruff, of sorts. Since you grew up in Lecce, Italy — just a little north — can you share some insight on the personal connection/experiences you’ve had at Funnuvojere Beach?

Massimiliano Pagliara: It is one of the wildest beaches and especially a few years ago, very few people went to bathe there. It’s very rocky, not easy to lay down or sit comfortably, and as soon as you jump into the water, it is pretty deep. Also, due to its natural location, it’s more like an open coast and not like a bay, and so often the sea can be rough and swimming isn’t easy. However, I go there a lot with my friends and we enjoy the calm and isolated vibes very much. You are just so exposed to the sea and in a direct dialogue with it, its breeze and the beautiful deep blue-green water.

Torture the Artist: Your monopoly over drum machines and analog synths have marked your place on the conductor’s platform. If you were a musician in an orchestra what instrument(s) would you play, and why?

Massimiliano Pagliara: Definitely the piano. It is my all-time favorite instrument and I regret so much not having learned this as a child; like my parents really wanted me to. Back in those days, I wanted to be a dancer (already!) and my parents wanted me to play the piano. We never came up with an agreement, and I ended up doing neither one of those. I only started taking piano lessons when I decided to make music, at age 28 and I did it for almost 3 years. I can’t play complex things such as Chopin or Satie (I started a little too late for that I guess), but I have acquired the basics of harmony at least.

Interview by Isabella Gadinis

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