Name: Gaetano Parisio
Occupation: DJ, producer
Recent release: Gaetano Parisio's label Conform Records is celebrating half a century at the forefront of the club scene with the release of 20th Century Catalogue (1997-2000), a multi-part reissue of its entire back catalogue.
Book: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Piece of music: The Crisis by Ennio Morricone
Piece of art: Maradona goal in Argentina vs England 1986 FIFA World Cup
If you enjoyed this interview with Gaetano Parisio and would like to find out more about him and his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for DJing? Which DJs, clubs or experiences captured your imagination in the beginning?
Since I was a kid I have always been fascinated by the fact that the DJ has the possibility to use music as a single and uninterrupted flow of energy. This is what people feel when they go dancing, they feel it in the deepest part of themselves and it's where the magic happens.
Also, as a child, I tried to understand how I could recreate that sound and I enjoyed breaking down the tracks, trying to analyze them. I was lucky enough to grow up in Naples where I was able to listen to great DJs in the early 90s.
The Cube club in Naples unfortunately, no longer exists but it remains a special place for me.
What made it appealing to you to DJ yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what, did you feel, did you have to add artistically?
When I started DJng it was purely for fun. Then when I also became a producer, I began to use DJ sets to be able to show others what my musical vision was.
Over time, I have tried to refine myself to always be consistent with my guidelines.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to DJing? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?
Of course, I can't consider myself a DJ of the current generation, and that is why I have perhaps a way of interpreting DJing that is different from those that today interpret it.
When I go on stage, I simply try to develop a musical journey using my records. I don’t want my performances to solely be for entertainment; I always try to raise the bar by trying to go out of my comfort zone. At that moment I am beginning to enjoy myself more behind the decks.
Clubs are still the natural home for DJing. What makes the club experience unique? Which clubs you've played or danced at are perfect for realising your vision – and why?
Of course, clubs remain the main place and the most suitable for playing this type of music. House and techno were not meant to be played in places like festivals. It was counterculture.
What makes clubs unique is the proximity and interaction with the public. There is an invisible but tangible exchange of energy that creates that magic.
From DJs composing their own music or DJ mixes as albums to albums constructed like DJ sets, there is a long tradition of cross-pollination between DJing and producing. Can you talk a bit about how this manifests itself in your own work?
My way of interpreting DJ sets is very influenced and inspired by also being a producer.
When I perform as a DJ, I have the opportunity to express my musical vision for a much longer period of time than a track I produce when I am in the studio. In two hours, I can space out and create combinations that I couldn't in the studio.
Furthermore, the interaction with the audience and the context obviously has a great influence on what I play and why I play it.
What role does digging for music still play for your work as a DJ? Tell me a bit about what kind of music you will look for and the balance between picking material which a) excites you, b) which will please the audience and c) fulfill certain functions within your DJ set.
I believe it’s essential to always try to find new music. I find it fun and inspiring.
The music I select must be functional to the DJ set. The tracks must be at the service of the entire DJ set. They are not the protagonists but instead must help to complete the puzzle that will be clear at the end of the two hours.
I've always wondered: How is it possible for DJs to memorise so many tracks? How do you store tracks in your mind – traditionally as grooves + melodies + harmonies or as colours, energy levels, shapes?
I am just as fascinated and amazed as you are! How do DJs memorize so much music!? I am not capable of this and therefore I adopt another methodology. (laughs)
Using your very latest DJ set as an example, what does your approach look like, from selecting the material and preparing for and opening a set? What were some of the transitions that really worked looking back?
To answer your previous question, my way of preparing a DJ set is to select records by dividing them into categories. At that point I try to depersonalize my choice using the record only in a functional way to my mix.
My very fast way of mixing tracks makes it necessary that I don't focus too much on something I know too well, perhaps waiting for the evolution of its structure. This would slow me down a lot by altering my flow state.
How does the decision making process work during a gig with regards to wanting to play certain records, the next transition and where you want the set to go? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
My mixes often happen in a very improvised manner. I try to use the same technique that jazz players use - improvise as much as possible - and that's why knowing the structure of the disc can sometimes be limiting.
You could say that I'm curious myself to understand what the final result will be.
Kode9 once said: "I prefer to hear tracks in the mix together for extended periods of time, and I like to hear the tension between two tracks." What's your take on that?
I can only agree with him. There is also a scientific reason to suggest why overlaying two tracks increases the audience’s perception.
This is largely understandable if two wave lines are superadded, the result will be to have a single line but with a much greater amplitude.
Pieces can sound entirely different as part of a DJ set compared to playing them on their own. How do you explain this? Which tracks from your collection don't seem like much outside of a DJ set but are incredible effective and versatile on a gig?
My goal when I play music is to have that tension between the two tracks. I produce music to be able to play it as a DJ.
Perhaps this is precisely the reasons why I started producing. It was much easier for me to create music on my own than to go looking for it elsewhere. My music is meant to be mixed and creates just that state of tension we are talking about.
I find it difficult to name a record because as we said before ... the memory. (laughs)
In terms of the overall architecture of a DJ set, are you looking more for one consistent level of energy or a shift between peaks and troughs – and why?
Definitely for a consistent level of energy. Being able to keep the energy flow high and constant is what I'm aiming for. It is my setup with 3 turntables and therefore the mixing speed that automatically brings me to this. And that's what I want.
Online DJ mixes, created in the studio as a solitary event, have become ubiquitous. From your experience with the format, what changes when it comes to the way you DJ – and to the experience as a whole - when you subtract the audience?
It’s a totally different experience. Paradoxically more difficult.
When you are in contact with so much energy, like when you are in a club, you are always influenced by it. There are many more variables and the result will inevitably be different.
For example, during the pandemic, there were many video streams. When you are alone in front of a camera you feel almost naked, uncovered. There are no things that distract you at that point, only the music and what you do behind the mixer counts.
You know more or less what you're going to play so some of the magic is lost.
Advances in AI-supported DJing look set to transform the trade. For the future, where do you see the role of humans in DJing versus that of technology?
Man will always be necessary as technology advances. The difference will always be in how you use it. This depends a lot on the reasons why you are a DJ. Do you want to make music or pretend to make music?
I firmly believe that imperfections are part of our life and existence. When something sounds too precise, I don't enjoy it anymore. If I make a mistake while I'm mixing, whilst going out of my comfort state, I think it's a nice thing.
People on the dancefloor will understand and push you even more to dare. This is something that AI will never be able to do.
Let's imagine you lost all your music for one night and all there is left at the venue is a crate of records containing a random selection of music. How would you approach this set?
It’s something that happened to me when I was touring only with vinyl. The bag with the records did not arrive and I was forced to use the ones that resident DJs gave me.
For my way of playing, it was not a problem. As mentioned, I rely heavily on improvisation. The first thing I would do is understand if I know any songwriters and select the labels I know.
But the most important thing I think is to play as relaxed as possible.