Since 2002, Chicago born and bred Billy Dalessandro has been
amalgamating the Chicago-style sound with his own brand of Sci-Fi funk to
ultimately provide both the crowd, and the couch potato, true sonic grit that all lovers of electronic music can really sink their teeth into. It’s no doubt that having his first releases on Germany’s renowned Forcetracks (FT40) and Force Inc Music Works was bound to set the mark in what was to become a neverending execution of sonic filth and destruction.
CGNY: What was the first piece of music you heard growing up that you can remember – that impacted you positively or negatively?
BD: Bach, classical music, and some older pop and jazz stuff... mostly as a result of my work on the piano during my childhood being classically-trained...up until the Beastie Boys arrived and I was becoming a teenager and just wanted to f**K off all the time. My dad loves Frank Sinatra, jazz and classical, and my mom was into chill-out and more obscure music, so I got both these worlds growing up.
CGNY: What peaked your interest in becoming a DJ?
BD: Correction here....I'm not a dj, I'm a producer/musician. Lately we're definitely obscured between each other's position in the dance music industry. Although my kind performs in the same type of venues and along with said acts, we are a very different beast. The former merely just plays back people’s music, the latter (me) we make what they play.
Anyway, I had a taste for that synthetic sound. Like when I first heard the Beastie Boys, I said to myself "those drums do not sound like 'normal' drums and these guys are nuts", and I wanted anything that had that raw electronic sound and loving that there were instruments designed to make just crazy sounds, totally unconventional. And artists getting raunchy and swearing and what not. Love it!
CGNY: I stand corrected! Do you think the role of DJ has changed over the years – moving from provider of entertainment to artist/performer (even without producing)?
BD: Absolutely :P They have the easy life if you ask me ;)
DJs are, in a way, a bit fraudulent these days, but I do not put the whole blame on them as much as I do everyone else and the industry in general. DJs get tons of credit for doing what I feel is not only one of the easiest jobs on the planet (unless you're Pete Tong), but it's also based entirely on other peoples music. They [DJs] are just tools to playback music (just like a machine). What I find very interesting are DJs that are coming up with productions merely for the sake of getting on the bandwagon to get gigs and lifestyles that coincide with DJ 'status'. Some of them, even the ones that DJ very well, would probably find themselves at quite a loss if they were forced to execute a 'live' performance. Like separating men from boys. But being able to execute a live production on stage is definitely beyond the scope of what a DJ can do. You really need musician/producer-like skills. Even for a producer, to perform in these places, is really only happening because of the type of music we do. If you ask a producer in the 'pop' world where they play and what 'gigs' they have, the response is more or less likely to be like "what the fuck are you talking about!"
But really, DJs are entertainers in their own right and that's how it is, and they have every right to do so. They are there to fulfill that job (or that void). What is not comforting, though, is when producers, like myself, are asked to perform in the same venues, what ends up happening is that we're sort of locked-in to execute our performance in a similar manner, even when we're not always designed to do so. For example, I may want to do mostly an experimental bass and dub set, but I'm being paid to bang-it-out techno for 2 hours at some random club because that's how the populous wants it. Laptops and computer music being so very accessible these days is most likely the main culprit to the downfall of quality control. If gear was still very expensive and you needed hardware, you'd see a lot less djs/producers on the scene still, which in turn would keep quality control a bit higher than it is now. However, it's a double edged sword in a way. One side you have people like me, we're educated in using this gear and understanding how things work (or not). Then you have the other side, which are mere spectators, and they just want to pay to go party and get crazy and forget about their long work week, or their ex boyfriend, whatever...and they make up 95% of this! And there's not a thing wrong with that, but they definitely know nothing about what is really happening on stage, behind stage and everywhere else. Do they care if that producer carried $2000.00 euros worth of gear to play live? Not really, they probably think he/she is just 'djing'. C'est la vie!
CGNY: Very true. How much did early Chicago house influence your musical taste? What other artists did you listen to growing up?
BD: A bit, I definitely appreciate where house comes from, and who it was that was coming up with it. Although, I preferred the harder bits of Chicago style such as material from [namedrop] Dance Mania, Relief Records, artists like Green Velvet, Dj Sneak, Derrick Carter, etc. [end namedrop]...Basically lots of Chicago underground artists that were producing really heavy bass material. Even to this day, I still prefer harder material, beats with more of a jazzy and edgier approach. Aside from my love of classical music, I loved early hip-hop (Tribe Called Quest, early NAS, Run DMC, 3rd Bass, etc). It was learning about the art of 'sampling' which is probably one of the strongest forces in modern electronic music, aside from the very underrated 'kazoo'.
For me dance music came in the late 80's and early 90's and mostly radio and obscure underground rave material. From there it was a long road of weeding out what was good and what wasn't. I bought vinyl not even caring about Djing. It was the only way for me to own the music (which makes me wish things were still this way today). I had eventually bought turntables for the fun of it, but I loved going to buy vinyl of very weird music and just having it.
CGNY: You’ve an impressive list of labels you’ve released on including Kompakt and your own Siteholder? What prompted you to start your own label?
BD: Probably being naive and excited about wanting to have your own label, and do your own thing, and better than the rest. Well, it's fun but it's been lots of work running a label, some of which can be unrewarding no matter how much effort you put forth. Siteholder is really a side project for me, albeit a fun one, but I still stick very close with my main European counterpart, Soniculture (a Kompakt-exclusive label). Archipel and Thoughtless Records have provided me with new Canadian outlets as well, and I am excited to delve in much more with them.
CGNY: Have you any favorite clubs or festivals to play? I see you’re going to Canada for Mutek. That’s a big one!
BD: Mutek, yes it's nice since it's really a platform for very intellectual material, in one spot, that really doesn't happen anywhere else, at one time. BOOM festival is pretty cool and a 'must see' (especially if you're the burning man type), and this happens in Portugal once every two years during a week in mid-August. I can't say it's been crazier than that for me. I do prefer outdoor fests and most outdoor events, clubs are just clubs, no matter where you go. They can be fun, and I have had some very nice moments, but still...nothing beats outside, like on the beach. To answer the question, I'll go for: Desert party!
CGNY: Do you think there is a resurgence of interest in EDM in the States at present? Any thoughts on the state of ‘commercial’ dance music right now – the whole manufactured pop star phenomenon?
BD: North American politics/culture still isn't, and may never will, see eye-to-eye with intellectual dance music culture. We have bizarre hours of operation, we indulge in fanatic pleasures, we are way more sarcastic and free minded. This is not what normal 'America' knows about, nor do they really care. I do hope that changes, but we'll see. I see a fun moment only every now and then, but nothing consistent. It's complicated though, because it's regional. I find the West Coast and Montreal to be always having 'fun', whereas other cities are either mostly supporting crap commercial music and pushing liquor sales in random city clubs, or struggling to even have an underground scene that includes more than 50 to 100 people, and these are in cities that host at least 5 million people. :D
Commercial: This question is so out of my jurisdiction. I do have lots of respect for Madonna. She is amazing, raw, humble talent...that's still top of the pops. The rest is so bad I can't believe most of the population actually prefers to consume it. Really tells a lot about what people are about and what they really want. But hey...to each their own! ;)
CGNY: I’ve been listening to your music for a while but I feel like I know nothing about you!! In general it seems you keep a low profile gig-wise in the States. Is there a reason for that?
BD: Well, I'm 5ft 6in with brown eyes and I have an unstoppable taste for bad habits (only the good ones)...
Seriously, though, not that I know of. I think some people think Billy Dalessandro is some Spanish guy in London. Also, I never really had an agent in the states (I have an agent for Europe, but not an agent in the US, and having a North American manager isn't exactly the same as having an agent). Maybe that's' a reason. I also don't push myself so much in comparison to other artists, as I do this for fun since it's a sort of 'pro-hobby' for me, so I'm always with the state of mind "whatever happens, happens". I'm in this because I love producing, that's what I'm made to do. The fact that I sometimes get a paid flight, dinner and a hotel room I hardly see or use, is simply icing on the cake...and I'm very grateful for it. Others demand it for whatever reason or other.
CGNY: What do you like to do in your down time? Are you still based in Chicago?
BD: I cook, I snowboard, I put together plastic models, I travel with my wife to volcanoes around the world getting lost in jungles and obscure foreign cities. I get lost in music. I like to workout, stay healthy and just be happy. And I live in Quebec these days.
CGNY: Any projects that you’re working on at the moment that you want to tell us about? New artists that you’re excited about for Siteholder?
BD: My fifth album, Cracktime, is the next project I have coming up. It's definitely more booty-bass/303/dub style. I'm definitely going for more 'raunchy' and 'hypnotic' sound these days. This will be released end of September 2011 on Soniculture as double 12" and CD/Digital. My 2011 live set kicks off at Mutek with a live set full of new sonic goodies, Cracktime included, and I'm even in the last six months getting onto new musical plateaus with myself...stay tuned!
Siteholder we're reconfiguring these days since there are three of us in the label and we're all busy with personal agendas (babies, new locations, life stuff, etc), so Siteholder is on auto-pilot at the moment, but we always have something new on the horizon. Stay tuned, again!
Thanks for the interview, Fiona.