his interview was conducted in two parts before the Re-Konstrukt gig at Sullivan Room with Reset Robot (that interview coming soon!) I got some time to chat with Billy Johnston and Gennaro Mastrantonio together (in coat check!) and later Billy alone behind the decks with the stomping sounds of Gennaro’s music coming through! Here’s what I learned from these cool dudes of techno!
CGNY: Tell us about your background and your music gentlemen?
Billy: Hello Fiona, my name is Billy Johnston and this is my colleague Gennaro Mastrantonio. We started collaborating together in 2009. I knew his music through Perc Trax and Sleaze and I also had a release on Sleaze. I really loved his music and we started doing a collaboration. We had some big successes on Blue fin which had a track that went to No 2 on the techno charts for 2 months straight in 2010. We love working together. Gen is a genius! He has a heavy background in musical theory. As a kid he toured Italy with the Italian Philharmonic as a flute player. He is very knowledgeable in orchestral and classical music. I’m from Miami; very well versed in the underground scene. Together it’s just a good combination. I have that Miami “street smarts” so I’m very business orientated and aggressive in going out and sealing the deals, getting on with the big labels like Octopus, Defected Records. We have a release coming up on Nicole Moudaber’s label. We’re trying to take it to the next level – which is for us the top level, to focus and pull away from the pack.
CGNY: And Genn how do you guys collaborate – living in different countries – presumably all via the internet?
Gen: Yes all through the internet. This kind of collaboration probably couldn’t have happened 20 years ago but the new technology has allowed us to meet and work in this way. He loves my music; I love his personality and so we started to work together.
CGNY: And how did you migrate from classical music into techno?
Gen: The flute was just a starting point for me to understand that I love music. And this just helped me to share the music with others. It wasn’t so much a passion for the instrument; it was more a passion for the music.
CGNY: And this is your first time playing in New York?
Gen: Yes because Italy is so far away!
CGNY: So what are you expecting from a New York crowd?
Gen: I think New York is really good for this kind of music. So I expect many people who are really happy to hear techno!
CGNY: Billy you released another single "It's not my blow" – heard it on Pullproxy – tell us about that?
Billy: It's Not My Blow EP was an interesting story. Initially it was a track that we were gonna release on "CLINK", but after a conflict of interests & my lack of patience. (I hate waiting too long) it found it's way on Jay Denham's label as part of his 20 year anniversary of Black Nation. The video was made by my friend Kenneth (aka) MEANSandENDS who is from Detroit, but currently lives in Brooklyn. He is an amazing producer and has his own special sound. I really believe in him 110%. Watch out for him in the future.
CGNY: We will for sure! What other releases have you coming up?
Billy: We have some stuff coming up on Tic Tac Toe Records and we have an Oliver Deutzmann remix who has a Panorama bar sound. We’re really looking forward to it as it’s the direction we are going. We have a collaboration with Tony Rohr. We just finished one track and it was made with samples on an analogue RS7000 drum machine. We’re really excited about that. Tony is one of the nicest guys and we really need more people like him in this electronic industry.
CGNY: Absolutely agreed on that! What do you think of the state of techno now?
Billy: Definitely a renaissance going on! You can listen to Taylor Swift and sometimes hear some techno stuff in the background. That being said, a lot of labels that were more underground before are getting more commercial because the sales are getting so high. So that has propelled us into making more of an underground sound. We’re going to stay with our roots. We’ve always been underground techno and we’re not going to just jump on this bandwagon for bigger sales. Suddenly techno is sooo cool right now. Even cities like Miami that were traditionally more house and commercial, even now are getting more techno. With that being said we’re really more focused to stay disciplined and keep releasing our underground sound.
CGNY: And Gennaro – where else have you guys played together?
Gen: We played in Korea – a really good experience in front of 5000 people with a big sound system.
Billy: Yes it was amazing – we’re going back there. It’s actually a sister club to Womb in Japan.
CGNY: Well good luck and have fun on the decks tonight!!
(View footage of Gennaro playing here)
At this point Gennaro went off to set up for his set and I grabbed some solo time with Billy!
CGNY: So Billy fill us in on your musical journey!
Billy: I came from musical family. My father was a musician for the Miami Sound machine for a while! My grandfather was a jazz musician. I took up the drums and I also played the trumpet. So advanced music and really good music has always been deeply rooted in me. I studied classical jazz, swing and big band music. When I got into high school back in the late 80s, Miami South Beach wasn’t like it is today. It was very decadent and very raw. The first club I ever went to with my girlfriends from high school was a gay club.
CGNY: That’s where all the best dance music came from!
Billy: Exactly. It was the only club we could get in and the only clubs that played techno music back then. The first time I ever went I was like ‘Wow this is amazing. Next to jazz and classical this has to be the next best thing for me – I love it”. I was really into that music. I worked on South Beach on and off up until ‘97 and then I took a break and I got out of it. Then back in 2003 music production started getting a lot easier and a lot cheaper and I thought “you know what – I can do this”. I was hearing the music out there and thought it was simple and that I could do better than that. That was around 2004/5 and I went pro in 2009 with my first signing on Sleaze Records
CGNY: Quite a substantial label for a first release.
Billy: Yes I held out for quite some time and my first release charted. So right out of the gates Hans (Bouffmyhre – Sleaze label head) was like “Man this is really great. Not only is your first release charting but it’s doing really good”. Ever since then I’ve been bit by the bug and just trying to keep on moving forward.
CGNY: How did you hook up with Re-Konstrukt. Are you repped by them here?
Billy: Yes I’m on the roster of Re-Konstrukt. I met Syed and Fahad in Miami Beach in 09/10 at WMC. We were playing at a Sleaze Records party together I think. They’re really great guys and I started following their music. So we’ve kept in touch, been on a few labels together. We kind of came onto the scene at the same time, went pro at the same time so we’re kind of growing together I think. I like to be around people who have the same goals and who are at the same level. Sometimes folks who are a little higher up on the ladder tend to spit down the ladder. You really don’t have to be like that. We’re all in this together, it’s a brotherhood. It’s kind of cool just to be cool you know?
CGNY: I get that. You want to work with people you like and that you have a good rapport with. They got a lot of really good artists on the roster. They’re really building a brand.
Billy: Yes everybody’s working together. I just introduced them to my Korean friends (who brought me over to Korea - Unjin). It’s a really big market there.
CGNY: You mean it’s not all Gangnam style over there?!
Billy: No it is not! The scene is really amazing and the people really get into the music. One of the guys played tonight Unjin – he just got off the decks. We’re trying to get a residency going over there so that’s a big deal.
CGNY: Very nice!
Billy: Yes so I’m very happy. I just signed on last month and they had me come up for this and then I go to Honduras next month that they arranged. So I’m looking forward to my debut in Honduras.
CGNY: Kind of volatile there at the moment no?
Billy: Well it depends. A lot of places get a bad reputation for being dangerous. But the people who come to gigs really want to escape all the madness and I think if you’re not involved in the underbelly of that society I think you’re pretty safe. It’s like any business, if you’re involved with shady things, things might happen.
CGNY: I don’t know you terribly well Billy but you seem like a pretty grounded guy! How do you stay connected to reality in this crazy business because it can be at times!
Billy: Yes I’ve seen a lot of people get crazy and you really have to be focused. I’m a focused individual. I don’t do drugs, I drink very little. For me it’s just to enjoy the music.
" I like to be around people who have the same goals and who are at the same level. Sometimes folks who are a little higher up on the ladder tend to spit down the ladder. You really don’t have to be like that. We’re all in this together, it’s a brotherhood. It’s kind of cool just to be cool you know?"
CGNY: So how do you get pumped up for going up on stage?
Billy: The music, absolutely the music. Seeing that people are in the club to hear advanced music. I try to distance myself from people who appear to be always out of it. I really don’t like that part of the business. There are a lot of scenes that really aren’t about that. In Asia there are very little drugs like Korea and Japan. It’s really great to play for a crowd that you know is only drinking alcohol.
CGNY: Speaking of being healthy– a question I’m always curious about with djs being the medical nut I am! Hearing is so key to a dj – how do you protect your ears?
Billy: I do the usual ear plugs before & after the gigs along w/ supplements daily to help in the healing process. These include "Lemon Bio Flavonoids" for the minor Tinnitus in my left ear. LBV seem to help lower the ringing. Also, I include "Vinpocetine" that is known to reduce or eliminate tinnitus, although this usually occurs only after prolonged periods (weeks or months).
CGNY: Valuable information Billy – thanks for sharing that!! Getting some myself! Also this question. I feel like there is quite a bit of dj bashing going on in the social media networks with people slagging off super successful albeit commercial djs and calling them out. I mean obviously you don’t play or listen to that kind of music but what’s your take on the whole superstar dj phenomenon?
Billy: I think it’s great. I think anyone who has success in electronic music is fantastic. What deadmau5 is doing is unbelievable. He just signed a 20 million dollar deal. What SHM has done since 2005 is really incredible. I respect those guys as great producers. Yes I might not play their music in my sets but what they’ve done for themselves is a great thing. The bigger the commercial electronic music scene gets, the bigger the underground gets. These people who are bashing are just jealous and they are just hating. And that’s not healthy for the scene. It’s all a big brotherhood. If we all work together we can conquer the world and we can have it (electronic music) as the most popular thing in pop.
CGNY: It’s all good for the general scene?
Billy: It’s good for everything. Lately the techno thing is growing and it’s becoming more commercial and that’s great because as people become more and more exposed to commercial techno, those people are going to dive into the underground techno. So come on over. We’re making music for you! Come please! We’ll be here waiting for you!
Check out Billy and Gennaro on their soundclouds
The next Re-Konstrukt party happens Feb 23rd - details here