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Francesco Pico [Interview]

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Based in the Hague, Dutch artist Francesco Pico has been at the cutting edge of electronic music for the better part of three decades. Emerging from the Netherlands' avant-garde dance scene on the strength of releases via Dave Seaman's Audiotherapy, Eelke Kleijn's Outside The Box and Global Underground, Francesco Pico has found a way to create a personal universe by exploring electronic sounds, and ultimately finding his own place in the trend-driven state of underground dance music. Enjoying a career renaissance since returning from a hiatus in 2018, Francesco has found new life through releases via Deepwibe Underground, Manual Music and his own Magnitude Recordings imprint, the latter of which serves as his primary home. Fully formed within the creative confines of his The Hague studio, Francesco's fourth artist album 'Perpetual E-Motion' has followed a less conventional path to its release. Whereas most modern-day albums get dropped with little fanfare, or perhaps an industry standard one or two-single promotional period, Francesco chose to do something outside the norm. In his trailblazing ways, Pico decided to record and release singles from the project not only in real time (as they were completed) but also in the order they would appear on the album's final tracklist, A daunting task as Francesco notes, "The real challenge of doing the album this way was to stick with the story. Releasing a single regularly was important so I was forced to stick to the plan, putting it away for a while and checking later if it was correct was not possible due to the deadlines of the scheduled singles. I just had to continue with what I had at the time, kind of like the old days of recording where you also captured the sound at the time of recording and had to deal with it. This was kind of refreshing for me, which I liked". It's this unique and inventive approach to rethink our industry's infrequently challenged ways that has resulted in a year-plus lead up to the twenty-three track epic 'Perpetual E-Motion'.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Francesco to learn more about the release of ‘Perpetual E-Motion’, his background, studio process, inspirations, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Francesco, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hi, thanks for the invite! I feel relaxed at the moment, a bit tired but fulfilled.

I'm in the process of selecting a classic set, and the last one I put on (on vinyl) is Joff Roach with Phunk Face.

How has your start to the year been? And what are your plans for the coming week?

The year has started very well, finishing my album, the gigs, etc. We are in a nice flow at the moment. Scheduled some rest this week, a meeting of a reunion festival and on Friday I will play at a nice party in the RLGC (Amsterdam)

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I started self-taught, little info of course. You had some magazines, but otherwise you had to get information in the shops and, above all, draw your own conclusions, make lots of bad buys and learn the hard way ;). Reviews were a rare thing. At one point I did have a group of like-minded people as friends, with whom you learned from each other and share experiences. That is also my first advice: find people around you to discover and learn things together. Nowadays YouTube is also a good source (reviews), but can also drive you crazy. Ultimately, having passion and therefore automatically spending a lot of time on it is the most important thing.

How did growing up and living in the Netherlands contribute to your interest in electronic music? Or did it at all?

Not sure. But from an early age I listened to electronic influenced music, such as Camel, Mike Oldfield, Vangalis etc. and later MTV and ‘going out’ brought me the first electronic music. I started out as a guitarist and came into contact with electronic musical instruments through the music stores in the Netherlands. I was a gear nerd from an early age and Holland was pretty quick with the house scene, so….;)

If you were a tour guide for nightlife in the Netherlands, what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

Pooh… at my age it’s difficult to keep up with all the great initiatives starting up ;). I immediately thought of ClubNL, but unfortunately it will close around this time. ‘Thuishaven’ in Amsterdam is very nice, a festival feeling every week. In Rotterdam I would definitely try Toffler. In terms of DJs, I like to go to those from my own scene, such as Paul Hazendonk, Around Us, Jaap Ligthart, Mark my Words and if Eelke Kleijn is in the Netherlands, I also like to come along.

Where do we find you if you are not in the studio or socializing at clubs? And doing what?

In a watch workshop! My second passion is watches and I am currently even training to become a watchmaker next to my music career. Music remains an uncertain profession ;).

Your new album ’Perpetual E-Motion’ has just been released via your Magnitude Recordings imprint, please tell us about the release, it’s quite a different concept than most artist albums which i’m sure our readers will be interested in.

Perpetual E-motion is about emotions in music that go on and on. The Ambiguous 'E-motion' is 'E'lectronic movement or 'Ecstasy' movement but also just Emotion. And Perpetual; going on forever.

But it's also about the way the album came about. Releasing an album in 1x is nowadays a waste of the hype, so many artists make an album and then release a few singles before the album is dropped. But then it had become quiet for a while so I had another idea; Don't finish everything first and then release it, but make it 1 by 1 in the right order as they will appear on the album in the story. The album would also slowly reveal itself to the world as a TV series so that you become curious about the next episode, this seemed to me unique in music and that is why they have become 'Episodes' EP’s first.

The album is quite varied in terms of style which makes for a very refreshing listen and it does flow beautifully on an upwards trajectory throughout. Tell us about the inspiration behind the album and why it was important for you to express your thoughts, ideas in this way.

I really like narrative music, symphonic albums. As I said, I listened to artists like Mike Oldfield and Camel from an early age, they also approached an album as one. This has always influenced me a lot, also when I rolled into dance with, for example, the Orbital brown album and the CDs from Sasha and Digweed. They were stories and not a selection of hits. Actually, I've approached my albums like this since my first album (Imagining Sounds), the DJ and the producer in me come together, I really like to create an experience.

What track from the album has gotten the most play in your sets and why?

That must be 'State of the Wave' or 'Check this Out', they just roll nicely and fit best in what I play as a DJ. 'A hat tip to the great Alexander' is more recent and also got a lot of spins lately.

Let our readers inside your studio please. What does your studio set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of ‘Perpetual E-Motion’?

Got a minute? :)) Ableton is my heart right now, mainly because the Push is very important to me. After my burnout, I was left with the fact that I get exhausted from computer work and with the Push I can make a track 80% without looking at my screen. I am now also learning the Akai Force, to be able to work completely without a computer. So I would choose hardware over software any day. It also inspires me more than a mouse, the real buttons, the character of a device, it just feels more like a musical instrument and it feels more fun because of that. I think my Moog Minitauer is in almost all tracks, but I also used the Subsequent and my Roland System-8 a lot. And, oh yes, the Roland XV-5080, full of expansions, this is really my go to hardware Omnisphere.

Walk us through the production process on one of the album tracks, whichever you feel might be the most interesting.

One of the advantages of this way of working is that I can use the previous track as inspiration every time. I usually started with the ending of the previous track and then determined what should come next in the story, so that I could continue from there. I usually started with something like a beat or arpeggio loop, which connects to the previous track. From there I added elements one by one until the moment I removed the loop of the previous track and continued with the parts I had. I have a lot of sample libraries and also a lot of hardware, so I'm always looking there for the next element that needs to be added. Eventually I have most of the elements together and then I will try out with the Push how the arrangement should be. Then I record this in session view and work everything out till I’m satisfied with it.

Let’s talk about production a bit more for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play? And was there anything that inspired the album?

Haha, no such thing. I usually just get inspired by cool music that I hear when I go out or listen to when I’m at home. My story is like a template that I have in my head and as I described above, at my album I let myself be inspired by the previous track, like: “yes, now this has to happen” Making a loose track I just imagine the part of the story I want to make.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite, I think. What marks the end of the process for you? How do you know when a track is done?

When I listen from start to finish and don't get annoyed anymore or want to intervene because something isn't right.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

Writing the music, working it out and operating the synthesizers is the most fun part. I find the mixing part the most difficult, also because you have already heard it 100 times by now. But I think that is recognizable.

The writing of the album was a long process, over a year in fact, now that it’s done, what are your thoughts reflecting back on the process?

Haha, never again :)...The real challenge of doing the album this way was to stick with the story. Releasing a single regularly was important so I was forced to stick to the plan, putting it away for a while and checking later if it was correct, was not possible due to the deadlines of the scheduled singles. You just had to continue with what you had at the time. You had to decide and move on, kind of like the old days of recording where you also captured the sound at the time of recording and had to deal with it. This was kind of refreshing for me, which I liked.

Of course I have parts in the album that would probably have been different in hindsight if I had longer, but I'm super proud of the result; the story really unfolded the way I wanted in the making process. Especially if you listen to the album in 1x, which is of course the intention, everything falls into place and tracks will really land. I think I can therefore be confident that it has been quite successful :)

How much of an effect do other genres of music outside of the electronic realm have on your own productions? And in particular the album.

I think a lot, as I already mentioned my taste is broad and I really take things from Oldfield, Gorillaz, Radiohead, for example. Because I grew up with it, I think this will always have an influence in some way.

Will there be any remixes following the album release? And how do you feel about your work being remixed in general?

Yes, there will definitely be remix EPs. They are already in progress. I think that's very cool! I always have trouble playing my own tracks because I've heard them 100x or don't want to play them every time. A fresh approach from a favorite producer immediately takes away that problem.

Do you think the digital era changed the way we perceive artist albums? Do they still carry the weight they once did or should? Is this something that perhaps depends on who (record label) is releasing it as well?

Certainly, we unfortunately live in a throwaway society. Getting away with an album with 12 songs for a year is no longer an option. I think it's a shame, because like I said I can express myself best with the long story. Nowadays everyone has to deal with that, but there are genres where an album is still important but most of them also bring out EP’s in between to keep up with the algorithm gods ;).

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Haha the dream party :)  5 artists in a row is a lot, because I prefer to let everyone play for an extended set. I'll start myself because I want to party as well and the line-up is than:

K Loveski, Kyotto, DJ Ruby, Guy J

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Oh that's a tough one, then I guess ‘Turning the mind into an ally’ by Sakyon Mipham. This book has helped me a lot to relax and learn to deal with my mental issues, this has been very important to me in the past.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

My family and friends, seeing my daughter happy ;). But that might be a bit cliche. So then I come to mechanical watches again or maybe a hot windy day on my surfboard.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Working on everything that comes with releasing an album, (like giving interviews :)) resting, spinning, remixing, Reorder my studio and start working on Akai Force, resting more and maybe performing the album live???

'Perpetual E-motion' is available now via Magnitude Recordings: https://bit.ly/3pm5BGN

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