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Horizons [Interview]

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With a concrete support coming from some of the most important DJs and Producers of the Progressive scene, Horizons has become a solid reality for those aiming to hear melodic journeys combining dark and hypnotic grooves: this and much more to expect from the Italian DJ and Producer, currently living in London. Horizons is committed to deliver nothing but the purest essence of the Underground Progressive music merging the deep and dark sounds and re-creating a new dimension of dj sets, that will lift up your souls and drive your subconscious to the most natural trance state of mind. Landscapes Music has therefore become the main point of reference to those who want a Music label that embodies all those elements on each release and allows Horizons himself to discover new outstanding talents out there driven by the same inspirations and music credo. Horizons new podcast concept, called Landscapes Sessions, perfectly sums up the Music philosophy he has been growing up with, leading him to become a proud Progressive supporter whilst carrying on the Underground Music Family concept introduced by legends like John OO Fleming, Airwave, Oliver Lieb, Sasha, Hernan Cattaneo over the years. As Landscapes Music celebrates their 50th release this week we had a chance to catch up with Horizons to chat about his history in electronic music, inspirations, production process, the inner workings of the label, his new remix of The Boy from the Future and much more. Enjoy! 

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

Hey guys, thanks a lot for having me! I’m quite tired because of the heatwave that has hit on us in Italy for the last weeks and is really making you feel more tired than usual. The last tune I had listen to it was a techno track called ‘Man Alive’ by Devilfish. I have hard groove techno blood running through my veins when I was younger and was listening to both trance and techno.

What are your plans for the coming week?

As soon as we enter September than I can finally start some new ideas and projects I’ve got for my music label and for myself as a producer. Besides of that, I need holidays! Definitely!

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

It’s very difficult to narrow it down to just five tracks, but I am 100% sure that this tune will keep me company forever:

Planisphere – O

A tune that has had such a big impact on me as a music passionate and, later, as a music producer too. It perfectly summarizes the best type of Trance tune, for my personal tastes: 15 minutes of music journey in the most underground way possible.

Other tunes I can list down (I am sure I am forgetting many others) surely are:

L.S.G. – Hidden Sun of Venus

Plastic Boy – From Here to Nowhere

Jam & Spoon – Odyssey to Anyoona

Humate – Love Stimulation (Paul Van Dyk’s Love Mix)

How did growing up in Italy influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

Italy, like with many other countries, has so much to say musically wise. Only problem is that you need to make it a trend before it gets noticed and once it becomes a trend the quality sinks drastically: this applied for both Dance music and Trance music back in late 90s, making the Italian electronic music scene dying after the new millennium, in my opinion. I grew up in a country where euro-dance was at its peak time while I was 15 and Trance music did make a solid appearance both in clubs and radio stations when I was 18. Then, suddenly, it all vanished, replaced by radio music or, as I like calling it fast food music. That was the moment I started chasing my music dreams and told myself “I need to travel much more if I want to make it and find out more of the roots of Techno and Trance music, which, nowadays, are still my favorite gernes of club music, together with Drum and Bass.

Who from your home country inspired you the most when you first discovered the music?

Sounds weird to say but that would probably be my parents, when they gifted me an old stereo which I could use to record my MCs. That’s when I became passionate of Dance and Trance and stayed up all night long waiting for that specific radio show to start so I could record it and listen to it later while on the bus going to school. I mean, that was a true inspirational experience that made me understand I wanted to become a DJ (first) and then a music producer (later). As a DJ, in Italy, I was inspired by the BXR artists&DJs who were at their peak of their career: people like Saccoman, Mauro Picotto, Mario Più, Cominotto, Joy Kitikonti were surely the ones I was going to see on Saturday night.

I believe you are currently based in the UK, what prompted the move there and how does it compare to Italy in terms of nightlife?

I used to be there indeed but moved back home last year. I was tempted to become successful in what was just a passion before: obviously, I would have needed a job to keep chasing those dreams. UK was, at the time, the only place where to go to have a little chance to be noticed by club promoters while making new connections and getting to know new people to share the crazy night life that London has. Italian clubbing scene was already almost dead when I moved to UK and Trance was almost down to a couple of one-off events only. London had such an incredible night life and vibe: as I said before, I love both Trance and Techno (and drum and bass!) so I had no difficulties in finding the right party every weekend. Obviously, Trance parties were my main priority so I could introduce myself to the right people and club promoters and had the chances to play at nice parties and clubs which I was (almost) never offered in Italy.

You have a new release out this week on your Landscapes imprint which celebrates its 50th release so congratulations are in order, you must be excited! It’s a remix from yourself of ‘Lights Off’ from The Boy from the Future. Tell why this is an appropriate project to commemorate the label’s 50th release.

Thanks a lot!

Those who have been following my music label know for sure how picky I am with the demo selection. Therefore, reaching 50 releases in 7 years means really a lot for me, as I can relate to every single EP or remixed EP I’ve signed. A music label must speak for you and introduce your music vision to the world. Release 050 is exactly what I am now as a music producer: ‘Lights Off’ rework is the best business card I could ever show to people for years. Moreover, I wanted to make sure people understand a very important point: my label is open to everyone, without any discrimination or prejudice. Therefore, we’ve come with the idea of having a release cover slightly different than usual that could potentially describe this feeling of freedom and unity. No countries, no religion, no politics views will ever affect the way I will be selecting a demo track: only the quality of the music sent.

Please walk us through the production process on the remix, how did you approach it?

Lights Off started as a simple combination of ideas by The Boy from the Future, which I kind of felt like there could fit perfectly into a Horizons track. I had this thing in mind that the release 050 must have been the beginning of a new phase for my label, where I will consider underground dark Trance as priority and Progressive as a second option. Therefore, I wanted it to start with combining the original summer-vibes given by The Boy from the Future (mostly atmospheric pads and textures) with the dark-moody Horizons ones and see where I could have gone. Result is that I am so excited and happy for the result and cannot wait for you guys to listen to the final preview very soon via label’s official SoundCloud page.

Do you find remixing a track can go a bit quicker than writing an original and which do you prefer?

I definitely prefer writing originals because that is where you can see the real soul of a music producer, what sound choice they’ve got, how they blend all elements together, what message is the artist telling us, what music journey we are ready to be in. Writing an original mix definitely describes the way you see the world while writing a remix describes the way you would like the world to be. However, I must give credit to one aspect regarding remixes, at least for me: while writing down pre-made melodies, harmonies etc you get sometimes very interesting new ideas which you will then be using on a new original of yours. I know this can happen also with original mixes but, personally, this is a recurring thing when doing remixes.

Let’s talk about production 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 tracks which make up your

In the last few years, I must say I have changed a lot the production process. This also include some trends or bad habits I used to have before making music or after making music. In my case, I am mostly inspired by places around the world when making music, which is the main reason why most of my Horizons singles are named after places (sometimes undiscovered) of the world. It could be a tv documentary, a trip, or a simple walk: anything will inspire you if you look the world with your own eyes. I have become much more aware of what is surrounding me and therefore trying to recreate that emotion I have in music. I might seem as a very talkative guy, but I will never be able to speak in the way I do with my music. It feels like that is what I need to do so that people can really know who I am.

For you to get started on a track do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called ‘visualizations’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

One thing I’ve learnt about music production is to never be stuck at a specific process. You’ll learn one, you’ll apply it and make the best out of it until something new comes into place and helps you becoming a better music producer. So, you must be open to any feedback received because one day you’ll get that right one, that right constructive feedback which will surely help with music production, starting from the way you begin your new music project. Having ideas can become a plus, of course: but more than ideas you need to have a solid understanding of what you got in front of you and what can you do with it. Learning your DAW, the capabilities of your synths and your VSTs, playing a lot with making random sounds.. that is what I feel like being the best approach ‘cause you may have all the ideas of this world but you will eventually need to write them down and make them sounding perfectly right in the final mix.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

OK this might seem crazy perhaps but…I must change the background color of the Cubase main layout, for each new project I start. It’s such weird thing, I know, but changing colors gives me that sort of “new” approach, breaking up with the former project I was working on. So, yes that could be seen for sure as a ritual. Coffee, well, it’s a must and can never miss in my home. Sometimes I must admit I get some ideas by watching some movies and, in rare occasions, I might be so excited about that movie that I want to make a track inspired by that (like what happened with my 7 Days EP (The Ring) or with the Mind Flayer EP (Stranger Things).

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 you never feel tired of listening to it on and on and on. That’s the moment I say: “Right, it’s done, and I like it”. This, however, might be sometimes the result of 10 mixdown exports or 50 mixdown exports: there is no rule behind of it, only what you really feel from the track you’re making and the general mood you are into. Now, that’s something that no digital age will change: you must feel confident enough with yourself before sitting in front of a computer and start making music, because during those moments nobody will be able to say that you are not worth that moment. So, you may end up thinking that a track is done just because you are not in the right mood: that would be such a pity and you need to unplug your gears and go out for a walk that could maybe last hours or days or weeks, why not.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?

That’s one of the great types of feedback I received many years ago by a producer I trust a lot and I must say it was absolutely a game changer: I was too impatient and eager to see those tunes being released, as if that was the most important thing. So, I was like finishing the stems mixing, sending them out for master on the same day and that’s it.  Now, instead, thanks to my label and to the fact I can set any release date I want for my tracks (without having to wait for months or years for a tune to be released!) now I have invested much more time on listening to the track in different contexts across 7-10 days. That is really giving me that answer I needed. I most of the times produce with my DT990 Pro headphones, then listen to the final project mix on my KRK speakers and start comparing. Then, I’ll have a go on early morning hours with same KRK speakers listening of the same track at very low volume: your ears are fully refreshed and not stressed by the work routine and you grasp those minor details which you might want to change. Finally, a few listens on my car and on my Bluetooth headphones, each of them with flat EQ settings, to try staying as close as possible to the home studio sound output.

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

I have usually 2 music colleagues and a friend with whom I tend to ask for advice, when I am not 100% sure of a track. Besides of them, I only rely on the master engineer who knows exactly what I want, what the track goal is and my music background. These are, in fact, the most important aspects that I rarely find in friends or colleagues, so, I rely only on people who know my musical taste and goals even before knowing me as a person.

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

Producing is a passion, if you love it, you must love anything that goes around of it. There’s nothing that I would say is “not nice” when producing. The most exciting part to me is the phase 1: you create sounds from scratch by using your Synth or your VSTs. It is such fulfilling experience and makes me feel so alive. If I really have to say something that I would prefer others doing that definitely is the IT-related aspect of being an electronic music producer. You know, software updates, Cubase that crashes, soundcard or video not playing audio, etc etc that’s so annoying when you are full of ideas and simply cannot work because of that. I am free to “hire” any IT person who wants offers 24-7 availability in change of some pizza lol.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

A proper soundproof environment: this is probably the only thing I really want and need which I hardly can achieve, for now. I mean, I have done something of course but I am (VERY) jealous when I see those producers having 10-15k worth soundproofed studio rooms just for themselves. I believe we all dream for very expensive synth/external hardware, right? But I am not a musician like BT, Airwave or others so I must acknowledge who I am and what skills I have so far.

Let’s talk about your label Landscapes Music a bit more, in terms of DJs and artists who would say are the biggest sources of inspiration for Landscapes?

Landscapes Music was born with one main principle, which, luckily, I am proud to say it has never changed. I want the label to be unique, to be seen as something different in the scene, something that no one else has ever experienced. There was no specific DJ who I took inspiration from when creating the label: I was mainly inspired by the fact that I could have focused my efforts on releasing my tracks on a label, helping my music being more and more heard. These days is so difficult to make a name with so many fake/pre paid artists social channels, that you kind of not even know who is real and who is a bot, who really loves what they do and who is simply driven by others in what they do.

Landscapes Music is all about underground progressive, with a clear Trance background that must be present on each tune I sign, both mine or from other producers: that is and will always stay the main principle.

If you had to pinpoint a few tracks that you released which were crucial in the development of Landscapes what would they be and why?

Dusk Over Puerto Princesa set the beginning of everything: listening to it these days makes me feel like “We’ve got the exact vibes in here, but production could have been so much better though”. But it is still the release 001 of the label so I tend to be very satisfied with it. I must probably say that having people like Forerunnners, Andromedha, Jam el Mar, Filterheadz, Thomas Datt, Andrea Cassino or Morttagua have helped a lot in terms of exposure while producers like Sunflare, Paranoia106, Dark Matter, Narel, RED or NuFects have really added something new and special to the label’s music philosophy.

All of those names are so different, I know, but they all have one thing in common: they have understood the label’s main music philosophy and gently adapted their style to it, without losing their own musical identity. And this, trust me, is something I appreciate a lot these days.

The label has been running for close to seven years now, how if at all has it changed in that time?

The only thing that has changed are probably my hair getting grey lol. Label was born with the sole purpose of showcasing my vision, my view of Trance and Progressive. This remains the same, with a slight change of the way we work behind the scenes. I do not recall a single moment where I did not feel this proud of running the label and I am even more excited thinking about what brilliant things the future can bring for us.

Are you solely responsible for the A&R on both labels? And if not, who else contributes to what gets signed or helping with the weekly duties?

I am the person who gave birth to the label and the its music concept. I was helped by Proton staff with setting it up and with shaping the perfect logo that still describes the label’s music philosophy to the best. (As we speak) I am running it with the very precious help of Harald, known with his music producer moniker Meanda, and Giorgia. They both are playing a fundamental role in both doing A&R and socials: Harald has been carrying on his Meanda music project under my label and I bet this guy will get lot of exposure and deserved recognition for the music he makes. You should check out how his music productions skills have improved a lot by listening to his discography on Landscapes Music!

Do you have someone who you get a second opinion from when it comes to signing tracks? A significant other perhaps?

If we talk of anyone outside of the label, then to be honest no. The main reason is simply ‘cause I can have multiple feedback and opinions but none of them match entirely with your beliefs, with what you really want to push and deliver. It’s your label, meaning, it must represent your own philosophy. That being said, it certainly might happen from time to time that I need to ask my master engineer for a second opinion on demo tracks we’ve received; I trust his ears much more than mines when it comes to “little-but-important” details of a track.

When you get to a point with a track or set of tracks where you’re close to committing to signing them what can push the decision one way or the other?

I used to be one of those guys trying to sign as many tracks as possible before with the result of having so much negative feedback without an explanation, without knowing what I was actually doing wrong. Most of the people I was asking for feedback for my finished tracks (both music colleagues or even friends) were just not caring at all or giving me cold-hearted short sentences. Then, I realized I should have taken it differently and focused only on what I really wanted: that’s when I came up with the idea of setting a label that I could have used to both improve my music skills and showcase, little by little, track after track, the music journey I wanted the others to take into. I rarely think nowadays of making an original track for a specific label because most of the label’s owners are either not replying to demo submissions or giving you, again, very short replies such as “No, thanks, bye”. I don’t see the point in that so I will focus on doing originals for my label unless I will be asked specifically for originals from other labels.

Do you have a special spot to listen to demos? Outside of the studio I mean, a place where your mind resets a bit and you have fresh ears in a way.

Listening to demos means paying due respect to someone who spend time in both making a track (no matter if good or bad) and finding your contact details to get in touch with you. So, I pay a lot of attention in listening to them and I must be 100% in the right mood to do so. Most of the time I give a first quick listen to the demos to see if they are interesting enough for the label. Then, if I get some sort of good vibes from the first listen, I will spend some more time listening to the demo track(s) both in the night and early morning hours with fresh ears. This helps me understanding if I really have made a psychological connection with the artist. This is so important because it helps getting to know the artist better and having a much better conversation that could possibly help both parties coming to an agreement that makes everyone happy and not just the label owner.

What advice do you have for artists hoping to get signed to Landscapes?

To be sure of what they do. When you submit a demo to any label you are submitting your music view, it’s not just about sending a wav file to some strangers, sitting and waiting for a yes/no answer. It must be you checking that the file(s) you’ll be sending perfectly mirrors yourself, your music philosophy. It goes without saying that people should really look for the label’s music back catalogue first thing and understand if their music really fits. If you have doubts or queries, we don’t bite at all: just contact us with a short SoundCloud snippet to check whether that might be interesting for us and be ready to have full-extended finished work, exported to highest quality, for us to listen to later. My label is and will always be known for having human real approach on a 1-to-1 basis, where we put the artist at the center of our project and not the other way around. So, the previously said communication is a key factor that makes my label, definitely different than many others. And the feedback I received from many artists who have worked with us is just a solid proof that we are doing it in the right way.

Is big DJ play a factor in signing something? From someone like Hernan Cattaneo or Above & Beyond for example.

Saying no it would be so hypocritical, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to have these big names supporting you? Luckily, it happened, and I am so grateful with anyone of them who took some time and decided to play one of our tracks in their radioshow or live performances.  However, that must not change what you really believe in. When Sudbeat, Lost & Found, Anjunabeats, Bonzai, Platipus, etc labels were founded, the people behind of them were feeding their dreams release after release until that magic moment has come and their dream became real. So that is what I keep in mind when signing a track and sending it out on promo: I want this track to be part of my dream, of my projects and therefore any person who will support our artist new release, it automatically means they’re supporting my music projects too.

Looking back over your own discography, which one of your early releases / tracks still puts a smile on your face when you listen to it now, and why?

Any music producer nightmare is to re-listen their own old tracks and end up saying “Did I really do that? Oh my God, why?!”... Isn’t it? I definitely got mines but I do also have some lovely memories when listening to some of my old tracks I did both under my former DJ Shy trance moniker and the current one, Horizons. Under DJ Shy I still love listening to my 7 Days EP while under my Horizons alias I think these were the label non-related tunes I loved the most re-listening: Timewave – Strange World (Horizons Remix) (on Mistique Music, a label I owe a lot), Horizons – Last Stop Bloemendaal (on Solarstone’s Pure Trance), Horizons – Mind Flayer EP (which I signed on my buddy’s label Forescape Digital).

Special mention will probably go to my JOOF EP, called The Middle East EP, which I still think has some of the best ideas I’ve ever written, until now.

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?

5 artists in just a single even might be good for a festival kind of event, since I am one of those who would love to see club events with 1 warm dj and 1 main dj to do the rest of the job.

So, thinking of 5 names for a possible dark-underground festival, 1hour 30 minutes slot each:

Seb Dhajje to warm up

Myself, as Horizons, following up to spice up things and bring them to a more trance-oriented sound.

Mike vs Airwave performing a Bonzai Classic set (no modern remake allowed)

Oliver Lieb on the edge of trance and techno sounds

John Hopkins to do the closing in the most unexpected way.

Dreams? Well, they’re priceless, so why not?

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

My life has been full of regrets more than risks taken, so I would probably say that a (good) risk I decided to take was when I left Italy trying to chase my dreams outside of it. Seeking for a job in Italy was (well, still is) so hard and often you ended up finding yourself doing underpaid jobs, despite knowing several foreign languages: this to be added to the big lack of clubs and of an underground music scene like I wanted. So, travelling abroad was the only choice at certain point and guess what? Now I am regretting not having done it much earlier in my life.

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

I have read tons of books, but I love mostly books from the 17th-18th-19th century, do not like that much reading nowadays books. Got a big passion for literature and philosophy while I loved history and geography as school subjects. Movies wise I keep saying I am a super weird guy lol as I am totally into thriller and horrors only. I rarely watch comedies or drama as I hardly can find in them some sort of vibe or interesting climax, which is what I am looking for when watching a movie. “Dark”, now, is probably my favorite TV show of the last 3-4 years, followed by Stranger Things and a (short but good) list of horror movies. With such description, no way that I prefer the dark side of the club music, isn’t it?

What is one superpower you would like to have and how would you use it?

There’s nothing better than teleportation in my opinion: this would both allow me travelling the world for free anytime but also finding out what people are doing behind your back, right? : )  You will not need any social app anymore, should this become reality.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Traditional Italian guy here: pizza. The real pizza, of course. But also, ice cream, chocolate, pasta…well anything that makes you fat, I guess? Lol!  Beside of food, it makes me happy seeing my parents doing right despite their age and seeing that there still are some good people out there in this world, people who respect the others while giving love for themselves. The more I go ahead the more I feel like I’m talking to robots driven by the need of exposing anything they do of their lives on their social apps instead of nourishing the arts, such as making music, painting, singing, etc.

What does the remainder of 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

I am always full of ideas and this year was some sort of consolidation one for the label. We gave it a respray (changing the old logo with a more modern one) and slowly going towards the sound I love the most, which, also appears to be quite unique, compared to most labels in the progressive scene. So, the celebration of the release 050 is just the beginning of a new set of tracks that will come from very talented producers, making their debut with us. That being said, I am constantly looking for some quality remixers, no matter if they are big names or unknown ones that can join our music philosophy so if you think you’ve got what it takes, get in touch with us. As an artist, instead, I would like to test more and more my production skills with new VSTs and being every day more confident with the tools and gears I have in front of me. Shaping a track that combines high quality production and unique remarkable sounds featured in it is and will always be my main goal. The path is long, but I swear I enjoy every little step I’m doing to achieve it, without any sort of ghost-productions help.

'Lights Off' (Horizons Darker Rework) is available now via Landscapes Music: https://bit.ly/3eRI7nk

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