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Ides of March [Interview]

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The concept of Ides of March for Manuel and Pietro sees the light for the first time in 2018 in Amsterdam, where they both are based. The Spanish-Italian duo first met in 2016, and soon found out their common interest in electronic music.

Having set their international debut with their first melodic techno EP "XV-III" for UK's label sequence music in 2020, followed by the single "Corpus" on German imprint Club Mood Vibes. They then released the track Dreamwalking for Mexico City's label ARKHAMRA VA in 2022 and their second EP called "Hyperion" in 2023 on the Ibiza & Tulum based Uxoa Dutxa Elite.

The sound that this duo brings in their DJ sets and productions spaces from progressive house, to electro, to more melodic and melancholic shades of techno, in a blend characterized by the two's personal taste and musical background. Their work has so far been supported by international acts such as Richie Hawtin, Joris Voorn, Wurtz, The Element, Jos & Eli, Alfa Romero, Paco Osuna, Olivier Weiter, Mitch De Klein, Justrice and Kadosh among others.

In July 2021, the duo started their event concept series, called Synesthesia. Aimed at blending a visual experience with the duo's signature sound, having played alongside artists such as Hollt and Beswerda, their concept looks like a fresh and promising reality in Amsterdam's underground scene. The aim is to keep evolving, blurring the lines of music genres.

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

We found the last album from Daniel Avery (Ultra Truth) one of the most inspiring albums of last year. To give you something closer to what you can find us playing on our shows, we cannot avoid mentioning the 15th edition of Innervisions Secret Weapons series curated by Dixon and Âme. We like the Secret Weapons series as they manage every time to evolve their sound while staying true to the essence of the label, with no need to chase the trends of the moment. They also never cease to bring to the spotlight new and exciting artists (we recently discovered the work of Hardt Antoine and Keith Holland for example) as well as stable residents of the label such as Tal Fussman or Ivory, two of the most talented producers out there at the moment.

What are your plans for the coming week? And how has the beginning of the year been for you?

The beginning of the year has been intense, but rewarding. We have been not only working on new music which will see the light in 2023, but also invested a significant amount of time into our event series, Synesthesia. Since the start of the year we have been focusing on scaling up our concept and thus decided to collaborate with another collective, Ignite, with whom we curated two shows we called “Symbiosis” at our biggest venue to date in Amsterdam, Parallel.

The amount of work and preparation that went into this has been significant, but the results and the feedback we received on both shows has definitely made it worth it. We had an amazing opening night in which we invited Hollt, who played a majestic new Live set full of unreleased tracks, whereas for the second edition we were joined by Afterlife’s Beswerda. The production, the crowd, the sound system, the lights. Everything was on point and we could not have wished for a better start of the year.

How did growing up in your respective countries (Italy and Spain) influence your music taste and direction? Or did it at all?

PM - I have been around music all my life. My father is a jazz musician, so I have been literally immersed into it since I can remember. Some of my fondest memories revolve around music, listening to old vinyls and CDs, or just sitting idle around while he was jamming tunes, from Stairway to Heaven to Summertime….too many memories to count. Growing up, music never left me as I remained an avid listener of any genre from alternative rock to what I mostly listen to to this day, which is actually rap and hip-hop. By my early teens I came in contact with electronic music, and I was attracted by the variety of sounds made possible by synthesizers and how they would translate on the right sound system. I then downloaded FL Studio and started my first steps into production. One friend of mine had a tiny Hercules controller that we would play on, and though it has been on and off, I guess that was the start of my musical journey which led me here today.

MS - I personally come from a more indie-rock / alternative background, and I believe the attraction for electronic music comes from that side. Every big festival would always have a “secondary night lineup” in which big artists from the 90s big beat era, such as Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Underworld, or Fatboy Slim, would perform after all the big rock bands. I loved that musical bridge, especially those bands which were capable of integrating guitars and synthesizers in a show. Later on, 90s/00s Trance is something I listened to a lot as well, so I guess the affinity for melodic techno & house comes from those epic, uplifting and progressive tracks that I once listened to hundreds of times at home.

You are now based in The Netherlands, how did you both end up relocating there?

MS - I was simply looking for a couple of years experience abroad to eventually come back to Spain, but here I am 10 years later. It was definitely not part of my plan. Amsterdam is an always evolving city, a melting pot of cultures, and once you get in it is hard to leave.

PM - Pretty similar story! I came to the Netherlands to finish off my business studies in 2015 and thought I would just stay for a year…Amsterdam has always been a safe haven for anyone seeking refuge from whatever may be. Its welcoming nature makes you feel at home, and I guess this is one of the reasons we are still here.

What are your favorite venues to play or attend events in The Netherlands and why?

NDSM (ie DGTL festival happens there) is perhaps the venue we have been the most as clubbers. Its industrial vibe and history makes that space very unique to enjoy warehouse-like parties. It is also a space where creativity flows in every single corner 24/7; we definitely recommend a visit even on any random day. We really do hope we can get to play there soon. A special mention also for Gashouder, or “The Temple”. The acoustic of this huge, circular, steel chamber with the right sound system and production is something worth experiencing at least once.

How did you initially meet? And how did the friendship eventually lead to the formation of Ides of March?

We bumped into each other at our old 9-to-5 job around 8 years ago, and we quickly found out our affinity for electronic music. We started sharing music with each other pretty much every day and we found out our taste was very similar yet with small personal touches. I guess that is what sparkled later on the creation of Ides of March. I still recall the day we booked one of the fanciest meeting rooms in the top floor of the office to brainstorm about what could be the name of our project!

A successful partnership is generally based around balance and compromise; how do you manage these things within your production dynamic as Ides of March?

Our dynamics are always evolving, and we like to keep it flexible without worrying too much about the structure. We would say that we prefer spending time alone in the creation process, to later on come together and consolidate whatever is we have been up to independently. Studio sessions with 2 brains, and 4 hands, are hard to manage to have effective productions that fit our ambitions as individuals (at least we did not find an effective way yet to do that consistently). What is most important though, is that we both have the same ultimate vision for the music we want to put out there as Ides of March and we never found ourselves in a situation where we had to compromise on anything.

Do you have different roles in the production process? And if so elaborate please.

MS - For me, sound exploration and building drum loops is something I could do for hours. I have been exploring lately with sampling organic percussion, and although all those sounds haven’t been materialized into something concrete, I really enjoyed the process of recording and sampling. Arranging and wrapping up the tracks is something I definitely need to reconnect with, but luckily Pietro is good at making creative decisions and drawing the line.

PM - If I think about it, I take more of a scientific approach to music production, even if it represents the element through which I try to channel my creativity and some degree of what could be called freedom. I guess it is something related to my personality, I rather appreciate order and structure and a part of me subconsciously looks for such order also in a “chaotic” and non-linear endeavor such as making music.

You have a new EP out this week on Wout Records, tell us about the release, how do these tracks showcase your current sound?

We believe this release is our strongest work to date. We made a lot of efforts in 2022 to work on our production skills and we are happy with the result that is contained in this EP.

There are two main themes at play: on one hand, we tried to refine and polish our sound, especially regarding sound design and mixing which is an area where we felt we could improve on. We are getting close to a sound that we feel as “ours”.

One other aspect is also the willingness to keep exploring new sounds while defining our own style, which is something we tried to do especially in “Analog Frequencies”, which is more of an experimental take compared to our usual works.

This is just your third ever release, what made Wout Records the right home for this EP?

We knew Wout records as few of our friends in the scene or artists that published on the same labels as ours before already had some tracks published under them. Even if we did not know Gabriele and Alessandro personally, we felt it could have been a good match. Once we actually got to know them, we realized our assumptions were right. We really like the professionalism they have in managing the artists that work with them, but at the same time they have a very friendly and welcoming approach that makes you feel well taken care of as an artist. That is all you can ask for when looking for a suitable label to share your music with.

What does your set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of these tracks?

PM - I have a rather minimalistic set up for my productions, where I use only a Novation MIDI controller and a KORG drum pad for percussion as hardware. I do make extensive use of virtual plugins usually: Diva, Serum and Sylenth1 for synths and Sound Toys bundle for sound design are my go-to options usually.

MS - I am definitely a hardware nerd. Working with digital instruments and plugins is way more flexible and efficient than using machines though, and I recognize its multiple benefits; so in that sense I am not that type of purist only using hardware. Having said that, no plugin or VST ever gave me the warm sounds you can get out of analog machines. The Novation PEAK is by far my most used machine, which actually brings the best from both the analog and digital worlds together. Very powerful toy.

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 Wout EP?

MS - I don’t think I need any sort of mystic-divine inspiration to start a newly blank project. I do love listening and discovering new music to bring it to our gigs, so to me the impulse comes from making myself the question of what is that track I would love to play that I still don’t have in my library? The challenge is not to answer that question, but actually materializing that idea into something that makes sense and that sounds as close as possible to what you initially thought.

PM - When I sit down to create, I don’t really feel the influence of anything around me, at least consciously. In fact, most of the time when I start working on a piece with a certain mood, I find myself at the end of the session with a sound which is not at all in line with what I had in mind. If I start with a 16 bar loop and start jamming something or look for a particular sample, when you start putting together 5, 10, 15 elements, I may have an intuition and swap 2 or 3 key elements that completely change the vibe of the whole thing. I usually iterate this process until I am satisfied with how the piece sounds, and only then I start to work on sound design and finally arrangement.

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?

PM - The only thing that is important in this sense is the setting: I like having my studio all tidied up, lights low and full focus on the production at hand. Usually this happens at night after a work day or during the weekend.

MS - For me it is not about the mindset but about the readiness of the set-up. For me it should not take more than 2/3 minutes to open the laptop and plug the machines. I need immediacy and know that everything is ready to start recording.

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? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

If you ask this to any person who makes music, we bet this would come up as one, if not the most, difficult part of music creation. Finishing tracks. We came a long way since we started producing in this regard, and we are in a place now where most of the tracks we start, we finish. They may not be all published and may not be the greatest tracks, but we push ourselves to actually finish them. We try to be disciplined here. Looking back, we are never happy with the result. Never. Listening back to old works we always find a little detail that we missed, or the volume of that channel which could have been 1db lower, or that synth that comes in too strong (or not strongly enough), you get the deal… We tend to be perfectionists and are never fully satisfied with our stuff, but being aware of this pitfall we learnt in the years to keep this at bay and just draw a line when we feel that a piece is good enough. We have few trusted artists to whom we share our work for feedback also, and that helps us big time.

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

The initial stage of sound exploration is always the most exciting one. Finding that melody, that sound, and jamming until we have the core elements of a track is by far the most fun part of creating something new.

Mixing, mastering… that is a completely different story. It is by far the most tedious task, yet the most important as it can make your track grow to a next level, or push it to one of your deepest hard-drive folders.

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?

Nobody, and everybody at the same time. Youtube, and music production forums are the ultimate encyclopedias we used. So yeah, grateful for those anonymous heroes sharing their knowledge!

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

MS - I have always wanted to have my own Moog synthesizer, any. These days it is relatively affordable… except the 10k$ Moog One. I could definitely play around for hours with that beast.

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?

  • John Hopkins (Live)
  • Sasha Carassi
  • Ame (Live)
  • Mind Against
  • Closing - Laurent Garnier B2B Maceo Plex

 Current top five tracks?

  • Daniel Avery - Lone Swordsman
  • Imperieux - Fantasmagorii
  • Ivory (IT) - Blank
  • Annett Gapstream - Surrealism (Hollt Remix)
  • Hunter/Game - Voices

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

MS - Blade Runner is, and will always be my number #1 movie of all time. I lost count of the amount of times I have watched it, and every time I do that I end up listening for weeks to the Original Soundtrack from Vangelis.  Not sure what I actually like most about it, the movie itself, or the soundtrack.

PM - Perhaps the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Pushed me to follow my dreams.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

MS - Definitely traveling. It has always been the case, but especially after the last 2 years where we all have been deprived from doing so. The world is full of wonders, and there are many things out there worth exploring.

PM - I love playing sports and working out is something that I need in order to be in a good head space, also to create music. Other than sports, I enjoy spending time in nature, sailing or up on a mountain hiking. Definitely feel that connection with the natural world and I would love to reconnect with that later on in life, perhaps moving away from a city to live in the countryside.

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

We have a few releases planned that we are also looking forward to. Next to that, we have been working very hard over the last few months to consolidate our Synesthesia event series and deliver a special experience to the audience with our first two shows of 2023, so we are really looking forward to the next editions that will take place later in the year.

'Reticent' is available now via Wout Records: https://bit.ly/3VpkJi4

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