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Escape Velocity

How Giallo Can You Go? Antoni Maiovvi Interviewed
Wyndham Wallace , January 29th, 2013 07:40

Anton Maiof, the man behind the Antoni Maiovvi mask, reveals the dark secrets of his chilling mutant Italo disco to Wyndham Wallace

Photo by Irene Rubio

Outside, on Berlin's Hermannstrasse, snow is falling without mercy. Streetlights cast a ghostly orange glow on icy pavements. Cyclists – who'd headed off to work on a bright, sunny morning – struggle home, their faces hidden, sunk back into shadowy coat hoods like the Grim Reaper's or wrapped beneath woollen scarves and hats like Egyptian mummies. Through a wooden door close to the St. Thomas cemetery, up a shabby, creaking wooden staircase, Anton Maiof is sweating over a hot stove, rubbing his hands with glee as he prepares the night's victuals, a concoction that's his own unique take on an old Italian staple. The aroma is potent enough to have drifted to the ground floor, where it's so palpable it seems like mist creeping down the steps.

Maiof's been living in the German capital for over two years, having first visited in 2006 when he and Matt Elliott (of Flying Saucer Attack and Third Eye Foundation) came to play at the Goldmund Festival in Biesenthal, some forty kilometres away. Elliot and Maiof – which is not his real name, something he prefers to keep to himself in case he should compromise his parents, a decision which he concedes is "a little paranoid, but there are reasons" – worked together at Replay Records in Maiof's hometown, Bristol.

"It was really fun working with him," he recalls as we settle down in the studio that also functions as his sitting room and, judging from the mattress on the floor, his bedroom. "We'd listen to loads of Digital Hardcore Records." Maoif, however, was sacked for tardiness. "I thought I was on time, and everyone else was late," he chuckles. "So I used to think, 'Fuck this' and go and get a cup of coffee. Then I'd come back and they'd be pissed off."

This, one suspects, is typical of Maiof. Under a further pseudonym, Antoni Maiovvi, he's been releasing spooky electronic music since 2008 that succeeds in sounding both of its time and yet defiantly timeless, perfectly contemporary yet exhilaratingly retrospective. Oddly, the persona was brought to life thanks to his days making a very different kind of music: Maiof was a member of Geisha Noise Research Group, a brutal quartet signed to Crucial Blast, and Maoivvi was born as a result of a collaboration with Dan Chandler of Dethscalator.

'Prisoner Nightdrive' taken from the Stockholm Syndrome EP

"We basically drank a lot, did five shows, and I don't remember any of them," he recalls. "It was complete chaos. I've seen pictures, and I don't remember what was happening. We'd meet up and we'd start drinking. There are lots of pictures of me lying on the ground, looking confused. It's quite scary when you see photographs of things you don't remember. But then Seed Records from London really wanted to put out an album, and I had a bunch of instrumental tracks, because the vocal versions that me and Dan were doing weren't ready. And people really liked it. So it basically took on a life of its own.

"Originally there wasn't any real direction to the character," he says of his alias, "but over the years he's got his own life. Sometimes he can be a bit serious, like an old American homicide detective where he's a bit down. He's like a cop who wakes up and drinks whisky. I think he's probably an Italian who wants to be an American. So he's kind of modelled himself on the Miami Vice guys, but he can't lose that Italian side. I think he's a bit of a playboy, but it's not glamorous. It's a little bit terrifying."

Maiof's intention with Maiovvi, he says, is to create futurist music, a sizeable leap from his work with Geisha, but he concedes that if it has a nostalgic effect he doesn't mind. Given his choice of equipment and sounds, this is probably just as well.

"I use Mellotron samples a lot," he admits. "First, I really like the sound of a Mellotron, and second, those are dead people singing! It's the sound of death! That's brilliant, that it was encapsulated within this one machine. It's a beautiful sound."

He depends heavily on a Yamaha DX21 synth from the early 1980s. "It sounds fucking amazing," he enthuses. "It's like instant 80s Tangerine Dream, and once you get really into programming it makes really wild sounds, far beyond the original design for the keyboard. I'm a bit of a prog-head. When I was 16 I first heard Tangerine Dream on a tape. One side had Green Desert by Tangerine Dream, and the other side had Tabula Rasa by Einstürzende Neubauten, and I think that was a very pivotal moment in my musical upbringing. 'People make records like this? I didn't know that! No one told me that!' That first track on Green Desert is, what, 20 minutes? It just starts with this big synth drone, slowly drums come in… It's beautiful. When I was younger, I stopped talking about Tangerine Dream because it was one of those things that people would automatically assume meant I had awful taste in music. I've got as much love for Can as I do Tangerine Dream, but Can were the cool people to like, Neu! were the cool people to like, Faust were the cool people to like. Tangerine Dream weren't cool. It wasn't until the last five years when it became socially acceptable to go, 'No! Exit! Early 1980s Tangerine Dream is fucking amazing! And anybody who says anything bad about it knows nothing!'"

Tangerine Dream's influence is evident in Maiovvi's releases to date, but his music – a polished compound of disco, prog and film soundtrack – is haunted to an even greater extent by John Carpenter's early work. The director first caught his eye with The Fog, but Maiof professes a love for Assault On Precinct 13 too. "The acting is fucking phenomenal. The performances are really, really good, and you warm to the characters as well. I think that's something you don't really get in most action movies. I remember the main character and the main cop: you were definitely on their side, even though one's a criminal and one's a cop."

A love for Carpenter's music soon developed, but initially Maiof found himself part of only a small group of disciples. After all, it wasn't so long ago that John Carpenter's movies were prized way above his soundtracks: few artists betrayed an interest in his minimalist synthesiser scores, though it was perhaps perceptible in early albums by, say, German trio To Rococo Rot in the late 1990s. "When I was in Bristol," he reminisces, "it was basically me and the guys from Bronnt Industries Kapital who were into this stuff."

Nowadays he finds himself allied with an increasing number of fannish contemporary musicians, including Roll The Dice, Com Truise, Django Django and of course Air, whose Record Makers label re-released the Assault On Precinct 13 soundtrack in 2003. The current obsession with Carpenter, however, is perhaps best underlined by Zombie Zombie, with whom Maiof has played shows as Maiovvi, and who marry Carpenter's sound with krautrock: they released a mini album of cover versions, Zombie Zombie Plays John Carpenter, in 2011.

'Impulse', taken from the forthcoming Delta City EP (Cyberdance)

Alongside its admiration for Carpenter, Maiof's – or, to be more precise, Maiovvi's – music is openly inspired by a love of 1970s Italian prog-rock act Goblin, who often recorded material for the horror films of former Sergio Leone collaborator, Dario Argento. Maiof's label – run with Greek producer Vercetti Technicolour – is even called Giallo Disco, 'giallo' being an Italian word initially used from the 1930s to classify mystery and crime pulp fiction, then employed from the 1960s to refer to more disturbing, psychological films that influenced the slasher genre personified by Argento's movies. Maiof's passion for Goblin, however, isn't shared by the band's compatriots.

"They don't like it," he spits. "They're not proud. The first time I went [to Italy], I was interviewed by a radio station, and they looked at my Myspace page – I don't know if you remember that, years ago, back in the old days – and I had Goblin in my Top Friends, and they just started laughing. And I was like, 'Why are they laughing? They're the best band that the world has ever produced!' And people are going, 'You can't mean that!' And it's like, 'No! There's nothing else like it. It's incredible.' And they just couldn't handle it."

Maiof also professes a love for another soundtrack composer, the man behind the 'Top Gun Anthem', Harold Faltermeyer. "Oh, man!" he gushes. "He was amazing! The soundtrack to Fletch is amazing! He did Tango & Cash, which is amazing! 'Axel F' was amazing! I'm a really big Beverly Hills Cop fan. That was one of my favourite movies. Which probably isn't very cool to say, but fuck them. It's really good!"

Faltermeyer, who worked with Georgio Moroder, arguably provides the missing link between Maif's love of soundtrack work and his fondness for Italo disco, something that has become a crucial part of Maiovvi's aesthetic. "It was basically like Fabio Frizzi, or Goblin, but dance music," he recalls of the moment some six or seven years ago when he was first introduced to it. "It was really spacy and psychedelic, and the tracks were recorded really raw, even though they were done in really expensive studios. It was a real eye opener, and then I was just constantly listening to disco, touring in Geisha, and insisting that everyone's got to listen to disco. The drummer quite liked it, but the others just didn't get it. Which I understand, because they're metalheads…"

Like his friend Technicolor, Maoif has become affiliated with an emergent style sometimes called Horror Disco, a term coined by Italian producer Willliam Bottin for the title of his 2009 album (released by the Bear Funk label under the name Bottin). The clash that one might expect between such arguably mismatched genres as prog, minimalist electronica and disco is easily dismissed, Maiof argues, for one simple reason.

"Disco is part of the psychedelic music tradition. I'm sure there will be people who disagree with this, but, for me, if you get even something very commercial like 'I Feel Love' by Georgio Moroder, there's this hypnotic, swirling sound. There's always noises in disco music, whether it's swishing white noise or weird sound effects. Good noise music to me is really immersive and psychedelic, and it's the same with disco."

Listen to 2010's Thorns Of Love album here

There's no doubt that Anton Maoivvi's music is thoroughly bewitching. Check the epic, synthetic whirls of 2010's Mogwai-endorsed The Thorns Of Love album (so named because it sounded like a Bryan Ferry album title and "there was a track that was the first song that I put out with me singing, a full song rather than bits of vocals. I was trying my best to do a Scott Walker impression, but it came out as Bryan Ferry. I also did a noise album called Still Got The Blues because I really liked the idea of making a noise album with a really bad Chris Rea live album title.") Explore the sci-fi world of 2011's Battlestar Transreplica, with its sixteen minute 'Martian Timeslip', or the dark, sleek sounds of 'Rituals Of Lust', from last year's split Black Gloves EP with Vercetti Technicolor. Try the sluggish but evocative sparkle of 'Prisoner Nightdrive' and the controlled hysteria within the robotic electro of 'Darkroom' from the recent Stockholm Syndrome EP. It's dance music, but you don't have to dance to it. It's electronic, but crafted by hand. It's instantly familiar, and yet thoroughly innovative.

"I don't want to use any of the modern techniques because I think that actually dates it more," Maiof concludes of Maiovvi's ability to sound so potentially enduring. "I was into noise stuff, so naturally I like Aphex Twin, and Venetian Snares, and this total cut-up madness, IDM… It's good. It has its place. But I don't necessarily enjoy that, the process of constantly cutting stuff up and rearranging things just to get a new form. I consider Maiovvi's music to be disco, though I use that word in a pretty broad sense. There are house records that I consider to be totally disco. There are techno records that I consider to be totally disco. There are old industrial records that I consider to be totally disco. The kind of music I'm interested in, and interested in listening to, is generally quite simply made, and if you've got this quite simple template of four to the floor, hi-hats, snare drum, and then you work out what you can do around that – and it's natural now that I'm doing pop music, or my estimation of what pop music is – then that's what comes out."

He gets up and heads to the kitchen. There's a blast of steam as he opens the oven door and pulls out a baking dish that bubbles and simmers like a cauldron.

"I'm going to leave Berlin soon," he confides, breaking the spell. "I learned a lot, but I don't think I need to be here. I think that I needed to set up and discover for myself that I can be anywhere. So I'm just going to keep moving…"

Outside it's still snowing. The city's young and fashionable have begun to shuffle towards their nightly haunts, their eyes glazed against the cold, their faces numb beneath an almost full moon that lights up eerie clouds. We sink forks into our meals like we're digging graves. What lies before us is recognisably lasagne, but not as we know it, drenched in pesto that glows a macabre green, stuffed with three different kinds of melted cheese that stretch like sinewy entrails. We're not scared, though. We have to smile. The Italians might not approve, but the taste dances on our tongues.

Maiovvi's Delta City EP is released in February through Cyber Dance. For more Maiovvi visit his Soundcloud, and to buy the Stockholm Syndrome EP digitally, you can head across to the Giallo Disco Records Bandcamp site