A Wild Combination: Italian Duo Satelliti Interviewed

John Doran speaks to Andrea Polato and Marco Dalle Luche of the superb genre defying duo Satelliti about electric Miles and transporting the listener to a different space

Band photography by Ornela Cekrezi

So if someone said to you that there was a band that combined the squelching and beeping acid house TB303 basslines of Phuture, the lava flow electric piano of Bitches Brew era Joe Zawinul, the reverberating and metallic Fender Rhodes of Herbie Hancock circa Mwandishi, the armour piercing jazz rock drumming of Massacre’s Fred Maher or the almost superhuman repetitive tightness of Factory Floor’s Gabe Gurnsey, you’d presume they were winding you up right?

Satelliti are a duo that formed in the Italian town of Bolzano in 2010, featuring Andrea Polato on drums and Marco Dalle Luche on keyboards and synths and while their first album Im Magen Des Kosmos is a relatively restrained, spacious, exploratory affair, obviously made by two talented musicians getting to know each other, their new album, Transister, coming out on Cuckundoo, is the sound of the cogs of magnificent gears slipping gloriously into place. The light has now been extinguished and the space, closed in but the playfulness and inventiveness have increased, creating a unique heavy sound that is admittedly dry and obviously played by dudes with impressive chops, but that doesn’t sacrifice anything in the way of heaviness and mind blowing groove. It is as funky as hell and remorselessly driving as well.

Throw in a love for techno and an obvious intimate acquaintance for the more propulsive end of Krautrock and it all makes for a staggering listen. We have long called our new band feature section, Escape Velocity after the speed that a spaceship must travel at to free itself from Earth’s gravity to travel into space. The name is supposed to bring to mind a band ready to make the jump up to the next stage. (I’m pretty sure most of the time by "next stage" we mean creatively primarily rather than in terms of career or pay.) However it is less often that the music we’re writing about actually sounds like the very act of a rocket reaching escape velocity, speeding along the edges of the upper atmosphere, burning up massive stores of fuel, willing itself upward, outward and into the unknown at a heart palpitating rate of knots per second.

I caught up with the two band members on Skype recently to see how they’d arrived at such a dazzling sound.

Can you tell me a bit about the town in Italy where you’re from?

Andrea Polato: We live in quite a small town called Bolzano. It has about 100,000 citizens. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains, so we don’t actually see the sun set, which can be a problem sometimes. Both me and Marco grew up here and then individually moved to London to have an experience there but we didn’t meet until we got back here. It’s a lovely town for families. The newspapers say it is like the second or third best city or town to live in, in Italy but that’s not so hard perhaps. There is not much going on.

What about music? Is there a scene there?

AP: Hmmmmmm. Well, yeah. There is a kind of scene but there is literally only one band for each genre, so the average band from Bolzano, they practice for a couple of years in their practice room, then they decide to spend some money and record an album and then after another year, the album is dead and they carry on like that. It’s not really a scene, it’s just individual musicians and bands playing locally and very few of them get to go abroad to play. And by abroad I mean cities nearby as well, not just going to England. It’s hard for bands from Bolzano to get anywhere but maybe it’s also because of their mentality.

If there’s only one band per genre – which genres did you come from individually?

AP: I come from mainly a stoner rock background and then after studying I moved more into Latin jazz.

Marco Dalle Luche: In the early 90s I was producing a lot of techno and house music and came from that kind of background. But even then I played keyboards for people playing jazz, and I played in rock groups so I played many, many different styles. It’s hard for me to say if I particularly come from one specific background.

Some of Transister reminds me of Miles Davis in his electric period. Personally I found it easier to get into this stuff because I was a rock fan and it appealed to me as a rock fan. Is this how you got from playing rock to this kind of music, Andrea – through albums like Big Fun, Bitches Brew and Dark Magus?

AP: No, not for me. I got into it via being a student of jazz, via learning jazz drumming. So I started playing in sessions in those sorts of styles and then I got into these albums that I love like Bitches Brew. It came later.

Marco, one of the keyboard players that your style reminds me of is Joe Zawinul.

MDL: Yeah, yeah. He is one of my favourites of all time. Zawinul and Herbie Hancock as well. Zawinul is definitely the most different of all of my heroes. He is really unique. A one off.

How did you two meet and was there a plan before you started playing about how Satelliti were going to sound?

AP: I think Marco had a plan but he didn’t want to tell me what it was. We met in Bolzano really late. It was after our adventures in London, where we may have met once but we don’t really remember. We met through other people. Marco is the maestro of Bolzano and I was one of a few drummers playing at that time. People would always say, “Do you know Marco? He’s a really good musician.” And then we started jamming. And he had a better idea than me about what we were going to do and then we started on Im Magen Des Kosmos. But then working on Transister we got to know each other a bit better, especially though all the live experiences. We started understanding about what we really liked about it, how to change it and what we really wanted from it.

MDL: With Transister we basically wanted a much more aggressive record.

AP: Basically it has been a three year process that went from the original jam sessions which were held in the morning, were easy, had a lot of space and then ending up with Transister which is something totally different.

Was there ever a conversation that went something along the lines of, “Well, it’s going to be a bit Krautrock, a bit like electric jazz fusion and a bit like acid techno, or was it a bit more organic than that?

AP: I think the organic part of it comes from Im Magen Des Kosmos which used improvisation to create a soundscape and then the tools we are using now changed that. We decided to have the bass more present and then we decided to use the bass step sequencer.

MDL: We didn’t decide clinically to combine Miles Davis and techno though. It came about from us playing but I know that when I’m playing I have a lot of Miles Davis’ music in my ears already. And techno is also part of my background as well. We didn’t do it consciously though. We simply did what we liked.

It is undeniable that you’ve become more syncopated and have gone in a slightly dancier direction though.

AP: Yes. But it’s hard to tell what will happen next. Take my drumming for example, I think I will take some of the syncopation away to build more interesting grooves, not straightforward but big cells of repeated grooves. I am interested in clubbing. I would like to play in clubs with good fidelity around Europe.

I was wondering to what extent do you play fully live? You’ve got a massive sound with a lot of layers. Do you use sequencers? Do you use electronic drum pads to trigger samples and things like that?

MDL: On the album there are the drums, then there is a single bass line with delays and things like that. On top of it there is just a Fender Rhodes. There really weren’t many overdubs. But for sure there are many delays and echoes, so maybe live it doesn’t sound quite as perfect as it does on the album but we get quite close to what you hear on the album. We just one step sequencer with a very simple bass line, that will have, say, five variations of the sequence and this can go through different tracks. The only thing that we don’t play is the step sequencer but I can change notes in it live, so I think it is very live. There are no backing tracks.

I think it’s really refreshing to hear something that sounds like Herbie Hancock’s Sextant mixed with something that sounds like ‘Moaner’ by Underworld and ‘Spoon’ by Can and I was trying to think what the common theme in all of this music was. And I thought that maybe they’re all styles of music that are meant to propel you into a different head spaces. So, is it psychedelic to the extent that it’s supposed to transport you out of your quotidian life?

MDL: Yeah, yeah, definitely. That is the main aim of the music. I’m obsessed with music that changes slowly and then takes you somewhere. I do like long tracks with only little variation and maybe not even any melody just the repetition.

What does the word Transister mean?

AP: Basically it’s a combination of “transistor” the component and “sister”. So we take the human being into the electronic. I think it works because it’s what we do. The drums are like the human part of the project and the rest of the sound is electronic, even though the Fender Rhodes is still a piano to me.

Does your band name refer to a moon or maybe a man made satellite or is it not as literal as that?

MDL: Andrea and I are the satellites and we are in orbit round a main planet which is the music.

What was the first ever performance you saw live on stage or on TV, that made you think, “This is for me”?

AP: [laughs] I’m a bit afraid of answering this because the very first thing I saw live was Madonna live in Italy.

Cool! Which tour?

AP: I think it was back in 1992. I basically started playing drums when I was 17 or 18 and before then I played football. I didn’t think about playing music before then. But the first show I saw really, was a TV show with Madonna and the show was really good to me.

MLD: For me it was the first time I saw the movie, Pink Floyd Live At Pompei. I always wanted to be like them.

Wow! With the capes and everything. Your music is very trance inducing so do you ever see any weird reactions in people watching you live?

AP: In every gig there is always someone really enjoying it in that way. For example I remember we were playing in this festival in Sardinia where we played on the seaside and there were 150 people sitting down and enjoying it but then at the back there were ten people dancing at the back and they came after the gig to tell us that they were disappointed because people were sitting down. I think we have variety in our audience. The metal people, they like the distortion and the heaviness and the impact of the bass but when we started doing tracks like ‘Transister’, people who were more into techno were more into it. They were like, “Yes! This is good. This is what we like.”

Transister is out on Cuckundoo on October 28

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