In this edition of Behind the Headphones we spoke to Italian DJ, producer, and educator Lele Sacchi. Lele Sacchi has been in the game for over 20 years which has taken him around the world, and he has released on labels such as Soul Clap, !K7, and Crosstown Rebels to name a few. His journey started at 15 when he first dipped his toes into radio, which then evolved into live gigs. A veteran of the Italian scene in general, it was the city of Milan where he has undoubtably made the most impact as a former resident of Tunnel, the epicentre of underground electronic music within the city back in the 90’s.
Over the years, Lele Sacchi has immersed himself in almost every facet of the music world, and has worked for radio stations, music distributors, and as a DJ not only in clubs, but also for the many fashion shows that the city of Milan is famous for. He is also a lecturer at the respected Istituto Europeo di Design, teaching the creative young students that attend every year everything about the history of music subcultures. He is also an established writer with his book CLUB CONFIDENTIAL which chronicles the revolutionary history of the electronic music scene in which he was, and is, a well established member. With a new set of remixes released on Poker Flat Recordings, we thought it would be a good opportunity to chat to Lele about his career working in radio, teaching music, and what it’s like to DJ at fashion events.
In 1995, you got your first big break, earning a residency at Tunnel. How has this impacted your career and what were the main things that you took away from it?
I was 20 and that has been the turning point of my life. I was already part time working in music, writing and interviewing and djing a little bit, but the residency of what was the then most interesting new venue opening gave me the opportunity of going full time while experimenting and being inside a family of extraordinary young and talented people. And the following year I also started promoting my own nights on my own terms there! One thing that always stuck with me from that period is that if you’re pushing the limits at the right time of a scene happening and in the right place, then you can really have your say in the music world without having to compromise too much.
In 2008, you began teaching a music course on music subcultures at IED (Istituto Europeo di Design). What pushed you towards taking this position and can you share with us what this course entails?
One of my best friends from back in the days of Tunnel and that mid-90’s ‘underground going overground’ scene was hired to coordinate a new three year course at this extremely renowned and important private university. The course was, and still is, called ‘Sound Design’ and it includes all shades of ‘designing music’: from production to recording to project managing etc… They rightly thought that the students needed also an history knowledge and first they asked me to teach a course on the history of dance music that then developed to a longer and wider analysis on the history of music subcultures from the beginning of ‘recorded’ music. I always considered myself a scholar of music, collecting records and reading all possible books on the sociology and the history, especially of the underground and countercultural movements. This course gave me the opportunity to recount the importance of them all, from the jazz swing era to drum’n’ bass. Personally it keeps me focused on always studying myself and confronting with ’20somethings’ not only in a club year after year.
Back in 2012, you started hosting a weekly radio show called RADIO2 INTHEMIX, which went on to become an official media partner with Sonar Barcelona. Can you give us an insight into the whole project, and how the partnership with Sonar came to fruition?
Radio was one my first opportunity to showcase my deep love with music, starting with a little town small rock radio when I was 15! So, when after years of doing small shows on alternative radios and after I became a pro DJ, also a bunch of guest shows for the state radio RAI (like BBC for the UK), they actually gave me my own show on Radio2 RAI which I called In The Mix. It lasted until 2019 then I moved to Radio1 as one of the hosts of the long time running night show Stereonotte. While doing In The Mix I secured various media partners with festival, but the deep involvement with Sonar, which since my first visit in 1999 has been definitely my favourite festival in the world, has been the most intriguing, interesting and emotional. We did seven years in a row of going out live from Barcelona featuring interviews with the main or most interesting artists and broadcasting parts of the live or DJ sets. Five tiring and wonderful days full of music, radio, beers and tapas…..A dream!
You have played many exclusive events throughout your career, Prada’s Christmas party, the Biennale art in Venice, whilst also sound designing for catwalks and exhibitions, Pitti, Diesel, New York Industrie and Adidas to name a few. What is your thought process when selecting the music for these events, and how is it different compared to planning club events?
Completely different and for that reason another side of being a DJ that I love. You work a lot on ideas pitched by creative directors and designers and various other creative minds that might know music well and have clear ideas of what they want, or might not know too much but still give you a full picture of a world you have to fill with music. I love the fact that it’s so different from expressing yourself in a club where the relationship is live with a big number of people and you basically adapt a path on the way by the feelings. In this other case you work with a small number of people to achieve the right sounds for the right contest.
Over your many years of producing, your studio and the equipment you have used will have varied and changed. What pieces of equipment have had the biggest impact on you musically?
I have to say that I never owned a proper private studio of mine on top of very basic home recordings devices and always went to finalise my ideas, demos, samples, beats inside proper studios with proper engineers. I do really feel that producing music has two paths: one is for artist who work alone and they are great at achieving everything from start to finish, the other is acknowledging your own virtues and talents and let proper pros do what they do best. I always went for the second. So my deep memories have to give a prize to my friend’s Akai 3000 sampler who he studied day and night and where I first lay down my beats, then the incredible opportunities given by digital sampling and working on my collection alone at home with Logic Audio and more recently the free flowing attitude of Maschine. Of the proper synths that I worked on but never owned I love (how can you not!) the sounds of the Moog Subsequent 25 and the Sequential Prophet 6.
What has been the highlight of your career and what made it stand out above all other moments?
I believe it’s really impossible to name just one, there is the feeling of some arena sized shows and the overwhelming sensations of tiny after-hours, the satisfaction of finding fans of your music thousands of mile aways from home and so on. So I will go for a fading memory which is the one of my first properly conceived and promoted weekly club nights, where I was not only djing but also booking, art directing etc…with my then DJ partner Paine in 1996 at Tunnel. It was called Breathless and we dared to do it on a Thursday and playing only breaks based music instead of the successful house sounds then and now dominating Italy. We were very young and went to the venue very early with our UK guest DJs and I was desperate because until 1am the venue was half empty and closed myself in the backroom drinking and self loathing….when I got out at 2am the club was rammed and roaring! At that point I was in heaven and really thought I could do what I wanted and love’
If you could produce a track with any artist past or present who would it be and why?
It has to be Andrew Weatherall, may he rest in peace. In 1993 seeing him djing in London, as I went as a huge fan of his productions both the more dance oriented and the ones with the indie bands but didn’t know what to expect as a club experience, really made me dream that djing and living my life inside the music circus had to be my thing and I started working hard for it. Luckily life gave me the opportunity later of sharing many nights with Weatherall but never a chance of being in a studio together.
You can buy music from Lele Saachi here.
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