Interview: Nico Cabeza

Nico Cabeza is a talented, Berlin-based techno producer originally from Italy. With releases on top labels like Christian Smith’s Tronic and Monica Kruse’s Terminal M.

Next up on his release calendar is a remix for Alex Mine and D-Deck. Excited to learn more about him, we decided to ask a few questions about his opinions on the Italian music scene, why he makes techno, and what releases he has coming down the line. Get the full discussion below.

Let us begin with your new remix for Alex Mine and D-Deck, tell us about the track and how it came together?

The idea for this remix was in my head the first moment I listened to the original, because Hektar is an intro track and my mind started to imagine a melodic progression with some proper techno grooves on it. When Alex sent me the stems I was a bit worried about getting the remix to sound like it did in my head, but after a few days of work I started to get super excited about how it was coming together. When I sent it to Alex and Mauro (D-Deck) they were super happy and I’m really satisfied with how it turned out!

How do you approach a remix in general, do you make a conscious effort to keep it similar to the original, or try to change as much as possible?

I love to change as much as possible. I think the remix should be like a new track with your own personality. I use only a few elements from the original, and try to rework them all into my own style, which often makes my version very different from the original track.

In the past you have released tracks on Tronic and Terminal M, what do you look for in a label when scouting for a release?

Quality and professionalism are the main things I look for. I feel lucky to be part of those labels. Tronic’s label owner Christian Smith is a good friend of mine (and one of the most influential artists in my life), and he taught me a lot about how to approach sending demos. After some years of persistence, I reached Terminal M’s label boss Monika Kruse with some music, and she decided to feature my track Broken Voices on Terminal M’s Bangers series. She was courteous and very professional, so I was happy to be part of that!

But the main tip, is a bit of advice that Davide Squillace gave me, he said “don’t make your tracks for a label, just make the music you like, and then afterwards think where to send it”. That advice has helped me stay true to myself, and is something I often say to others.

You have also released some house tracks, what inspired your switch to techno?

Well, that is a good question. I love dancing to all kinds of music and have always been a big fan of DJ sets by Riva Starr and Matthias Tanzmann. Early in my career I was lucky enough to work with them, and even now we are still good friends that often talk about music. When I first started making music it took me a while to find my true sound. Often tracks were too dark and heavy for them, and over time I realised that my music was evolving into something different. The final step was moving to Berlin, as this city is pure techno, and learning more about the genre, I quickly learned that it’s the style I was making!

The switch wasn’t a planned thing and came mainly from stuff I had finished ages ago but couldn’t sign because I was sending them to house labels. As soon as I started sending them to the right people who liked that techno style, everything fell into place. I used to listen to a lot of progressive and trance when I was young, so the new wave of techno with melodic elements is a perfect fit for me. I’m super grateful to all the tech house artists who worked with me in the early part of my career, because they taught me so much about how to be professional, and I still enjoy dancing to that music, but I’m glad to have found my natural sound making techno.

Right now it seems Italy is producing some of the most exciting techno artists, what do you think makes the club scene in your home country such a breeding ground for talent?

I think that thanks to its past, the Italian techno scene is one of the most important today. Years ago, the Naples scene gave birth to some of the most important DJs and producers who are still in great demand today. Just think of artists like Rino Cerrone, Marco Carola, Markantonio, Uto Karem, Gaetano Parisio etc. I believe that from our homegrown scene many other DJs were created, as we were all inspired by the success of those legends who helped put Italy on the world map.

Growing up we thought “If they can do it, then why can’t I”, and that inspired a younger generation so proud of their Italian heritage. We wanted to continue making Italy an important part of electronic music history, and now there is an even younger generation feeling the same inspiration from people like Joseph Capriati, Luigi Madonna and Enrico Sangiuliano etc.

You are currently living in Berlin; how does the German scene compare to that of Italy?

Berlin, my beloved city! I must say that the German scene is super exciting! The clubs here also love to give space to lesser known DJs and there is a lot of meritocracy rewarding newer people for their achievements, as I know the scenes in some countries sometimes get stuck in a bit of a loop always booking the same names on rotation. Italy unfortunately fell into this trap, and that is one of the reasons many young Italian artists have relocated to places like Berlin.

In recent times though, some Italian booking agencies have begun to push emerging names, and some club event organizers such as FREGA (from Parma) are investing heavily in emerging talent. In short, I think Berlin is more focused on finding new talent, but Italy is now catching on to this mentality.

Can you tell us about which labels you might be releasing on in the near future, and one label you would love to release on during your career?

I’ve got some cool tunes coming out that I’m very excited about. I have dedicated this year to developing some collaborations with two amazing artists. The first is coming out in December on Simina Grigoriu’s label Kuukou, which is a collaboration with Ingrid who is a fellow Italian and a talented artist that is also a good friend of mine.

The other is a collaboration with another good friend of mine BOHO that will be released on his own label. Both EP’s I am really proud of and I hope people will enjoy them as much as I loved making the tracks.

For the future, I want to see my music back on Terminal M, but I would also love to release music on labels such as We Are The Brave, Second State and Drumcode.

Many things are of course on hold right now due to the current pandemic, what are you looking forward to most about being able to play in front of a crowd again?

I had the chance to play some gigs in Italy, Poland and Germany during the pandemic. I was really lucky because the gigs were super cool. But I really miss the festivals, I hope all this situation will end soon to be able to play my tunes again and share the night with some friends, I miss all those vibes!

Can you share one lesson you have learnt from the current pandemic, and 2020 in general?

Listen to your heart, keep positive people next to you and find a moment to talk with yourself about your dreams.