For this week’s podcast, we have invited Laertes (real name Gianluca Meloni), Roman-born and based artist, also known as one half of Modern Heads, project that he shares with fellow Italian Dino Sabatini. We had the pleasure of chatting with the artist about his music education and what influenced and led him to start his solo project as Laertes in 2016. We talked about popularity, the sound of Berlin, the Italian musical heritage and a lot more in this very inspiring interview.
Hi Gianluca and thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Hello and thank you for your interest!
Let’s start from the beginning and talk about your music education. You studied the piano at Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome, seem to have had a strong interest in rock music and I read a very interesting story about your first contact with a synthesizer. Do you want to tell us a bit more? How did these elements influence your music?
I have always been fascinated by music and by how it made me feel good. Being able to share it with friends has always been important for me, and still is.
The kind of rock music that we listened to in the 80s and 90s was the one that initiated those micro-evolutions and differentiations that then led to the genres that we have nowadays. So people like me who wanted to explore and know about bands from overseas were seen as forward-thinking, in some way. At the times of Led Zeppelin for instance, in Italy we had artists of the likes of Toto Cutugno, Celentano, Bobby Solo and many more belonging to a completely different genre: there was a 50 years’ delay already. This doesn’t mean though that I dislike Italian music, I’d rather say that I understand it now more than ever.
As for my first synth, the story is very simple. We used to rehearse with other musicians, friends playing music, better said … and to reproduce those sounds, I had to buy my first Korg MS-10. Together with a friend who had a MS-20 we used to make covers of Tangerine Dream: that was a hell of a challenge! But I was giving my absolute best and I think that’s exactly what was fuelling the project with enthusiasm.
Let’s talk about Modern Heads, the project that you have been sharing with Dino Sabatini for over 10 years and that had a big impact on the electronic and techno scene globally. What do you remember of the old days, the scene back then and how did your sound and way of working together change in these years?
I remember that we were just playing: less time spent on the phone or taking pictures. This is the only difference, our approach as Modern Heads is always the same, one starts and the other follows and we just play.
At the beginning our sound was more electric, think of synth guitars and instruments like the first MPC Akai: those were our computer back then. Now everything is easier and faster, productions have been influenced by technology, but sometimes it’s actually going a bit against the mainstream that brings up live projects like Modern Heads, where we still put our hands on instruments and record in a traditional way.
Dino lives between Berlin and Rome. How often do you have a chance to meet and work as Modern Heads? Is the project still active?
Well, the project is still active and Dino has invested in it, through his label Outis. Although maybe the journey must continue with new energies. Modern Heads is part of the past, we still collaborate as before, but each one has his own artistic identity. It’s not splitting up, it’s just an evolution of the project, its growth.
In 2016 your solo project, Laertes, was born. Can you tell us why and how did you decide to start this project? Both your alias and the title of your latest EP are inspired by Greek mythology. Is this something that you studied or you are passionate about?
It’s a vision, a way to give added value to some sound created in this post-modern craziness. Some people like referring to space, planets and galaxies and others bringing back elements of history to re-live certain moments.
Electronic music for the dance-floor belongs to a place where it’s not as powerful as music that’s sung or played: in that case the message is stronger and music becomes popular, also thanks to the artists and the importance given to their figure.
That’s different from any type of music consumed in clubs or festivals. Electronic music is a shade of music itself and it’s difficult to create something that can be remembered in years. Some artists managed, for example Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin…the rest of us are still working on that.
In one of your previous interviews, I read that you don’t like defining the music that you make and prefer avoiding putting labels to it: you just make music “for the sake of it”. Do you think that today using techno as label is a bit exploited because it’s become cool?
Well, I was mainly talking about the fact that I make music, in general: I also make music for TV series or as ghost producer for other genres, but techno is my passion. I would say that today being punk could be cooler, more than ever!
From what is known about you and can be found online, you look like someone who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. Is this correct? Do you think that this choice might influence the popularity of an artist nowadays?
Indeed! I have never been really good at that, but I managed to make music and I am still learning, I am not giving up at all. Better late than never! I am more interested in making music rather than being a public figure, I never really felt that need. Now I might have something more to say, but I try to convey that with my music and I hope to manage doing so, both with my productions and my live performances.
In another interview you said “collaborations are like travelling, and in each there are experiences that you live while playing with other musicians.”Do you still think that way? Is there any artist that you would like to collaborate with, in the near future?
Of course! I have many friends that I’d love to share music and experiences with. I have a few things on my plate that I hope will surprise you. I am now preparing my first album: it will be techno but with some different shades, maybe less easy to label. We will see, obviously as soon as someone will take care of the pressing.
We recently published an article about 5 emerging producers from Italy. Taking into account the limitations of a format about just 5 artists and the fact that there are so many talents out there, is there any other names that we should have mentioned?
I don’t really have an answer, as I am not a label owner. That’s actually a question that you should ask them. I do have some preferences but no idols at the moment.
What do you think of this new “generation” of Italian producers? When I did my research for the article, I was pleased to see that many are living in Italy and not everybody is in Berlin, for example. Do you think that the place where a producer is based can influence his/her sound? And what about his/her popularity?
I would say that the popularity is more about a certain type of sound, that for example belongs to Berlin, but that doesn’t make the artist popular. I see some networks here and there, but quite limited to specific places and not yet enough magnified.
Where do you still find inspiration, after many years?
I listen to a lot of music, of any kind. Music is with me, in different ways, in different moments of my day. I think that’s what inspires me still and gives me pleasure of making music, without rules. I think the worst thing nowadays for an artist is not having an identity, I see music sampled and copied over and over and I don’t think this is a high form of art. There’s a fine line between inspiration and copying someone else’s stuff, but we should all be more careful and perhaps also dare a bit more. Maybe that’s the way!
Can you name three tracks that occupy an important place in your heart, as a musician?
Tangram by Tangerine Dream, Estate by Michel Petrucciani Trio and Back in Black by AC/DC. This one especially first thing in the morning!
Can you tell us a bit more about the mix that you made for Monument, how did you choose the tracks and prepare the mix?
The one that I made for Monument is an exclusive work of mine, in which I put different excerpts from my live performances.
Starting from the beginning, I referenced the war anthem by the American Indians, a population that I studied, loved and that I respect for their deep connection with nature.
The podcast continues with some excerpts from the live that I make every year with my friend Emanuele Brizioli for Virtual Telescop, a show about the project by astrophysicist Gianluca Masi. While Masi explains the space, galaxies and comets, Emanuele and I create the sound for this journey into the unknown. As he likes to say, it’s as if the roof of his Observatory would open up! This project is called AND-OR-NOT and it’s a live performance, without computer.
Then I also wanted to add some atmospheric and deep techno, so you will find some unreleased tracks of mine, as well as some by other artists like Llluvia out on Serum2, for Hypnus Records or Aleja Sanchez with Circinus (Original Mix), on NTSLTD001, Northallsen Records. I also added some parts from my ambient work Urban Meditation out on Lushlife Production.
I hope that you guys will enjoy it and feel it as a journey to the infinite!