Lorenzo Senni: From rave voyeurism to mutilated euphoria

Lorenzo Senni

Lorenzo Senni is an Italian musician, a self-proclaimed champion of “pointillistic trance”. He deconstructs elements of dance music, especially 90s rave culture, and reappropriates them with repetition and isolation as key concepts. His work explores the idea of the “build-up” found in euphoric dance music as a starting point to make a non-uplifting, more introspective piece that implicitly preserves its emotional tension and drama. His critically acclaimed album, Quantum Jelly, out in 2012 on Editions Mego, manifested Senni’s affinity for dissecting the structural building blocks of trance, and this was only reinforced by last year’s equally well-received LP Superimpositions. He was nominated for SHAPE by Les siestes électroniques.

What is the importance of the constant deferral of the climax in your music? Is it a statement?

When I describe my music, I call it the “non-uplifting build-up”. If it’s a build-up, it’s supposed to be uplifting. So it doesn’t really make sense. This material already has an inherent climax. What I’m interested in – even if I use very short parts and put them out of context – is that the audience can still recognise this climax and experience it. It’s a bit strange, because it’s not developed how it should be. You understand where it comes from and where it could go, but it’s not going there, so it’s frustrating because it doesn’t respond to your expectations. But if you are a little bit curious, you could say, OK, this is what I’m used to expecting from this kind of stuff, but here is another point of view.

It also feels like fragments of memory gathered from years of going out are being triggered. You can almost imagine the climax happening.

It’s exactly like that. It doesn’t have to be the whole track, or be explained too much. It’s about bringing forth a very strong memory or a feeling, giving a short input to the brain and letting it complete the circle. You make an effort and this makes you more active (as a listener).

Lee Gamble recontextualised old jungle records on his Diversions 1994-1996 EP. But there was also an aspect of melancholia connected to it, a sort of disembodied memento to the halcyon days of dance culture.

I respect Lee’s work. We have some things in common, for sure. But not the melancholia that comes from his work – because it’s also developed in a different way. With me it’s rather euphoria, mutilated euphoria.

Why did you choose trance as your reference point?

Because of my background. When I was playing in punk and hardcore bands, I was also going to clubs. I find the build-up part of a trance track musically interesting. The kick in all the 90s trance tracks is very similar, but the musical region reserved to the build-up is more free, and musicians can express themselves a bit more. It’s functional because it needs to go from the breakdown back to the kick again. There are rules, but there is room for amazing musical solutions and producers can be stimulated by playing with these rules.

When you make music, is it more analytical or is there also an element of improvisation?

It starts in a very analytical way, I call it “Pointillistic Trance”. When I start, I do something very simple, I put the envelope of the synth all the way down, to have the shortest sound possible. It always starts in the same way and then I play around with the synth. What happens afterwards is something that is more improvised, but the way I begin is always fixed to certain ideas.

Is the audience’s reaction important to you, especially since you said that your approach can get frustrating?

It is. And I don’t like the fact that they are frustrated. I get very strong reactions in both ways – very good and very bad ones. I don’t really know what to expect even if I try to predict it when I go somewhere to play. The reaction is important, but it’s not the main thing. Sometimes I try not to be too extreme. I like to see people having fun, and if they “trust me”, I’m sure they will have fun! The release will work differently though. The process and the steps that they have gone through will only be clarified partially, almost as if they have been watched from outside. That’s why I also like to describe it as “Rave Voyeurism”.

Can you talk about your label, Presto!?

The label was born five years ago because I was very respectful of the work of some artists, and the only way to get in touch with them was to collaborate and release their records. When I get asked about the label, I always answer that it’s “cultural cannibalism”, because when I really like someone’s work, I almost want to become that person. The closest way is to make something together.

So it originates from this music fan perspective.

Yes. It’s all based on passion and fun. I’m not thinking about whether I’m losing money or if it’s too expensive. I do it because I really like it.

The label is very diverse.

Yes, it’s also based on my taste, which is also diverse. I hope that over the years you will be able to see a line, something that makes sense.

You studied musicology. Does your analytical approach to music come from these studies, of having a more second level perspective.

Could be. I didn’t finish my studies though I was very close to doing so. I was used to analysing music. Maybe it’s also about that, about seeing how things work.

Which stream or style in music history is closest to you? Apart from pointillism, of course.

Lately, what I’ve been rediscovering from my university studies is the theorist and critic Eduard Hanslick and the importance of content and form – the beauty in music and whether it’s related to feelings or form. We still ask ourselves what’s good in music, if it is connected to the feeling that you get from it or rather the form.

Even though you have said that you have this more clinical, analytical approach, melody and harmony are also important elements of your work.

It’s exactly why I bring this back. My stuff perhaps wants to be analytical with respect to some musical structure, but it also wants to point the finger in the emotional direction, though only slightly. There is this drama, but I don’t want to reveal too much about it. I always think that if people make a little bit of effort to complete it, it can be powerful. In Italy we have a saying: “In a love relationship the one who runs away wins”, and the same goes for my music …I give some strong inputs and then I run away for a bit.

Superimpositions is a really euphoric, uplifting record.

The idea is to sustain this feeling but without using the obvious musical strategies, and see how long one can keep it driving up. Not say too much, but actually a lot. I don’t want to accept the compromises in music that wants to trigger euphoria.

When you produce other musicians like How To Dress Well, do you also have this self-imposed rule, or you work differently?

The only rule I have is that I want to work my way. If I can shape my synths in the way I like, I can work with anyone.

Lorenzo Senni is playing at the ICAS Festival on 30 April 2015. For more information, go here.