The Dutch artist and Magnitude Recordings label boss opens up about battles with anxiety upon returning after a seven year hiatus, restarting his career and label with ‘Taming Da Echoes’.
Hey Francesco, thanks for joining us today, tell us a bit about yourself, how old are you, where are you living and how long have you been producing music and DJing?
Francesco Pico: Thanks for having me, its an honor! I’m already near 42 (so almost one of the house grannies ;)). Living in Berke,l a little village near The Hague and Rotterdam. I’m happily married and have a lovely daughter. After playing guitar for a few years I got in touch with house music in 1991 and immediately started experimenting with making it myself.
How did you discover electronic music and what led you down the path of wanting to be a DJ and producer? What were some of your early inspirations?
Francesco Pico: I think it was 1989, I watched a program about Acid House on MTV. I was 12 years old and there was no internet these days, so it took my attention but I didn’t know what to do with it. I always have been interested in music, instruments, mixers, turntables, cd players, etc. from a very young age (my mother gave me my first turntable when I was 3 years old). So when I was old enough to pass the security of a dance club (14), I started going out. One night in 1991 the DJ was playing the music that sounded like the music I remember from the MTV program, so I ran to him, asked him what it was, he said to me: “this is ‘House’ Music, and next month we do a Friday night with this music the whole night”. So I went to one of the first “HOUSEPARTY’s” in my town and I think one of the first in the Netherlands before it became well known.
Being a musical gear nerd, it was no surprise I wanted to make this music myself and later wanted to DJ with the collection I was already building for listening and inspiration. I already listened to progressive bands like Pink Floyd, Eloy, Camel, Mike Oldfield, Gandalf, etc from a young age. Rolling into the progressive house scene was not more than logical I guess. Quickly I started to visit the early parties in The Hague and got in touch with artists like Remy, Sander Kleinenberg and Pako & Frederik to name a few, so being from The Hague I guess also moved me to the proggy scene. And when the GU series came out it was no going back ;).
Tell us a bit about the Dutch scene. The love the country has for quality electronic music seems almost unrivalled around the world. What is it that ties the country so closely to electronica?
Francesco Pico: I think it has something to do with the way we live. It’s a free country, and to build up a house culture really needs some freedom. You need time to spend discovering the possibilities of PC’s & gear and in our prosperous country everything was available for the young generation. We always have had a free trade relation with many countries so we easely got inspired by American, English, French and German sounds. We combined these well I think…
Newer followers of electronic music may not be familiar with you as you’ve taken some time away but you were quite well known in the deep and progressive house scenes from 2007-2012 I would say, then your output trailed off relatively quickly. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to and why did you disappear from the scene from such a long time?
Francesco Pico: Like more and more stories coming out these days, I also was suffering (mental) health problems. I had Anxiety and serious burn out symptoms. It took quite long to overcome these problems and I still can’t go 100%.
Working hours a day in the studio (with deadlines), DJ-ing, running a label, organizing events etc etc, and being a real perfectionist, it was just to much for a healthy life. I was consumed by the ambition to be a successful artist, I forgot to listen to my body. Meanwhile I was happy to have a family with the birth of my little princess and also for this reason I took all the time I needed to give my body some rest and enjoy my daughter as much as I can.
It’s always hard to know what’s going on in the background I guess, I can say that there are a lot of fans very happy to see you back. 🙂 So how has this changed your production process? I would guess it has quite a bit?
Francesco Pico: I’m also very happy to be back and it really gives me a great feeling to hear so many people being positive about my return.
And yes, It changed a lot, my ambition now is to enjoy what I do and not to have some kind of goal of reaching a point of success. Also the way I produce changed a lot. I still suffer a strange problem working with computer screens (ESS Electronic Screen Syndrome?). After working behind a screen for 30 minutes I’m completely out of energy. So I had to find a way to make music without computer screens (hey welcome in the second decade of the second millenium :))). It took a while, but now I got everything working well for me; arranging on a Push with Ableton just as a sequencer; I use almost only hardware synthesizers instead of plugins. Then making a rough mix outside the box on a mixer and finally record stems in Logic for my final mixout which I do with a Mackie control and Console 1. This works best for me because 90% of the production time I don’t have to work with screens 😉
How would you characterize your music and what would you like it to convey to the listener?
Francesco Pico: Music with a story; I think my style is to use various styles of quality house music to create a journey for the night. I don’t like to only play or make ‘deep’ or ‘progressive’ or ‘tech house’. I think a night is more interesting as it starts with relaxing good vibes building to happy grooves then starting a bit harder and truly deeper sounds and space moments come to a climax that blast the roof of the club. Finally finishing with records that gives you the feeling of satisfaction that it was a good night. We once named it forward thinking electronic dance music ;). As a producer I just make fragments of this idea, always imagine what moment of the night or part of the set the track has to fit in. This is also why I love to make continuous mixed albums like the three albums I’ve released so far.
You have a new EP out this week on your own Magnitude Recordings imprint. Two amazing originals alongside remixes from Kasper Koman and Pole Folder. Tell us how they came together creatively and why these tracks felt like the right ones to relaunch the label.
Francesco Pico: The moment I had finished some tracks ready for release I was wondering what to do with it. At the same moment Paul Hazendonk and I discussed a possibly return of Magnitude Recordings. I’m very grateful he suggested this opportunity, because with my screen problem it is impossible to run a label. But under the wings of Manual Music I can concentrate on the creative part of the label and taking advantage of the Manual distribution house. So everything feel in place. “Taming da echoes” and “Bugs jump out of the water” were typical ‘Magnitude’ tracks so this was easily selected. Of course a relaunch must have some special attention, so we asked 2 remixers we knew would do a great job to make the EP outstanding.
Was there any special inspiration behind the two tracks? It feels to me like this is your official return, is that how it feels to you?
Francesco Pico: Its amazing to be releasing originals again, and it feels more and more like returning. Of course I did a remix on MNL for Robert R Hardy last year, which was a great EP, but originals feels different 😉
What’s maybe nice to tell about Taming da Echoes; It was made in an earlier part, when I still worked with my AKAI MPC5000 with no computer at all. This was the first stage before I started to work with Ableton. The MPC5000 really got me back into the production. So this machine feels like a life saver to me ;). Having a track on my first EP made with that machine is maybe iconic…
So now that Magnitude is back, tell us your plans with it now that’s it up and running again.
Francesco Pico: We already have a nice schedule coming up with artists like Chris Cargo, EANP, Dynacom, Cream and myself. So the label will continu where it left off…:)
What advice do you have for artists who hope to get on the label?
Francesco Pico: My advice in general is to be personal in writing. Motivate why you think your music will fit on the specifik label you are sending. Label A&R managers really like it to see you’re not just sending 100 labels your music, but you have selected the label with a reason. That increases the chance for the A&R manager to listen to your song. Be kind, polite and send with a working Soundcloud link ;).
For a country with so many artists, DJs and events the Dutch scene must have some frustrations as well, how could it be improved?
Francesco Pico: Gee difficult question, I think I pass this with, that I’ve been out to long to have a good answer 😉
Who are some up and coming Dutch artists to look out for?
Kasper Koman is amazing. Everything he touches is gold at the moment and I’m sure he will soon be a much asked remixer and producer. Also VNTM who just released a great track on Eelke Kleijns ‘Days like nights’ is one to watch for sure.
What release or achievement are you most proud of and why? Looking back over your discography what releases are you most proud of and why?
Francesco Pico: I’m still very happy with my 3rd album Absolutely Flabbergasted. It really came out as I intended. And of course my Global Underground releases. Releasing on GU was a major achievement for me after listening to the series for years. I think I still like the remix Alex Dolby did for one of my tracks…. I’m also very proud of my release on Chris Duckenfieds Odori. After being a big SWAG fan for years it was so cool to reach this big man with my music. But every release has his story I’m just so proud to be back and already achieve an impressive discography an many huge labels 😉
What five tracks are you currently loving the most at the moment?
Francesco Pico: I just posted my first top 10 in ages on beatport 🙂
1. I really like ‘Blackout’ by Simon Tagias, this is such a deep sneaky track sucking you in the moment!
2. The bassline off Ewan Rills remix of Jacob Singers ‘Trappist One’ is rolling so good. This is an amazing festival track.
3. David Garcet and Mjane’s ‘Tell me who’ is a very cool track for these ‘moments’ in a set.
4. ‘Do not sleep’ by Elena Pavla, what a party groove vibe; stunnin!
5. ‘Horizon’ by Kyka; one word; beauty!
What can we expect to hear next from you? What does 2018 hold for Francesco Pico?
Francesco Pico: I’m happy to have a few releases already planned on labels like Balkan Connection, MNL, 90watts and off course Magnitude so we just go for it :). And my Magnitude mix series will also continue any moment now, so watch my Soundcloud page…
‘Taming Da Echoes’ is out now on Magnitude Recordings, you can purchase the release: here