for marco shuttle, music is a work of art. the italian-born, london-based DJ, producer and label boss has always had an eye for aesthetics — a graduate of central saint martins with a background in visuals and fashion, his interest in beauty runs more than skin deep. “whenever you make a decision, whenever you create, it always has something to do with beauty,” he says, “besides if something sounds good, it’s about dealing with what you think is beautiful.” that much is clear; everything from eerie, his self-run label since 2012, to his productions and journey-like DJ sets speak to the foundation of his creative philosophy: aesthetics. such a loyalty to his vision is often what sets him apart from other djs; you might not always know what you’ll get with a marco shuttle set, but you know it’s going to be good.
you once said that DJing is your truest form of expression. do you still believe that?
i was born as a DJ. the way i make music is quite cerebral, there’s a lot of thinking behind it. with what i use, it’s very difficult for me to re-create in a live environment what i do in the studio. i have to think about what the experience will be like for me. when i DJ, it’s more about interacting with the audience, it is somehow less planned than playing live. right now, i’ve never felt the need to perform live. DJing is fulfilling my needs as a performer. i do believe that in electronic music, performance is divided into two categories: there are DJs and there are live acts. you can be both. and you can be really good at both. but deep inside you, you are one of them. and i’m aDJ, no question about it.
it seems to be quite an emotional connection for you.
well, i started DJing much earlier than i started making music… it was the start of it all for me. my roots are as a DJ, for sure. electronic music was born with functional purposes, but there’s an emotional element, definitely. music effects on an emotional, personal level for everyone.
what do you mean by functional purposes?
the thing about techno, or about electronic music in general, is that its functionality is what makes it so expressive. it offers canvas for other genres to fit in. it’s kind of the bare bones, anything can fit in with it. if you lay down a groove with a kickdrum, you can layer in classical music or jazz or… it’s a genre that more than ever manages to welcome very different styles, and very different crossovers. this repetitive patterns, it’s something that’s always been there in a lot of different types of music, you know? if you compare it to, say, tribal music… if we look at indigenous people doing a dance with drums or african tribes going in some kind of trance… what they wanted out of the music is the same thing as people at berghain.
there’s certainly something very ritualistic about techno.
that’s exactly it! techno is not a style of music, it’s a point of view. i think human beings somehow need to gather together with music and lose it. and just let go. let the music take control and have that experience. i think the connection is very much related to a moment.
well, a good DJ is one who manages to mix tracks in a way so that it makes a sense. you notice it. a certain energy is created, and even when you go home, you’re still remembering that moment: when it was played, how it was played and the kind of flow it created. sometimes the track by itself is not even anything special, but when it was played by that person in that moment of his mix… it sounded incredible.
do you think it’s at all possible to really separate the music from the moment?
i think more like electronic music especially has a lot to do with the time and place where you hear it. could say, for example, “pump up the volume” or prince’s “sign of the times,” when i heard them i was a kid and i was in a stage in my life when i was absorbing and unconsciously shaping my musical self. in that moment, when i heard those tracks for the first time, they really left a mark on me. hearing those tracks was the first time i realized that music can be the hypnotic. it can get there.
do you still have those kinds of moments these days?
well, i would say less than before… i guess it has to do with getting older. i’m not saying that i don’t find music that touches me emotionally, because i do. but i’m more critical now. i’m more analytical on what i hear… of course i still hear a lot of music that affects me but not in that kind of total way that used to happen to me when i was younger.
do you miss those days?
when i was younger, i was working in mainstream clubs, mainly for a tourist crowd as a promoter, but when those clubs would close, i’d go to the cool clubs, where all the people were actually part of that early acid house scene. i remember they were taking a lot of ecstasy and you know, really… properly riding the dream. and i remember thinking that it was way better than what i hear all night where i work; “fuck, i love this music.” it was the first time i actually understood that this is the music, this is the music i really click to or connect to. it’s a chemistry on another level from music you’ve heard before. you immediately link to it. but i wasn’t really one of those full on acid house kids that were going out at the end of the 80s. i’ve got the age to fit in. (laughs) but at the time i didn’t really belong to that scene.
really? what changed?
i gradually went towards that world! i come from a conservative, middle-class, catholic family background, which, although i am very fond and close to my family, i quite dramatically drifted away from during the years, so i didn’t really want to mix with that scene then. part of me thought it wasn’t “appropriate.” i was looking at that world with some eager curiosity but at the same time, a kind of repressed strong desire to belong to it. it took quite a while for me to really embrace that scene and its lifestyle.
how has your interest in this subculture changed since moving from being a consumer to being a DJ? do you still have those same strong moments of absorption that you mentioned earlier?
yes, but mostly when i’m performing. i think DJing as an experience for me really translates as what i would really like to hear when i was one of those kids going out partying. nowadays, my way to experience the rave is much more from behind the decks. i like to hang out after i finish my set but it’s rare for me to go out and see a DJ and have an all-nighter, all-dayer, or a few days…
the true rave experience.
exactly. it’s cool to be part of the experience as a DJ though, and the frequency i get booked to play kind of fulfills completely my need to be out on the dancefloor. i do love to go to gigs though, i recently went to see mills with the orchestra at the barbican in london and loved it.
on the other end of the spectrum, what about your productions? you often use the word “cinematic” to describe your music. what does that mean?
i’ve always been attracted to music that is kind of like a landscape. journey type of music. somehow music that manages to bring a vibe, to evoke some kind of scenery in a way. i really love it when a movie has a good soundtrack. an example that comes to my mind right now to explain this is david lynch movies, these sinister eerie moments, drones… (laughs) i’m really inspired by the power some music has to translate into images in our mind. in fact, i quite like when my music gets described as cinematic.
i know you come from a visual background, having graduated from central saint martins… does that play into your approach to music?
definitely. i’m instinctively driven to think by aesthetics. music has a lot to do with aesthetics. my education had a lot to do with looking at things, finding things i like, designing things. i think i’m naturally driven to be very sure and aware about what i like and what i don’t, and what i consider beautiful or not. that completely affects the way i approach sound.
so you think music should have an aesthetic signature?
absolutely. whenever you make a decision, whenever you create, it always has something to do with beauty. for me, it’s a constant relationship. i care much more about a coherent aesthetic than about having an output that is super popular. it always has to do with being loyal to your vision. i don’t see another way to do it or to make it. everything i make has to be something i consider beautiful and that somehow reveals an aesthetic complexity… in its sound, in its colour, its texture, its depth, its richness. it’s very easy to translate this visual idea into music. i see such a strong link between visual and audial.
in what ways?
i’m inspired by a lot of landscape references in my music, like i said. lately, i’vw had desert dreams in my mind: winds, dunes, tuaregs, bedouins… i find that whole landscape so fascinating and so musical. i’m also quite inspired by everything that’s got to do with the galaxy, outer space, planets, stars, spaceships, absence of gravity, nasa, etc… i see that in my music also. and my name!
“shuttle,” of course.
(laughs) exactly. sometimes it even goes backwards; for example i’ll hear police cars sirens from outside while i’m making a track and think… “this would fit right in what i’m working on!”
it goes back to what you were saying about the moment. it seems like that applies in the creation as well.
of course. music is very personal. the way and the intensity we perceive sound is very personal. everyone’s brain chemistry is different, so music can take every listener to a different place. but as far as i’m concerned, personally, it’s these landscapes or places… i want music to take me there when i close my eyes.