Luca Mortellaro (aka Lucy), an international label manager, frequently travels far and wide to find new music. So it should have been no surprise that he asked to meet me at the airport.
Returning from a gig in London, Lucy touches down in Berlin, his adopted home. His brother picks us up and we drive directly to Lucy’s apartment. Upon opening the front door, as if by force of habit, Lucy puts on a record. There is a moment of relaxation while Aphex Twin plays in the background before this elusive member of the music industry starts to talk.
Having studied cognitive science before he began his record label, Stroboscopic Artefacts, his private space reflects both his passions. Such a scientific interest in the human condition and a love for producing and exploring electronic music are not common bedfellows. But, during our weekend together, Lucy gives an insight into his unique perspective on music and his attempt to surround himself with what influences him.
Another of his passions is also prominent in this space. Beside the modern studio equipment sits an arrangement of singing bowls. Lucy is a committed yoga practitioner. While Lucy’s profession feeds off the creation of sound, home articulates a quiet tranquility that acknowledges his other, calmer passions. There is something very clear and structured to how Lucy thinks and works. But, in spite of his fascination with the structures and functions in the human brain, the music that he creates inhibits you from thinking clearly. It makes you lose your focus rather than sharpen it.
Following Lucy through his daily routine was a unique privilege; he spoke all day about his music, his singing bowls, and how to lose control. He also put together a playlist highlighting the last 5 years of Stroboscopic Artefacts for you to listen to as you read.
Some years ago, you moved from Italy to Berlin to start your label Stroboscopic Artefacts. Is Berlin still a special place, especially regarding the techno scene? Why did you move here?
Yes, I still find it a very stimulating city, of course. You really feel like you are a part of something, that’s for sure. Things are changing, but still, I have been here for six or seven years and what I am trying to do is not just to steal from the scene, but to actively contribute to it. And when you do that you get an answer from the city. This is a beautiful experience.
Before you started the label, you studied cognitive science. Do you see a connection between these two disciplines? How does the one influence the other?
Yes, definitely. They influence each other a lot. I have been producing music since I was 16, so when I started studying I was doing that already. But the thing about cognitive science in particular is that it is all about how your brain works in relation to learning or absorbing things. A lot of the paradigms that I studied there are still incredibly valid in what I do now. It is about the meaning of your medium, how the medium you use influences a certain kind or another of knowledge. I mean knowledge in the sense of reception, not in the sense of notions. To know a little bit about how our brain works and reacts is hugely important in what I do now.
Generally, for me, music is a very powerful medium to transport an emotional or cognitive message. Producing a track is not about making the track itself; it is just a tool for something else. It is not the end result. More important than the track itself is the approach to the music. Because from this kind of approach you understand how one particular artist is powerful in dealing with the medium. In this way, these disciplines are connected, they’re also connected to literature and philosophy, which I studied. Those are the kind of topics where I find inspiration. It is very important for me to first find a kind of inspiration to deliver and translate something – which can be a notion or a dystopic feeling or a vision of society and the world – into a certain feeling and into actual music. That is what I hope to deliver.
You seem to have an interest in yoga and aspects from other cultures. Where does all this come from?
In the last eight or nine years, just engaging with a topic through a generalist or academic approach started to not be enough for me. At some point I decided, “No, this doesn’t work! Because 2+2 doesn’t make 4, it makes 5!” There is always instability and interaction, meaning that if you put something together with something else the result is not just those two things together. It is something completely else, something more vertical, more metaphysical, something with much more meaning. Simply put, I wasn’t satisfied by the normal academic approaches anymore and I started to look for other methods, how other cultures and populations approach those topics.
Then I started finding the amazing work of traditional medicine, forms of meditation and connections with other kinds of existence. My question was not if it is actually real or not. It’s more about what it brings us in terms of energy and actual results. I mean, what happens in a club, when the magic happens, is also something that you can’t just put in an equation. For example, in my opinion, a good performance cannot be repeated. It is unique, that context, that moment. And this knowledge, which some people call esoteric, started to fascinate me more and more. It depends on the circumstances of the moment, because a lot of things that are considered esoteric at the moment will be very scientific in other moments in time. As well as this, the value we give to what is true or not true is also very relative.
On the one hand your work seems very considered and controlled and on the other it exhibits a loss of control, for example in a club, when “the magic happens,” as you described it. How and when do you lose control?
It is not that easy for me, because I am kind of a control freak. But, at the same time, this is kind of my path, to be able to lose control, but in a non-destructive way, without annihilating myself among the chaos. It is about losing enough control to free certain channels from barriers and limitations. This is very different to just losing control for the sake of losing control, just because you are unhappy with your life or something like that. It is actually about being happy with your life, about all the little things that compose your life.
“Things that compose your life.” Can you tell me about your daily routine? Is there a separation between life and work for you?
Oh, not really. My kind of work, if you want to call it work, is more of a general life path. It is a reflection of my life. In my opinion it is a little hypocritical to keep these things too separated.
We are not just talking about going to an office and doing some repetitive job; we are talking about something where you invest your blood and soul, where you sometimes get very drained and at other times very energized. That is something which touches a deeper level of your everyday life. It is very invasive work. It’s not a rare thing that people burn out or just lose themselves and lose their artistic identity completely, that is very easy to do.
That’s why, once again, discipline is very important. Discipline, keeping your mind and your body healthy and educating your senses to focus on something. It is not about art coming to you, as if you are a genius and you just sit down and beautiful things happen. This is okay, this can be a nice aesthetic experience. But if we are talking about a long term artistic profile, then it is very different. Then, in my opinion, discipline is very important. To understand your freedom in creation, you have to find your dimensions first. You have to know the world around you, then you can play with it.
Since you are traveling and playing in clubs around the world, what do you associate with the term “home”?
It’s simple: Berlin is my home. It’s the place where I’m happy to come back to after all those travels.
To me, this city sometimes feels like a big transit area, where one stays for a short time and leaves again.
That is one way of living in Berlin, but, in my opinion, that’s what I call tourism (laughs).
Thank you Luca for giving us an insight into your artistic process. Check out Stroboscopic Artefacts to find out more about the musicians that Luca supports. Meet more creatives in Berlin through our previous portraits.
Photography & Interview: Robert Hamacher