In The Birth of Tragedy, Frederick Nietzsche writes: "...Millions sink to the dust, shivering in awe...Man now expresses himself through song and dance as the member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk, how to speak, and is on the brink of taking wing as he dances. Each of his gestures betokens enchantment; through him sounds a supernatural power...He feels himself to be godlike and strides with the same elation and ecstasy as the gods he has seen in his dreams."
When I read this, I assumed that Nietzsche was writing about his first time going to a bush doof. As it turns out, he was talking about the Ancient Greeks and their massive woodland festivals in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine, orgies and general partying. More than two thousand years on, the Dionysian tradition is still as strong as ever, but the dithyrambic rhythms of Greek lyre-players have been replaced by pounding kick drums, squelchy synths and bizarre alien mating calls. Yes...I'm talking about psytrance.
If Nietzsche were alive today, he would surely hear the Dionysian influence in the dark, hypnotic sounds of Italian psytrance producer Hypogeo. I caught up with this sonic sorcerer of all things dark and dastardly for a chat about his new album and his upcoming tour of Australia.
It's 8am when I hop on Skype for the interview. Hypogeo, aka Nicola Grigatti, is sitting in a dimly-lit room smoking cigarettes when he answers the call. We make small talk for a while as my morning coffee begins to kick in.
It's late over in Italy, and Grigatti is up past his bedtime. He lives in a small town called Comacchio, on the Adriatic Coast. "It's nice," he says, "good food, close to the beach. It's quiet and relaxed." I look it up on Google as he speaks -- yes, I'm a skilled multi-tasker. Looking through pictures of beautiful, Venice-style canals and old, crumbling buildings, I muse aloud that Comacchio conjures up the operas of Verdi and Pavarotti, rather than the dark, nightmarish sounds of progressive darkpsy.
Indeed, the music scene in Italy is rather stagnant at the moment. Caught in Europe's economic slump, venues are closing and people aren't going out as much. "It's dead, completely dead. It's such a shame," says Grigatti. "Italy is not the best place to live right now. It's very hard just to make a living, and the mood of people is pretty bad."
Grigatti himself is lucky to be employed – he works full-time in a tobacco shop, he explains as he lights another cigarette. I make a lame joke about smoking away his profits. But he's deadpan; evidently work is not something Italians joke about at the moment.
"I work eight or nine hours every day," he says, "and when I get home, I switch on my computer and make some music." Offering me a tour of his studio, Grigatti holds up various bits of tech to the webcam: a Maschine, some Korg fx units and various other bits and bobs. "I make my beats on Cubase", he continues, "and use Ableton Live when I'm playing a show. I'm also just starting to use Lemur on my iPad, it will be good when I can work that in."
Unlike most producers, who begin by playing as DJs and wind up making their own tunes, Grigatti's background is in... wait for it... death metal. "I used to play guitar for this group called Entropic Engine," he elaborates. "It was just a group of friends who liked to play death metal. We did have some electronic parts to the music and I guess it started from there.
"But I never played as a DJ. I started out of a pure passion to make my own music. Now, I do some DJ sets for fun, but just for friends, never at festivals or big parties. That's when I play I play my own live set."
Grigatti cites industrial musical as a major influence: Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Ministry in particular. Outside of music, surrealistic art is a major influence, especially the works of Salvador Dalì and H.R. Geiger (set designer of Alien). "A couple of years ago, I visited Dalì's museum in Figueros, Spain," recounts Grigatti. "It was incredible... one of the most psychedelic experiences I've ever had. A real trip. And then, Geiger...what can you say? He is the father of biomechanics. He has been a big influence for me." So saying, he raises his right arm; it's tattooed all over, covered with a thick mesh of intricate tendrils and other creepy-crawly alien bits.
In 2009, Grigatti signed to Australian label Zenon. Renowned for its dark, minimalistic take on psytrance, Zenon boasts a stable of DJs and producers in every corner of the globe, including Brazil, Russia, India and Mexico, as well as Australian and NZ producers such as Grouch, Merkaba, Shadow FX and label founder Tim Larner's alias Sensient. Grigatti added Italy to Zenon's list of internationals* when he released his EP as Hypogeo, Wars, Worms and Whores.
And now he's followed that up with his first full-length effort, Tree of Lies. With six tracks weighing in at just under an hour, it's a brutal yet hypnotic journey of thundering basslines and spooky atmospheres. The frigid ambience and frosted mechanical whirrings of Walking on a Frozen Lake bring to mind Predator awakening in an icy tomb, while on Plyomatik, twisted synths give way to a pulsing, staccato bassline and proggy woodblocks. Grigatti's remix of label-mate Sensient's Clusterfuck is another highlight, with its haunted-house wails and lurching pitch drop midway through. It's a thoroughly dark album: you can clearly hear the gothic and industrial influences in the eerie pads and atmospheres, and the cruel, unrelenting basslines echo Grigatti's death metal past.
To celebrate the release of Tree of Lies, Grigatti is making with his first-ever appearance in Australia, playing at a festival called (awkwardly enough) Tree of Life. He assures me that the resemblance in names is nothing but a strange coincidence. "It is not me making fun of the festival! Really. I was talking with the organiser, and we had a joke about it. He said, ‘It's OK, you can still play here!’ But it's a nice play with words, no?"
Tree of Life, held in the last weekend of May, is in fact a launch event for a larger psytrance festival held in Izmir, Turkey. It's a much-welcome addition to the Australian psytrance calendar, usually quite sparse over the winter months. The lineup is small but solid, featuring overseas talent such as Israel's Mindwave, Symbolic and DJ Osho, UK contingent Dick Trevor and Green Nuns of the Revolution, as well as locals Ben Evans and Anomyst, among others.
Held in an as-yet unnamed location somewhere in Victoria, it's a good chance to get out of the city and get your doof on. I'll leave you with some final inspiring words from our boy Nietzsche: "All nature's power reveals itself here, amidst shivers of intoxication, to the highest, most blissful satisfaction of the primordial unity. I fucking love psytrance."
BY MORGAN RICHARDS
Hypogeo [ITA] plays Tree of Life Australian Launch Event alongside Dick Trevor [UK], Green Nuns of the Revolution [UK], Mindwave [ISR] and more at a yet to be announced venue in the great outdoors of Victoria which takes place from Friday May 25 until Sunday May 27.