Go Dugong has been around the Italian music scene for almost a decade, exploring different styles and growing artistically, but for some reason, his productions never hit the spotlight.
He was one of the first artists in Italy to experiment with global sounds, mixing hip hop and electronic music with influences from all over the world. Coming from the experience of his last full-length album, Curaro, in which he explored sounds and tales from all over the world, the Italian producer has now decided to go back to his own roots to revisit taranta, a folk genre typical of one of the southern regions of Italy, Puglia.
I met Giulio, aka Go Dugong, on a very hot summer’s day in an empty and oddly quiet Milan to have a chat about the work behind his latest EP TRNT, his musical roots and other projects.
Why did you choose Go Dugong as your moniker?
When I started producing, I was making different music than what I’ve been doing for the past four years. My music was leaning towards a more chill wave sound, and at the time, I was exploring very muffled, almost submarine sounds. For this reason, I looked for a marine animal that would resonate with me, and I chose the dugong, while adding the ‘go’ was more of an onomatopoeic sound. GoDugong sounded like percussion to me.
And what’s the musical journey that led you into making music?
When I was a teenager, my parents gave me a Commodore Amiga. My friends used it mostly to play video games, while I used to produce hip hop tracks. My friends had given me some software called Protracker. It was like a sequencer, but its interface looked like an Excel sheet, and that’s how I started producing hip hop, the kind of music I was into at the time. Later, I then started to contaminate my sound more and more, and after experimenting with different genres and other stage names, in 2010/2011 I started producing my first stuff as Go Dugong. That was connected to chill-wave by some people, but that was unintentional. And then, after a few years, I discovered the huge world of global sounds, and I went crazy. For a while, that’s the only thing I played. My albums Novanta and then Curaro, for example, were largely influenced by those sounds coming from all over the globe.
In your new EP, TRNT, you decided to revisit Puglia’s traditional music, tarantella, with an electronic sound. When did the idea of revisiting tarantella first develop in your mind?
I had already thought about it some time ago, but I imagine that the right time to work on it came only last year, after my experience with Curaro (my last record) was forced to end because of a theft that has no longer allowed me to bring the project into a live dimension. I needed to start working on something that belonged to my homeland. All that I have treated so far, such as cumbia, South American or African sounds, still fascinates me, even though it does not belong to my culture. I still play that kind of music in my DJ sets, but from the production point of view, I wanted to rework something closer to me, as has happened in other areas of the world, where traditional music has been reinterpreted in a more modern and electronic way.
You were born and raised in Taranto, in an area where tarantella is very traditional. Did you perceive it as part of your culture when you were living there?
Yes, when I was a teenager, I knew it was part of the local culture, but it was so far away from my interest at the time. I liked hip hop and I was into Graffiti, and the traditional music of my area didn’t appeal much to me. It was also before the summer mega-event Notte della Taranta was invented, making taranta very popular for all kinds of people and tourists.
The tracks of TRNT are named after specific places of Taranto, including the infamous ILVA – the steelworks factory that’s been at the centre of a harsh debate about environment and health for the past 20 years. Can you guide us through these places?
When I’m working on music, I always need a visual reference to a story that helps me create music. So, for TRNT, I used as references some places of Taranto, the city where I lived until I was 10 (before I moved to the north), and where I continued to hang out for the next 15 years.
Apart from ILVA, all of them are neighbourhoods of Taranto. “Salinella” is a working-class district, kind of a problematic one; nothing but apartment buildings there. I had friends living in that area, and I used to hang out there; it’s part of my youthful memories.
“Tamburi” is one of the most polluted neighborhoods in the world, because of its proximity to the ILVA ironworking monster; the steelworks factory which Taranto is mostly known for. It’s a gigantic plant blowing red smoke every day from its steel forges.
“Lama” is in a suburban area of Taranto near the coast. When I lived there for a while, there was really nothing, just buildings. Nowadays, it’s become nicer; a nice neighbourhood near the beach.
While listening to your EP, I thought I could hear the sounds of the tarantella drum, distorted enough to sound like an electronic bassline. Did you sample the drum sounds and later work on them?
No, actually, it’s all done digitally. I reproduced the sound of the drum and the peculiar rhythm of taranta by looking at videos of people playing the drum. The technique consists of an initial hit with the thumb, then with the forefinger, then with the four fingers – each beat sounds different. I analysed the soundwaves of every kind of hit and later reproduced them digitally with samples and synths that have a similar texture.
In an interview published a few weeks ago, you defined TRNT as being more mature.
Yes. As I said before, it’s the first time I feel like I have made something I really feel is mine. When I produced Novanta, I had a lot of references and I was borrowing from lots of things, urban beats, and global sounds. With Curaro, I wanted to show my musical interpretation of tribal beliefs, myths and legends from different cultures. This time, I did something that no one has done before, at least not in this way and with this attitude.
It was a challenge, but in the end, I’m very satisfied with it.
The production of this EP features the help of another Italian producer, Clap! Clap!. How was it working with him in the studio?
Cristiano and I have been friends for a long time, but we have never worked together over the years. We hadn’t kept in touch for a while last year, but as I was starting to work on TRNT, we got back in touch, and when I told him about this project, he was immediately willing to help me out with it. And when you see him in the studio, you realise he really is a genius. Have you ever seen him play live?
In the studio, he’s exactly as excited as when he plays live. He’s really into the music when he’s producing, and it’s very inspiring to work with and next to him.
And what about Raffaele Costantino (aka DJ Khalab)?
Raffaele is also a friend, and I think one of the most competent people in Italy when talking about good music. One day, we spoke on the phone, and he told me he was going to found his own label (HyperJazz Records – Ed.), so I sent him some of the drafts I had for TRNT, and he told me right away that he wanted the EP out on his label. He too, like the whole label, is very interested in traditional music and this kind of approach.
Do you think it’s possible to say that in Italy there’s a rising global beats scene?
It’s interesting, I’d have to think of what the word ‘scene’ means to me. I think you say it’s a scene when there’s a totally new thing that develops from a place. In Italian music, you could talk about scenes for Italodisco perhaps, but not for global bass. What most producers do, and I did too up until Curaro, is work with music that is not ours, borrowing sounds and influences from things that don’t belong to us and vice versa. I don’t mean it in a nationalistic way but in a creative way. A scene can be called such when it develops from a creative burst that comes from a place. TRNT is actually the result of facing this “issue”: I wanted to explore and revisit my own roots and traditional sound, which lie in tarantella and not in cumbia or baile funk.
Do you think there is a kind of limit to producing this kind of music?
No, I don’t think so. With TRNT, I tried to do what artists like Nicola Cruz, Chancha via Circuito and others did in South America. And I hope it’s the beginning of a wave of Italian musicians that will do the same. For example, there is Mai Mai Mai, who did something similar to what I have done, but it sounds completely different. And as long as there are different artists with different minds working on their own revisitation, I don’t think there will be a limit to this music, and then we could finally say that a scene perhaps exists.
Balera Favela started three years ago from my desire to create a free, positive place and party where my friends and I could play the music we liked and have fun. It’s hosted in this iconic bar in Porta Venezia (Bar Doria – Ed.), and there’s no entrance fee, because we wanted it to be as open as possible. And it worked. What I like most about it is that, over the years, in part, we managed to reach some South American communities in Milan, so at our parties you can see Brazilians dancing to their favourite hits and a very mixed crowd enjoying the place, the party and the music.
Photo ©: Alessio Anastasi