Cleveland: matching cold textures and warm vibes

Pictures by Fotopia


With nDSi, the Brussels-based house and techno artist made a critically acclaimed EP. It also helped him secure nominations for Best Producer, Best Album and Best Track on the latest Red Bull Elektropedia Awards.

Born in an Italian family living in Luxembourg, Andrea started making music at the age of 16 after buying his first synthesizer. In 2010, he moved to Brussels where he started Cleveland in 2012. Two years later, he released his first record on Oskar Offermann's WHITE record label. This move opened doors for Andrea. Renowned labels such as John Talabot’s Hivern Discs and Lovefingers’ ESP Institute all came knocking on his door. His nDSi EP – dropped on the former last June – might be his most prolific release yet. With a debut album in sight, the man talks broken synths, the reissue frenzy and the vibrant Brussels electronic music scene.

The copy on your Bandcamp page says: 'electronic music has been obsessed with its past canon for a while. Ongoing trends such as the reissue frenzy or the obsession with vintage equipment make it harder than it should be to find music that feels absolutely contemporary'. Is that really the case?

“This was the press-release text written by the Hivern Discs label. In my opinion, there is an upside to the reissue hype. As I grew up in a family who wasn't into collecting, composing or performing music, I couldn’t rely on a musical upbringing at home. The reissue hysteria helped me discover music I wouldn't have got to know otherwise. In this regard, it has been enriching for me — the same counts for the vintage equipment obsession. If there wouldn't be one, I might have never tried out those older pieces. Without it, my music probably would have sounded differently. But time doesn't stand still, and my equipment evolved over the years. After a while, you learn what you need as a musician. Nowadays, I use a mixture of analogue and digital hardware combined with production software”. 

I don't study the manual when I unbox new instruments. I prefer not knowing the machine and just start playing around until something interesting comes up.

In the same press release, you say you “often draw inspiration from happy accidents with half-broken synthesizers". Do you throw your instruments around the studio voluntarily?

“I recently sold two classic analogue synthesizers to buy new gear that fits my current sound better, so those accidents won't occur that often anymore (laughs). I am not the most technical guy, and I don't study the manual when I unbox new instruments. I prefer not knowing the machine and just start playing around until something interesting comes up. That’s the way I like to make music: playing around, sampling the interesting parts and then sticking them together like a puzzle. I don't start with a certain idea. When a certain idea pops up, I force myself to finish it before starting over from scratch for the next track. nDSi is just a collection of tracks and not a coherent album with a conceptual idea behind it. Of course, there is a link in the sound texture; they have all been recorded over six months”.

The music on nDSi sounds both mechanic and organic at the same time. You described it as “the textures may be cold, but the vibes are warm".

“Let me explain it with an example. The sound of a cold drop on a metal surface sounds mechanical and synthetic, but I’ll try to make it sound warm and comforting at the same time. I love to work with those opposites. Recently, I discussed this with my friends. They had recorded vocals which sounded very happy, but they were struggling with them because the music they made felt sad to them. They thought it would never fit, but I didn't see the issue. In my opinion, that's when it starts to get interesting. It’s not only black and white; there’s a grey zone where the fun starts. I only found this out after years of practice, and it’s my personal approach, it doesn't necessarily work for someone else”. 

“When people ask me to describe my sound, I never know what to answer. I'll give it a try though: playful, naive, maybe organic, and messy – as in the opposite of tidy. My sound has evolved over the years too. When I started making music with synths, I tended to be more melodic. Now, I know which setup fits my taste better, so I evolved towards a more bleepy, experimental and abstract sound. That's where I'm going soon: a more abstract type of production, without an evident storyline or structure”.

What does nDSi stand for? Is there a deeper meaning behind song titles such as DX6, 6IX, Kobu, Govlin or Noord?

“nDSi is an anagram for ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network, the first high-speed internet service via a phone line that revolutionized internet use during the 1990's, ed.). Do you remember the sound of a dial-up connection? It sounds super chaotic and bleepy. The music on the EP reminded me of this. Apart from that, the title doesn't make sense. Nor is there a deeper meaning to the track names, they are all randomly chosen. Sorry about that (laughs). The same applies for my artist name Cleveland. Since my childhood, some words stick into my head because I like the way they sound. You should see the project names I use in Ableton...”

About three years ago, things started to move in a positive direction again in Brussels.

Let's get back to that earlier statement: “the reissue frenzy makes it harder than it should be to find music that feels absolutely contemporary nowadays”. Does the electronic music scene – once innovating – look too much to the past these days?

“I think we’re living in exciting times with a huge amount of refreshing music being released. On the other hand, everything new incorporates influences from the past. 100% originality in music is hard to find nowadays. Personally, I prefer forward-thinking contemporary music. The intention behind my music is to search for interesting sounds, regardless of any genre. This is also true for the music I play in my DJ-sets. Forward-thinking music isn't necessarily new music; some older records nobody liked by then still sound contemporary today. For example, the music on the Circadian Rhythms EP, released recently on the Basic Moves label (catalogue number BM11, ed.) was produced between 1989 and 1994 but still sounds fresh”.

You have been living in Brussels for almost ten years now. Does Brussels have a vibrant electronic music scene?

Definitely. When I moved here from Luxembourg in 2010, it was the end of an era. You had the High Needs Low parties, the beginning of Cat Club and Bruxsel Jardin, and some proper small parties. Not much happened in the years after, or maybe I wasn't really into it (excluding the Open The Box and Holger events). About three years ago, things started to move in a positive direction again. Kiosk Radio, The Word Radio, Crevette Records, C12, Gay Haze, and Listen Festival are all great recent initiatives. These were all critical elements for uniting today’s music scene. Nowadays, we can say that Brussels is vibrant again.

What’s in the pipeline for the coming months?

I have a release scheduled for March 2020, but I can't say much about it yet, except that it will drop on a label with a link to Belgium. Additionally, you will find a track of mine on a big compilation that will drop soon.