It sounds better in slow motion: in depth with Front de Cadeaux

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If you are kind of a music lover, chances are this happened to you too: you put a 45 rpm record on your turntable while it’s still playing at 33 rpm. The effect might eventually add an extra dimension to your record or it might sound like a huge monster is trying to break out of your speakers. It’s a technique that is as old as turntables are, but some DJ’s have refined it and made it their trademark. Meet DJ Athome (Maurizio for his friends) and Hugosan (or Ugo) - together they are better known as Front de Cadeaux. They met in 2006 through a gay website for bears (a subculture of large and hairy men within the gay community, ed.). In that period, Ugo organized the Subwoofer techno parties for bears in Rome as a counter reaction to the dominant gay culture. Maurizio was part of the Brussels PNEU label and started the weekly 'Brussels Alternative Show' on Radio Panik in 1996. Ugo wanted to invite Felix Kubin to one of his parties, Maurizio had just collaborated with him and so they got talking, became friends and started playing at each other's parties. However, a few more years would go by before Front de Cadeaux was born.

Maurizio: “When Ugo visited me in Brussels, we regularly spent the entire night listening to 45 rpm records at 33 rpm. I have a lot of new beat, acid, breakbeat and techno records from the early 90’s and we were always very curious about how these records sound when you play them on a slower speed than intended. It was an interesting experiment for mixing too: the lower speed gives you extra time and options. These nocturnal listening sessions formed the basis for this technique that was later called 'supreme rallentato”.

Ugo: “I have always been into hip hop, funk, dub and black music. Around 2000, when a lot of my friends from the techno scene stopped DJing and gave me their records, the music was way too fast for me. I think that music sounds much better at 33 rpm."

In the beginning of our sets, confusion usually reigns the dancefloor.

Both Ugo and Maurizio have Italian roots. When one of their Italian friends asked to play a Front 242 song and pronounced the classic Belgian EBM group as 'Front de Cadeaux', Maurizio thought it was so funny that the name stuck. In 2013, after several nightly sessions, they decided to raise their experiment to a higher level. When they started looking for a name for their project, Maurizio didn't have to think twice: Front de Cadeaux was born. Besides their DJ sets, they released their first two EP's in 2014 and 2015 on the Roccodisco label by Hugosan and Rodion. In the ensuing years, a number of releases followed slowly, whereby they further refined their signature sound. In 2018, 'Supreme Rallentato Volume 1' followed.

What exactly does 'supreme rallentato' mean?

Maurizio: “In the 70’s, popcorn DJ’s were already playing soul records at 33 rpm instead of 45; new beat was created in the 80’s by applying the same technique to coldwave and EBM. We didn't reinvent the wheel. It is not a trend nor is it a gag. The technique ensures that you experience the music differently: deeper and more sensual. It becomes easier to dance to and there is more sensuality on the dancefloor. In the beginning of our sets, confusion usually reigns the dancefloor. The audience is not always sure what’s happening. We often get the reaction from people that they feel like they are on drugs (when we aren’t). It's like you're dancing to slow motion music in realtime. Do you know the feeling when you walk on an escalator that doesn't move? That’s how it feels. Once the audience gets used to it, they like it. It’s only the music that counts; who cares if the tempo is fast or slow, or if the DJ plays with vinyl or digital files?”

Ugo: Sometimes it feels like an unwritten rule applies in many clubs or festivals: the higher the bpm, the better. We couldn’t disagree more. Many promoters and DJ’s say we’re crazy when we start our set at 98 BPM at 3 AM. For us, the pace is just a side issue; it's the groove that counts. Our sets are a counter reaction to what we call this 'peak time BPM fascism'. This unwritten rule does not only apply in clubs; you can also find it in the online music shops. We think it is absurd to buy music on web shops based on the number of beats per minute, regardless of artist or label”.

Are certain genres better suited for the 'supreme rallentato' technique than others?

Maurizio: “Based on our experience, there are two factors that make music suitable for this technique. First and foremost, we use music that was produced before the turn of the century. Until then, most breakbeat, beat, acid and techno was analog. If you slow it down, you still have a very full sound. If you apply the technique to digital productions, you feel something is missing. Secondly, the quality of the vinyl pressing is important too; tracks covering an entire side on the record are better. The grooves are deeper and there’s more space, which results in a deeper and fuller sound”.

Sometimes it feels like an unwritten rule applies in many clubs or festivals: the higher the bpm, the better.

You have made a handful of EP's over the years. Do you have a fixed production workflow?

Maurizio: “As Ugo lives in Rome and I live in Brussels, it is not always obvious. We have no rules; everything is possible. Sometimes Ugo starts a track in his studio and sends it to me; sometimes vice versa. Or we work on a track at the same time, each from his own studio. We see each other at least once a month and we always try to free up some time to make music. Above all, we are very good friends."

Ugo: "After a number of singles and EP's, we wanted to make a compilation of our edits. That resulted in ‘Supreme Rallentato Volume 1’. We just bundled the remixes we often used in our DJ-sets. It gives an insight in what the ideal dance floor tracks for us sound like. Sometimes people ask us where they can buy that record, upon which we have to answer that this record does not exist. It’s a modified version of an existing track we released digitally. We couldn't find a label for it, so we released it ourselves. Volume 2 has just been released now too”.

“The next step is a Supreme Rallentato vinyl series. We will select a number of tracks that we often play in our DJ sets and we will hide all the information of the original track. You can see it as an anti-capitalism statement. We don't have to make new music to express ourselves, everything has already been done. The majority of the records that we play aren't even worth a penny; they are for sale on Discogs for half a euro or less”.

In February, you released the single ‘We Slowly Rot’, accompanied by a manifesto. I quote: "our sound is the sound of destruction, the sound of the process of rot”. Is that the ultimate description of your sound?

Maurizio: 'For us, the sound of destruction is the sound of records at the wrong speed. At the same time, we intend an epistemological rupture. It is important to break with certain accepted ideas in order to make progress. Nowadays, the DJ culture is mainly about music that has to be sold, which results in a huge overproduction. It has become impossible to listen to all the promos we receive. With that, there’s an excess of podcasts and DJ mixes. People no longer really listen: they scroll through a mix, listen for two minutes and then proceed to ask the DJ for track ID's (when you want to know the artist and song title of a certain track, ed.). It has all become very momentary. After our Boiler Room set last year, we received some bizarre reactions from people because Shazam could not tag our music. Since we play the records at the wrong speed, the algorithm does not recognize our music (laughs)”.

People no longer really listen: they scroll through a mix, listen for two minutes and then proceed to ask the DJ for track ID's

Ugo: “In the manifesto we state: “dance music was fun, dance music was new, dance music was high, dance music became a standard”. A lot of dance music today is characterized by a fixed formula, so everything sounds the same. This stands in sharp contrast with the early days, when freedom used to be the essence of dance music; everything was possible. We miss those times”.

Any more Front De Cadeaux releases planned for the near future?

Maurizio: “Our remix of Tapan's track 'Ghana' on the Malka Tuti label came out on vinyl in May. All the above mentioned releases are linked to our DJ-sets, so consider them as tools for the dance floor. After this, we want to devote more time working on our album. We already have a number of unfinished tracks, so by 2020 we should be able to release an album”.

“Besides Front De Cadeaux, we each have our side projects too. Ugo runs Tropicantesimo with a bunch of Roman friends, which is not only a monthly party at the Fanfulla cultural centre in Rome, but also a collective of singers, musicians and visual artists. He also runs the Pescheria studio, where he regularly hosts workshops, concerts and listening sessions. It’s a label as well: he just released a 7 inch by Torbido, which includes a Tropicantesimo remix”.