Inside the secret world of DJ-turned-producer Luca Bacchetti
Luca Bacchetti has soaked up a wild aural palette as a globe-trotting DJ, but it was returning to a bungalow in rural Tuscany that allowed him to shape his debut album, Secret World.
“Even when I’m producing in the studio, I feel like a DJ. I love to arrange and mix my musicians and their performances like tracks,” says Luca Bacchetti enthusing about his conductor-like approach to the making of his debut album, Secret World.
“For me, the biggest buzz comes from the encounters between musical worlds that initially seem far apart.”
Sonic disparities seem to be central to Luca’s approach, gently ebbing and flowing at the heart his new record. After more than a decade of DJ’ing across the world from DC10 to Tokyo’s Womb, the infamous Burning Man festival and beyond, his name is associated with killer club cuts for labels including Crosstown Rebels and Defected. Yet, the Italian opted to take creative refuge in the tranquil beauty of his Tuscan homeland to create the 13 tracks on Secret World, his boldest artistic statement yet.
Originally conceived as an ambient piece, the scale of Secret World became broader as it was pulled together over several weeks in a bungalow at the Il Ciocco resort. Luca gathered friends, musicians and fellow travellers to record using a mobile studio in the heart of this rural idyll.
“One of the most interesting aspects of the project was placing the musicians in an unusual recording environment, disconnected from the frenzy of everyday life,” he explains.
“I felt very strongly that the recordings should take place in a bungalow in the middle of a forest. I was convinced it would condition the mood for all of us working on the record.”
Luca stitched together recordings of the performances after dark, overdubbing during solitary sessions, using recordings from the woods and snippets of sounds he’d captured while travelling as a DJ. Secret World may have seen him physically return to his roots to work, but, with the help of live musicians, it also led his music into bold new pastures, some way beyond the global dancefloors where he’s made his name.
“Even though you’ll find club references across the album, the musical language used is totally different. I wanted to try and reconnect with our natural surroundings, and the most challenging objective was translating this into music.”
Luca began his musical journey as a young DJ and beat-lover back in the early nineties. Tuscany is an area of jaw-dropping natural beauty, but there were no record shops or clubs for him to satisfy his musical obsessions in Pieve Fosciana, the tiny village he called home. So instead Luca turned to the radio to get his fix, setting alight his love for hip hop, then embracing the alien house and techno pulses emanating from the cities of Detroit and Chicago.
“Radio saved my life. There was no internet. But radio helped me learn about hip hop. Then I landed a job at a radio station, started working on shows and found my way to drum ‘n’ bass, electronica and techno,” he reveals.
“I grew up listening to everything; electronica, blues, jazz, soul, funk. I am a huge music lover,” he says.
“Because of my job as a DJ, I’m very much a traveller. I wanted to squeeze all the emotion of the places I’ve seen and visited into the tracks of this album.”
Secret World demonstrates the depth and complexity of his taste. While the track Black Swan swirls in a riot of psychedelic guitars, other album tracks dispense different moods, from the reflective state of After the Silence to Fervor De Buenos Aires, a rhythmically complex moment capturing South America’s distinctive musical flavours. Luca is excited by the new sonic territories he’s entered.
“I knew I wanted to go in different directions to what I’m known for and say something more than I’ve ever done before,” he states.
“Because of my job as a DJ, I’m very much a traveller. So I wanted to squeeze all the emotion of the places I’ve seen and visited into the tracks of this album.”
Back to his roots
It was at the start of 2018 when Luca decamped to the Tuscan bungalow to start work on Secret World. Joined by a collection of Italian accomplices including Stefano Onorati (keyboards), Andrea Guzzoletti (trumpet) and Leo Di Angilla (percussion), he aimed to reconnect with the natural environment around them, then let this influence and inspire the recordings.
“I have lived all around the world, from Barcelona to the US, but Tuscany is where I first started dreaming of music,” he explains of his decision to return to make the record.
Growing up in such a musically remote region made the younger Luca want to leave his hometown, but now, in his forties, perspectives have changed.
“When you return to your roots, a place perhaps you didn’t like when you were younger, you might realise that it’s actually full of treasures, which is what happened to me. This record was an opportunity to rediscover them, then show them off,” Luca explains.
“When I was 20, I dreamed of living and playing music in Detroit, Chicago, New York, London,” he continues. “But now I see things differently, see the beauty of the place in which I was brought up – this world is part of me. I wanted to gather all the feelings I have taken from this land, then put them into my music.”
Luca initially started recording over two three-day sessions in the bungalow to capture the various component parts that made up the sounds of a ‘Secret World’. Then he left for an Asian tour before returning to record once again in the wilderness after his galavanting was completed. The performances captured in the woods were complemented by other musical strands and aural knick-knacks he collected on his travels.
“It was a very simple set up in the studio, and thankfully the natural acoustics of the Bungalow studio at II Ciocco helped us enormously and didn’t require too much adjustment,” he reveals.
“We recorded everything through a UAD Apollo Twin audio interface with a pair of Adam A5X monitors. The DAW was Ableton Live 9, and we hooked up some additional gear including a Moog Sub 37 and Arturia Minibrute as well as a modular system. This was comprised of modules from Intellijel, Make Noise, Mutable Instruments, Expert Sleepers and Doepfer. It was probably the most essential part of the set up we used during the recordings.”
From using an Arturia Drumbrute for the basic rhythm tracks to Native Instruments’ modular Reaktor environment during the final mix, and even a bizarre instrument called a Drone Jar (pictured), Luca lists a large amount of musical gear that helped him construct the album. During the sessions, he was open to experimenting in a bid to let the songs, like the landscape around them, flow as naturally as possible. How did he make the creative process work with his collaborators when in the midst of making the record?
“I always started songs with my foundations, the groove and the bass, then I moved onto the recording of several overdubs. When I’m working with musicians, I bring them ideas, often singing them to help them understand the melodies and where I want to go with the music. I use this process until I feel I have all the elements needed to build a song. Then the arrangement comes later when I work alone at night.”
In the studio
The record’s range of styles sprang from a series of recording sessions with the percussive talents of Leo Di Angilla helping place the sonics outside the club. His playing reverberates through Secret World, helping create many of the album’s best musical scenes.
“We recorded all of his percussion playing in the nearby Ciocco Studios assisted by producer Gianni Nuzzi. I wanted to do something that would work in different environments. You can play certain tracks in a DJ set too but I needed the music to act as a soundtrack for a greater range of moments too.”
Percussionist Leo is particularly present in choice moments such as La Ruta Del Sur, After The Silence and The Bridge. Other innovative textures included the string sections created by Omisphere 2 on the title track. Weaving these various aspects together helped Luca develop many of the song structures and arrangements.
“I finished Secret World working in the studio in the box,” he says. “This time with Ableton 10 and mainly using Waves and UAD plugins. My faithful Genelec 8030A were the monitors during this phase. Rather than be led by my technology, my aim was to serve the songs as best as possible.”
Although Luca has used the more recent 8050s, he’s a huge fan of the older model of studio monitor.
“I’ve used the 8050s but there’s always a risk of increasingly turning the volume up, louder and louder. It’s a vice of mine whereas the 8030A are perfect in my studio setting. They have great definition in the low frequencies and always manage to tell me the truth when I’m in the mixing phase.”
Musical ambitions from a secret world
Although many of the creative ideas for the songs on Secret World had been orbiting Luca for some years, it was taking his approach as a DJ, then transposing them onto the studio where they sparked into life. Luca believes this allowed him to break with musical conventions and give him freedoms never enjoyed by traditionally-trained players.
“DJs are allowed to break the rules in the studio and go against the grain. For musicians, playing music or releasing songs that they see as full of mistakes or errors is blasphemy. But for me, as long as the grooves and melodies work, I like the imperfections to be there.”
”as long as the grooves and melodies work, I like the imperfections to be there.”
So how does he communicate his ideas as a self-confessed non-musician to professional players? Luca uses visual images to show off the directions of his musical thoughts and dreams.
“Images are so important to me. My track Black Swan was born at the Burning Man Festival in the US. It’s such a special, unique festival where I absorbed so much music. So in the studio, I wanted to create a song to capture this mood, to feel the humidity and dust of the desert. Music should express this sense of danger and tension. And I tried to get my performers involved in thinking about their music like this.”
Essential production advice
Luca’s move from behind the decks and deeper into the studio is an exciting one and should help paint a bigger picture of him, not only as an artist but also as a character. Secret World is a profoundly personal album, demonstrating a greater, more sophisticated musicality only hinted at before. For any other DJs looking to take the plunge and start crafting their own beats and grooves, Luca believes they need to wrestle with their aims to realise their ambitions.
“You need to understand the motivation, why you want to be a producer. If you want to be an artist, then this is about more than just performing at festivals or making money,” he states.
But with technology now being so agile, and more readily accessible than ever before, Luca states it is easier than ever for DJs to make this transition.
“It’s important to try and surround yourself with only what you need for a project: the real studio is inside your head.”
“With a laptop, you have a musical bomb in your hands. It’s so easy now to access amazing sounds thanks to powerful computers, plug-ins and drum machines. And there are plenty of great producers to look to. Someone like Four Tet is making incredible music but with a super easy, super simple set up. It’s really inspiring.”
However, the Italian is concerned that having a world of sonic tools at your fingertips has its drawbacks. “It’s amazing what you can access,” he says, “but I believe you need to impose limitations to get the best out of your music. If you have a drum machine and something to create beats, then you’re all set.”
Has he any advice for DJs looking to make a similar creative leap and express themselves as artists outside of the club?
“With this project, we used a huge amount of machines and we spent some time micing up our live instrumentation. You need to think carefully about marrying the two when you’re working on this kind of music where these two separate sounds come together. At the same time, I believe that it’s important to try and surround yourself with only what you need for a project: the real studio is inside your head.”
Future secret worlds
So with the album now out in the wider world and picking up critical praise, Luca is keeping himself busy working on promotion for the record and daring to dream about a potential live show, something he wants to be more of an event than a traditional gig.
“I want to explore the options of a live show involving different installations and visual artists. It makes sense with this kind of album to go further with the experience and also root it in the environment where it was created. I want to do it so people are bowled over, sit up and take notice.”
Luca also reveals that he was advised not to make the record, to instead concentrate on DJ’ing but the album was something he needed to let out. It’s partly what makes the record so honest and personal and born out of the landscape that shaped him.
“You have to take a risk – which is what I did with this album – but the setting was crucial.
This is why I prefer intimate and isolated places, everything becomes clear… even when there are voices around you, nature itself communicates, that’s why I love my homeland and I live in Tuscany. But although I’m proud of the results, I’m now thinking about the next steps. I want to do more, learn more and say even more.”
Visit lucabacchetti.com to find out more.
Secret World is out now. The new single Unconsciously United is released 22 November. Stream and download here.