Disco Drive founder finds his true calling in looping beats and soaring showgaze

Photography by Elinor Jones

Disco Drive founder finds his true calling in looping beats and soaring showgaze

“I understand why my covers get a lot of attention but after a while I just want to do my songs; my songs are much better,” muses Alessio Natalizia as dusk falls on the watery labyrinth of Camden Lock. The 29-year old Italian, also known as Banjo or Freakout, first came to prominence posting ear-catching covers on his blog. Burial, Battles, and even Amy Winehouse have all been transformed by his distinctive production style, and his unique take on familiarity, combined with his own celestial noisepop, soon found a feverish audience; DFA boss and all round tastemaker James Murphy one of the first to express admiration. There is a lot to admire, a melancholic merger of beats and melodies making for an enchanting sound. “Everything I do is just me,” says Alessio. “Banjo or Freakout is basically me putting myself 100 percent out there.”

True today, that wasn’t always the case. Alessio was a founding member of Turin based post punk outfit Disco Drive until something changed. A reconnaissance mission into the world of programmed beats was carried out with a stealth and subtlety that soon found a way into his music. “I was still playing in the band when I first came to London,” he reveals. “I would practice on the laptop undercover whenever I went back to Italy then return to London to work on Banjo or Freakout.” The metamorphosis was complete when the musician made a permanent move to London. Now the boundaries of Banjo or Freakout could be fully explored – “It was when I came here that I discovered this computer world,” he says “until I was 27 I didn’t even have a laptop. It was like a revolution for me.”

Embracing this Garage Band universe with typical brashness, its been well documented that Banjo or Freakout is a one take wonder, a cowboy of the laptop frontier that records everything first time and first time only. “I have been misunderstood though,” says Alessio. “It’s not like it’s straight off, I practice a lot beforehand to find the perfect balance of everything and then I record it. When I press REC I am not going back, but it’s not meant to be pretentious – I try to give myself rules otherwise I’ll go on forever.”

Loops, samples and programmed sounds create Banjo or Freakout’s layers of beauty that regularly draw comparisons with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Animal Collective, but the sound is probably closer to Panda Bear in its use of repetition and washed out static. Each track though has humble beginnings. “It is just verse/chorus/verse/chorus,” we’re told. “If you take out the noises and the loops they’re actually pretty stupid songs.”

But they’re Alessio’s ‘stupid songs’, and, being a hugely personal project, the leap from bedroom to stage was initially full of trepidation – “I remember when I was playing by myself I was terrified,” Alessio lets on. “A new country, a new everything.”

Soon the live show saw Alessio kept company on stage. Half of the blissful London duo Gentle Friendly (Daniel, to be exact) agreed to help out. Alessio says: “With someone else on stage its better for the music and its better for my nerves too.” And it seems to work. More and more, the pair are bringing an added live element to the processed beats of tracks like the tropical pots’n’pans of ‘IR’. Between just two of them they make an incredible cacophony, and it could be just the start. “I’m open to putting other people in the mix but it has to happen very slowly,” explains Alessio. “When I do the album and tour a lot I can include other people and maybe we’ll start writing together.”

While the relatively infant project of Banjo or Freakout remains an intimate work in progress, outside focus is gaining fast. Titled ‘Upside Down’, a new EP is soon to be released by Half Machine Records. A bewitching collection of songs (and yes they are actually songs), it’s a 12″ that draws you in with a warmth and charm that were perhaps missing from Alessio’s earliest recordings. The lo-fi glitches and imperfections that you fell in love with originally are still there, along with the rattling repetition and loops, but this is a record with heartfelt sincerity.

“I think it’s quite different,” says the man behind the soundscapes. “Its more like pop in a way and it has the loops but there are more actual songs.”

Not afraid of developing his sound and adopting influences as he moves forward, it feels like Banjo or Freakout can go anywhere he wants.


Originally published in issue 5 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2009

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