Rhythm is a dancer

Massimiliano Pagliara gave up a career in dancing to make music. His sound is as tender and flexible as a ballerina’s body, warming up Berlin with some Italian heat.

By Haroon Ali

You grew up in Tricase, a small town in the ‘heel’ of Italy’s boot. Who taught you about music?
“I have two older sisters. When I was 10, they were in their twenties. Their records were the first ones I listened to, lots of eighties pop and Italo stuff. My mom loves music too and wanted to play guitar when she was young, but her conservative father wouldn’t let her. My parents had a lot of records though, mostly Italian pop. As a teenager, I got acquainted with different genres of music through my friends, like reggae, rap and hip hop, both Italian and American. When any of our parents left the house, we would put on some records, get stoned and dance our asses off.”

Tell me how a trained dancer and choreographer became a DJ and producer?
“I always loved to dance, but didn’t know I could do it professionally until I went to Milan. I got into a dance school, learned both contemporary dance and ballet. I moved to Berlin in 2001 to further my dance career, but also started exploring the nightlife – of course. I went out a lot, discovered that I really like electronic music and got to know many DJs. I started mixing records at their houses, for fun, but eventually bought my own turntables. For a while, I tried to combine it all, doing performances with dance, music and even video. But eventually I had to choose and in 2006, I chose music.”

 Photo by © Robin Kirchner

Photo by © Robin Kirchner

How does performing as a dancer compare to DJing in a club?
“When I play music in front of a crowd, it reminds me of being a choreographer back in the day, telling my dancers how to move. As a DJ, I’m not telling people how they should dance, but I do point them in a certain direction, with my music and the vibe I give off. When I play my music and really feel connected to the crowd, I tend to dance a lot too – so I’m keeping the dancer spirit alive.”

You have a big home studio, full of synthesizers. How do you get the creative juices flowing?
“My creative process is usually influenced by the mood I’m in. Certain emotions trigger me to go to my studio, turn on my machines and jam around, until I find a sound that matches my feelings. Feeling broken-hearted, for example, led to some nice strings and melancholic piano chords on my track Sometimes at Night. I like playing with my machines. I’m a very physical person, so I like touching the keys and tweaking the knobs. It’s a very tactile experience, like a dancer who uses his body. I also think that analogue synthesizers sound better, although I’m not a purist. I use all sorts of tools on my computer too.”

What are you working on now?
“I am currently finishing my new album, which will be released via Live At Robert Johnson, my main label. I don’t know how long the mastering and pressing of the record will take, but it will hopefully come out later this year. Like my previous two albums, it will contain a variety of sounds and vibes: starting slow, from cosmic and Balearic to funky, psychedelic and acid.”

Do the guys from Discodromo still live next door, like a queer Italian island in Berlin?
“Only one of them lived next to me, but he moved out. Actually, we just made a new EP together, consisting of three tracks, which will come out in September on their label Cocktail d’Amore. I’m very excited about that. Discodromo and I are close sisters. We party together, make music together, feel the same way about a lot of things and always support each other. They’re like family to me.”

Being a queer DJ, does it feel different to play for a gay crowd, versus a straight crowd?
“Yeah, I think so. When the crowd is gay, or queer, it feels more like a real party. But I always say that a mixed crowd is the best crowd. I love it when everyone comes together and respects each other, regardless of their gender, sexuality, age and style. I prefer to go to mixed parties myself. Coming from a small town in the south of Italy, I had to fight a lot of stereotypes when I came out. Labels like gay, straight, man and woman shouldn’t matter anymore in this day and age. Luckily, Berlin is the place where I feel the most comfortable being myself, unafraid of showing who I am and how I feel.”

Has Berlin changed a lot since you moved there in 2001?
“Absolutely. When I first arrived, the city was emptier. Most people were from Germany, I only had one Italian friend in Berlin. Now there are hundreds of Italians, plus people from all over the world. Some say that Berlin has changed in a negative way, but I think that it has become more colorful, because everyone brings something new to the city. Berlin is evolving, but I have no problem with that.”

Is there any other place that inspires you?
“Berlin is the city that I feel most connected to musically. But last winter, I took a break and lived in California for three months. I was based in Los Angeles, but toured across the country. I loved the West Coast – the weather, the palm trees, the ocean. I miss those things in Berlin. Sure, Berlin has great clubs. But now that I’m getting older – I’m turning 40 on July 28th – other things start to matter too. I love going out, but I also enjoy being outdoors, close to nature and the beach. I will always be a Mediterranean person at heart.”

Martijn Mischgofsky