Italian Label Presto!? Operates At The Edges of Electronic Music

Presto

For the Italian producer Lorenzo Senni, founding the label Presto!? provided more than just an education in how to get the music he loved out into the world—it also helped him learn to speak English. Talking from his home in Milan, where he’s wrapping up his first LP for Warp Records, Senni recalls the early days of Presto!?, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

“I was working in a factory every summer,” he says, “carrying 25 kilo bags of seeds all day. I was getting a bit of money—something for the winter—but at the time I said, ‘I’m gonna put all this into putting together a label.’” From the start, Senni envisioned Presto!? as an international label, and he wasn’t about to let a language barrier stop him. “I learned everything through email,” he says. “I’d exchange messages with the artist, and probably sometimes they thought, ‘What’s this guy trying to say?’” Senni would spend hours carefully crafting his correspondence, until eventually they began to come more easily.

In its early days, Presto!? allowed Senni to release records by his musical heroes, people like the experimental artists Lawrence English, John Hudak, and Lasse Marhaug. It was also an outlet for Senni’s own album Dunno, a collection of Max/MSP computer music that plays like a love letter to the cult electronic label Editions Mego. By the time Senni actually appeared on Editions Mego, it was with Quantum Jelly, which set the blueprint for his hyper-euphoric, drumless deconstructions of trance music, and stands among the label’s best releases.

As Senni’s musical career has grown, so has Presto!? Detroit legend and Drexciya member DJ Stingray released a career-revitalizing classic on the label, and current Mixpak signee Palmistry got his start on Presto!?, with the excellent debut EP Lil Gem.

Though Senni has been busy touring and recording, he’s made sure Presto!?’s 10-year milestone was a landmark for the label. Indeed, this year Presto!? has released some of its strongest work to date, including the incredible debuts from Russian wunderkind Regular Citizen and Japanese sound designer Tasho Ishi, as well as the Palmistry-produced, out-of-nowhere return of the Cantonese rapper Triad God. The offerings reflect the label’s greatest strengths, delivering both experimentalism and cutting-edge club sounds with equal reverence. And as he begins signing a younger generation of artists, some of which have been influenced by his own music, both Senni’s career and his label feel like they’re just entering their strongest years. Here’s a look back at the records that got them there.

John Hudak
On & On

From the start, Senni wanted Presto!? to feature an international roster, and their very first release from Massachusetts sound artist John Hudak captures that spirit, while sounding unlike anything else on the label. Inspired by the song of a black-capped chickadee, Hudak strummed his guitar in similar patterns before translating it to MIDI information, then using the melody to trigger a dulcimer-like instrument that gently spirals throughout the 70-minute track. If the process sounds complicated, the final product is a relaxed sigh of an ambient album that recalls Laraaji’s early work, and delivers serious process music with a tender and delicate touch. Presto!?’s early days often emulate classic experimental labels like Editions Mego and Room40, but On & On’s unique balance of the emotional and avant-garde captures a spirit that has grown into one of Presto!? greatest strengths.

Lorenzo Senni
Dunno

Lorenzo Senni’s challenging, but always playful Dunno captures a younger side of the producer, before he tapped into the “pointillistic trance” music he’s known for. Crafted in the beloved Max/MSP program, Senni strings together dense threads of audio designed to disorient. “I miss myself in front of the computer, just fucking around all night,” Senni says, thinking back on the album. That’s clear from even the track titles, one of which is simply a YouTube link to a vintage documentary on home computing. “I love my work with synths, and luckily I only work with one and not 10,” he adds. “It’s good to be limited.” Dunno sounds abstract, and almost primordial compared to his later work. But Senni’s lesson on the strength of limitations is the constant throughline across all of his albums.

DJ Stingray
Psy-Ops For Dummies

Sherard Ingram will always be a Detroit techno legend as the masked DJ Stingray and a former  Drexciya collaborator, but this release on Presto!? feels key to his resurgence in popularity. From the title to the fake credit card USB on which it was originally released, Psy-Ops For Dummies reflects not only Stingray’s intense focus on conspiracy theories and paranoia, but also his dedication to hard-hitting techno. The 2012 vinyl pressing added two additional tracks, turning an essential EP into an essential album.

Theo Burt
Gloss

The crown jewel of Presto!? Records. Theo Burt came to prominence at the beginning of this decade as one half of The Automatics Group whose sole album, Summer Mix, reduced big room rave music by artists such as Deadmau5 and Tiësto to ghostly, brittle ambience that feels more influential with every year. His only release since then, 2015’s staggering solo debut Gloss uses the unpopular and unwieldy Casio VZ-8M phase distortion synth to create a one-of-a-kind sound. Started in 2010, Burt’s algorithmically complex synth patterns, unnatural accelerations, reversed sounds and unresolved melodies feel inscrutable until they gradually fall together, resulting in unexpected, but hugely cathartic emotional payoffs. Senni, who has been influenced by Gloss more than any artist, describes its careful progression perfectly: “You really want some resolution, some note of progression, and then you want to hear it again. But the patterns don’t allow it instantly. It makes you suffer—in a very good way.”

Gabber Eleganza
Never Sleep #1

With his long-running Gabber Eleganza project, Alberto Guerrini feels like a kindred spirit to Senni’s own minimal, deconstructed “rave voyeurism.” His Never Sleep #1 EP captures his unique approach to gabber music, which he pushes to jagged extremes while still maintaining its body-moving power—which gets greater emphasis in the live setting, where he’s accompanied on stage by dancers.

Triad God
Triad

Cantonese rapper Vinh Ngan’s mythical Triad God project first debuted on the label Hippos In Tanks in 2012. But while other artists they championed, like Dean Blunt and James Ferraro, found appeal with wider audiences, Ngan seemed to disappear into the ether. Now, Ngan has reunited with the producer Palmistry for a new album that fulfills all the promise of their original NXB mixtape. The kind of minimal and emotive production that Palmistry brought to his work on Mixpak is a perfect match for Ngan’s spoken-word, language-blending verses on tracks like “Babe Don’t Go” and “Gway Lo.” It’s a remarkable release from a project that once seemed to be retired for good.

Regular Citizen
Sleeping Unique

Presto!?’s biggest success story is also one of its most recent. Russian artist Ivan Luckiyanchik was blown away by Senni’s Persona EP for Warp. After connecting with the producer over Instagram, got up the nerve to send him some tracks. Senni liked what he heard, and the result is Sleeping Unique, a 30-minute lightning-crack of an album that sits among the best electronic releases of the year. Inspired by gabber and trance music and bursting with emotion, the 12-track album was pared down from an initial list of songs five times its size. “The album consists of 12 years of practice with my instruments,” Luckiyanchik says over email, “and it was Lorenzo who was able to compile some demos into one story.”

-Miles Bowe

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