This week we had the pleasure of catching up with one of Bologna's rising stars Andrea Cremonini, AKA DJ Cream. Andrea kicks off a new imprint, 'Smile and Stay High,' in cool fashion with his EP 'MPC Trips,' which is titled in homage to the producer's love affair with the famous sampler. MPC Trips, which is available on vinyl as of now, is littered with glorious house cuts from the get go and is a heavyweight EP that's sure to keep you both smiling and dancing.
Like many in Bologna, Andrea was bitten by the house bug at a young age. He is a founding member of the city’s increasingly essential Homequest crew, a collective of musicians that can lay claim to being amongst the most exciting in Italy right now. Cream is similarly involved in 320KB Music, a label he helped establish that’s played host to numerous records from the likes of Tommy Vicari Jr. Added to all this is the fact that he’s also involved in the BoloRepresent project alongside Dumbo Beat, Dj P!sta, Jackie, Dino Angioletti and Fabrizio Maurizi. For DJ Cream, wearing one hat is never enough.
So this is the first release of Smile and Stay High – tell me about the label.
We started with 320KB and Smile and Stay High is intended to be a sub label of 320KB. This year I had a lot of projects on my MPC and I thought to myself why not release some of them. I decided to give it a go and try with the first release MPC Trips, which was more or less one year in the making. Now that the label is going and the details are coming together I'm pretty happy with how things are going.
Even the little details excite me, for example, the artwork sticker for the vinyl is typical of old school Italo disco records.
Tell me about the name of the record label
Smile and stay high represents my ideas and concepts of both music and life. Smile; because I love people that smile and because of house music which makes me smile. In my opinion it's one of the most important things in life, you need to smile. You need to thank people when they give you something and it's a simple and easy acknowledgement. These small things can make the world of difference. Stay high is a little more self-explanatory, because I like to smoke. But also it means if you're feeling low, try and stay high and I hope that people listen to my music and can experience some of that philosophy.
Will Smile and Stay High stick with this particular brand of deep, bass driven rhythmic house? Also, who are your biggest inspirations for creating this kind of music?
Yes definitely. My biggest and most important influence is Robsoul records. I met Phil Weeks some time ago and he is a big smoker as well. We played together and we smoked together more or less three years ago. Back then I was only a DJ and he explained to me where to begin in terms of productions. He told me what kind of things in his opinion would be the best for me and told me how to get started with production on the MPC. He explained that I had to learn step by step, how to use it and not to dive straight in. He's a really good guy and he taught me a lot and he deserves a lot of respect for the things that he's done. Continuing in terms of influences, another master of the MPC is Enrico Mantini, he's one of the Italian house masters.
I really liked the new release MPC trips – is the title because of the sampler?
Yeah, because it's completely made with MPC 3000. When I produce I also sometimes use samples from the 909 or the 303, but ultimately I feel like the sound of the MPC is warmer. The 909 is a little colder, it still has the warmth of analogue sound but I feel like when I sample the 909 it's a little better. The MPC is the art of my studio, I don't use any software, just my MPC. I use Ableton Live but only to record and edit after.
Tell me about your production process?
Sometimes I jam then I record and then I edit after, or sometimes I just record something. Maybe if I want to make some strange variation which I'm not able to do just with the hardware of the MPC, I use Ableton to edit to the track a little. That said, I never add effects from Ableton, I always use the effects from the MPC because they are analogue and are best suited to that machine.
I like the warmth of the analogue sound – that makes the difference for me. I don't think it separates producers in terms of ability as I've met lots of producers who you'd think they produce with analogue equipment from the sound of their music and yet they use computer programs. If you are a really good at what you do, you can use whatever you want and make it sound warm. But with the MPC, you know its got that warm analogue sound. Personally, i'm not a fan of software.
To use an analogy, it reminds me of when I was a child and I was playing with a GameBoy. For me the MPC is like a big adult GameBoy. Sometimes I lose hours of my day just jamming with different parts of the machine.
Do you tend to have an idea in mind or do you just dive right in?
I normally start by sampling the drum kit, everything obviously starts from the drum kit. I'm a bit of a drum kit maniac, I find it so cool. After that maybe I start to listen to records to get ideas. I love to collect records, everything from hip-hop, to soul, to house.
When I hear something I like I start to sample bits and then plug into the MPC and then I start a random jam. I normally have an idea in my mind but then it doesnt always work out the way you plan. You can change things in so many ways and it's difficult to emulate exactly what you want to do on the MPC every time. Also sometimes you might accidentally do something and it sounds amazing and then you want to run with that and there's no way to plan for these things.
Your music seems to borrow lots of influence from many genres, I'd definitely say the second and last tracks have a strong hip-hop flavour to them – would you agree?
Yeah absolutely, hip-hop, RnB and soul is where I came from. since I was a child I've listened to these kinds of music. Also my parents made me listen to a lot of music such as RnB and I have a really strong connection with that sound. One of my favourite albums is Brown Sugar by D'Angelo for example because it's got a great light mood but still brings in some heavy elements with the drums.
Do you try and incorporate these influences into your production?
Absolutely, 90% of my synth parts are sampled from hip hop tracks.
Who are your biggest influences would you say?
I mean we've spoken about Phil Weeks already, but when I was a child Robsoul was still a really important label so meeting and working with him was a dream come true. Again we've spoken about Enrico Mantini but he's a really important part of Italian house music.
Another guy that in my opinion that is really a strong member of the house community, Fabio Della Torre who's also known as Minimono. In my opinion those three all play different shades of house music but are all equally impressive.
So you're from Bologna, it seems like there is a really cool scene over there. I spoke with Jackie recently and he has a very similar bass heavy, but deep and melodic style. Is this sound very common in Bologna?
Yeah definitely. So I know Jackie very well, I collaborate with him and Dumbo Beat on a project called Voodoo effect. We actually grew up together and he's one of the Homequest crew as well. We've supported each other since day one and he listens to all of my tracks and I listen to his. It probably explains why we might have a similar sound.
In Bologna at the moment there are a lot of guys who are pushing really nice sounds, at the moment. There's Nudge, Dumbo Beat and DJ P!sta who are all releasing really nice music at the moment.
Actually several of those names are collaborating with me and Bassa Clan (Fabrizio Maurizi and Dino Angioletti) , with our label Bolo Represent. We'll have a second release in September actually.
So MPC Trips is out on vinyl, do you feel strongly that music should have a physical release?
Yeah definitely, I like to touch music. Even if I like something on iTunes and buy it digitally I have to buy the vinyl as well. Digital stuff is cool because we are in a new era and you can get it at the touch of a button. Sometimes you can't always have the vinyl and tracks should be sent around in that way which is nice, but ultimately I love having a physical copy of music.
So do you know what's next on the agenda for Smile and Stay High in terms of release?
The next release will be an EP from me collaborating with a guy who studies on in Bologna. He's going to sing on my track and his voice is absolutely crazy. His name ALO and the first time I heard him sing I was blown away. He makes pop and RnB music normally and we met him and we knew we had to get him to record something because his voice is so good. We convinced him to try and do something new and he was very open to the idea.
What about you – will you be Djing out and about much?
Before anything else, i'm a DJ, so definitely. I love to mix and beat match and there's really nothing better for me. I don't particularly like digital mixing because I feel like the art of DJing requires decks. It's maybe great if someone wants to play a house party, but if you're in a club you need to DJ properly. The adrenaline you get from the art of beat matching is amazing. Also there are a whole bunch of tricks you can only learn through the art of turntablism.
Ultimately you get paid a lot to DJ so you can't let a computer to do what you should do. It's a matter of respect to punters and promoters. Also if that's how you want to play, surely then a promoter can just play a playlist instead.
Do you have some favourite artists at the moment?
In house music, I really believe in the Italian scene, as you know it was not so good in previous years and you didn't see so many artists. House music has been dominated for a long time by older DJs from other countries, but that's changing. For example, now in France you have a big movement from younger DJs. Of course Germany has always been the temple of house and techno music.
In Italy there was great house music in the 90s but now it's taken some time to grow that scene again and it's really starting to happen again. We had to relearn the old ways. There are a lot of young guys and promoters putting on cool parties in Italy and the DJs who play at these parties who are really good.
In my opinion the Nudge project is fantastic. Jackie for sure has a really nice sound too. Mark Milner from France also has a great sound too. I'm a big fan of the record label Pushmaster, which is really cool too.