Introducing: Mathame, the Italian Techno Duo Finding Fans in Every Corner of Dance Music
Introducing: Mathame, the Italian Techno Duo Finding Fans in Every Corner of Dance MusicSeptember 29, 2020
Get to know Afterlife’s Mathame — the formidable techno duo from Italy driving their music forward with an eruptive force.
Matteo and Amedeo Giovanelli don’t look like brothers, but they definitely act like them. They overlap as they speak and take pleasure in winding each other up. “Amedeo’s a Call of Duty champion now,” says Matteo. “He’s thinking about a career change to a professional player.”
Amedeo rolls his eyes. “I was in a super small flat without a terrace for the whole lockdown,” he explains. “I was going crazy.”
The brothers, better known as Mathame, were expecting to play more than 150 shows this year, but only managed 16 before they were locked in their apartments in Bergamo, Northern Italy, one of the first cities in Europe to shut down. Instead of playing Fabric, Awakenings, and Tomorrowland the brothers spent their days playing Xbox, soundtracked to siren sounds, and Pavarotti performances. But they don’t want to dwell on the hideousness of that time.
“It was very hard,” says Matteo. “But it’s passed and now things are better. The cases are stable. Everything is under control.”
The brothers didn’t waste too much time during lockdown. They stayed in near constant contact, producing remotely and laying down the foundations of their first full-length album. Pre-COVID, Mathame were fast becoming dance floor heroes with fan bases sprouting up around the world, but this emergency stop button hasn’t dampened their spirits or swallowed their ambition. They simply plan on adapting to the new world. “The question is, how can dance music evolve in this time?” Says Matteo. “How will we listen to music in future? If our future is this, we need to re-think dance music.”
Mathame formed in 2015, when Matteo was 27 and Amedeo 15. Their parents ran a pirate radio station in the ‘80s called Radio Taxi in a building near the family home. “It was completely avant-garde,” Matteo says. “They played dark wave, rock, punk. When they stopped they brought all 20,000 types of vinyl and cassettes back to the house with mixers, turntables, and speakers.” Matteo remembers standing on a stool age four, headphones on, vinyl rolling, pretending to spin tracks like a DJ.
Matteo studied piano as a kid, DJed clubs as a teen, and then moved to Milan to study film directing. Amedeo studied violin but was frustrated by the slow professional progress and how often he’d get floored by Russian child maestros half his age. Mathame was a way for the brothers to explore their love for music on their own terms in a medium with few social constraints and room to grow. Four months after they started the project, they moved to the foot of the most active volcano on Earth.
“It’s not a common move,” says Matteo thoughtfully. “Our parents bought a farm in a forest near the foot of Mount Etna. It was a life-changing choice and a bit crazy. But we moved with them to help build the business.”
The first Mathame tracks were produced in spare moments between cleaning guest rooms, working in the restaurant, and wiping volcano ash off windscreens. “We were in the forest, alone,” Amedeo says. “Except for the guests, we didn’t know anyone. We were deeply affected by the place.”
When Mount Etna isn’t erupting, it’s thinking about it, and the brothers say they could feel the constant rumblings in their chests. “It’s subtle, but it’s there,” Matteo says. “You live in the clouds. There’s no grass, just lava. It looks like Mars.” The brothers say the landscape impacted the way they made music. “We went dark. We used heavy soundscapes, thunderous bass, strange noises.”
Matteo began studying composition and came up with a set of “rules” that they still use to produce every Mathame track. They can’t possibly share what those rules are, but they hope it makes their style instantly recognisable. “We want people to listen for five seconds and say, ‘this is Mathame’,” Amedeo says.
Their style ranges from dub techno to melodic house to electronica, but every track has an ethereal, dream-like quality. Listen to Mathame with your eyes closed and you’ll soon drift to some euphoric galaxy where stars rise and comets rush by in time for the drop. It wasn’t long before Tale Of Us wanted a taste of Mathame’s recipe, and their first track, “Timeshift,” was released on Afterlife in 2016. The secret to getting noticed by Tale Of Us from the bottom of Mount Etna? Message them. Relentlessly.
“I was breaking Matteo (Milleri)’s balls a lot,” says Amedeo. “Too much. I was very focussed on Afterlife. We’d been following them since their first release. We’re such fans because we feel something really honest in their music.” Once they had Afterlife’s backing, Mathame began playing showcases around the world — Ibiza, Prague, LA, India — and were soon booked outside the Afterlife fold playing DC-10, Parc del Forum, and ADE. Their tracks got snapped up by Systematic Records, Oddity and Souvenir, and the brothers were making friends in high places along the way. Recently, Mathame received a lot of attention for their release “Never Give Up” (Ministry Of Sound/B1 Recordings) which was named Essential New Tune by BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong. But it’s the remixes that got the town talking.
“We met Diplo at Sound Tulum last year,” says Amedeo. “We stayed in contact and when the track came out we asked about a remix. He loved the track, so that’s how it happened.”
The remix divided listeners. Diplo fans loved it, Mathame fans not so much. One dismissed the collaboration as “very odd.” But the remixing didn’t stop there. With a music taste that spans the spectrum of dance music, Amedeo hit up his friend and underground Giegling hero Vril to remix the same track. Vril’s dark, thundering mix couldn’t have been further from Diplo’s peak-time floor filler, but Mathame delight in this disparity. Adriatique, ZHU, and Lost Frequencies remixed the track too, so within a couple of months Mathame’s listenership expanded to reach every possible corner of dance music. “No one was listening to the radio in their cars,” Matteo says. ”So we pushed the release in different ways, and it worked out.”
It’s been a turbulent year for Mathame. Besides COVID, their favourite venue, Beirut’s The Grand Factory, was destroyed by the devastating explosion in August. When Mathame played there last year, they extended their live set from two hours to six. The club was jam-packed until 8 am, the crowd “out of control,” Matteo says, adding that he still gets goosebumps when he thinks about it. “Hi to everyone in Beirut,” he says. “We love you.
Despite 2020’s never-ending roadblocks, the brothers will continue to drive their music forward at breakneck speed, refusing to adhere to expectations and happy to commit their lives to the dance music they love. And when they finally get to unleash the horsepower they’ve been building up this year, they’ll make Mount Etna look like a molehill.
Alice Austin is a freelance writer from London, based in Berlin. She writes for Mixmag, Beatportal, Huck, Dummy, Electronic Beats, and more. She likes to explore politics and youth culture through the lens of music, a vocation that has led her round the world. She can be reached and/or followed via Twitter and Instagram.