Giorgia Angiuli: “It Needs to be Magic, Always”
If you’re really lucky, you might catch one of Giorgia Angiuli’s live shows at airport security. The Florence-based composer tends to bring at least four suitcases with her on tour, and they’re full of plastic monkeys, fake guns, frog keyboards, walkie talkies, and instruments so odd and obscure they seem like they came from Mars. So it’s not a surprise when security raises an eyebrow as they scan her luggage.
“They always think I’m a terrorist,” Angiuli says. “You can imagine the police when they see my toy guns. Sometimes they ask me to play something for them, to show them it’s a real musical instrument.”
One time, at Amsterdam Schiphol airport, security pulled out her theremin, an electronic box-like instrument with two antennas and a ton of knobs. They asked her to prove it was real, so Angiuli plugged in and a crowd gathered as she started to play. The instrument, which produces a melancholic violin-like sound, is activated by an electromagnetic field, which means it’s played without being touched. Security eyed her with suspicion and delight in equal measure and then demanded she teach them how to use it. She nearly missed her flight.
Just like a piece of her own luggage, Giorgia Angiuli is colourful and full of surprises. Today she’s wearing a bright pink blouse with blue splotches. She has big, dark curly hair, bright hazel eyes and she’s surrounded by instruments. Keyboards, guitars, synths, bass, and a few toy guns. There’s no need to sound-proof her studio, she says, because by utter good luck she happens to live in a building full of deaf people. Angiuli sees it as a message from the universe to make music whenever she wants.
For an artist who’s just spent lockdown in one of the hardest-hit countries in the world, Angiuli seems fairly content. But she soon reveals that her recent collaborative track, “United”, made from hundreds of contributions from artists all over the world, had a hugely positive impact on Angiuli — and she’s still buzzing.
Angiuli was born in Puglia, the boot of Italy, and the most beautiful region in the world according to National Geographic. Her family is full of classically trained musicians, so growing up, Angiuli absorbed music like a second language. “I had many instruments in my living room — guitars, piano, double bass,” Angiuli says. “As a child, my toys were musical instruments.” Which might explain why a lot of her instruments now are toys.
Angiuli’s chosen instrument was classical guitar, which she studied and mastered from a young age, playing her first concert when she was 10. “Everyone has many contrasts,” Angiuli says. “And the balance between these contrasts makes us special.”
Angiuli’s contrasts are stark. At 14 she formed a hardcore band called Kooma and spent her formative years thrashing about on stage with a heart-shaped guitar, screaming at the top of her lungs. “Of course my family was not happy about it,” Angiuli says. “They wanted me to be a classical musician. But I was a teenager, so I didn’t do what my parents said.”
Angiuli started experimenting with dance music when she moved to Florence in her late teens. “I realised I could do many things on the computer alone with electronic music. It was a new world, it was very interesting to me.”
In 2009, after her hardcore band dissapated, Angiuli joined forces with Italian graphic and visual designer Piero Fragola to form indie synth-pop duo We Love. “We Love create their own cosmos of music, film, and fashion,” their biography reads. “Donning futuristic costumes and masks, they take us on a crusade of love – the strongest feeling of all.”
The duo’s dreamy clubland pop attracted attention from all corners of the dance music world, including Ellen Allien, who signed the pair to her BPitch Control label. “That was the key that unlocked my career in music,” Angiuli says. “It felt like a dream. And it was only the beginning.”
Around that time, Allien’s music taste was beginning to lean towards harder sounds. At label showcases, Angiuli watched her colleagues mix chill house into harder techno with curiosity. Angiuli was mesmerised by the strength of Allien’s connection with the crowd and their instantaneous reaction to her music. The hardcore girl with the heart-shaped guitar was sold. “I saw how they danced so close and thought it was so cool, so I started experimenting. This changed my mind. I loved it and I still love it. This was six years ago.”
At the time, Angiuli didn’t know anything about house or techno. She never set out to be part of it, which is perhaps what set her apart. Angiuli was able to dive head-first into her own interpretation of the genre, without worrying about anyone else’s opinion.
She didn’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Aphex Twin’s discography, but she did have a rich background in classical music which she applied to her productions along with the playfulness and spontaneity she’d picked up from the hardcore band and synth-pop group. Back then and still now, she refuses to be influenced by trends or conventions. “When I started, I didn’t know anything about the DJ world,” Angiulli says. “I just opened my mind.”
Angiuli soon started experimenting beyond the parameters of instruments, using music as an extension of her own personality and picking up toys and obscure objects because she liked their aesthetic, as well as the sounds they made.
Since then Angiuli has built a career based on connection and intimacy. She became resident at legendary techno club Tenax in Florence in 2013, and has since played nearly every significant dance music venue on the planet, including Amnesia Ibiza, Artel Bessonica in Moscow and The Grand Factory in Beirut to name a few. She’s played Oasis, Movement, Fusion, and Exit Festival and released tracks on Stil Vor Talent, Crosstown Rebels, KMS, Einmusika Recordings, Kindisch, and dozens more. Now, as a direct result of her recent project, she plans to launch her own label, United, in the coming months.
In her own productions, Giorgia layers her own breathy, dreamy vocals over melodic synth-house beats, reaching for a huge range of analogue props, including toy flutes, theremins, and trumpets. Although she’s often described as a multi-instrumentalist, Angiuli says she has too much respect for music to agree with that. “I studied only classical guitar,” she says. “I’m a guitar player and I can play many instruments. I don’t feel honest if I say I’m a multi-instrumentalist. I just play the instruments the way I need them.”
It’s in her natural habitat of live performance that Angiuli’s full essence is unleashed. She’ll probably wear a diamanté trucker cap, a Snow White tank top, a bright pink skater skirt, and a Pokemon hair clip. Her performance space will be strewn with toy guns and vintage figurines, and she’ll start by looping a Pikachu flute into the mic and end by shooting a laser gun at the mixer. Because of her classically trained background, she thrives in the live environment, improvising even her most popular tracks to ensure the audience has a totally unique experience every time they see her.
“I love the human touch,” Angiuli says. “It helps me enjoy [performing] every time. Even if I make mistakes — it’s me, it’s human. That’s what I love about doing live sets. If people come to listen live, I want them to hear something different.”
Angiuli’s production process is topsy turvy. She tends to play a track to a crowd first, and if the response is positive she’ll lay it down in the studio. This is how she came to release the track “You Shine,” which she wrote in the aftermath of her mother’s death.
“I played it for the first time in a stadium in Brazil 18 months ago,” Angiuli says. “The reaction was amazing. They put their lit phones in the air. When I watched the video again I thought I really need to release this track.”
Afterward, Angiuli’s inbox was flooded with messages from fans who said the track changed their life. “It sounds weird but when you make something and put your heart into it completely the universe creates something magic that I cannot describe,” Angiuli says. “This mystery is real for me. That’s why I don’t believe in pushing things too much. If something is natural, then the emotions come out, and that’s the key.”
Angiuli has a similar view on collaboration. She shies away from associations just for the sake of it, and would happily surpass a big name for an unknown one if she feels there’s more of a connection. “I think every collaboration, even if it’s not artistic, helps you to grow,” Angiuli says. “For me, music is all about intimacy, so if there’s not a real connection I don’t accept collaborations. I have too much respect for music. I only do things I really feel will help me grow as a human being, not in my career. It needs to be magic, always.”
Her latest project “United” is a glorious example. While in lockdown, Angiuli felt she needed to do something positive to drown out the noise of the sirens outside her window. “I started with a piano chord and I put it on Facebook and asked producers to add elements to the track.”
She staggered her requests, asking for vocals first, then synth, then bass, and so on. Angiuli received over 260 contributions.
“I loved it because it was spontaneous, but it was hard work I have to say. I asked all the artists to make a short video when they were working on the track and my friend edited it into a video. So all these people from all around the world can show us how powerful music is.”
The track, which includes contributions from an international mix of 13 artists, is a hopeful and uplifting melodic dance tune, ideal for an Ibiza sunrise. All proceeds will go to Italian Red Cross, and Angiuli feels that making the track helped her and many artists feel connected in a time of isolation.
Giorgia felt such a connection with the creator of the bass line, NORS KODE, that they’ll soon release a track on the United 02 EP entitled “Be My Rain,” even though they’ve never met. “He is a techno producer based in Barcelona with a background in film scoring in LA. This makes him really unique. I don’t know his face or anything about him, I just know he’s different and we have a natural, positive exchange. This is what I call magic.”
For Angiuli, “United” acted like a healing balm for her worries. One night, after a long day working on the track, Angiuli had a dream that the oscillators she was using to produce the music were generating a vaccine for the virus. “It shows how powerful music is for me,” she says. “It’s like a cure.”
After years of never feeling like the time is right, Angiuli has now decided the time is right to launch a label. “The label’s called United because the project gave me so much energy. The label comes from the vision that music is powerful and all together we can create something amazing. There will be no genres, no boundaries. Just passion.”
For now, as her country and her scene heal from a traumatising year, Angiuli will continue to live the quiet life she loves. She’ll read, study philosophy, practice yoga, and speak daily to people who inspire her.
“Creation for me is a need,” Angiuli says. “I try to be in the studio almost every day, and it’s always connected to my daily experience.”
“I feel free when I’m making music,” she continues. “A new song is like writing a new chapter of a book. The freedom of music makes me feel alive and happy, which is why I don’t want to be chained to any genre. It doesn’t matter what’s happening outside. For me, it’s all about magic, intimacy, and goosebumps, always.”
Alice Austin is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.