Mike Simonetti on Loving Punk Rock and Disco, and Why NYC's Underground Club Scene "Is Over"
It's not often that DJs and Electronic Dance Music producers are inspired to begin their careers through a love of hardcore punk rock, but that's how New Jersey-based Mike Simonetti got his start. As a teenager, he would often make the journey from Jersey to N.Y. to attend hardcore shows. However, he soon began to gravitate toward the city's house and disco scene, which eventually led him to throw his own events, including notorious marathon parties at Mars. After founding punk and indie rock label Troubleman Unlimited in 1993, his desire for a separate, dance music-centered project led him to launch the Italians Do It Better label in 2007. Between the two, he oversees releases of artists like the experimental band Wolf Eyes, as well as the disco pop sounds of Glass Candy. In 2011, two decades into his career, Simonetti finally put out his own EP on the Italians Do It Better imprint. Titled Capricorn Rising, the EP features the soulful vocals of Sam Sparro, along with synth-heavy disco melodies. All Shook Down spoke with Simonetti about what he thinks of today's punk scene, his newest release, and where he'll be lurking during his visit to San Francisco. He opens for DJ Harvey this Friday at Public Works.
Since you started out in the punk scene, what's your opinion of punk music today?
It's a lot different now because of the Internet. Everything is at your fingertips. It used to be a lot harder to find new music. You would have to find magazines, mail letters, and wait for responses. It was a lot different back then, so you appreciated it more.
How did you get into DJ culture?
I used to work at the nightclub Mars in the late '80s. I've always been into clubs and DJ culture. Even when I was a kid, I would record DJ Red Alert on the radio and his rap mixes.
You also threw a ton of pretty notorious underground parties back in the past. What's the key to throwing a party that goes for 12 hours?
Finding a good venue and avoiding the cops. It was a lot easier back then. NYC is not the same place. It's pretty much a yuppie town like any other in the world. I rarely go there, and I find no reason to go there. If I want to go to a Whole Foods, I'll go to the one by my house.
Do you ever foresee NYC being the center of the underground scene again?
It won't come back to NYC or Williamsburg. There's some sort of scene in Bushwick, but it isn't that good. N.Y. is over.
As record label owner of Troubleman Unlimited and Italians Do It Better, what's your process like for finding an artist fit for the label?
They have to be original, honest, and have a solid concept. And they have to be nice people.
How did it feel releasing Capricorn Rising, your first completed EP?
It felt good. I've been releasing edits and stuff before that. But it was pretty cool.
Was Sam Sparro your first pick to do vocals on "The Third of the Storms"?
Yeah, for some reason his name popped up in my head and I asked him first and he said yes. I was very lucky! He has a beautiful voice and compliments the song perfectly.
"Third of the Storms" was one of the hardest tracks I worked on, because it has so many layers. And I'd never worked with vocals before, so it was time consuming.
How long did the process take for the whole EP?
I worked on it slowly over the course of a year when I had free time.
Why the ice cream sundae on the cover?
Johnny from Glass Candy found the image, and he added some touches to it. Then my friend Branko airbrushed it. I was stumped for cover art and it sort of fell into our laps!
You also released the edit EP I'm Getting Too Old for This Shit earlier this year. What is one thing you think is actually getting too old for itself?
Going to clubs. Everyone stays the same age!
You're known for being an avid record hunter and having a collection of rare tech equipment. What's one of your favorite finds?
I find cool stuff in the wild all the time! I found an original copy of Black Devil Disco Club LP in an antique shop in my town, which was the most random thing ever.
You'll be opening for DJ Harvey in S.F. What do you like most about him?
His edits are legendary.
Where can we find you usually hanging out in San Francisco?
In Eug's (Public Release) kitchen, eating his food.