Mauro Picotto chats to 909originals’ Emer O’Connor

With tracks such as Komodo (Save a Soul), Iguana, Baguette and Lizard in his repertoire, and having hosted epic events at clubs across the world, it’s fair to say that if you have been out clubbing at any time in the past 20 years, your night has at some point been soundtracked by Mauro Picotto.  

The Italian native has been bringing his trademark infectious energy to dancefloors since the 90s – his first appearance behind the decks was all the way back in 1984 – and the last time 909originals caught up with him, it was to chat about his experiences playing at Dublin’s iconic Temple Theatre (“the right place with the right music at the right time”, as he told us).

Picotto has just released a new album, From The 80s Til Now, which features re-edits of some of his biggest hits as well as a Meganite DJ mix, showcasing the uncompromising techno sound that made his longstanding Ibiza residency of the same name a success. It’s out now on his Alchemy label, and can be downloaded/streamed here.

909originals’ Emer O’Connor caught up with him.

Ciao bello Mauro, come ‘stai?

Bene grazie. 

It’s traditional for artists to bring out 20th or 25th anniversary compilations, but you decided not to put a cap on the dates in your musical anthology, From The 80s Til Now. What was your reasoning behind this, and how did you narrow down some 700 productions to just eleven radio edits and a Meganite techno DJ set?

It all happened because during the COVID-19 pandemic, I found myself with a lot of spare time at home, leading a simple life. It was then that I began listening to the music of my youth, which evoked strong emotions in me and helped spark my creativity. I drew inspiration from the music of the 80s, which was also a nod to the time when I first started DJing. 

From that time until now, in 2023, I have continued making music and DJing. The result is a collection of tracks that I have created over the last few years, mainly for home listening, as the clubs were closed due to the pandemic. However, the clubs hold many memories for me, and so this album is also a tribute to those times.

When the pandemic ended, I realised that I couldn’t just release an album of tracks that no one had ever heard before. People know me for my techno music, so I decided to create an album that included both my new tracks and some of my more popular ones. It’s like a football team, with 11 tracks, and one track that is 40 minutes long and features seven new tracks that I had created but never released.

My goal with this album was not necessarily to inspire everyone, but rather to create an album that people can enjoy listening to at home or in a special clubbing moment. I wanted to offer something different and new, so I included five completely new tracks on this megamix. I am very proud of the club music on this album, as it truly represents what I like to hear in a real club setting. 

You know, club music often consists of a groove and something that everybody recognises. It’s very business-like, not many DJs offer anything new or different – they go for the easy way. Me, I try to do what I like and make people listen to what I like. 

Funny you should say that Mauro – the opening riff of the track Restless, made with your old friend from Monza, Maurizio Molella, reminded me of Gala – Freed From Desire

Exactly. Well, a lot of people I’ve listened to in the past year, from techno to house, are playing the original version of Gala in their sets. Obviously they’re doing that because they want to catch the crowd, and because maybe they struggle with playing different music.

However, as I am good friends with Molella, I called him up and asked him ‘can you give me the acapella – I’m going to make a new track’. He said, ‘for sure, Mauro’, and I used the acapella to create the sound that you can hear on Restless. Molella and I liked it so much that we decided to create a new melody to go on top of the track.

That’s why the sound reminds you of Gala, but it has been completely rebuilt with no samples. We replayed everything and added a new melody on top of it. Molella asked could he do the same with my track Komodo – on the track Fly High to Paradise, the melody is Komodo. We were just having fun making music. Restless will be our next single together, after Fly High to Paradise

I also really love the juicy vibes from the track Groovefeel, made with your fellow countryman Devid. How did this co-creation come about, and what kind of reaction does it get on the dancefloors?

Devid is a new up-and-coming DJ producer on Meganite. He created a loop with a sample – I won’t mention which one, but if people recognise it, that’s okay. If they don’t, well, it’s from a very big name in the pop music world. 

We made this track just for fun, but when I listened to it, I thought, “Wow, this could be something more important”. Then they gave me the sample, and I started building a groove around it. It’s funny, as we’re talking now, Devid is texting me – his ears must be burning! Ha ha.

I created a new track that has a very housey feel to it. It has a bit of a feeling like My Paradise by Jamie Jones – very summery, fresh, and a bit dreamy. I really liked it and wanted to include it in the album – simple as that.

You must really enjoy working with people from your homeland, as you also have the talented young Italian Steven Z co-producing Paranoimia?

This is the cover for one of the tracks that I have always loved from Art of Noise. It was just an idea that we had to bring this track into the club. Obviously, the original was amazing back in the 80s, but in 2023 it didn’t sound powerful enough. The ingredients were nice, but the sound wasn’t levelled up enough with the rest of the music. 

So, I decided with Steven Z that we should make a cover of this track. We rebuilt the parts only using a bit of the sample, so it was more of a restyling of the original.

You’ve enjoyed countless collaborations over the years, with both the biggest superstar DJs and emerging talent. Did you ever encounter a scenario where you had a creative clash, and what did you do in this case? And is there anyone else who you’d love to work with? 

All the music collaborations I’ve been involved in have happened randomly, maybe from a night out or meeting someone in a club. It’s never been planned ahead. Nowadays, record companies and DJs often plan collaborations to maintain a high profile and create synergy between artists.

I’ve been independent since 2000, and I remember when I had big hits like Komodo, a major record company approached me and offered to “take me to the next level” and turn me into a “big name”.  But I was content with what I had achieved and didn’t want to be stuck with a project that someone else had planned for me. 

For me it has always been about going to the club, playing music, enjoying myself, going to Ibiza, having another party, having a great life.

Thank God I was comfortable, because I had just sold my share in my record company at the time, so money wise I was not suffering, that’s the truth. I could dedicate my time to enjoying myself with my projects. 

Today, if someone were to ask me who I would like to collaborate with, it would be everybody and nobody – it’s not about the numbers, it’s about me having an idea and another artist having an idea, and we feel the same vibe and put the energy together to do something creatively. 

I know that there’s this wave of 90s music coming back, but I also believe that as DJs, we should strive to be more like proper musicians and create something completely new, or at the very least, something that doesn’t feel like a complete copy of something else. 

I understand that everybody has a parent at the end of the day, and it’s right to get the inspiration from somewhere, but it’s also good if you can go into the studio with a great musician that can give you options with the same vibe, not just make a copy. Some may tell you that the copy is working in the club, but to me, it makes no sense if the original is still the one that people respond to.

For example, how many copies have I received of Komodo? People always want to make a new mix of Komodo [hums Komodo riff]. It’s not new, it’s exactly the same. Just because you change a few things doesn’t mean you’re changing the heart. I wish there were more pioneers out there who were willing to create something fresh and new. That’s my point of view. 

Over the years, Meganite has held parties in the clubbing capitals of the world – from London to New York to Miami, not to mention your weekly residency at Privilege in Ibiza. Tell us about some of your stand-out experiences from these iconic clubbing destinations?

Meganite started because I wanted to create something that was not the usual standard music played in clubs, especially in Ibiza. It started in Ibiza and then moved to Miami in 2005, with Chris Liebing and myself starting it. Chris was a super techno DJ who wasn’t very well-known at the time, to be honest the owner of the club didn’t even know him, just like Marco Carola.

I remember Luis Puig, the owner of Miami’s Space club, asked me, “Who is Marco Carola?” since he wasn’t well-known worldwide, although he would become huge a few years later. Like Seth Troxler – the first time he played in Ibiza, be played at Meganite, in the Coco Loco room. Also Maceo Plex, who was known as Maetrik at the time. 

We were looking for a new sound and new talent, rather than relying on big names or popular music that everyone already knows. These days, maybe this approach is less welcome, as people want to go for what is sure and safe, so they just put on a big name. 

In those days, people were eager to experiment and expand their horizons. That’s why Meganite was born – it wasn’t about big names; it was about embracing a different musical culture. There are a few DJs that I recognise that still do this, but the rest? Sorry guys – what they play is nothing special for me. They just go in to it because it’s a business for them. 

I watched an interview you did with Bosh London a few years back, where you were explaining how you came out of hibernation  – taking time out to be with your family – and found Ibiza to be all party and not so much about the music any more. Do you still feel the same about Ibiza today? 

There has been a change alright, but you can still find places in Ibiza that maintain the magic and spirit of the island, but only a few. The rest have become a bit like the California or Las Vegas of Europe – particularly when you consider Playa D’en Bossa, where everything is flashy and focused on big shows and big names. What’s the novelty of going to Ibiza to listen to Eiffel 65?

With all due respect to David Guetta, who is a superstar DJ, if people want that kind of music, that’s fine, and if they’re happy to spend €100 to enter a club, then that’s just business. 

But a lot of people are searching for something that doesn’t exist anymore in the big clubs. You can still find it in Ibiza, but not in the main clubs. Instead, you can find it in a villa or at a party on the beach, with the right people and word of mouth. It’s still magical.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ibiza. I go there every year and I even have a house there. Of course, you can’t stop progress and changes will happen, but I know there are still places that are super cool. 

I would agree. I’ve been to Ibiza about seven or eight times myself over the last 20 years – the last time in September 2019, where I went out dancing six nights in a row. I just danced, danced, danced – Cova Santa was really good for the All Day I Dream party. 

You see, you mentioned a club that started as a Latin music club, but then became the go-to place for after-parties following Amnesia. It’s definitely cool if you go somewhere with the right people and the right DJs.

You don’t need to go to a superclub to have an amazing time in Ibiza. If you’re a real music lover and the vibe is right… I mean, come on, who goes to Ibiza just to hear the same music they can hear at home? I want to go there and experience something that’s cool and exclusive. Maybe I won’t like it, but it’s something new and different. 

I don’t want to go there just to hear the same songs I can hear on the radio back in the UK, maybe with a different groove or mix. I can stay at home for that.

It’s so true – you used to get this feeling that when you came home from Ibiza there was a certain sound that you came home with. There were always a few tracks that you heard a few times while you were there, which were totally different in comparison to what you’d heard before…

Ibiza should be a place where you can go to discover new boundaries and challenges, even if you’re a promoter. It shouldn’t be a place where you come home and say, “let’s book the most popular names or copy the decorations.”

Maybe you remember in 2004, we started bringing new people to Ibiza with Meganite. Back then, Manumission was promoting parties by going to the beach naked, trying to be extreme just to be noticed. But you can do more than that. 

That’s what makes you think of new ideas – the feeling that you have to make something different. Nowadays, people are copying what they see in Miami, Las Vegas, and Ibiza. It’s hard to surprise people.

But I think you can surprise them with two simple ingredients: a great selection of cool, new music and a new location with a fantastic sound system. Ibiza is beautiful because you can throw a party on the beach. You don’t have to be in Playa D’en Bossa if you don’t want to be. 

They asked me to bring back Meganite for one night only in August, and I spoke with Chris Liebing. He said the timing was good, and we both had that date free, so we could do it. I’m booked until October, and I only work three to five times a month maximum because I want to spend more time at home with my family. My kids are growing up too quickly.

Doing a one-off Meganite event with Chris Liebing in the DJ booth sounds like an exciting idea, but when another club offered me the same kind of thing, now I think maybe it’s a good thing to do, and maybe it’s not. Perhaps that’s a controversial thing to say, but I’m thinking I don’t want to be like a jukebox – that they’re only asking you because it’s a cool idea to make money. 

When we started Meganite, it was something that was totally different. We closed the pool and kept the numbers down to just 2,000 people. We had fantastic decorations, lovely lighting, and the soundsystem was the same as the other nights in there, which had 5,000 people or more. Our crowd got an unforgettable experience.

You have an all-Italian roster lined up for a forthcoming Meganite night in Club Union, Vauxhall, on 3 June, with Gabry Fasano,  Pagano, Francesco Poggi etc

We want to create a 10-hour musical journey that’s a unique experience for the night. London has plenty of clubs, but we specifically chose this one because it’s an after-hours club where people go to have fun and hear good music. There’s a fantastic soundsystem, great music, and us. That’s all you need.

I have Gabry, an old friend of mine, and Poggi, a quality DJ who collaborates with Vanity in London. We also have Pagano, a very talented DJ from the gay scene who’s also a good friend of mine. We’ve collaborated on my label Alchemy, and I’m excited to have him on board.

Plus, I have some news from a few days ago. Riccardo asked to come as well, so we’ll have Riccardo Ferri live in the club. So if you want to experience a proper club night with great music, this is the place to be. 

The night before that, like a summertime Santa on Meganite Eve, you’ll be landing here on our emerald shore to headline the opening night of a belter of a festival in the west of Ireland, Wild Roots. Are you excited to come back to the warm welcome of an Irish crowd?

Oh man, I love to play in Ireland so much, like I told you when I heard your accent. 🙂 The Temple Theatre in Dublin and several other venues in Ireland are some of my top five to ten experiences ever. Even though partying in that country may have taken 10 years off my life, I don’t care because I had so much fun! The people are always super friendly, the crowd is amazing, and they truly enjoy the party and the music. It’s so genuine, no bullshit.

Anytime I play in Ireland, I love the crowd and the vibe. For me, I’m not saying it’s like going home, but as a DJ, it feels like home. 

After my gig, I’ll head back to my hotel for a good night’s sleep before flying back to London. I’ll have a nice relaxing afternoon at home, then dinner and a disco nap before heading to Vauxhall for the marathon at one or two in the morning.

Last time you spoke to us about your memories of northside clubbing Mecca, the Temple Theatre. That was the first place I ever went clubbing, when I first heard you play Lizard and Verdi when I was a bambino of 20 – it’s a great honour to finally talk to you. 

So you recognise my feelings perfectly for that place. 

Oh yes, I was there with my hands in the air!

To me, it was a magical place where I had the opportunity to play the music I loved. It was the perfect music for that venue, and it’s one of the places that will remain in my heart forever, even though it shut down. 

I remember one time I arrived at the Temple Theatre, and there was a 300-metre queue to get in. I didn’t even realise it was the club. I was with the promoter in the car, and I asked, “What are all these people doing here on the street?” The guy replied, “They’re here for you!” I couldn’t believe that so many people had come just to see a DJ. 

The club music culture, especially in Dublin at that time, was just off the roof completely. You could party for three days straight and still fill the club three days no problem. 

Then, obviously, the economy, the rules and everything made everything change. But my heart is still there.

I was speaking to my friend Ro Flynn, who runs nights at Index – and had you over as a guest as well – and he told me about the great reception that you always get from the Irish crowd. I think that the scene is building back up in Ireland, there are big queues for Index nights and I think you’ll see a serious crowd at Wild Roots, too. I believe they have great plans there for the dance arena – I was talking to one of the organisers today about it, and he told me about the layout for your area and it sounds incredible. But that’s all I’m saying… 

Oh that’s nice! Don’t ruin the surprise, ha ha. 

Even last year, I played at the ‘Biggest 90s/00s Disco’ in Punchestown, and I have to be honest with you, I was skeptical about it. I usually don’t have high expectations for festivals because they often have problems with the soundsystem and the volume is not loud enough.  I’m more of a club DJ than a festival DJ.

But I remember playing in this big arena, and the crowd was fantastic. I could play whatever I wanted, and the people followed the music. It was such a great synergy between the crowd and me as the DJ.

I always say that I’m grateful for my life as a DJ and music producer. But these days I’m happy to play for free! They don’t need to pay me anymore because I enjoy playing all around the world. The only thing they need to pay for is the travel expenses. As soon as I leave my house, that’s when I want to feel that my time is being valued. Actually, when I’m playing, I have so much fun that I don’t even want to be paid.

Your experience is priceless. 

To go there and come back is what you pay – the DJ set is for free. 

Ha ha, I’ll remember that for my next birthday! You’ve come a long way now, Mauro, from dancing on your father’s hand-built floors to building your own club nights of biblical proportions, to playing to stadiums in Turin, Amsterdam, and even to 18,000 in the Amazon jungle. Why do you think you have such crossover appeal and what’s your secret to staying ahead of the curve?

I always think you need to do something fresh every time, not just playing what people expect to hear. You should surprise them with something new, that’s what’s crucial as a DJ. Otherwise you’re just being a jukebox, as I said before – playing what the crowd wants. Everybody can do that. 

When I played Crane Birmingham last December, some people sent me a video clip asking me what song I played at a particular moment. But I couldn’t recognise it because it was a blend of two or three tracks that I combined to create that vibe. It’s not a track that you can go and buy, it doesn’t exist. 

That’s why for me that vision of being a groove or mood catcher of the crowd, is what makes a DJ exceptional and relevant over time. As I said earlier, playing the latest hit of the moment is easy for anyone. It doesn’t require a DJ; all you need is a jukebox.

Mauro Picotto, it was such a great pleasure chatting to you today and I look forward to seeing you play at Wild Roots in Sligo over the June bank holiday weekend. 

You need to come and introduce yourself when you’re there, you know?

Oh I promise I will, absolutely, thank you so much, ciao bello!

Ciao, grazie mile! 

[Words by Emer O’Connor.]

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