Only bombs: How Italian techno artist T78 energises dancefloors

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We spoke to DJ, producer and Autektone label head T78 about his lifelong dance music obsession, 11,000-strong vinyl collection, and upcoming second album

  • In association with T78
  • 14 September 2023

T78 has been a dance music obsessive since he was a child. He began mixing on vinyl at the age of 12, after hearing Snap!’s Eurodance anthem ‘The Power’ and begging his dad to buy him some similarly energetic music from their local record shop in Bassano del Grappa. “From that moment on I started to buy vinyl by myself every time I had a little money from grandma or some uncle,” the Italian artist, real name Manuele Tessarollo, says. “Instead of going to the cinema or buying an ice cream, I saved money to buy music that I liked.”

After a few years of learning his craft (and aging up to club age), he got his first opportunity to play to an audience in the summer of 1995, given a slot at a club called J&J in the Italian province of Ferrara. The gorgeous seaside region would attract many visitors through summer, with crowds of up to 13,000 people flocking to the club’s huge garden area and multiple dancefloors. After impressing, he was offered a Sunday afternoon residency during the winter months, where crowds of around 500-600 locals would frequent the club, developing a taste for playing to intimate and rowdy rooms which endures to this day. Over time he progressed to the bigger Friday and Saturday night slots, cutting his teeth for the bigger crowds that would be coming his way as his career evolved.

His first record came out in 1997, which was the result of directing a studio session with an in-house producer, but over time he realised to reach the next level for his career he would need to produce his own music. After buying equipment for his own home studio in 2001, he knuckled down, making hardstyle music under the name Activator. “I started producing like hell!” he recalls. “I had been spending five hours a day practicing turntables, spinning music, preparing DJ sets. From that moment on I completely forgot about that, and started producing like six or seven hours a day. I was still having my day job, so it was kind of stressful to combine eight hours, and then again six hours in the studio.” But the efforts paid off, within 18 months he had his first international booking in the Netherlands, with his international profile growing ever since.

Having made and played music under a number of aliases over the years, it was in 2015 that he founded his techno project T78, having played techno as a teen and wanting to revive that part of his roots. His sound has got progressively harder and faster, with the adoption of his catchphrase ‘#onlybombs’ reflecting the heavy drops he favours, as well as his playful personality which he showcases on social media. Releases have come through his own Autektone Records label which he founded in 2016, as well as the likes of Filth On Acid and Legend.

2023 has been a big year for T78, curating the 18-track ‘Tektones #12’ compilation on Autektone, alongside putting out a string of collaborative releases on the label with artists such as Cosmic Boys, Maxie Devine and Sa.Vee.Oh. His gigging schedule has also taken him to European nightspots such as Madrid’s Fabrik. London’s Egg and Berlin’s Kesselhaus, with an Australian and Latin American tour on the near horizon.

Speaking from his home studio in front of a wall of more than 11,000 vinyl records, we caught up with T78 about his musical roots, making bomb tracks, and more.

Why did you start your own label Autektone Records and what are you looking for in the music you release on it?

I have a personal vision of a techno sound and electronic music in general. It always has to be banging music. It’s more like the track tells a story during the arrangement. I’m not for the loopy music, so I prefer to have a breakdown and then a huge drop. That’s why I also decided the use this motto of #onlybombs. Because when I first presented this music to a couple of friends, they were a little bit into techno but not that much, they were only listening to techno randomly in the club or at an event. But they were telling me ‘this is not like the techno I listen to at the event, this is bomb after bomb – the drop is a bomb!’. That’s why they gave me inspiration to use this ‘only bombs’ hashtag.

What defines a ‘bomb’ track for you?

For me, it has to be a super fat, big bassline and bass drum, mostly offbeats because I’m in love with offbeat space. And the drop has to be a ‘wow!’ moment in a track. Every time I decide to play a track in my DJ set or into my podcast is because I recognise that ‘wow’ moment into a drop. Of course I appreciate trippy music or more trance-y stuff that doesn’t necessarily go into a bang at a certain point in the track, but my real nature is finding music that goes in that way. Every time I listen to demos I’m skipping forward to see if I get that specific moment in the track.

You mentioned an interest in trance and hardstyle alongside techno. What styles of music and other sources of inspiration would you say you fuse into the music you produce?

I think everything comes from my background when I grew up as a kid and DJ in the ’90s. At that time, everything happened, it was the early days of techno, trance, the real evolution of house music and hardcore, gabber, and all those different electronic styles. I was into everything. Being a resident DJ, you have to cover a wide range of sounds to please random people on the dancefloor. I was buying pop dance music to techno to hardcore. Because of that I grew up appreciating all of those genres. Of course I had my favourite one, but I like to experiment a lot in the studio. Any day I can decide ‘ok, I would like to make something different’. That’s why sometimes I release another kind of music under a different alias or together in collaboration with somebody else.

A lot of Inspiration comes from my vinyl collection. There are more than 11,000. I have a lot to get inspiration from! But sometimes the ideas can come from watching a movie or a travel experience. For example, I went to Zanzibar last year and listening to the local music also opened my mind. Inspirations are everywhere.

Techno can be a serious business but you have a sense of humour on your socials – how does this reflect who you are as a person and artist?

In the very beginning I didn’t know how to approach this. My personality is like that. You can see through my Instagram stories or posts. I’m that kind of guy, very spontaneous, with my kids I play a lot and they love this aspect of my character. But in the beginning, everyone told me: ‘Hey, techno is a serious thing and everyone has black and white pictures and really serious poses’. But I don’t know if this is the right way to expose yourself into the scene. I said, wow, nobody does this [comedic presentation], let’s give it a try. Maybe if it’s not gonna work., but I can easily do black and white pictures and strike serious poses [if so]. But it became more like that during the pandemic, because I had more time to use social media to communicate. There were no gigs and no videos from gigs, apart from some past throwbacks, so in that time I wanted to entertain people, and get them to listen to my music I was producing. I don’t spend much time thinking what to do, they just come out spontaneously. It doesn’t require a huge amount of time, sometimes it’s like five minutes.

We’re out the other side of lockdown now and you’ve had a big summer of gigs, what have been some standout highlights?

I had a quite busy summer. Of course, as I told you, combining gigs and family is not that easy, so every month or couple of months I have to take a weekend off to spend quality time on the weekend with the kids, which is really important for me. Summer is busy, but I don’t want a super busy summer otherwise I’m always away. So I take gigs which are best for me. In summer it’s more festivals, with clubs in the winter time. This year a standout was Dance Valley in the Netherlands which was huge, on Saturday [September 9] I play in the north of France in Lille, at an event called Le Jardin Electronique which is supposed to be a huge one, so it’s not over yet, still more highlights!

If you ask me, I love the summertime for this kind of huge event, but to me, playing in the club has such a different vibe and I prefer that one. Because I feel the crowd so much closer to me, and I can see their eyes and their faces. I prefer 500 people going wild instead of 5,000, probably because I started in clubs and they remain a big part of myself.

Tours of Australia and Latin America are coming up soon, how excited are you for those?

I’m so excited to go to Australia as T78 for the first time. I’ve been there already maybe five or six times during my hardstyle days, and now finally we put together a small tour of three days in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. I’m really looking forward to play in Australia because I know I have a lot of supporters over there. Especially in Melbourne with that shuffle dance. I receive videos from people dancing to my tracks in that way daily! It’s gonna be fun. And also Latin American is going to be Chile, which I’ve played in before as Activator and love, and also Argentina for the first time, and then back to Colombia again which I love, it’s crazy. I already know what to expect, that’s why I’m super excited.

Are there any main goals and aims you are working towards for the future?

I already finished all my music until the end of the year, so everything is planned and scheduled for the release. On my label and on other labels, for example I’m coming out on Hilomatik, Oliver Helden’s techno label in October, then in December I have a collaboration with Reinier Zonneveld on Filth On Acid. And also I’m working on my second album. I already released my first album which was called ‘onlybombs’ – of course! Second album I can tell you already that I’m going to call it ‘Entering Area T78’, like an Area 51 reference. I recently made a track last year called ‘Humans Love Me’ with this kind of alien vocal, so I decided from that moment on to build something around this concept. So I’m making an album of probably 10 tracks. And on the other side, I’m still busy working with the faster and harder sound as Activator. I’m also making some music for a different label of around 150/160 BPM. If I’m not with my family or away for gigs, I live inside my studio.

‘Steam Room’ by T78 and FOLUAL is out now via Autektone Records, ‘Optik’ by T78 and POMELLA comes on out on September 18, buy them via Beatport

T78’s Australia tour: he plays Home in Sydney on September 15; Third Day in Melbourne on September 16; and Freo Social in Perth on September 17

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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