NSNS Magazine

Stenny on the importance of community and struggle to do the right thing.

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Stenny on the importance of community and struggling to do the right thing: “Nightlife is a good environment to fight oppression, bigotry, injustice. It’s an ongoing battle for the right to be yourself, to do what you want.

Interview and words by Pat Aliyeva (02 December 2019)

Having Stenny play in Mexico City’s Yu Yu club meant a lot for everyone involved. It was about teamwork, empathy, mutual support and of course about love for music.

Sophie (back then part of Yu Yu’s team) has been trying to bring Ilian Tape showcase to Mexico for quite a long time. Conversation about making it happen was going on for about a year, with the last four months being focused on discussing Stenny’s debut in Mexico. At last year’s Dekmantel festival, stars aligned and Sophie met Alex, Ilian Tape booking agent and they immediately became friends. Finally, everything was set up and ready to receive Stenny in Mexico.

But a couple of weeks before the gig Yu Yu faced the threat of shutting down. Nothing was clear, there was no safety net, no PR emergency plan, no extra money to reschedule bookings.

Working in the club industry in Mexico City is not easy. It’s working under constant pressure, scrutiny, dealing with tough laws and authorities, neighbors and expensive rent. These days we all talk a lot about urban ecology, cultural heritage and new opportunities, but in the end, when it comes to standing up for “your right to party” there are only crazy heads driven by a true passion left at the front line.

It was Sophie who spoke up and said that even if we won’t be able to make the gig happen, Stenny should come to Mexico anyway, that he was welcome here and would be taken care of no matter what. Because it never was just about the money, it was about doing something good and bringing people together. The gig did happen. We were all there, doing everything we could. And the effort paid off, the night turned out to be epic.

Now we can share with our readers the interview NSNS did with Stenny two days after the gig.

P: Now that your album has been released, I was wondering if you ever read reviews of your own music?

S: I do. Sometimes it’s fun. I appreciate people writing both good and bad things about my music. The reviews I’ve received so far were quite accurate and positive, although It’s all about interpretation when putting into words someone else’s music. I am always curious about what people think and have to say, but I don’t really seek for opinions or validation.

P: Are you getting more attention now, do you have to socialize more? Probably, people have been reaching out to you more than usual, wanting you to play a gig or to do an interview?

S: Of course there was a peak of attention and a lot of people were messaging me with compliments or asking for interviews, which I really appreciate. I try to reply to everyone who is reaching out. I am really happy it’s happening, it’s a good sign. I also did some interviews recently, why not!

P: So you don’t find it hard to talk to people?

S: It depends on who I am talking to and if I feel comfortable. Like I already said, there’s so much stuff it would be interesting to talk about and I appreciate when this happens when someone is genuinely curious about what I do. I mean, a lot of people, they just ask the same uninspiring questions over and over again. Why Munich and not Berlin? And so on.

P: What does it take, emotionally and physically, to make an album like this? It’s a huge body of work, it’s very impressive and it obviously takes a lot. Also, what was driving you to do it?

S: It was demanding. Especially because my whole setting for making music was unstable. Moving to another city was not easy as it sounds, and I struggled a lot to settle down. I moved 3 times in 3 years, for a month I slept on Dario’s couch. I didn’t have money, so I was having jobs and selling my equipment to withstand monthly payments. I had to sell a lot of stuff, almost half of my studio, just to be able to pay rent and deposits. I had debts and I had to borrow money. It was not easy. It wasn’t until last year that I started feeling more or less confident about releasing my album. I first had to get the studio running fully. I was working night and day, dividing my time between two jobs, studio work, gigs…It was exhausting, but I drew motivation from seeing the final goal.

I had several meetings with Zenker brothers during the process, we were checking how the whole process was evolving, and they helped me to make some decisions I wouldn’t be able to make fully on my own.

P: Like what?

S: For example, the structure of the record, the way you compile it. It is as important as the content itself. We didn’t want to have just 12 good tracks, we wanted to build a meaningful story with a certain mood. And the topic it’s just the true story of my life during these three years while I was writing the album. There are moments of high energy and there are thoughtful and melancholic ones. I was trying to portray emotions and to make it all work in a way so that my music could speak to people. I am not sure if I fully reached the goal, but, well, I tried, indeed.

S: For example, the structure of the record, the way you compile it. It is as important as the content itself. We didn’t want to have just 12 good tracks, we wanted to build a meaningful story with a certain mood. And the topic it’s just the true story of my life during these three years while I was writing the album. There are moments of high energy and there are thoughtful and melancholic ones. I was trying to portray emotions and to make it all work in a way so that my music could speak to people. I am not sure if I fully reached the goal, but, well, I tried, indeed.

P: So basically it’s the story of your life during these three years?

S: Yes, it is. Although The challenge was to evolve and do certain kinds of things I haven’t done before with my previous records, I didn’t want to repeat myself but neither to “deconstruct” anything or “create” anything “post- whatever”, I just tried to be myself, to be as honest as possible, not pretending to create something new. I wasn’t thinking about it.

P: The studio you are working at now, is it a studio of your own?

S: I am renting a space together with some friends, and I have my private room. I’m so lucky because Munich is an expensive place to live. Some friends of mine found the basement we are renting now, and they asked me if I wanted to participate. They were really kind, allowing me to pay the deposit in small parts. I am very thankful for that and happy to have this place now.

P: What does your family think about what you doing?

S: They seem more convinced now that…I mean they are pretty happy, now…They were quite disillusioned before and never believed that I could make a living making music, that I could achieve certain goals. But I don’t blame them for that, since Italy is a difficult place for artists in general, this mindset is a common thing and it’s quite understandable. It has been conflictual with them and it wasn’t easy to deal with it, but at some point I just made a decision to follow my own path no matter what. We had to deal with some tension but now it seems like I was right. Still, my contribution to music, frankly, it’s still very little. It’s still in its primordial phase. I feel I just started.

P: Did you have moments of desperation sometimes?

S: I still have it. Is not easy to stand the pressure this kind of lifestyle puts one through, to deal with your self-esteem and other mental issues. Sometimes I just try to empty my mind, I try to let go and take things as they are. But I am often tormented by such feelings as uncertainty and insecurity. It’s part of the world we are living in, it’s getting so crazy. Nightlife is a good environment to fight oppression, bigotry, injustice. It’s an ongoing battle for the right to be yourself, to do what you want. I’m desperate about the fact that free spaces basically do not exist anymore, it’s becoming less and less common.

P: It’s a rough business.

S: Yes, it’s a rough business. Also being an artist requires a lot of resources in order to materialize ideas and projects while struggling to survive. And unless you sell loads of records, financial income for this type of music comes first of all from touring. And still, It makes me sick to see how some talented artists barely have gigs and have to struggle so much to put food on the table or to carry on making music, while others are becoming millionaires and eat the whole cake. This is one of the reasons why I have been thinking about giving up. I often felt like I didn’t deserve to accomplish my dream, because it was unsustainable. The system makes you feel like you are competing with other artists, while there is literally enough space for everyone, for every kind of music. It all could be fairer.

P: In what way?

S: I wish local administrations could contribute more, allowing more self-regulated spaces to exist, ensuring more funds for people who have good ideas but few or zero resources. This way a lot of people wouldn’t depend on the capitalist aspect of the music ‘industry’ and could just focus on their craft.

P: What kind of person are you, how would you describe yourself?

S: It’s hard to say. I can’t really understand my personality. I am a very social person, I like to meet new people, share experiences and talk. In terms of music, I am kind of the opposite, very individualistic and solitary, and not that self confident. I am very self critical, so sometimes I might not be the easiest person to deal with. You can meet me in a club where I’m eventually light-minded, and I don’t really seem like the deepest person in the world, but it’s because I am trying to escape from my own concerns. I just want to enjoy the music and have fun, and I don’t wanna talk about it. I am very committed but I don’t have the urge to show it off, who knows me knows.  But yeah sometimes I think people might get a weird impression of me.

P: Like what? That you are a party monster?

S: Like yeah, I think people know about that. But hey, what’s wrong about it? At some point, I will have to get more responsible, especially now, with traveling more and more. It’s tough to stay up till the very end of a party. You have to sleep, you have to take care of yourself, to adopt a certain routine. But at the same time, if I feel like I really enjoy spending time with people, then I don’t care if I will be lacking sleep or will be tired, whatever. I would be still having the feeling that it’s absolutely worth it even though I misbehaved.

P: Do you find it easy to connect with other people?

S: I would say yes. In general, I am a fairly open person. I am not that kind of guy who is trying to be well-connected because it helps, but if I am in tune with someone then it’s easy for me. I am totally down to meet new people. I feel like I have friends everywhere. I believe a lot in the sense of community. That’s why i liked Yu Yu so much, it really gave me that sensation of a place run by genuine people.

P: Do you have a lot of close friends?

S: Yes and no. But with some of them, I’m really close even while being far. I see them maybe once or twice a year and sometimes we wouldn’t talk in 5 or 6 months. We don’t need to call each other, I just know that I will immediately see them when I am in Italy. They are always there, no matter what.

P: What were your most important childhood moments, formative moments maybe, that influenced who you are now?

S: Growing up in Turin suburbs meant dealing with certain kinds of issues. It was a quite tough area, it wasn’t the worst but was kind of sketchy. There was nothing to do, it was just hanging out and wasting time, going to the mall or playing soccer. There weren’t many opportunities for young people and we were basically happy with nothing but ourselves. These surroundings taught me to look at people with respect no matter their social status or wealth. But developing an interest for music is what saved me from monotony of this life. It was my own private escape. I was searching for my ideal dimension and I found it within music, and I wanted to share it through DJing. I think I was 13 or 14 when I started.

P: So would it be right to say that music is your purpose?

S: Absolutely. I don’t know what I would do, what other purpose would I have if not music. I mean I can do anything, I have done so many different jobs, and I could learn to do whatever. I am a fast learner in this sense. But I intend to make music.

P: What was the worst job you had?

S: Worst job? Haha…Ufff…I worked as a waiter, as a barkeeper, as a front office employee, as a retail employee, selling audio and video equipment, as an electrician too, and the list goes on. Each job had its bad sides. But basically I have been doing it to survive and to have money to be able to sustain my purpose. A risky one.

P: In what sense?

S: Well it’s not an easy path, and it’s very unpredictable. But I am pretty sure I have the right mindset for this and I see things from the right perspective. I will do my best to keep what I am doing meaningful. Because that’s my purpose. And even though things are changing rapidly, I would rather step back from being a full time ‘artist’ and work again as a construction worker, I’d rather go back to an ‘ordinary’ job to sustain myself than make compromises and stop doing what I believe in.

P: So you are not afraid of the struggle?

S: No. I’ve been dealing with it all the time. I am not afraid of that. Of course it is great to be able to live from what you love but if something doesn’t go as planned, you have to be ready. I want to be completely independent, that makes me feel really good.

P: Would you like to pick up any other art, do something else?

S: I definitely want to. I studied in an art school and I have been familiar with some other disciplines for a very long time, like painting and sculpture. I think I am a pretty creative person, so yes, why not? I am eventually into design and conceptual art and very interested in sound design. There is stuff I want to explore and I definitely will but I need to have more time to do it. I can see myself producing music for theatre or cinema in the near future, I find it really fascinating.

P: What’s your favourite soundtrack then?

S: I have to think about it, it’s hard for me to talk about favourites in general, but If we are talking about legendary soundtracks, it’s Blade Runner, of course. It’s pure poetry and it fits so well. I also watched this Chernobyl series recently and the soundtrack by Hildur Gudnadottir is a real masterpiece. In my opinion, it’s just outstanding.

P: And what about books?

S: I have already mentioned this book in another interview, and I will mention it again, cause it’s a really good one. It’s a best seller by an Italian physicist called Carlo Rovelli. He is a theoretical physicist. The book is called The Order of Time. It’s like extremely complex physics translated for noobs, like you won’t stumble upon a field equation here. It’s very well put, it’s basically about the behavior and structure of space and time and non-linearity of time. I am very into physics and science in general. I don’t read a lot of fiction, it’s not really my thing. I mostly read about artists, biographies, music, science. I also loved In Praise For Shadows from Tanizaki.

P: About the nonlinearity of time, so If time is non-linear, then it’s future, past and present…

S: There were and still are so many people trying to interpret this, it’s not a very easy concept, but basically the guideline is that time is bound with gravity. It’s quite complicated.

P: If time travel was possible, if you had an opportunity, would you do it? where would you go, would you go forwards or backwards?

S: I don’t know, that’s the thing, you don’t really know if the future is the future or…It’s really complicated, but I think I would rather travel maybe to the future.

P: Why?

S: Because I am curious and I would like to see if we’ll make it as a species.

P: And what do you think?

S: I think we won’t.

P: And how do you feel about it? Do you think it’s sad or not really, and we aren’t really that important…

S: I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but our society should change very radically and we don’t have enough time, I’m afraid.

The interview took place in Mexico City the 02 December between Stenny (the artist) and Pat Aliyeva (Writer)

To find out more about Stenny go to his Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Bandcamp

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