“I want to inject as much chaos into the production as possible.”
It was mid-April in New York City and Anton Maiof and I were sitting in the 169 Bar, located in that area where Chinatown and the Lower East Side hold each other dearly with a loving embrace. Fake palm trees, a leopard-print pool table, ubiquitous Mardi Gras beads, and a fountain nymph peeing with the constancy of Secretariat enhanced our conversation.
Strange and colorful lights in the 100-year-old establishment bathed us, only barely hiding the age and ambivalence-to-silly-trends the bar so proudly displays.
Yes. This was the perfect place to interview Bristol-born Maiof, whose musical mark on this world is fueled by the influence of horror masters like Dario Argento (and Goblin), John Carpenter, and a trough of films far less-funded and much cheesier than those two gentlemen could muster. The thing is, it actually was the perfect place: The bar used to be called the Bloody Bucket, and I’m told sailors there used to get shit-faced and beat each other to a bloody pulp. Overall, the bar is a damn fine historical mix of gore and kitsch.
Maiof is better known as Antoni Maiovvi, who along with Gianni Vercetti (AKA Vercetti Technicolor) is co-owner of the lauded and influential Giallo Disco Records, known for its dark synth music influenced by giallo (Italian horror films) and related fare.
He’s also a well-respected DJ and film score composer — Ryan Haysom’s 2013 neo-giallo Yellow and Evrim Ersoy’s Abdullah, which Death Waltz recently issued in a vinyl/DVD set, are among the standouts. A good chunk of his work, like Electro Muscle Cult and Battlestar Transreplica, consists of scores for films yet made (one of my favorite things in the world).
(The Abdullah short film is available below to stream in full. Also, check out a small selection of Maiovvi’s best songs, as curated by Vehlinggo writer and DJ Pat Vehling.)
There’s also last year’s Thug, which was actually written for a film that never came to be. It’s an extraordinary collection of songs, and thankfully Lunaris Records released it — last year, in limited edition cassette format and this spring will release it on vinyl.
When I caught up with him at 169, Maiof was fresh off completing the score for the upcoming film Housewife, the English-language debut of Can Evrenol, director of the supremely intense Turkish horror film Baskin. Evrenol isn’t the only one changing languages with this new film.
The Housewife score is “very much kind of half-classical/half-electronic — somewhere between Howard Shore… and Angelo Badalamenti and Krzysztof Penderecki, who are basically my two favorite composers,” he says.
“I’d really like to explore this kind of orchestral music,” Maiof said. For him, Housewife represents a point where he learned “what would happen if I started exploring this stuff.”
He also has at least one other release waiting to see the light of day. Cuckoo is a soundtrack-sans-film that Data Airlines will release soon — more on this later. (Maiof achieves quantity AND quality, just so you know, so there are plenty more untold releases on the horizon.)
(This is Maiovvi’s set from Lot Radio last year. He plays some of his own stuff and some other people’s stuff. It’s all good.)
AT THE INTERSECTION OF FRED AND VENTURA
In our interview, supported by 169’s jukebox — a soundtrack of Phil Spector’s greatest hits and Michael Jackson’s best 1980s work — I learned a little more about the prolific producer and devoted promoter of other people’s work.
For one thing, he and I agree that Italo Disco legend Fred Ventura is awesome — Ventura was one of my first big interviews for Vehlinggo. Ventura is a friend and collaborator of Maiof’s. The “The Years (Go By)” singer‘s been busy with various projects in recent years, including Italo Connection with Paolo Gozzetti.
“Fred’s a fucking wonderful human,” Maiof said. “And he gets better looking with age.”
Our mutual admiration for Ventura, and musings on other things, occurred at a certain type of turning point for Maiof.
After living a fair amount of time in Berlin and Galicia, Spain, Maiof had been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn, when not on tour. It’s where his girlfriend lives and where he’s adopted his domestic routine — in bed by 10 p.m. and up by 7 a.m., then off to cycling, then hours with the music machines. But he’s also just moved to The Netherlands to work for famed record label, clothing outfit, and record store Bordello A Parigi — a nice pairing, indeed. He’s got a few plans to expand his repertoire while there.
After DJing two different sets at March’s Carpenter Brut show at Schimanski in Brooklyn, Maiof — who once played guitar in Kraut Rock-esque, Italo-noise band Bronnt Industries Kapital — is inspired to return to his band roots. Carpenter Brut (AKA Franck Hueso) performs live with a real drummer and a heavy-metal guitarist. It’s a high-energy stunner.
“The Carpenter Brut show showed me it was maybe an interesting thing to do a live band,” Maiof said, noting that he’s thinking of an arrangement as thus: A live drummer, a live guitarist, and a couple of synth players.
“I have enough of a catalog — I think I can fill an hour,” he says. “It would be a solid show. It’s a question of finding these people and seeing how that works.”
Holland, he says, seems like good place to find the right musicians.
“[Holland] has a dance music side and a rock music side, and they’re not separate,” he said.
Finding Solace in B-Movies
In the 1990s, Maiof was a teenager in Bristol, the English town famous for giving the world the Bristol Sound — members of the foundational collective The Wild Bunch would go on to spawn Massive Attack, while member Nellee Hooper would become a successful producer; Portishead is also from Bristol, as is the multifaceted musician Alex Lee, Ronald Orzabal of Tears for Fears (although the band is from Bath), and The Heads.
Bristol was a cornucopia of musical innovation that’s hard to find outside of England, but the city is still in the United Kingdom, and so it was under the thumb of some heavy-handed censorship laws. This made life tough for a young Maiof, who was developing a thirst for giallo and other, mostly low-budget, horror films.
Nekromantik 2: Die Rückkehr der Liebenden Toten (The Return of the Loving Dead), Jörg Buttgereit’s notorious 1991 German necrophilia-horror that authorities ended up seizing upon release, is one of Maiof’s favorites from that era.
“It’s a beautiful movie,” he says. “It’s dark and sickening, but a it’s a powerful film.”
But to see it and others like it took some effort.
“If you’d go to comic shops and were nice to people, and bought a bunch of stuff you didn’t need [in order] to strike up a conversation, you could find pirated tapes,” Maiof said.
Hunting down these purportedly subversive videos added to the joy of just watching them.
“I wonder if a lot of my romanticism with horror movies has to do with having to work for it?” Maiof asked.
And then there was torrenting.
“It was amazing,” he says. “As soon as a friend showed me torrenting, I thought ‘I can finally see all of these movies’.”
He inhaled the films of Bruno Mattei, the Italian director of 1980s titles such as Caligula Reincarnated As Nero, Violence in a Woman’s Prison, and The Other Hell. He also took a liking to the work of Spanish director Jess Franco, who made a bunch of X-rated erotic thriller/horror flicks before hitting a career high in the ‘80s with Mondo Cannibale, Bloody Moon, Oasis of the Zombies, and Revenge in the House of Usher; and higher-budget slasher film Faceless.
“It was the worst of the worst,” Maiof says. “I was so happy.”
Some of the horror fare he took in, especially the Italian films, had the curious pairing of gore and horrific scenarios and upbeat Italo disco. The dynamic stuck.
“I just really liked Italo Disco, and high-NRG disco and horror soundtracks,” he said.
Today, Maiof’s solace in films brings to mind some advice he read in a somewhat unlikely place: the guitar tab book for The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Frontman Billy Corgan, in an interview in the book on the writing process, said a line that stuck out to Maiof, who remembers it as thus: “… there’s more to life than writing and music, so if you’re finding it frustrating and you have writer’s block, have an interest outside of music.”
“For me,” Maiof says, “that was movies. It’s my escape from the pressure to write music.”
In his teens, without the external pressures of the professional music realm, he saw films as an escape from stress in general. Now that he is a multi-faceted, talented, and prolific professional musician, movies are still “my most ideal way to relax.” He drifts toward horror, of course, but he also digs sci-fi and art-house stuff. (He and I exchanged some “j’adores” about Alex Proyas’ 1998 masterpiece Dark City. I’ll spare you the verbal effusions.)
At one point in the early 2000s, Maiof and friends were part of the Guy Bartell-fronted Bristolite band Bronnt Industries Kapital. They each took on a pseudonym: Maiof’s nom du musique became Antoni Maiovvi — Maiof is also a pseudonym, which he has said in previous interviews he took to protect his parents.
Bartell — who did a much-lauded rescore for Scandinavian silent film Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages — would expose his friends to tons of movies and listen to soundtracks. Maiof says Bartell was really into Steven Segal films, but even so this experience left a mark on Maiof.
“I think Guy was very instrumental in my influence about what’s going on,” he says.
At one point, Maiof got involved with an online community of hard-to-find films and b-movies and score aficionados on website Cinemageddon, although he’d end up eventually getting the boot. Someone had shared his second album on the torrenting service, and he needed to get his “ratio” up, so he uploaded more of his own albums.
“They took them down, saying they’re not real soundtracks.” Maiof said. “I told them I wrote this one and it was fine. Then they banned me.”
“I understand why they did it, but I really wish I had my Cinemageddon account,” he said, laughing.
‘WHAT DO I DO NOW?’
Like any prolific artist who has years of music behind — and certainly in front — of him, Maiof’s sound has changed over time.
“I’ll confess, at the beginning it was really about pastiching some of these records that I liked,” he said.
As he went on, he started to think, Let’s say I’m Edgar Froese (of Tangerine Dream), and I have all of this technology in front of me. “What do I do now?”
“Do I make the same record over and over again — a bah-bah-bah-bah, slap on the side-chain (compression) and put it out?” He asks, referencing a stale practice in some circles of synthwave. “That for me is really boring; although it does make you want to lift weights and solve a crime.”
His quip made me think of The Cure, or perhaps more specifically frontman Robert Smith. The man is as adept at writing gothic fare that resides in the deepest depths of darkness as he is at writing upbeat pop numbers and horn-drive stuff to which to drink maitais, like “The 13th.”
“I think that’s the way it should be,” Maiof says. Essentially, people shouldn’t be boxed into one genre and should be able to create a diverse body of work, he says.
Certainly Maiof is thinking of mixing it up going forward, as I mentioned earlier when he was talking about his contemplations surrounding a live-band for the Maiovvi project and implementing more symphonic elements into his music. (Although, even now, his Abdullah score represents quite the change of scenery from his work 10 years ago.)
Now that he’s in The Netherlands — with a Bordello A Parigi position as a bonus to his artistic career and a way to fight the Continental rip-tide of Brexit — Maiof has an eye on seeing what he can do mixing “outside the box.” Mixing is a crucial step in the recording process that is also very personal.
“I’m not very happy with how things sound mixing in computer,” he says. “I don’t mind recording digitally. I just don’t want to be able to mix digitally anymore.”
A big problem with mixing digitally is that stuff sounds almost too perfect, he says. One way a mix can be personal is with gear that might be a little wonky.
“For me, I want to inject as much chaos into the production as possible,” Maiof says.
That starts out with using as much hardware as possible when writing and recording. He’s not a hardware purist, mind you — when he was starting out he used mostly soft synths, because the hardware he did have he might sell to pay the rent, he says — but he does honor what bizarre things an even mildly fucked-up piece of hardware can bring.
“When I’m using a piece of hardware, maybe the timing is not exact; maybe the polyphony doesn’t work quite the same,” he said. “Maybe the signal change gets dirty… maybe a little noisy… That bit of chaos is hard to recreate digitally.”
That leaves an analog mixing desk and analog outboard effects as the next horizon.
His opinion isn’t without evidence or precedent. Consider Tangerine Dream. Their 1979 album, Force Majeure, features a song called “Thru Metamorphic Rocks,” which Maiof says features a noteworthy sound created by a broken mixing desk.
As he settles into life in Holland, Maiof has a number of projects percolating to various degrees, including the aforementioned Cuckoo and the vinyl release of Thug.
Thug, which originally sold last fall as a limited-edition cassette, is extremely well done — the synth-driven work is often haunting and always creative. This particular album, recorded a few years ago, is a release I definitely look forward to in vinyl form.
But Cuckoo is also a standout, borne out of a bit of vexation.
“I was really frustrated that I wasn’t doing any film stuff, so I thought I’d make a fake soundtrack album as an experiment to do something else,” Maiof says. “So that’s what happened there — it felt like a fake slasher movie soundtrack like Maniac.”
With all of this music coming out of him, it made me wonder if Maiof has some compulsive need to create — maybe he has to write, record, and release to get the demons out? Not so.
“I’m very much the kind of person to wake up, have breakfast, have a cycle, switch the machines on and see what happens,” Maiof says. “I don’t necessarily think I’ve got music in my head that I have to get out. I’m very rewarded through making music. And I like experimenting — I like having an idea and seeing where it goes.”
Maiof emphasized during our interview that he favors releasing others’ work on Giallo Disco Records and not his own. To check out the latest releases from the likes of Neil Landstrumm, whose Roller Killer came out this month. There’s also the vinyl reissue of Unit Black Flight’s Evocations, which just came out in late April. There is a truckload more. Honestly, just listen to everything there, going back for years. It’s so good.
When Maiof met up for his interview, he had just completed a killer set for Tim Sweeney’s popular radio show, Beats in Space.
(Feature Photo by Tanja Drenhaus.)