Interview: Giuseppe Ottaviani

Nina Ristivojevic

October 4th, 2023

When considering the most dedicated producers and passionate artists, his name undoubtedly ranks at the forefront. Giuseppe Ottaviani’s journey as an artist was nurtured under the guidance of the legendary Paul van Dyk, but he carved his own path through sheer talent and a signature sound. Live performances by this pioneer of trance music have left an indelible mark on the genre. His two keyboards, a drum machine, and midi controllers continue to grace the stage in today’s music scene. What makes him truly unique is the joy he shows while providing every fan with a seamless experience. While Giuseppe enjoys performing on stage, he considers himself primarily a producer, as evidenced by his social media channels bursting with creativity - displaying candid glimpses into his studio adventures and playful experiments.

At the Luminosity Festival, I had the immense pleasure of catching up with this Italian trance DJ/Producer. Our conversation delved into his early musical challenges, his present-day artistic freedom to explore new “Horizons,” and his esteemed masterclass offerings. We also touched upon his explosive remix of Scooter’s “Hyper Hyper,” which made waves across music platforms. All these facets and a lot more you can discover by reading this interview.

From your early days studying classical music to your later discovery of electronic music, pianos, and keyboards have become integral to your musical journey. Not only do they adorn your studio, but they also accompany you during live performances. Why do these instruments play such a significant role in your life?

At the outset of my career, I got signed to Paul Van Dyke’s label, Vandit Records. During our meeting in his office, he said, “Look, the market is already saturated with DJs. If you’re aiming to make an impact, dare to tread in a distinct direction.” The situation took an amusing turn when he came across a few pictures on my website featuring me and my former partner, Andrea, performing live. And he continued: “You see, that’s what you want to do, right? The DJ scene is brimming, so do something different.” And thus, I embarked on this journey, shaping it into my signature style. The image of me on stage with a keyboard became my recognizable brand. This trend persisted from its inception until 2019. While I still incorporate it occasionally, I’ve scaled back to around 5 or 6 performances per year.

It’s intriguing how you brought up the saturation of the scene back then, but I believe that nowadays, making a significant impact and standing out has become even more challenging.

Absolutely. It’s almost like everyone, including my mom (laughs), has become a DJ now. But even during that earlier period, it seemed like everybody wanted to be a DJ. My career was practically built on the look of live keyboards on stage.

In 1999, your music industry journey began with the formation of the NU NRG project alongside DJs Andrea Ribeca and Giacomo Miccichè. You released tracks on PvD’s Vandit Records. However, in 2005, you decided to pursue a solo career. PvD had a profound influence on your career, shaping you as an artist. Can you recall the pivotal moment or the most significant encouragement you received from PvD or any other artist? This made you realize your potential to create a significant impact in the music world, as you ultimately did.

Well, during that period, my primary focus was on Paul since he was the one who discovered me. He stood as my greatest influence and idol. We simply followed his guidance and emulated his actions. To be honest, external influences didn’t have much impact, as it was all centered around Paul’s achievements. If I find myself in conversation with you at this very moment, I attribute it to Paul. Despite his consistent statement, “It’s because of you, you built your career,” the truth remains that he initiated it – he was the spark that set things in motion, and I naturally continued on the journey. I firmly believe in the concept of a fortunate moment. A person who introduces you to the industry acts as your lucky connection. Various factors come into play. Even though my career is a product of my efforts, I’ll forever hold onto memories of those initial days and years.

“With great power comes great responsibility” is a memorable part of one of my favorite “retouches” from you in 2022. But do you agree with this statement? Does it imply that as you become more prominent, appreciated, and loved, there is an increased need for dedication to maintaining your position, ensuring that your music, performance, and overall behavior never disappoint anyone?

I hold this perspective because I observe social media influencers with millions of followers. The younger generation truly holds the future and plays a significant role as influencers. With influence comes responsibility, and the greater your following, the more responsible you are for spreading positivity. This applies to music as well. Music transfers a lot of emotion, and lots of energy to others, and this energy can be either positive or negative. It really depends on what you’re doing, how you present yourself, how you act, and what you say. People from outside the industry don’t know how business works. So, if you do things just to look crazy, you fool people because that’s not reality. You should always remain genuine and authentic. You don’t need to pretend to be someone else even if it means receiving fewer likes on social media. If you ask me you should be a guide for others. You need to take care of everything. You aim to avoid letting others down, but you also strive to be true. I don’t impose it – I merely strive to be myself, and it’s quite effortless, honestly.

The album “Horizons” is undoubtedly a product of your willingness to explore other genres, styles, and artists not necessarily connected to trance. It seems that this exploration has become an ongoing journey for you. After some time has passed, how do you believe your fans have embraced this change?

I believe even my most devoted fans, those who cherish my old sound, are able to appreciate my current direction. They continue to follow me. It’s not a matter of abandoning one thing to embrace something entirely new. Instead, I have a desire to broaden my horizons, which is why this name for the album was chosen. I enjoy experimenting with various elements. Tonight, for instance, I introduced something unexpected to my set, something that might surprise people. That’s what I find exhilarating. The reactions can be like, “What’s happening?” But I love it. It’s different. Towards the end of my set, naturally, I incorporate my signature sound as a nod to my origins. While there will always be individuals who long for the past, it’s crucial to remember that those days were nearly two decades ago. I mean, come on mate, we’re in 2023 now; times have changed, including the landscape of productions and music itself.

Numbers say it all if you ask me. 12 million streams and counting! WoW!

Yeah, good number. For my kind of music, it’s an excellent figure.

Speaking of growing bigger, do you believe that an artist should constantly seek, experiment, and listen to various types of music to continually evolve musically?

I believe that the progression of music involves artists drawing inspiration from their peers and diverse genres. They integrate these influences into their own creations, birthing something entirely unique. Over time, these innovative creations become the wellspring of inspiration for new artists, forming an expanding cycle. I don’t want to be stuck in the past. I’m constantly looking to the future and always looking to deliver something fresh, which is a current link to the past because that’s who I am. Keeping an eye on the future and looking for the perfect blend is my aim. I can’t repeat myself again.

We’re well aware of the hype surrounding the so-called melodic techno genre in the past few years, and it’s evident that there is a significant connection to original trance music. As we discussed earlier, you’ve experimented with melodic techno, peak time techno, and progressive house, among others.

I can tell you this: in 2011, 2012, the EDM revolution blew up. That wasn’t interesting to me. In my mind, I didn’t like this sound. I just kept doing what I was doing. The pandemic was a big reset for everybody, and I’m suddenly able to genuinely appreciate a wide range of offerings on the market. I love techno and progressive house. There is an array of genres and subgenres - label them as you wish but there isn’t a single genre that I don’t enjoy. Naturally, I’m broadening my musical horizons because I love it. That’s the point.

But how do you envision the music landscape evolving in the next 5 years?

To be honest, I’ve never really looked too far ahead. What I can say about my approach to music, my career, and my identity is that I believe the best is yet to come. Although it’s been over 20 years in the industry, I feel as if I’ve just begun. Every time I step onto the stage, I’m filled with the same emotions and energy I felt on day one. This continuous enthusiasm propels me to push boundaries and explore new territories. The future remains uncertain, given how rapidly technology evolves – I can’t even envision what the iPhone 20 might look like. However, I’m committed to advancing my sound and enhancing my skills. There’s always more to learn, and with technological advancements and diverse approaches from fellow artists, I find constant inspiration. Learning from my surroundings and fine-tuning my sound is a perpetual journey for me.

What kind of sound do you think will become trendy and commercial, and what will remain underground?

Honestly, it’s a bit hard to predict because nowadays, you can blend various styles into a two-hour set. For example, during my headline performances at clubs, I often start with progressive music around 124 BPM. Then, I gradually transition to more melodic techno at 126 to 128 BPM. Afterward, I delve into what I love, which is The Future Rave – it has that trance-like quality to me. I intensify the energy a bit more from there. I then venture into mainstage techno territory, reminiscent of what artists like Hardwell and Revealed are known for. Finally, as I approach the end, I weave into the realm of uplifting trance. The funny thing is that in two or three hours you can fit all the sounds together. They actually fit because they have one common base, which is melody. And that’s the main thing that drives me into all these other genres. So, what would be cool in the next five years? No one knows.

Could you share any upcoming projects or artists that have inspired you lately?

Last year, I tuned in to the Ultra Music Festival, marking Hardwell’s return, and I thought, “Hold on, this is fantastic, truly exceptional.” His set captivated me. What struck me was his fusion of melodies in the breakdowns with techno-infused kick drums in the drops. And I love it! In fact, I’m not sure if I can share this, but I’ll have a release on that label soon. Speaking of the progressive side, during the pandemic, dance floors fell silent, and high-BPM music took a backseat. We were confined to our homes or tuned in while on the road. The lower BPM range resonated deeply with me. So I came across people like Ben Böhmer. I didn’t know anything about him before and I’m a huge fan now. My exploration led me to discover names like Artbat, Camelphat, and Boris Brejcha. As everyone transitioned to streaming from their homes or picturesque locations on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, I seized the opportunity to showcase this style. I fell in love with it, which is why I crafted an album titled “Horizons.” It’s my interpretation of that genre infused with my distinct style.

Your social media presence is quite active. It’s evident that you spend a lot of time in your studio, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of a musical playground. You share snippets of your unreleased remixes/reworks of evergreen and legendary tracks, teasing your followers. It’s clear that these surprise live plays generate excitement and are well-received. This also happened with the remix of Scooter’s “Hyper Hyper” before it was released a few weeks ago and now we cannot stop playing it! :D Where does this constant inspiration come from?

You know, for about a year and a half now, I’ve been engaged in reworking tracks from the nineties. It started simply because, once again, I found myself confined to the studio with not much else to do. I thought, why not have some fun? I gathered up all these nineties tunes that I used to spin on vinyl back when I was just 14, performing in local clubs. The idea was to infuse them with a modern twist for 2023. I’ve been experimenting with various projects, and unexpectedly, “Hyper Hyper” caught fire and went viral. So the Scooter guys reached out to me and said: “Hey, we love this. Let’s release it.” And after some thought, I agreed. I didn’t plan for this to be released, since I do many bootlegs for my shows to make it unique. I usually keep my work to myself, but their enthusiasm persuaded me otherwise. So we went ahead and turned it into not just a remix, but a collaboration. I only retained a few vocal parts from the original track and then reconstructed everything else from scratch. Through this process, we collectively decided that this fresh style would be a great fit for 2023 – and it turned out to be true. And it happened. The fact that I do a lot of stuff in the studio is because that is my playground, as you said. I like to teach people and I like to play something and then eventually when people hear it on the dance floor they get crazy: “Oh I heard this on your Instagram on Thursday and now you’re playing it!” So they love discovering new things on my social media.

Speaking of 1999, when I first heard that you were remixing my all-time favorite track, Rank 1’s “Airwave,” I have to admit, I was scared. Remixing such a legendary track is no easy task, and I tend to be quite critical when it comes to these things. However, at that moment, I reassured myself by saying, “Hey, it’s Giuseppe we’re talking about. There’s no way it can turn out wrong.” And, of course, it didn’t! I’m curious, do you ever question whether you should take on a remix or if you have what it takes to do it properly? Or are you always confident that you will absolutely nail it?

If I don’t get the right idea or feel it, I decline the remix request because if you want to do something, I wanna do it right. Rank 1 - Airwave posed a unique challenge since it stood apart from the rest. It was a challenge for me because I’m a big fan of the original. When you do a remix you think you can make it better. That’s the point of a remix. So, how can you improve that? Well, if you cannot improve it, make a difference. People know my sound. They expected a certain type of sound and I was like: “No, no, no, let’s go the opposite way.” So, I just wanted to do something that people didn’t expect. I broke down the BPM, I used a different lead for various sounds, and different productions and I came out with this remix which really works. Also, I couldn’t really decide if I liked the vocal version or the non-vocal one more. As you know, “Breathing” is essentially the radio version of “Airwave.” So, I decided to do both and release both versions.

Your live shows are your trademark. At 2.0, the focus was on creating original music while performing, while at 3.0, it is all about performing. Is this your way of expressing the freedom you would like to have on stage, both with your music and the equipment you use? How much time do you actually spend preparing these kinds of sets?

3.0 requires a lot of time because every show has 90% new music and that music has to be crafted from scratch. So that means I have to work in the studio a lot. I need to prepare an hour-long show in about 20 days. 2.0 was more about creating ideas and demos on stage. With 3.0 I just decided to give people a different show every time. So you always need to prepare something in the studio before the show, followed by the actual performance, which is comparatively the easiest part. But the thing is that I like to bring keyboards to the stage because that’s how my career was born. I really love putting my hands on some hardware. DJing is cool but it can be boring. Technology is so advanced that you don’t always need to focus on beat matching – track transitions can be quite straightforward. Unless you’re a hip-hop DJ who engages in mash-ups and scratching.

And I really like to bring some excitement onstage. That’s why I have 3.0 which has two keyboards, a drum machine, and a bunch of midi controllers too, to keep myself entertained. Things can go wrong because technology, of course, is great, but not flawless. Computers crash. Cables can be damaged, anything can happen. But that gives me adrenaline. I like the challenge. So when I finish a set and people ask me: “How was it?” I don’t know. I am happy that everything worked out well.

Last year at Luminosity this 3.0 concept was part of your show and we remember it as one of the finest sets of 2022. This year, you decided to take a different approach.

You don’t want to repeat yourself too often. I remember last year it was raining and having all that gear was a nightmare. So this year I decided to go easy. I played some Horizon tracks. But it was not a Horizon set, a progressive set. I also featured tracks by other artists that I admire, like Artbat, whom I previously mentioned. I have a real fascination with their work. And I like playing different gigs with different vibes, for diverse crowds.

Your master classes have garnered a reputation as some of the most effective in the industry, praised by your colleagues and those who have attended. Is this your way of sharing your love and knowledge of music, and expressing how you want everyone to feel about music?

Well, the reason I made the master class is because I used to stream my studio on YouTube, me working on something, making music. And then people asked me: “Why don’t you tell us more, why don’t you show us how you do it?” So the idea of creating a master class was not just to make a tutorial, but simply to show people the way I do it, which can be right or wrong. But it’s my way. So fans or people who love my productions and their sound were interested in seeing how I do it now. Filming and putting it on a website took me and my entire team six months.

And what can people expect to gain from attending these classes?

It’s around 12 hours of video content. And after watching those 12 hours you get into my studio to see everything I do. I don’t pretend to teach them what to do because I’m not a teacher. I’m not pretending to teach my way because most probably it’s not going to work for you, but it works for me. So people who are curious to see what’s occurring in my studio, in detail, can “jump in” to the studio and watch everything I do. No secrets, nothing to hide. And all my methods and ideas inspire many. So even professionals who took those master classes were like: “I never thought about using this tool, this specific tool in this way.” And people are still coming to the master class even if I’m not updating it anymore because I used to release new videos every two months. I have no time now.

Then there is GO label, one of the biggest in the world of trance. Is this project among your proudest achievements, and what contributed to its significant growth?

GO music was born as a label because of my radio show initially. I was trying to meet new people. Someone discovered me and put me in business. With that background, it has become my mission to pay it forward – to uncover fresh talents and offer them a platform in the industry.

But is it primarily about the talented artists who sign with the label or the exceptional music you curate?

In my search for amazing productions, I was not looking for big names. I was always looking for those coming from unknown producers who created amazing work. And that was the main idea behind Go On Air and now GO Music. Unfortunately, right now I cannot take full care of the music. I’m taking a break, since February I’m not accepting any demos. The thing is if I don’t have time to select the music and give it the right attention, there is no point in releasing it just for the sake of releasing it. I will reevaluate this next year and see how things go.

What exciting creations and collaborations can we expect to happen in Giuseppe’s music lab in the near future?

Well, there are a lot of different music styles for sure. I think Scooter was one of the biggest surprises this year. And yes, there are more surprises in store. But if I told you, it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise! (Chuckles). The next collaboration is with Ilan Bluestone. I even played it tonight as the first track. Then I made another collaboration with the duo Alex Sonata and The Rio, Anjunabeats artists. I’ve played their sounds a lot. So, we made a track called “Tears of the Kingdom”, which we’re releasing on Anjuna in September, and the fun fact is this is also part of a video game. I have some new tracks coming out on Revealed Recordings, Hardwell’s Label. Furthermore, an upcoming remix is also in the pipeline. Currently, my schedule is jam-packed until November. Right now, I feel the need for freedom after spending two years on an album. I’m a producer more than a DJ so this is my chance to be a producer and do what the hell I want.(Laughs)

You are actually an excellent example of hyperproduction. The popularity of releasing tracks almost every week was largely due to Spotify. To be honest it seems we are missing a lot of quality over there. But your production is amazing.

But as I said before and this also applies to the label, I don’t release just for the sake of releasing something. I like what I’m doing. Music is also my favorite hobby. Every creation is fueled by passion and genuine enjoyment that stems from the process itself.