I-Robot’s record collection is massive in both size and scope – he estimates it at 40,000 in our interview! As a record label owner, and a producer in his own right, his feverish acquisition of vinyl has been a portal into history and a gateway for establishing relationships with the artists that inspire him. The founder of Opilec Music has consorted with a list of legends across the spectrum: recording with Donna McGhee, remixing SF minimal synth pioneers Units & the Peter Brown-affiliated Ahzz, as well as lending his touch to A. Avenue’s “Golden Queen” and a number of other incredible Italo-Disco rarities. He’s constantly buying, selling and trading records to continue assembling what he calls “his life’s mission”, and has been disseminating his finds through reissues and DJing over the last few decades.
His mix for Digger’s Directory is a tribute to his residence at Turin’s Studiodue Club, which began in 1988 as the UK’s “Second Summer of Love” beget a new rave scene and brought house music to the fore. His mix draws exclusively from the new vanguard of British producers, including some of the earliest material from Leftfield and A Guy Called Gerald. It’s a great time capsule of a nascent scene that reshaped dance music across the UK and continental Europe. Read on as he recounts the era, as well as other formative experiences in music and record collecting.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I started my musical journey listening to the radio programs of the time, rather than taking inspiration from my family, to be honest. I remember Jean-Michel Jarre & Kraftwerk on radio rotation back in 1977 or 1978. Of course, school mates parties were an essential step where we could play music with our Hi-Fi sound systems. We were recording tracks from the radio in the beginning then started to buy our first records. I started with Italo Disco then developed a real love for the Cosmic Sound, listening to tapes from DJs like Claudio “Mozart” Rispoli and Daniele Baldelli.
A truly seminal experience for me was visiting the “Lido Flora”, a kind of disco/bar on the Roccella Ionica (Reggio Calabria) in the south of Italy, a little beach town where during the summer of the early 80s I accompanied my older cousins to listen to the music and dance. I was just 13 or 14 years old at that time; the selection was a mix of Italo disco, boogie disco and other international disco sounds. I remember the DJ was Pino Squillacioti and very talented. I would love to meet him one day if I got the chance; I’m not sure if he is still alive or still living there.
People buy records for multiple reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
You need your own collection if you really love music I think. Loving music means listening to your own selection and owning all of the tracks you could discover and like. I am still collecting records but I also sell and trade so I am always living with vinyl around me; buying record collections or old lost stocks.
There isn’t a specific reason that motivates me to continue digging after all these years, it’s just my lifestyle and my life’s mission I guess I would say.
Music is the culture that can lift you up and elevate your mind and soul.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I always store my records in my house; I live with 40,000 records and CDs as well.
You could imagine a messy house with records on the floor, in the hallway, on the kitchen table that I have to move when I have to eat and everywhere in the bedroom, in the studio and in the living room; do not forget the cupboards and closets which are empty of anything, except records!
My collection is divided into many sections: genres, nationality, labels, and mint or used. I also have a helpful garage that I use to store the record collections I buy/sell/trade.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
For me digging is a normal daily activity and has always been part of my journey. Because I buy, sell and trade records, I have my places on the markets every weekend.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores around the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Rock & Folk Dischi in Torino was my second home and they are responsible for much of my musical background. They had a large archive of rare grooves and all kinds of alternative records from rock to dance, year after year; the team (Franco Bertaccini, Miriam Escosse, Roberto Spallaci and Joe Costa) were amazing and always reserved great releases for me. It was always a great experience to choose from the vinyl selection that Gerardo Frisina brought from Milan every week. Luca Trevisi LTJ ran the Black Power record store in Bologna in the 90s; he was one of the most important Italian DJs but also a true rare groove collector so to go digging at his shop was always precious and essential.
I have to of course mention Gianfranco Dolci aka Ciso (rip) who ran Music Power in Vicenza. He was unique in the Italian hip-hop scene and was a DJ at Palladium disco in the city. He was a close friend of mine and has to take much credit for his sourcing of amazing records. Paolo De Lauretis (rip) @ Black Ground in Aosta was the pioneer of the Drum’n’Bass white labels and appeared always drunk at my parties then would come to sleep at my place so as not to drive back to his town.
Another pioneer of rare grooves made in Italy is Paolo Scotti for me he is the “Signor Rossi’ of digging for and finding collections to buy around Italy; you would always arrive too late after he bought everything! Gianni Zuffa at Disco Più in Rimini was the essential seller who introduced me to house music back in the second half of the 80s; I remember he suggested to me to buy West Phillips and J.M. Silk saying that house music could be the future worldwide sound, and he was right…
From the day I started digging I met a lot of great professional people and I would love to mention some shops and sellers including Soul Bowl King`s Lynn UK, Soul Union UK, Soul Brother UK, Black Power, Rock & Folk Torino IT., Mark Wimmers USA, Jazzman, DJ Friendly UK, Johnny @ Reckless London UK, Keiron B @ Atlas Records London UK, Claudio Bocca @ Ultrasuoni Torino IT., Mondo Musica Torino IT., James Lavelle @ Soul Jazz Records London UK, Tag Records London UK, Vinyl Junkies London UK, Killakuts Amsterdam, Andrea Benedetti @ Dischi E Dintorni Torino IT., Big love to Roberto “Roby Il Maestro” Tinè and Raffaele “JAF” Di Vietri (Art Music) who introduced me to the real “Funk” back in the day… I cannot forget Sergio Gambino @ La Colonna Sonora Torino IT. and Luciano Molinari my actual partners at the street markets and records fairs.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I regularly visit the flea markets on the weekend with Roberto “Roby Il Maestro” Tinè and together we go digging around Italy. We’ve been doing that since the early 80s. Of course, I also go digging alone every day so as not to share all the discovered treasures…. Lol 🙂
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I find it’s always a lovely experience to walk into a record shop and I can always find something since I am interested in many genres, styles and formats.
I am a serious collector of Krautrock, Space & Cosmic Music, Italo Disco, 70s/80s Disco, Soul Jazz, Soul Funk, Bossa Nova, Latin Jazz, Hip-Hop, Electro, Techno, House Music, Synth Wave, Minimal Synth, World, African, Brazilian Music and all sounds influenced and derived from those genres and styles…
I like to think, you should buy everything you like and do not lose the opportunity because you could regret it.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Artwork could drive you in the right direction while digging and after years of doing it the artwork can often help you understand the genre and the age of the production, so yes, the artwork has a big role in helping you during the diggin’, capturing your attention to a much deep investigation.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us? Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
With this mix, I wanted to celebrate the Studiodue Club where I was a resident DJ from 1988 to 1993.
The selection is a strictly UK selection from late 80’ to early 90s featuring deep & acid electronic; which after 30 years we look back on as the defining early era of House and Techno.
01 A Guy Called Gerald – Emotion Electric – Strange Fruit – 1989
02 A Guy Called Gerald – Rhythm Of Life – Rham Records – 1988
03 A Man Called Adam – Techno Powers – Acid Jazz – 1989
04 Coldcut Featuring Lisa Stanfield – People Old On (The Blaze Mix) – Ahead Of Our Time – 1989
05 T-Coy – Carino – de/Contruction Records – 1987
06 Rac – Return To Rio – Warp Records – 1996
07 Leftfield – Not Forgotten – Outer Rhythm – 1990
08 Bizarre Inc – Technological (Detroit Mix) – Blue Chip Recording – 1989
09 Jolly Roger – Acid Man – 10 Records – 1988
10 Charles B – Lack Of Love – Desire Records – 1988
11 808 State – Cubik (Olympic Euro Bass Mix) – ZTT Records – 1990
12 Mental Cube – Q/Q (Santa Monica Mix) – I-Robots Mash-Up – Debut – 1990/1991
13 Sweet Exorcist – Testfour/Testone – I-Robots Mash-Up – Warp Records – 1990
14 A Guy Called Gerald – Voodoo Ray/Voodoo Ray (Remix) – I-Robots Mash-Up – Rham Records – 1988/1989
15 Annette – Dream 17 – de/Contruction Records – 1988