With a new single just out on his own Fine Human, we catch up with the Italian master and find him still on 'Fire' after nearly 30 years in the game…
His name may not quite be up there in the public consciousness with the likes of Sasha, Goldie or Carl Cox, but just like them, Dino Lenny is a DJ/producer whose career dates back to the earliest days of the (European) house and techno scene. A man who turned up at the start of the rave and still hasn't gone home.
His first record, Cocaine, came out on the legendary Flying Records in 1991. His latest, Fire, dropped on Friday (5 July) on his own Fine Human label. In-between times he's racked up a huge discography, much of it on highly respected labels such as Yoshitoshi, Azuli, Spinnin' and Darkroom Dubs, that over the years has embraced house, techno, electro, progressive house, ambient trance (no, really – see B.O.D's No More Mind Games from 1994) and more besides.
So what makes him tick after all these years, how does he feel about working with today's studio whizz-kids and – with his 50th birthday just a few months off – what have been some of the key things he's learned over the course of his long career in music? Funny you should ask, because those are some of the very questions we asked him…
Hi Dino! The last time you and I spoke was in 2003, about More Lemonade by Bucci Bag. I still play the Scissor Sisters mix of that today, so that’d be my favourite Dino Lenny record – what's yours?
"Ha, always the next one, I guess! But if I have to pick a couple, I would mention from that same period I Feel Stereo. It was quite a different record. This Is A Love Song, released two years ago via Ellum Audio, is another favourite. I like to define it as modern electronic punk, and I'm very proud of it."
You've covered a wide range of styles over the years, from straight-up house and techno in various shades to more pop/indie-leaning productions. So how you describe the music you're making right now?
"Adventurous, loud electronic music, and quite often with my vocals sprinkled on the top. Just to make it even more difficult for people to play!"
You've also worked with a wide range of non-dance artists, including heavy-hitters like Madonna and Wu Tang Clan. How have those experiences shaped your work within dance music, or do you approach the two as separate things?
"I like to write songs that have a strong idea, if you have a healthy solid root you can shape a tree in different ways. He he, don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing music to gardening, but if you have a clear vision you can go in any direction you like as long as it’s interesting and original."
Within dance music, you've worked with a lot of today's big names – people like Maceo Plex and Seth Troxler, who are a decade younger than you. Does that affect the dynamic in any way (eg, can you teach each other different skills, or bring different approaches to the table?) or does it not matter, do you think?
"These youngsters do well without any advice from me, they know their stuff! When you reach such a status and have a strong vison, keeping eyes and ears open is more than enough. I do things my way, after 30 years I still like what I do.
"Some things don’t need to be suggested anymore, we are like sponges that filter the good and eliminate what isn’t necessary. We have quite seen it all, nothing really impresses me any more, but when something different happens it’s always exciting and it gets noticed. For me, having a healthy lifestyle is fundamental and increases the attention."
Are there any other contemporary artists you’d particularly like to work with?
"There are many, though not necessarily in dance. But if I have to drop a name from the dance scene I’d say KiNK is probably one of the most complete guys out there, and I wish him to do even better.
"Collaborations happen all the time, but I prefer artists that aren’t too close to the electronic scene. When I want to work with someone, I usually sample them first and most of the times we end up collaborating. Of course, some stuff is too good to touch!"
When you first emerged in the late 80s/early 90s, Italian house was absolutely huge worldwide. Nowadays, the country seems better known for techno. Do you still get back to Italy much and if so, does that reflect the clubs there now or is the Italian house scene still going strong?
"I’m always in and out. There is a big Italian electronic movement and loads of great talented producers and DJs, but I wish the clubbing scene in terms of events etc was as good.
"Techno, house, indie, Italo, we do it all… what’s important is to take it to the next level. I’d like Italian producers to evolve and develop their sound more, and try to go somewhere better and not do the same thing over and over. Some do it, others prefer to stay in the safe zone. But that’s just my take. I easily get bored!"
Do you keep in touch with many/any of the other Italian house producers from back in those days?
"Nah they are all dead. Ha ha, just joking! Yeah, sometimes… but we are all busy doing our thing."
By my reckoning, by 2021 you'll have been making records for 30 years! So, in all that time… what was the worst mistake you ever made, what was your most genius move, and what's the most important thing you've learned?
"Thanks for the reminder, I feel much younger now, ha ha!
"There have been many mistakes over the years, and a few good moves. I have learned that I must trust my instinct and keep on doing things my way. I find a lot of successful producers quite boring – I’d rather be less successful and less predictable. I’m sure other people probably think that some of my music has too much going on, but I’ll take that you can’t please everybody.
"My only mission is to entertain myself and create something that in 20 years will still sound different and interesting. I Feel Stereo and Bucci Bag are two examples of that, I think."
You've run a few record labels in your time: Age One, Frenetica and no doubt some I don't know about! And now there's Fine Human, so tell us a bit about the label…
"Things move fast these days: everything needs to be done faster easier and in the most convenient way. They say that the future can't wait, and technology doesn't like to look back, but somehow in this process we have lost a key factor. I call it the human factor. Not everything needs to fit in a pigeonhole!
"I still like a vocal on a groove and a musician playing on a drum loop. I know it's strange, but sometimes I also like DJs that mix slightly out of tempo but then put it back in time. All this gives me the feeling that there is human being behind an emotion. I would rather have an imperfect, unique experience rather than a precise, emotionless, never-ending loop. That's why I want our music to sound like it's made by genuine human intuition.
"That's pretty much Fine Human's philosophy. I still haven’t made or scheduled a new Fine Human record, we like to just bake and release. I like it fresh."
Finally, what else is going on in Dino Lenny's world right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I’m in a good place. I’m doing what I love, and my daughter Victoria has given me so much energy and enthusiasm. I owe a lot to music: it has pretty much saved my life, so I want to give something back, trying to create something that stays in time.
"These are very exciting days for me, I’m a lucky man. Thanks for the questions!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Fire is out now on Fine Human – buy it here