Do not be fooled by the family name, Marco Bernardi is most definitely a Glaswegian through and through
A charismatic figure for whom music (and astrophysics) run in the family blood. The son of an Italian Musician and a Scottish Dancer, he began his musical odyssey aged fifteen when he toured the Glasgow pub and club circuit playing keyboards in cover bands. Although it is rumoured he flirted with a brief career with the Scottish diving team, thankfully he left his Speedos on the peg and chose a life of electronic indulgence after a classmate introduced him to the futuristic funk of techno and electro. From there on in, Marco realised he had found the sound and scene he had been searching for. During the same era, he landed a job working in the hi-tech department of Sound Control, a Glasgow music store and began building an unrivalled collection of studio gear: gaining the engineering know-how to bring the sounds in his head to life. Deeply influenced by the likes of Autechre, Black Dog and B12, the emotive nature of his work continues to reflect his love of the early soundscapes laid down by UK techno’s forefathers. Recognised as a forward thinking futurist amongst electronic producers around the globe, his releases for Clone, Planet E, Frustrated Funk and Crème have also displayed a depth and mastery of his machines. From delicate electronica to razor-sharp electro via the purest class of Detroit techno, Marco’s productions are superbly crafted and have a radiance that set them apart from many others – so much so he has recently landed releases for Mathematics and Berceuse Heroique.
After a few ciders and a bit of banter on a hot summer night, Marco kindly declared he would answer some of our questions as long as we kept on topic and left his cerebral antics out of the equation:
Tell us about your family background – you grew up in quite an artistic family right?
“Well, I’m Half Italian, half Scottish … I couldn’t tell you which half is better mind! My father is from Piombino in Tuscany and was both a well respected professional musician and actor in his time. He used to tour around a lot with his band, The Roberto Bernardi Quartet. It’s how he met my mum who was also a Professional Theatre dancer when he came to Glasgow around 1971. They met and he stuck around and the rest is history really.”
How did you first get into playing in bands?
“I’m mostly self-taught really, my Dad owned a restaurant just outside Glasgow and I remember him having this shitty Casio Keyboard thing lying around the place which was used to entertain guests. I just tried my hand at playing the odd tune here and there (usually the theme from the Godfather or Spanish eyes) and before I knew, I grew in confidence. It’s not like I ever really had any formal lessons – it was just a case of trying and practising until I could play along to provide background music for the customers in the restuarant. By the time I was 16/17, I met a whole bunch of older dudes who played in cover/wedding bands and got involved with doing that shit for a good few years. For a period of 5-6 years, a whole avenue opened up for me. It was definitely the correct step as it made me realise I didn’t want to do it as a career! My parents were very supportive and by the time I hit my early 20s, I had evolved into playing in a quirky synth-pop band called Summersalt, fronted by a very good friend. We were so set on trying to make it at that point. Alas, things didn’t work out…. Usual.”
Where did your crossover into electronic music begin?
“I guess 89/90/91 Acid house, UR, Redplanet etc. etc. etc. a whole changeover period happened for me. 69 – a basement of a Curry House in Paisley just outside Glasgow run by the Glasgow music mentor Martin McKay (Rub-A-Dub) had a party going on each and EVERY sat. Just one of those places you had to experience in all honesty. Me and my best mate Browny would make the weekly jaunt down, there was no promo, no internet, no hype, no lights, stinkin toilets – just a bit of grapevine chat telling you that someone pretty decent may be playing that night. I mean, there were times we would turn up to this little tiny 90 capacity hole and the likes of Mad Mike, Jeff Mills, Robert Hood and many many more ridiculous names were standing there behind this little bit of minging army netting . Pretty fuckin special tbh!”
How did your first releases see the light of day?
“My first record was on a Glasgow label called UTC written by myself and very good mate of mine Martyn Henderson (Mash) it had a Claude Young mix on it as he was living in Glasgow at the time. It saw the light of day thanks to Glasgow Underground bossman Kevin McKay, we were mates and what with the rise of Mylo, I thought I’d give the pop side of house things a go but my music never quite came out in the right mold… ‘still too dark Marco still too weird’ Kevin used to say. However, a few of my tracks really caught his ear and he passed them onto Mark @ Under The Counter, which led me to my first EP that was dutifully remixed. I then got picked up by the sadly defunct Emoticon Records, formerly owned and run by Tom Churchill.”
‘Still too dark Marco, still too weird’ Kevin used to say.
You quickly progressed into collecting synths and drum machines, are there any particular favourites you miss looking back?
“I miss every synth and drum machine I have sold. In the past, I was a huge collector similar to Mr Wolfers around the end of the 90s. It got to a point where I had a hell of a lot of synths and drum machines filling up my loft, however as per the usual story, when you’re skint – you need to sell things with the intent to buy them back one day… bad move really. I have managed to source some back but not all.”
You’ve built up quite a collection of kit over the years, have you ever thought it might be getting out of hand?
“No – not now! When I worked in Sound Control in that era above it became quite ridiculous but now I own only what I use. My current go to synths are the Virus TI, a, Nord II rack and a Juno 60. Basically, my living room is a whole studio so my family now have to live in the kitchen! Hold on, so yeah – maybe it is getting out of hand.”
“Without a doubt, getting signed to Soma was the moment I was able to quit my day job and got my name known. After all, if you grew up in Glasgow and then got signed to such a big label from your hometown, it’s a pretty special thing. My two albums as Octogen along with Switches, Drawers & Washing Machines for Frustrated Funk are real proud moments for me as well as being up there as my strongest and personal favourite pieces of work to date.
What’s been your scariest and funniest experience playing live?
“The scariest experience is always going to be Berghain. No matter how much you think it will be fine on the day, your stomach always churns as you just know it has to be right in there. As for the strangest, actually a recent event in London really took the biscuit. My mate runs the production for www.secretcinema.org I played an Empire Strikes Back Storm Trooper party: dressed as a Rebel X alliance fighter, in the Death Star Night Club. Kudos to all involved, I wouldn’t say I was a massive Star Wars geek but hey, it was pretty out there and great fun to do.”
It’s rumoured you also have a bit of a swimming trunk thing going on too is that related to your time in the pool as youngster?
“Sort of – it came about when I was raver. The boiler suits just got that bit too much in the heat of the moment so I’d just kind of strip down to the point where skin-tight red speedos ended up being a bit of trademark, tried wearing flippers and a snorkel also but was really hard to dance in that shit.”
You have a long running connection with Clone, how did you guys link up?
“I met my musical soulmate and right hand man Klen many years ago thanks to Jason at Rub-A-Dub. He used to regularly stock all Clone music for the shop and passed Klen some of my tracks and put me in touch. Klen signed me to Frustrated funk over 14 years ago now. We speak on a daily basis and he is a fucking absolute diamond. We lead very similar family lives, we moan about the same things and we have exactly the same specific music hates and loves. He helps me design, A&R and distribute my Take the Elevator label. In many respects, I owe my whole career to that man and wouldn’t be where I am today without his support. I mean, the fact his moto is ‘there’s too much drama in life’ – kind of says it all to me. He’s amazing!!!”
You’re living in Bristol these days and set up your own equipment shop [Elevator Sound]. What made you decide to take this on as a project?
“Fuck knows! It may well have been the stupidest idea ever but as Jason (Brunton) and I worked in Sound Control, when my running of Timbuk2 and Empire Theatre night club came to an end – I was keen to embark on something new and had been speaking to Chris in Idlehands about maybe selling equipment through his shop. It made sense to just go full pelt and I applied for funding last year – the rest is history. I have to give a massive shout to everyone who has supported me so far. We’ve just celebrated our 1st anniversary so things are definitely moving in the right direction.”
‘Fuck knows! It may well have been the stupidest idea ever…’
What’s been the highlights so far?
“The highlight has definitely been our My Machines event we did in March with Novation, plus of course Egyptian lover coming in and jamming some electro on the store machines. I’ve recently had Adrian Utley from Portishead, Gerd Janson,and Ghost Poet drop in too. It’s great being right at the hub of Bristol’s cultural quarter and forming part of a crew, dedicated to bringing people specialised vinyl and machines. We’ve also been modding synths for a few select people but I can’t really say any more about it.”
With the revival of analogue gear and the whole modular movement coming to life, has there been anything in particular that has really captured your imagination?
“Definitely the Eurorack world but it’s a fucking minefield of an area to get your head around. That’s why I employ James!”
You’ve just released a record on Jamal Moss’ label Mathematics, how did you guys link up?
“It’s not really been much of a big story – I’d been sending him material to check out for some time now as he is part of my label send out list, Labels don’t get back unless they hear something they want… he eventually replied to a send out… signed 4 tracks, released, done.”
And finally, do you want to enlighten us about what you’ve got coming next?
“I’ve got a few things about to hit the streets in the next few months – a special limited hand painted release for Brokntoys, a killer electro label from London. I am hugely impressed with how these guys are doing things. Keep your eyes on this label there fuckin wicked! Along with that, I’ve also got some pretty special things lined up for Berceuse Heroique 12: 1 EP with a Specter remix and then a full EP coming down the line. There’s also new MOS, Frustrated funk and Bio Rhythm tracks signed which are due at the end of this year, and start of next.”