NOCUI on EDM & Anomie: “I sometimes feel guilty making dance music"

NOCUI is a Rome-born, Berlin-based electronic music composer and producer on a rapid rise since relocating to Germany in 2020. He’s just released his incredible single Pasión, which features guitar and Middle Eastern elements. NOCUI chats to Headliner about why he doesn’t make his dance music with nightclubs in mind, why he loves using analogue instruments, and his newly released EP Anomie.

NOCUI is home in Italy visiting friends and family, but regarding his relocation to Berlin almost two years ago, he says, “Berlin is educating my ear to electronic music a lot. The scene is just overwhelming over there. There are so many amazing artists and great opportunities for new ideas. It's very stimulating to be in that city.”

It’s not surprising to hear an electronic artist like NOCUI speak so glowingly of the German capital and it being one of the world’s premier destinations for the electronic music scene. 

Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, abandoned bunkers, power plants and factories in the east of the city were filled with the sounds of techno, as both East and West Germans revelled in their new freedom. His early music-making days in Rome, however, were very different.

“I started out playing classical piano and later jazz,” he says. 

“But we had a family friend who was a DJ, and we went to his place a few times and I would ask him so many questions about his record collection, his CDJs. I was so curious. And a little later, I bought an MPC as my first piece of equipment, and started having fun with Ableton.”

I love dance music, but the hedonistic aspect doesn’t appeal to me.

NOCUI is a fascinating character in the world of dance music — while he’s deeply passionate about the genre and is making such a valuable and unique contribution to it, he isn’t a fan of some of its hallmark characteristics, albeit stereotyped. To put it simply, don’t expect to see him drunk in a nightclub at 2am — clubbing and its associated hedonism is not his bag.

“I will be honest with you,” he says. “I sometimes feel a bit guilty making dance music, because I feel like I’m contributing to something I’m not necessarily fond of. I love dance music, but the hedonistic aspect doesn’t appeal to me. 

"Often people don’t go to clubs to listen to music, but for other reasons, and the music is overseen. For me, it should be a place where creativity and exploration are taken more seriously. But I do think the electronic music scene is moving into a more articulate space.”

Something that was very formative of NOCUI’s view of nightclubs was formed when he began DJing at the clubs of Rome at the tender age of 17. He was keen to put his personal stamp on this endeavour, to put it mildly.

I have a terrible personality because if someone tells me to do something, I do the exact opposite.

“I have a terrible personality because if someone tells me to do something, I do the exact opposite. I would arrive at these clubs and the promoters would tell me what a great opportunity I was getting because I was basically a child playing for much older people, 26-30 years old. 

"They would tell me which genres to play and that it had to be 130 BPM music because that was what worked. So I would categorically go to the club and play 60 BPM music, and the people in the club would enjoy it! But the promoters were so pissed off that any kind of professional relationship totally disappeared.”

Next up was studying neuroscience in Boston, Massachusetts. “I wasn’t ready to treat music as a job or business yet — my family had always pressured me to do business, and I wanted to do music, and I was also scared of not having other options.”

His dedication remained though, he spent virtually all of his free time jamming and performing with the (many) jazz music students in one of the USA’s most famous music cities. Upon graduating, he spent most of the pandemic in Italy before he made his pivotal move to Berlin.

I sometimes feel a bit guilty making dance music, because I feel like I’m contributing to something I’m not necessarily fond of.

NOCUI has just dropped his new EP Anomie. This new music was initially announced with its blistering lead single, Pasión. As its four-to-the-floor kick pounds the song forward, it evolves and shape shifts in a way very few dance tracks do. 

Sultry piano chords gradually begin to team up with Latin and Middle Eastern elements, as the synth parts carefully reach a brilliant crescendo. Pair this with interspersed spoken word from the man himself, and the result is a piece that easily achieves its aim of merely encouraging people to put their hands in the air in a nightclub setting.

NOCUI had been listening to a lot of Latin and Middle Eastern music, and a lot of acoustic music recently. “It all leaked into my production. I started the track on my drum machine, and eventually found the rhythmic element that drives it forward. But there are a lot of uncommon instruments in it; the Middle Eastern sounding instrument is me playing my Continuum Fingerboard, which is a very expressive synthesiser with a sound engine of its own and a complex synthesis software that comes with it. It's my favourite synthesiser. It closes the gap between acoustic music and electronic music because it's so expressive, and there is no latency between the ideas and the movement.”

But don’t stop at Pasión, the entirety of the Anomie EP demands a listen. Opener As Long As It Takes announces the EP’s arrival with pounding bass and chords filtering in and out.

The deep house stylings of Paradiso make it seem the most club-worthy on a first fleeting listen, but delving deeper are neoclassical-esque strings and hints of choir. The penultimate You’re My Strength combines a deep and soul-shaking bass with delicate piano and pads, further Middle Eastern influences and spoken word.

It all amounts to ensuring NOCUI is a name to remember in 2023 in the electronic music scene and beyond.

“This year will be packed with shows, as well as with my label imprint, Shapeless Culture. We’ll be organising exhibitions and events. I have four EPs and an album coming up; it’s going to be a crazy year! It’s a mixture of dance, house, ambient and pop, which I’ll be singing on. This is just the beginning.”