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Deborah De Luca: "I worked solo for 11 years. I needed to prove myself on my own”

Deborah De Luca discusses her new album, the COVID crisis and growing up in Naples' infamous Gomorrah housing estate

  • Interview: Nick Decosmo
  • 26 August 2020

With a brand new album 'She Sleeps' just released and after a huge Mixmag stream from Le Vele, Scampia, the iconic Naples housing development that features in the TV and film crime dramas Gomorrah (and where she also grew up), Italian techno star Deborah De Luca talks to Mixmag about her music, inspiration, COVID-19 and what life was like on that iconic estate.

You recently did an amazing stream with Mixmag from the Le Vele in Scampia, the housing development that features in the crime dramas Gomorrah – where you also grew up. How did the stream come about?

The neighbourhood where I was born is "famous" in a negative way, precisely because it is connected to the Gomorrah series. Part of the reason for me doing the stream there was because I wanted to show the world that it is no longer that reality. As I was setting up the equipment to record the livestream, many residents from the "sails" supported and helped me, even physically carrying the equipment for over ten floors! There were so many people who wanted to help which was amazing.

The stream has now been watched by over 5 million people in just a few weeks and still growing. Where you surprised at how successful it was?

I was very surprised and very happy! To be honest I am always surprised by my achievements and I don’t think I will ever truly get used to success. Maybe this is a good thing though, as it serves to keep my feet on the ground and to enjoy every step. I think the success of the live stream is linked to two factors: the place and the music. There was nothing else! No sponsors, no crowd, nothing to distract me from the set, and the music was within everyone’s reach — even those who don’t go to nightclubs.

How was it growing up in Scampia?

I lived in Scampia until elementary school, then my parents moved to the north to look for a job, and we spent four months in the south during the holidays. I then returned to live in Naples 15 years ago when I was in my mid twenties. I must say that when you are very young you experience spaces and difficulties in a more "light” way. I often remember hearing stories about thefts, accidents, even deaths, and I had normalized them. But I never felt that my life was danger, ever. Today Scampia is no longer characterized by these things, and it hasn’t been for for a couple of decades.

Read this next: Italian Pride: We met the new school of Italo Disco in Naples

How important was music / DJ culture in Scampia /Le Vele?

I have never understood what is meant by "Music Culture". I have always loved music for as long as I can remember, and I grew up listening to thousands of records that my father collected, of all kinds. That is my culture!

Were there parties around the blocks?

There were a few parties organised by the boys of the oratories (centres where young people who knew each other from the church then met in the afternoon) but they were certainly not raves!

Is it where you learned to DJ? Was it someone from your neighbourhood that helped teach you to become a DJ?

No, I moved to the north of Italy with my family when I went to elementary school. I actually learned to DJ in the club, in front of the public, making mistakes and making a fool of myself. But it was a local DJ - DJ Modena - who showed me where you start from. I’m still learning!

What was the first club you played?

During the time when I was a dancer at a club in Riccione (a small town coastal town in the North of Italy) a club owner from Verona learned that I was starting to DJ. He offered me the same money I was getting paid as a dancer to play in his club. I don’t have a good memory of that night, and I was so nervous I wanted to disappear, but he told me that I should go ahead with it so I did. I still feel it and we are still friends to this day!

Read this next: Gotta get up: Meet the dancers of Ibiza

Have you watched the Gomorrah TV series and movies? Is it an accurate reflection of Scampia?

I’ve seen a few episodes. Yes it’s reality, but a reality from 20 years ago. Now none of those stories exist any more.

Does Scampia deserve its reputation?

Everyone deserves a second chance!

What are the best things about Scampia?

People help each other out and there is a real sense of community. Even during the lockdown, people in the different buildings supported each other as much as they could, with food, medicine, and other essentials. They are people with a huge heart!

What is the inspiration for your new album?

I found a lot of inspiration in the vacation I took in the Maldives in January. Those colours and scents gave me the desire and the energy to start my new album. Anyone who knows my music knows that I love contamination. I love mixing sounds with melodies far removed from the underground and for this I have sometimes been criticised. But I like both challenges and criticisms from critics - if they don’t criticise you it means they didn’t do a good job!

The song 'SHE SLEEPS' is inspired by your experiences of insomnia and sleeping problems. How did you find peace? What is your advice for others who have similar problems?

'SHE SLEEPS' is a tribute to my past problems with sleep, night and darkness. Problems I've always had, since I was a child. I've always had horrible dreams and adult nightmares, and my relationship with sleeping has always been one of love and hate. Then a year ago something changed. I found an unexpected balance that I never imagined I could ever feel...and now, she sleeps.

We understand that you are also working closely with fashion designer Fausto Puglisi — can you tell us more about that?

Fausto contacted me in March of last year while we were both in Miami. He was there for a photo shoot and I for ULTRA Festival, but I hadn't seen the message, unfortunately. Then we connected and wrote each other several times. We had an idea that he create something about me. Not for me, but on me. A piece can already be seen on the album cover, a body suit designed for me, and that no one else can have ️ I am honored that such an important designer, an artist from my country who has dressed people like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson finds inspiration in me!

Read this next: How the women of dance music have taken over high fashion

You worked most of your career very successfully without an agent. Why was that?

Yes, I have worked solo for 11 of the 12 years of my career. I needed to prove to myself and the world that I was capable of building my own path, making the right choices and the wrong ones by myself. I've been working with Analog Agency for just over a year now, and I have to say that things are much simpler of course. But I had to work hard on myself to convince myself that I no longer have 100% control over everything!

You spend quite a lot of time in Ibiza. How do feel about big parties not being able to happen this season?

I go to Ibiza at least once a year. In the past I used to go there to listen to new music and discover new trends but today this is no longer the case. For new trends you have to go to other places, but Ibiza is one of the few places where in a club I stop being a DJ and I feel like a clubber!

What are your hopes and fears for the island?

The same that I have for the whole world...may there be a vaccine soon! We in the world of the nightlife have been the most affected. We will be the last to start again unfortunately, both for the closeness that it entails between people and because we are always seen as an unnecessary, frivolous, unimportant thing. The DJs or the musicians are only a small part, hundreds of figures gravitate around this world and millions of families’ livelihoods depend on this industry in various forms!

Read this next: How coronavirus is affecting music

Has COVID made you reassess your life and your priorities. How?

Yes, a lot. Today I know that from one day to the next something can happen that puts an end to everything. Work, career, everything. I have to say that I was quite badly affected psychologically during the lockdown because I was not ready to give up. My album was ready, my tour diary was full, and I was excited to continue my career. The stop was a trauma. Now it is better, but I have re-evaluated many things...even the way I spend the money and the value of other things.

What positive things do you will come from the COVID crisis?

It’s difficult to talk about something positive with the COVID, because it is impossible not to think of all the families reduced to poverty for the forced stop. What I can say is that I hope that this fear of being able to lose everything from one moment to the next will remain in people's minds, and therefore, do everything possible to preserve it.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm working on my first DJ clothing collection, branded Solamente Records (the name of my label). It's something that makes me very happy as my studies were in fashion, so it seems to me to close a circle. Then a lot of music, and finally the release of my album which was postponed from May to August!

Deborah De Luca 'She Sleeps' is out now via Sola_mente Records

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