noun (pronounce Ribonjia).
Chaos; Pandemonium; Rowdiness; General Mischief: "The revelers entered the state of Ribongia, and immersed themselves in the chaos that ensued."
ORIGIN mid-17th cent.: Florence, Italy. Slang meaning disarray.
Sydney-via-Italy producer extraordinare Antonio Rosselli Del Turco may explain his moniker Ribongia away as an inside joke between friends at home that stuck, but it's actually quite a fitting description of his eclectic, often unpredictable body of work thus far. Since uploading his trippy debut track "Antimatter" over three years ago, Ribongia has flexed his intricate, technically sound production style on both his masterful 'It Began' EP and astounding remixes of Populous, Daniel Merriweather, Andy Bull, Ngaiire, Thundamentals, Lanie Lane, Hello Vera and so many more. If you delve into the boundary-breaking producer's back catalogue, you'll quickly discover an artist who embraces the element of surprise, wearing his left-of-field influences on his sleeves and consistently challenging himself stylistically.
We spoke to Antonio during some downtime on the pristine shores of Sydney to discuss his musical roots in Italy, navigating the European music scene, the intricacies of creative collaboration and walking the fine line between experimentation and accessibility.
Best Before: Hey Antonio! How are you doing? Where are you at the moment?
Ribongia: Hey, man! I'm just chilling at Gordon's Bay. Thought I'd take the morning off.
Do you spend time back and forth between Sydney and Italy?
R: I'm in Sydney most of the time. I try to go back home at least once a year.
When did you first come to Australia? Why did you choose Sydney?
R: About twelve years ago now. I was twenty when I moved here. It all came about in a really strange way, to be honest. I was originally living in London, and I wanted to enrol in a particular audio engineering course. I found out that it was actually a lot cheaper to study it in Sydney. This might sound a bit weird, but I actually did a medical trial, and that made me a significant amount of money in one hit. *Laughs* That's what got me here.
That's amazing. The side effects may have been a superhuman increase in musical prowess?
R: *Laughs* No, I'm pretty convinced I actually got the placebo.
Can you fill me in on the origins of the name Ribongia?
R: It was a word that one of my friends back at home in Italy started throwing around. It's an old colloquial term. Towards the end of summer in Italy, there's grapefruit picking for the wineries. It's the kind of job you do on a school break. Anyway, we were working on a grape farm, and there was an ancient grumpy dude who kept saying "Ribongia". We finished up our season there, and my friend couldn't stop saying it when we came back. He managed to spread the word around, and then it sort of became an inside joke for everyone.
How did growing up in Italy affect your relationship with music?
R: I played drums growing up. Like pretty much every musician or producer out there, I grew up shifting around in bands over high school. Nearly all of my friends were either interested in or involved with music, so that worked out well for me. But how did it affect me? *Pauses* I think where I grew up was quite an interesting place. Music education in school there is pretty rubbish compared to other European countries like Sweden or even the UK. Basically, in music class, we didn't do shit. But at the same time, there's also a really deep-seated classical appreciation and rich history of amazing soundtracks from way back in the '60s over there. There's some really good Italian musicians hanging around too. It's a strange paradox. Then you have this awful mainstream scene as well. When you turn on the radio in Italy, it's so hard to find a station that plays a diverse range of good music. You just get exposed to some really bad mainstream stuff. On the OTHER hand, though, there's also a thriving underground scene.
Australia really nails it in terms of making electronic music that is really widely acceptable but still retains strong artistic values. For a really small population, we stand our ground, and I've always admired that.
So you just have to dig deep to find the good stuff there?
R: Yeah, I think so. Thankfully, there's a lot people there doing gigs and organising club nights, and they're working hard against some tight legislation and legalistic boundaries.
Sounds a little bit like Sydney at the moment, to be honest. How do you feel about the Keep Sydney Open campaign? Have you assumed an aggressive stance?
R: I've been involved with the protests, and I stay up to date. Look, I guess I'm not as active as I could be, but it's funny – I actually sort of 'escaped' Italy because I was hoping to find a thriving nightlife culture and expose myself to new things. Maybe ten years ago, I remember sitting in a pub here and flipping through some street press with a friend. They were complaining that nothing was happening in Sydney, and all I could say was, "Look at this!" People have no idea. In Florence, we never had that. Seeing it all get pushed back here is really quite sad. To be honest, I have a good feeling about all this recent action. People are getting fed up. The other thing that I've been thinking about lately is... *pauses* I'm not sure about the exact laws in London nowadays, but I know in certain areas you aren't allowed to buy alcohol after a certain time, but there were so many places you could go and get alcohol under the table when I was living there. The question I'm asking is what are we waiting for? The rules are there, and yes, we want to change them, but we can also ignore them. I'm not saying we should do anything nasty, but do you know what I mean?
Let's start brewing beer in baths in our garages.
R: *Laughs* Yeah, something like that. They can tell us that we can't party, but we can party and forget about what they're saying.
How do you find your music is received in Europe? I know you remix a lot of Australian artists and take that overseas.
R: I think Australia plays a really interesting role in the global music scene. I find Europe can be creatively incredible, artistically challenging, and very sophisticated, but I also find that comes with an air of snobbery. On the other hand, I feel that in America, it can often swing the other way, and things can become a too dumbed-down. These are really broad generalisations, but I feel that more often than not, Australia really nails it in terms of making electronic music that is really widely acceptable but still retains strong artistic values. For a really small population, we stand our ground, and I've always admired that.
I'm floored by the amount of strong, young electronic artists coming out of Australia these days – especially over the last two years. I guess talented people that never would have shared their music come out of the woodwork when they see other artists in the same field leading the way.
R: Yeah. I think people like Flume have opened that scene up to people who never would have even touched electronic music. All props to him, but I feel like if it hadn't of been him, it could have easily been someone else. I think it's a matter of music history, and he came around at the right time, with the right sound. Just look at rock'n'roll – it's been dominating since the '70s, but now we're entering a phase where electronic music is at the centre of culture.
Theres's only a couple of weeks to go until your EP 'Escapisms' drops. Were there lessons that you learnt from your last EP 'It Began' that affected the recording process this time around?
R: I tried to refine what I was going for this time. I tried to crystalise my vision, and be more brave about it, rather than saying "This is the sound I'm going for, BUT I need to make it more accessible." I just concentrated on my creative process and what I was trying to do instead. I drew influences from a wider range of music for 'Escapisms' too. At the same time, I ended up working with two feature vocalists. It was a varied, rounded process.
One of those feature vocalists was Hancoq on your new track "My Word", right? Can you fill me in on the creative process behind that song? It's so refreshing to hear something that unique coming out of our local scene.
R: Yeah. Oh, thank you! *Laughs* I actually just had a pretty straight-forward trap beat on my hands, but then I started listening to a lot of this style of music coming out of Portugal called Kuduro. It comes out of Angola, but they've modernised it for the club realm. There's also a lot of Latin American-inspired club music that's never made it to our shores or piqued our interest here in Australia. I thought it was an interesting concept to try and combine those elements with a more traditional trap flavour and Hancoq's verses. Particularly the rhythm of the chorus – we don't really have much of that here. I wanted to inject those ideas into "My Word" without losing anyone by making it too foreign.
How did you connect with Hancoq?
R: At first, it was probably quite sterile and selective. I was in quite a pickle, actually, because I was sent a list of suggested artists to provide the vocal, but I was having a hard time hearing a 'white' voice over what I'd made. Look, I was probably getting stuck on an idea that didn't really matter. In my head, it wasn't going to work with any old singer. I listened to Hancoq's stuff, and I really liked how 'non-Australian' he sounded. I don't mean that in a negative way. To be honest, I can't really do that 'ocka' sound. It's not for me. There's some really gifted lyricists and producers in that field, but it's the sound that loses me.
Anyway, Hancoq and I started sending things back and forth over the internet, but I felt like things were getting a little bit lost, and I didn't think my direction was coming across as clearly as it could have. That's when I decided we needed to work together in the same place.
There's a really fine line between making something too outlandish and crazy that you can't follow or get into, and making something that is too predictable and formulaic. I think the really great material comes when you step out and walk that fine line.
As helpful and powerful as the internet is, for creative projects, sometimes you just need that extra element of working face-to-face and bouncing off each other.
R: Yeah, it really brought it together. Before that, it was just a bunch of ideas floating around, but by hanging out in the same room, we were feeding off each other, and it reigned everything in.
Was Hancoq thrown off by the left-of-field influences on "My Word"?
R: It's funny you say that. He didn't have any problems with the rhythm and flow in the verses, but when it came to the chorus, things got a little bit tricky. I think it's just a surprising flip. I'm not saying I've got it down-pat or anything – I'm definitely still learning – but what I'm learning is that any good music needs an element of surprise that will catch you off guard. What I'm getting at is that there's a really fine line between making something too outlandish and crazy that you can't follow or get into, and making something that is too predictable and formulaic. I think the really great material comes when you step out and walk that fine line.
While we're on the topic of walking fine lines between experimentation and accessibility – your lead single "Journeys" has the hallmarks of a future bass or house track, but you've also mixed in those organic, world music-inspired elements. Can you fill me in on how you crafted that balance?
R: That's exactly how I would put it. I just really like the contrast – you can pull really dirty samples from old recordings. A lot of the stuff I source comes from Africa, and they probably don't have the same quality in their studios that we're lucky to have here. There's something really powerful in that lo-fi edge, especially when it's placed right against a polished, spacey synthesiser. I definitely think there's magic in that.
Just before the epic drop in "Journeys", there's a sample of a man yelling out, "Everybody take position!" Is that an old African recording too?
R: Yeah – that's from a 'Best Of Ghana' compilation from the '70s that I stumbled on. It's amazing. I'll have to find it for you and send it through later.
I'll let you swim and chill out, but just before you go – what's on the cards for Ribongia for the rest of the year?
R: I leave for a European tour with Hermitude in two weeks, which is really great. When I come back, I'll be touring Australia in support of 'Escapisms'. It's the year of touring. I don't even know after that. I've got so many demos laying around – maybe I'll make an album. It's always been on the cards, but I think I'm aiming to have an album at least written by the end of the year. We'll see!
Ribongia's 'Escapisms' EP will arrive March 25th. You can preorder it on iTunes.