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The Underdog

11 July 2012 | 4:15 am | Cyclone Wehner

Though producer Nic Fanciulli prefers the low road, he’s no slouch. He chats with Cyclone about pushing on with what he loves rather than bowing to notoriety or industry expectations.

The tech-house DJ/producer Nic Fanciulli will be spotlighting British culture during the summer Olympic Games, albeit unofficially. “I actually do my label's birthday in the [London superclub] Ministry Of Sound the day the Olympics opens,” the Saved Records boss laughs. Unfortunately, he is unlikely to directly experience much Olympics fever. Fanciulli lives in the country – outside Maidstone, Kent, the town where he first DJed as a teen (and, incredibly, still throws parties). “But I think some of my family are gonna go to it,” he adds.

The Games have already generated controversy in the UK with residents and traders in the “wasteland” of Stratford uprooted to make way for the Olympic Park. Meanwhile, Hot Chip's Felix Martin has decried the disruption in the city caused by preparations. Fanciulli is more upbeat about the East End's regeneration. “They basically picked an area of London that's not that great and they've turned it into something pretty special, so I'm all for it.”

Before the Olympics, the young dad, last in Australia in 2010 for festival dates, will embark on a mini-tour to promote his double mix-compilation Balance 021. Fanciulli, speaking from The Maidstone Studio, sounds sleep-deprived, but not grumpy. It transpires that he's finishing a single with a mystery vocalist. “I'm just trying to get it done, because at the moment we're touring so much,” he explains. Often he'll work on music until 4am and then board a plane at 9am en route to a gig. “It's good fun, though,” Fanciulli insists. “I'm not moaning!”

Fanciulli has assembled several comps, including the early Mixmag covermount CD Porn House. In 2007 he and James Zabiela combined for One+One – and were hailed as the new Sasha & Digweed. Yet Balance is especially prestigious, the Australian brand perceived as more cutting-edge than either Renaissance or Global Underground. Fanciulli's mate Joris Voorn (the Brit has issued material on Voorn's Rejected Music) and Henry Saiz have contributed landmark volumes. 

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Fanciulli's first disc, Balance, is an afterhours soundtrack with tunes by Maya Jane Coles, Ricardo Villalobos & Jay Haze, and Omar S, while, unusually for the series, the other serves as a showcase for Saved. “I wanted just to do something different,” Fanciulli says. CD1 was fiddly, the programmer dedicating seven months to prep alone, whittling down 500 tracks to 29. “It was so much fun working on it – it was stressful, it was late nights,” he says. “It was a long time to spend on a mix-CD. I only listened to it again for the first time about a week ago.” The “benchmarks” for Balance 021 were Fanciulli's favourite sets by former Underground Resistance member DJ Rolando (2006's neglected From There To Here And Now) and Danny Howells. “The idea behind [Balance 021] was to make something organic, make something that wasn't following the trend – something you could put back on in ten years' time and go, 'this sounds good'.” It was Balance Music's Tom Pandzic, not Fanciulli, who suggested the Saved CD, the DJ sourcing “exclusive records” and “special remixes” (like Frenchman Paul Ritch's take on his 2011 Rolando collab The Test). Fanciulli's aim here was to demonstrate Saved's “variety”, the label launched in 2005 and today run together with his talented younger brother Mark (producer of Sacrifice). 

Fanciulli's own style is inherently amorphous, the DJ gliding between techno, deep house and progressive. Mind, vocals are relatively rare. “It's nice not being pigeonholed – and I think that's where I've had my problem, but it's also not been a problem. You have these trends and these fashions and stuff like that – and I've never really been associated with any of them. I've just consistently stuck to what I like. And I like everything. You can hear from [Balance], I like everything from weird ambient music through to Detroit stuff like Omar S and things like that.”

Fanciulli has had his crossover moments. As the Buick Project, he remixed Tiefschwarz's Damage, featuring Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn, alongside sometime pop producer Andy Chatterley (he played keys on Kanye West's Stronger). “It was just amazing to work with someone so talented,” Fanciulli says of Thorn. “It was so easy to do that remix. It's hard to ever do remixes that easy but, when you've got a vocal as amazing as that, it was simple. I knew exactly what I had to do from the moment I got the record.” He and Chatterley received a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Remixed Recording – astounding for an underground track (Stuart Price won with his remix of Coldplay's Talk). The Buick Project were “the underdogs”. Fanciulli recalls the awards ceremony as “crazy”. “We didn't think we were gonna win, anyway, because you're up against people like Madonna and Coldplay... It is like a boys' club, the whole Grammy thing. It feels like people know each other. We were in there for a remix of Tiefschwarz up against Beyoncé, Coldplay and Madonna – they don't know who these people [Tiefschwarz] are... [But] even Tiefschwarz – it was nice for them to be 'nodded', because the original [track] was incredible. All we did was just do our remix of it.”

Fanciulli also remixed Kylie Minogue's Scissor Sisters-helmed I Believe In You. “That was amazing doing that because obviously she's huge in the UK,” he says. “It was so nice 'cause she actually listens to all the mixes as well – so she was happy with it.” Eventually, Fanciulli abandoned such high-profile projects: he was using up his ideas for original tracks. He mumbles something about 'selling his soul'.

Fanciulli isn't blindly ambitious. A solo 'artist' album is doubtful (some years ago he did one, i-Panik, with Chatterley as Skylark, that Laurent Garnier raved about). “I've thought about it a million times, and I've started writing it, but it probably will never be finished.” Fanciulli prefers to release singles. “I think the world that I'm from, it's just, I write a single and I put it out straightaway on Beatport and it does what it's meant to do.” Nor does Fanciulli aspire to score movies, Paul Oakenfold-style. And he's no DJ 'celebrity'. Fanciulli just wants to continue honing his studio skills and DJing globally. “I've always looked at it as more of a marathon than a sprint,” he says of his career, unwittingly choosing an Olympics analogy. “I never got into this industry to 'work' in this industry. I do it because I love doing it... Whatever happens, I take and I sort of stroll along. The ambition is just to get better at what I do, really, and enjoy it and just keep enjoying it – because, once that stops, then I may as well just go back to working [in a conventional job] and doing something different.”