Show Off Your Studio: Luigi Madonna’s humble techno playground

This week, the revered Italian producer lets us into his studio and tells us how his Erica Synths Techno Machine got a runaround designing kicks for his new EP.

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Key kit

Tell us a bit about the studio, Luigi!

I have been living in Amsterdam for six years now. I’ve had various studios over the years until I built this last home studio from scratch a year ago. I must say that I love having the studio to hand so that if I have some ideas at any time I can throw them down – it makes me feel more mentally free. It differs hugely from having to travel to a studio, where maybe once you are there you feel like you have to stay there and continue to work, even if you are not in the right frame of mind. I’m quite happy with my new studio. I like the way it sounds and it’s decorated with very mellow and neutral colours that do not affect my mood but create a very comfortable environment, which is fundamental for me.

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Luigi Madonna

How do you use your studio?

I only use it personally. Most of my finished tracks come out of this studio. I recently tried out and bought a multitrack sequencer from Pioneer DJ, the Toraiz Squid and I found it really useful for my setup. All of my external machines are routed to the Squid where I can write sequences, harmonies, arpeggios, beats and so on. I would also like to record an electric guitar and bass for some projects I have in mind but at the moment I have not yet had the opportunity of doing so.

Which DAW do you use?

I have used various DAWs during my years in the studio, from Logic Pro to Cubase to Ableton Live, which I use currently. I feel that Live is faster and more intuitive in the construction phase of a track and also in the arrangement. I have a good workflow with the software and it allows me to work around all 360 degrees of a track.

What’s been the biggest investment in your studio? Was it worth it?

The latest investment I made was the Erica Synths Techno System; a modular synth beast. It is a modular tool for rhythm-based music production, live performances and sound design. It’s divided into various specific modules to create kicks, snares, hi-hats – all the basic drums you need connected to a sequencer, plus a bassline module, sampler, effects, LFO and distortion. As it’s modular, you can decide how to connect them to each other. There are no limits so it makes it unique, you just have to have a wide imagination to start flying.

Luigi Madonna

It is a fairly expensive modular but as a lover of drums, I am very happy with the purchase and am using it a lot at the moment. Among other things, you can listen to some of the Techno System drums in my latest EP on Drumcode, which is a collaboration with Roberto Capuano.

Which synth was essential for creating your latest EP?

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The Techno System played a big role in the drums for this project. For the synth work, we used the U-He Diva and Repro-1. I have almost everything from U-He, I love the plug-ins for their appealing and modern sound.

Diva consists of five types of filters and oscillators which are modelled on classic hardware. The five models have different characteristics which fundamentally affect the overall sound.
All five share common controls: waveform selection, octave range, mix or independent output volume controls, a noise source, and numerous modulation options. I prefer it, especially for bass and riffs; it manages to emulate a very warm and analogue-style sound due to the characteristics specified above.

Luigi Madonna

I want to mention Bazille as well, which is a software polyphonic modular system with digital oscillators, multimode filters and a lot of modulation options. I like to start from just the waveform when I use it – square, triangle etc – and then continue the journey.

How do you use your gear to make those huge kick drums throughout Drumcode?

I work a lot on kicks, I have different processes but in this case, I worked a lot with compressors and distortions. I create a group of three channels in Ableton Live where I divide the ‘tip’, the ‘belly’ and the ‘wood’ so I can decide how it should sound and where I want to go. In the group I use a compressor and EQ, and if necessary distortion.

Luigi Madonna

What would you save in a fire?

All fan gifts collected from around the world. There is a guy in Naples who makes stencil portraits on vinyl. He made three of them for me which are wonderful! I’ve hung them in the studio together with the respective shirts of Napoli, Argentina and Chile.

How does the studio environment help you with your creativity?

I am a very sensitive person – colours and environment can greatly influence my mood both positively and negatively. For me, it is important to work in a neutral or sober environment. It helps me to maintain a certain internal balance. Sometimes even the presence of some people can give me negative energy.

Luigi Madonna

How did you go about getting the acoustics right in the studio?

My studio was designed by a company here in the Netherlands, so we started from scratch to have a room within a room by cutting the sides of the walls so that the sound would respond better. Then we ran a room-wide frequency response test with a microphone and then adjusted and equalized accordingly. I think it sounds good!

What is next on your shopping list studio-wise?

I would try Moog’s new semi-modular series: Mother-32, DFAM, Subharmonicon.
I have not yet had the pleasure of having a Moog in my studio. These interest me, particularly because they each have their own characteristics and can be patched to itself, or interfaced with each other and other external devices. With Eurorack, you can let things go on forever, and these are another step into the modular world. In more recent times, due to the pandemic, I have had much more time to devote to studying and deepening my knowledge of modular synthesis.

Luigi Madonna

Do you have any frustrations with your current set-up?

A few little frustrations yes, because apart from Moog’s semi-modular, there are many other things that I would like to have that could come in handy. A new sampler would replace the Octatrack; a new polyphonic synth like the Prophet REV2, which would add some nice delay and analogue distortion. I would like many more but I would be happy to have this in my basic setup as soon as possible.

What is your dream piece of gear?

A masterpiece for me is the Moog One! It’s a combination of classic and modern analogue synthesis – it sounds very fat. I don’t think there’s any need for an introduction here. What I like about this synth is the simplicity which you can work with, and the filters are seriously impressive. You can bring out unique and authentic bass to wide melodies and so much more.

Luigi Madonna

What is your top piece of production advice?

Quality and personality! I personally spend a lot of time trying to make a perfect sounding patch right from the start. I carefully choose the elements and try to equalize them as best I can in the first phase, in order to do the minimum work possible and have an easy life on the master. For example, on the kick and bass, I often cut those very low frequencies at 10hz to 40hz that ‘knead’ a lot.

It is very important for me to make maximum use of a few elements and to make them sound as good as possible, placing them in the right frequency space. A good tip is not to over-process elements as this doesn’t help with the quality or the beauty of the track itself

What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?

To start slowly with the basic elements and then understand what can be used essentially in the studio. Not to buy things in a hurry just for the fashion or trend of it but to understand what can really be useful for the genre or for the idea you have.

Check out more of our studio interviews here

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