Interview with David Piccioni

We caught up for an extended chat with Mr. Azuli, David Piccioni, about Miami, maintaining the label’s integrity and the symbiotic relationship he has held with DJs over the years.

Interview with David Piccioni Photo by Matt Holyoak Photography

David Piccioni started his DJ career 25 years ago in the wilds of the North of England. As a young man he took his skills to New York and ended up making something of a name for himself of the blossoming club scene. Returning to England, he founded Blackmarket Records in Soho; a legendary DJ store and one of the few that remains in the country. It was from this store that he started Azuli records, a label that has now been in business for 21 years and hold its head high as the longest running independent dance label in Europe.

We know that you’ve influenced other big DJs in the past and DJs have influenced you, can you tell us a bit about this?
It’s more that we’ve helped each other out over the years. I’ve grown up with DJs around and I’ve treated most of the people I’ve worked with as friends. When we started Azuli records and Black Market the dance scene was very small so all the DJ and producers were helping each other out. People, in the early days like Tony Humpries , Danny Tenaglia and Mousse T and then later on Louie Vega and David Morales.  Many times these guys would do things for us for our label without asking for money. Sometimes when DJs were down on their luck and they needed some exposure we would tell them come and do a remix and we will do you a profile on our label, so it was nice back in the day we would work with each other rather than being just a business relationship.

You’re established not only as a label owner, but as international DJ. Can you tell us about your DJ’ing and how that’s advancing at the moment?
I’ve been DJ’ing now for almost 25 years. It’s a long time, I did a lot of stuff I’ve DJ’ed all around the world and done tours of the Far East several times, South America and so on. I was very lucky to travel the world during about 15 of those 25 years. I’ve taken a break now during the last year and a halt from DJing at all, because I was pretty irresponsible and didn’t wear any protection for my ears and now I have tinnitus – pretty common among DJs but mine seems to be getting worse.  On doctor’s advice and advice of my kids who would like me to stay with hearing I’ve decided not to do any more DJing, or at least only do it very rarely.

What does Azuli as a label stand for?
Azuli has always been a fiercely independent record label. When we started Azuli from Black Market Records all those years ago we used to pretend it was an American label. We used to fake the fact it was American by shrink wrapping  the vinyl and having really crappy labels printed off,  which was a reaction against the established music business. We wanted to do it all ourselves and we maintained that and I think that showed in the music we put out. To this day we like to concentrate on tracks that are underground but not too underground to be exclusive; just sincere music that we believe in and is not necessarily made for commercial benefit.

You had legendary events in both London and Ibiza, can you tell me about those and Azuli events in the future?
We did have some fantastic events, particularly in London at The Cross which were quite legendary. We did some great Azuli parties there and also at Pacha London after The Cross unfortunately closed. Ibiza for us has always been a big thing; Azuli has had a big name over there for a good ten years. We started doing parties at DC10 a good ten years ago, 2 years after it opened. Subsequently we did parties at Space; we spent 3 years at space after El Divino. The events were always quite reflective of the music we were putting out, they were cool niche events in that they weren’t overly commercial even in Ibiza, but they weren’t too underground to be pretentious. They were accessible with a cool and very international crowd with a good mix of nationalities. Last year in Ibiza we did beach parties, we did 6 throughout the Island and they were legendary, people still come up to me now and tell me how wonderful they were. We got into a lot of trouble from the police for doing them which is why they don’t have them now, but they were great.

We’re planning to do events again, London particularly and probably around the world as well and hopefully Ibiza. We took a little time off, a good 18 months off which is down to me. I decided to diversify a little bit, and I bought a restaurant in Ibiza. Funnily enough one of the venues that we chose to do an Ibiza beach party at 2 or 3 years ago, I loved so much that I ended up buying it. It’s called Amante and its on a beach just below Santa Eulalia and Ibiza, that has been my focus for the last 18 months, now that’s established and the place is looking great I’m ready to get back into organising events again.

Your Miami albums are traditionally always very successful, how do you go through the many options of tracks that you have every year?
It gets very difficult now going through all the tracks for the Miami album, because theres so many tracks out there. It’s a combination of things, using friends and people within the business to see what’s bussing around getting advice from people as to what to check out. It’s about going to known labels and known producer’s people who have done things in the past and now a lot of research, unfortunately a lot of research in front of the computer screen. You have to go through as much as you can, after years of doing this now one tends to get an idea which are just thrown together and which tracks have longevity. You can hear in the track something that has got substance and is going to around for a while and is going to make an impact. Sometimes most tracks are just thrown together by someone in a bedroom or studio and you can hear that, because you’ve been doing it for years. Sometimes you’ll hear a track for example ‘Olav Basoski - New Day’ which we put on the global guide, the last Azuli compilation album. You hear it and you know it’s got something that means it’s going to be around for a while. Some tracks you hear that sound great, but will only sound great for about a week. Some tracks you know that you will like in 6 months / 12 months time / 2 years time, they’re the ones that I try to choose for the album. I tend not to look into much about what people are saying ‘this is going to be big’ and try to listen to what I’m saying to myself, does this feel right? And make my decision from that.

Tell me what your thoughts are about Miami, how has it changed and what the future may be?
I’ve been going to the Miami conference since 1992, the second year it was in Miami and not Fort Lauderdale. Its changed a lot no more than 300 people went when i first started going, it was a great business thing and it was great for parties and finding out which tracks were hot. As time has gone on it’s become much more of a party location. It’s still an important event in a different way now, for most people particularly from Europe it’s about reawakening. The summer is around the corner this is a spring event, the music changes slightly I feel. Azuli has been considered a much lighter label in terms of atmosphere of the music, and that’s our time: Spring, Summer, Ibiza it’s all round the corner and Miami is like the door opening to the new season. For clubbers as well, people have spent a long hard winter in Europe and they go there and have a great time. It’s important on that level, Is it as important for breaking tracks for producers and DJ’s? Probably not as important as it was but it’s still a great event and should be seen.

You’ve mixed the Azuli Miami 11 compilation, what’s the flavour of the two CD’s?
It’s funny how the flavour of the Miami albums changes over time to reflect what’s going on; I think what’s going on now is going back to funky house music. Rather than funky house, it’s groovy with lots of Chicago style house beats on the first album. It’s very mid 80’s underground house I think a lot of the vibe. The second is a little bit more experimental, a bit more leftfield as Miami albums always are, CD2 is for people a bit left of centre and there are some very interesting tracks on that.

How do you produce an album that reflects the whole remit of Miami?
Miami is a very big event now, with lots of different kinds of events and genres of music. It’s near impossible to reflect everything that is going on there, the album has to be fairly broad based and we have to follow the general current trend in music. I think that the current trend in underground music is away from the very technical dry electronic sound that we’ve had over the last 4 or 5 years. Slightly more a groovy rhythmic and al little bit of a soulful edge to underground house; I think I’ve tried to reflect that in the album. There is diversity there, there is more electronic stuff and there is soulful stuff. It’s quite a wide field but we do reflect that return really to house music values.

Mathias Haegglund Code Collector, Globetrotter, and Occasional Gamer.