This summer the trance world was brought to it’s knees when two of the most iconic names in the underground world of Trance performed together for their first time under the alias “Pure NRG”. As the beautiful melody of “Solarcoaster” swept across the Mandarine Tent in Buenos Aires, an angelic voice resonated across the arena. “I’m lost for words”… Never before had truer words been spoken. As Fadi of Aly & Fila said at the time, “This is trance history in the making”, and it was. Giuseppe Ottaviani And Rich Mowatt (Solarstone) truly did make trance history that day. These men have both cemented their names into the trance music hall of fame over the past two decades, and continually push the boundaries of the music that we are blessed to call our own. Join us as we explore the the foundation, the quirks, the imagination, and the vision of the next trance supergroup: Pure NRG.
TU: What is Pure NRG?
Solarstone: What is Pure NRG? Well, Giuseppe and I had a conversation about doing something together live. There’s sort of a DJ back-to-back thing going on right now, a bit of a trend – we thought we wanted to do something together but kind of take it to another level. That’s a bit of a cliché phrase obviously, but we wanted to take it to another level, so what we decided to do was write a bunch of new material, take some of our most well-known tracks and some obscure tracks as well, make new versions of those tracks together in the studio and then perform the whole thing live. It would be basically the way Giuseppe does but with two of us, so we’ve got kind of a mirror image of Giuseppe’s set up. So we’ve both got a Mac, a keyboard, a mini keyboard, and a controller. The main thing is that we play all the main lead riffs live but we are also free to improvise as well. We spent a week in the studio over in Italy and then another session of three days and we just blasted out ten tracks.
TU: That’s insane. Over a ten day span you accomplished all of that?
Solarstone: Yeah! So basically Pure NRG is kind of like – what does Giuseppe say? Musician-to-musician rather than back-to-back.
TU: I like that. Giuseppe, you’ve said in the past that you don’t feel comfortable performing as a DJ and you’d feel lost if you were asked to strictly do a DJ set, where as Solarstone is more used to doing that. Can you explain what it’s like performing with him on stage and what the process is when you are up there as a group?
Giuseppe: Well I mean I don’t feel comfortable playing as a DJ just for the reason that I used to be a DJ back in the day and I used to play with turntables and vinyls, and it was taking me at least one minute to beatmatch the tracks. That was a DJ job, selecting and mixing, so right now mixing is probably too easy and I’d get pretty bored just selecting music, then waiting for the next track, dancing around, and then wait for the next track again.
TU: It appears you like to keep busy!
Giuseppe: I never, professionally speaking, have never been a DJ, and I’ve always been playing live. I’m totally busy on stage, so this is how I feel comfortable with all of my stuff. It’s weird to say but I’m pretty shy so having the keyboard and all my stuff it’s kind of hiding from the big crowd, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t feel that comfortable if I had to stand there in front of thousands people just waiting for the next track to be mixed.
TU: I’ve always thought that was strange when you see people doing that, just looking at their crowd after they’ve mixed with nothing to do.
Giuseppe: Yeah I know, but I like to deliver the music from my equipment, from my keyboards and this is what we do as Pure NRG as well. We basically have a background music which is done in the studio of course and then we choose grooves, effects, and we play the main leads from the keyboards and build up the track, the full track, on stage. The great thing about performing live is that you can improvise and you can surprise yourself. This is what happened between me and Rich. This is something you cannot do if you play as a DJ because you play a track and that’s it.
TU: It certainly looked like you guys were having a lot of fun on stage!
Giuseppe: Yeah, and people feel when you’re having fun, and they have fun as well.
TU: I’m sure they feed off the energy!
Giuseppe: Yes, totally!
TU: So whose idea was it to fuse together the sounds of Solarstone and Giuseppe Ottaviani?
Solarstone: Actually I think it our manager Paula’s idea. We were on this Australian tour, doing the Stereosonic tour, and we had this kind of layover in Singapore where we stayed on this island called Sentosa, we were just sitting outside drinking cocktails. I wanted to perform live, and so did Giuseppe..
TU: And the cards just fell into play.
Solarstone: I’ve always liked the idea of performing live but I always sort of thought it would be quite boring… I mean, it isn’t boring when Giuseppe does it but I just don’t know… I just think the idea of performing live on my own didn’t really excite me. But the thought of doing it in a band with somebody else totally changes your whole perspective on it, because it is kind of exciting that you can bounce off of somebody else and there is a report between us, you know?
TU: When you first started getting into the scene did you do any live stuff with synths or anything like that?
Solarstone: Yeah, I mean in my first band called Emission back in 1989 to 2003 I sort of wrote and produced everything on this keyboard and then we had a guitarist and a singer. I would play a few bits and do background vocals and a bit of rapping (laughter)
TU: We have to hear that!
Solarstone: You will never hear it! There is a recording somewhere though, but you will NEVER hear it! And then of course there was The Federation band as well which I kind of performed live with too, and I’ve done a few bits playing bass and stuff. But this is the most live thing I have done so I was really nervous before the first show.
TU: And the biggest too! Obviously neither of you are strangers to performing as a group. Solarstone, prior to you turning into a solo artist, was a group. Similar situation with NU NRG. What are some things that you have learned in the past about being part of a group that you’ll be able to apply to Pure NRG? Past mistakes perhaps, life experiences, stuff like that.
Giuseppe: Well what I personally learned from all the past years performing live is… Get a Mac, don’t even think about playing with a PC! And also for me it was like going back 10 years when I was part of another duo called NU NRG. Such a weird feeling to be honest that made me quite nervous on stage, but super excited at the same time!
TU: Completely understandable.
Giuseppe: It’s that sort of feeling, you know? But after the show and everything went perfect I was really, really happy about the decision to make this new project with Rich. He’s the perfect partner on the stage because we can both play the keyboard, and it’s great, and above all, fun.
TU: And you, Rich?
Solarstone: That’s a good question actually, my experiences in my band and being part of a duo and being part of a trio and stuff? Well, it’s funny because Giuseppe is really, really easy to work with. I work really well with Orkidea too when we work together but with Giuseppe we don’t procrastinate. I think procrastination is part of the problem when you’re in a band in the studio because you can just spend hours and hours just experimenting and messing around and not coming up with anything, but with Pure NRG we had a real focus on what we wanted to do. I think some of the important lessons you learn being in a band is knowing where your boundaries are in terms of your relationship, you know? Me and Giuseppe are quite focused on the writing and producing and it doesn’t really go that much further than that yet. I don’t know him that well yet. However, having said that, I spent a week in his house with him and his family and that was great. I felt we became friends during that week.
TU: I was thinking you guys had known each other your whole lives the way that you act together on stage. Even behind the scenes you guys seem like really good friends.
Solarstone: We are I think. One of the guys from our company said he was really, really surprised that me and Giuseppe got along so well, he really wasn’t expecting it. But I find that Giuseppe is really easy going and he’s great in the studio. I mean he’s so fast in the studio. It’s really frustrating sometimes when – I mean I’ve been in acts before where I kind of did all the engineering and the other guys would come up with ideas, and I kind of felt like “Oh God, I’ve gotta do everything”, whereas with Giuseppe we can kind of both do it. We use the same software as well, we both use Cubase so it’s quite easy to, you know, just sit in the chair, do some work while the other one works on music and then we can just swap.
TU: It certainly helps that you’re entering as successful solo artists. You’ve been around and you’re not new to the game.
Solarstone: I’m thankful to the fact that we have both been around for such a long time, we both have experience in the industry, there’s no bullshit or ego problems at all, you know, we’re not out there to impress each other or anybody else. We just want to make good music, have fun and do something positive, something genuine, you know? I mean, in terms of the music that we produce it’s kind of like – there’s no pretension there, we’re not trying to do anything clever, we just want to do what we do in a new way and play it live so people experience it different every time. One of the things about the Pure NRG shows is that the intention is for every show to be quite different to the last. When you’re a DJ you can turn up and play the same set over and over again but with Pure NRG we kind of want every show to be unique. You’re never going to hear the music that we play at a Pure NRG show anywhere else. I’ve never even played the tracks in my sets, though I’ve wanted to. We want to. I mean, we probably will eventually once we have released a single. We have produced three brand new tracks and we thought about including them on compilations we are working on but we have decided we wanted to make a big splash with the first one. There’s three new tracks: Fusion, Ghost and Secret of the Sahara, which is more of a sort of a cover version of an Ennio Morricone track.
TU: There’s a riff from the melody from Fusion that’s also taken from a track called “England“, right?
Solarstone: Yes it’s a track called “England” by The National. It was also used on the MacBook Air commercial!
TU: Oh that’s why we recognized it when we heard it during the Pure NRG set in Buenos Aires!
Solarstone: As Solarstone I try to write my own stuff, but of course sometimes inadvertently I use something that someone else did. But with Pure NRG we are really upfront about the fact that we are going to do a track based on a sample of somebody else’s track because it’s about a live show. We also did a remix based on the track “Isolated System” by Muse. It was the last track we played in our set in Buenos Aires.
TU: You can’t go wrong with Muse. What’s the next year look like for Pure NRG?
Solarstone: Well we are trying to keep the shows to only festivals and big events. We don’t want to go down the club route because we want it to be something special. The stage concept doesn’t really work in a club, there isn’t enough room for it. We want to keep the number of shows down to a minimum just to really keep an interest in the shows because it is also in addition to my stuff and Giuseppe’s stuff, we don’t want to replace it. As soon as we announced it we had so many promoters asking us to do it but that isn’t what we want with Pure NRG. We’ve even had promoters asking at events we were both performing at whether we’ll perform as Pure NRG, and we just can’t. It really is strictly a live-stage type thing. It’s not quite the same as us doing our DJ gig. Although I did a new version of one of my old tracks, “Destination”, and I really wanted to play that out in my sets but I won’t do it yet… If it comes out as a single then maybe.
(Solarstone looks at his manager, Paula)
Solarstone: (Laughter) I’m not allowed. The whole point of Pure NRG is that it is all about exclusivity. You won’t hear the songs in my sets, and you won’t hear them in Giuseppe’s sets, you want to go see Pure NRG to hear Pure NRG.
TU: I certainly like it like that.
Solarstone: It’s true. It keeps it special right?
Solarstone: I mean we might only do it for a year or two years, it really depends how it gets around.
TU: It seems like you have a good flow, and you’re already getting a pretty big following on social media. It’s exciting. there isn’t really a duo that performs live at the moment like you do. I mean, there are duos like New World Punx and Aly and Fila, but they strictly play DJ sets.
Solarstone: One of the great things about Pure NRG is that we can make mistakes. I was so nervous about making mistakes that after the gig I was kind of glad I did!
TU: Well, if you did, we didn’t notice!
Solarstone: You should listen to it again (laughter).
TU: When we were talking to you in Montreal you were saying that you could never see yourself performing live on stage the way that Giuseppe does. Six months later here you are performing as Pure NRG at Future Sounds of Egypt, one of the biggest trance events in the world. How was that, performing live?
Solarstone: Yeah, it’s funny how that is. I was nervous and Giuseppe was nervous too. It was the first time I had performed live-live in years. It isn’t just playing the keyboard, I mean there’s so many things you have to do. Well, actually it is less complicated than I thought when I used to watch Giuseppe, you know? There were a few problems like being able to actually hear what I was doing properly because I was using in-ear headphones for the first time ever, and being able to hear what I was doing and all that kind of stuff, it went so quick. So I had a lot of problems but I was glad at the end because I know what to expect now, so the next one I should enjoy it more. I didn’t even notice the crowd really. I said to Giuseppe “Do you think they liked it?” because when you use in-ears you can’t really hear much. And then I heard the recording – and the crowd – I was like “Oh my god!”
TU: They were going ballistic. You could just tell the energy was insane there listening to it. What was your favourite Future Sounds of Egypt?
Solarstone: Buenos Aires [as Pure NRG]. I enjoyed New York as well [as Solarstone].
TU: What challenges do you face as a group that you don’t think you’d face otherwise solo?
Giuseppe: I mean as I said before we really keep focused on our solo careers anyway. This is going to be an exclusive. We aren’t going to overdo it with Pure NRG. You won’t see Pure NRG performing every single week. That we do on our own right now. But it’s a great addition to our project. It’s something different, it’s something… we always like to make revisions… to work around different stuff. Just like music, even DJing, performing, it can be you know, different in a way. And Pure NRG is the way we make this thing different.
Solarstone: I don’t think it is that different actually. I mean, it’s a little more work, but it’s also something completely different. The whole experience of going over to Giuseppe’s place for a week and working in the studio with him, I mean I’ve not done that ever. We announced the first gig before we had done any music.
TU: I guess you could tell pretty quickly that you guys were connecting well enough to make this happen.
Solarstone: We told Fadi about it in Miami and he was like “Yeah, I want to have it”! We announced we were doing it and we hadn’t even made a single note.
Paula (manager): The second gig was even confirmed at that point.
Solarstone: We kind of knew what we were going to do. I mean it could have been a disaster. I could’ve gone over to Giuseppe’s and we could’ve been shit. We could’ve not got along, you know? It was so easy though. We would do a bit of work and then we’d cycle off down to his bar and have a coffee and play with the kids. His wife’s an amazing cook. It was really cool. I think also, what you said before about challenges, we are in a different position now to the one that Giuseppe was in with NU NRG and the one I was in with Solarstone when there was more than one member. We were trying to become successful and we weren’t sure whether it was going to work; we were trying to get a record deal. It’s a completely different thing with Pure NRG because we are going in at a really high level, you know? I would compare the way I felt before the first pure NRG gig to the way I felt to my first ever solo Solarstone DJ gig. My first Solarstone DJ gig was at Gatecrasher with Paul Van Dyk and I had never played in a club before. So it was kind of crazy. I probably wasn’t as apprehensive about the Pure NRG gig but going in at a high level with Pure NRG you haven’t got any of that other stuff that new acts have to deal with – trying to impress people, wondering if there is going to be any press there, wondering if there is going to be any people at all there. I mean our first show we played in front of 8,000 people and there was a live broadcast.
Solarstone: Yeah, we probably shouldn’t have done that (laughter). We basically gave away our entire musical catalog in an hour that we had been working on because it was all over the internet. Like I said, it is going to be different every time.
TU: It was so unique. It seemed like you guys had the set of the night to be honest. That being said, we might be a little biased towards you guys.
Solarstone: Well I think it was very unique.
TU: Do you guys do live mash ups or is it all planned out?
Solarstone: No not this time, everything was planned out. Actually I don’t think we would do something like that.
Paula: It’s impossible because all the music needs to be loaded into the computer systems. The good thing is though, even if they have a mashup, every show that mashup can be played differently because they can improvise.
Solarstone: It’s not just about the tracks you play, it’s also about the transition between those tracks. I mean we didn’t do this at the gig but when we were in the studio we were just going through one track to another, and Giuseppe looped something in, and then I started playing a melody completely off the top of my head- he started playing some chords with a bassline and we came up with this completely new track. It wasn’t recorded or anything and neither of us remember what we did, but the fact that we can do that is awesome. I’m not sure how it is going to work at the next show because I have no idea what is going to happen, but there is no reason that we can’t improvise. We’d probably fuck it up as well, but oh well!
TU: You absolutely could! I think it’s pretty cool that you are stepping out of the bounds of the traditional DJ concept.
Solarstone: One of the good things about the set-up is it’s always going to be synchronized; things are never going to go out of time no matter what we do. So that really helps a lot. I mean, at the Buenos Aires show I think I mixed the same record back into itself and I queued up the next track and it was the same one that we were playing and Giuseppe looks at me and is like “we’ve just done this one” and I was like “Oh fuck! We have!” (laughter).
TU: At least you can make those mistakes! I think the only people who are really analyzing what you are doing are the people who are standing on stage around you.
Solarstone: My manager, Paula would always tell me, “Rich, you know what you are going to play and what you are going to do – they don’t know.”
Solarstone: I like the fact that with my DJing you can go slightly wrong. I mean a lot of DJs who use Traktor and Ableton and stuff, everything is going to be exactly precise, nothing is going to be even slightly out of place. But when I mix I like to, you know, do all the beat matching live and stuff because when it slightly drifts I think people like that because you know the guy is actually doing something. As long as you are not train-wrecking of course, if it just slips I don’t think people mind that.
TU: It’s good to see that the person behind the decks are actually working. There is so much controversy about pre-recorded sets and people who aren’t really putting in the amount of work that they should be.
Solarstone: They actually are talking about how it isn’t about a DJ set, it’s about a massive show with pyrotechnics and the whole thing is probably synchronized.
TU: That was one of the things that I believe Guetta was saying, he had to play a partly pre-recorded set because it was all synchronized with the pyrotechnics at Tomorrowland a few years ago.
Paula (manager): That isn’t completely true because there is technology now-a-days that, for example, New World Punx used that was timed software, and they don’t use pre-recorded sets. It’s just the track itself they need to keep very strict on the time-coding but that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with the track order or whatever. But a few years ago you weren’t able to time everything. That’s the whole point now though, the whole show concept, the show elements has become more important than the musical concept.
Solarstone: Yeah, I don’t like that.
TU: It’s getting lost in translation, that’s for sure.
Solarstone: It’s also the difference between playing a festival and a club though because if you’re playing a big festival and you’re playing for an hour you can’t really take the crowd on a journey. You kind of play what they expect. But when you’re in a club if the crowd isn’t feeling what you are playing you gotta be to change what you’re playing, and if it’s pre-recorded you’re fucked. I’ve played with other DJs where you can see the tracks lined up. I did a gig with one guy a few years ago, a really big name, he had just started using Ableton, and I went on and I saw his computer and he had the tracks laid out in a sequence. And I looked and I thought, “What are you going to do if they don’t like it?” And all he was doing was switching the bass in cue. It’s like, “Jesus fucking Christ, man!”
TU: That’s embarrassing. John 00 Fleming has said in the past that the majority of your job as a DJ is reading the crowd; it isn’t about what you want to hear, it is never about what you want to hear, it’s about what they want to hear and what sounds best for that exact moment on the dance floor.
Solarstone: Yeah, sometimes you can really surprise yourself as well. You know you might play something with breaks in it or something, well actually I don’t do that anymore (laughter), and then you find the crowd really loved it and you’re like ,“Oh shit, I haven’t got any more tracks with breaks in it!”
TU: Tapio (Orkidea) brought in a little bit of breaks during his last set at Toika, actually!
Solarstone: Well I mean, Tapio is like the DJs DJ. You know? He’s like the Danny Tenaglia of trance.
TU: I’m sure he’d love to hear you say that!
TU: What unique characteristics does Giuseppe bring to the table that draws you to him as a DJ or producer?
Solarstone: He makes an excellent carbonara (laughter). He’s also really good at finding the melody. When I work with Giuseppe I kind of come up with something and he’ll just come up with that little thing. He’s quite good with major chord progressions, major melodies I think. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I haven’t really worked with too many people. He brings a tougher thing to the table, a tougher aspect to the music compared to my style. And he also keeps things simple. When we were writing the stuff he would say “Okay that’s enough” and meanwhile I wanted to add another layer, and he would say “There’s no point”. The stuff we played was very, very stripped down. That’s probably why I started playing extra bits over the top (laughter). But I mean he’s right. When you’re performing live the clarity has got to be there. You’ve basically got a baseline, some chords and a riff and there isn’t room for anything else. Whereas I’d probably add another couple of layers.
TU: The less is more mentality?
Solarstone: Definitely. And I like that because it also makes it a little bit easier. Well, I won’t say it makes it easier but I guess you’ve got to be completely happy with the bits that you’ve got, right?
TU: and you, Giuseppe? What makes you want to perform with Rich as part of Pure NRG?
Giuseppe: Well, as I said Rich is great at the keyboard and a really fun guy. On top of that, he’s a great candidate because Pure NRG performs proper trance. Mainly uplifting trance… it isn’t going to be slower bpm. It’s definitely 136 – 140. It really depends how we feel at the moment. I like that we can work on exclusive music we make strictly for the project. Even if it’s a rework or remix, for example, we did a remix of London Grammar’s Strong and that’s exclusively made for Pure NRG. All the music we make and perform is going to be exclusively new for the projects. That’s the most important thing, so you will hear that music strictly when we play as Pure NRG. And not in any other sets.
TU: It’s going to be a truly unique experience every time we see you, and I can definitely see how Solarstone’s uplifting side would be desirable to have as a partner. Which label are we to expect the original releases to come out on? Black hole?
Giuseppe: Together it’s going to be on Black hole. Pure trance label from Solarstone is on Black Hole. GO on air label, my label, is on Black Hole. And when we make our own releases it will be on our own label but when it comes to a big release for Pure NRG which it means we are both together it makes sense to be neutral and release it on Black Hole, the main label.
TU: Giuseppe, Rich, we thank you for the bottom of our hearts for this interview. We’ve just got one last little part that your wonderful manager gave us the idea for! It will help showcase the similarities (and differences) between the two of you. Your answers will be completely unbeknownst to one of the other. Try to make the answers as quick as possible!
The Brains behind Pure NRG is?
- S: Our manager, Paula.
- G: Musically speaking, absolutely both of us.
The biggest city in the world for trance right now is?
- S: What a question… I don’t think there is one.
- G: Buenos Aires!
What’s more important, break-down or release?
- S: Release.
- G: A beautiful and dreamy breakdown.
What event does Pure NRG want to play at the most in the next year?
- S: Glastonbury.
- G: Tomorrowland!
What’s the best time slot?
- S: As a DJ? Peak time. When everybody’s “ready” (laughs). It depends on the line up. A lot of the time the order of the DJs and the times is determined by the egos of the DJs and the demands of the managers. Especially at festivals.
- G: It really depends in which country you play.
Two hour set or four hour set?
- S: Two.
- G: I’m a live performer so I go for 2 hours max.
Biggest disappointment in the world of trance was…
- S: I don’t think there is one. I think there is just a natural progression of things. Sorry for such a boring answer (laughter)
- G: Tiesto.
Number one electronic music inspiration?
- S: For me, Petshop Boys.
- G: Paul van Dyk.
Who made more of an impact on trance: Paul Van Dyk or Tiesto
- S: Paul Van Dyk, for me. I had this trance Europe express quadruple vinyl album in the very early 90s with a Paul Van Dyk track on it and I think out of all the acts that were on that album he is the only one who’s still releasing music.
- G: Objectively Tiesto, subjectively PVD.
Fastest rising trance DJ right now is?
- S: Trance DJ? Bryan Kearney.
- G: Aly & Fila are rising to the next level.
Who should we look out for?
- S: Orkidea!
- G: PureNRG, I’ve heard great things about the guys!
Biggest year for trance was?
- S: 2014!
- G: 2004. A trance DJ at the Olympics was incredible!
What’ should the world know about Pure NRG that we otherwise might not know?
- S: That it’s fueled by espressos
- G: Pure NRG acts like a duo, but it’s a trio in reality.
TU: Do you have anything to say to your fans as Pure NRG?
“Thanks for being open to something new!”
Giuseppe, Solarstone, We sincerely thank you both for giving us the opportunity to interview you guys as Pure NRG. Trance United appreciates everything you guys do for the scene. We absolutely need guys like you to keep the underground alive. I’d also like to give a special shot out to a certain unsung hero who does a ton of work behind the scenes and has brought to light many influential trance artists over the past decade. Paula, please keep up the incredible work as well, and thank you for everything you do.