Conform Records Chronicles the Neapolitan Techno Sound
October 19, 2021
“The Neapolitan techno sound had its own character,” says Gaetano Parisio, the owner and founder of Conform Records, which he set up in 1997 as an outlet for his own club-focused experiments, as well as those of friends from his then-base of Naples and further afield. “We were looking for a new sound, and it came about from a synergy between different artists who had the same vision and started working together.”
Parisio, who has produced music and toured as a DJ both under his given name and as Gaetek, is also talking about fellow Naples producers such as Marco Carola, Davide Squillace, Rino Cerrone, and Markantonio; figures who’ve all followed divergent paths in the electronic music scene in the years since they first became friends and started sharing the decks at parties in Naples and beyond.
“The main goal for us all was to produce a sound that was recognizable only as ours,” Parisio explains. “We had this funky style that was maybe more obviously groovy than anything that was coming from Berlin and Detroit at that particular time. To me especially, Jeff Mills’s Purpose Maker label releases were really inspiring at that time, and we were all taking inspiration from the past and other artists, but working in our own way without trying to obviously imitate other people.”
From its launch in 1997 through to its initial winding down in 2005, Conform was a label synonymous with a stripped-back, loop-driven style of gritty techno. In addition to putting out records by some of the Naples scene’s best talent, Parisio released music from international names like Adam Beyer, Ben Sims, and The Advent—all figures whose influence on the European techno scene endures today.
“I never released music by somebody that randomly sent me demos,” he says. “And that’s not because I’m against someone doing that. I just had a really strong vision for what I wanted to do with Conform and I wanted to make connections with the artists. At that time, the music scene was not actually that big at all. Everybody knew each other from gigs, and people would get closer to the artists that they felt they had something in common with.”
Above all, Conform was founded as an outlet for Parisio to share his own music. “I had such a strong vision for what I wanted to play in my sets that it felt easier to make the music I wanted to play and hear myself than to look for other records,” he says. “Naples at that time felt quite far away geographically and musically from the rest of the world, and my reference for music at that time was not what was going on in Italy, where there was this big progressive house scene in Florence and Tuscany, but what was happening in Berlin and Detroit. The only way to communicate the music that I had in mind at that time was to start the label.”
A key moment in the label’s development came from a trip he took to London with close friend Carola. “I went with a tape that had 12 tracks I had made on it,” he recalls. “The recordings came out really badly, but I flew to London with Marco, we went to the offices of Prime Distribution, and we were so excited to be there. I just left this tape there without dreaming for one second that something would happen from it.”
After returning to Naples, he received a call with an offer to release all of the tracks on the tape through one of Prime Distribution’s main labels, Primate. Three EPs followed (one under the alias of Faces and the other two as Gaetek) in 1997, as Parisio simultaneously cooked up plans for his own label. “I started this relationship with Prime Distribution,” he says, “and they distributed the Conform releases, so they helped me set up the label. When I started making music, I never really expected to release any of it, so I was just surprised that other people liked it.”
Over the next eight years, Conform maintained a steady release schedule until a number of personal “traumatic” experiences led to Parisio deciding to shutter the label and take a step back from the music industry. “I paused myself,” he says of that time. “I completely changed my lifestyle. I quit everything, left my booking agency.”
He continued to work quietly, however, producing music for himself, an activity which he likens now to therapy. “Some people paint, I like to make music.”
After dissociating himself from the music industry altogether and subsequently relocating to Barcelona, a number of chance encounters in recent years has found Parisio slowly beginning to reappraise Conform’s legacy and everything he had left behind. “Just moving here to Barcelona and meeting so many people within the local scene and the music industry, every time I was introduced to people, I was shocked because the reaction I had from them told me there was this new generation that knew all of my old stuff and the label,” he says. “That is the best compliment ever, to know that people who are 20 years old, as old as some of my records, have discovered my music and the label.”
Conform re-emerged in 2020 with a series of remix EPs, inviting a number of producers to rework classic material from the label back catalog. Some—Sims, The Advent—were present during the label’s original run, while others—Radio Slave, Adriana Lopez—have started their careers in the years since the label first ceased operations. Just like he had decades before, Parisio personally approached everyone involved with the project, hoping to welcome only those that he felt shared his vision into the world of Conform.
Earlier this year, the label’s full back catalog was made available digitally for the first time. Plans are also afoot to do the same for the Advanced Techno Research label (which was dedicated solely to Parisio’s work). Before that, though, Conform will release new music by Parisio for the first time in more than 16 years. “It’s time to start running the label properly again,” he says. “I’m so happy because this is the first new music to come out on my label in 16 years. I’m super confident about it. I’ve been working a lot.”
To mark the return of Conform and the digital availability of the label’s back catalog, we’ve picked out some of its key releases, with help from Parisio himself.
It was only natural that the very first release on Conform would come from its founder. The four tracks that make up the Gaetek EP encapsulate the raw, repetitive techno that Parisio and others in Naples and Europe were honing in the latter half of the ‘90s. It was a sound built from simply jamming and experimenting with 808 and 909 drum machines, as well as AKAI MPC equipment.
“Listening back to the first release now, to me, the quality of the recording is kind of a disaster,” Parisio jokes. “But that has its own beauty in itself. I still didn’t fully know what I was doing at the time. I have so much unreleased music from that period too, and the funny thing is that when I go back to those DAT tapes, I find music that gets its whole character from me being completely unaware of what I was doing. I was confident, but unaware.” Parisio name-checks Jeff Mills, Steve Bicknell’s Lost Recordings series, and early recordings by The Advent as key influences on his earliest work, which can be heard loud and clear in cuts like “Minimal Act” and “Maastricht.”
C & G Southsystem
The third release on Conform saw Parisio and Carola join to form C & G Southsystem. Their musical partnership had been founded earlier in the ‘90s, when Parisio was playing in the smaller second room of a club in Naples. “I remember exactly what record I was playing—Richie Hawtin’s remix of ‘Positive Education’ by Slam,” Parisio says of their meeting. “Marco came to me and he said, ‘I like what you’re playing, I’m trying to do something like that in the studio.’ I didn’t give him much attention at first because I was playing, but at the end of the night, I met him and we exchanged telephone numbers. It was like a Sliding Doors moment. Without that meeting, a lot of things would be different now.”
The duo released a number of other records together, under their given names and as Shock System on the now-defunct Tortured Records label. Much like the Gaetek EP, the pummeling kicks and hypnotic loops of the Dual EP came from hours of intense experimentation between the two artists as they swapped tips and shared their respective studio set-ups. “If you listen closely, you might hear some mistakes from where we were just mixing it live onto DAT tape,” Parisio says. “This is the beauty of things like this for me, though. Even right now, I always say that imperfection is a kind of medal that we have because it means that we are doing something completely by hand, without any correction from machines.”
Innersound were Cisco Ferreira and Colin McBean, also known in the ‘90s as The Advent until the latter departed from the project and started producing music as Mr. G. Their only collaborative release on Conform, Out Cast, was the first release on the label not to feature Parisio, and also saw him casting his net outside of Naples for the first time. “I love those guys,” he says of Ferreira and McBean, tracing their meeting back to the fateful trip he and Carola took to London.
“We were invited by Cisco and Colin to their studio and it was amazing,” Parisio says. “It was the first time that I saw an entire building filled with so much equipment. I was so excited to be there and to be invited to spend time with them. When I did the first—and only—Conform party, Cisco was the guest. Unfortunately, around two days before he and Colin were due to come to Naples to play as The Advent, he called and said, ‘Listen, I’ll be coming by myself, without Colin,’ and that was when they split. They’re both such talented artists and the beauty of their early music together as The Advent was that Colin had these [real] house flavors to his work and a very big vinyl collection, and Cisco had this harder techno vibe and sound engineering background. The combination of those two sounds created some masterpieces.”
Between The Lines
Hailing from Belgium, Stanny Franssen produced music under a variety of aliases—most notably as G-Force—following his emergence in the latter half of the 1990s. It was his releases under the moniker of GF that put him on Parisio’s radar though. “I remember there were these two releases he did called Electronic Lesson Part 1 and Electronic Lesson Part 2,” says Parisio. “They were masterpieces; I loved all of the tracks.”
Moving away from the tough kicks and high tempos that characterized Conform’s previous releases, the four tracks on Between The Lines center around shifting hi-hats and subtle basslines primed for dancefloor destruction. “He had that funky groove to his music that was really close to what we were doing in Naples, so that was why I approached Stanny to be involved with Conform,” Parisio says. “He put out some great music on Zenit, Marco’s label, later on too, and was really close to everyone in Naples at that time.”
“I knew Davide even before I started DJing and making music,” Parisio says of his longtime friend, now also a fellow Barcelona resident. “We had friends in common, and I knew him since he was 15 years old.” Liquid Brain forms part of a subtle shift in the Conform sound first heard on Franssen’s Between The Lines, where the hi-hats and claps are just as integral to the tracks’s dancefloor impact as the kick drums. “In the ‘90s, we had these two groups of people in Naples: those who were more into Richie Hawtin and those who were more interested in Jeff Mills,” Parisio explains. “Davide was definitely one of those people that was part of the Hawtin group.” Today, Squillace holds down a residency at one of Ibiza’s most famed parties, Circoloco, at the DC10 club.
Lost & Found
Beyer is perhaps one of the biggest names in European techno today, having founded his Drumcode label in 1996 and built it into an empire of sorts across more than 100 releases and various parties around the world. In the early years of Drumcode, the label shared significant musical headspace with Conform, and Beyer and Parisio built up a significant friendship from playing at the same parties and sharing a distribution company in Prime.
“In the late ‘90s, beside Berlin and Detroit, there were two other main schools of techno: the Neapolitan one and the Swedish, which Drumcode and Adam Beyer belonged to, as well as Cari Lekebusch, Jespher Dählback, and Joel Mull,” Parisio explains. “He asked me for some tracks, and we both exchanged some music to release on each other’s labels.” Lost & Found is Conform at its most menacing and intense, Beyer delivering four cuts designed to soundtrack the deeper, heads-down moments of DJ sets at the time.
Carnival Part 1
Sims’s sole contribution to Conform also featured the only remix that the label released until its return in 2020: a remix by Parisio of the title track. “Ben used to run a couple of labels at that time which were also distributed by Prime,” Parisio says. “He had this project called Killa Bite as well, which, again, released really funky and groovy stuff. I was always impressed by his DJ skills and the music he was producing. We played lots of each other’s records, so it was natural to exchange music. It was the same thing that happened with Adam where I do something for you, you do something for me. It was a way to start relationships and learn from each other.”
Released in 2001, it was the final record to come out on Conform by a non-Naples artist. Built around a simple, samba-esque drum loop, some distortion, occasional rewind effects, and little else, Sims’s original best captures the simplicity of this style of techno that made dancefloors tick so effectively from the early ‘90s through to the mid-‘00s. Parisio’s remix, meanwhile, dials up the ferocity, with occasional breakdowns giving way to a steamroller-like blast of drums and distortion.