Luciano: Running the Techno Mafia
- Words: Philip Sherburne
Perhaps no one better typifies the Bohemian artist myth of Berlin than Lucien Nicolet. Better known as Luciano, Nicolet is the Swiss-Chilean artist behind a slew of fêted records for Playhouse, Peacefrog, and Perlon; in a few short years, Cadenza, the label he co-curates with Geneva's Serafin, has become the toast of techno. And his long-ass DJ sets, often alongside Berlin minimal kingpins like Richie Hawtin and fellow Euro-Chilean Ricardo Villalobos, are the stuff of legend.
Like most of his colleagues in the "Chilean Mafia" (Villalobos, Dandy Jack, Andrés and Pier Bucci, Dinky, Matias Aguayo, et al) politics and expat culture have led Nicolet down a peripatetic path. He grew up in Switzerland, returned to Chile in the late '80s to help kick off the country's fledgling rave scene, and eventually returned to Switzerland to forge a career all but unattainable in the Southern Cone. Frequent gigs at Berlin institutions like the Panoramabar and Beat Street meant he was already a local fixture by the time he moved here a few years ago.
His music's very placelessness–its unheimlich sense of estrangement and discovery, longing and return–is what makes it so quintessentially Berlin. While he's branded a minimalist, his densely psychedelic tracks brim with references and ideas, from Autechre's generative structures to Basic Channel's chugging dub-techno, all underscored with a particularly Latin sense of rhythm. Nicolet's music is shot through with a subtlety that bars it from most main rooms, but listening to him tweak his endlessly shifting, hyper-percussive tracks, it's obvious that he's several steps ahead of almost everyone in dance music.
Nicolet's basement studio, which he shares with the duo Exercise One, lies a stone's throw from the Hard Wax record store in Kreuzberg; so central is the location that Nicolet, Exercise One's Marco Freivogel, and Lan Muzic artist Jacopo Carreras recently opened Post26, a small café and gallery, directly upstairs. (One of the sandwiches on the menu is named "The Big Luciano.") On a recent Friday afternoon, the clientele was a who's-who of European techno: Playhouse artists My My were conducting an interview, Mike Shannon was copping wi-fi, and the proprietor of Vakant Records was hanging out.
Nicolet may soon be leaving Berlin; the recent flooding of his studio and a number of personal reasons are pointing him back towards Switzerland. Post26 will remain, as will Nicolet's influence on Berlin's revitalized techno community. Next time you swing through the city, sample a Big Luciano in tribute.
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