Francesco Fusaro is an Italian NTS Radio resident DJ, music producer, and musicologist currently based in the north of Italy. His most recent project is editing Sonic Traces: From Italy: “a multi-layered, multimedia approach to the open question of ‘Italian Identity’ in sound and music” for Norient. He has written about music for Italian and international media outlets and released music under his real name and other monikers on several independent labels. He is also co-curator of the “anti-classical” recording series 19’40”, and label manager for MFZ Records. His essays have appeared in books published by Agenzia X, Aracne Editrice, Chilli Com Carne, De Agostini, and Mimesis Edizioni.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I fell in love with journalism around age 12 or 13, when my schoolmate Luca and myself started to share shifts in buying what was the leading video game magazine in Italy at the time, The Games Machine. I still have a few issues at home, the oldest dating 1998. I remember being quickly able to recognize the style of each reviewer, and feeling like I was finally seeing my heroes IRL when we bumped on the whole staff at the largest Italian gaming and tech festival of the time. They had t-shirts with their nicknames on, it was all very nerdy and I loved it. As I often say, a nerd is forever, like diamonds.
I later on swapped my interest for video games with music. I think I started to buy regularly Blow Up Magazine, quite a cult music publication in Italy, when I was at uni, must have been 2003 or 2004. My friend Albi and I would buy the latest issue, and jump straight to the techno and house section, almost at the end of the magazine. It was called Trax and run by Christian Zingales, who has this flamboyant style, all intricate and often over-the-top metaphors that somehow made a lot of sense for describing the latest hot techno, house and nu disco tracks. So, at uni, I decided I should first study Musicology in order to be prepared as a Music Journo. I didn’t want to take the “I-review-music-cause-I-listen-to-a-lot-of-it” path, although I respect that approach. But it didn’t feel right to me at the time, so there I was, finally listening to a whole new set of sounds, that of classical music mostly, I wasn’t familiar with. It was a blast, and I tried and dragged my post-grad studies for as much as I could.
I was also pairing that with DJing, as I was involved in what was then called the blog house scene (think Crookers, Switch, The Bloody Beetroots, The Toxic Avenger…). Milano, where I was based and studied, was one of the epicentres of the genre, and everything was happening so fast. It was a bumpy ride, but it was also a lot of fun. When that scene faded away, I moved into a more professional territory, journalism-wise. I started writing for Rockit, an Italian-music only media outlet, covering mostly electronic music and hip hop, and then slowly added more work in the classical music field for Amadeus, il Giornale della Musica, il Corriere Musicale. I enjoyed being able to move from one genre to the other, and equally loved the necessity of adapting my style to different media outlets that had their distinctive tone of voice and audience.
But alas, despite putting in the hours, the pay was never enough to make ends meet, so in 2014 I moved to London for better job opportunities. That paid off, as I started to dip my toes in the world of music and tech, and that made my life much more stable and independent, financially. I am now in the position of working on passion projects in my spare time. It does mean having little time for myself, but for the time being, I cannot see doing either this (the classic 9-to-6) or that (the editorial projects, the labels, the radio show, the music production).
Tell me a little bit about your new project for Norient.
I bumped into Norient for the first time thanks to their brilliant book Seismographic Sounds. When the time felt right, I pitched for a short article on second generations in Italian trap music. We stayed in touch, and after a second contribution, I went for a third pitch. Thomas Burkhalter, founder of Norient, thought it might be even better to discuss a whole collection of essays focussed on Italy. I was quite excited about the idea, so I tapped into my network of Italian Londoners and Italian friends in Italy, and secured an initial green light from some of them, and the Norient board. From then on, I had to wear different hats: I was in charge of scouting all the contributors and assign them with a topic, I coordinated the graphic design work, I found the partners to secure the funding and promotion of the project. And then I of course read, edited and discussed all contributions with the authors and Norient, and finally created some of the short sound clips that accompany every article. This would have not been possible without the incredible help of Hannes Liechti of Norient, all the contributors, and the artistry of Marina Benetti.
Did you have any mentors along the way? What did they teach you?
Many of them! My professors at Uni, particularly Davide Daolmi, have been really instrumental in shaping my approach to music and its place within the wider context of a society, an era, a set of ideas. Paola Molfino and Patrizia Luppi at Amadeus showed me the ropes in terms of editorial and journalistic work, and the importance of team work in the media industry, no matter if you are an established freelancer or a new staffer. Simeone Pozzini at il Corriere Musicale taught me to throw yourself into the projects you really care for. My partner Maria showed me what a difference being reliable, accountable and on time makes you in your relationships, work, and side projects. A good mentor can make a huge difference in your development, both as a human being and as a professional.
Walk me through a typical day-to-day for you right now.
I have different weeks and months, depending on the side projects I am working on. Mostly, I take an hour before starting my 9-to-6 to work on whatever is urgent, and another hour after work for more urgent fixes, or some creative work, if energies and commitments allow. I then work Saturdays and try and switch off all devices on Saturday evenings, and back on on Monday mornings. And I also try and never look at my phone after 10 pm. Basically, every day is about making sure I do my job, whilst keeping my side projects afloat, and also making sure I just don’t get burned out in the process.
How has your approach to your work changed over the past few years?
I am now much more careful with my workload, and the quality of the work I am asked to do. In shorts: I take in less work and partake in fewer projects than before, and try and commit only to things I really believe in, or pay well, or (hopefully) both. I think I am also better at getting quality results in shorter periods of time, which I guess has to do with a combination of age and experience.
How do you organize your work?
I tried the whole lot of neocapitalist tools: Slack and Trello and Google Spreadsheets and Calendar… And more old school tools like on-paper to-do lists and diaries and notes. They all work nicely at the beginning, but then I kind of lose track of them all, and rely mostly on my mnemonic skills. Needless to say, that doesn’t work quite well. I need to up my game on the organization front for sure: as I say in one of my recent songs: “I’m a serial procrastinator / No diaries, no to-do lists”.
Where do you see music journalism headed?
This is a very tough question, and I don’t think I have enough information at hand to answer properly. I see there are more and more media outlets and independent journalists that are going after the subscription model. It seems like some of these ventures are more successful than others, and being independent from advertising, seeing how saturated that market is—particularly in the social media sphere—is a good thing, I think. Personally, I see a moment when we might be subscribing to some sort of “Netflix for journalism”, where we end up paying a flat rate to access different outlets in the same digital environment. This would remove the problem of multiple subscriptions, which can end up costing a bit of money at the end of the month. How fair such a model could be, I guess, is a question open for debate.
What would you like to see more of in music journalism right now?
I would love music journalism to ask deeper questions in the field of aesthetics, philosophy, sociology, and politics. We are not asking enough such questions like “What kind of music are we making now, and what should we try and pass down to future generations?” or “Why is this music significant for the moments we live in now, and how will it be seen in the future?”, “What is culturally relevant now, and why?”, etc. Also, diversity and inclusion still seem a bit of a sore point for music journalism, which is still very Western-centric (and more specifically, Anglo-American centric), very male, and very white. There is still a lot of work to be done in that sense.
What would you like to see less of in music journalism right now?
I am very tired of music journalism’s obsession with tech and distribution. Rather than asking more philosophical, sociological, political and anthropological questions, it seems like the most important things to be discussed right now are how we distribute music, and pay artists. I appreciate these are important topics, but they have taken some much of the real estate in music journalism, I am now really tired of it all. Imagine if we were now similarly obsessed with how Beethoven and Mozart were getting paid? Or the business models of the troubadours in 11th Century France? Luckily, we are more interested in the cultural significance of their music, and their legacy in the present time.
What’s one tip that you’d give a music journalist starting out right now?
If you can, find a second job that pays your rent, and only write about the stuff you really care about. Focus on the impact you have, not the quantity of stuff that’s got your name on it. And find topics that haven’t been covered much by someone else. There are many things that don’t get the attention they deserve out there.
What artist or trend are you most interested in right now?
I am quite fascinated by Italian Drill at the moment, and recently came up with a short, dedicated mix for my friend Oblig’s show on Rinse FM. That, and the role of graphic notation in this century.
What’s your favorite part of all this?
Getting to know and collaborate with like-minded people. Making friends through journalism, music and the arts is such an amazing gift.
What was the best track / video or film / book you’ve consumed in the past 12 months?
My girlfriend and I have made Orange is the New Black our favourite lockdown series. And I also finally managed to watch Italian cult series Boris, later than anyone else in my country. I find it quite hard to be in sync with what everyone’s obsessed about, so I sometimes watch, read and discover things that are well in the past for many.
If you had to point folks to one piece of yours, what would it be and why?
Alas, I don’t have many pieces in English out, but I guess I’d love them to read my recent article for Norient on sampling politics today.
Anything you want to plug?
I will have two EPs of mine out on the 4th of June, Procrastinator and NC Sessions Vol.1. I hope someone will want to listen to them!