LUIGI SAMBUY EMBODIES Euro-cool: the kind that makes you envision parties on the beach in Mykonos and moonlit nights on the Italian riviera – not to mention a voice that makes you want Luigi-recorded bedtime stories Luigi has a long standing passion for electronic music: he goes by ATMO in his personal endeavors and heads an impressive record label, Enlight Recordings.
Hanging out with Luigi is an all-around aesthetic experience. From his quirky, atmospheric Instagram (@luigisambuy, if you're curious) to the carefully crafted artwork on his SoundCloud to his retro, distressed New Balance kicks, Luigi surrounds himself with effortless elegance. Today, PULSE got a chance to delve into the mind behind the vibe.
PULSE: You describe yourself as a “sound engineer” and a “sound designer”. What does that mean to you?
Luigi: “Sound design” is coming up with a variety of sounds and putting them together to create a musical landscape that people will remember, a landscape where you can store your memories.
The most interesting thing to me is playing with sound, sculpting sound. Only then comes the artistic thing: having a persona, working on a figure that performs, writes music… but first comes the sound.
P: Who is “ATMO”?
L: Good music is always about creating an atmosphere. You put your headphones on, and good music brings you to another place. That’s what intrigued me about the first electro songs I heard: they felt like they were coming from another world. You listen to rock or jazz and you feel the presence of musicians. With electro, you’re in a hyperspace where everything is possible and sounds are created from a void.
I wanted a short, recognizable name, and that was ATMO. It was kind of abstract. My musical identity is pretty abstract.
P: Is there an overarching aesthetic in the kind of sound you create?
L: One word would be “uplifting”. I want to create something inspiring. It’s mostly energetic stuff. I try to keep it very simple; my arrangements are nothing crazy. They’re really DJ friendly with a percussive start, a slow build-up, a breakdown, and then you restart with everything you’ve got.
I try to get every sound to be good enough that a person can listen just to that one sound and appreciate. it. I usually don’t have more than 25 tracks in one project. Usually you have 40 tracks, 90 tracks. The mantra “less is more” is truly important… It’s like in Baroque art: everything is important.
It’s a mix between the Baroque attention to detail and 21st century minimalism.
My music is going to shift more into the minimal side: I want to make music that has a more personal and intimate feeling than fist pumping EDM, which is what I’ve been doing so far.
P: Tell us the story of how ATMO came to be.
L: The first electro song I downloaded was Daft Punk’s One More Time in 2011. I was totally blown away. My best friend told me to listen to Armiin van Buuren, and I fell in love….The same year, Hardwell came to Turin: that’s when I realized I wanted to get more into that kind of stuff. I started taking nighttime classes at a university on how to produce music on your laptop.
By the time I was sixteen, I was able to make music. I started DJing in clubs around Turin, my home, and learning the tricks.
Then I left to study abroad in 11th grade — it’s what many Italians do. I went to Hawaii for six months and ended up staying for two years. All of a sudden I was on my own on the other side of the world, and it was a kind of spiritual revolution: I had the opportunity to reinvent myself.
P: Tell us about some of your proudest moments.
L: The summer after my first year abroad, I collaborated on a track that was downloaded by Above and Beyond, the 4th DJs in the world, and they gave some good feedback. It was a really proud moment for me. At the end of the summer I was asked to remix a track and went on iTunes too. That’s when I started defining my own sound… You can hear that in the remix.
Then I went back to One highlight of that year was building my own instrument. I was working at a lab recognized by Apple, and our professor would bring us to San Francisco to showcase our projects. In the lab, we had a couple of emotive sensors that scan your brain activity. They’re cheap brainwave analysers that come with software that lets you collect data. I made a responsive instrument: according to a user’s mood, stress levels, et cetera, the drum pattern would change.
P: What about Enlight Records?
L: Right before coming to Stanford I founded my own music label for people who, like me, wanted to get their career started. The problem is there’s huge gap between shitty digital labels that you can find everywhere and major labels like Warner Bros, Ultra, etc. We wanted a bridge between level zero and the big labels. One year later, some of our singles have been supported by Nicki Romero.
It’s a totally independent label on SoundCloud. I make the artwork, my friends do the talent scouting and promoting. We have a huge list of DJs that we send these tracks to, and some of them are really big acts. It was a project that led to me compromising my music a bit. I think I’m going to relaunch the ATMO thing… it was always a thing going on in the background.
Our conversation is interrupted by a pack of lean, speedo-sporting men running through Coupa Café chanting STANFORD SWIMMING! In good Stanfordite fashion, Luigi and I pull out our phones to capture the moment on Snapchat before delving back to talking about music.
P: You were just talking about restarting ATMO.
L: Well, the label was kind of a startup environment: five people dealing with an ambitious goal. But after a year, you learn a lot. Now we have a process, everything is automatized. Now I have more time for ATMO. I want a larger picture, a plan.
Being an artist is like putting together a book. Every track is a chapter. You can improvise a chapter or two, but you need to put them in an order so the book makes sense. I want the next chapter to be a radical shift, a total plot twist.
P: How do the very disparate places of Turin, Hawaii and Silicon Valley influence your art?
L: Coming from a European background was great. We foster a great electronic music community with a variety of sounds…. It’s in Europe that I found the really amazing ancestors of our genre: Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, Kraftwerk… they did very different things, but without them, we would not be where we are now. Those are guys I really looked up to.
Coming to Hawaii, I started digging up more soul-searching music, that makes you ponder and wonder. Music that leaves you in awe when the song finishes… Hawaii was an introspective period.
P: How about here, at Stanford?
L: Silicon Valley is the first place in the world where people don’t get used to things. The best thing that happened was getting to hear the music scene in SF. You should listen to Lane 8. Everybody at Stanford would love his music. It’s perfect for any occasion... Here, I discovered people like Chrome Sparks and Flying Lotus, who try to change the rules of how to make music.
Silicon Valley is all about innovation, and that is reflected in the music. In the same way a Flume introduced a whole new genre, you have a lot small artists trying to bring something new to the table. That doesn’t happen in Europe. In Europe, we have more culture — we definitely know where our music comes from, and our history, and that’s important. In the US, it’s the opposite: they’re concentrated on the future. You need to embrace both.
P: Tell us more about where you’re headed artistIcally.
L: I’m trying to bring in some more emotional, melodic deep house without sticking to that genre. I’m fascinated by everything vintage. Once, music was made out of a box, you had no computer, you just had instruments. In the 60ies, there was the explosion of analog synthesizers. I’m trying to bring some of those timbric elements back into my compositions: they have that amazingly authentic, raw feeling.
Also, it’s kind of overwhelming writing music on a computer. You can tweak every sound. You can stretch your voice and make an ambient track out of it. That’s how I made one of my songs, Mauna Kea.
I’m also interested in ambient, soulful and melodic sounds, like Brian Eno… it’s more unique, it’s less standardized by the paradigm of EDM.
The last couple of years for me have been about moving, changing… When objects around you are so temporary, when you have that inconsistency, it allows you to concentrate on yourself, it challenges you to only carry on the important things. It’s the same thing with music. Those early sounds I would work on at 6AM in Italy, right in the beginning… some of those sounds are going to stick with me for the rest of my life. They are my identity transcripted into sound waves. In music, you have to be a nomad, just like a college student. That’s why I still listen to Armin van Buuren. He has a defined sound, but every album is different. I can’t imagine the pressure he feels when he puts a new album out, with no idea what the reaction will be.
Audiences want to get used to stuff, but if you show them something new and exciting, they fall even more in love. That’s what I felt when I heard Daft Punk’s, One More Time. They brought me that extra thing that wasn’t there in my life before.
That’s what I seek in music: bringing an extra thing that wasn’t there before, that makes life just a bit more interesting because that song is out there.
By: Anne-Sophie Bine
Photography by: Mason Smith