The Nina mobile app is now available on iOS.Download from the App Store.
hero image

The Experimental Underbelly of Italian Electronic Music

Second Floor

Contrary to popular belief, Italy has a lot more to offer than glittery disco, rowdy bangers, and Ibiza-ready tech house.

By Shawn Reynaldo


Shawn Reynaldo is a Barcelona-based writer and editor who specializes in electronic music. His First Floor newsletter often zeroes in on developments in the genre’s corresponding industry and culture, but the Second Floor column is designed to spotlight the music itself, examining trends, recommending releases, and keeping tabs on what’s happening both on and off the dancefloor.

Italy is known for many things: food, art, history, architecture, fashion, film, opera—all of them refined over the course of decades, if not centuries. However, when it comes to modern music, and electronic music in particular, the country has a reputation for turning out sounds that are far less, let’s say, sophisticated.

It’s not that Italy doesn’t have a long history of experimental and avant-garde sounds. In the decades following World War II, artists from the country produced incredible work, delving into library music, minimalism, free jazz, post-punk, new age, and more. However, the stuff that gained the most traction abroad often had a decidedly different bent, to the point where the phrase “Italian electronic music” still tends to prompt thoughts of one of three things:

  • 1. Glittery, synth-fueled disco in the vein of Giorgio Moroder, and the similarly fabulous Italo that followed in his wake.

  • 2. Raucous dancefloor smashers, thanks to a lineage that includes the rave-ready techno of Lory D, the unrelenting hard house of Maurco Picotto, the electro-biting romps of Benny Benassi, and the bloghouse mayhem of Crookers.

  • 3. Opulent, Ibiza-ready tech house and “business techno,” epitomized by artists like Marco Carola, Joseph Capriati, and Tale of Us, not to mention the seemingly omnipresent Circoloco parties, which now take place all around the globe.

To informed observers, this sort of distillation has always been an oversimplification. But even as electronic music culture has shifted online during the 21st century, Italy’s more experimental and adventurous artists have rarely been given the same consideration as their counterparts in New York, the UK, Berlin, and, frankly, the whole of Northern Europe. Narratives, including ones that are only half true, can be exceedingly stubborn, and when it comes to Italy, it’s been difficult to dislodge the notion that its electronic music scene has more to offer than neon-streaked camp, rowdy bangers, and an insatiable hunger for braindead hedonism.

That’s too bad, because in recent years, a wave of boundary-pushing Italian artists have come into their own, both at home and abroad. Many of them have no real interest in the dancefloor, and those that do are determined to approach the club in their own unorthodox way. In 2024, ambient, experimental, and avant-garde music have become Italy’s most reliable musical calling cards, and it does seem like people outside of the country are finally starting to take notice.

If there’s one artist who’s turned the tide, it’s Caterina Barbieri, a Bologna native and modular synthesist whose spellbinding, stripped-down compositions have been showered with praise, most notably in response to albums like 2019’s Ecstatic Computation and 2022’s Spirit Exit. Having collaborated with the likes of Kali Malone, Bendik Giske, Lyra Pramuk, and Space Afrika—with whom she’s currently touring a live audio-visual show called The Last Track—Barbieri has become both a critical darling and a fixture on the international festival circuit, and she’s used that prestige to further her reach as a champion of Italian electronic music. In 2021, she launched her own label, light-years, and while it initially served as an outlet for Barbieri’s own work, it’s since become a platform for other Italian artists as well. Last last year, she released Sky Flesh, the latest full-length from Berlin-based, Roman-born producer and sound designer Marta De Pascalis, and in just a few weeks, light-years will be issuing In uno spazio immenso, the debut collaborative LP from Grand River and Abul Mogard, two left-of-center artists who’ve both built formidable resumes on their own.

Mogard, fascinatingly, first emerged in the early 2010s with a bizarre backstory. He claimed to be a former metal factory worker from Serbia who’d begun making music as a way to process his feelings of post-retirement isolation and reconnect with the noisy clatter he’d heard every day on the job. The bio always seemed a bit fishy, but that did nothing to dampen enthusiasm for the ethereal drone and tranquil synthscapes that populated releases like 2015’s Circular Forms and 2018’s Above All Dreams. When it was quietly revealed a couple of years ago that Mogard was in fact Rome-based artist Guido Zen, there was little uproar.

Grand River, who’s currently based in Berlin and is technically half Dutch and half Italian, released her last two albums, including 2023’s All Above, on Editions Mego, but she actually got her start on Spazio Disponibile, a label headed up by veteran producers Donato Dozzy and Neel, who both hail from Rome. The two came up via the techno circuit, and remain active in that sphere, both individually and under the joint alias Voices from the Lake. That project’s self-titled 2012 debut LP—which was just reissued last year—is widely recognized as a classic of the genre, but neither man has allowed himself to be boxed in by techno. Neel has been running the Enisslab studio for more than a decade, lending his mixing and mastering talents to records from across the electronic spectrum. And Dozzy, despite being a world-renowned DJ, has never been shy about letting his freak flag fly, whether he’s dropping a full album of acid experiments (2018’s Filo Loves the Acid), diving deep into loopy ambient (2013’s Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask), or making avant-pop as part of Il Quadro di Troisi, a group that also includes synthesist, songwriter and fellow Italian Eva Geist.

Spazio Disponibile, which has also released several memorable records from Berlin-based Italian techno experimenter Marco Shuttle, is one of the key labels in Italy’s electronic music orbit, but it’s far from the only outlet dedicated to platforming avant-garde sounds. Founded in 2020, Roman operation SUPERPANG might be one of the most prolific imprints in all of experimental music. The label provides a home for freeform skronk, glitchy computer music, leftfield composition, and countless points in between, releasing music from an international roster of contributors that includes Merzbow, Lawrence English, Patrick Shiroishi, EVOL, Ale Hop, Richie Culver, Bill Orcutt, and many, many others.

Over in Florence, OOH-sounds has displayed a similar enthusiasm for the weird and inscrutable, offering up everything from hyperpop laments and fractured ambient to moody atmospheres and classical excavations from the likes of more eaze, Dale Cornish, Oliver Coates, Shelley Parker, Peder Mannerfelt and Georgia, not to mention Italian sound explorers like Andrea Taeggi and Holy Similaun. The latter has also appeared on HIDE, a label and collective founded by SY/N. HIDE’s output is generally far too abrasive to be called ambient, but its high-impact sound design and distortion-laced blasts do frequently have a filmic quality—and a real flair for the dramatic. Trento’s Kohlhaas Records prefers to go even further afield; its catalog contains radical improvisations, sound poetry, modern composition, and other adventurous entries, the vast majority of them from Italian artists.

On a more historical tip, Berlin-based Roman Alessandro Adriani long ago established Mannequin Records as an essential outpost for vintage Italian post-punk, industrial, EBM, and cold wave, and continues to present a steady stream of rough-edged synth sounds, both new and old. In Turin, the Gang of Ducks crew/label, led by co-founders Sabla and XIII, has spent more than a decade digging into dark, ritualistic chug, while Bologna’s Maple Death Records remains stubbornly (and compellingly) indefinable, serving up psychedelic freakouts, industrial chaos, woozy post-punk, and woozier acid—sometimes all on the same record.

If there’s one place in Italy where left-of-center sounds really thrive, it’s Milan, where dub and dancehall renegade STILL oversees the Milan-based Hundebiss label, pushing soundsystem culture beyond its natural limits via music by bass-loving Italian firestarters like Piezo, talpah, and NPLGNN. Lorenzo Senni also lives in the city, and when he’s not recontextualizing trance riffs, he runs the Presto!? Imprint in tandem with his friend and Terraforma festival founder Ruggero Pietromarchi. Though their catalog contains entries from DJ Stingray, Donato Dozzy, Mechatok, and Gabber Eleganza, their last two records came from Milan-based upstart Canva6. Also in Milan is the long-running Haunter Records; co-founded by Heith (who dropped a new album, The Liars Tell…, just a few weeks ago on PAN), the decidedly punk-in-spirit label is home to releases from ZULI, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier, and John T. Gast, along with Italian producers like Petit Singe, who’s spent the past few years actively challenging club conventions under the name Tadleeh.

Tadleeh’s music has evolved to a point where it’s technically no longer aimed at the dancefloor, but there are countless Italians pushing the envelope while operating within the ever-expanding and always nebulous zone of bass music. Ilian Tape may be based in Munich, but Turin natives Stenny and Andrea were long ago welcomed into the fold as the label’s Italian contingent. In recent years, the imprint has also released music from Bari’s DJ Plant Texture, a veteran producer and expert creator of hybrid jungle/breakbeat/rave sounds, and Milan’s Katatonic Silentio, a sound artist with a uniquely textural approach to techno (and techno-adjacent) sounds. Nervous Horizon co-founder TSVI, who also makes music as Anunaku, lives in London, but he was raised near Pisa, and his music is influenced as much by the Mediterranean as it is UK soundsystem culture. (In fact, his most recent EP was literally titled Mediterraneo.) Turin mainstay Mana has done multiple records with Hyperdub, Ehua—an Italian-Ivorian artist based in London—teamed up with Martyn’s 3024 imprint last year for her debut EP, Clouds, and NTS regular Silvia Kastel keeps finding new and interesting ways to balance her love of contemporary club rhythms with her penchant for playful melodies and experimental whimsy.

Still, it’s the artists operating outside of the club whose talents are often most impressive. The versatile Valentina Magaletti, formerly of the London-based duo Tomaga and currently part of projects like Moin, Holy Tongue, and V/Z, is one of the experimental music scene’s go-to drummers. Lisbon-based synth wizard Alessandro Cortini is a longtime member of Nine Inch Nails, and as a result became the first Italian inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He’s also collaborated with Daniel Avery on 2020’s ponderous Illusion of Time LP and put out multiple synthgaze records of his own, the most recent being 2021’s SCURO CHIARO. When she’s not scoring films and television shows, London-based, Florence-raised Drum & Lace crafts a notably cinematic variant of ambient and experimental music, and will soon be releasing a new album called ONDA. Marta Salgoni, another Italian living in London, is a fast-rising producer and mixing engineer. Though she spends most of her time making the likes of Björk, Depeche Mode, Animal Collective, and Lucrecia Dalt sound good, she did join forces with sonic explorer Francesco Fonassi on 2022’s hypnotically scuttling l’ebbrezza delle grandi profondità LP. Last year, she released Music for Open Spaces, a collaboration with her late partner Tom Rellen, who up until his death was the other half of the aforementioned Tomaga.

When it comes to ambient and new age, few Italians can match the pedigree of Venice native Gigi Masin. Though he privately released his landmark album, Wind, all the way back in 1986, Masin didn’t find widespread success until 2014, when Music from Memory issued a compilation of his work called Talk to the Sea. A master of plush textures and piano-flecked serenity, he’s also a member of Gaussian Curve (alongside Young Marco and Jonny Nash) and previously collaborated with fellow Italians Tempelhof—who now go by the name One Million Eyes—on multiple releases. Peaceful soundscapes are also the specialty of Francesca Heart, a Milan-based sound artist and postmodern dancer whose most recent album, Euryiba, was released by Leaving Records in 2022. SSIEGE is another Milanese who prefers to dwell in the quiet, but his gentle ambient compositions—best exemplified by his 2023 album, Beautiful Age—are more overtly sentimental, conveying a profound sense of longing and melancholy without ever sounding maudlin.

There’s more grandeur in the work of Bruno Bavota, a composer and multi-instrumentalist from Naples who’s done several albums for Temporary Residence Ltd. A similarly epic sensibility colors the output of Simone Giudice, whose elegant drones most recently took flight on his 2023 LP, Alone. More imposing, but just as stately, is the music of Modena sound designer and experimental percussionist Riccardo La Foresta, who’s spent the past couple of years creating towering walls of sound with James Ginzburg of Emptyset. Milan-based guitarist Giuseppe Ielasi has spent decades on Italy’s experimental fringe, during which time his fuzzy meditations have popped up on esteemed labels like 12k, Shelter Press, and Editions Mego, along with his own Senufo Editions imprint.

At the darker end of the spectrum, there’s Lamusa II. Arguably best known for “La Ecstase,” a sleazily seductive collaboration with Marie Davidson that came out on Ninja Tune back in 2018, the Milan-based gear hound is a lover of hazy sonics and woozy rhythms, and his 2024 album DON’T, which dropped just a few weeks ago, adds both trip-hop and sludgy ’90s rock to the mix. More chaotic is Rosso Polare, a Milan duo whose improvisational approach relies heavily on field recordings—barking dogs are a recurring motif—while oscillating between pastoral nature sounds, haunted folk remnants, and distortion-laced outbursts. As such, their music, which has been released on labels like Klammklang and Cafe OTO’s in-house Takuroku imprint, defies easy categorization. Even less categorizable is the work of mysterious Panoram, a joyously odd talent whose impeccably assembled tunes sit somewhere between new age, ambient, IDM, weird jazz, and even weirder pop.

There are more names, of course. Lots of them. But considering that Italy has a population of nearly 60 million people—not that much less than cultural powerhouses like the UK and France—and a diaspora of millions more scattered around the globe, it’s virtually impossible to neatly sum up any aspect of the country’s creative output, no matter how niche. Italy’s musical offerings are just as complex as that of any other developed, well-connected nation, and it’s a failing of the wider music industry and ecosystem that so many of those offerings go largely unnoticed, even by those who consider themselves to be dedicated supporters of obscure and experimental sounds. One column won’t do much to change that, but for those curious to dig deeper, it can be a starting point. And in an effort to point readers toward the good stuff, I’ve compiled a list of five releases that represent some of my favorite Italian ambient and experimental sounds from the past few years.

Grand River - Blink a Few Times to Clear Your Eyes 

[Editions Mego]

Although 2023’s All Above made clear that Grand River has no problem tackling bigger, bolder compositions, the lighter touch of her previous full-length, Blink a Few Times to Clear Your Eyes, has its own unmistakable allure. As with everything she does, the LP displays an intense attention to detail, but here, her ethereal mists, hovering drones, and electro-acoustic textures coalesce into a pleasantly immersive space, blurring the boundaries between the organic and the electronic.

xpedient - R8-16

[Entangled Visions]

Not much is known about Holy Similaun—his bio only reveals that he comes from “the picturesque landscapes of Italy”—and even less is known about his xpedient alias, which so far has only dropped a handful of releases on the excellent Entangled Visions label. 2021’s R8-16 EP was the first of those releases, and it consists of three exquisite synthscapes, all of them tapping into the flotation-tank-in-outer-space vibe that Basic Channel perfected three decades ago. A comparison like that is a lot to live up to, but the sheer grace of xpedient’s free-floating riffs will quickly soothe the spirits of whoever happens to be in earshot.

Donato Dozzy - Magda

[Spazio Disponibile]

The techno crowd will forever lay claim to Donato Dozzy, and that’s fair enough, but his latest full-length, Magda, is a blissed-out record whose wondrous expanse extends far beyond the confines of the dancefloor. Listening to the album’s twinkling tones, it’s tempting to draw comparisons to the gauzy, psychedelic spells he previously cast as one half of Voices from the Lake, but the LP takes just as many cues from Neu! and Tangerine Dream, employing motorik rhythms and celestial synth flutters in a way that’s utterly spellbinding. I won’t say it’s the best thing he’s ever done, but it’s definitely one of the most beautiful.

Panoram - Keep Looking Where the Light Comes from

[Running Back]

Panoram’s music lends itself to fanciful comparisons. “Imagine Boards of Canada signed to a major label in 1987.” “What would it sound like if Aphex Twin covered Koyaanisqatsi?” Not many artists can credibly be called goofy while also drawing comparisons to Steve Reich, but Panoram is someone with no real peers. His irreverence is at the heart of his appeal. The artist’s playful instincts are all over the excellent Great Times, which was recently released via the Spanish label Balmat. Last year’s Keep Looking Where the Light Comes from was even more puckish, offering luminous ambient euphoria one minute and deconstructed psych-pop the next. It’s all over the place, yes, but it never feels like a mess; on the contrary, it’s a joy to simply sit back and watch the madness unfold.

Tadleeh - Lone


With records from SSIEGE, NPLGNN, Silvia Kastel, and Tadleeh in its catalog, Manchester label Youth has become a prime source of cutting-edge Italian sounds. Lone surfaced in April, and it’s the first Tadleeh full-length, a record the Indian-born, Forli-based artist says it about “loneliness and hidden places.” That sense of isolation is weaved throughout the album’s lurching rhythms and murky nooks and crannies; its somber whispers and time-stretched vocal drones convey multitudes without ever forming an intelligible word. Fifteen years ago, an album like this might have been branded “witch house,” but while the darkness of that trend often felt like a put on, Lone‘s moody disposition scans as wholly authentic, the natural byproduct of an artist battling to carve out her place in not just the electronic music sphere, but the world at large.

Nina is an independent music ecosystem.

Join over 5000 artists, labels, and listeners using Nina to share their music, build their context and directly support artists.


Now Playing