In Conversation: Valentina Magaletti of Vanishing Twin, Holy Tongue, Better Corners

Written By: 
Phil Cho
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Photo by Louise Mason

The prolific Italian-born, UK-based drummer-composer talks beginnings, inspirations, and collaborations.

The most featured drummer/artist on our 2023 end-of-year favorites list, Valentina Magaletti has over the years built a singular body of work consisting of performances and collaborations with Jandek, Pat Thomas, Deb Googe, Maria Chavez, Steve Beresford, Charles Hayward, Steve Shelley, Lafawndah, Mica Levi, Sampha, Kamasi Washington, Thurston Moore, and Nicolas Jaar; numerous band projects including Tomaga, UUUU, Moin, Vanishing Twin, Better Corners, and Holy Tongue; and solo works and exhibitions like A Queer Anthology of Drums and the ceramic drum kit performance Batterie Fragile. Her latest focus is a female-only editorial imprint and record label called Permanent Draft launched in 2022 with writer Fanny Chiarello.

Valentina’s drumming style is hard to pin down and perhaps best characterized by a constant drive to experiment. Over the years, she has absorbed multitudes of percussive traditions from Italian progressive rock to American bebop, krautrock to dub, Indonesian gamelan to West African polyrhythms. As a solo artist, Valentina tends to gravitate towards textures rather than straightforward grooves. She experiments with new sounds through modified drum kits and all kinds of percussive instruments, as well as contact microphones and found objects. Outside of her complete dedication to her craft, Valentina is also a voracious listener. During our conversation, she looks back at an entire room filled with records and says, “What you see behind me here is not healthy. I am working towards limiting my collection to just gold.”

Listen to Valentina’s latest solo release from 2023 which was recorded live at ‘A Colourful Storm: Valentina Magaletti, Mark, Princess Diana of Wales’, Cafe Oto, October 1, 2021.




Later this year in March, Valentina will be back at Cafe Oto to present a 3-day residency in conjunction with Permanent Draft’s new book release Basta Now: Women, Trans & Non-Binary in Experimental Music. Permanent Draft “aims to highlight works showing a certain taste for fragmentary, irrepressible creative eruption and lo-fi experiments. Leaving the grandiose apart to pay and bring attention to the sounds, details and anecdotes of everyday life, picking up raw material from the ordinary.”

Below, In Sheep’s Clothing’s Phil Cho in conversation with Valentina Magaletti about her formative years, drum & non-drum inspirations, approach to collaboration, listening practices, and more!

Starting from the beginning… You were born in Italy and studied drumming from an early age. How did that city shape your drumming style as well as early listening?

I started drumming in Bari southern Italy around 20 odd years ago. Personally, I don’t think that the place I’m from informed any of my musicianship or my curiosity in record collecting. Unfortunately, there’s not much curiosity there. Maybe nowadays it’s slightly better, but during that time there wasn’t really much going on, so I was all in my head. No one in my family has got anything to do with music. I was just a neurodivergent, delusional child in their own bubble.

I guess in a way, the city influenced you to go elsewhere?

I mean, what really pushed me to go elsewhere is that by a really early age, before I even finished my degree, I had played or jammed with everyone that was in my city. So it was also the need of seeking for someone else, or for something else. It’s part of what I think music entails; you never settle, always seek for something new. There’s always something that makes you think “wow.” Once that “wow” stops, you need to seek it somewhere else. Funnily enough, in a city like London, where I moved, that never ends. There’s always something new. Of course in southern Italy, it’s gorgeous – like where you guys are in Los Angeles. You get constant sunshine, the sea, and the food is fantastic. But I miss everything else. I don’t know what it is, but something about that kind of grimness of London, Manchester, and the UK. It’s somehow really special.

I read that you studied with the drummer of Goblin  in Italy? 

Yes, it was at an early age that I studied with Agostino Marangolo. When I was really young, I started with a little bit of rock and roll. Again, my curiosity just made me want to explore new signatures, all this rock craziness, and the guy was incredible… Now, I’m far from listening to prog rock and I’m back to my minimal self, but it was very inspiring and important for the technique. It was fun. 

“If I have to be paid attention to as a performer with one instrument, what I want to achieve is a constant sort of unsettling feeling; taking you to places that you won’t expect.”

Agostino Marangolo also played on some soundtracks and library records. You’ve described your drumming as “storytelling” and I’m just curious if there’s any link there with library music in Italy, where a narrative is told through instrumental music?

When I say storytelling, I just mean that I would like to engage in a kind of narrative that is different from just executing a sterile beat. Maybe it’s because I’ve already done that and studied it so much. It was at some point in my career around when I really started doing this for a living. We owned so many drum machines, and I just realized I’m not interested in grooving that much anymore. If I do a solo show, I just want to engage in a different way. When you set up a groove at a certain BPM, of course, it’s fascinating and it’s got loads of charm, but your brain knows what’s going on. It knows the next bar, and then you just settle. 

If I have to be paid attention to as a performer with one instrument, what I want to achieve is a constant sort of unsettling feeling; taking you to places that you won’t expect. I can start the beat, deconstruct it, go completely abstract, and then back to a tribal mood or into something completely textural. I’m trying to fuck with your attention in the most gracious way. I just don’t want to settle for something that has been done. I can see lots of colleagues, incredibly good musicians, that just spend hours with the accents and the shuffling. Great. But really, you can do that with a drum machine.

You later moved to London in your early 20’s and started your professional career. What were those early days like? 

When I first moved here, I was romanticizing about finding that perfect advert that was looking for a drummer with all the influences that I love. So I started replying to so many adverts. One of the first beautiful things that happened was that I had a John Peel session. He was one of my heroes and someone that used to play all sorts of stuff, and at the wrong speeds, as well, which opened up so much leverage to dreaming and curiosity. It was one of the first things I did here. But it hasn’t been totally smooth because I had to get a job before reaching that stage where I could be making music every day, like I do now. It took me a little while, but when I first arrived, I was having jam sessions and trying to experience everything that I found interesting. There’s always so much stuff. 

What were some of the venues that you were playing at or attending during that time?

My God, they’re all gone now, which is really sad. There was the Bull & Gate, the Spitz, the Verge, so many really shitty, smelly pubs with carpet that smells like rancid booze. It was part of the charm of those formative years and I’m glad I did it. I always joke now, “no more rock dungeons for me.” I’m done with that shit, but there was a beautiful scene. One of the best memories that I have is being able to open myself to other people. There was a beautiful punk venue called Power Lunch that I opened with some friends. It was another stinky one. The vibe was just so amazing. They had everyone from Hype Williams to the Country Teasers. All my favorite stuff. Mica Levi was often at the bar, and it was that kind of gritty basement where you go just for the music. It was fucking amazing. Unfortunately, so many of these kinds of places had to go because of gentrification. Good memories.

Photo by Laurent Orseau

I heard about a night called Krautrock Karaoke? What was that?

This was a long time ago. Before I joined Thurston Moore in the Can tribute band, krautrock had become really trend, and I thought it was a fantastic idea to combine the trashiest night (karaoke night), where you end up singing stuff like “Living on A Prayer,” with krautrock anthems. I met so many musicians during those sessions, like Matthew Simms from Wire, Deerhoof, Lætitia Sadier from Stereolab. All the musicians would just meet there and choose all these kraut covers from Faust, Cluster, and Can, of course. Damo Suzuki himself even showed up. He was doing his own things. I thought it was just a really nice idea and fun. 

Charles Hayward became a mentor of yours in London. You’ve cited him as an influential drummer to you along with Jaki Liebezeit (Can), Milford Graves, Billy Higgins, and Art Blakey. I was curious, are there any non-drummers that inspire you? 

We were talking about storytelling, people like Milford Graves I don’t even consider a drummer. To me, he’s a poet, and so is Billy Higgins. There are also loads of beautiful, more conventional drummers that I love: Georgia Hubley from Yo La Tengo or Moe Tucker from Velvet Underground. They were incredibly simple but beautiful in what they were able to achieve and contribute to those tunes. Just perfect.

Coming back to your question of non-drummers, I think it’s related to what I was saying about certain drummers sort of gravity blasting the audience with all this sterile technique. What do you want to achieve? For people to say, “Oh – very good drummer”? That’s where it ends. You’re not going further, you’re not resonating, or giving anything back to the people. Sometimes I go to shows where people who have never played drums pick up the instrument and start to groove. It’s so inspiring, the freshness of someone that’s touching the instrument for the first time. It’s like, “Wow, that can sound like that.” It’s completely beautiful and I really treasure that. I’m much more into non-drummers than these handsome guys just showing off. 

What about other instruments that inspire your playing? 

Piano records influenced my drumming, like Morton Feldman and Julius Eastman. Piano is my favorite percussive instrument. I’m inspired to achieve that kind of repetition. I can also see the percussive element in so many instruments other than drums. Obviously, I favor guitar players like Derek Bailey; people that had a completely fresh approach with their instrument, and you don’t even recognize that it is a guitar. That really inspires me. I’m an avid listener, so anything goes, and anything can be turned into a snare sound. So I just maintain this kind of open vision.

As an avid listener, what is your approach to listening and discovering new music? Do you have a specific practice, similar in how a musician approaches their instrument?

Let’s say that I have my pushers and I know a couple of distributors that deal with all my favorite labels. I always keep a close eye to what’s going on. I’m kind of lucky because I often trade with people. They all want my records and so I just constantly trade when I’m interested in something. Then, of course, I always love to dig. I have a couple of favorite record stores where I go often and I also trade with shops. My listening is alway shifting, and I think a healthy collection should always be on the move with stuff you don’t listen to anymore. Lately, I’ve been giving away or selling, which I don’t often do because I don’t have time. What you see behind me here is not healthy. I am working towards limiting my collection to just gold. 

You’ve had a pretty busy release year in 2023 with multiple projects – releasing albums as well as other collaborations. How does it feel going into 2024 with all these projects?

I am so grateful and excited about everything that I’ve done. I’ve reached a very privileged stage where I can say no to things that I don’t like and I’ve been lucky enough to just engage with stuff that I really love, not just from the perspective of a performer, musician, or producer, but also from the perspective of a listener. I’m just thinking, “What is a record that I would love to actually buy and listen to?” That’s what I’m on now, which might sound a little egotistic, but I love the music that I’m doing. I would be lying if I said I don’t. I genuinely think it’s beautiful, and I’m lucky to work with all the people that I work with because it’s not just me, obviously.

Each project has quite a specific identity and sound. Do you tend to have a concept or idea going into new collaborations or is it more that these artists seem interesting to work with and then a sound naturally emerges from that?

I would say that I don’t resign myself to a typical approach. Every project is so different. Holy Tongue, for example, is like a dub vision starting with me and Al Wooton (aka Deadboy), who is a longtime friend, and we both love dub. He’s bringing the clubbing element and I’m bringing the experimental element. Then we have Vanishing Twin, which is more singer Cathy Lucas from Innerspace Orchestra. That group is more informed by library records, but also by acid folk from England. V/Z, which is my latest project with Zongamin, is one of the most challenging, actually, because now I’m in the studio preparing the live show and I decided not to be behind the drum kit for the first time. I’m playing everything else and it’s another completely different approach.

As a drummer, you often experiment with different textures with the drum kit and percussion. With each of these projects, do you establish a sort of sonic palette to work with using a specific drum kit formation? Or is it more fluid depending on the session?

Not really, I mean, obviously I have a few bits that I consistently use. For my solo shows, I’ve always been using my signature set with a lot of metal and contact microphones. For CZN, which is more tribal, I have loads of stacks and gongs. In Holy Tongue, I use Roto Toms and a Synare drum synthesizer. I also tend to mix things up because with live shows and tech riders, you have to obey certain limitations. I try to be as open as I can.




I love the Holy Tongue project. As a Londoner, what is your relationship with dub and reggae music? What are some of your favorite dub albums?

The latest Holy Tongue album features Steve Beresford, who played on some of my favorite dub albums from the Slits to Flying Lizards. The project is also informed by groups like African Head Charge, Adrian Sherwood projects, On-U Sound. The British dub legacy was very much what we were listening to when working on this project. There’s also beautiful new dub music coming out now, like Gaia Tones. There’s not much live dub out there, which is why I love Holy Tongue. I wish I could attend more live dub shows. 

What is the collaboration process like between you and Al Wooton? He obviously brings a more club-minded approach to the table.

To me, it was very refreshing because I’m a massive fan of good club music, stuff like Muslimgauze, for example. It was very interesting to work with a producer that could actually produce the drums in a completely “dance” way. We just finished an album with Shackleton, who is as prolific as I am, and it was a beautiful collaboration with two producers. I loved hearing what my beats and drumming could become with them. Sam is a total clubhead so it was very interesting to see how this thing transforms.

So is it a sort of process where you record the drums and then Al processes them or do you all work in the studio together?

No, with Holy Tongue we go into the studio together. Susumu plays bass, Al sort of plays everything and then does the dubbing, the reamping, and all the Sonia Pottinger treatment. I’d like to point out that it wasn’t just Lee “Scratch” Perry… No one ever credits this woman Sonia Pottinger, who did more than 3,000 dub productions. It’s all about that guy for some reason. Not that we’re not massive fans of Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Holy Tongue's first album, Deliverance and Spiritual Warfare, has a much more expanded world versus the first three EP’s with a brass section and more electronic elements. 

The album to me is absolutely beautiful because it has moments of jazz, post punk, dub, but it also starts with a saeta, which is this religious brass section from a street parade that Al attended in Andalusia. After hearing that, he went home and scored something that reminded him of Semana Santa, the holy week. I love that. The album is just epic with a banging, dance hall sort of vibe. It sets the pace somewhere that is kind of unsettling. We try to just keep it like a surprise. You don’t want to just settle into the usual dub, because there’s so much amazing dub that’s been done already. You want to kind of do something different. We’re trying…

I saw that Holy Tongue is playing soon with the Bug ft. Flowdan and Om Unit? That’s a full-on dance/club lineup. As an instrumentalist, what is your relationship to dance music, clubs, etc.? 

Funnily enough, I’ve never been big on house music, even if everyone is trying to convince me. Of course, there are some holy grails in house music too. I’ve always been a big fan of minimal techno in a really subtle way; music where your brain can actually add what’s missing. In my project CZN with Leon Marks and João Pais Filipe, it’s basically analog techno. So I enjoy clubbing, but to be honest with you, I’ve never been a club head myself. I don’t go dancing or anything like that. To me it’s more of a listening scenario. Also, because I’m in a club 200 days a year, when I’m off I don’t go. I’d rather go to a restaurant or walk in a forest or go to the cinema.




“I am a serial collaborator so I tend to guard and to pick and choose who I work with. The incestuous nature of my collaboration is just dictated by the fact that I love the people that I work with.”

Moving on to Better Corners, this project has an American post-rock influence from bands like Grouper and Stars Of The Lid. When did post-rock music come into the mix for you?

Well, a big part of it is because we have an American citizen in the band: the amazing Sarah Register, who plays with Kim Gordon. She’s in LA, actually, right now. I think she’s doing some solo shows at some point. She brought a lot into this project with all her American influences. Better Corners is very much inspired  by Sarah. Obviously, we also have Matthew Simms, who is incredible. Matthew now has this beautiful band called Memorials with Verity Susman from Electrelane, which was a fantastic Brighton band from back in the day, criminally underrated, if you ask me … As most ladies in music still  are.

I understand that a lot of the work was done remotely? Obviously collaborating remotely is not ideal, but what benefits do you see from working this way?

Geographically, none of us are in the same city, so it has to be remote. It has its own charm, though, because, again, it’s different from everything else that I’ve done. It’s kind of beautiful, just harmonizing and putting melodies to a telephone call; it’s like communicating between each other and then it becomes music. It has a romantic element to it, which I think all of us are very dear to. There is a limitation to this, and it’s disjointed because we’re never in the same room. We’ve only done two gigs since this whole thing started, and we have two albums. We are wishful that there could be some more touring at some point, but everyone is very busy. 

There are so many other projects to include, but I’d like to talk briefly about Vanishing Twin. This project seems to have a specific framework and set of influences. This new album is much more experimental than the previous ones. What sparked this new direction? 

The aesthetic of Vanishing Twin has always been inspired by Fluxus, Dada, and Bauhaus. We’re suckers for that sort of thing, and it’s what we love. This latest album is very different from the last one because of a few reasons. First of all, there was a common need for us to depart from the retro, so this was the first album that was not produced by Malcolm Catto, who you might know from The Heliocentrics, Stones Throw, and Egon’s Now-Again. Also, our singer Cathy Lucas was in the states working on a PhD, so Zongamin and I took the lead for part of the production. I think that’s why it’s more experimental and contemporary as opposed to, as I say, retro. We actually just signed a new deal. We’re very excited about it so there will be more albums and it’ll be more and more experimental. 




Field recordings and samples play a big role in the creative process for this project. Can you share some of the field recordings that you personally recorded on this album, and what sounds they became?

I need to think about it because there’s a huge amount. There must be like hundreds of sounds because we all collectively and individually came into the studio every day with ideas. I taped this church doing a gospel down the road which Susumu processed and then the gospel became like percussion, or something like that. We have boats, rusty bicycles, people emulating birds, loads of roadworks … Everything is just quantum listening to the max. Anything goes. Everything is sound. It’s a beautiful process because it detracts you from using all the same fucking equipment. It instantly becomes yours and personal; your intimate space becomes music. It’s very important.

It seems like the boundaries of each project have become more blurred. Steve Beresford appears on Holy Tongue and Susumu Mukai on Vanishing Twin + Holy Tongue live. With so many projects, do you try to separate them or?

I am a serial collaborator so I tend to guard and to pick and choose who I work with. The incestuous nature of my collaboration is just dictated by the fact that I love the people that I work with. Being a drummer, I really love Zongamin as a bass player, so I feel really comfortable with him. Then if I can get Al to step in and play guitar with Moin, then of course I would, because I really trust and love the taste of the people I work with. For me, there is a constant wish to collaborate more with women, and that’s what I’m working on with my residency and my label.  The next thing I’m doing is publishing a book by a French writer that’s all about experimental music by women, non-binary, and transgender artists because I think there’s a voice that needs to be heard there. I would love to collaborate more and more with women. I have a few albums with Marlene Ribeiro, Laila Saikini, and a new collective called Ondata Rossa, which is all ladies. You’ll hear from that soon.

Anything else coming up on the horizon that you’d like to shout out?

As I mentioned, there’s the Holy Tongue album with Shackleton. I also have a new EP coming out of my solo stuff and a solo show. Well, it’s not actually solo, because it’s me and a light engineer presenting a show that is sort of like a match between the drums and the lights. It’s called Lucha Libre. There’ll be a limited edition EP coming out on 12-inch, which I hope to bring with me to the shows because people always complain that I’m lazy about that. Then there’ll be the book, Basta Now, which will be launched for my residency at Cafe Oto on March 6, 7, 8. Then there’s the new Moin, which has loads of surprises with a lot of features. Then I’m just constantly working on new material that’ll be on my new album probably out next year. I’m also re-pressing A Queer Anthology of Drums because it didn’t really work for the market in Europe the first time because of import costs. It’ll be ready in March and released in three different colors. 




Lastly, what have you been listening to recently?

To be honest, I’ve been listening to all unreleased stuff at the moment from friends of mine. A beautiful saxophone player Laura Agnusdei just sent me her new work. I’ve been in the studio nonstop, so I’ve just been listening to music that I’ve been sent as opposed to records that I purchased. I like most of the stuff from the Swedish label Discreet Music from Gothenburg. I’ve been mostly listening to that, because it’s chill and good for when I come home. There are also a couple of bands that I want to collaborate with, so I’ve been checking out their albums.

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