LONDONERS AT HOME: The Way We Live Now
Living surrounded by possesions -
Fabio John D’Agostino
Date of photography: 3rd November 2016
At home, Fabio likes to surround himself with all the objects that are most important to him, that inspire him, objects that are invaluable components of his creative world. He loves to live and work enveloped by the things he values; they provide him both with connections to his past work and experience, and offer him guidance towards future creativity. He said recently: “What I produce now is an act of self-expression; through what I do, I best express how I feel and what kind of person I am. It is deeply personal; it always has been. While I do get inspired by other artists’ work, I never imitate or copy; I always do my own thing. I hope that if you look around me, in my own space, everything you see will confirm this; this is my life, and these are my inspirational references, examples of extraordinary beauty without which I could not succeed as an artist.”
The full story:
There are some people who dwell in minimalist homes, homes that look as if they have just been comprehensively burgled, where every flat surface has been relieved of its bric-a-brac, ornaments, paintings, photographs and any other memorabilia. On the other hand, there are people who like to cocoon themselves with possessions, with things that are important to them because of their associations, their sentimental value, or because they are invaluable to their creative work. Well, Fabio John D’Agostino is assuredly not a minimalist householder; he loves to be surrounded with beautiful, useful and precious artefacts, of a host of different kinds - they kindle his creativity.
Fabio is a rock musician and DJ, and his vigorous, creative spirit is reflected in every aspect of his flat in what some people would describe as an ‘edgy’ part of north-east London. While as a musician, he is dynamic and bang-up-to-date contemporary, as a DJ, he’s also a passionate lover of vinyl and the owner of a remarkable collection of albums and singles that claim a goodly share of his living space.
When I photographed Fabio originally, in November 2016, we were both on rather tight schedules so I was pleased to be invited back, a year later, to conclude the interview and specifically to learn more about him as a person and as an artist. Now aged 52, Fabio speaks at greater length about his life: “I was born in Stanford Hill, in north London, into what was very much a working class family, a hard-working family of dual ethnicity. My mother is French; she was born in Marseilles and, in addition to raising a family of four - I have two brothers and one sister - she always held down a job as well, working mostly in retail, in chemists’ shops, and suchlike. My father was Sicilian and, as a young man in search of a trade by which to earn his living, he went to Switzerland and learned about catering; having eventually arrived to London, he worked here all his life as a chef.”
“I was the third of their children and, from the beginning, I rather thought that I stood out, feeling different from others but not quite knowing why. It was partly about who I was and how I felt, and partly about who I wanted to be. I tried to express my sense of difference through my creativity but neither my school nor my home was very conducive to that.” I asked Fabio if he remembered the family home as a happy place and, after a few moments’ thought, he responded: “Milan, it wasn’t an unhappy home but you could certainly say the atmosphere was often ‘highly strung’, definitely not the quietest place on earth.” He laughs.
“I went to school in Tottenham which, by that time, was already very multicultural: as there were lots of Turkish, Asian and West Indian kids, being of non-English ethnicity did not feel like any kind of impediment. Mind you, I didn’t do too well at school - to be honest, I hated it. I saw it almost as an extension of home, a place where people wanted to exert their control over me, and to shape me, so naturally I resisted. I went on to secondary school in White Hart Lane, where I was always bunking off; I became a habitual truant. Consequently, I didn’t do very well there either. I just didn’t care. By that time I knew what I wanted to be, a musician; I wanted to be a DJ and I wanted to express myself creatively.”
I asked Fabio where he thought this creativity might have sprung from: “My father was an amateur musician and he also enjoyed photography, so I probably inherited my creativity from him. There could well have been a latent artist somewhere deep inside him too but no-one ever helped him or gave him the chance to find his creative self. In my case, I was luckier: fortunately for me, other people did noticed that I had more than just an interest in music. A friend of my brother’s, a guy called Paul Anderton, recognised what seemed to him to be my natural talent for music. He said to me once: ‘Some people have to learn it, to try to master it, but you just seem to have it!’ I had loved music since I was a child and again it was Paul who encouraged me to play the guitar as a teenager. He coached me well and it wasn’t long before I began to play in bands. In no time at all, I was fully immersed in what you might call the ‘rock ’n’ roll lifestyle’, making music, taking drugs - sometimes lots of them - and staying up all night. For two years, I even moved up to Scotland with a band, a period I still think of quite fondly.”
I could not help but notice that Fabio’s description of his youthful, rock ’n’ roll lifestyle didn’t include any reference to sex, so often such a prominent feature in the lives of our famous rockers, so I asked him directly if he’d elaborate: “My own sexuality was a bit of an enigma to me, Milan; I experimented with girls and with boys during my teenage years but during my rock ’n' roll days, my sexuality was somehow suppressed, sublimated perhaps, and I cultivated what was almost an androgynous image. Basically, I think I lacked confidence in myself, sexually. I was in a relationship with a woman for a few years but during that time, I already started to have sex with men, so she and I parted amicably and we’ve remained good friends ever since. Once when I’d got my first proper boyfriend, I felt totally liberated. Unlike some other guys, I was really fortunate; none of my friends rejected me when I came out. My brothers and my sister accepted me too but my mother continued to be convinced for quite some time that it was only ‘a phase I was going through’, that one day I would find myself a nice girl and give her some grandchildren.”
“About 20 years ago, my life as a freelance musician took off in earnest and ever since then, even without my having to spend much time and effort on self-promotion, I have been successfully developing my interconnected careers as a musician, a DJ and a radio presenter. Without wishing to sound arrogant, my career has been built on my reputation: I don’t have to do any cold-calling or go knocking on too many doors in search of work - to be honest, on the few occasions when I have done that, the doors usually remained firmly shut! I have learned how to survive as an independent musician, and how to keep on pleasing myself, just ‘ploughing my own furrow’. Of course, I do collaborate extensively with other independent performers, as well as with other musical groups and, since1996, I have been performing with my own rock band, the Washington Rays. The band is about to produce and release its fifth album.”
Fabio is truly a creative individual: not only is he a successful musician, but he is also interested in film, photography, painting, sculpture - all the visual arts, really - and he recently started pottery and ceramics too. Despite being completely new to it, he is doing extremely well and has already produced some very interesting and highly original pieces.
For inspiration, and to whet his creative drive, Fabio has amassed a unique collection of personal effects - photographs, instruments, objets d’art, posters and reproductions - many of which have become icons for him over the years, triggers that stimulate a myriad of memories and associations, reconnecting him with the numerous aesthetic and cultural movements that have shaped him as a musician. While resolute minimalists might see his surroundings as cluttered and disarrayed, there is actually remarkable order; everything has its home and nothing is out of place. All the things that fill Fabio’s personal space are interrelated, arranged with a historical and aesthetic logic that helps define who he is, both as a person and as an artist.
And this exciting, colourful space is more than just home to Fabio; this is where, when he’s together with his band, new musical ideas are born and where, quite often, the final tracks are mixed. This remarkable home reveals Fabio’s complex personality as an artist, his eclectic aesthetic sensibility, his simple joy in life, and his love of all things beautiful.
“What I produce now is an act of self-expression; through what I do, I best express how I feel and what kind of person I am. It is deeply personal; it always has been. While I do get inspired by other artists’ work, I never imitate or copy; I always do my own thing. I hope that if you look around me, in my own space, everything you see will confirm this; this is my life, and these are my inspirational references, examples of extraordinary beauty without which I could not succeed as an artist.”
Text edited: 21 March 2017
Text revised and re-edited: 6 December 2017
Page modified: 17th March 2019