Monday, June 2, 2008

Disco Italia


Italo disco has been a catch phrase for a while now among trainspotters who obsess over records that were cast into the abyss of high energy by the earnest, chin stroking dance music programmers of the nineties, and are now returning to the crates of serious collectors and djs whose love never faded. Whereas nineties holdouts would gladly dwell on the efficacy of Jeff Mills’ crunchy loops and their effect on the dance massive, it’s not unusual for their peers in this decade to ponder the depth of lyrics like “You look like Nostradamus, although you’re not as famous,” or other pearls of Italo lyric writing.

And though it is easy to regard this European dance music as mere cheese, there has been some excavation of the genre and more than a few absolute gems have turned up. Italo disco didn’t just disappear to be replaced by house and techno but rather, the latter genres were influenced by the much maligned European disco styles hammered in the clubs of the ‘80s by djs who – not so coincidentally – pioneered both house and techno (and that includes Jeff Mills btw).

Thankfully some of the most influential tracks have been committed in recent years to retrospective collections, which have given the younger – and often more passionate – collectors and djs a chance to fall in love with the music for the first time. A new release that is worthy of investigation is !K7/Strut’s Disco Italia – Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977 – 1985, a thirteen track collection compiled by Steve Kotey of Chicken Lips. Kotey has done his homework on this one and dug deep into his disco collection to pull out a selection of Italo numbers that reflect the more soulful side of the genre, as opposed to the robotic and New Wave tendencies that were featured on the fine I-Robots and Confuzed Disco collections; both released on the Italian imprint IRMA.

With Disco Italia you get a perfect amalgam of the intensity of New York and the balmy Mediterranean overtones of Rimini or Ricione, complete with that bewildering, yet endearing, penchant for pidgin English lyrics. The groove was everything in Italo and if the lyrics didn’t make sense (because neither the producers nor the singers could speak English) then so be it. And when that groove is as infectious and devastating as it is on tunes like Kano’s “Now Baby Now,” – from their self-titled album from 1980, which also contained “It’s A War,” – “Dreaming” by Rainbow Team and “The Kee Tha Tha” by Five Letters, who’s complaining? You’re too busy dancing to be bitching about grammatical train wrecks.

There is such a thing as poetic license and a dip into the annals of Italo disco will show that it was exercised with liberal abandon. However, there aren’t really too many tunes on here that will have you running for the Webster’s Dictionary or The Elements of Style, but plenty of numbers that will have you running to the nearest dance floor or open area of carpet. Primary among those that radiate with a rug cutting fervor is “Let Me Be Your Radio (Part 1)” by Red Dragon Band. This baby, released on the tiny Italian indie label, Atlas Records, is a tough and percussive slice of funk infused with that special Italian touch. Radio style voice over vocalizing and shouted chants echo over rolling drums, lush keyboards and sharp horn stabs, and all this will keep it at the front of your crate.

Kotey also pulls gems from the discography of some of the more famous Italian producers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. “1979, It’s Dancing Time” by Revanche was produced by Mauro Malavasi, who is renowned for his work – often in conjunction with fellow producer, Jacques Fred Petrus -- as B.B. & Band, Brooklyn, Bronx & Queens Band, Change, Macho and Peter Jacques Band. This Revanche number is a straight-up good time party banger with a bass-line that brings Chic to mind and a vocal that brings banging, good time partying to mind.

Maurice Cavalieri and Maurizio Sangineto (aka Sangy) were another Italo powerhouse production team and their boogie standard, “Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side)” by Firefly is included here. These guys, under various guises, crafted some very forward looking records in the ‘80s. Sangy produced Vallery Allington’s “Stop,” and “Sounds Of Humanoid Kind” by E.T.M.S., while Cavalier was behind such epic Italo tracks as Charlie’s legendary “Spacer Woman,” and Daniele Baldelli favorite “Stand Up” by Nexus.

And a compilation of Italian dance music would be sadly lacking without the inclusion of at least one track by Claudio Simonetti, and Giancarlo Meo. Thankfully two are featured, “Brazillian Dancer” by Kasso and “Do It Again” by Easy Going. Meo and Simonetti also recorded as Capricorn, a project, which spawned “I Need Love,” a driving electro disco cut from 1983 that made a huge impression on the nascent Chicago and Detroit dance scenes. Simonetti was a member of Italian doom rockers and soundtrack legends, Goblin, and together with Meo he produced Italo diva, Vivien Vee.

This is the kind of caliber that Kotey has actively sought out, and on Disco Italia, this type of quality is threaded through all thirteen tracks. Though he is probably the consummate collector, Kotey concentrates on tracks that contain a definite sense of fun, including, “Burning Love,” by D.D. Sound (aka La Bionda), which was written by the La Bionda Brothers and engineered by Harry Thumann of “Underwater,” fame; and Tullio De Piscopo’s grandly titled, “E Fatto 'E Sorde! E? (Money Money).” De Piscopo is a drummer of some note who played on early records by Kano and was responsible for the Balearic classic, “Stop Bajon (Primavera).” This compilation finishes on an appropriately high (and somewhat silly) note with Valentine’s “Tina Are You Ready,” a chunky, loping electro disco cut released on Banana Records (home to Vivien Vee and other Meo and Simonetti productions) in 1983 that seems to be about a lady friend who takes an eternity dolling herself up for a night out (on the dance floor of Discoteca Cosmic or Tenax, no doubt).

If you need a summer soundtrack for your dancing pleasure then you’ve definitely found it in this top-notch record. Hopefully Strut will be coming up with more releases like this one in the near future. If their past record is anything to go by, that is undoubtedly a given.
-Orr
http://www.strut-records.com/discoitalia/

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