Electro-Pop and Italo Disco! The world's first and oldest completely electronic dance music is, like all things retro and 80s, making a comeback! If you're thinking "It's about god damn time!", rejoice! If you're thinking "Hey, I remember this stuff. Wow, how kitsch!", prepare for a rollercoaster return to memory lane. If you're thinking "What the bloody hell is Italo Disco?!", sit back and enjoy the science.

Italo Disco has its origins in a number of places. Most direct antecedents would probably be the electro-pop of Kraftwerk, and the twitchy French pop scene spear-headed by JJ Perrey, Polyphonic Size, Telex, Silicon Teens and The Like, the precursors to Human League, Gary Numan and the ubiquetously 80s synthpop sound as we know it. But probably the most direct influence was Giorgio Moroder, an actual fellow countryman from South Tyrol/Italy, who probably gave the genre its namesake and a distinctive sound with his patented "galloping synth" arpeggiation technique (well, not a technique. More like a mistake, or the result of working with extremely limited analog equipment with no polyphony), so addictive it has become the backbone of virtually every trance and eurohouse song of the last 25 years. Moroder and Donna Summer - I Feel Love (1977) is a disco song proper, but realistically it marked a divergence from the horn-strings-and-electric- bass of typical disco music, and into something new: straight-ahead buzzing, spitting synths.

Not mechanical and cold like the German futurists, nor weird and avant-garde like the French experimentalists, this new electronic disco was incredibly accessible. Warm, bouncey, friendly, perfect for dancefloors, and most importantly: stupidly cheap and easy to make. Where in 1975 a disco outfit might be a 10-12 piece band, by 1980 it could conceivably be one guy, working all the parts himself with synths and drum machines. Championed as the dancefloor successor to Disco, Italo would come to dominate the club landscape for practically the entirety of the 80s. And the crazy part is all this was pretty much due to one record label: ZYX Records, considered to be the most successful dance music label in existence.

Very little of this music actually made it overseas, mostly due to the neanderthalic disco backlash that raged across the United States. Some tracks crossed over and became monster pop hits, like Baltimora - Tarzan Boy (1984), Falco - Rock Me Amadeus (1985) and Murray Head - One Night in Bangkok (1984)--originally written for the musical Chess--but by and large Italo Disco
evolved almost entirely on the European mainland, predating the legendary origins of House and Techno music in Chicago and Detroit by a good 5-10 years. Originally, its early artists were Italian, but by the 80s its signature sound had spread over most of Europe, rendering the name rather meaningless. The english speaking world used it interchangeably with the more generic terms Eurodisco and Hi-NRG. And there were stateside artists making a name for themselves in the biz --Patrick Cowley, The Flirts, Company B, Bobby Orlando, Sylvester, Divine, Taco-- but their music mostly only found favour with the non-english speaking consumers of Italo Disco.


 
 


STEFAN SIEGEL - it's OKAY

STEFAN SIEGEL - it's OKAY
(DEMO)

MARFLOW - CYBERMIXAGE (CBS 2003)

FELIX - 30CM MIX

 
 


ELECTRO-NIX

DISKOKAINE

GIORGIO MORODER

ALEXANDER ROBOTNICK

VIEWLEXX

DIRTY DIGITAL CULTURE

GEMM

CLONE RECORDS

CRISPETUNES

 
   
   
Baby's Gang - Disco Maniac
(1988)
 

Ken Laszlo - Hey Hey Guy
(1984)

Mike Mareen - Love Spy
(1986
)
   

That's actually one of the greater and more campy ironies about Italo: most of the music was sung in english, a habitual second language to all of its artists. The reasoning behind this is unknown, though it may have to do with english simply being the universal language of business and the pop music industry. In addition, english also contains more words than any other language, making it the easiest language to rhyme, and it's also easiest to make indecipherable sense since the syntax is so flexible (ie: no gender-specific pronouns, presence of homynyms, etc). This produces hilarious, thick-accented, unintentionally funny-sounding lyrics which add to its unique quality. Just listen to the chorus of the best Italo track of all time, Miko Mission - How Old Are You (1984):

"Now how old are you
where is your harbour
have many things to do
open the door.
Yes I live so true
without my lover
but tell me if the sky is blue
How old are you?"

What the hell does this mean? Who knows? I think he's talking about hooking up with an underage girl or something. But god damn, is it ever catchy. If I were stuck on a desert island and could pick only one genre of music to listen to for the rest of my life, it would definitely be Italo. It doesn't get nearly as much attention or praise as its offspring Techno, House and Trance do, but everyone in the know points a finger specifically at Italo as the music that was there first. And it was these people who originally made those machines sing for the masses.
I imagine for most of them listening to this stuff is like Odysseus returning home. It really is the equipment itself--those wires and diodes and resisters and LFOs and envelopes and filters--returning to the Big Bang, where it all started, the genesis of electronic dance music.

Such is why the strongest trend in the dance music scene today is the Italo revival. If you listen really closely, a lot of Italo music may sound really familiar to you--that's because everyone has been sampling it relentlessly the past few years, from disco house and french house producers to electro, electroclash, and anyone diving headfirst into the retro 80s revival. Electroclash especially, which has recently opted to shed its punk-infused, NY fashion chic of glitz, glam and androgynous sexuality, replacing it with the more upbeat, less pretentious, bouncy basslines of Italo. In other words, less clash, and more electro. Less punk, and more house.
There really are two strains of Italo: The first is the more pop-oriented sound which is familiar because it's the hidden inspiration behind synthpop and the Stock-Aitken-Waterman productions of the 80s. Some classic examples of the period:

Digital Emotion - Go Go Yellow Screen (1983)
Aki - Magic Love (1986)
Premio Nobel - Baby Doll (1987)
My Mine - Can Delight (1986)

     

Radiorama - Fire (1987)

Silver Pozzoli - Around my
Dream (1985)

Ciber People - Doctor
Faustus (1985)
     
 

The other is a more obscure yet infinitely more fascinating spacey synth stuff, all instrumental, which fits as the upbeat, cheesy, friendly robotic yin to the cold, cybernetic yang of American electro. In some cases, most wouldn't even consider this Italo, and often refer to it as simply "New Age Synth", as it has a motif more closely aligned with the synth-ambient scores of Vengelis and Jean Michel Jarre, only not as forlorn. The most prolific purveyer of this style was Laserdance, who released an ungodly amount of music during the 80s, all of it good. This stuff sounds like it belongs in Powerpoint presentations, mall elevators, and on royalty-free music packages. Choice tracks are:

Xenon - Xenon Galaxy (1983)
Proxyon - Beyond the Future (1988)
Hypnosis - Argonauts (1991)

Could anyone make anything like this ever again? My thoughts were answered a year ago when I ran into--by accident--an amateur Swedish producer by the name of Johan Lindgren, and he sent me Robots (2003). And that's not all! Scandinavian sweetheart Vocoderion is also making waves in the resurrection of 80s camp sci-fi spacey synth goodness.
Electronic music is one of the few musical forms that has no sense of its own past. Many newcomers to the fold simply are not aware of what came before, and so everything appears fresh and novel. But those who make their living at it know better. They know that, in the club scene today, barely one-tenth of all records have an original idea, melody or sound to them. The belief that every musical idea has already been explored is an old one, and catered around until someone comes up with something new. But in electronic music's case, the consolidation of its gains are appreciated far more than the discovery of them. Today most producers act more like musical archeologists, educating the masses one sample at a time, rather than genuine musicians. That's something that politics have come to loathe: revisionist history. Sampling only agreeable parts of the past rather than exploring it in depth.

Not to say that I'm complaining about this sort of thing. I'm just saying that's what's happening. Everyone is bringing Italo back to life. Everyone. From Adam Freeland to Swayzak, John B, Luke Slater, Ferry Corsten, Ms Kittin and even Praga Khan: they're all rehashing 20 year old ideas. Compare and contrast:

Jeans Team - Baby (2000)
Bangkok Impact - Traveller (2002)
Legowelt - Disco Rout (2002)
Fancyman - Fancyman - (2002)
Praga Khan - Tausend Sterne (2002)

Not coincidentally, the Rubicon track is the latest one, as well as the one sounding the most like original Italo, giving a good indication of where house music is going in the future....which is to say, the past. But is this revival better than the original? I would say no. It's good, but like movies based on books, just can't compete with the breadth and scope of the original. So what are DJs to do? Hmmmm. I wonder how much original Italo records sell on Ebay these days.

So with all this newfound attention on Italo, where are the original Italo artists today? Well, actually, most of them are still in music. Many of them evolved with the times, morphing their sound as equipment improved and people's tastes changed. A lot of them went on to become Eurodance hit-making factories in the 90s (Radiorama is a well-publicised example). Others, like Max Coveri and Los Blue Belles, went on to spearhead the speed-freaked Eurobeat scene of all things. And still others are probably not blind to this revital, and are licensing their tracks and their expertise in capturing the essence of the original Italo movement in its entirety, like when LTNO - Boys (2003) covered the eponymous Italo classic Sabrina - Boys (1987).
Of course, as great as the revival music is and all, I still see no videos. But then again, owing to how totally wicked fucking awesome the original italo videos were, I don't blame them for not trying. Who the hell could compete with something like that? No one, that's who.

Source: Ishkur

 
Laserdance - Battle Cry
(1987)

Alan Braxe & Fred Faulke -
Rubicon (2004)

Sabrina - Boys (1987)