Thursday, November 23, 2006

Italo Disco

It's always nice to discover a new sub-genre of music to obsess about. All of a sudden there are artists I've never heard of, new songs to experience, obscure websites I never knew existed.
In this case, the sub-genre is something called Italo disco, which, it turns out, has been around since the early '80's.
Italo disco, as you can guess, was an outgrowth of regular disco. It's emergence coincided with the introduction of cheap synths and drum machines. It was greatly influenced by European disco producers like Frank Farian and the great Georgio Moroder.
What I love about the Italo disco of the early to mid '80's is the long slick melodic lines (ala ABBA and the Eurovision song contests - European pop has always seemed to favor melody bordering on bubblegum). There is also a hint of that French MOR trashiness I would hear in songs that European MTV used to play in the '90's. Finally, because the rhythms were defined by the drum machines, there is a slight up and downess to the beat that is less sophisticated but more rocklike than American disco of the '70s.
I was actually a fan of Italo disco without knowing it. Back in 1984, I worked on some off off Broadway one act plays directed and produced by a friend of mine and written by his wife. I was the stage manager, or production manager, or something like that, but more importantly, I also programmed the music. One of the plays, called "Slam," involved a couple of guys slam dancing at a club that, as I remember, was supposed to be a suburban CBGB's that had somehow degenerated into playing disco. The disco-ish music starts playing and one of the guys goes into a rant about disco. Somehow, they end up listening to Flipper ( I was so cool!) , and slam dancing their happy hearts out. But the record I chose to signify the club's descent into disco was a 12" single by a band called Club House that was a medley of Steely Dan's "Do It Again" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." (Same bass line, check it out.)
Club House - Do It Again/Billie Jean Medley

I discovered (or re-discovered) Italo disco when I read about a Swedish singer named Sally Shapiro and her producer, Johan Agebjorn. Ageborn is an electronic music composer and producer who discovered Italo disco when he was in school and never lost his affection for it. Shapiro is, apparently, a singer so shy no one is allowed in the studio when she is recording.
Her album, "Disco Romance," is out this month. Shapiro's voice is sweet but distinctive, and works perfectly with Agenborn's updated electronic disco tracks.

Sally Shapiro - By Your Side
There are a several more excellent free downloads on Sally Shapiro's website, including a cover of "Anorak Christmas," as well as some great posts by Agebjorn, including his "10 Favorite Drum Machine Sounds."
Find out more about Italo Disco at Euro Flash.
(Thanks to Big Stereo for introducing me to Shapiro and Agebjorn.)

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