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V/A - Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985

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Artist: V/A

Album: Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985

Label: Strut

Review date: May. 27, 2008

Italian disco began to flourish during a recession. As thumping club soundtracks filtered from American cities into the rest of the world, the lire sank, and Italian distributors cut back on overpriced imports and began championing homegrown product, which emerged in remarkable volume. Thus was propagated a florid, organic, endearingly awkward brand of disco, which became an immeasurable influence on the development of dance-pop, house and American club culture at large. The “Italo-disco” handle came from a German record exec in 1984, and was pretty much posthumous, but the sound was distinct from the get-go.

Italo-disco is the sound of unseasoned musicians (including a then-significant number of DJs), under the playful leadership of a few refugees from the prog scene, fucking around with freshly imported equipment, including DX-7s, 808s and Minimoogs. This bred both the sloppy can-do of punk and a joyous abundance of melodies. D.D. Sound’s “Burning Love” and Firefly’s absurdly celebratory “Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side)” are both gratuitous hook-fests, smuggling dozens of potential pop hits on the back of one inexorable rhythm.

Italo-disco is also noted for its damned-near decadent silliness. Much as the musicians were finding their way around their fresh gear, the singers often sang in English with the barest comprehension, which led to a lot of straight-up gibberish and even more empty exaltations (“Love! / Is gonna be on your side! / Just the feeling of love! / It’s gonna be on your side!”). At its most loveable, Italo-disco songs were absurd shout-alongs, such as Red Dragon Band’s “Let Me Be Your Radio (Part 1)” – imagine a cheerleading team yelling “I’m your radio! / Radio show!” with none of the kitschy gravitas of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” Lost in translation, words are freed from their implications.

Some of these songs, possibly owing to their association with maturing prog, boast an eerie weirdness somewhere beyond what became “new wave.” “Wojtyla Disco Dance,” from Freddy the Flying Dutchman and the Sistina Band, combines a wobbly bassline, a hailstorm of percussion, a riffing saxophone, and an unselfconscious but undeniable sense of foreboding.

Dance music was always fostered and maintained by DJs. Italo-disco, with its ramshackle quality, suggested breakdown and reassembly, which guaranteed its perpetual relevance. (This is broken down, in depth, in Bill Brewster’s witty, encyclopedic liner notes, which, as usual, namecheck a lot of records not included here and provoke further thought and research.) And even if you’re not gunning for a PhD in this stuff, Revanche’s “1979 It’s Dancing Time” merits some animalistic ass-shaking along with that melancholy smirk. Come on now.

By Emerson Dameron

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