Italo Disco. What is it? Is it just another name for euro shite? Why am I even thinking about it, let alone posting video/ Spotify playlists and going on about it? It’s a tacky, novelty, unfashionable musical genre isn’t it? Here are my answers to your skepticism.
I like Italo disco. A lot. I’ll explain.
No. No. It has its naff moments. It’s definitely unfashionable. So what?
You can have the summary now. Italo Disco is one of the most misunderstood and under appreciated genres of electronic based dance and pop music.
Italo disco emerged out of euro and US disco in 1983, produced by session musicians and DJs with an ear for dance based club music. Around the same time in America the genre known as Hi-NRG or gay disco (Patrick Cowley, Bobby O Orlando, Sylvester) was one of the most exciting underground genres that continued on the back and in spite of the Disco Sucks movement, launched by bigots, closet gays and racists in he late 1970s. Italo Disco was influenced in part by Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Telex, Devo, Gary Numan and the aforementioned exponents of gay disco.
The classic Italo disco sound, as evidenced on the accompanying Spotify playlist and the Italo Video Show was created by keyboards, a voice mainly to compliment the melody and a 4/4 beat. The pieces while not featuring classic vocals, and, even less so, inspiring lyrics, were terrifyingly catchy and infectious.
The term ‘Italo Disco’ was coined by Bernhard Mikulski, (who ran the ZYX label in Germany) as most of the music came from Italy. However many of the records that captured the Italo Disco style weren’t all necessarily from Italy. Many artists recorded under various aliases, while ‘brands’ such as Joe Yellow, Den Harrow used different vocalists.
What strikes you when listening to a standard Italo disco record is that the lyrics don’t play a major role in the song. Most of he time the lyrics are dreadful, or gibberish, not dissimilar to early rock and roll records from the 1950s. Many DJs-turned singers couldn’t really speak English. And some couldn’t even sing.
‘They’re a bit like punk records. They(the artists) go in and get very excited by the most banal sounds. And they normally have very good female vocalists in the same way a lot of Hi-NRG and Bobby O records do. The male vocals usually aren’t that good. I don’t think a lot of people will appreciate things like this. I like it because it’s obscure and because it’s fantastically unfashionable.’
Neil Tennant speaking in Record Mirror magazine in 1985.
In spite of its limitations Italo Disco was very popular in Central/Eastern Europe, Russia and the Far East. Although it was fairly obscure in the UK many well-known western bands and artists have been influenced by its sound and cite Italo diso, as a major influence, including New Order, Pet Shop Boys and (for better) Stock Aitken and Waterman singles. The UK charts featured variants of Italo disco, albeit with higher production values that were majorUK/ European hits in the late 80s and in the early 90s (Spagna/Desireless).
There are literally hundreds not thousands of Italo Disco records out there but only about fifty or so are any good, but hysterically amazing and enjoyable. I got into this genre really from my love of pop music, Moroder, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Euro records like Desireless, taping obscure 12inch mixes off the radio in the late 80s (such as the Top Twenty Euro chart, before European culture was homogenised and Guettaised by wank US pop and its poor excuse for rhythm and blues). In the 90s, among other genres I followed italian house and euro dance. Then came the internet/ audio galaxy/ YouTube/ online shopping sites/online radio/international forums and I kind of sleuthed around received recommendations. I got to know people from Denmark, Canada,Greece, Finland and the US, all (mostly) who share a love of music (mainly classic pop music) books, films and culture.
Although Italo Disco petered out by he mid-late 80s, it evolved into Italian House (Black Box/Starlight) and must have had an influence on Euro Dance (Hadaway, Culture Beat, etc) Have a listen to my Italo Disco Spotify playlist. Don’t judge it, enjoy it. Might as well learn something and listen to something Radio 1/2 XFM and 6 music playlist will never include. For a change.
I’ve also created an Italo Disco Video show. You can find it at my Autobahn 1 video site here