Italo disco emerged in the late ‘70s as the gloriously European interpretation of America’s four-to-the-floor phenomenon. The unashamedly fun, synth-driven sound ruled the Euro disco throughout the ‘80s, before enjoying a resurgence in recent years with labels like Dark Entries and Italians Do It Better. Ahead of his show at London club night Hypnotic Tango, April Clare Welsh takes a trip back through the classics with Italo don Fred Ventura.
Italo was the addictive sound of Europe’s own disco imaginings.
Along with its close ally hi-NRG, the future-facing form was one of the world’s first strains of electronic dance music, taking its cue from the US-born genre and putting a chintzy Italian spin on it.
The origin of the Italo disco name is uncertain, but it is widely thought to have materialized following a 1983 compilation from German label ZYX called Italo Boot Mix. Italo fever gripped Europe in the early ‘80s and with its bouncy octave basslines, heart-swelling vocals and Moroder-inspired synth progressions, was primed for the dancefloor.
By 1986, the market was saturated and the music had become so commercial that “even the Italian crowd didn’t want to hear it,” recalls Italo mainstay Fred Ventura. The Milan-born singer and producer was the elastic voice behind the 1988 hit ‘Wind of Change’, while also performing vocals on classics like ‘Body Heat’ by Fockewulf 190 and ‘Love Theme From Flexxy-Ball’ by Flexx. He has also produced a vast number of records, most recently with Paolo Gozzetti under the moniker Italoconnection.
Ventura recalls how he was “just a kid” when Italo exploded into view. “I came from a post-punk background so I wasn’t really into the cheesy side of Italo,” he tells FACT. The dominant Italo narrative paints a picture of bouffant-sporting men in shoulder padded-suits churning out chart-friendly hits, but Ventura is keen to stress the genre’s underground core.
Ventura, who has been running his own Disco Modernism label since 2012, will fly over to the UK on June 30 for a very special DJ set and and live performance – accompanied by another scene stalwart, Ali Renault – at beloved London club night Hypnotic Tango (named after a 1983 Italo song by My Mine). Ahead of his Waiting Room performance, the vinyl fanatic has delved into his hulking stash of records to pick out 11 Italo tracks that both define the genre for him and pay their dues to the leftfield.
Scroll down to the bottom for a Spotify playlist.
‘Chinese Revenge’ (Cellophane, 1982)
“I vividly remember the day I heard this record for the first time on the radio and the fact that I immediately taped it, without any hesitation. It sounded weird and unique, a dreamy and “primitive” instrumental track and certainly not the typical song you would hear broadcast on the radio in those days. It somehow felt so minimal and rich at the same time.”
‘KKK’ (Recordbreaker, 1983)
“Another sublime and obscure record from the early ‘80s that was too difficult to categorize. Creating such a minimal production was not necessarily a conscious choice but resulted from equipment being so expensive. Most of the underground producers only had a synthesizer, a drum machine and some basic recording facilities, which meant that making a great club record was challenging.”
‘Stranger In A Strange Land’ (Club mix) (Italian Records, 1983)
“N.O.I.A. were one of my favorite Italian new wave bands and they were clearly way ahead of their time. Not many people really understood what they were trying to achieve with their sound, which was constantly evolving. They played their synthesizers live on stage and seriously looked the part; a feat rarely achieved by acts in the Italo world.”
‘Talk About’ (Vocal version) (CGD, 1983)
“This song was huge on the radio back in 1983; the perfect match between synth-pop, disco and a new wave attitude. It still sounds as fresh and powerful as the first time it reached my ears. Unfortunately Phaeax failed to replicate such a great production with their subsequent records.”
International Music System
‘Nonline’ (Emergency Records, 1983)
“This tune was massive among the New York breakdance crowd. It’s not an archetypal disco tune at all – it’s pumping, danceable, minimal and otherworldly. A truly timeless experience.”
‘Hypnotic Tango’ (Progress Records, 1983)
“A catchy and original song that will sound contemporary even in fifty years’ time: perfect in the club, on a soundtrack or on the radio, a great mix of electronic disco and post punk weirdness masterfully blended together.”
‘Cybernetic Love’ (House Of Music, 1983)
“Here is a real classic; a robotic love song that will never fade away. This is a visionary record delivered by a team of forward-thinking geniuses with exquisite taste. It still sounds as fresh as it did in the ‘80s.”
‘I.C. Love Affair’ (Italian version) (Italian Records, 1983)
“Gaznevada were another of my favourite post punk bands. They emerged from the Bologna punk scene and I supported them with my band State Of Art in December 1981. They evolved fast and used technology in the right way to reach a bigger audience. This 12” still sounds unique after 34 years.”
Klein & M.B.O.
‘Dirty Talk’ instrumental (European connection) (Zanza Records, 1982)
“This was the record that started the so-called ‘80s Italian disco invasion. Created with a basic electronic setup (used by many producers at that time) and a funky guitar, Piatto, Carrasco and Boncaldo created a masterpiece that influenced so many generations of producers and DJs and will continue to do so for many years to come.”
‘Problemes D’Amour'(Fuzz Dance, 1983)
“Maurizio Dami was an alien in a scene that did not consider this track to fit the disco mold. His post-punk background led him to experiment with synthesizers in an original way, virtually disregarding the disco scene that was so en vogue at the time. This helps to explain why this track doesn’t resemble anything else produced in Italy in 1983 and is considered a classic by house, techno and disco DJs alike.”
‘Life With You’ (Leader Records, 1982)
“One of the many essential and groundbreaking Rago and Farina productions and one which clearly demonstrates how creative and smart these two Milan-based producers were. This record sounds as if it came from another planet; raw and minimal yet so musical and charming.”