Sunday 29 August 2021

Going Italo

Another quick one this time that's been brewing for a while, going to have to be Youtube players just because we're going a little deep this time but I can deal with it every now and then. Today we're taking a trip back to a genre I've given plenty of shout-outs to over the years as it is the precursor to one of my favourites in Eurobeat - Today we're talking some Italo Disco.

Giorgio Moroder (minus trademark moustache) illustrating the vibe. Though Moroder made straight up Disco and not Italo!

But even if you're not into Eurobeat, Italo has a lot of relevance to electronic music on the whole, it along with plain old Disco were both partially responsible for House too. Don't be discouraged either if all you've heard of Eurobeat is the sugary sweet 160bpm side of it that I've brought up in the past, the truth is that it runs the full spectrum of tempos, and the early examples that people point to as the initial Eurobeat releases are incredibly similar to Italo as it was.

To start off, here's an early example from Vanessa, one of many aliases of a one Clara Moroni who would go on to co-found one of the big labels of Eurobeat in Delta and more than earn her reputation as the Queen of Eurobeat - she's featured her vocals on literally hundreds of tracks over the years. Moroni's voice is one of those cases where a vocalist and genre are just perfect for each other, her delivery and overall style perfectly suit both these more Disco style tracks, to the full fledged Eurobeat of tracks like Tell Me Baby (though admittedly some Eurobeat tracks are just Italo with the BPM increased, so that makes sense!). Back to the song in question though, Just A Game is from 1989 originally and has all the hallmarks of Italo Disco as well as parts of the contemporary dance music sphere of the late 80's to early 90's.

The use of really plain pseudonyms in Italo and Eurobeat has always been amusing to me, you have artists like Chiara De Pieri choosing things like 'Norma Sheffield' as their stage names, which would sound more at home in a bingo hall than on a Disco record. Which brings us to Katy Gray - who you'll find nothing about on the internet save for the picture that was included on the sole EP released under that name. And even then, that could not even be a picture of the actual vocalist, as Eurobeat and Italo have the slightly concerning practice of using different models for the visuals than the vocals. But I digress, out of the small pool of Italo I have in my collection, Hold Me Tight might be one of my all time favourites - it's a bit of a cult hit that you might recognise from elsewhere: it was given a Vaporwave treatment by Oneohtrix Point Never & Joel Ford on the first volume of their 'Heaven Can Wait' mixtapes, and the vocoded vocal and break at 2:40 among other elements were sampled by Teenage Bad Girl on 'Hold Me Tight' from their second album Backwash. The original track is great on it's own for me, but I really like showing off those samples of it as I think it makes the connection between Disco and other branches of Electronic music all that more clear.

That trend is going to continue with my final two picks, both from Gary Low. You might know of Low's work from the oft-sampled I Want You, most famously getting a chillwave rework from Washed Out on Feel It All Around, but also a more contemporary House update in the early 00's from Miss Kittin & The Hacker with The Beach. But I've told that story a bunch already, so I've gone ahead and picked out some other Gary Low tunes for this time - starting with Play The Game (I'll Do The Same). I'm going to echo what I said earlier and say that coming back to this one after consuming a ton of Eurobeat over the last year and a half or so makes the genealogy all that more clear. Likewise for a multitude of other genres as well, listen to the basslines on this one and compare them to the House of the late 80's and you can draw a line between the two. I find the whole thing quite charming, especially the warm vinyl crackle on the opening. I can't deny there is a bit of humour in it though, get a load of Gary's pensive steely eyed look (naturally making sure to flash the watch as well) on the cover of this one!

To round us out, the opening track from Low's debut album Go On in 1983. I feel like the House connections are even easier to spot on this one, especially on the opening. It does meander a bit with it's 7 minute runtime, especially as the verses disappear in favour of repeated bits of the chorus, I feel like even repeating the first two a couple more times would have done wonders to spice it up a bit. But I suppose that's just a casualty of hearing it out of its intended context, I'm sure it went down a treat on the dancefloors of 1983. Even so, the final quarter where the instrumentals get a moment to shine makes up for it a bit - the showcase of retro sounds is an absolute treat to listen to, and is actually the part that inspired me to finally sit down and write this post up in full. I definitely need more Italo in my collection, I've yet to come across any that I don't really care for - but it's one of those genres that is incredibly vast, I've got Ishkur's (of Electronic Music Guide fame) mixes lined up to listen to sometime soon which I'm hoping will give me some leads to follow up on and maybe do a sequel to this post as well.

I actually came up with the original idea for this post back in the days of the podcast, it was originally going to lead into that oft-promised Eurobeat episode of mine. I still might make a solo podcast of it sometime soon where I run through some Eurobeat in chronological order so you can see/hear the evolution - Claude's Eurobeat Essentials it was going to be called! Still, I'm more than happy for this quick history to be in text format instead, I just wish I had other streaming options to include. Regardless, I hope this little time travelling trip has been interesting for you and maybe you've even gained a little love of Italo Disco along the way. Until next time, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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