THE BEGINNING

EURO TRASH: Each month one of our writers spends a week listening to music they don’t like. Derek Robertson chose Italo Disco

italodisco

Ask the average person what they think of Italo Disco, and you’ll most likely be met with one expression; a blank, quizzical “What that then?”. And who could blame them? Hailing from a time and a place – early ’80s mainland Europe – that’s routinely derided as the very definition of trashy, it’s easy to be snide about a genre whose calling card is simple repetitive beats, cheap synthesisers, and the type of sappy, saccharine love poetry – always sung in English – that would embarrass a ten-year old. It’s the type of pop that pushed Eurovision towards being a bad joke and conjures worse memories of school discos, the tinny clatter and four-to-the-floor thump providing the catalyst for fumbling teenage ineptitude.

But a week in its company led to some interesting insights. For a start, it’s been way more influential than I’d thought, and I’m not just referring to the Johnny Jewel-loving hipster brotherhood. Sure, its shadow looms large over Chromatics, Glass Candy and everyone else who partook in the great electro-pop revival post-2007, but some tracks are eerily prescient of Chicago House; anything by Klein & M.B.O., such as ‘Dirty Talk’ or ‘Wonderful’, or ‘Spacer Woman’ by Charlie. The latter track, all seven and a half minutes of it, sounds distinctly modern, and wouldn’t be out of place on a Vice mixtape. ‘Robot is Systematic’ by ‘Lectric Workers, which is even longer at nearly nine minutes, could be the bastard lovechild of Chic and Kraftwerk, squelching synths and vocoder effects slapped on top of a disco-funk beat and a barely discernable Nile Rodgers guitar.

Get to around 1983, and it suddenly starts mutating. In a rush for mainstream chart success, elements of Hi-NRG and pop were added, and sub-genres such as spacesynth, eurobeat, and – I’m not making this up – discofox flourished. Sonically, however, things don’t improve. To listen to Ryan Paris’ ‘Dolce Vita’, Baltimora’s ‘Tarzan Boy’ and Taffy’s ‘I Love My Radio’ is to be submerged in some of the decade’s worst sonic crimes. Sabrina’s ‘Boys’, a tacky paean to summer romance whose video seems designed to get Nuts #ladz hot under the collar, was perhaps the apogee of Italo’s bad taste, but halfway through I have an epiphany; I’m listening all wrong. Viewed through the context of the times, these songs were catnip for teenagers, and represented a loosening of social mores and greater freedom of expression; exactly why kids today gorge on Gaga, Beyonce, and Rihanna.

I search in vain for a track that deserves to break free of being labelled a “guilty pleasure”; it seems not to exist. Most Italo is purely functional, designed for a specific time and place, and, length and awfulness aside, it’s this that makes it such a tiring listen. There’s none of disco’s sleazy sexiness, or the glossy sheen that made the likes of Blondie such a cultural phenomenon, and nothing that really works on a purely musical level. Sitting at home, on a wet Wednesday, it all sounds so cold, so processed, a musical Tin Man in dire need of a heart and soul. I don’t doubt that countless ironic club nights have played on its charms, or if you played Sagna’s ‘Call Me’ at 2am I’d be the first one down the front. But much like other 80’s cultural milestones, I just can’t enjoy it without tongue being lodged firmly in cheek; novelty and a cheesy grin are no substitute for smarts and pounding techno music.

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