February 16, 2007

Trans Mania - Boing, Boom Jack!


Originally slated for Diskokaine’s label (home of the wonderful Sally Shapiro), this dark and electro-tinged house track is now being released through Gomma, a doubling of resources and delights that will hopefully lead to Sally Shapiro singing on the next Munk album and Tomboy being reworked by Wolfram Eckert. Given the appearance of none other than Alexander Robotnick alongside Patrick Pulsinger on remix duties for this single, could we be overly hopeful in thinking the neo-Italo cauldron in northern Europe is finally coming to a boil?

“Boing, Boom, Jack!” is exactly what it promises, I’ll tell you that muchheavy pulsating, dancefloor-shredding nouveau electro with monster old-school acid house drums and squelches, the kind of thing those black boot-donning kiddies in Copenhagen should be stomping along to right about now. The original is right insane, but the remixes shouldn’t be overlookedPulsinger goes deep for a reception in hard electro territory and penetrates the end zone with a vibe perfect for the Italo Superbowl Shuffle. Robotnick, old hat that he is, kicks the drums and spaceship noises into overdrive and pulls the extra point, in just a little over five minutes. God, sometimes it feels good to root for the home team, don’t it?

Gomma / Gomma 088
[Mallory ODonnell]

January 26, 2007

Beatzcast #16: Michael F. Gill


The Dancing Therapy mix started off as a sort of self-help mixtape for myself, but later evolved into a generally uplifting set of vocal oriented italo/synth-pop hits….

01: International Music System (I.M.S.) - Dancing Therapy - Bellaphon, 1984
No better way to start off than with this, the impetus for starting this mix. The seemingly naive lyrics about using music to escape from your troubles take more of a poignant turn here. “Fusion to the beat really clears my mind” sums up a great amount of dance music’s appeal in just one line.

02: The Creatures - Believe In Yourself (Special Remix) - Full Time, 1983
Not to be confused with the Siouxsie Sioux side-group, The Creatures’ biggest hit is a bouncy, heavy-synth number with endearing dorky vocals extolling self-esteem with perhaps too much zeal (the opening line being “Boy, don’t be so shy!”).

03: Taffy - I Love My Radio (European Mix) - Emergency, 1986
Probably my favorite latter-day Italo track, it hits many of the overblown hallmarks of the mid ’80s (faceless vocals, huge synth-drums, chipper keyboards) while refusing to remain grounded to the template. Plus as a night owl myself, I can relate to the rather silly lyrics proclaiming love to a midnight radio DJ.

04: Brand Image - Are You Loving? - Il Discotto Productions, 1983
Il Discotto Productions were a high profile Italo label that briefly catered to the sci-fi/robotic side of the genre before moving more towards the candy-sweet pop end by the mid ’80s. One of their big releases was “Are You Loving?” by the little-known Brand Image, which continues this mix’s focus on defiant/strong vocals and aggressive keyboards.

05: Alden Tyrell feat. Fred Ventura - Love Explosion 05 - Clone, 2006
“Love Explosion” was a cult hit for Alden Tyrell in the neo-italo/electro circuit ever since its release way back in 1999. It gained its popularity as an instrumental, so when Alden finally released his debut album Times Like These last year, he re-recorded it as a vocal version with well-known italo vocalist Fred Ventura. Tyrell is one of the very few neo-italo composers whose productions could nearly pass as vintage, and the fact that the vocal version is nowhere as sleek, icy, and chic as the instrumental is testament to this.

06: Fokewulf 190 - Body Heat - Market Records, 1984
“Hey! You! Take a look at me! Look me in the eyes, there is something new.” The second cut in this little trilogy of Fred Ventura tracks finds the dear Italian vocalist in a near desperate wail. While most lyrical subjects in Italo are lightweight and superficial (following in the Eurodisco tradition), the tortured passion of Ventura is very much an anomaly. I have no idea how well-known “Body Heat” (or as Ventura says, “Badi hit”) was before it ended up on one of the C-B-S Top 100 lists, but it surely is one of the most angsty and lyrically sound italo tracks I know.

07: Flexx - Love Theme From Flexxy-Ball - Hole, 1983
“Love theme” is so close to the sound of “Body Heat” that it begs to be mixed in as the final Ventura vocal track in the trilogy. It’s a bit more on the uplifting side, and is probably responsible for naming the disco-friendly mail-order site Flexx.

08: Gary Low - I Want You - CAT Record, 1983
“I Want You” was a big hit among gay clubgoers in the ’80s, and was recently heavily sampled by Miss Kitten and the Hacker for their Mental Groove single “The Beach.” It’s definitely got a summertime feel, and even if the cheeseball vocals take a while to warm up too, it remains a perennial club favorite.

09: Pineapples - Come On Closer (Extended Club Mix) - Danse, 1983
What can I say about this recently reissued track, probably one of my favorite singles of all-time, and one of the most beloved, uplifting italo tracks around? Its likely that the bizarre cocktail lounge croon of Douglas Coop elevates it from perky synthpop to a feel-good anthem, but explaining the rest of its magic is impossible: you just have to hear it for yourself.

10: Trilogy - Not Love - Il Discotto Productions, 1982
Another Il Discotto Production, and another favorite of mine that seems to be overlooked. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the vocal version of “Not Love” used over the instrumental. It’s a shame, because the vocal really buys into the melodrama of the arrangement, and nearly seems confrontational.

11: Ottawan - D.I.S.C.O. (Instrumental) - Carrere, 1979
Ok, OK, the original is a total novelty (and even uses the same bassline of their previous hit, “Hands Up”) but I was surprised how much calmer the instrumental version is after hearing it. It also provides a nice vocal break until the next track…

12: Jimmy Ross - Fall Into A Trance (Remix) - Quality/RFC Records, 1982
…where the vocals are back to being zealous again. Jimmy Ross was one of the few italo vocalists who put more of an American soul influence in his music, so it sort of helps that his English is so slurred and heavy handed: it often makes him sound out of breath with emotion. “Fall Into a Trance” was his second biggest hit next to the boogie disco of “First True Love Affair,” which was later remixed by Larry Levan. There’s a compilation CD on Unidisc of Ross’ entire work that is recommended if you want to hear more.

13: Alexander Robotnick - Intro for Live Performance - Creme Organization, 2005
Mr. Robotnick has been going through a revival lately, with two rarities compilations coming out in the past few years. “Intro for Live Performance” is from the second volume, put out last year by Creme, and while it may seem odd for someone to walk onstage to anything this noir-ish, it’s probably one of the most minimal tracks in his oeuvre.

14: Ministry - I Wanted To Tell Her - Arista, 1983
Ministry might be a surprising name here, but their first album “With Sympathy” was a dead ringer for a lot of the Human League-esque new wave going on at the time. “I Wanted to Tell Her” combines this upbeat synth approach with a bit of the funk A Certain Ratio was doing, and has a great vocal to boot

15: Memory Control One (MC1) - Basic - Crash, 1984
This 1984 synth-pop single by the newly-feted Beppe Loda and Francesco Boscolo always sounds so triumphant to me, like it should soundtrack an athlete’s victory lap or the end of a sports movie. Hence, I’m placing it here as something of a coda to the mix, a sort of stand-alone resolution to the theoretical therapy of all the previous tracks.

December 22, 2006

2006 Year In Review: Individual Writer Lists

As a companion piece to our 2006 year in review, here are the individual lists/charts from each of our contributors. Happy reading…


December 1, 2006

Beatzcast #12



01: Future Forward Time for Livin (Alexander Robotnick Remix)
02: The Diskokaines Rock-A-Boogie (In Flagranti Mix)
03: Jamiroquai Runaway
04: Echo Club Senor Pasajero
05: Justus Koehncke FaultsnFX
06: Melon Spring
07: Oliver Koletzki Follow Up
08: Ost & Kjex How Not to Be a Biscuit

May 19, 2006

Serials: The Disco-tech of…

This time: The Disco-tech of series from Frances Yellow Productions; home and launching pad for Kid Loco, Dimitri From Paris, and Bob Sinclair.

The Disco-tech ofJulien Jabre (2003)
Still the only CD with Juliens name on it, it is also the most diverse entry in the series so far, ranging from jazzy fusion, to disco and deep house, with little emphasis on the tech. To be honest, Jabre dangerously flirts with samba-ish cocktail jazz and velvety vocal house throughout, but through excellent mixing and sequencing, he does manage to hold interest way longer than, say, Thievery Corporation. Besides bookending the mix with a snippet of Philippe Sardes tumultuous score to Les Choses De La Vie, and including the extended version of Carl Craigs epochal Domina, theres little to interrupt the lush keyboards, round edges, and accomplished arrangements of each track here. And while its surprising to hear anonymity coming from tracks by such heavyweights as Herbie Hancock and Marvin Gaye, its good to see a mix that gives the smoother, classier side of jazz, disco, and house music a more respectable (if completely un-hip) name.

The Disco-tech ofDJ Cosmo (2003)
Veteran NYC/London resident Collen Murphy (aka DJ Cosmo) isnt as well-known as Jabre or Robotnick, so heres a short resume: she runs the label Bitches Brew, is a member of that forgotten Playhouse supergroup Light Fantastic, and is one of the few people allowed to fill in for David Mancuso during one of his famous loft parties. Right. Murphys mix is probably the one in the series that fits conceptions of what one would think disco-tech would sound like. Chicken Lips, Metro Area, Robotnick, Gino Soccio, and other synth-heavy artists fill out the tracklisting, including a slaying instrumental version of Rafael Camerons Salsoul hit Boogies Gonna Get Ya that is practically worth the price of admittance. Theres also a couple of great detours: namely the Isaac Hayes-baiting funk of Los Chicharbons and the old-school disco rapping by Fertile Ground. The only problem I have with this mix is that it feels more like a collection of good/excellent tracks that stand up by themselves, rather than a solid blended mix. Pickiness aside, Murphy holds her own against Jabre and Robotnick.

The Disco-tech ofAlexander Robotnick (2004)
Definitely the most popular in the series, Mr. Robotnicks mix lays down the links between electro-clash, new wave, and italo disco while still being defiantly populist. Its likely that since Maurizio Dami never DJed throughout the 80s, he hasnt worn out all of the obvious genre touchstones and headed towards white-label obscurity. So, you get such familiar new wave staples like Bizarre Love Triangle, Wordy Rappinghood, and Enola Gay rubbing up against nu-school tracks from Miss Kitten, Bangkok Impact, and Dopplereffekt (with a half-dozen italo classics splitting the hipster difference.) It may not have as much value to dance music nerds, but it does show a neat musical continuity over the past three decades: all the canonical tracks of each era have a similar idea of what defined radiant, romantic, and melodic dance music.

[Michael F. Gill]

April 10, 2006

Alexander Robotnick Krypta 1982 (Rare Robotnicks Part 2)

If Italo-disco is a body lain upon a cold stone slab, the good folks at Global Darkness are the ones standing at its head, breathing life back into it. Krypta 1982 collects 18 assorted tracks by Alexander Robotnick, the man that took Italo’s pure electronic base and completely stripped all of the cheesiest elements from it, leaving us with a dark robotic monster beautifully tunneling into the night. Sure, he touches on pop formsthe sly, wriggling “Mexicana” and the slightly goofy “Appuye Sur Le Champignon,” but he also breaks out with the rattling, sparse electro of the two-part “In the Krypta” tracks. The material here is split about halfway between dance tracks and spartan synth noodlings, many of which could soundtrack a Bava flick or serve as a primer in Arp programming. As an overall release, it’s nothing like a coherent album. But for those of us seduced by the allure of knobs, patch cords and waveform generators, this is an indispensable archive of one of the key figures standing at the nexus point of electronic dance music.

Crme Organization / CD 003
[Mallory ODonnell]

March 24, 2006

Alexander Robotnick The Dark Side Of The Spoon (Remixes)


Todd Burns: Maurizio Dami is nothing if not a legend, working since 1981 in a variety of guises. His 2003 return to the realm of electro has heralded a spate of new releases that continue to feature some of the genres highest-profile purveyors. Case in point: Bangkok Impact and Lindstrm and Prins Thomas contribute remixes on Robotnicks newest 12 for the Dutch Crme label. While the original version of the track is all sweetness and light, Bangkok gives it a darker air with a throbbing bassline and a distorted version of the main melodic theme. Disorientingly complex at times, Bangkok comes out the other end in six minutes with a well-constructed version that sounds more like reworking than it does remix. Lindstrm and Prins Thomas, on the other hand, discofy the original by livening up the drums and highlighting the guitar and cowbell. The ecstatic sound of that cowbell emphatically closes the track, gone off beat by a person clearly sweating, tired, and glad to be ringing it.

Mallory ODonnell: God bless Alexander Robotnick, and God bless this crazy world for producing an Italian pretending to be a German pretending to be from outerspace. Though he’s still producing tracks, this one is from 1982, part of a compilation of unreleased material put together by the good folks at Creme, who just happen to be Italo-influenced Dutch who actually are from outerspace. This track is nothing off-the-wall for Robotnick, but it certainly sounds stunningly modern and beats the crap out of 95% of the electro currently being put out by anybody else. Fittingly, Bangkok Impact (representing that other 5%) whips the track up into thicker, chunkier electro-funk, then drizzles gooey analog synths on top like chocolate sauce. Lindstrom & Prins Thomas flip the script for their remix, arranging the original’s already tight drum patterns, echoes, swirls and stabs into even stricter military formation, marching them across the parade ground while waves of fuzzed-out psychedelic guitar crash in the distance.

Michael F. Gill: Is the child now father to the man? Three generations of disco and italo come together for a family reunion of sorts, and to see what they can learn from each other. Robotnick, the elder statesman, prays at the holy sepulchre of the synthesizer, feeling ageless at the disco while a stately, yet serious stare comes across his face. The Detroit posse take notice. Bangkok Impact, wild child from the dawn of Y2K, fattens up the sacrificial lamb with a luminous flash and some luster extracted from his mechanical skin. Lindstrom & Prins-Thomas, the current celebrities du jour, are subverting the religion by sculpting disco as a long, sweaty orgy that looks all pastoral and honey-sweet from the outside. Sex, gluttony, and spirituality, what more could you want?

Crme Organization / 022

February 24, 2006

Profile: The Red Bull Music Academy


Even if it sponsored by the popular energy drink, The Red Bull Music Academy is perhaps a bit too good to be true. Its a traveling mini workshop that zooms in on micro-cultures and new musical hybrids, while bringing together young producers of diverse backgrounds to interact with their contemporaries as well as with established producers in the field. Its a place were people openly discuss aspects of dance and DJ culture, explaining how they create their own tracks, what motivates them to make them, and how they go about promoting themselves.

Now this isnt an advertisement for the workshop, the main draw to the Academys website is that it has archived, in both streaming video as well as in full text, the majority of all the guest lecturers they have had in the most recent years. Just a brief scroll through the current diaries and lectures sections brings up video interviews and transcripts with Sway (one of Stylus favorite MCs,) Kerri Chandler, Alexander Robotnick, Atom Heart, Carl Craig, Claudio Simonetti, Leon Ware, Leroy Burgess, Legowelt, Madlib, and Michael Mayer. I havent even gone through the entire archives yet, but previous sessions that you can view also include Theo Parrish, Mathew Jonson, DJ Harvey, Tiga, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Steve Spacek, Morgan Geist, Larry Heard and Danny Krivit. Its often hard enough just trying to identify the faces behind dance music, but to be able to actually watch them ruminate on how and why they create their own music is something I find completely fascinating.

[Michael F. Gill]