I-Robots : Italo Electro Disco Underground Classics
f the pedants are going to call it Canadian Disco, no one else is listening. In fact, the man who termed the new disco sound via his release of The Best Of Italo Disco in 1984 was German. Pay it all no mind. What you have to know is that it’s a bit poppier, it utilized a bank of synthesizers (the ROLAND JX-8, Yamaha DX, ARP Odyssey, Simmons, JUNO, Minimoog, Oberheim, Linndrums, Emulator II) for almost all of its productions and it’s absolutely stunning music. If you know where to look.
Before the wide release of I-Robots : Italo Electro Disco Underground Classics it was tough to find anything not imported. For devoted fans, the aforementioned Best of Italo Disco was seen as the essential documents of the scene. With fifteen volumes to its name, it hinted that, at the very least, it wasn’t the small offshoot of Disco that many have believed before. So, with the release of I-Robots, wider audiences get a proper look at some of the lost classics of a lost genre (to most North American audiences). And, as with any compilation with “lost” items, the results are hit and miss.
For the most part, the compilation focuses on the prime period of production, 1982-1984. It begins with Charlie’s 1983 masterpiece, “Spacer Woman”. The song is a seven-minute treatise of the genre, utilizing only digital production in its construction. A disembodied woman’s voice routinely interrupts the angelic melodic sequence with a soulless refrain: “I don’t want to hurt you / I just want to love you”. Vocally, it’s prime Italo: almost bored vocals heavily effected, relating lyrics that have little meaning outside of the melodic impact that they impart. The musical backing, though, is what elevates the song to a higher plane. Charlie liberally quotes from the Moroder-ism of a arpeggiated trance-like line throughout, easing the listener up and down the emotional rollercoaster.
Unfortunately for the rest of the compilation, it’s one of the few songs with vocals. For fans of the disembodiment it makes for an empty listen for the rest of the seventy-minutes. For those who immediately are turned off by the banality, it works perfectly as antidote.
What we do get from the rest of the tracks on offer, though, is a nice summation of many of the genre’s traits. Klein & MBO’s “Wonderful”, in its instrumental guise, is a moody track with a melancholy attached to the normally sunny synth lines. Echoed drums, handclaps and an attention to dynamic similarly sets apart N.O.I.A.’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, while Dharma’s “Plastic Doll” finds itself sorely need in of vocals here, containing probably the most catchy melody outside of “Spacer Woman”.
If there’s one thing that can be said for sure about Italo disco it’s that, in America, it never had a chance. Despite the poor distribution, the rise of house and techno and the general indifference to foreign singers, Italo Disco was a brash and vibrant musical force on the European continent. With I-Robots : Italo Electro Disco Underground Classics, Americans have the ability to, at least a little bit, right that wrong. And anyone remotely interested in the sounds of electroclash or the Digital Disco compilations, should be happy to do so.