Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve never cared much for that television show but I’ve always liked the abbreviation by which its devoted fans lovingly called it, "Star Trek: TNG." I really dig that TNG thing and have always waited for the opportunity to steal….um, I mean….incorporate it into something I was writing. The new ZYX records compilation, "Italo Disco: The New Generation" has given me that opportunity as I'm going to call this wonderful compilation, Italo: TNG. ZYX's Italo: TNG (vol. 1) is fantastic! It two CDs containing 23 new Italo powerhouse tracks, and there’s not a dud in the bunch, all of them are winners.
The venerable British newspaper, the Guardian UK, recently featured an article about the resurgence of Italo. Italo Disco resurgence? Who would have thunk it? But yes, it is indeed happening. But what is causing the resurgence of a genre once considered dead? Is it the empty soulless un-engaging electronica, the rap plastered to a 120 bpm rhythm track, or the Britney Spears and Lady Gaga remixes I find when I listen to Comcast cable's Music Choice electronic/dance channel? Is it the failure of other types of dance music to catch on? Remember at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 the next new big thing was going to be Euro Hop which was hip-hop lyrics spread atop a fast paced 90’s bpm laden eurodance/techno soundtrack. Usher, Rihanna, Katy Perry and others made a few Euro Hop tracks, then suddenly, Euro Hop hippity hopped away. At the beginning of the 21st century, the next new big thing was to be ElectroClash, it gave us some exciting artist like Chicks On Speed, Spray, and Felix da Housecat. But just like with Euro Hop, ElectroClash faded away (it lasted longer than Euro Hop though). But while all this ElectroClashing Euro Hopping stuff was coming in and fading out, many folks (like me) were still listening to old Italo tracks released by ZYX Music. Other new dance music forms have come and gone but that old faithful, Italo, is still around and (according to the Guardian UK) resurging; that says a lot about the music, its staying power, and its fans. To get a second I opinion I then went to Wikipedia and looked up "Italo Disco" and it confirmed that Italo was witnessing a current resurgence in popularity.
You know I love Italo, so to come across Italo: TNG, a compilation filled with new artist making brand new Italo was like a dream come true. Sure there have been acts making fresh Italo over the past 10 years. At the dawn of the 21st century there was Mark Ashley, Fresh Fox, T.M.-Joy, and Systems In Blue, but theirs was a blend of Modern Talking, 90’s eurodance and a touch of techno (maybe even just a tad of Pet Shop Boys and Erasure too). Even the Russian duo Plazma dabbled with Italo on a few of their singles, but just dabbled, they did not whole heartily embrace Italo. At the close of the 21st century’s first decade Johnny M5 appeared and he created a few Italo tracks but on the whole the bulk of his music is beautiful crystalline synthpop. I don't know who were the first new kids creating new 21st century Italo but I first became aware of this Italo resurgence with the release of the 100% pure Italo album "Obsession" by Mirko Hirsh whose wonderful Italo confection “Sweet Surrender” from that album is included on Italo: TNG.
What is it about Europeans and their love of and creation of Italo disco? Is it something geographical, historical, something in the water? I think it’s all three. The fall of the Roman Empire led to the Middle Ages which is where Italian music had its illustrious beginnings. It is said that, "Italian music has always been known for its lyrical or melodic character and this goes back to the 14th century." Back then troubadours (composers and performers) sang formulaic songs of poetic fiction, chivalry, courtly transcendent secret love (not of husbands and wives), love illicit, yet disciplined and passionate. If that doesn't describe some of the themes of Italo I don't know what does. Also at times populated with gypsies, kings, queens, princesses, angels, witches, magic spells, brave knights, fair maidens, ladies (in the refined, high social and economic standing sense) and even Cinderella who makes a few appearances, Italo can be like romantic fairy tales and fables of Medieval Europe put to a pulsing electronic beat. Italo is a part of European history it’s a part of their identity, it’s who they are and as long as there are Europeans, Italo will never die.
I think I now understand why many Americans can’t totally embrace Italo or exactly duplicate it, it's not American history (the United States didn’t even exist during the Middle Ages), it’s a continental European thing. That isn’t to say that Americans haven’t tried creating Italo. We’ve (as the saying goes) come “close, but no cigar,” with the creations of American producers like Jon St. James (Stacey Q, Bardeux), and Bobby O (the Flirts, Roni Griffith), great stuff, but it comes out sounding…American, with euro influences. Even during Italo 80’s heyday there was only one pure Italo top 40 hit on US radio, Baltimore’s “Tarzan Boy.” Around the same time pop songstress Laura Branigan gave us her Italo/rock/pop hybrid hit, “Self Control,” which was a remake of the Italo hit by Raf. Now we find ourselves in the midst of an Italo resurgence so I thought I investigate to see how this resurgence was going here in the US. I thought what better place to check than dance music charts. First I went to the Eurodancehits charts and, no Italo on their charts. Then I went to the music industry bible Billboard magazine and checked out their dance chart and, no surprise, no Italo there either. So it still appears that just like in the 80's Italo is just not a big thing on this side of the Atlantic (at least, not at the moment).
With this resurgence I have discovered that there is an entire community of Internet Italo radio and Italo websites like EuroFlash, Top80.pl, italo-disco.net, and VinylMagic.pl who support one another and their own. This has been proven by the support this community has given Italo elder statesmen have also made big musical comebacks during this Italo resurgence. Several 80's Italo icons have had big hits recently and you will find these hits on Italo: TNG. They include Joy Peters, his voice is still distinctive unique and appealing on “Asian Heart,” Miko Mission's powerful “Let It Be Love,” “Dancing Together” by Ken Laszlo, and Ryan Paris' beautiful “Parisienne Girl”. The comebacks of the Italo elder statesmen and the support they've received remind me of the USA’s country and jazz music industries. With pop and hip-hop music, an artist in these genres can be forever forgotten once they’ve reached their expiration date. But I’ve always admired the way jazz and country music always supports their own, no matter how long that artist has been around. Once I visited Gilley’s (the legendary country music honky-tonk in Dallas-Fort Worth Texas made famous in the film Urban Cowboy) and was amazed to see the age range of the people in this country music haven. On the dance floor where the young and not so young all dancing together (even families came there together!). At country music concerts you find the same. I see parallels between American jazz and country and Italo as the Italo community supports its family of artist, be they young or not so young.
Now as for the Italo NKOTB (New Kids On The Block....I've always wanted to steal that too) found on Italo: TNG, I won’t go through all their great tracks I’ll just touch on those that will take your breath away. There's Tiziana Rivale’s “Ash,” listen to this with headphones as there are some interesting and exciting yet subtle electronics going on the background of that song. Elen Cora’s “Astronomers In China” is different, eerie and exhilarating. Daniel Pettersson's “Seventh Heaven,” and Magic System DJ's “I Wanna Touch Your Body Now” will make you move your body as will Boy Blue’s “Alone Again.” Then there is Russia's Siberian Heat’s “In Your City.” Siberian Heat is one incredible band, these people don’t play, and they can do no wrong. I’ve got several of their tunes like “Angel’s Heart,” and all are incredible and irresistible. Theirs is a take no prisoners approach to dance music. Their goal, slaughter everyone on the dance floor and leave no body immobile.
One thing that I eagerly await with all Italo: TNG's tracks are the vocal less breaks as I get lost in the mad-science of thumping drum machines, throbbing keyboards and scorching synthesizers. At the break of the Squash Gang’s “Hey You (What’s Coming On Along the Way)” there is a throbbing almost organic bass line. The song is incredible and I sing along with the Squash Gang boys (unfortunately loudly and badly). The break of Mode One's “Sometimes” contains shimmering synths and a haunting guitar that sounds as if it is weeping.
Over in Europe there are now labels devoted to the creation of new Italo. Labels like Disco Evolution, Energy Level, Space Sounds, Clone, Five4it, and Flashback records (Flashback Records not only releases new material, they also take unreleased demos produce and remix them, creating new releases of previously shelved/unreleased works) are pumping the stuff out. But a lot of credit for this Italo resurgence must go to the folks at ZYX Music. For the past 10 years ZYX have been releasing box set after box set of Italo disco with their hugely successful "Italo Disco Collection" series (their latest IDC 13 and 14 mix new and old Italo artists). It is obvious that these box sets have been successful because each year ZYX releases one or two more. I’m sure that this exposure to a genre once considered dead in the 90's has helped keep Italo alive by introducing it to generation after generation of new kids.
The new kids of Italo: TNG has it down to a science as you can't discern an 80's Italo record from a new hit. With their broken English, stunning synths and keyboards and lack of depth (that's a good thing), they are creating exciting Italo energy for another generation. But for me it's elder statesman Eddy Huntington who sums it up when he sings in his hit “Love For Russia,” “Italian melodies, with a touch of English class; I’ve got rhythm in my head and Russian vodka in my glass,” now that’s what I call livin’, Italo style.
If you check out ZYX's Italo: TNG and dig it, then check out check out the compilation "ItaloEuroDisco, vol. 1," from Space Sounds records, more new kids making fresh new Italo for TNG....it's really good stuff, you will dig it too.
Artist Link: http://www.zyx.de/Musik/Italo-47/