Italo disco has legs—garishly hued, glittery-leotard'd legs. And the musical genre's lower limbs have refused to stop flexing four decades after its inception. In the United States, Italo is a cult favorite of club-culture aficionados who possess a refined ear for electronic music's more camp and flamboyant proclivities. (Seattle represents it with Pony Bar's monthly DJ night, Medical Records Rx, headed by Dr. Troy and DJ Sh1t-r, who will be playing an Italo set in the Northwest Film Forum lobby on Thurs Aug 2 at 7 p.m.)
Unlike its American counterpart, which embraced a more soulful vocal approach, Italo disco stressed infectious melodies and hedonistic lyrics, often coming across as an over-the-top take on synth pop. A high tolerance for cheesiness is almost mandatory to enjoy it; grumpy types may not understand all the fuss, but viewing Pietro Anton's 79-minute documentary Italo Disco Legacy will give you a greater understanding of this niche style's enduring charm.
Anton captures the appeal of Europe's most fun cult music through numerous interviews with key musicians, DJs, and journalists while showing archival footage of performers, dancers, and crate-diggers reveling in Italo's neon brazenness. He interviews several of the original Italo artists (Alexander Robotnick, Scotch) as well as those they influenced (DJ Hell, the Hacker), and he gets keen insights from the Danish DJ/record collector Flemming Dalum, who adds crucial context and details.
As the film progresses, you realize that the genre—which really began to take off after the German label ZYX started releasing compilations of the most popular tracks in 1982—is male-dominated (only five women are interviewed, most of them vocalists), the rhythms fairly uncomplicated and in 4/4 time, and the melodies instantly catchy. Vocalist Fred Ventura asserts that "Italo is part of non-snob Euro DJ culture," yet paradoxically it has maintained cool cachet for decades. That Italo impacted many Chicago house and Detroit techno artists adds to its cred.
For novices, Italo Disco Legacy offers an entertaining overview of the music and why it's inspired such rabid devotion for decades. Hardcore fans may find fault with omissions (I'm no expert, but the absence of Gay Cat Park and Tantra seems odd). Granted, one can't cover everything in 79 minutes, but the fact that proto-Italo-disco giant Giorgio Moroder appears only as an image on an Italove member's T-shirt strikes me as ignoring the elephant in the discotheque.
Whatever the case, what lingers after the last drum-machine beat dissipates is Italo disco's pervasive positivity and glamour. As one member of the group 'Lectric Workers put it: "This music won't isolate people, leaving them lost in their drug trips."