Starting in the mid-1970s, disco flooded nightclubs in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. From its soul and Motown roots, disco expanded dance music with complex arrangements and productions: Percussion, strings, horns, and keyboards were often played by a large team of musicians under the direction of a producer. Most disco came in the form of extended 12-inch singles that DJs mixed to provide a nonstop soundtrack for clubgoers. As European artists took note, they initiated their own blend of disco that came to be called Italo disco.
Italian keyboardist and soundtrack composer Giorgio Moroder might be how the spinoff genre earned its name. In 1977, Moroder released one of the first Italo-disco records, From Here to Eternity. Built with electronic percussion, analog synths, and heavy bass loops, the album was far from the soulful, full-band disco topping the U.S. charts—its emphasis lied within its stark electronic instrumentation, all programmed and recorded by Moroder. This recording practice was revolutionary, utilizing advances in technology to reduce the number of musicians on each track and put the composition into the hands of the producer alone. Standout tracks like "Utopia," "Lost Angeles," and the classic title track captured a new disco sound, a futuristic blend of space-age sci-fi and dark dance-floor energy.
From Here to Eternity gained critical acclaim in European nightclubs, creating a huge underground buzz that eventually led the way for experimentalists in Italy, Spain, and France to try their hand at Italo disco; artists like Black Devil, Tantra, and Kano all picked up on Moroder's sound. In the late '70s and early '80s, the music made its way back toward the U.S., mainly with the help of Canadian producer Gino Soccio, who released a string of successful Italo-disco singles like "The Visitors," "Dance to Dance," and "Dancer."
Decades since From Here to Eternity, Italo disco is experiencing a global renaissance through online radio stations, underground dance clubs, and small record labels. By remixing obscure Italo songs, modern producers like Serge Santiago, Prins Thomas, and Greg Wilson have introduced younger audiences to the genre. A new generation of original Italo-disco artists, mainly in Europe and Japan, have surfaced as well, while bands like Glass Candy and Chromatics—both from Portland—play Italo disco live, further evolving the style Moroder pioneered.
You can hear Italo disco spun Tues Nov 27 at Pony's Circus! and every first Friday of the month at Solo Bar's Club Cabana. For MP3s of Italo disco and more, check out TJ Gorton's blog at www.americanathlete.blogspot.com.