Italo discoItalo disco (various capitalized, and sometimes hyphenated as Italo-disco) is a music genre which originated in Italy and was mainly produced from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Italo disco evolved from the then-current underground dance, pop, and electronic music, both domestic and foreign (American Hi-NRG, French Euro disco) and developed into a diverse genre. The genre employs drum machines, synthesizers, and occasionally vocoders. It is usually sung in English, and to a lesser extent in Italian and Spanish.
The origin of the genre's name is strongly tied to marketing efforts of the ZYX record label, which began licensing and marketing the music outside Italy in 1982. Italo disco faded in the early 1990s.
TerminologyThe term "Italo", a generic prefix meaning Italian, had been used on pop music compilation albums in Germany as early as 1978, such as Italo Top Hits on the K-Tel label and the first volume of Italo Super Hits on the Ariola label.
There is no documentation of where the term "Italo-Disco" first appeared, but its origins are generally traced to Italian and other European disco recordings released in the German market. Examples include the phrase "Original Italo-Disco" on the sleeve of the German edition of "Girl on Me" by Amin-Peck in 1982, and the 1983 compilation album The Best of Italo-Disco. These records, along with the Italo Boot Mix megamix, were released by Bernhard Mikulski on his ZYX label, who was therefore credited with coining the term "Italo disco". The Best of and Boot Mix compilations each became a 16-volume series that culminated in 1991. Both series primarily featured disco music of Italian origin, often licensed from independent Italian labels which had limited distribution outside Italy, as well as songs in a similar style by other European artists.
The presenters of the Italian music show Discoring (produced by RAI) usually referred to Italo disco tracks as "rock elettronico" (electronic rock) or "balli da discoteca" (disco dance) before the term "Italo disco" came into existence.
Origins: 1977–1983The entry of synthesizers and other electronic effects into the disco genre produced electronic dance music, including America's Hi-NRG and Europe's space disco. Italo disco's influences include Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, French musician Didier Marouani, a couple of hits by the French drummer Cerrone, and the early Hi-NRG albums of San Francisco producer Patrick Cowley with such singers as Sylvester and Paul Parker.
Although disco music was generally reviled and shunned in the USA during the 1980s, dance music was still popular in Europe. Italian disco DJs' desire for new music was frustrated because new songs were imports and therefore too expensive. So Italian producers and musicians filled the void with their own new music.
As with all musical styles, Italo disco incorporated different subgenres, overlapped with other styles, and evolved rather than appearing and disappearing, so there are conflicting points of view on what the "first" Italo disco record was and when the genre began. What can be said is that disco music was being produced by Italian producers since at least 1977. Italo disco often featured electronic sounds, drum machines, catchy melodies, vocoders, overdubs, and heavily accented English lyrics. By 1983, Italo disco's instrumentation was predominantly electronic. Along with love, Italo disco themes deal with robots and space, sometimes combining all three in songs like "Robot Is Systematic" (1982) by 'Lectric Workers and "Spacer Woman" (1983) by Charlie.
Although the genre was successful in Europe during the 1980s, it was never particularly successful in the United Kingdom, although several Italo disco songs did become hits there, such as Ryan Paris's "Dolce Vita", Laura Branigan's "Self Control", Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy", Spagna's "Call Me" and Sabrina's "Boys". Nonetheless, the genre's influence can be heard in the music of several British electronic acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and New Order.
In 1983, there were frequent hit singles, and labels such as American Disco, Crash, Merak, Sensation and X-Energy appeared. The popular label Disco Magic released more than thirty singles within the year. It was also the year that the term "Italo disco" became widely known outside Italy, with the release of the first volumes of The Best of Italo Disco compilation series on the German record label ZYX. After 1983, Italo disco was also produced outside Italy.
Derivative styles: 1982–1990Canada, particularly Quebec, produced several remarkable Italo disco acts, including Trans X ("Living on Video"), Lime ("Angel Eyes"), Rational Youth ("City of Night"), Pluton & the Humanoids ("World Invaders"), Purple Flash Orchestra ("We Can Make It"), and Tapps ("Forbidden Lover"). Those productions were called "Canadian disco" during 1980–1984 in Europe and Hi-NRG disco in the U.S.
In Germany, Italo disco is known as Euro disco and discofox. In English-speaking countries, it was called Italo disco and Hi-NRG. German productions were sung in English and were characterized by an emphasis on melody, exaggerated production, and a more earnest approach to the themes of love; examples may be found in the works of Modern Talking, Fancy, American-born singer and Fancy protégé Grant Miller, Bad Boys Blue, Joy, Silent Circle, The Twins, Lian Ross, C. C. Catch, Blue System and London Boys.
During the mid-1980s, Spacesynth, a subgenre of Italo disco, developed. It was mostly instrumental, featured space sounds, and was exemplified by musicians such as Koto, Proxyon, Rofo, Cyber People, Hipnosis, Laserdance and Mike Mareen (whose music inhabited the spacesynth-Hi-NRG overlap).
Evolved and interrelated genresAs Italo disco declined in Europe, Italian and German producers adapted the sound to Japanese tastes, creating "Eurobeat". Music produced in this style is sold exclusively in Japan due to the country's Para Para culture, produced by Italian producers for the Japanese market. The two most famous Eurobeat labels are A-Beat-C Records and Time Records. One traditional Italo disco label, S.A.I.F.A.M., still produces Eurobeat music for Japan.
Around 1989 in Italy, Italo disco evolved into Italo house when Italian Italo disco artists experimented with harder beats and the "house" sound.
Revival: 1998–presentA big comeback of German disco began in 1998, when Modern Talking reunited. Rete 4 channel in Italy, Hits 24, Goldstar TV, and ProSieben channels in Germany, and the program Nostalgia on Spain's TVE channel started to broadcast Italo disco.
Several online radio stations stream the genre. The renewed popularity has inspired re-releases and new mixes by many of the original Italo disco record labels. ZYX Records has released many new CD mixes since 2000. Panama Records and Radius Records have re-released Italo tracks on vinyl. Northern European labels I Venti d'Azzurro (The Netherlands) and Flashback Records (Finland) have produced unreleased demos, new versions of old hits, and new songs.
Related styles and legacy
SpacesynthAt least one modern history of "space disco" traces the genre's origins to science fiction themes (outer space, robots, and the future) in the titles, lyrics and cover artwork of dance music in the late 1970s. Plausible associations are drawn between the popularity of Star Wars (released mid-1977), the subsequent surge in interest in science fiction themes in popular culture, and the release of a number of science fiction themed and "futuristic"-sounding (synthesizer and arpeggiator-infused) disco music worldwide.
Space discoMusic at the crossroads of Italo disco, electro and synth-pop, characterized by "vocoderized harmony vocals" (Mr. Flagio's "Take a Chance") and "futuristic synth melodies" (Kano's "Cosmic Voyager"), was later dubbed space synth or space disco. In later years it was also influenced by Brazilian music, funk, and jazz fusion (See also: Afro/cosmic music).
In modern histories, early examples of space disco usually include the music of the French band Space, and "I Feel Space" by Lindstrøm.
Labels producing this type of music include
Post-disco and house musicNew York City-based post-disco record label Emergency Records specialized in reissuing/selling records from Italy (e.g. Kano "I'm Ready"), since the 1970s. Kano, a moniker of Anglo-Caribbean DJ Glen White, is noted for incorporating American musical elements ("heavy funk" influences, "breakbeat" rhythm, the use of vocoder) with electronic music while using rudimentary synthesizers, constituting one of the earliest forms of Italo disco. This form of Americanized Italo disco, that also includes Klein + M.B.O. ("Dirty Talk," "Wonderful," "The M. B. O. Theme"), re-entered the States and was known to be influential on the development of house music. Doctor's Cat ("Feel the Drive"), likewise, was one of the earliest "house music" songs.
Record labels include