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Italo Disco and Electro Boogie

A primer on Italo Disco and Electro Boogie, the fun retro musical genres that are making a second round of waves in indie and dance circuits around the country. While this music began in the 80s, it was overshadowed at the time by pop, new wave, punk, and metal during the decade. Now a new generation of DJ's across the indie scene, like Nick Fresh, are rediscovering and creating an updated scene around them. Here is a Phillip Cardona's guide to the two unique sounds. Check em out.

Published September 21, 2009 in Dining & Nightlife      14 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Italo –Disco:
     “Italo-Disco” was the name given to synthesizer based music originating exclusively from Europe, in particular Italy. Bernhard Mikulski, founder of seminal electronic label ZYX music originally coined the term in the early eighties to give this style of music which was then referred as "Rock Elettronico" and "Balli da Discoteca" a more marketable name.  Italo-Disco, unlike American disco is based on electronic instrumentation; the usage of vocoders, drum machines and keyboards is the key element in the music. The marking of Italo-Disco can be heard in the simple yet poignant lyrics often dealing with romance and love (lost).

For some samples of the Italo Disco sound, check out the following:

Kano:  Another Life

Casco:  Cybernetic Love


     Many Italo-Disco singers choose to sing and write their lyrics in English; as a result many italo tracks have a European-- almost robotic sense of lyricism, lyrics usually become lost in translation causing their grammatical validity to disappear, a naiveté quality which attracts me most to Italo-Disco. Here is an example of an Italo Disco song: Silent Circle – “moonlight affair”.  Check out the lyrics below compared to the video (sorry its one of those youtube album cover visuals with audio) and I think you'll understand what I mean.

Moonlight affair,
Moonlight affair...
Was it love at first sight,
Or was it destiny?  
But since the first time with you
I really know there's another one
When all the world is asleep
I wanna be with you
It ain't worth a single doubt
Maybe I know it cannot last for long
Moonlight affair,
I can feel your heartbeat
Moonlight affair,
I'm just walking round and round
Moonlight affair,
(forever together)
I can feel your heartbeat
(close to me)
Moonlight affair,
(forever together)
I'm just walking round and round
And I walk by your side,
I long for your embrace,

Don't want to leave you tonight
And in your eyes I see the endless space
But soon the moment will break
And you'll be gone away
I don't like to hesitate
I feel your hand,
We know it's not too late
It's no love affair, go on dreaming
Nothing left to share but the moon
It's no love affair when we're leaving
Nothing left to share when you're gone

Here is a live version of the same track, but the audio is not as high quality:



“Electro-Boogie”, also referred to as Synth-Funk, is a style of music that was prominent in the early to mid eighties nationally in the underground clubs.   Stylistically, its origins can be traced to New York City around1980.

But it wasnt exclusive to NYC: scenes with the boogie sound exploded both nationally and in Europe, most notably California.     The Golden State band Midnight Express recorded what is generally thought as the seminal electro boogie track:  ‘danger zone’.

Boogie, emerging from the aftermath of 70s disco kept certain elements of disco while also being influenced by Italo, mixing elements of early electronic and the 70s disco sound.  

Probably the key elements you will hear in Boogie music are the down stroke grooving guitar; synthesizer laced back rounds and a funky vocal and lyrical approach. But, crucial to the mix is the thumping-bass driven sound that is omnipresent in Electro-Boogie.

Notably, the men in boogie singing cover such topics as regretting a lost love or pleading for that special someone to come back. Women singers often express their sexuality and desires without hesitance, not afraid to mask emotion. As were the times, boogie has a very ‘eighties’ feel, so if you’re a fan of the eighties and enjoy disco-influenced music boogie could be for you.

Here are some great starter Electro Boogie videos:

Evelyn "Champage" King.  Love Come Down

Of course Evelyn King was a bit of a star during the era, its great to see her music get a second life.

The Rah Band:  Clouds Across the Moon.

Most people have never heard of the Rah Band, another 80s group, but in this track especially you can hear that they were way ahead of the trends that led to acid jazz and experimental.  The opening sounds are 10 years before United Future Organization's, "Future Sounds" tracks, and 15 years before Yello recorded "The Moon is On Ice."

Still the contemporary vocals are pure 70's.  It's really a beautiful piece.

Midnight Express:  Danger Zone



September 21, 2009, 04:02:18 PM
DJ Chilout-Chuck was trying to get the Itala-Disco scene off the ground in Jax 3-4 years back, and sadly no one was having it before he moved up to Atlanta. Maybe it will stick around for a bit with this recent incarnation?


September 21, 2009, 04:16:49 PM
You know, I think so gideon.  Apparently this Nick Fresh kid is making it work.

I know that I keep hearing italo getting mixed into the dance floor every time I go out to the clubs.

Its kind of a perfect hipster sound for the era though.  It was too happy for the Bush years.

Springfield Girl

September 21, 2009, 05:55:09 PM
Okay, at the risk of sounding old AND dumb, what is Italo Disco? I grew up in the 70's and have no problem admitting that I looove disco. My mechanic gave me hell when he discovered  Bee Gee's, Abba and Barry Manilow CD's in my car. I know Manilow is not Disco but I was going through a happy 70's nostalgic phase.


September 21, 2009, 05:58:05 PM
Its all explained in the article Springfield Girl!  Plus it has videos and links to check out examples so you can hear for yourself!


September 22, 2009, 11:53:45 AM
I want to know where I can get that hat!


September 22, 2009, 01:18:17 PM
Italo-Disco is quite happy springfield girl!  Jason it's a fitted hat, you can buy them anywhere they sell fitted hats, maybe the mall or town center?


September 22, 2009, 01:26:24 PM
If anybody has any questions regarding Italo-Disco or Boogie, please let me know! I would like to answer any and all questions


September 22, 2009, 01:34:08 PM

V.a. - Italo Disco New Generation Full Album Download
01. Marc Fruttero - Memories (Extended Remix)
02. Dyva - Stay With Me Tonight (Extended Version)
03. Peter Arcarde - Into Marta's Eyes (Flashback First Version)
04. Ambra - Release (Vocal Version)
05. Mocchetti - Come,Come Together (Extended Version)
06. George Aaron - Heaven (Clouds Mix)
07. Fred Ventura - When I Let You Down (12"Mix)
08. Bruno Mosti - Zero Gravity (Radio Version)
09. Gurcan Erdem - Dancing On The Fire (12"Version)
10. L.A.Messina - Daydream (Vocal)
11. Monika Novak - Living On The Run (Extended Version)
12. Savino Feat.Dora C. - Flash In The Night (Extended Version)


September 22, 2009, 01:40:23 PM

    Italo Disco! The world's first and oldest completely electronic dance music is, like all things retro and 80s, making a comeback! If you're thinking "It's about god damn time!", rejoice! If you're thinking "Hey, I remember this stuff. Wow, how kitsch!", prepare for a rollercoaster return to memory lane. If you're thinking "What the bloody hell is Italo Disco?!", sit back and enjoy the science.

     Italo Disco has its origins in a number of places. Most direct antecedents would probably be the electro-pop of Kraftwerk, and the twitchy French pop scene spear-headed by JJ Perrey, Polyphonic Size, Telex, Silicon Teens and the like--the precursors to Human League, Gary Numan and the ubiquetously 80s synthpop sound as we know it. But probably the most direct influence was Giorgio Moroder, an actual Italian, who probably gave the genre its namesake and a distinctive sound with his patented "galloping synth" arpeggiation technique (well, not a technique. More like a mistake, or the result of working with extremely limited analog equipment with no polyphony), so addictive it has become the backbone of virtually every trance and eurohouse song of the last 25 years. Moroder and Donna Summer - I Feel Love (1977) is a disco song proper, but realistically it marked a divergence from the horn-strings-and-electric-bass of typical disco music, and into something new: straight-ahead buzzing, spitting synths.

     Not mechanical and cold like the German futurists, nor weird and avant-garde like the French experimentalists, this new electronic disco was incredibly accessible. Warm, bouncey, friendly, perfect for dancefloors, and most importantly: stupidly cheap and easy to make. Where in 1975 a disco outfit might be a 10-12 piece band, by 1980 it could conceivably be one guy, working all the parts himself with synths and drum machines. Championed as the dancefloor successor to Disco, Italo would come to dominate the club landscape for practically the entirety of the 80s. And the crazy part is all this was pretty much due to one record label: ZYX Records, considered to be the most successful dance music label in existence.

     Very little of this music actually made it overseas, mostly due to the neanderthalic disco backlash that raged across the United States. Some tracks crossed over and became monster pop hits, like Baltimora - Tarzan Boy (1984), Falco - Rock Me Amadeus (1985) and Murray Head - One Night in Bangkok (1984)--originally written for the musical Chess--but by and large Italo Disco evolved almost entirely on the European mainland, predating the legendary origins of House and Techno music in Chicago and Detroit by a good 5-10 years. Originally, its early artists were Italian, but by the 80s its signature sound had spread over most of Europe, rendering the name rather meaningless. The english speaking world used it interchangeably with the more generic terms Eurodisco and Hi-NRG. And there were stateside artists making a name for themselves in the biz--Patrick Cowley, The Flirts, Company B, Bobby Orlando, Sylvester, Divine, Taco--but their music mostly only found favour with the non-english speaking consumers of Italo Disco.

     That's actually one of the greater and more campy ironies about Italo: most of the music was sung in english, a habitual second language to all of its artists. The reasoning behind this is unknown, though it may have to do with english simply being the universal language of business and the pop music industry. In addition, english also contains more words than any other language, making it the easiest language to rhyme, and it's also easiest to make indecipherable sense since the syntax is so flexible (ie: no gender-specific pronouns, presence of homynyms, etc). This produces hilarious, thick-accented, unintentionally funny-sounding lyrics which add to its unique quality. Just listen to the chorus of the best Italo track of all time (and my personal favourite), Miko Mission - How Old Are You (1984):

"Now how old are you
where is your harbour
have many things to do
open the door.

Yes I live so true
without my lover
but tell me if the sky is blue
How old are you?

     What the hell does this mean? Who knows? I think he's talking about hooking up with an underage girl or something. But god damn, is it ever catchy. If I were stuck on a desert island and could pick only one genre of music to listen to for the rest of my life, it would definitely be Italo. It doesn't get nearly as much attention or praise as its offspring Techno, House and Trance do, but everyone in the know points a finger specifically at Italo as the music that was there first. And it was these people who originally made those machines sing for the masses.

     I imagine for most of them listening to this stuff is like Odysseus returning home. It really is the equipment itself--those wires and diodes and resisters and LFOs and envelopes and filters--returning to the Big Bang, where it all started, the genesis of electronic dance music.

     Such is why the strongest trend in the dance music scene today is the Italo revival. If you listen really closely, a lot of Italo music may sound really familiar to you--that's because everyone has been sampling it relentlessly the past few years, from disco house and french house producers to electro, electroclash, and anyone diving headfirst into the retro 80s revival. Electroclash especially, which has recently opted to shed its punk-infused, NY fashion chic of glitz, glam and androgynous sexuality, replacing it with the more upbeat, less pretentious, bouncy basslines of Italo. In other words, less clash, and more electro. Less punk, and more house.

     There really are two strains of Italo: The first is the more pop-oriented sound which is familiar because it's the hidden inspiration behind synthpop and the Stock-Aitken-Waterman productions of the 80s. Some classic examples of the period:

Digital Emotion - Go Go Yellow Screen (1983)
Aki - Magic Love (1986)
Premio Nobel - Baby Doll (1987)
My Mine - Can Delight (1986)

     The other is a more obscure yet infinitely more fascinating spacey synth stuff, all instrumental, which fits as the upbeat, cheesy, friendly robotic yin to the cold, cybernetic yang of American electro. In some cases, most wouldn't even consider this Italo, and often refer to it as simply "New Age Synth", as it has a motif more closely aligned with the synth-ambient scores of Vengelis and Jean Michel Jarre, only not as forlorn. The most prolific purveyer of this style was Laserdance, who released an ungodly amount of music during the 80s, all of it good. This stuff sounds like it belongs in Powerpoint presentations, mall elevators, and on royalty-free music packages. Choice tracks are:

Xenon - Xenon Galaxy (1983)
Proxyon - Beyond the Future (1988)
Hypnosis - Argonauts (1991)

     Could anyone make anything like this ever again? My thoughts were answered a year ago when I ran into--by accident--an amateur Swedish producer by the name of Johan Lindgren, and he sent me Robots (2003). And that's not all! Scandinavian sweetheart Vocoderion is also making waves in the resurrection of 80s camp sci-fi spacey synth goodness.

     Electronic music is one of the few musical forms that has no sense of its own past. Many newcomers to the fold simply are not aware of what came before, and so everything appears fresh and novel. But those who make their living at it know better. They know that, in the club scene today, barely one-tenth of all records have an original idea, melody or sound to them. The belief that every musical idea has already been explored is an old one, and catered around until someone comes up with something new. But in electronic music's case, the consolidation of its gains are appreciated far more than the discovery of them. Today most producers act more like musical archeologists, educating the masses one sample at a time, rather than genuine musicians. That's something that politics have come to loathe: revisionist history. Sampling only agreeable parts of the past rather than exploring it in depth.

     Not to say that I'm complaining about this sort of thing. I'm just saying that's what's happening. Everyone is bringing Italo back to life. Everyone. From Adam Freeland to Swayzak, John B, Luke Slater, Ferry Corsten and even Praga Khan: they're all rehashing 20 year old ideas. Compare and contrast:

Jeans Team - Baby (2000)
Bangkok Impact - Traveller (2002)
Legowelt - Disco Rout (2002)
Fancyman - Fancyman - (2002)
Praga Khan - Tausend Sterne (2002)

     Not coincidentally, the Rubicon track is the latest one, as well as the one sounding the most like original Italo, giving a good indication of where house music is going in the future....which is to say, the past. But is this revival better than the original? I would say no. It's good, but like movies based on books, just can't compete with the breadth and scope of the original. So what are DJs to do? Hmmmm. I wonder how much original Italo records sell on Ebay these days.

     So with all this newfound attention on Italo, where are the original Italo artists today? Well, actually, most of them are still in music. Many of them evolved with the times, morphing their sound as equipment improved and people's tastes changed. A lot of them went on to become Eurodance hit-making factories in the 90s (Radiorama is a well-publicised example). Others, like Max Coveri and Los Blue Belles, went on to spearhead the speed-freaked Eurobeat scene of all things. And still others are probably not blind to this revital, and are licensing their tracks and their expertise in capturing the essence of the original Italo movement in its entirety, like when LTNO - Boys (2003) covered the eponymous Italo classic Sabrina - Boys (1987).

     Of course, as great as the revival music is and all, I still see no videos. But then again, owing to how totally wicked fucking awesome the original italo videos were, I don't blame them for not trying. Who the hell could compete with something like that? No one, that's who.


September 22, 2009, 02:08:53 PM
You know, I think so gideon.  Apparently this Nick Fresh kid is making it work.

I know that I keep hearing italo getting mixed into the dance floor every time I go out to the clubs.

Its kind of a perfect hipster sound for the era though.  It was too happy for the Bush years.

I appreciate that, Stephen.

Italo and Boogie Funk are slowly creeping back into Jax's psyche.  Jacksonville historically, when it comes to this so-called "hipster scene," were more so into guitars and indie rock and sometimes not really willing to incorporate any new sounds unless it's known enough by their peers (hence why this city has been musically playing catch up for years). a lot of folks have discovered (and rediscovered) both styles aforementioned as of late because a lot of the dance music from all coasts have incorporated this sound over the past decade. The blogosphere and YOUTUBE have given many people a reason to seek out original samples.

It thrives wherever Jonathan Snider (he plays at the Sinclair on Saturdays alongside ROMEEDEE during "Just For You"), and I play around town. :)


September 22, 2009, 02:11:50 PM
welcome aboard, Nick!

What are you favorite tracks in the two genres?
What gets the biggest crowd response?


September 22, 2009, 02:28:25 PM
welcome aboard, Nick!

What are you favorite tracks in the two genres?
What gets the biggest crowd response?

Great to be here, buddy.

If I were to sit here and name out all of my favorites from both genres, this forum would crash. heh.
But, the biggest response is when I actually mix one of songs from one of the said genres with something familiar or tremendously new.

an example of this is my most recent Late Night 10 Minute Mix where I actually start off with one of the cornerstone Italo tunes (Gary Low's "You Are A Danger"). PS. I put these clips together also. enjoy it!:


September 22, 2009, 02:30:17 PM
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October 06, 2009, 10:42:35 AM
thanks for the props, nick! not to brag or anything but i have been playing italo around town since i started djing about 3 years ago. look out for my free italo mixtape coming soon..

<3 jonathan
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