please state sources when quoting (interviste e articoli in italiano qui)
As if names and nationalities really meant something, Italian producer Bottin’s Horror Disco erects a monolithic mass of exceptionally crafted and intricate Italo-disco that might not send you shrieking into the night, but most certainly horrifies — in some sense of the word. While its obvious historical lineage begins with the oft-intertwined horror movies and disco of late-70s Italy (à la Claudio Simonetti), the conception of Horror Disco was largely the result of a chance encounter with a vintage Italian-made Farfisa Syntorchestra synthesizer that resulted in the title-track and then served as a blueprint for the work as a whole. Essentially a collection of variations, the album’s fourteen tracks, each around five or six minutes long, thematically bring Bottin’s horrific vision to light. It is at times groovy like a Munich Machine, campy like the B-list, and lurid like a Dario Argento film, but never forced, inane, or boring. Horror might be a genre better filmed or written, but with Bottin’s sound it reveals striking dance floor potential.
Taking into account his self-described productive methodology — which relies less on inspiration and more on diligence and studio serendipity — it’s hard to read too much of a conceptual arc into Horror Disco, though his understanding of the genre and how it should play out in strictly musical form is deviously lethal. If anything, the “concept” here is a collection of formal and stylistic techniques developed to give rise to visceral reaction, which could be loosely considered the basis of horror — and dance music — in general. While the developments of horror as a genre have been more effectively visual or narrative, with music serving at best an atmospheric role, Bottin challenges dancers to follow his cues and provide themselves with the appropriately gruesome visual/visceral accompaniment. In the campy context generally set by Italo, the state of mind required to play Bottin’s game is a strange mixture of adult humor and childhood horror. And as the dance floor is a space of (depending on how seriously you take it) “childish” abandon, the tongue-in-cheeky horror Bottin’s pushing takes aim at freakin’ the floor, not exactly freakin’ you out.
Careful listening uncloaks many of the distorted conventions and dimensions that make up Italo-horror according to Bottin. To begin with, erratic modulation is inherently frightening, at higher frequencies mimicking unsteady heartbeats and panicked breathing, while at lower frequencies causing the floor to fall out like rotten wood beneath dancers’ feet. Next, camp vocals on unsettling subjects, which make several appearances in Horror Disco, most notably in “Disco for the Devil,” which finds Douglas Meakin (Easy Going, Crazy Gang) doing his best rip on Vincent Price, and “Bianca,” which takes the cake camp-wise. Third, both triplets and off-beat rhythms are a terrifying way to build tension in any register, and when they accompany staircase pads and leads that rise and fall, twist and turn sour, the effect is unmistakably unsettling as the title-track demonstrate. In fact, all the sounds in Bottin’s repertoire seem to suffer under their own troubled psychological weight, creaking and cracking at random. Supported by the unrelenting tautness of a zombie funk rhythm section (Black Devilry clearly implied on “Venezia Violenta” and “Roger Bacon”), Horror Disco moves briskly from start to finish, albeit on limbs occasionally prone to decay or fall off completely. Exactly how well this might work on the floor is up to the DJ, the set, and the scene. But when you consider that DJing is primarily about manipulating the mood of the room, having this unexpected, horrific flavor up your sleeve is an intriguing idea. And who knows, on the right dance floor one of these tracks might freak you out like peeled grapes in the dark.
We’ve been atwitter with anticipation since premiering Bottin‘s seductive new single “Y-A-M-L” this past June. And now the globetrotting-but-very-Italian DJ-producer-sound*designer is at last ready to tease his new album, I Have What I Gave, which drops October 6 on 2MR.
Naturally, we’re privileged to premiere first single ‘Perfect Mind.’ It is a revealing harbinger of the sort of cinematic retro-futuro-disco that will assure that I Have What I Gave will be one of autumn’s most buzzed about dance albums. Intended as a piece for the late performance artist Chiara Fumai, Bottin instead made the decision to employ vox synths for the proper effect. And so the finished track flaunts an electronic voice alluringly and thought-provokingly reciting from the ancient Gnostic gospels over a thundering electro beat – a surely once-in-a-lifetime coming together of ancient scripture and 80s Euro club culture.
“It started as a collaboration with my artist friend Chiara Fumai,” Bottin explains, “featuring words from an ancient Greek prayer: ‘The Thunder, Perfect Mind’ found in the Nag Hammadi texts discovered in Egypt in 1945. The words are delivered through various vocal synthesis engines, evoking a feminine spiritual entity discussing the most human of matters and the consequences of giving in to carnal temptation.”
That… and it will make you dance.
Since launching in 2012, Cristalli Liquidi’s Artifact label has found a bosom buddy in Bottin. The Italian producer is by far and away the imprint’s most prolific artist, with this fine two-tracker marking his seventh appearance on the imprint. Lead cut “Respirare” is particularly good. While the raw, analogue-rich, Italo-disco style bottom end tends towards the tough and sleazy, the musical elements that sit on top of it – warm deep house chords, dream house style improvised vocal snippets and lilting melodies – are unmistakably picturesque and loved up. ‘Waterland” is an altogether quirkier but no less impressive composition, with Bottin re-imagining calypso-tinged tropical disco with the aid of some cheap drum machines and all manner of cheery sounding synthesizer motifs.
PITCHFORK (single review)
No, when it comes to nu disco, Italians don’t necessarily do it better. But William Bottin makes a pretty good case. The Venice-based DJ, sound designer, and film score composer told Vice his “inspiration is basically the music I’ve been hearing on Italian TV my whole life… those late night movies shows with cheap horror films, Giallos, soft erotica.” Never mind that the original Italo disco often wasn’t even Italian: Whatever was coming through the airwaves when Bottin was growing up has helped his tracks find homes on such labels as Belgium’s Eskimo (Aeroplane, LindstrĂ¸m & Prins Thomas) and, of course, New Jersey’s Italians Do It Better (Glass Candy, Chromatics). “Sciarando el Scuro”, apparently Venetian dialect for “throwing light into the darkness”, is from his debut LP, Horror Disco on Bear Funk, and it’s the kind of seamlessly crafted space disco groover that gradually starts to grow on you. The funky bass and tropical-disco percussion set a playfully retrofuturist vibe from the outset, but it’s that laughing, high-pitched hook– a weird, whistley sound, almost definitely a human voice… but if you told me it was, like, pebbles plinking into different-sized water glasses I wouldn’t be surprised– that keeps this track playing in my head after it ends.
PITCHFORK (album review)
Wielding a Farfisa Syntorchestra synth like a slasher-movie villain brandishing a murder weapon, Bottin comes up with an album that is more about a spooky mood and quirky sonics than hypnotically pristine repetitions. No surprise, then, that excellent single “No Static” first emerged on darkly atmospheric New Jersey label Italians Do It Better; spacey arpeggios interlap and unfold seamlessly, subtle cries of “don’t stop” and “can do it” giving this the feel of a contender for Nike’s “Run” series. “Sciarando El Scuro” is the most ear-catching track after “No Static”, its chirpy hook less poltergeist than poultry-geist.
From there, Horror Disco remains deeply reverent of horror and retro-futurist film music, with plenty of solid grooves to offer DJs, but not quite enough personality to make for a completely satisfying home listen. The stuttering rhythms and horn fanfares of “Venezia Violenta”, the Halloween-esque repetitions of ominous finale “Endless Mother”, and the creepy vocoder warnings of “Slashdance” are never unpleasant, but they’re not exactly thrilling, either. Underscoring Horror Disco‘s revivalist tendencies is “Disco for the Devil”, which features matter-of-fact mayhem from Douglas Meakin, who sang for some of Simonetti’s Italo disco projects.
As (dig the name) Black Devil Disco Club have shown, nu-disco doesn’t have to be novel to be good, but it should usually be entertaining. Horror Disco proves Bottin knows his craft, and the standout tracks are worthwhile even for Italo disco noobs.
Mike Simonetti: I would say that 90% of Italo is just not good. Agree?
Bottin: Over here, all Italo sucks. It was cheap, mass-produced music. Quantity over quality and all that. Before the Italo years, Italian disco was produced by top-end musicians and composers.
But can’t that be said for any kind of pop music? By the mid-‘80s, Italo was already pop music.
Well no, not really. There has always been high-quality pop since The Beatles. Italo was mainly Italian producers pretending to be English or American by singing in “English” and using English-sounding monikers.
There is some really good Italo though. Like this track:
Klein & MBO… we all love that track. But we listen to it with our campy postmodern ears. You can’t say it’s a high quality production. Come on!
I listen for hooks and emotional impact over production values. I hear that track and I hear the basis of house.
We all do that. We are DJs. But DJs from back in the day—I mean Italian DJs—they wouldn’t touch Italo records. This one time, I was riding the bus to the airport and the driver saw my record bag. He told me was DJing throughout the ’80s and invited me to his place to make trades. When he saw I was interested in Italo stuff he was like, “Are you crazy? That’s the shit section of my collection.” He said neither he or his DJ friends would play Italian production. They sounded awful and cheap in comparison to UK stuff. And actually they do. It’s just that the aesthetics have changed. Back then a bad vocal was just a bad vocal.
That’s the charm though. Much Italo is almost like minimal synth in the way it was very DIY, lo-fi and sloppy. I mean, anyone can press a pre-set ARP button and make a bassline, true?
True, bad vocals give us back a sense of authenticity. The same goes for cheap sound productions where there’s too much reverb or no reverb at all.
You dwell on sound quality too much dude! What about the emotion?
I mean, everything that Celso Valli did was good, even the Italo stuff. The other top producer is Mauro Malavasi. He did Cube, Hypnotic Tango, and Two Heads Are Better Than One. He also was behind most of the Goody Records stuff with that shady Petrus guy that got killed in Guadalupe by the mob or something. I mean those guys were former prog rock musicians who came from the conservatory and knew how to arrange for an orchestra.
So everyone is all about “house music.” Why do you think the house producers in Chicago went for all this Italo shit?
I don’t know if Chicago guys lifted from Italo. But Italian dance music has always had success abroad since “Quando Quando Quando.” Basically I can think of three or four styles of Italo: good Italo that was produced by people who were already doing top-end disco, like Valli and Malavasi. Second, good Italo that was inspired by Kraftwerk—robot-themed or space-themed Italo like C.H.A.R.L.I.E. and Robotnick. Third, Italo pop like Den Arrow—stuff that was made for the charts and heavily based on the image of the singer. And of course, all copycat Italo. Like copying some big international hit and changing a few notes, like this:
Yeah, that Duke Lake shit is awful. Let’s go to “Il Veliero” by Lucio Battisti. Would you consider this the ultimate example of a good Italo song? You said Italo artists Americanized everything and made it with drum machines, but Il Veliero is sung in Italian with a live drummer and loose sounds…
I think “Il Veliero” is a great song, with an awesome, simple arrangement idea and a haunting melody. No wonder the Italo version is one of the best Italo records ever. Any version of it would be good. I like all the cover versions of that song: Lama’s, Chaplin Band’s, the Lindstrom one, the recent Phreek Plus One…
It’s so good. People love that bassline. It’s very bouncy—perfect for white people to bop around to on the dancefloor.
Rumor has it that Battisti went to LA on holiday and then came back and made this wicked record.
Let me ask you about the funky stuff like Atmosphera. I really like that stuff.
Well basically it was just reflecting the international trend around ’83 or ’84. All this “electric boogie” stuff came out like BB&Q band, My Malavasi, Firefly, Change…
Can you explain to people the Canadian connection? Why did so many Italo records come out on Canadian labels and get recorded in Canada?
I think there was a big Italian community there. They had labels and made their own music.
But it had more of a Euro touch to it though. More Hi-NRG maybe?
It was done by white people with Mediterrean roots, but it was not derived from soul and R&B. So to you it sounds Euro. To me it sounds Canadian.
Dude, did you know that in the USA most Italo records are “rare”?
Italo records are rare in Italy too. When the network put all indie stations out of business, most record archives got burned down. And since good DJs wouldn’t play much of this shit music and nobody was collecting it, there are actually very few copies remaning.
How do you feel when people call anything with an ARP synthesizer “Italo”?
Not everything that can be labeled Italo was produced in Italy. There was was some good stuff coming from Germany and Belgium and Sweden. But yes, anything that has an ARP playing non-random notes is now deemed as Italo. Whereas for me, a key ingredient to authentic Italo is also in the image. Have you seen P. Lion’s “Happy Children” video?
Was there an Italian version of the Brill Building?
There were a few key production studios like Green House in Padova where some cool Italo records were made, like DF & Pam’s “On The Beat,” Dust Man’s “King of Ghetto,” The Flics’s “Take It Easy.” It’s funny how “King of Ghetto” is quite similar to Carrara’s “Disco King.” It was produced in the same year, although with totally different credits.
Sounds like the exact same sequencer parts to me! Not sure which came out first, but Dust Man is like a cover of M.F.S.B. isn’t it?
Maybe its an homage.
No, no. It’s a straight cover. But isn’t this D.F. & Pam one great? It has the “Italo chord.”
It’s great. Surely a Cybernetic Broadcasting System classic, yes.
Cybernetic Broadcasting System is what many people used as the blueprint for Italo, pre-Discogs and YouTube.
Well it was really important. Although I think it was more collector-driven than DJ-driven. Perhaps both though.
True. Also the Mixed Up In The Hague compilations were important to all the NYC DJs who were trying to discover Italo in the early 2000s. Dan Selzer was heavy into that comp.
So it’s impossible to define where Italo starts and ends. Just like disco or any other genre. The name “Italo” was invented in the mid-’80s by German label ZYX when they released these From the Italo Boot compilations. But until a few years ago nobody in Italy used the word Italo. They called it “’80s revival.” Imagination, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Sabrina Salerno—it was and still is what we call ’80s music in italy. The other big one was Lombardoni’s Disco Magic, whose artwork I mocked in my Cristalli Liquidi 12″ release.
ANOTHER NIGHT ON EARTH (2009)
Bottin’s ‘Horror Disco’ album will be in stores by the 17th of this month, on the ever reliable Bear Funk. Bottin’s sound is distinctive and intricate, very Italian and really delicious. The sampler ep released back in June really peeked my interest and the subsequent post drew attention from Bottin himself, he offered me the chance to ask him a few questions as I clearly knew very little about him. Here then is that interview…
I’ve read that a Farfisa Syntorchestra synthesizer was pivotal in the making of your new album, my question is, where had you heard one before or heard about them? and can you explain your fascination with rare synths?
I had never heard one or heard about one before. My friend Bob Benozzo (now an established latin pop music producer, by the way) had it, it was once given to him by a family friend and was sitting in his garage ever since. He never really used it and then gave it to me a few years ago. Now I know the Farfisa Syntorchestra was used by prog music legends like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, but mine is actually a different model, one which never made it out of Italy I think. It’s nothing fancy – only a cheap sounding combo organ with a monophonic synth section.
The thing with vintage synths is that most people go after the well-known, expensive, big-sounding models. Personally I find that powerful synths sometimes tend to clog the mix, they were made in times when you could only have a small number of channels in multitrack recording. So the fatter the individual sounds, the better. Whereas, now anybody can record a virtually unlimited number of layers and great things can be done even with tiny-sounding synthesizers. They have a lot of personality, especially when they’re cheap: they tend to be unstable and sometimes wonders can happen. I firmly believe that serendipity is much more important than inspiration when making music, particularly dance music.
Clearly you are a fan of old spacey and horror soundtracks, was this the result of seeing the films? or was it through digging? what is it that excites you about those films and their soundtracks?
All the kids born in Italy in the late seventies like myself grew up watching Japanese robot cartoons. All the original themes were replaced by Italian bands (so that the Italian TV music publishers could collect all the money deriving from the national tv broadcasts) and many of them had space disco and funk arrangements since they were recorded in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Some even had vocoder and heavy synth parts.
The late seventies in Italy is also where we had the first local tv networks. Before, there were only only 2-3 channels of public national tv. An army of local tv station sprouted. All through the 80’s those minor channels were showing mostly those Japanese cartoons during the day and “B” movies at night, very many sci-fi and horror flicks. I think local stations didn’t have the money to purchase big films, so they showed “B” movies from the 70’s as the rights were cheaper. All the Italian horror masters got airtime in those years. Now it’s almost impossibil to see a Fulci or Bava movie on TV. Of course I wasn’t really aware of the musical characteristics of the soundtracks to those films, but somehow that music got under my skin. While making the album I did some digging, I researched many Italian movies, giallos, slasher movies, cheap sci-fi flicks that I thought I would need to watch. Often I released that I had seen them already when I was a kid.
How did you come to work with Douglas Meakin?
It’s all connected! Douglas is originally from Liverpool, then he moved to Italy in the 60’s (he was touring with his band and he met his wife here). Later on he ended up writing and singing very many of those Japanese cartoon themes I mentioned before. He’s quite famous in Italy for that and still plays many gigs perfoming those songs. Then by accident I found out he had also singing in Claudio Simonetti’s disco projects, Easy Going, Crazy Gang etc. He was left uncredited most of the time but I knew his voice from the tv songs! Some friends of mine in Venice have a fun band called La Mente di Tetsuya (Tetsuya’s Mind): they are a cover band and they only play those japanese cartoon songs. They once invited Douglas to sing with them so I met him and told him I was very into the stuff he did with Simonetti and proposed to make a disco track together. I sent him an instrumental demo, he wrote the lyrics himself and came back to Venice to record it. He’s truly an amazing vocalist, very precise yet passionate – he was one of the most active session vocalists in the 70’s and 80’s, he sang in thousands of records and rarely got credit for it. He said they would pay him by the hour.
How did you get into Disco? and what aspect of Disco excites you most?
I don’t know exactly how I got into it. It was maybe a backwards process in researching where the music I like was coming from. As a teenager I was into jazz and acid jazz, I played piano and keyboards in bands. Later I listened to house and started djing.
What I like about disco is that whereas most house and techno mostly rely on beats and rhythmical elements, disco was and still is a more complex blend of rhythmical, melodic a harmonic elements, with often great orchestration. It’s not just heavy banging, there are different layers to it and different ways to listen to it. It’s music that was done by musicians, not by djs. Sometimes they overdid it and soaked the good funk elements in heavy strings arrangements or excessively soulful vocals. Other times they made masterpieces that still sound more modern and more adventurous than contemporary electronica. I think that dance music should still be made by proper musicians and then sampled, re-edited and played out by djs.
To my ears, there is no doubt your sound is Italian, can you explain what makes Italian Disco so different to Disco from anywhere else?
I don’t have a specific idea, I guess it’s hard, being Italians, to highlight the features of Italian Disco. I could tell you that American Disco is more soulful and it’s funkier because, obviously, it developed from funk and soul.
Of course Italian music was never firmly rooted in African American music. Classic Italian pop music has always relied on strong, touching melodies. It’s derived from opera I guess. Italian producers were producing Disco because it was profitable at the time. While they were trying to imitate the american sound, most Italian disco producers were classically trained or coming from prog rock, not funk or soul. They all went to the conservatory, Celso Valli, Mauro Malavasi, Claudio Simonetti.
How long did the album take to record?
A little over two years.
What are some of your favorite Horror Disco tracks by other artists?
‘Fear’ by Easy Going,
‘Telephone Computer’ by Crazy Gang (both by Simonetti),
Hot Ice’s version of ‘Theme From Friday the 13th’ by Harry Manfredini
‘Planet “O”‘ by Daisy Daze and The Bumblebees.
Thank you so much Guglielmo for this. Now all that remains is for you to check out this truly excellent album.