Following on from the phenomenal success of the recent Remixed With Love compilation plus more Joey Negro compiled albums including GoGo Get Down, Backstreet Brit Funk, Destination Boogie and the ever-popular Soul of Disco series Z Records continues to release high quality compilations filled with lesser known disco, funk and boogie.
Now its the turn of Italo House to get the JN selection treatment with over 20 tracks hand picked from the late 80s and early 90s covering a lot of the deeper classics and some lesser known releases from a golden era of Italian dance music.
The late 80s were undoubtedly a golden era for dance music. A time which saw the birth of many genres and sub genres - from acid house to hardcore to Balearic - and of course Italo house. If you ask Jo Raver to name an Italo house track, they'd probably come back with Blackbox, Jinny, Fiddlefatti or one of many big piano tune. Not surprising as these became some of the first "hands in the air" moments on many a dance floor and even ended up crossing over into the UK pop charts. This was back in the days when legions of clubbers buying the domestic issue 12" on the week of release was enough to secure a top 40 hit. At the same time there was another equally distinctive sound coming out of Italy- a warmer, deeper, more emotional style which didn't yield any commercial hits. Though I'm not adverse to the odd "piano screamer" I was much more drawn to the output of producers like Alex Neri and Claudio Mozart. The sound was more jazzy and soulful with syncopated percussion, dreamy pads and, though piano was often used, it wasn't in the obviously programmed, big breakdown style which became a cliché of the Italo house genre. This more underground side of Italo was closer to the original American house sound- but still retained a very European flavour. As for the vocals, one of the fascinating things about Italian house (and in fact many British and US productions from the time) was the extensive use of US acappellas. It was a crucial addition to the formula.
Though this album is subtitled The Deeper Side of Italo House, that is definitely the overall sound. Not all the tracks here are what I'd call "deep"- a much misused word these days anyway. Montego Bay is more disco style, not dissimilar to some of my own productions from this time. MCJ's distinctly upbeat "Sexitivity" was maybe influenced by American vocal house like Crystal Waters, though both still fit in with the overall sound. One of the more popular songs was Softhouse Co's "What You Need"- piano house done with a little more panache than most. During this period my then studio partner Andrew "Doc" Livingstone and myself were spinning together regularly around Europe. We almost always featured a few of these songs in our DJ sets. Aural "Desire" was a regular opener, while the like of Montego Bay and Centric House also became firm favourites in the dj box. Its funny as, though the tracks usually got a good crowd reaction, you'd sometimes get the impression no one actually knew them. On more than one occasion a big name Italian DJ asked who a song was by and would express great surprise to find it was home-made.
In common with other Z compilations which have featured Britfunk and GoGo, this album was an important release for me. Important because I love a lot of the records, many of which have been largely forgotten about, but also because there really was a unique sound coming out of Italy, spread across many labels and involving numerous producers. As a result, it has never really been fully showcased like this before. I'm glad this album exists for other people to discover or re-discover the deeper side of Italo house.
Joey Negro Feb 2014