As a general rule, Italo disco is not a form of dance music known for its seriousness. Many of its best examples are charming precisely because of their unusual mixture of science fiction camp, unintended goofiness and traditional disco-indebted dance floor appeal. Yet Italo is a surprisingly varied genre, and despite the cheeriness of its most popular songs, the style also has an undercurrent of artists whose output could just as easily fit next to a Severed Heads or Bauhaus record as they could something by Giorgio Moroder or Patrick Cowley.
Nobody knows this better than Josh Cheon, the man behind San Francisco’s excellent Dark Entries imprint. Since 2009, Cheon’s modus operandi has been to discover and release obscure synth-driven music both from the past and present. Part of that project has involved a string of extremely high-quality Italo reissues—many of which explore this darker and more somber side of Italian disco. For this month’s genre guide, Cheon picked out 10 of his favorite dark Italo cuts to help us dig deeper into this often overlooked corner of Italian dance music.
Kirlian Camera "Helden Platz" (Virgin 1987)
“Helden Platz” is a 1987 single from seminal dark electronic act Kirlian Camera, which was founded by Angelo Bergamini in Parma in 1979. The song features the stark and dramatic vocals of Simona Buja, who sings about the “blue blood of winter.” It’s a tale of Germany and Austria during World War II. It’s clean, minimalist new wave that’s marked by haunting melodies, slow moving synth washes and orchestral strings.
Art Fine "Dark Silence" (Sensation 1985)
Art Fine was a duo comprised of Fabrice Bellini (electronics, vocals) and Rush Blakemann (guitar, synthesizer) from Tuin. They recorded their only single, “Dark Silence”, in November of 1984 and released in 1985. “Dark Silence” tells the love story of a beautiful girl that Bellini saw many times but couldn’t reach. He called her “Dark Silence” because of her dark hair and eyes and because of the unwanted silence that lingered between them. The b-side features a remixed version with extended breaks plus dubbed-out basslines and vocals.
East Wall "Silence" (Elettrica Dischi 1991)
This is the first track from the 1991 LP of the same title. East Wall was the project of Fabrizio Chiari from Kirlian Camera and Wilma Notari. I discovered this song after hearing Intergalactic Gary’s Despair Mix, and it cast a spell on me. “Silence” is hypnotic and slow building—it commands attention from anyone who listens to it.
Ghibli "I’m Looking For You" (Durium 1985)
Ghibli is the solo project of musician, producer, and vocalist Alberto Garbelli, from Milan, Italy. Inspired by Klaus Nomi’s “Wasting My Time”, “I’m Looking For You” features an operatic style of singing, as well as Roland synthesizers and Linn Drum machine sounds punctuated by Yamaha DX-7 chimes and bells. The lyrics focus on the perpetual search for the perfect lover. What many think are female backup vocals are, in fact, Garbelli’s falsetto voice.
Mono Band "Ghost Town" (Discomagic 1984)
René D’Herin, producer of Art Fine’s “Dark Silence”, composed this track one year earlier, in 1984. It features a disguised male vocal rapping about a ghost town filled with fear. You might get goosebumps when the female vocalist comes in and begins to softly whisper the chorus.
Sensitive "Driving" (Gong 1984)
“Driving” is full of emotion, particularly sadness and melancholy. It has a deep, brooding bassline and lyrics about forgetting the past and escaping to a new world before the night falls. Sergio Bonzanni and Salvatore Pileggi wrote this song in 1983. It was produced by the Zambelli Bros for Gong Records.
Neon "My Blues Is You" (KinderGarten 1983)
“Another sad love has just passed away, nothin’ remains in my heart.” You can call this an anti-love song. It recalls bitter memories that just won’t die. Neon was a new wave band formed in 1979. It was led by Marcello Michelotti. The group was part of the Florence darkwave/electronic scene of the 1980s alongside Pankow, Diaframma and Litfiba. Neon’s early releases were issued by KinderGarten Records—and that includes this extended mix of “My Blue Is You” from 1983.
Victrola "Maritime Tatami"
Victrola was a duo comprised of Antonio “Eze” Cuscinà and Carlo Smeriglio. They formed in Messina in 1979, but they later relocated to Florence to join the rich musical scene there. Their sole vinyl release was 1983’s “Maritime Tatami”/”A Game Of Despair” EP. Using an array of now classic Roland synthesizers (TR-606, TR-303, Juno 6) plus a Korg Polysix and a Fender Stratocaster, they crafted two darkwave ballads. “Maritime Tatami” engulfs the listener with trance-inducing synth lines and melancholic vocals that sprawl over its epic eight minutes. Oblique minor-key basslines provide an anchor while snappy, brittle 606 rhythms propel the track along. The lyrics tell the story of Tatami, a boy from a fishing town who yearns for a new life in the big city.
Decadance "On and On (Fears Keep On)" (Proto 1983)
One of THE most emotive Italo tracks ever. The product of power producer duo Francesco Rago and Gigi Farina, who also released under other aliases, like ‘Lectric Workers. “On and On” features a brilliant build up with gorgeous vocals from Francesco Rago. After two-and-half somber minutes, the song is turned upside down with a female singing “on and on,” which brings the song into another eerie galaxy.
Dario Dell'Aere "Eagles In The Night" (Market 1985)
“Eagles In The Night” is one of the most coveted Italo disco 12”s ever released. Clocking in at over eight minutes, the song features xylophone-esque synth hooks and Dario Dell’Aere’s powerful, booming vocals. Dell’Aere sings of a spirit that flies on high, searching for a partner in true love. Backing vocals were provided by his sister, Nora Dell’Aere.