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Music

Disco Italian Style...

As Made and Envisioned by a Group of Young Americans From The Rose City

Mel Guapo

By Michael Byrne | Posted 1/16/2008

You get the feeling that the only club in existence that would make any sense for Glass Candy exists in a post-apocalyptic disco dimension. With its sultry detachment, group-suicide love poetry, and Ziggy Stardust glam, you can't help but feel lucky being in the same room with the Portland, Ore., band, the showpiece and raison d'être of 2007's upstart label Italians Do It Better. Its music makes you feel like you've stumbled onto something you're not worthy of seeing, like a fantastically well-dressed bouncer is gently yet firmly going to usher you out the door, pointing you to the indie club down the block. And when you get there and look back, there'll just be a brick wall with maybe a lipstick-smeared cigarette crushed at its foot. You can't help but feel hopelessly uncool listening to this stuff.

Our phantom club isn't far from the truth. Glass Candy haunts in the duo's longtime Portland home were the darkest of the dark, the most unmarked of the covert. Rotture: a signless bass thump in a warehouse maze of half-paved-over rail lines and freeway overpass pylons. Dunes: what looks like the service entrance to the kung fu studio next door; dim and so fogged with smoke you could barely tell what sex the person you were making out with was (and you were making out, at least, with someone); the place where you could see the Gossip play to 75 people, all crushed together, sticky with bodily fluids and gin, dancing

That was until Italians Do It Better--which is provisionally interchangeable with Glass Candy: GC beatsmith Johnny Jewel does production for many of the IDIB bands--became very, very hip. That was before it became as much a slogan for those who wanted more than Day-Glo indie-techno fare, or wanted the next thing beyond it--and there are many of those people--as it is a record label. Glass Candy now sells out the same venue in Portland--Holocene, the cream of Cascadian dance clubs--that a touring Justice sells out. Most IDIB releases now being pressed en masse were originally released as microruns of CD-Rs.

And the duo's labelmates--notably Chromatics, Mirage, and Farah--aren't many tiers down. Chromatics' somnolent dance noir "In the City" is an oddball crate staple, as recognizable now on a dance floor as half the stuff in the Ed Banger catalog, and with the sort of creeping, subtle groove that makes us think that the attention spans of the swelling techno-loving masses--"it's the new indie-rock," Italians co-owner and DJ Mike Simonetti stated simply from a Jersey City diner last week--aren't totally fucked, that dance music has hope beyond the heavy, easiness/obviousness of the Simian Justice Noize "blog-house" microgenre.

This is, after all, disco music. The blog posse--and beyond into should-know-better print criticism--insists on tagging all of it, blanket style, as Italo. The word itself gives off a sort of attractive aura of the exotic and, thus, the exclusive (see also: M.I.A.), and, we suspect, that foreignness makes it much more palatable than saying disco. It will be a long time before that is hip again to associate with in the United States (if Spectral/Ghostly moved to Paris, it could take over the world). Don't forget disco's perma-associations with the Bee Gees and other assorted late-'70s cheeses.

So, it's Italo, a chuckle-worthy misnomer. Italo is a ridiculous--listening from this side of the ocean, anyway--Italian interpretation of disco that took everything cheeselike and upped it by a factor of 10 and Eurofied it in kind of the same way our president ups his Americanism with a cowboy hat and trips to the family farm. Italo is Italian pop music, in the boy band/American Idol sense, not the three-square-meals, all-your-fruits-and-vegetables, Alicia Keys sense. "If it was real Italo, people wouldn't listen to it," Simonetti says with a tinge of incredulousness.

Simonetti has been watching the momentum of both his label and disco in general build from behind a computer screen. "[I] can see what's hip by looking on eBay," he says. "When prices go down, it means people are flooding the market. I see people in shops now all the time buying up [12-inch singles]."

So, if the market's flooded, what's next? Cynics that have watched the ascension (again) of techno into the indie ranks--and will certainly watch it tumble back into the surf after the hype crests--have to wonder if this wave of interest isn't just the next in a line. Simonetti recalls running into an old associate--once "a total indie-rock kid"--a few weeks ago at a New York club where he was DJing, now a dance fan on his way to the next club, and probably one after that. One example of God knows how many of the suddenly reformed. Disco itself was a climax trend in the first place.

"Every movement is doomed from the start," Simonetti says without much regret. "People just want to release records and be involved in some kind of scene."

And there's the matter of who can even make disco music any more. "You can't have a whole horn section, a whole string section, a drummer, a whole band to make a proper disco album," Simonetti says. "It's impossible in this day and age, especially with a bunch of privileged Williamsburg hipsters."

And few producers even understand the mechanics of disco: The slick arpeggios, vocoders, and 4/4 beats are mainly what hit our ears as disco signifiers, but the guts of it are microrhythms so complex that they took Glass Candy's Johnny Jewel almost the lifetime of the band, 11 years now, to get. In 1996, GC came out as a kind of Contortions/DNA no-wave with disco twitches--"the first disco-punk band" Simonetti boasts--and now it's icy, disturbingly intricate, postmodern disco, the apex of something, trend or not.

A trend, however, is never the whole--or even close to the whole--of a music. Simonetti knows this music isn't leaving because it never really left, whether it's being parodied by Italo or hanging on in deep house music, where it survived the '80s. Hipsters are fickle, yes. But, music's always survived hipsters. And Italians Do It Better will be no exception.

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