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Italo disco (sometimes hyphenated, such as Italo-disco, subjected to varying capitalization, or abbreviated as Italo) is a music genre which originated in Italy and was mainly produced from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. The origin of the genre's name is strongly tied to marketing efforts of the ZYX record label, which began licensing and marketing the music outside Italy in 1982. Italo disco faded in the early 1990s.
Italo disco evolved from the then-current dance music (including hi-NRG) and developed into a diverse genre. The genre employs drum machines, synthesizers, and occasionally vocoders and was usually sung in English, and to a lesser extent, in Spanish as well.
The term "Italo", a generic prefix meaning Italian, had been used on pop music compilation albums in Germany as early as 1978, such as Italo Top Hits on the K-Tel label and the first volume of Italo Super Hits on the Ariola label.
There is no documentation of where the term "Italo-Disco" first appeared, but its origins are generally traced to Italian and other European disco recordings released in the German market. Examples include the phrase "Original Italo-Disco" on the sleeve of the German edition of "Girl On Me" by Amin-Peck in 1982, and the 1983 compilation album The Best of Italo-Disco. These records, along with the Italo Boot Mix megamix, were released by Bernhard Mikulski on his ZYX label. The Best of and Boot Mix compilations each became a 16-volume series that culminated in 1991. Both series primarily featured disco music of Italian origin, often licensed from independent Italian labels which had limited distribution outside Italy, as well as songs in a similar style by other European artists.
The presenters of the Italian music show Discoring (produced by RAI) usually referred to Italo disco tracks as "rock elettronico" (electronic rock) or "balli da discoteca" (disco dance) before the term "Italo disco" came into existence.
The entry of synthesizers and other electronic effects into the disco genre produced electronic dance music, including America's Hi-NRG and Europe's space disco. Italo disco's influences include Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, French musician Didier Marouani, a couple of hits by the French drummer Cerrone, electronic and synth-pop acts such as Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Telex, Devo and Gary Numan, and the early Hi-NRG albums of San Francisco producer Patrick Cowley with such singers as Sylvester and Paul Parker.
Although disco music was generally reviled and shunned in the USA during the 1980s, dance music was still popular in Europe. Italian disco DJs' desire for new music was frustrated because new songs were imports and therefore too expensive. So Italian producers and musicians filled the void with their own new music.
As with all musical styles, Italo disco incorporated different subgenres, overlapped with other styles, and evolved rather than appearing and disappearing, so there are conflicting points of view on what the "first" Italo disco record was and when the genre began. What can be said is that disco music was being produced by Italian producers since at least 1977. Italo disco often featured electronic sounds, drum machines, catchy melodies, vocoders, overdubs, and heavily accented English lyrics. By 1983, Italo disco's instrumentation was predominantly electronic. Along with love, Italo disco themes deal with robots and space, sometimes combining all three in songs like "Robot Is Systematic" (1982) by 'Lectric Workers and "Spacer Woman" (1983) by Charlie.
1982 And 1983 saw the release of three tracks cited as influential in the development of Chicago's house music: the irony-laden "Dirty Talk", "Wonderful" and "The M.B.O. Theme", all by Klein + M.B.O., a side-project developed by Davide Piatto of the Italo disco duo N.O.I.A., with vocals by Piatto and Rossana Casale. Other Italo disco imports to the United States, such as "Feel the Drive" by Doctor's Cat, influenced house music.
Although the genre was successful in Europe during the 1980s, it was never particularly successful in the United Kingdom, although several Italo disco songs did become hits there, such as Ryan Paris's "Dolce Vita", Laura Branigan's "Self Control", Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy", Spagna's "Call Me" and Sabrina's "Boys". Nonetheless, several British electronic acts such as the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and New Order are said to have been influenced by the genre.
In 1983, there were frequent hit singles, and labels such as American Disco, Crash, Merak, Sensation and X-Energy appeared. The popular label Disco Magic released more than thirty singles within the year. It was also the year that the term "Italo disco" became widely known outside Italy, with the release of the first volumes of The Best of Italo Disco compilation series on the German record label ZYX. After 1983, Italo disco was also produced outside Italy.
Canada, particularly Quebec, produced several remarkable Italo disco acts, including Trans X ("Living on Video"), Lime ("Angel Eyes"), Rational Youth ("City of Night"), Pluton & the Humanoids ("World Invaders"), Purple Flash Orchestra ("We Can Make It"), and Tapps ("Forbidden Lover"). Those productions were called "Canadian disco" during 1980-1984 in Europe and Hi-NRG disco in the U.S.
In Germany, Italo disco is known as Euro disco and discofox. In English-speaking countries, it was called Italo disco and Hi-NRG. German productions were sung in English and were characterized by an emphasis on melody, exaggerated production, and a more earnest approach to the themes of love; examples may be found in the works of Modern Talking, Fancy, American-born singer and Fancy protégé Grant Miller, Bad Boys Blue, Joy, Silent Circle, The Twins, Lian Ross and C. C. Catch.
During the mid-1980s, spacesynth, a subgenre of Italo disco, developed. It was mostly instrumental, featured space sounds, and was exemplified by musicians such as Koto, Proxyon, Rofo, Cyber People, Hipnosis, Laserdance and Mike Mareen (whose music inhabited the spacesynth-Hi-NRG overlap).
As Italo disco declined in Europe, Italian and German producers adapted the sound to Japanese tastes, creating "Eurobeat". Music produced in this style is sold exclusively in Japan due to the country's Para Para culture, produced by Italian producers for the Japanese market. The two most famous Eurobeat labels are A-Beat-C Records and Time Records. One traditional Italo disco label, S.A.I.F.A.M., still produces Eurobeat music for Japan.
Around 1989 in Italy, Italo disco evolved into Italo house when Italian Italo disco artists experimented with harder beats and the "house" sound.
A big comeback of German disco began in 1998, when Modern Talking reunited. Rete 4 channel in Italy, Hits 24, Goldstar TV, and ProSieben channels in Germany, and the program Nostalgia on Spain's TVE channel started to broadcast Italo disco.
Several online radio stations stream the genre. The renewed popularity has inspired re-releases and new mixes by many of the original Italo disco record labels. ZYX Records has released many new CD mixes since 2000. Panama Records and Radius Records have re-released Italo tracks on vinyl. Northern European labels I Venti d'Azzurro (The Netherlands) and Flashback Records (Finland) have produced unreleased demos, new versions of old hits, and new songs.
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