Giorgio Moroder is a towering figure in pop music. The Italian producer’s collaborations with disco diva Donna Summer, including “Love To Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love” were hugely influential in introducing electronic music to the masses. In the period from the late 70’s to early 80’s when disco’s DNA was mutating, Moroder (including his soundtrack work) was arguably as important as Germany’s Kraftwerk in wringing soul from the machine, and laying much of the groundwork for the next couple decades’ worth of club, hip-hop and pop music. If disco is in fact dead, it left a beautiful corpse that never stopped dancing.

Italians Do It Better currently has a roster of artists mining Italo-disco. The cream of the label’s crop are Seattle’s Chromatics; having evolved from lo-fi noiseniks to deadpan disco dreamers, they now explore the shivering void that lies between each thump of the kickdrum.

The song at the top of the post is called “Cherry”; its juxtaposition of sweet title/melody and bleak words is more than a bit reminiscent of The Magnetic Fields’ lyrically-similar “Candy”.

Disco was largely about people coming together in communal celebration; Chromatics take disco’s basic structure and tweak it ever-so-slightly to emphasize the spaces that keep us apart. Theirs is a cinematic soundworld of loneliness and longing; of night and neon streets, glimpsed through perpetually rain-streaked windows.

Chromatics – In The City:

Here they are covering Kate Bush; their elegantly-restrained take may actually improve upon the original, its icy minimalism paradoxically making the hurt ache all the more.

Chromatics – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush cover):

Many of the label’s releases feature production or playing by label head Johnny Jewel, a workaholic forever in search of the perfect sound. Here’s another of his projects, with a different singer.

Bonus Track: Desire – Under Your Spell:

Feel free to hold forth in comments about whether disco’s dead, or will live forever, baby; or anything else that strikes your fancy.


Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.


  1. Totally unrelated to the OP, but for Mike – haven’t yet watched either one yet, but both come Dangerous Minds-recommended:

    BBC Doc by Julien Temple on Ray Davies:

    And one on Dave – happy b-day Dave! (2/3):

    Also, I happened across some fantastic live footage of The Creation on YouTube – they were connected to Kinks and Who via Shel Talmy (and Creation’s early bassist John Dalton left to replace Pete Quaife in Kinks). According to Talmy, Jimmy Page took his ‘bowed guitar’ trick from The Creation’s Eddie Philips.

    Great, great rock tune, “Making Time”:

    And, a terrific cover of “That’s How Strong My Love Is”:

  2. Disco is many things. She slept around quite a bit in the 70s and now lives in a trailer park in Dothan Alabama with her many truculent children by those unfortunate unions, Hip-Hop, Trance and the nameless child who ran away into the forest often called Post-Punk by the local Sasquatch hunters.

  3. The Chromatics are awesome (I dig The Magnetic Fields, too).

    Only remotely related, but have you heard Chad Vangaalen? He’s got a sort of disco sensability, if only a sensibility. Also, he’s almost always dark and/or creepy.

    • I’ve never heard Vangaalen (though I seem to recall a white CD cover with a whale or squid or something?) Can you recommend any specific YouTube tracks? Dark and creepy disco sounds right up my alley.

      And yeah, I noticed that Chromatics song seems to nick a couple lyrics from that MF’s song, nearly direct. If you are not checking Johnny Jewel’s Soundcloud (linked in the OP) you are missing out. Dude is constantly posting new material – mixes, alternate album versions, EPs. He stays real, real busy. Almost Stephin Merritt- or Robert Pollard-busy, though he’s much more apt to re-work material than they.

      After watching this Pitchfork Chromatics performance, I told my wife I think I am in love with Ruth Radelet:

      My wife is OK with that.

      At risk of turning this post/comment into a “hubba hubba”:

      • I’m trying to think of a particularly disco-y song, but I suppose it’s like I said, more of a sensibility: a dance or dance-like beat (maybe slowed down a bit) underneath a song that you really wouldn’t dance to, like Red Hot Drops.

        Songs that aren’t particularly disco-y, include Flower Gardens, Clinically Dead, the ultra-creepy Molten Light, and my personal favorites, Willow Tree and Blood Machine, for which I can’t seem to find a video.

  4. outside of that antony-led track blind by uh that group that’s escaping my mind now though i admire from afar the homoerotic/pansexual drug soaked multi-ethnic environment of early disco i have no musical love for it. i only start caring when minimal techno is invented because i am a huge design dork and it’s basically the sound of vectors and layers and font errors.

    that said, i saw speedy j dj/live pa-ish many years ago in a largely gay male crowd and i kinda felt like i got a window into what the early scene (and the early chicago house scene) was like. very uh spermy. and no one thought my slayer shirt was funny. 🙁

    • Oh, I don’t love it all. Some of it is way too cheesy, and there are certain “scene” components that, as you allude, I just don’t totally fit into; plus, an unvarying 4-on-the-floor beat can get monotonous if one’s not careful. But when it’s good, it’s good.

      House has the same pitfalls for me, generally, though some artists that are on the outskirts of that (Felix da Housecat, when he’s doing electro or parodying stuff; Green Velvet is just a total weirdo; and Luomo’s “Vocalcity” is ALMOST minimal techno, and has just great great spatial sound design – it may be the one straight-up house record, with “diva” exhortations and all, that I truly love) are A-OK by me.

      But Chromatics – man, give ’em a try. Pure mood music.

      He’s also done the Symmetry record, which despite his protestations to the contrary, is probably his score for “Drive” that didn’t get used – it’s heavily Carpenter-influenced.

      Here, I’ll even give you an MBV-route in – this cover remind you of anything?🙂

  5. Finally got a chance to listen to that song.

    Holy crap… I love the whole “we only need a bassist and a guy with a synth” aesthetic. It’s minimalist that makes you feel what the singer’s voice is telling you to feel, even if you can’t understand a word she’s saying.

    Good stuff.

        • Cool.

          Yeah, I wanted to recommend these guys when you were looking for late-night-type music, but I didn’t want to blow this post.

          You can get their stuff for cheap from the Italians Do It Better site, linked in the OP. Both Night Drive and Kill For Love are aces; double-album length; and only $5 for either download or CD (and if you buy the CD I think they throw in the download for free to tide you over).

          Heck, the Symmetry instrumental record Themes For An Imaginary Film is pretty good too; TRIPLE-album length, 2.5 + hrs; and also only $5.

          It’s a steal!

          I really like these guys. The label does has other good stuff too, Desire and Glass Candy in particular. But Chromatics are best IMO. And you can check out a lot of this stuff on Jewel’s Soundcloud (also linked in the OP).

          Jeez, I sound like I work for them. I’ll stop now.

  6. I listened to mbv whilst playing Orcs Must Die.

    First thought: it’s an mbv album!

    I’ll have to listen to it another dozen times before I say more than that.

    • Sweet!

      Here is how ridiculously in love with those guys I am. While I was looking at their site to get the prices and such, I saw that the Night Drive 2x LP was pressed on “electric lavender” vinyl, and the Kill For Love 2x LP on “ice blue” vinyl.

      Did I order them?

      Yes, I did, and have been playing them tonight.

      Why is this ridiculous?

      I have the CD’s already.

      In fact, I have 2 different versions of the Night Drive CD; the one that they have now has a slightly different/longer track listing. So I have now purchased that album three times.

      That is just plain sick.

Comments are closed.