Very dancey, kind of poppy, kind of electronic, kind of retro. Welcome to Italo Disco.

Italo is one of those slightly niche genres which you might have heard before, but might not have recognised or been able to name. Once you do recognise it, however, you’ll be pleased you can. Italo is a genre which originated in (you guessed it) Italy during the late 1970s, but was mainly produced in the early 80s – something which is clear from its high energy, highly edited sounds (you can almost feel the perms and shoulder pads being transmitted through the soundwaves). During the 1960s and 70s, disco music was hot stuff, but partly due to changing tastes, and partly due to more specific political events, its popularity started to wane, making space for new genres and styles. 

One such event, which has been recognised to have led to the decline of disco music, was the Disco Demolition Night of 1979, organised in Illinois, U.S. It had a complex background. Disco was felt by many to be a negative cultural force. One prominent anti-disco campaigner, Steve Dahl, described it (satirically) as the “dreaded musical disease”, however the source of such cultural hatred may be more concerning. Disco evolved in 1960s New York City nightclubs, with musical influences and associations with African American, Latin American, and gay communities. The desire to oppress disco has, therefore, been associated with the desire to oppress already marginalised peoples. 

The Disco Demolition Night was, then, organised by Steve Dahl in protest against this cult of disco. Arranged at a baseball match, attendees brought with them disco records which they wanted to destroy. As the first game began, members of the crowd began throwing these LPs and singles onto the pitch, after which Dahl exploded a large box of more disco records amid the echoing chant of “disco sucks”. Though disco had been waning in popularity for a while, this was an event which really solidified the sense of anger towards a genre felt by many to be corruptive of wider musical and cultural systems.

So what has all of this got to do with Italo? Italo was created in the aftermath of this anger. While the demolition unfolded in the U.S., in Europe, people were still craving those disco anthems. What this led to was a wave of new producers – reestablishing the genre in an environment of newer electronic sounds and technologies. Classic disco became rejuvenated with the noises of the synthesiser and the drum machine. If you thought the genre couldn’t get more gaudy, you were wrong. And the result is fabulous. 

It is a genre of energy and fun. Not taking itself too seriously, it is a style which makes you want to get involved – to be a part of the colourful world which it creates. It’s even more fun when you get one of the songs sung in Italian or Spanish – then, you are transported into a world even more vibrant, never quite knowing what is going on, just as it should be with any good dance track. 

Italo, then, became a popular genre within mainland Europe, but had less success within the UK charts, holding a greater influence on the UK’s underground scene – a place where it still maintains its place in certain circles. Many of the sounds and rhythms which characterise the genre can still be heard echoing through the more mainstream house and dance music of today.

It’s difficult to point you to any single Italo artist, for the movement was more sporadic than that. A good place to start exploring, however, is to head to the music and compilations promoted and created by ZYX – the German music label who first coined the term, Italo, and who were a huge influence in the marketing and increased popularity of the genre.

There are, of course, a number of tracks you could take a listen to to get a feel for the music. Klein & MBO’s ‘Dirty Talk’ is often seen as the classic Italo track. I personally love Block Sistem’s ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ (a true example of this genre’s trend of one-hit-wonders – can you even find a record of any other song they created?).Cristalli Liquidi’s ‘Volevi Una Hit’ is another good shot, if a little more down tempo. Bottin’s ‘Got Headphones’ (actually only released in 2020, but a representative ode to the original music of the 70s and 80s). Krishna Goineau’s ‘La Dance’ (listen for the voiceover alone. It’s hilarious). There is so much to go at. I would recommend finding a decent compilation or compiler to find the things you like – let them take the hard work of finding new tracks out of your hands, so that you can really enjoy the music.

Italo is, as my dad might describe it, “groovy”. But that’s what makes it so much fun. Transport yourself onto the glittering disco floor of 1980s Europe, and enjoy every over-synthesised beat you get.