Long before the Italo Disco boom, Italy entered a period of modernisation and creativity that took the classic Disco sound to new heights.
Beppe Savoni AKA Disco Bambino is on a mission to introduce this colourful period to new audiences.
Tell us about your upbringing in Italy and how music played a part?
I was born and raised in a region called Puglia, on the Southern Adriatic coast of Italy. My first memories of life are connected to music. The very first gift I asked my parents (when I knew barely how to express myself) was a record. Never a game or a toy.
My cousin who used to look after me when I was 5 years old, instead of taking me for walks in the park, she brought me with her to a local discotheque, where they threw Sunday afternoon parties and where I danced non stop to the beat of American and Italian disco music. So imagine, this little kid surrounded by smoking and drinking young adults, drag queens and boys in leather chaps. In addition, Italian TV in the late 70’s early 80’s was an explosion of creativity and experimentation on all fronts, music, fashion, design. My little brain was absorbing all that every day.
I was also very fortunate to have parents who were very supportive of my passion for music. My mom took me everyday to a music school at the neighbouring city to learn how to play piano, to sing and to dance. She always said to me “If you love music, these classes will allow you to understand it better and create it yourself too!”. Quite a progressive thought in late 70s southern Italy, where being a kid with an artistic interest was quite… unique. With my parents, every weekend we used to travel to surrounding local towns so I could take part to small talent scouting contests. Very picturesque!
When did you learn to mix records?
I’ve never been a proper mixing DJ. My younger brother Gigi Savoni, who is a very talented DJ, has spent hours with me on the turntables, but I never really picked up the technique. Perhaps I’ve always unconsciously protested against the idea of matching two tracks together at all costs. I have always appreciated variety in music, so my DJ style will always be the “fade in/fade out” kind. I am more concerned about storytelling and mood, rather than making people dance at all costs. So, to answer your question, I learnt to mix when I put my very first record on my older brothers’ turntable at home.
"Sometimes we stop at the surface and see something as ground breaking – but in reality, it comes from someone else who has taken bigger risks in very different times."
What was the scene like in your hometown growing up?
The closest city to my hometown, Bari was extremely active and creative in the 80’s. At that time I was taking music classes at a recording studio (and music label C&M, the only one in the south of Italy) where they were producing and recording some really interesting disco and italo. There, my music teacher Rosa Cavalieri penned, produced and/or arranged music for acts like Evo, Rainbow Team and Joe Ontario. She told me she had to change her name into the male sounding Cavaros, since people were uncomfortable at the idea of having a woman producer directing them. They were also experimenting with local folk and electronic music developing new and quite unconventional artists; basically defying any rules, especially the ones of traditional Italian pop music (which was on heavy rotation on the radios).
Very often I would be a spectator to some of the recording sessions, and stood there mesmerized by the tapes, the microphones, the lights and the music.
And you also had a career as a recording artist, is this where you cut your teeth?
I actually started my career in music by writing and producing. At first I worked with Italian dance music labels, releasing very radio friendly tunes that were also licensed abroad in the late 90s. There was a quite professional studio in my hometown growing up, so we were experimenting a lot with melodies and arrangement.
When I moved to NY, I made it my mission to connect to local DJs and labels to work with them. And it actually happened! I started working with a label called KULT and eventually released a few tracks that hit the Billboard chart. We worked with Pink, Tony Braxton, Christina Aguilera and collaborated with DJs I loved at that time like Junior Vasquez, Club 69, Victor Calderone, etc. I came in close contact with personalities whose names I read on the records I bought when I was in Italy.
Then in 2004 tired of the whole New York circuit club scene, I went solo and produced two albums under the name of Odyzë. I could finally express myself artistically without any pressure from the radios or the charts. For those I collaborated with musicians and producers that had worked with big names of pop music and made it even as soundtracks of movies and TV shows.
New York works in very mysterious ways, so through a series of fortuitous encounters I ended up becoming partner in a marketing agency and now I curate partnerships between brands and music, finding ways for these two worlds to come together and create something cool and magic. It is thanks to this that I met some really incredible artists such as Nile Rodgers, Chaka Khan, Janelle Monae, John Legend, Mark Anthony and many more.
Do you also throw parties in New York? Are they open towards this kind of music or do you cater to select audiences with your parties?
Yes, I play at a few clubs, bars and often private parties. The arts and fashion scene of New York loves the music I collect and play. Even thought it’s not a popular style at all here in New York, every time I play, I always tease people’s curiosity. They are intrigued by the sounds, the beats and the language.
A lot of the clips you post are quite wacky, they certainly took more risks with the set design and performance back then. Is this eccentricity an essential element in the allure of Italodisco?
I make a distinction between: the ‘Italo disco’ genre that became popular in the mid 80’s and the Italian disco scene that started in the early/mid 70s and that lasted until 1984/85. It’s two very different styles. The latter is more fluid and quite far from the sounds that have made the ‘italo disco’ genre so popular worldwide. My interest focuses on the traditional Italian labels from the 70s that were trying to modernize their acts experimenting with new sounds and artists.
Usually this came with extravagant experiments in image, style and design. It was happening all over, not only in music but throughout entertainment culture in Italy. Many times singers (or whoever was on the stage) were assigned a creative director that decided their look, their hair style, wardrobe, even the dance moves for their performances – basically crafting their whole stage persona!
What are some of your favourite videos you have found so far?
It’s really tough to pick a few. Perhaps the one that features southern Italian comedian Leone Di Lernia singing at a TV show called “Domenica In…” in 1984 a song called “American Puglia” where he mimics the American english language by playing with his hometown dialect on a track that resembles Falco’s Der Comissar. It’s brilliant! Or perhaps a video of French Italian sexy starlet Marie Laure Sachs, shot at the house of the famous Italian architect Giorgio Pes, who – among many things – worked with Luchino Visconti on the set of “Il Gattopardo”.
Are there any particular record labels that you like which helped to draw attention to the Italian disco scene?
I think it started with the major Italian labels starting to recruit young producers in the mid 70’s. People that had worked and collaborated with producers or artists in US, UK, France, Germany. In the late 70’s you see the birth of smaller labels that tried to be very specific in their genre. For example the legendary Banana Records became an institution in the production of Italian disco music.
Is there a song or artists in particular that has an interesting story, one that you felt deserved greater success?
It’s tough to pick one in particular. I feel many of the artists that have contributed to the growth and development of music and entertainment culture have been so quickly forgotten. Sometimes we stop at the surface and see something as ground breaking – but in reality, it comes from someone else who has taken bigger risks in very different times. A lot of the comments on the videos I post refer to how for example Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and other global stars have totally reproduced the looks, sounds, even personas that were presented 40 years ago on Italian TV! They surely have to thank Raffaella Carrà, Amanda Lear and surprisingly Patty Pravo! I love to shed light on what has been forgotten.
Is there a record you think deserves a reissue?
The list can be quite long, but I would love to re-issue the Instrumental version of “Some Other Place, Some Other Time” by Italian French band Rockets, on a yellow vinyl, which is how they issued it in 1983!
Are there any record labels out there that you like which are reissuing this classic sound?
I can’t think of one specific label but various are dipping into the Italian disco sound; some of them reissuing original versions, others accompanying them with re-edits.
What records rarely leave your bag?
I like to shuffle things around, it allows me to discover new things even among the records that I’ve owned for a while and that I forget I have. Lately I have been playing a few tracks from the compilation “I.E.S.” (Italian Erotic Sounds) a collection of hard to find sexy Italian disco tracks on Naples-Berlin based label Early Sounds. Also I always like to bring with me records produced by some of my favourite Italian producers like Celso Valli, Detto Mariano and Alessandro Alessandroni.
These records can be quite hard to come across nowadays. When did you start collecting with a focus on this sound?
I remember asking my mom to buy me a 7 inch record by Donatella Rettore called “Splendido Splendente” – such a groundbreaking record at the time! Donatella and her husband Claudio Rego were blending disco and rock sounds and singing about gender fluidity and plastic surgery. In 1979!
What are your most prized records?
If I reveal them here, they won’t be prized anymore. A collector must learn to keep a secret!
Do you have any all-time Italian favourites?
It’s hard to pick a few. This is the perfect excuse to invite you to listen to my Soundcloud mixes and reworks. The Pornella Radio series, which features sexy pop, disco and funk gems of 70s and 80s Italian music scene has been receiving a lot of love lately. Come and press play.
Photo Credit: Giuseppe Giammetta