The House that punk built: Italians Do It Better
“Let’s get to know the drums to which we march…”
Turning their backs on you from across the dancefloor, Italians Do It Better are the best cold shoulder you’re going to receive. The release of their compilation record After Dark – sultry, spaced-out acid house, ominous heartless disco drones and layered arpeggio flutters that would make Goblin, Moroder or Dschinghis Khan blush – acted as a roll call from label founder Mike Simonetti and Italians production deity Johnny Jewell as the New Jersey imprint’s roster assembled a remarkable line-up, a collection of bleary-eyed interpretations of former glories and own individual leaps forward.
Vultures like us suddenly swept, yet most of the affiliated acts had spent years lurking in the shadows before the label came about. What seemed crucial was the formation of this makeshift coop, one point for beady eyes to glance at; Chromatics, Professor Genius, Glass Candy all drawn to the ethic of the label after rolling around on their own contentedly enough. But from there others have joined the ranks, recently with the Villalobos-cum-Cluster micro-house of Invisible Conga People and Göteborg cosmic disco cohort Tiedye receiving trademark limited releases to call their own from under the Italians umbrella.
As an offshoot of DIY punk imprint Troubleman Unlimited (TMU), Simonetti started Italians Do It Better at the beginning of 2007 to give Glass Candy a playground of their own to run around in after the release of Love Love Love in 2003 seemed removed from the noise tendencies of the Troubleman posse, with Wolf Eyes, Isis and Black Dice (in their hardcore incarnation) central artists since Simonetti set the label up as a kid in 1993. But from his first love of the US hardcore scene, a fondness for disco bloomed. Simonetti explains how it all came about.
“I released Glass Candy on Troubleman and as Glass Candy became more and more dance style, I noticed the audiences were changing. So I proposed starting a new label for dance music, and Johnny from the band said I should put Glass Candy and Chromatics on the label. It’s strange, because I don’t think these bands would've received the amount of recognition if we were to have kept them on TMU.
“It’s funny what a new coat of paint can do!”
In the way his fanzine Wanna Comminicate? went on to mutate into TMU, the label initially started as nothing more than a blog-based avenue for Simonetti to reveal his sordid dance tendencies. Soon releasing records under the moniker the name lent itself for all affiliated acts to be quickly drawn to associations with Italo-disco, with Giorgio Moroder mentioned more times in the last few months than he was when Donna Summer was prancing round to his beat. But fingers can be pointed in any direction, drawing points of influence though are largely redundant, the output has been as indebted to the Hi-NRG excess of departed disco gent Patrick Cowley as it is the new-wave drift of DNA. All in all, the Italians roster stands out on its own.
“I started a blog to announce my DJ gigs and to write about records I like. This is before we started a label. And the label grew out of that because we all loved the name! We really didn’t think it was going to blow up the way it has.”
Often overlooked by the leering press, dance sub-cultures tend to provide the most refreshing scenes to delve into, suited to the DIY approach Simonetti has been ploughing for over a decade with the constant stream of soft release vinyl. Simonetti is quick to appreciate that the ethic that Troubleman harnessed has been a blueprint brilliantly suited for Italians Do It Better to work round.
“It was a huge help. People think I.D.I.B. is a brand new label, but I’ve been doing TMU for almost 15 years! So I know the ins and outs of the record business, and I know how to handle offers and all that stuff. I would like to think that Johnny and I run I.D.I.B. a lot like a punk label in the aspect that we treat the artists fairly and like to be closer to the fans. We like to give shit away like shirts and CDs. Glass Candy gives away more shirts and CDs than they sell, and we keep free mp3 downloads available on the bands MySpace. Yes, I still run both, but TMU has been laying off the CD releases as CDs are a dying format. We are doing more and more limited vinyl releases.“After Dark really opened the doors. That release started it all. I think our new Italians sub-label venture is going to be fun. It’s more geared to the heavy record nerds like myself. I cannot disclose any other information though – it’s a secret.”
Video: GLASS CANDY - ‘DIGITAL VERSICOLOR’
Founded in 1998, Glass Candy released their first three records off their own backs until Simonetti approached the act about releasing a record (Love Love Love) through Troubleman. From there Johnny Jewell, founding member of the New Jersey outfit with Ida No, shifted the focus from no-wave disco to bona-fide dance outfit. Now a central character to all that is I.D.I.B., helping with running of the label with Simonetti, Jewell has also produced the lion’s share of the label’s output. After forming a close allegiance with Chromatics lynchpin Adam Miller when producing the band in 2004, Jewell ended up becoming a full-time figure, as well as now contributing to various other projects, most notably with Farah.
“We [Glass Candy] were a little apprehensive about having someone involved at first, but he’s been great. He’s the only label we know that gives 100 per cent control over the groups. No contracts, no bullshit, just music.
“He was thinking of starting the Italians dance imprint at the same time I started working with Farah. We had discovered Mirage and Chromatics were going in a dancier direction, so we decided to put all the artists coming out of the Suite 304 studio on a label together.”
Suite 304 is Jewell’s nocturnal hideout, a paint warehouse that the Italians lot can only use at night when the noxious gases have settled. It goes some way to typify the way things are done on Italians: low-budget with endless reprints to keep up with demand.
“Last summer I put together the After Dark CD-R for Glass Candy fans to check out the other projects we were feeling. The first 300 copies were coloured by hand by us. We thought it was just a temporary thing and then the disc just blew up. It’s now being repressed for the sixth time.
“In hip-hop, electronic music, disco music, the feel of a crew is so vital. This is our camp and this is how we do it. The association is good for all the artists. We’re all feeling certain rhythms and textures, but putting our own mark on it. Italians Do It Better has a singular vision with multiple sides and each side has its own mood or colour, like a Rubik’s Cube.”
Video: CHROMATICS - ‘IN THE CITY’
Since the wave of press that accompanied the release of After Dark, a light has been shone down on the darkened hole within which I.D.I.B. dwell. As a result, since speaking to the pair, they have since stopped doing interviews to retain a certain mystique.
“We don’t read press and Ida doesn’t even have a computer but we hear that it’s been blowing up online, but we don’t have enough time to digest all the media. We originally put the CD out as a limited tour CD-R but the mail order went through the roof so we kept making more. The record is already in its fourth pressing and getting an official LP this month. We had intended for B/E/A/T/B/O/X (review) to be a teaser for a double LP. Ida and I have nine other songs that no-one has heard yet but the demand for B/E/A/T/B/O/X superseded our original plan. Sometimes you have to let go of your concepts and appreciate what’s happening.
“The only way things’ll go bad is if we forget what got us here in the first place. The most important thing is the way the projects work is distillation. All the songs are allowed to marinade in the studio for month before anyone hears them. The label has no regard for the music industry’s process or proper release schedules. Art always comes before business. I think that’s why people find the groups so refreshing. We treat every release like our last and our first. We come out swinging and give everything we can on a record. That’s all we can do. We don’t spend our nights predicting what someone will and will not like. We think music is secondary to art. If the heart and soul is there, it will touch people regardless of the musical aesthetic it is cloaked in. The core of all Italians Do It Better records is soul. Period.”
Removed from a scene with a particular focus, the acts are bound together by nothing but the one parasol held overhead. Based throughout the US, from Portland to Texas, with even their very own Italians, Mirage, when asked what is the one defining factor that ties the Italians Do It Better roster Simonetti’s got it nailed:
“I think the unifying aspect is that they’re all quality releases, all unique in their own way.”
Neo-disco kicks for punk pricks.
As well as another run of reprints of records from last year, Italians Do It Better release Invisible Conga People (review), Rubies and Tiedye 12”'s.
European tour dates:
17 Berlin Roter Salon
18 Poznan Lech Party Inspirations
19 London Cafe 1001
21 Glasgow Stereo
23 Brighton Barfly
24 Dublin Andrews Lane Theatre
25 Kortrijk De Kruen
26 Ghent Make Up
8 London Cargo
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