Dance music is inherently global -- its tools mechanical, its beats universal, its parts interchangeable. Right?
Not quite. For one thing, every DJ’s collection is different; for another, while Chicago house often has a hard forward swing accented by a hi-hat slightly ahead of the beat, which fans instantly ID as the jack, plenty of overseas producers flattened the groove out some.
That was especially true in Italy. According to Spin’s “House Music Map of the World,” published in December 1990, although Italy was “the last [European country] to pick up on house and lamented by some as shameless copycats and regurgitators, the Italians have nonetheless come up with a flowing, player piano ’n’ bass groove exemplified by Black Box . . . [who] had 1989's biggest hit with ‘Ride on Time.’”
That’s one version of the story. Another can be found on the SoundCloud page of Renzo Master Funk, a.k.a. RMF, who got his start on the Italian club circuit in the disco seventies. He writes (via Google Translator): “In Europe at the end of the 1980s (about a year after the advent of house music from over the ocean) there was a slow motion or down beat that brought disco, soul, funk, and jazz music to merge with house music. In Italy, different parties were born with this genre . . . and I put myself in the lead to offer my experience . . .. I would call it timeless music, still inspiring new genres and musical trends today.”
The DJ set RMF refers to is Tape Disco 1989, a prosaic title for a mix so sinuous it’s straight-up boggling. Most of the tracks on it aren’t really house music at all -- not that anybody would blame you for lumping classics such as ESG’s “Moody” and the dub mix of Willie Colón’s “Set Fire to Me” in with Chicago-style jackin’, particularly since the former was the basis of one of the key early house tracks, Chip E’s “Like This” (1985).
But far-flung and eclectic though early Chicago DJs like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy may have been, even they weren’t especially likely to blend in a freakin’ Bay City Rollers song, as RMF does early in this set. But what do you know -- Renzo elongates the Scottish boy band’s 1977 single “Don’t Stop the Music” into an irresistible groove, and without surrendering an iota of his set’s freaky minimalism.
And that’s not to mention the mix’s you-are-there verisimilitude, enhanced, as writer Andy Kellman notes, by “the length of the pause between sides -- roughly the amount of time it would take to walk across a room and flip the tape -- a nice touch.” The set's immediacy is enhanced even more when the DJ brings in Taana Gardner’s torrid disco burner “Work That Body” (1979) just after the side break. This is a piece of history, but it’s also one of the most addictive sets I’ve encountered in an age.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set -- often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily -- and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.