by Daniel Finn

Every month we take a deep dive into a specific genre, sound, or style. Through the lens of a playlist we compile some of the iconic and best artists to help understand and feel the roots and value of this music. This month we go deep into “You Know Why - Italo Disco”.


‘You Know Why’ is a playlist that captures a genre that was spawned through  influence and made notorious by its impact. The polarising Italo-Disco, formerly know as Spaghetti-Dance, once considered a tasteless guilty pleasure has served as influence and inspiration to some revered and influential dance music sub genres. The DJ’s and producers of Chicago house, Detroit techno, and British synth-pop all looked to Italo-Disco for inspiration. In this way it is possible to see Italo-Disco in modern music, not only in style but in production techniques and musical equipment.


Although Italo-Disco’s canon is difficult to trace, by all accounts it was first noticed in the late 70’s. Radio Dj’s, musicians and producers were pushing the sounds of American disco, fanning the flames of the euro dance scene with a relentless 4/4 beat, bell bottoms and debauchery. Although popularity for disco was waining in the states, the Italians thirst for the genre was only growing. As cost and availability issues for these imports grew, a need to produce this sound for themselves formed and the genre of spaghetti dance was born. This early iteration of the genre was ultimately not a global success with mainly non-English speaking musicians trying to recreate the disco sound with overly simple and often hard to understand lyrics. Coupled with the Italian nature of flamboyance, the music was struggling to break into the western market.


As with most musical genres though, there is usually progression. The same would be true for the Italians. Producers began to employ more and more electronic equipment such as electronic drums, drum machines, synthesizers, and vocoders in a generally more stripped back and Dj friendly style of the initial sound. Italo-Disco producers were some of the first to use equipment such as the ROLAND JX-8P, Roland Juno 60 /106, Yamaha DX7, ARP Odyssey, Roland TR 808 drum machine, Simmons Drums, Minimoog, Oberheim, Linndrum, and sampler Emulator II. These pieces of equipment used in unison served as a roadmap for the dance music we know of today.


In 1984 the German record label ZXY first coined the term ‘Italo-Disco’ with its 13 volume release of “The Best Of Italo Disco”. The misunderstood genre was beginning to get traction in Europe as well as the States. As underground scenes in New York, Chicago, and Detroit were thirsty for new and interesting tracks, Italo-Disco imports began flowing the opposite direction with great affect. These release were becoming underground classics with the help of pioneer Dj’s such as Frankie Knuckles, Ron hardy, and Larry lean. 


Although under appreciated, Italo-Disco and its pioneering production has influenced many genres. At the beginning of the 90’s it ultimately faded into many sub genres that would re surface on dance floors 30 years later. Once again influencing top producers and Dj’s of the world with its synth driven hooks and minimised funk. A true powerhouse of a sound that not many thought would stand the test of time.


Dig Deep!