Francesco Rago and Gianluigi Farina are two Italo disco trailblazers who have been behind the projects such as ATELIER FOLIE, EXPANSIVES, DECADANCE and ‘LECTRIC WORKERS.
Meanwhile, Fred Ventura is another pioneer of Italo who in 2012 looked to modernise that cult dance form with Paolo Gozzetti via their production duo ITALOCONNECTION.
RAGO & FARINA vs ITALOCONNECTION collects a number of reworked and revisited cult favourites plus more recent original material as four way joint venture for 2021.
First released as a nine track digital compendium to celebrate their years of friendship, collaboration and travels, Nadanna presents an expanded CD edition that adds four extra tracks. Beginning with the classic blippy 1983 vintage of ATELIER FOLIE’s No Rhyme No Reason’, the ITALOCONNECTION Rework toughens things up but the very spirited vocals of Francesco Rago are retained, along with the bells and NEW ORDER styled bass.
With more under the ATELIER FOLIE banner, the ITALOCONNECTION Rework of ‘Walking In The Neon’ provides a tighter and squelchier take with deeper gated vocal treatments, although crucially the key synth melodies are all present and correct. The slick 1983 original was by Peter Richard but actually co-written by Rago and Farina with Chuck Rolando, a member of Italian group PASSENGERS. Coming as an extra, the superb Tribute Rework of ‘Walking In The Neon’ from Danish DJ Flemming Dalum is busied up with an electro-funky lilt and some grainy vocodered tone poetry to enhance its spacey quality.
The ITALOCONNECTION Rework of EXPANSIVES’ ‘Life With You’ originally released in 1982 makes the most out of the string machines that are now attached to a more powerful beat. Meanwhile the cavernous vocals and vocoder provide an out-of-this-world quality, the reverbed clap collage and electronic swoops also adding intrigue.
Repaying the compliment, Rago and Farina remix the Fred Ventura single ‘The Years (Go By)’ and while more rigid than the 1985 version, it still sounds glorious.
From 2013, ITALOCONNECTION’s remix of ATELIER FOLIE’s ‘Leave Me Alone’ has much less reverb than previously and resonates in that classic Italo style with bright keyboard melodies and orchestra stabs; a fraught vocal matches the percussive aggression while some minimal bass guitar acknowledges the influence of NEW ORDER. The bonus ‘LECTRIC WORKERS Dub Rework makes more of that aspect for some Spaghetti Western disco.
Signalling the 2017 comeback of Francesco Rago and Gigi Farina as ATELIER FOLIE, ‘Freedom Time’ was a modern anthemic disco song produced Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti as ITALOCONNECTION. Next to the bonus ITALOCONNECTION Remix, the original Club Mix sounds much cleaner.
Less frantic than the other tracks, DECADANCE’s 1983 single ‘On An On (Fears Keep On)’ does not lose its classic electronic presence with a new solid bassline provided by ITALOCONNECTION. At nine minutes, it is something of a marathon but while a charming female vocal by Vik provides another layer over the instrumentally strong backing. The bonus Slo-fi Mix does as it suggests.
A new ITALOCONNECTION recording with Francesco Rago, ‘Unbelievable’ sees less of a snarl from Rago as he duets with Ventura, but it’s a superb coming together of Italo legends bursting with catchy hooks and evolving melodies.
Closing the main act is the previously unreleased ‘LECTRIC WORKERS instrumental ‘Borealis’ which stomps at 6/8, this archive recording acting as a glorious homage to Jean-Michel Jarre, complete with swimmy Eminent strings and snakey Minipops approximations.
Reworked, produced and mixed with love by four Italian disco legends, if you like Italo or the dancier side of NEW ORDER or PET SHOP BOYS, you will like RAGO & FARINA vs ITALOCONNECTION.
Modernised for the 21st Century without losing the original melodic spirit, this is just the sun-kissed tonic for the summer after a tricky year and a bit for all.
Gothenburg-born Tobias Bernstrup is a performance and visual artist with five officially released albums to his name, as well as numerous video installations, collaborative exhibitions, interactive works and gaming projects.
Following up 2018’s ‘Technophobic’ long player, his sixth album ‘Petrichor’ refines his Italo Noir template with intelligent political and historical observations like “a Film Noir in cold blue and pink light that you can dance to”.
With his striking stage persona, Bernstrup is an intriguing androgynous figure who speaks for the outsider, raising questions about society’s representation of identity in his gender-crossing live performances and visual presentation.
With the imminent release of ‘Petrichor’, Tobias Bernstrup spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about the making of the new album, collaborations, his artistic ethos and continuing motivations.
What was the genesis of your Italo Noir sound?
I grew up listening to Punk, Metal and Postpunk but always loved Italo Disco. When I started making electronic music after years of being a drummer, I knew that I wanted to make Italo inspired music with a darker more melancholic sound. I also wanted to create a darker image to this sound when designing performance costumes and sleeve art.
How would you describe the concept of your new album ‘Petrichor’ which means “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather”?
The initial idea for the sleeve photo was to include raindrops or rain atmosphere. During the research, I came across reading about the Petrichor phenomenon.
I had several cinematic images in my head; the end scene of ‘Bladerunner’ or an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ when Sonny Crockett walks alone on a rainy street. I love how the rain enhances scents, colors and creates reflections.
The first single ‘Private Eye’ appears to be about the surveillance society?
The inspiration to the lyrics came from a Bitcoin Scam email that circulated. The emails say they hacked into your computer and recorded you visiting adult websites. They threaten to distribute the video to your friends and family within hours, unless you pay into their Bitcoin account.
Sweden has been at the forefront of cashless payment, but how do you feel that you can’t even buy bread or fruit without someone watching you? Does that make you ‘Technophobic’?
No, but I am aware. It is a new world order, if you don’t own a smartphone or have internet connection, you will be excluded from the society. It is so obvious when you see beggars asking for money and everyone replies I don’t have cash…
How do you look back on the ‘Technophobic’ album, the title song was particularly good?
The album had a quite coherent synthpop vibe throughout but a more cold, synthetic, metallic and modern sound than previous productions. On ‘Petrichor’, I wanted a warmer sound so I decided to mainly use old-school drum sounds like the Oberheim DMX, LinnDrum and typical 80s synthesizers.
Do you have any preferences for your electronic template, do you like hardware synths and drum machines or have you entered the world of software?
I work in between analog and digital tools. When it comes to playing and recording the physical touch of a hardware synth is superior. I often use Korg PolySix for basslines and Roland JX-8P for pads. When it comes to software instruments, mixing and plugins I always go for analog circuit emulation.
The music industry has changed a lot even since ‘Technophobic’, have you reconsidered your strategies as an artist about making albums and promotion?
I had a more open process when putting together the album. It started releasing a bunch of singles during the process to see where they landed.
That helped me writing and finalizing the remaining tracks.
In your opinion, is the album as a format still relevant in music consumption?
Yes I believe so, even though many people rather listen to single tracks and playlists. Listening to an album is like reading a book. If you have the patience to do this, it can be very rewarding. There has been a revival in making shorter albums again with 8-10 tracks. This is a good thing. it fits better with the pleasant vinyl LP format. And it’s difficult to make long albums with 14-18 and keep up the quality and interest. There are some exceptions. THE CURE’s double LP ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ is still such a great album without a dull moment. It has variety without being eclectic.
Looking back, aspects of 2015’s ‘Romanticism’ album explored some different directions compared to your earlier albums and more recent singles, particularly with the ballad ‘Dorian Gray’, the Latin moods of ‘Laterna Magica’ and the classic Eurodance of ‘Revolution’?
The song writing and recording process was very different during ‘Romanticism’. I worked during a focused period of 2 months in a studio with a very open and experimental mind set. At that time, it was important for my development to try something new.
The recent compilation ‘Trannies At Night’ gathered your earlier work before 2012, how do you see your development as an artist and do you have any favourite songs or memories from that period?
In the beginning there was more simplicity, but less production. Sometimes there was a more powerful and directness to it.
As I got more production skills, I have to make more effort in order to find that simplicity which makes a great song. Limiting your toolbox and arsenal of instruments is a good way of doing this.
What was the inspiration behind your most recent single ‘Only One’?
It a typical Bernstrup track, It started with that Jan Hammer-like bassline and the lead sound melody and those marimba sounds that I just love. It reminds me of Ken Laszlo’s ‘Tonight’ – one of my all-time favourite songs. Lyrics came naturally when just playing with words and vocal melody.
You sing of a “stranger on the screen”, “disposable love” and a “devil in disguise” on ‘Stranger’, it’s strange that in this modern world, some people care more about influencers online who they’ve never met rather than those near them like family and friends?
Interesting thought. Well, the lyrics could describe someone being disconnected from reality. The initial idea was to write from the perspective of someone having an addiction to online dating in a dangerous self-destructive and abusive way.
Is ‘Challenger’ referring to the 1986 space shuttle tragedy?
Yes, I remembered that day as a teenager. During the production of the new album, I watched a couple of rocket launches. Technology and space exploration has always interested me. The Challenger disaster was a very tragic one as there had been warnings from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures of that January morning.
There is a more instrumental template on ‘Loderunner’ rather than using full lyrics?
The original idea for this track dates back to 2002 or 2004. I wrote an instrumental track for one of my art exhibitions that was an interactive video game piece. The musical theme itself was inspired by the musical score for the 1998 video game ‘Unreal’ composed by Alexander Brandon & Michiel van den Bos. The title refers to a C64 computer game.
You have quoted J Robert Oppenheimer on ‘I Am Become’?
Yes, the words are slightly rearranged but from a TV interview were Oppenheimer recalls the reactions after watching the Trinity nuclear bomb test. The dangers and dark sides of technological inventions is a theme that I often return to. With every new invention a new catastrophe is invented.
Which songs are your own highlights from ‘Petrichor’?
‘Only One’ has the perfect Bernstrup sound and has the perfect walking tempo when listing in headphones. ‘Petrichor’ delivers a very nice atmosphere and I love that Fairlight CMI flute sound. ‘Loderunner’ has that energetic drive and mood you can find in a great video game.
It’s interesting that as a performance artist, you haven’t produced many videos recently to accompany your own songs, is there any particular reason?
At the moment music videos are not that important to me anymore. But that can change of course.
How do you balance between your art exhibits and your music?
They often go hand in hand. During the work with exhibitions I often stick to a theme that leaks into my music writing process as ideas for song lyrics or visuals.
You have collaborated in the past with SARALUNDEN and TRANS-X while APOPTYGMA BERZERK, COVENANT and ITALOCONNECTION have done remixes, are there any more interesting partnerships happening?
I wrote lyrics and did vocals for a track on the new ITALOCONNECTION LP ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’.
It’s a song called ‘Rainbow Warrior’ that brings up LGBT rights and environmental activism mentioning historical dates of events – the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 and the Stonewall riots in 1969.
In 2017 on ‘Utopia’, you asked “where are you now?”, so what are your hopes and fears for the future?
After the Covid outbreak, we have hopefully learned that nothing should be taken for granted, that “we are so fragile”.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Tobias Bernstrup
Special thanks to Marc Schaffer at Nadanna Records
‘Petrichor’ is released by Nadanna Records on 20th August 2021 in CD with 7 bonus tracks and 18 track digital editions, limited black or transparent magenta vinyl LP with lyric inner sleeve, A3 poster + numbered postcard available in October
In the UK, ITALOCONNECTION are perhaps best known for their remixes of HURTS ‘Better Than Love’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Never Let Me Go’; the latter’s radio mix was actually BBC Radio2’s preferred version for airplay.
For Italian music veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti, the ethos of ITALOCONNECTION is “to sound vintage in a modern way”.
The duo released their self-titled debut album in 2013 which comprised of their own tracks as well as productions and remixes for other artists, so 2017’s ‘Metropoli’ was actually their first album proper.
And now after the interim covers collection ‘Disco Boutique’ comes ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’, an album about love that also brings in a wider commentary including environmental issues, the worldwide pandemic and human rights, all while fused to a tight danceable electronic sound bursting with melody.
As Fred Ventura himself described it, “The production of this album was like a long journey, going through bad weather and back to the sun several times. We had to face the reality of working from distance and without the usual production jam we used before the pandemic”.
The opener ‘All I Want Is You’ is wonderful and with its chosen Korg Poly synth tones, is almost like CHINA CRISIS gone Eurodisco. Fred Ventura’s vocal topline is appealing and rousing in all the right places to stamp its origins.
Playing with more of machine groove and a much darker tone, ‘Rainbow Warrior’ featuring Swedish performance artist Tobias Bernstrup on lead vocals is another superb song. With references to the story of the Greenpeace ship and the Stonewall Rebellion, it celebrates the heroics of environmental and LGBT activists to an infectious dance beat.
‘All Over’ is all hooks and atmospheres galore with another confident vocal performance from Ventura and when the female vocals join in, it provides a glorious uplift.
The pulsating ‘Get Together’ is a catchy if bittersweet number, with room to breathe musically as Ventura tells of how he wants to be left alone; his falsetto refrain in the vein of ‘I Feel Love’ in the extended coda is a delight.
The superb ‘Virus X’ featuring French veteran Etienne Daho springs a surprise as a suave slice of Gallic synthwave; with a downbeat verse and an emotive chorus, it acts as a poignant musical document of the past year’s tensions while using toxic personal relationships as a sinister lyrical analogy.
Despite its deep cutting bassline and spacey shimmers, the lovelorn drama of ‘Since You Went Away’ takes a progressive turn from its retro-modern first half with a gorgeous monologue from actress Francesca Diprima that brings an airy feminine touch to proceedings alongside Ventura’s voice and a collage of speedy arpeggios towards an expansive climax.
Modern Italo duo CARINO CAT, who had their debut album ‘Attraction Of Heat’ released on Ventura’s Disco Modernism label, guest on ‘The Year Of The Sun’; the sparkly number does exactly as the title suggests with an addictive Mediterranean disco vibe from yesteryear that sounds more than familiar with its catchy chorus and “ohoh-oh-oh” vocal ab-libs!
The largely optimistic template captured on ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1 takes a more introspective turn on ‘Humans’.
As people of the world emerges from a long period of enforced isolation, it is time to “express our right to be loved” with “no reason to give up or hide anymore”. As Paolo Gozzetti reflected: “We are humans, we need to relate, we were made to relate. You can hide, you can escape, but the truth is we all need to relate.”
Throughout ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’, the production is excellent, showcasing a collection of danceable widescreen European electronic pop at its best. So here’s to the standard being maintained for ‘Midnight Confessions Vol2’.
Fred Ventura is a legend of Italo Disco; meanwhile Paolo Gozzetti is a stalwart of Italian electronic music. Together they are ITALOCONNECTION.
Known to British audiences for their remixes of HURTS, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and KNIGHT$, their new album ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’ is a sun-kissed eight track collection featuring a number of specials guests including French pop veteran Etienne Daho, the striking androgynous personality of Swede Tobias Bernstrup, modern Italo duo CARINO CAT and newcomer Francesca Diprima.
As well as songs about love, ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’ also brings in a wider commentary including environmental issues, the worldwide pandemic and human rights.
Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about their latest adventure as ITALOCONNECTION and to make some midnight confessions…
The new ITALOCONNECTION album is called ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’, had there been any conceptual intention musically?
Paolo:When we started to work on this new album, we wanted it to be deep, nighty and sophisticated. We wanted to create a story through the lens of our vision creating some kind of metaphysical perspective of the dancefloor. Not a direct, but a more reflective and mediated approach.
Fred: The production of this album was like a long journey, going through bad weather and back to the sun several times. We had to face the reality of working from distance and without the usual production jam we used before the pandemic
Did the concept include the synths you were using, where there any self-imposed restrictions on the palette of sounds used to achieve your aims?
Paolo: Our aim is always to sound vintage in a modern way. So yes, we used a certain number of selected synths and drums, but we like to work on it to make it sound somehow unique and up to date. We love to start from a palette and tweak with knobs, filters and effects to achieve sounds that suit that particular song in a “sensual” way.
Fred: I love the freedom to be able to work with sounds we like, instead of following a dogma or being stuck in the past or obsessed by new technology.
How would you describe your creative dynamic as ITALOCONNECTION?
Paolo: We come from a common ground and we share a lot of passions varying from musical acts to artistic imaginaries. When we work together, we are very fast on revealing where a track could lead us to. We usually start tweaking and then something happens. It could be a bassline that reminds some particular song or artist, or a melody or harmony that makes us unveil where the song could go. This is very special and it works because we know each other very well and love what we do.
Fred: The good thing is that we never follow any rule, we know our background and we exactly know where we want to bring the ITALOCONNECTION sound.
ITALOCONNECTION have been busy with productions and remixes, do you have a favourite from the recent batch of work?
Paolo:Remixes are like a gym where you can play and practise different things you wouldn’t normally do with the strain of production. It’s fun because you are free, and forced to work on a different pattern and this can be stimulating. We had great fun remixing Etienne Daho and recently Josep Xortó & The Congosound and Rago e Farina. Productions are a totally different playground because you have to translate the artist’s idea into something that reflects both his and your vision. We had massive satisfaction working on the album of La Prohibida.
Fred: It’s a nice feeling to work for other artists because you experience a different involvement, less personal but with a strong focus so to reach a result that make all the people involved happy.
How do you look back now on your previous album ‘Metropoli’ and the covers collection ‘Disco Boutique’?
Paolo: Yesterday I had the chance to listen to ‘Metropoli’ for the first time in ages, and I had a “detached” listen, while before I was always too much involved and critical. I must admit it still sounds timeless and focused. It clearly shouts for urgency and character and sounds monolithic and big. It is almost a sound manifesto and I still love it. We wanted to take a picture of our imaginary. ‘Metropoli’ is an interpretation of what we felt and saw when playing in Berlin, London, Paris, Helsinki. A ‘Metropoli’ of sound, in a European vision.
Fred: In a way ‘Metropoli’ is a collection of images, we always bring back good memories and images from our touring that sooner or later end up influencing the atmosphere and lyrics of the songs
Paolo:‘Disco Boutique’ is a tribute to some of the most iconic or obscure tracks that somehow inspired us over the years, remixed with our feeling and sound. This project is both fun to make and useful to have because we wanted to give a layer of fresh paint to songs that would sound somehow dated or unfamiliar to many. This is an open project, we don’t exclude, we could work on new ‘Disco Boutique’ material in the future.
Talking of covers, you recorded a version of THE ELECTRONIC CIRCUS’ ‘Direct Lines’ in 2017 with Francesca Gastaldi, how did you discover the song as it is quite obscure, even in the UK?
Paolo: The story behind ‘Direct Lines’ is peculiar. I listened to it in a skate documentary and I had the impression I already heard it before. I loved it since the first riff, which goes directly to the point and captures that new wave spleen immediately. Then I discovered that this song was written by Chris Payne who played with Gary Numan and co-wrote VISAGE ‘Fade To Grey’ so all the elements of the puzzle made sense immediately. There is this long rope of tension that bends all the people that were involved in the new wave and post-punk environment together. And yes, I am definitely a “Blitz Kid”!
You opted to have a number of special guests on ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’, what was the idea behind this?
Paolo: ITALOCONNECTION is a duo, and at the same time an open project (hence the name “connection”). We want to be a bridge to collaborations with people we admire and respect. We love to create connections and listen to how artists translate our vision. We had guests also in ‘Metropoli’. We love to have guests.
How did you meet French superstar Etienne Daho to make ‘Virus X’, that title is a very relevant subject?
Fred: I had the chance to meet Etienne Daho at the after party of French iconic new wave band MARQUIS DE SADE reunion concert in Rennes a few years ago. I’ve been a big fan of him for more than 35 years and this collaboration is a real dream come true.
Paolo: When we approached Etienne we wanted him to have the broadest freedom on the interpretation of the song. We were stunned by the song melody itself and the inspiring lyrics. He made this clever comparison between a toxic relationship and a virus, which is actually very true.
‘All I Want Is You’, ‘All Over’ and ‘Get Together’ feature some very confident and rousing vocal performances, but how did you decide which songs were sung by yourselves and which were sung by the guests?
Paolo: Fred is very confident with the potentialities of the songs he chooses he could sing in. and he is very good at finding a melody that works. Sometimes songs come up already with a melody and we feel they could be perfect for some artist we love. Other times we just have an instrumental song and we want to challenge some of our artist friends to find and sing a new melody for us. There is no rule here. It’s just fun and we are very focused on the songs we are working on. For example: ‘Year Of The Sun’ was perfect for the mood and the key of CARINO CAT, and we decided it was the case.
Fred: I’m definitely more than happy sometimes to leave the lead vocal role to other artists that we both respect, it is also a way to make our sound more interesting and international
‘Year Of The Sun’ with CARINO CAT has a great nostalgic feel that parties like it’s 1985?
Paolo: There are “waves” of inspiration during times where we write in a certain style of music. In this case, we had a grape of songs that were very nostalgic and 80s in a ‘Donna Rouge’ style. So we thought that CARINO CAT were perfect for that particular song.
Fred: I’m still so proud of releasing their debut album on my label Disco Modernism, they are very talented and real, and most of all great songwriters
‘Rainbow Warrior’ featuring Swedish performance artist Tobias Bernstrup on lead vocals tells the story of the Greenpeace ship which was attacked by French Secret Service?
Paolo: Yes exactly, but not only. It’s a tribute to people that stand up for rights. We are always up for human rights and peoples rights in general.
A feminine element is brought to ‘Since You Went Away’ by Francesca Diprima, has this song been inspired by real life events?
Paolo: Not really; you have to think that when in the studio, we play a lot with imagination. This song is like a film, inspired by the music. And we pictured ourselves in a 1981 rainy and windy Paris at Montparnasse, searching for the lost love. Francesca Diprima is the connection with the loved one, ideally a telephone call in the storm, a retro-modern drama.
Fred: I’m pretty fascinated by this feeling of loneliness you feel when you are left by somebody and you are wandering in a big city, among buildings and lights under the rain
The album ends more introspectively with ‘Humans’, what is your message here?
Paolo: The point of this song sounds like it may have a direct connection with the recent age of pandemic, which may be true, but could be applied to a wider spectrum of our relationships. We are humans, we need to relate, we were made to relate. You can hide, you can escape, but the truth is we all need to relate.
Fred: The lack of physical contacts of the last 15 months made me realise how I miss shaking hands and holding people you are close with. The eyes connection is not enough, unfortunately
Which are your own personal favourite songs on ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’?
Paolo: It is very difficult to make a choice. Every song hides a story and a long development. Every song is a confession.
Fred: I don’t have a proper favourite one but ‘Virus X’ definitely represents a reached goal and an emotional moment
The production on ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’ is superb, very clear and spacious yet powerful. Have you any thoughts about how modern music production is heading now and the harsh sound that some acts are adopting, like on DURAN DURAN’s ‘Invisible’ for example?
Paolo: Being a musician, a sound engineer and synth lover with a fetish for “that” sensual sound, makes it automatic to think of an album as a whole. A unique piece of art made of music, sound, melodies and words with a precise image and vision in the background. We are very careful at sounding good.
We don’t want to sound harsh. We rather prefer to sound big and enveloping. To achieve this, we always want to have complete control over every aspect and stage of production. We think of an album as a piece of art, be it a film or a painting. Something that remains over the years.
The title ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’ indicates there will be more music in this style, what is next for ITALOCONNECTION?
Paolo: ‘Midnight Confessions Vol1’ is the first volume of a wider collection of songs. We had too many for a single album, so expect it to be part of a big selection of ‘confessions’.
Fred: Yes, we still have a lot of ‘confessions’ to reveal.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to ITALOCONNECTION
Fred Ventura is the Italo Disco legend who had a number of European club hits such as ‘Wind Of Change’, ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘The Years (Go By)’ between 1984-1989.
Born Federico Di Bonaventura in Milan, he generally wrote and sang his own material, something that perhaps wasn’t so prevalent in the world of Italo Disco.
The first Fred Ventura solo single ‘Zeit’ took its lead from his passion for German language pop and ‘Der Kommissar’ by Falco in particular, although it baffled Italian audiences!
And while his music was later influenced by NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS, it would be fair to say that some musical transfer also occurred in the opposite direction.
On ‘Late Night Train’, there may have been some data exchange with Messrs Tennant and Lowe for the sparkly synth riff from ‘Domino Dancing’, while 1987’s ‘Imagine (You’ll Never Change Your Mind)’ and ‘Heart’ have much in common. Meanwhile recorded in 1985, ‘You Want Me’ has some striking musical similarities with NEW ORDER’s ‘Shame Of The Nation’. But by the release of his first album ‘East & West’, Fred Ventura was already disillusioned with where European electronic dance music was heading and looked towards Chicago House for solace.
Continuing to record in a variety of guises and later running his own Disco Modernism label, he formed ITALOCONNECTION with engineer and producer Paolo Gozzetti with the aim of using classic vintage sounds while looking towards the future. Although they did not release a single in their own right until 2012 with the rousing ‘My Rhythm’, Fred Ventura’s reputation was such that ITALOCONNECTION were immediately in demand as remixers.
In 2010, the pair reworked HURTS ‘Better Than Love’ while in 2011, their radio mix of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ was actually BBC Radio 2’s preferred version for airplay.
ITALOCONNECTION released their self-titled debut album in 2013 which comprised of their own tracks as well as productions and remixes for other artists, so 2017’s ‘Metropoli’ featuring ‘Humanize’ could be considered their first album proper.
Some of their more recent productions can be heard on three songs for ‘Dollars & Cents’, the 2019 debut long player by Britalo exponent KNIGHT$.
With the release of a new ITALCONNECTION album coming soon, Fred Ventura kindly took time out to chat with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his career to date.
What got you interested in the sound of electronic music?
My first contact with electronic music was around the mid-70s, KRAFTWERK ‘Radio-Activity’ and Giorgio Moroder productions were innovative and pretty unique to the ears of a 13-14 year old boy living in in the suburbs of Milan, even if it was punk rock that grabbed my attention in 1977.
You have been quoted as saying ‘Blue Monday’ by NEW ORDER was the record that changed your life, can you remember the first time you heard it?
‘Blue Monday’ was such a positive shock for even someone like me who was already a fan of JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER. At the time I was starting producing myself some electronic demos and one morning I woke up and switched on my radio and heard ‘Blue Monday’ for the first time, it was played every hour for 24 hours, it was the record of the day for the station, I remember checking it every hour for almost all day…
You started with a Roland Juno 60 and Oberheim DX, what led you to choose those as your first instruments? How did you find them to use?
It was not easy to buy the more expensive synthesizers like the Jupiter 8 or the LinnDrum so we had to start with cheaper instruments, more affordable but good enough to sound credible.
After using a few other instruments that were rented, I decided to buy the Oberheim DX and a Juno, they sounded fantastic to me and easy to use, I still own both of them.
What can you remember about making your first single ‘Zeit’ in 1984?
‘Zeit’ was the first thing I wrote with a new awareness, after ‘Blue Monday’ I felt legitimated to flirt with dance music and ‘Zeit’ was my personal idea of disco, I was very naïve but I knew what I wanted. The main goal was to make a record, I went to the Disco Magic label office, there I met Roberto Turatti who proposed for me to go in the studio with his partner Miki Chieregato to produce the song for a 12”, a dream come true, I was 21 and full of hopes…
When did you realise there was some sort of an Italo Disco sound emerging, although of course it wasn’t called “Italo” then?
I started to feel part of a sort of movement a bit later, at the beginning it was all about individuals trying to propose their own brand of dance music. Common influences were THE HUMAN LEAGUE, and HEAVEN 17, Bobby Orlando and Patrick Cowley… near the end of 1984, all those Italo records were charting in Italy and starting to spread all over Europe
Did you consider SAVAGE and RAF as rivals or brothers in arms?
I never felt rivalry with any of my contemporaries, I’m still a good friend with SAVAGE and I love ‘Self Control’ by RAF.
You signed to Time Records and had this European pop career, how do you look back on that period as a “star”?
I was not conscious of my sort of popularity, “success” came too late and short, I was already bored of the evolution of the Italo sound, all the producers were becoming more and more commercial.
I felt totally out of place when the BPMs were jumping to 140. Chicago House was getting big in the clubs, I thought it was time for a personal revolution and I quit the scene…
What were your own favourite songs that you recorded in this phase of your career? How do you think they stand up in the pantheon of European pop music?
I’m not that proud of the records I made from 1986 to 1989, I still like the songs but I’m not so in love with the production, the introduction of digital sounds and sampling were changing the feeling of my own demos. By the way, ‘Wind Of Change’ still sounds good to me and is still getting great feedback during my performances.
The UK never really embraced Italo Disco BUT would accept it through the back door via PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER, were you ever frustrated by the hypocrisy especially from the British press? One journalist admitted “Despite the fact that I love the PET SHOP BOYS as much as I loathe MODERN TALKING, I have to admit that musically, they’re not that different!”
Honestly, our main goal was to reach the European market, we felt the UK market was too complicated to reach, considering how many extremely good productions were coming from there. I love the PET SHOP BOYS and NEW ORDER and I have to admit they were my biggest influence. Probably our biggest limits were the lyrics and the Italo-British accent, something that in the rest of Europe was never noticed
In some ways, you were unusual as an Italo artist who wrote and sang their own material, which was not always the case with a number of acts from the genre?
Yes, this was the main difference between me and other Italo artists, songs were written mostly by their producers, I still regret about accepting to record ‘Night & Day’ that was written by my producers of the time, Farina and Crivellente.
Did you feel the ‘character’ artists like Den Harrow and Baltimora tarnished the credibility of Italo Disco?
The fact that many of the “so-called” Italo artists were miming didn’t help to make it a credible genre of music, that’s for sure, but today at last, people are into the music, not the gossip or the fashion.
How did you think electronic dance music has been developing over the years since then?
The evolution of electronic music, it’s been always been associated with technology, after analog synthesizers, we had FM synths, then samplers, then plugins and laptop. There’s not that much left to discover nowadays, so everybody has the possibility to give a look back to old technology and refresh it with a contemporary attitude. It’s a great feeling to be able to use such a variety of old sounds and new technology together, the most important thing to me is to try to use all the knowledge to create something that sounds modern.
Did you ever get frustrated enough to want to make a guitar-based album like Karl Bartos did?
During my career, I have been able to fulfil almost all my music desires, I have made various albums and projects under different names, from my post-punk band STATE OF ART to VIBRAZIONI PRODUCTIONS to BEDROOM ROCKERS, via Milano 2000 Records and Evolution Records, they were all very important steps in my career.
From 1990 until 1994, I was running Evolution Records, a label dedicated to house and techno. After that period, I made a few albums under the name VIBRAZIONI PRODUCTIONS, downbeat stuff, soulful and jazzy.
Then in 2001 together with Enrico Colombo, I did an album as BEDROOM ROCKERS for Universal Italy.
So how did ITALOCONNECTION come into being? Is the concept as the name suggests?
ITALOCONNECTION is the result of over twenty years of friendship and occasional creative meeting between me and Paolo Gozzetti. In 2010, we decided to join forces and give more continuity to our electronic raids using the ITALOCONNECTION pseudonym. The aim is to revive the glories of the early 80s Italo Disco and Synthpop in a modern form.
When was the point when you realised there was still a big love for Italo disco? Did you feel vindicated at all?
Now is more than 20 years since this sort of Italo revival started, travelling around Europe made me realise how big the interest was for this genre. Nostalgia for the past makes people dig and rediscover old music, today there are so many revivals happening at the same time. Actually I never had a vendetta plan in my life, I’m enjoying these moments because I’m having the possibility to produce new music for an old audience but also for a new one that is discovering Italo thanks to the web.
A sign of this was when Italians Do It Better released the 1984 demo version of ‘The Years (Go By)’ with its corresponding instrumental in 2011, how did this come about?
Back in the day, thanks to Myspace, I was able to get in touch with Italians Do It Better and after listening to several of my unreleased songs, they decided to release the demos of ‘The Years’, my most popular song which I wrote together with Turatti and Chieregato back in 1984. I was very happy to make these demos available on vinyl, considering also that I was a fan of the Italians Do It Better sound.
You co-produced three tracks with Britalo artist KNIGHT$, what do you think about these acts who have been influenced by you?
I have to admit that is a great feeling to see new acts showing respect for so many Italo artists and producers, I would never even imagined that one day, I would have become an influence for somebody.
ITALOCONNECTION is now your main project, what does it give you that perhaps wasn’t possible in your solo work?
The opportunity to collaborate with somebody who shares the same feeling and attitude is a real gift, ITALOCONNECTION is a real team and we enjoy every side of our work, playing live together is definitely the thing we love more.
Is there anyone ITALOCONNECTION would particularly like to do a remix for in the future?
I really would like to remix NEW ORDER, PET SHOP BOYS and Paul Haig. Recently we had the opportunity to remix Etienne Daho, another of my favourite artists so all is possible.
What is happening next for you, either solo or with ITALOCONNECTION?
A brand new ITALOCONNECTION album is on the way, it took a while to produce the right follow up to ‘Metropoli’, considering also that we have been busy producing and remixing other artists. The album also will feature a host of special guests, more news coming soon…
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Fred Ventura
Special thanks to Sebastian Muravchik of SNS SENSATION and HEARTBREAK