In the early-90s, house music was truly hitting its stride. The foundations had been laid by the Chicago and Detroit originals and the UK had made the genre commercially viable. It was a febrile time, helped by the increasing ease of access producers had to making tracks.
Italy had already shown its fondness for American dance music, taking on disco with their own slightly warped productions. Italo disco is a connoisseur’s genre, one that will be openly belittled by one and lusted after via their wallet by another. Most importantly, it was Italo disco that helped encourage Americans to take on a more electronic approach to their dance music in the first place. So an Italian brand of house music was inevitable.
The Italians had a natural flair for it. Armed with Korg M1s and Roland 909s, these producers stayed true to the American roots of the genre, spurning the English cannibalisation of the sound which eventually led to hardcore. But rather than evoking the dark clubs of Chicago with the brand of house, the music was better suited to a Vespa ride long the Amalfi Coast, its dreamy qualities fuelling your summer endorphin rushes.
Why did none of these artists break through into the dance music mainstream at the time? Hardly any released more than two records. All we have is a perfect snapshot in time of where these producers were at and what they were doing in a thriving scene.
Bliss out to 15 of the best tracks produced in that period below.
Louis Anderson-Rich is Mixmag's Digital Producer. Follow him on Twitter
Don Carlos 'Alone'
Full disclosure, this was the track that opened up the world of Italian house to this scribe thanks to a Palms Trax set at Dekmantel, but where else could we possibly start? Don Carlos is just that; the don of Italian house music. His record 'Alone', a three-track EP on Calypso Records that featured the same tune blissed-out to various extents, was the Varese-born producer's debut. And what a way to introduce himself, arriving in a blaze of aquatic pads, twinkling arps, endless pianos and a bassline so consistent it feels like you're zooming along the mediterranean coast in anime form on the back of a vespa. Bellissimo.
Dreamatic 'Audio Trip'
DFC, otherwise known as Dance Floor Corporation, were one of Italy's earliest labels looking to capitalise on the coming house and trance sound. Founded in 1987 they became a go-to for Balearic tracks that could seemingly only be enjoyed at the beach by dangerously tanned people wearing speedos. But listening back to Dreamatic's 'Audio Trip' courtesy of Young Marco's 'Welcome To Paradise' compilation, it sounds like a pleasurable listening experience for anyone. From the rumbling bassline that producers clamour for on their soft synths, to the stacks and stacks of sparkling synths, 'Audio Trip' has aged like a fine wine and is a legitimate club weapon in 2017.
The True Underground Sound Of Rome 'Secret Doctrine'
The True Underground Sound Of Rome was a short lived collaboration between Chico Furlotti, Leo Young and Mauro Tannino, but these three did as much for the underground Italian dance scene as anyone else. The trio were also involved in founding Male Productions/Records and Vibraphone Records, two of the most sought-after labels in the world of house. Starting with a suitably ostentatious intro, the 'Secret Doctrine' dips down to a loping synth riff before edging it's way along a tightrope of cool and trancey-kitsch with aplomb. Thankfully the crew eased the astronomical prices on Discogs with their own reissue last year.
Onirico 'Stolen Moments'
File next to 'Secret Doctrine' in the 'Chances Of Chords Bringing Tears To Your Eyes' category. This jazzy, slowed down number is just what you need on the comedown as it's lighter than air. Even with a slightly-acidic bass line coming through, it still feels like a song that would get your grandma up on her feet and raving.
Agua Re 'Holy Dance (Large Sound Mix)'
For some reason, releasing records under multiple aliases was the thing to do in Italy. It was hard to get attached to one artist because you didn't know if they'd make music under that name again. Instead the music all joined together under a big green, white and red branch, with tracks remembered by label and name rather than artist. You wouldn't know it but Agua Re also made tunes under Kamasutra (see below), one a quintessential Italian dream house track and the bottom one a five-star deep house tune. You wonder how far they could have gone if they retained the same alias.
Kamasutra 'Running Away' (Blue Sky Mix)
This track has much more in common with the artist title than the track title. Alex Neri and Marco Baroni once again join forces to come up with this stonking deep house masterpiece that transports you to places you never knew existed. Six versions of this track spanning the colours of the rainbow were made for this release on Italo disco label OUT, but we've plumped for the Blue Sky mix. It's a precursor to the popular progressive house sound Italy would adopt, but steers clear of the cheesy trance vibes and settles into a much friendlier deep house space. Enjoy your trip.
707 Boyz 'Emotions'
Another of the Italian house scene's one-hit wonders, rediscovered and repurposed for 2017, 707 Boyz were made up of Enrico Mantini and Fabrizio Cini and released an EP for DJ Tendance in 1990. Most people have forgotten about the A-side of this record in favour of the B which features 'Emotions', a track that seems to have set the blueprint for the pan piping proto-hazy house vibe made popular by labels such as Mood Hut. Fellow B-sider 'Freedom' is also a hot tip for some crunching bottom-heavy grooves.
Montego Bay 'Everything' (S-Tone Mix)
"You are everything in this world to me" goes the refrain from S-Tone's stomping remix of Montego Bay's 'Everything', a line that has never failed to inspire a party. The overflowing optimism and joy in this track is something that regularly turns cold, muddy festival crowds into raucous parties and displays of affection. Maybe it's why DJs such as Palms Trax and Shanti Celeste have drawn for it regularly. And who's behind this mastery? None other than Don Carlos, who runs side project Montego Bay, and remixer S-Tone otherwise known as Stefano Tirone, a Milan veteran. A perfect production duo.
Korda 'Move Your Body (To The Sound)' (Club Mix)
Another track that starts out with a chord progression as lush as one of Michelangelo's brush strokes, Korda was a producer of whimsical house straight outta the vault of Alex Neri. Like a good pizza, this track success for its simplicity. The pad chords don't change, the bassline stays the same, impeccably engineered breaks keep the track rolling and a stabbing piano links with a rhythmic vocal to make for a merry-go-round that you don't want to get off.
High Tide 'Time Unlimited'
Released in 1990, High Tide's 'Time Unlimited' is one of this list's standout tracks, partly because it sounds like something that could have been released by HNNY or Lay-Far last week. An ingenious use of a harp sample is the key to this track, as well as being packed with Balearic vibes courtesy of an acoustic guitar solo at the end. A real pick-me up until you realised it's retailing for over £250 on Discogs.
Jam Cafe 'The Last Cafe'
A lot of these tracks definitely fall under the dream house persuasion of Italian dance music but if you need something that won't put you to sleep after an extended period of listening then make sure you take a hearty scoop of Jam Cafe's 'The Last Cafe'. While Italians mostly explored the progressive and trancier sides to house music, they almost missed a sound that was sweeping the UK, hardcore. But this track, which was not only 'The Last Cafe' but also the mystery producer’s first, was right in that spirit with it's slashing stabs and swinging percussion. But with a penchant for an over-the-top take on other styles of house music (ie Italo disco) maybe it's best they didn't get too into the already gimmicky vibes of hardcore.
Adriano 'XII Twelve' (Dub Jazz)
One of the things I will question for the rest of my life is why Alex Neri didn't stick to one alias and rule the Italian scene with an iron fist. Another absolute jam from an absolute don, the chunky drums coming straight out of the Kerri Chandler's early years school for funky producers.
A rollicking ride through deep house territory, Omniverse's 'Antares' was recently brought back to life thanks to a repress by Italian house reissuing maestros Flash Forward. The B-side to 'Venere', 'Antares' by far outstrips the A-side, rolling and bumping its way into a mind-melding synth line that nearly veers into techno territory. Cop one of those reissues for real.
Riviera Traxx 'Parfume 1'
Any track that samples 'Turn The Music Up' by The Player's Association is OK with me, and Riviera Traxx, who only went on to release three more records, made that sample a key part of this trippy, chilled-out stomper. Full of reach for the lasers arpeggios, the tune still doesn't take the foot off the gas, making it perfect for a climactic moment in any set.
Soft House Company 'What You Need...'
Heavily utilising 'Let No Man Put Asunder', this track is a true disco-house gem. Jazzy chords, a thumping love break and more strings than an ABBA tribute act, if you fail to put your hands in the air to this then you aren't human. For more of this, you need to mine record label IRMA's back catalogue.