Giallo Disco: Tracks of our Fears
Giallo Disco founders Antoni Maiovvi and Vercetti Technicolor speak to Richard Brophy about how the label has swiftly gained a cult following after its somewhat unlikely beginnings in Cologne.
Most labels do well to make a significant contribution to their chosen genre. Giallo Disco has gone much further and is the main platform for modern horror disco. Bleaker and less melodic than Italo but just as funny, fluid and groovier than contemporary wave, and a lot more fun than droning electronics, the label has moved into the album sphere and in so doing brought its fixation with film to the logical conclusion.
It’s an impressive achievement for an operation that only came into being in 2012, but whose roots were growing long before that. As co-founder, Antoni Maiovvi, explains Giallo Disco was borne out of its founders’ frustrations of dealing with other labels.
“We both played a gig in Athens in 2012 and afterwards we were grumbling about other labels. I had done two releases in 2010 on Fright and Caravan and they didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, so we decided that we’d set up our own one.”
It helped that Maiovvi, who comes from England but who never stays in one place for too long, and Gianni Vercetti aka Vercetti Technicolor, a Greek who lives in Vienna, had a very definite idea about what they wanted to do, even though they came from different musical backgrounds.
“I was in a noise band called Geisha, kind of like a cross between Big Black and shoe gazers like My Bloody Valentine. It was really fucking fun, but then our drummer died,” Maiovvi says. Vercetti explains he was always into horror soundtracks, “but then I was listening to a lot of IDM from about 2000 to 2005. I started to take my own music-making seriously in about 2006 and had put out some tracks on split releases for labels like Minimal Rome.”
Over the past year, Vercetti was also involved in two movie projects which he feels was a result of the label “opening doors for me”. The first, Maldito More, is a Chilean film which he scored, while he also contributed to the soundtrack to The Editor, a Canadian film which also featured music from horror movie soundtrack legend Claudio Simonetti.
Although Vercetti points out the physical format was less important for the producers he listened to during the first half of the ’00s, Maiovvi (pictured, left) says that vinyl played an important role in his life as a fully paid-up member of the noise community and recalls bands recording 30-minute tracks and splitting them into 15-minute segments on either side of a release. He also had been collecting vinyl since he was a teenager and always felt a close affinity to the format.
“The opportunity to do a vinyl label was very tempting,” he recalls of his and Vercetti’s initial conversations on Giallo Disco. “We were wary of doing digital only and we could see that CDs were dying off, so to be taken seriously as artists and as a label, vinyl was the only option.”
Bizarrely, the blueprint for Giallo Disco was created, not in dilapidated theatre houses or seedy basements, but in Kompakt’s Cologne headquarters. Maiovvi’s 2010 release, Zulawski, was the second of three records on the short-lived Fright imprint, a side project for Michael Mayer and Jon Berry of Kompakt.
“They closed their doors after the third release and it was a real shame. Fright was exactly what we wanted to do and it laid a template for us. It wasn’t quite Italo, it wasn’t quite doom electronics, it was very dance-y.”
Despite being disappointed by Fright’s closure, Maiovvi and Vercetti had began to come into contact with a like-minded community online, and in the real world.
“I had already become involved with the European Italo community in 2009 when I met the Cyber Dance and Magic Waves guys and was introduced to Fred Ventura and Ali Renault,” says Maiovvi, while Vercetti adds that “we were also finding people through the internet who were making similar music”.
Online communities also played a strong role in making the first Giallo Disco record a reality, with the duo using crowd funding to pre-sell their split release, Black Gloves.
“We knew the label could have been a failure, but with crowd funding we pre-sold 70 copies and this allowed us to press up 200,” Vercetti explains. Limited to small vinyl runs out of necessity, the first three releases were by the founders, but after that a number of key artists got involved.
One of the main players in the Giallo Disco story was not a producer but the US visual artist Eric Lee, whose gloriously schlock art adorns the releases. Lee, who is based in Portland, contacted the label in 2013 and has since been involved with everything associated with Giallo Disco.
“He’s really very talented,” Vercetti says, while Maiovvi adds, “we send him the music and the copy that I write and say to him ‘just go nuts!’”
When the label was in its early stages, its founders drew up a wish list of artists whose music they wanted to release and Vercetti says that both Unit Black Flight and David Kristian were among the artists they were chasing. For those not familiar with the work of Bryan Lane aka Unit Black Flight, his 2014 Giallo Disco debut, Tracks from the Trailer, is essential listening. This writer described it last year as “proper paranoid disco music, a soundtrack from the edge of a crumbling city.”
Vercetti explains that Lane, who is based in the US had unexpectedly self-released an album on Bandcamp and that Giallo Disco had expressed an interest in releasing it.
“He got back to us and said that another label had been interested in putting it out – but then that fell through and we got the best bangers”.
Recorded while Lane was living in a trailer – hence the name – and inspired visually and sonically by Escape from New York, Maiovvi says Unit Black Flight is “Bryan’s John Carpenter worship project, especially his LinnDrum period”.
Another artist on the Giallo hit list was Canadian producer David Kristian, the prolific producer who over a 20 year period has made everything from synth pop to IDM, while fronting the Francesco Clemente guise with releases on Minimal Rome and Crème.
Kristian’s new release for Giallo Disco, Sacrificio, is a collaboration with the poet Marie Davidson as DKMD, and is a wonderfully bleak and bombastic serving of disco noir offset by Davidson’s ice cool tones. Neither Unit Black Flight or DKMD are household names, and the label finished off 2014 with the debut record by The Hunt, a Parisian act whose sleek, pulsating EBM-influenced Revengers of the Darkness was one of this writer’s favourite records of last year.
“We tend to release a lot of first-time artists or projects, but why the fuck not,” Maiovvi wonders aloud. “I’m not going to do anyone a favour. We’ve got very specific tastes and if we can stand behind what we put out and we’re both happy, then there is an audience,” he adds.
Vercetti and Maiovvi don’t always agree with each other the pair express there can be a lot of back and forth between the two during the demo and A&R process. That said, when The Hunt’s demo landed, there was no debate.
“They came up to me after a show in Paris and gave me a CD. It was before the label was properly launched, but when I played it, I was like ‘fuck, Gianni!’ It was clear that they had spent a lot of time on it.” Maiovvi says.
Given the renewed interest in Italo but also disco’s darker side and its interaction with film soundtracks – witness the reissue of Legowelt’s excellent Squadra Blanco project and the release this year of horror master John Carpenter’s album – do they feel Giallo Disco is a label of its time that has benefited from favourable cultural tailwinds?
Maiovvi believes it fills a much-needed gap. “The truth is that the Italo scene never went away, it just got bigger and is now snowballing, but apart from the odd release on Crème or Bunker, there was no label doing the kind of disco and soundtrack releases we were interested in. That was an important factor when we set up Giallo,” he says, while Vercetti adds that the label is different to reissue label Death Waltz.
“That’s a label for real movie soundtracks, whereas we are making up our own soundtracks,” he explains prosaically.
It’s not like the label’s founders are particularly concerned about seeking out a place in contemporary electronic music’s ecosystem, but given they put great effort into the artwork and accompanying backstory for each release – which Maiovvi writes and makes it easy to believe that he once considered a career in copy-writing – are they appealing to collectors or DJs?
“I saw some people chart the Unit Black Flight record, so it’s stuff I like to play out, even though I play very slow, pitched down to minus eight and get teased for it” Maiovvi says, while Vercetti adds, “we’re putting out collectors items that are DJ friendly.”
The affirm the label’s not there to be a crowd-pleaser and when I ask them if they are concerned their sound is too specific or niche, the answer is emphatic.
“We’re not a Berlin minimal label releasing tools for Richie Hawtin to coif his hair to,” Maiovvi hisses, as he explains that his background as a record collector taught him a few hard lessons.
“When I was 16, I heard Tangerine Dream for the first time. It was a pivotal moment in my life. I couldn’t believe that people could make music like this. So I went to my local record store and when I took some of their releases to the counter, the people there said ‘you idiot, this is rubbish’. Since then, pretty all my musical tastes have been unpopular, styles that people have hated, so it’s like ‘fuck you, I’ll put out what I want’.”
To give this attitude some context to his own background, Vercetti says “it’s like playing Italo in Greece, which unlike Berlin, you are doing it to an empty dance floor. But even if you do play to an empty floor, you are keeping it interesting.”
In the beginning, Giallo Disco sold a lot of records directly to fans. Apart from the ongoing tax issues, Vercetti believes bandcamp is “a great platform” and is quick to point out that digital sales helped to finance the label’s mastering and artwork. Because they were released in limited edition vinyl, however, one of the dilemmas facing the label is the high prices that those early releases fetch on the second-hand market. To counteract this price gouging, they plan to reissue some of the first releases.
“I saw the first release on sale for 90 Euros, which is crazy, so we will repress it,” says Maiovvi. “Our audience is growing and people will want to own the entire catalogue, but we need to do this without over-stretching ourselves.”
Listening to their plans for the coming year, it feels like Vercetti’s description of “a clogged schedule” is an understatement. Along with the aforementioned DKMD release, the newest record on Giallo Disco is Vercetti’s Black September. Inspired by the 1999 documentary, and the Spielberg feature film about the massacre of members of the Israeli squad during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, it sees the Greek artist deliver a brooding, eerie work that handles the subject matter in an extremely sensitive manner.
“It is strictly not a political release,” Vercetti says emphatically. “It’s like scoring a movie that already has a score and it’s inspired by both the documentary and the Spielberg movie. When Munich came out, it struck me that there were no synths used in the soundtrack, so this is a way to offer an alternative.”
Maiovvi is also working on a soundtrack album, but his experience is somewhat different. “I was offered to write a soundtrack for a movie, but it turns out that for whatever reason, it will not be produced. I still have all this music in my head, so I am going to release it.”
Apart from their own music, the duo is supervising a compilation of new artists they found by trawling SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Given that it’s on Giallo Disco, it’s no surprise that it has a strong concept behind it.
“We thought it would be interesting to do a soundtrack for an imaginary brat pack movie with a Gothic edge to it, so each track on the compilation will relate to a specific scene and we’ll write text for it – we hope it’ll keep our customers happy and make them smile.”
Interview by Richard Brophy