In the second instalment of our two-part feature on New Jersey label Italians Do It Better (check out our interview with Johnny Jewel here), we speak to the label’s founder, Mike Simonetti. Under Mike’s stewardship, the imprint has cultivated a reputation for releasing superb disco (and the odd house) cuts.
What songs, events or moments first got you into disco?
I remember DJing a house party in 1989 with two shitty belt drive turntables and a stereo monitor as “mixer” and I was playing hip hop. I put on Flashlight by Parliament and everyone went nuts. That was the beginning I think, I realized that disco was true party music!
You grew up loving hardcore music, how did you make the progression to disco?
I still like hardcore – I’m a punk for life I guess. Back in the late 80s, New York hardcore was similar to hip-hop, and we all listened to rap back then. My friend got a job at a hip-hop club called Mars and then it turned into a house music club because hip-hop got violent. I got a job there eventually, and the DJs there would play house and disco and that’s how I got exposed to it. These were legendary DJs like Moby (long haired acid house era Moby), Bobby Konders (pre dancehall), Frankie Knuckles, DJ Duke of Denmark, Red Alert, all these guys. I then started tracking down beats from hip-hop samples and I noticed a lot of beats were sampled from disco, and it turned out there was tons and tons of underground raw disco out there I never knew existed. This was before internet so you had to dig!
Your label has built up a big underground following since 2007. Did you expect this when you started out?
I knew the music was special and I hoped it would do well. We tried to take the punk ethic and put it towards Italians. By that I mean be artist and fan friendly, and keep the prices down. That’s very important to us. We try to stay visible as much as possible, whether it’s on the internet or at a gig.
How do you go about selecting new acts for Italians Do It Better?
Me and Johnny (Jewel), must agree on all the artists. If we both like them, we’ll release it. It’s good to have someone else to filter out your bad taste sometimes!
“I remember DJing at a house party in 1989 with two shitty belt drive turntables and a stereo monitor as “mixer” and I was playing hip hop. I put on Flashlight by Parliament and everyone went nuts. That was the beginning I think, I realized that disco was true party music”
Tell me a bit about Johnny Jewel – he seems to have carved a brilliant niche production-wise… Do you both prefer female vocalists?
He has a great ear and he knows what he wants to do, and he does it well. He works very very hard to get the results. We both think female singers hold more of an impact than a male singer on record and in a live setting. We’ve tried to work with male singers and it didn’t work out. I’m sure we will work with one eventually. We have our ears open.
You’ve been quick to tell people that IDIB isn’t Italo, as some have suggested – how would you describe the IDIB sound?
We just say it is dance music. It is all over the map music-wise. We try to be varied with the releases, and throw a curve ball into the mix sometimes.
Is the idea of becoming “too popular” as a label something that concerns you?
It concerns me to a degree. It is best to be under the radar and be the underdog. You don’t want to be on top all the time. You can only go down from there. Plus if you are the underdog you have the drive to work harder. Personally, as a DJ I will play the same to 50 people in a dark basement as 5,000 people at a festival. Usually the smaller gigs are better anyway. The people at the small gigs are there for you. The festival gigs…. they are there for the festival. Once you become flavour of the month you tend to lose favour so I try to keep underground as much as possible, but not too much. I played a festival in Montreal recently to about 2,000 people and it was great. A few days prior I played an illegal after hours party in Montreal to about 40 people in a small, hot, sweaty room and it was a lot more fun. The records had so much condensation on them they were skipping from the moisture. But it was great!
How did you come across your latest acquisitions, Premier Rang and Nite Jewel?
Johnny found Nite Jewel, and I found Premier Rang. Premier Rang sounds unlike anything I have ever heard. They are very unique. I think Nite Jewel gave Johnny a demo. We were drawn to the fact it was a girl making dance music, which is quite rare. I’m not talking about a girl singer, she was writing songs as well.
How have you found the reception has been to your label in Europe compared to the US?
It is stronger in Europe. The US is more indie rock based. Everything takes longer to get to America, they are still stuck on indie rock out here.
“These days it’s all about the next big thing. There are a lot less classic tunes because they go out of favour so fast”
We at the Juno office are big fans of the edits you post on your blog… Will any of your edits get an official release?
I’m working on a few edit releases. A lot of the edits are 3-4 years old and have to be redone, so they don’t have the Ableton “warble”! I have a zillion edits that I’ve done but I am trying to release the special ones. We have some stuff planned.
How is the IDIB blog going? Do you find it is a good way to connect with fans?
I love the blog, we use it instead of a website. It’s more intimate.
And you Tweet now too – how do you feel about the importance and relevance of the internet in today’s music scene?
I love Twitter too! Without the internet dance music would be more pure and original, and there would be more breathing room for music to make an impact. These days it’s all about the next big thing. There are a lot less classic tunes because they go out of favour so fast. But I also love the internet for the same reason. It’s a catch 22. ..
What does the next 12 months hold for Italians Do It Better?
We are working on another compilation. It’s going to be great. Also working on new Glass Candy releases, and tons of 12”s. . .