Giorgio Moroder: The Italian Genius Who Trumped Bowie And Discovered Dance Music

It's 1977 and David Bowie and Brian Eno are convinced they're about to start a new era in music. Only an Italian producer has beaten them to it...
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It's 1977 and David Bowie and Brian Eno are convinced they're about to start a new era in music. Only an Italian producer has beaten them to it...

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Dig if you will a picture. It's 1977 and Bowie is hunched over a sound desk in Berlin trying to feel something close to satisfaction. There's a lot for him to feel proud of too.  With his new musical partner Brian Eno he's in the midst of producing his most thrilling and creative works to date. Sonically shifting the landscapes of pop and rock music into new waters for the next few years.

He should feel thrilled. Less than a few years earlier his character the Thin White Duke had very nearly killed him. His cocaine caricature of a soul boy had come close to doing what Ziggy had threatened to do and pull the bed sheets right over David Jones’ head forever. It was to be Bowie's most self-destructive and vapid phase to date. Riding round the LA hills like a translucent vampire in the back of a limousine while his cocaine demons whispered on his shoulder. You can see it in all its creepy glory in a BBC documentary called 'Cracked Actor'. There were tales of witchcraft and melting swimming pools circling ominously in the press. At the time LA was going through a second generation of cult Manson weirdness. It certainly wasn't a holy place to base oneself.

In Berlin however Bowie had found a creative, liberal city whose residents were respectful to even rock stars with superstar status. He'd found privacy and artistic freedom at last but frustratingly one thing still eluded him. In their Berlin sessions him and Eno had become privately obsessed with discovering the 'new sound' of music, something so original and different it would change the outlook of modern music forever. They genuinely believed they were close to uncovering it too, merging the neo classical to various strands of Arabic and kraut rock which would later become the critically acclaimed 'Berlin Trilogy', until one day Brian Eno marched sullenly into the studio with a look of thunder on his face.

'What’s the matter?' David asked.

'They've only fucking done it David,' Eno said.

'Someone’s only gone and discovered the sound,' and with that he tossed an acetate at him.

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What was on that acetate was Giorgio Moroder’s 'I Feel Love', which in 1977 must have felt on first listen like it had landed from Mars. Seemingly from out of nowhere the Italian born producer had unlocked the future wave of an electronic scene that would eventually explode with acid house in the late eighties. It was a seminal record in so many ways, back ending the derivative hedonism of disco whilst cradling the future shock of rave, it acted as both a threat and a promise. Even the punk rock innovators who were busy ushering in their own revolution at the time were hugely impressed by it.

It begins like all good records do. Unexpectedly. A sci-fi wobble of synth and bass washing together to suggest the synth art of Tangerine Dream at their peak. Those druggy, electronic waves however are brutally moved aside in seconds as if from nowhere, the bass and the kick drum come thundering in. Malicious. Relenting.

Stripping away the histrionics of all that seventies musicianship in a singular muscular loop. Future. Future. Future, it screams. Even Donna Summers’ standard vocal gets warped and melted down into a split series of 'oooohs' and 'aaaahs'. Like soul music being reduced into a recurring kinetic code.

Moroder had done something else with his electronic vision too.  He'd taken a metal machine music and added an emotional attachment. The physical reaction to 'I Feel Love' bursting through a set of nightclub speakers all over the world was incredible. Saturday Night Fever may have been the happy clappy face of working class escapism and the lost weekend but 'I Feel Love' was the fucking fist puncher. Its recurring mantra: stuck in a shit job. No money. No prospects. But I feel love motherfucker. Que sera sera. It's a linear path to the hysteric participation of house club crowds the world over that somehow gets lost slightly in the history write ups. It's also a huge clue to that scene’s inherent elitism as well. Kraftwerk’s cold existentialism is universally revered when the truth is that no one ever danced without their shirts in to a Kraftwerk tune. Moroder on the other hand 'had them fucking in the aisles' as legendary music box DJ Ron Hardy once remarked as he would play 'I Feel Love' back to back for thirty minutes at a time.

Not that Moroder was keen to be stuck in that particular chilly world. Eclecticism propelled him forward as a composer, sometimes taking in more successful roads than others. His soulful take, dripping in pathos on the condition of the human spirit won him an Oscar for his soundtrack for 'Midnight Cowboy'. Later, he even spent the late eighties dipping into commercial pop records for the Human League. Moroder has since allowed revivalists Daft Punk to access his vast libraries. He certainly doesn't rule over his own vast musical history with a medieval key. In fact he seems particularly keen for newer artists to smash his blueprints into a million musical pieces.

Perhaps that's the heaviest clue of all to that moment in time all those years ago. In a studio where so many strange and disparate elements came together in a magic alchemy to create Moroder’s modern masterpiece. Much more than punk or rock and roll or house music or any scene that despite its greatest motives always ends up celebrating itself but the idea  that to really create something special and a future shock you've got to rip it up and start again. Leaving all your conventions and pantomime creations by the door.