Monday, January 28, 2008

Mike Simonetti Interview

In the February issue of SPIN is a small feature I wrote about "The Return of Disco." Originally hoping to touch upon its tentacular hold on the culture. Not enough space to run every form its taken in the 21st century though, much less many of the ideas proffered by my interview subjects, so I'm posting transcripts here. This is with Italians Do It Better mainman Mike Simonetti.

Were you a Jersey hard rock kid?

Growing up, I was a hardcore kid. I used to go to shows at CBs in the late 80s.

What do you remember about disco?

In the last 80s, I didn't really think about it. I was into hardcore and rap like Public Enemy. When I got to college, I started getting into funk and stuff. I got a job working at a nightclub, which got me into the dance music scene.

What struck you about it?

I spent all my time in the city. I liked going out to nightclubs. It was fun. I was underage. I used to just go to clubs and work at this club called Mars. Disco wasn't really cool in the late 80s. there was one party that Michael Alig threw, Disco 2000. It was a novelty. Disco and funk records were rare. It was hard to find a James Brown record. I foyu had disco records, but I didn't have any.

What did you remember about disco as a kid?

I thought disco was cheesy when I was a hardcore kid. When I got older, I started to realize where all the samples for all the rap music I listened to and all the house music, I worked at mostly house clubs. All the samples came from disco.

What did you get into?


Who were you attracted to?

When you get into any kind of new music, pre-internet, it's kind of tough. Before the internet, you'd get information from people you knew. You couldn't read about things. There's no encyclopedia for disco. Disco was cheesy back then but in the nightclub scene it wasn't, it was the basis of everything. Paradise Garage closed in '85 maybe? Disco wasn't really on anyone's radar. No one cared about it. the people who would play it. I'd hear DJs playing classic disco, not cheesy shit, deep stuff.

Mainly at the gay clubs. I used to be a promoter, Gay Nights played the disco. I guess that's how it's always been: All the good disco is gay.

Which is why it's so maligned in the US.


A weird denial of sexuality.

That was the golden age of hip-hop, De La Soul, Black Sheep, that's what people wanted to hear that kind of stuff. No one cared about disco. I had a party in '89, early 90s, I just promoted it. it was a disco party, but no one really cared. People wanted to hear dancehall.

Did you go to the Loft?

Not back then. I had no idea it existed until much later.

You know about DJ Harvey?

No, not back then. At Mars we had in-house DJs, Bobby Converse, doing house music. Funkmaster Flex was a resident. Moby was another resident. He had long hair and played house. It was like that. Keoki became Dee-Lite’s DJ. This was way before any of it was popular. Club kids were big. I used to...a normal guy. It was crazy. No one played disco. If there were Loft parties. I was at the Loft a few months ago. Red Zone, The World, Palladium, that's where I was going. I had no idea they were legendary clubs.

Doing Troubleman, did you feel a split? Two separate worlds?

Yeah, there were a couple of dudes into hardcore and stuff. It wasn't really, I would wear Born Against tee shirts. I was into both. No one cared about anything like that. A lot of that crappy hardcore was very popular. The thing about New York, it's New York, you expect it to be into weird stuff if you go out and stuff.

Let's skip ahead. At what point are you becoming more a disco DJ? When does it start turning?

I started the label. I was putting out hardcore stuff. I was into rap and funk and stuff. As time grew on, I got into post-punk, Rough Trade stuff. I was into funk, I was into rap, I was into punk, when disco-punk came. Tons of groups like that. It was the perfect mixture of everything. Erase Errata, it was just sitting there. some weird all-girls band. As it was catching on, I was DJing more and more, rap, funk, but I didn't have many disco records. It wasn't the biggest thing in the world. No one wanted to hear them. They wanted to hear Donna Summer.

I started Contort Yourself, DJ post-punk till 2001. When 9/11 hit, Knitting Factory closed down, I stopped djing then. It happened really slow. I went from playing post-punk to…I got deeper into disco stuff and less into disco-punk and rap. Rap was getting shitty too at the time. by late 90s, I was just playing disco and house. I had a party at Nublu. It was fun.
At that point, Glass Candy, Chromatics, were more rock, glam.

Back then, I was putting out Glass Candy before Erase Errata. I put out a split seven inch. I called up Johnny and talked and talked and have been working together ever since. They were always a rock band. Glass Candy turned into a disco band because it was really hard for Johnny to find musicians to work with that could put up with his rigorous work ethic. He works really hard. He's always in the studio, he's always touring. That mixed with realizing how shitty disco-punk has become, Avril Lavigne doing shit. We both saw it coming. We got to get out of it.

He was always into, he's really into new rap stuff, synthy rap stuff. Some Glass Candy has similar synth lines to southern rap, the fucked-up shit. Chromatics was a straight rock band. I think Adam and the band moved up to Portland. Adam was one of the only dudes that oculd put up with the work. He's always down for being in the studio.

For Johnny, was it coming from Italo? Southern rap aspect?

I think it was both. You should ask Johnny. Knowing him for so long, he was into disco. Very glam, you know. Disco-glam more than anything. they're still glammy. Johnny won't consider it Italo, it's more Euro, spacy-disco thing.

And Italo?

Italo is kind of shitty. Most Italo sucks.

It's a mixture of both. Rap production sensibility, the minimal sounds, beat and one sample, very minimal, scrap and sparse. He's into the vocal aspect.

I'll ask him about the Italo aspects. What he vibes on.

A lot of people think we're an Italo label. Personally as a DJ, I'm into straight deep disco stuff, rocky disco, rock sounding. I've never really played Italo, I don't even like Italo. I like synthy disco especially, but not Italo. If you listen to Italo, it's like really shitty girl vocals, dude vocals. It's really cheesy, Italo is Italian pop music for the most part.

Why do you think it's returning?

I don’t know. It's weird because, I really don't know. I talked to Johnny about it, a lot of the people into disco and DJs these days are ex-punk rockers, ex-indie rockers. I think indie rock is kinda boring. It's not the same it used to be, where you can buy a seven inch. You can buy a 12" by some unknown guy. There's a lot of shitty dance music being made, but there always was, I guess. More and more 12"s are coming out. There is a revival. Disco-punk is mainstream, people are really into it. who knows? I don't know how I even feel about it.

I grew up going to nightclubs, so I've always been around dance music. I never danced at nightclubs. I used to hang out next to the DJ, I just did. I was a record collector and I wanted to see what he played. I didn't give a fuck about dancing. I liked hearing records. They didn't mind me hanging in the booth. Moby would play Liquid Liquid, cuz no one had that 12". That’s how I got into it. Johnny is a production guy, he’s into producing music. Italo, as much as the music sucks, some really good Italo has the best production. Claudio Simonetti has great production. Classic Italo. A bunch of other dudes, I don't know how they got into it. They don't know anything about hardcore! You talk to Todd Terje. They came up with dance music. If you go to Norway, you'll see it. it's a pretty weird place. It's so crazy what's coming out of there. It's its own world up there.