Cast your mind back to the parties in 90s Rimini, or the Tunnel Club or Magazzini Generali in Milan. Cruising in your tiny Fiat hire, drenched in that balmy Mediterranean vibe of a scene and the best- looking Italian house and funk party you’d ever experienced! But Italy has had a long relationship with funk and soul well before the 90s, that stemmed from American R&B artists appealing to Italian audiences way back in the 60s. In 70s Italy the Umbria Jazz Festival opened, at the same time the soul-funk sound of Napoli Centrale was directly influenced by the nearby American bases. Later came Italo Disco which had global success, and when Italy’s musical pioneers came up with the hybrid of bass over melodies, Italian Funk was born.
Following the success of the first volume in 2019, Italo Funk curators, Eli Soul Clap and Lele Sacchi have since been hard at work compiling the much anticipated second volume dedicated to Italian cultural icon, Claudio Coccoluto who we sadly lost earlier this year.
The continuation of the Italo Funk Story takes us on yet another trip through Italy. From ‘Venaria’, a little village just outside of Turin where Stump Valley offer a blissful taste of the regions deep house flavours. To Puglia, where Rollover DJs present ‘Buonasera’, a slow building, bucolic jam. Rocco Universal’s ‘Somewhere Else’ tips it’s hat to Detroit, but of course with a healthy touch of 80s Italo. DJ Rocca sweeps us away to Reggio Emilia and serenades us with his jazz flute on ‘Don’t Be Worried’ only to join us again under his collaborative project with Capofortuna as Roccacapofortuna on the peak time bomb ‘Potage’. Capofortuna; the duo of DJ Rame & Funk Rimini, delivers festival bound heat, while Funk Rimini takes us on a vivacious visit that balmy coast of the Adriatic Sea. Lele Sacchi & Brioski pick us up and drops us in Milano for a taste of both the old, and nu-school combined.
To Claudio’s legacy, and the great artists of Italy.
Interview with Lele Sacchi
You’ve been the scene in Italy for quite some years now. How is Milan nightlife at the moment?
Well, it has been affected by the virus lockdowns for nearly 2 years. Only a handful of very limited events during the months of strictly ’no dancing’, but now for a little bit more than a month we are back at it even if only at 50% capacity. I feel it was a really healthy scene before covid and I see great potentials now because there is a new wave of 20 years old who missed real underground clubbing for nearly 2 years, and they are really up for it. I also noticed that it’s a generation that grew up loving trap and other urban sounds, but they now feel like it’s something from their past and they are throwing themselves into house music. It feels refreshing and good. It reminds me a little bit of when a whole new generation came into the scene in the mid-00’s with the minimal and electro boom…..Being around for a long time makes me realize how everything is a circle and that house and techno eventually are very primal forms of music, they can go up and down in trends, but they will never disappear….
Rewind a few years.. You had a radio show when you were just 15. What was the station and What kind of beats were you playing?
It was a local FM in the town where I was born, Pavia, a university town just half hour outside Milan. My older brother was doing sports there, so I was in the studios all the time checking the records and the magazines and eventually they gave me a night spot that nobody cared of…..I had learned how to do it by watching the older guys and I had the guts to just throw myself into it! I was probably crap, but I was playing everything, very alternative, mostly indie, and post-punk like Husker Du and Fugazi or Madchester things, Mondays and Charlatans or Primal Scream. I also played stuff like KLF and Orbital, early Warp and R&S which I loved and of course rap. Ah and shoegazing like Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine. In that period, it was cool to listen to everything, so much shit was going on….people were calling in saying it was great to listen to some decent music on the radio! Maybe only a few hundreds were tuned in, but those few phone calls gave me the strength of believing that if you were doing things you believe in, you will always find a crowd.
Your keen interest in music led you to write for a magazine in your later teens. Who were you writing for? How did you get this gig so young?
It was a magazine that is still around called Rumore. For years it was the referential monthly mag for cutting edge music. Something like a monthly NME or Melody Maker for Italy. I was very lucky, it just happened that the editor was hanging at the same record store I was spending most of my afternoons at, if not every single one. I had the job of of following him all the time so when I was at my last year of high school, and since I was writing decently, he was paying me to correct the drafts of other people’s articles. (Some guys couldn’t write at all hahaha). When I was 19 I was going to a Primal Scream live show and asked him if I could cover it. That was it, from then on they had me as a collaborator. I quit early in 1999 as my thing was to be more central in the world of music, writing about it was my way to have a foot in. I still enjoy it once or twice a year when I get asked again by magazines.
Your first play was at Tunnel in 90s Milan. Do you remember that first night?
I don’t have clear memories of the actual first night I played records there, it was 1995 and for sure it was during the opening week of the venue…..I do remember very well the first night I promoted there the following season in 1996 because me and my partner Paine (former Dj Massive) had invited Derek Dahlarge for a Wall Of Sound night (we loved UK breakbeats!) for what was a new night on Thursday dedicated to new sounds. At 11.30pm nobody was there and I hid myself backstage nearly in tears getting drunk while my pal was Djing. When I came out one hour later the club was packed with 500 people on a Thursday! Another sliding doors situation….life is full of them
You have walked a long path in the industry. What was your role at Black & White? there?
At the beginning White & Black was an independent record distribution and wholesale company covering only a few local areas. They were doing well so they opened a big warehouse in Milan to go national and get exclusive products and hired a bunch of people. That’s when I started, and I was there to sign exclusive Italian distribution deals of international electronic music. I did get half of the drum’n’bass market with a few indie chart hits (EZ Rollers and others), but also a lot of other cool deep stuff like Versatile records and French Touch things, experimental shit like LO Recordings and Fat Cat and a lot of the ‘chill out’ compilations which were selling loads back then. Plus, we were wholesaling import 12”s twice a week from UK and US so I laid my hands basically on every record I wanted. Because all the other independent distributors were in the same mile in the Mecenate area in Milan, we were exchanging records like crazy!
Can you highlight a few of your most significant release over the years?
Well since I never released a proper artist album I’d go for my first mix compilation, ’Next Tribes of House Music’, from the year 2000 because without any expectations it sold quite well, and it had some very notable reviews like record of the week on Mixmag.
Then I have to mention a couple of singles as Boogie Drama (which was me and Sandiego), for sure Stalker’s Groove (Word And Sound, 2004) it was widely played out and included in a lot of comps and John Tejada, who I loved, remixed it.
The Magnetic Shore EP from 2009 on Systematic, 3 different songs, all very solid. I am very attached to Sacchi and Sandiego’s Love Riot single because it came out on 2020 Vision in 2005 and I was a huge fan of Ralph Lawson’s label, I was playing everything from them so it’s an honour to be part of the catalogue.
From the most recent years I am proud of all the collabs I did with my pals Soul Clap, for having had a release as remixer on !K7 and a single on Nervous (same reason as 2020, so proud of being part of those legendary catalogues), of having remixed officially such a huge song as the Gomorra series TV theme (eventually out on Crosstown Rebels) and I still play out a lot my single New Soul Sensation from 2019 on Snatch!
Ah and the collab single with the voice and guitar from Blonde Redhead (released on rebirth records) because it reminds me of my early indie backgrounds.
Magazzini Generali is world famous, and you’ve had a long residency there. What is so special about this spot?
Magazzini is one those venues where every single Italian into music at one point or the other has set a foot in. It opened in 1995 with that 90’s attitude of having a big stage good for live show and a mixed dancefloor area where you could have club nights or other types of exhibitions. It was a huge industrial loft style architecture that over the years has been restored and lost a bit of that early raw magic. When I took over residency and artistic direction of the Fridays (Jetlag club night in 2000), those nights had a big gay and fashion industry crowd, but always mixed with a younger cutting-edge vibe that over the years took more and more space as the music developed. I think the mix of people made it special and also the fact that it was very big, and I could invite who I wanted since it was always packed for years. We had the Chemical Brothers, we had the Basement Jaxx , but we could also have underground cults like D’Julz or Weatherall and be packed. So, the word spread around fast all over Europe and everyone wanted to come and play. I kept being there through different changes until 2012, but I have to say that from 2000 to 2008 it was something special, very unique
You’ve played in a lot of great venues around the world. Is it true you once played at a party for Madonna?
Yes it’s true but actually Madonna didn’t show up! It was the official afterparty of the Milan date of the Drowned World tour and it was held in a room inside the Forum sports arena where the show was. All the musicians and dancers from the show showed up at some point so I was quite tense thinking that she might have appeared and came to the booth to ask a tune or something….didn’t happen lol
Your early love of radio has continued with your regular spot-on National radio. What’s the show format? What do you play?
It’s ten years now that I’m continuously on air on RAI, Italy’s state broadcaster. I had 8 editions of In The Mix on Radio2 every weekend (with the annual august break), sometimes Friday and Saturdays, sometimes Saturdays and Sundays. It started as a sort of Essential Mix from BBC, new music, interviews, news from the scene and a guest mix, then depending on the length sometimes we didn’t have guests. In the past two years I crossed over to Radio1 where they revived Stereonotte, the late-night show about quality music that started in the early 80’s. I’m really flattered of being part of this legacy. It’s a different style of radio, very late night with a theme to every show to tell a story. Still electronic music and a lot of news but also more of a podcast vibe with some storytelling.
Having been so prolific on the dance scene in Milan, you must have played a big part in the growth of the scene. Who better to work on the curation of the Italo Funk series. How do you first hook up with Soul Clap?
I had a couple of their re-edits and loved what their partners in crime Wolf+Lamb were doing with the first releases of that label. My actual agent and great friend and then SC agent (Goli) told me that I have to book them at Tunnel (we are talking about Tunnel mk2, when I went back after 2009) and let them play all night long, that I wouldn’t have regret it and they would kill it! I trusted her. I think it was 2010 or 2011 and you know what? I was away playing that night! LOL
Then they became best friends from the scene but the very first time I wasn’t there! They were so successful that we booked them again for years at Tunnel and at Elita festival and then afterwards at other parties and eventually at Apollo. They are much loved here. We did develop a special friendship and we shared booths in other venues in Italy and US as well.
I am picturing you and the guy’s late night after a gig in Milan and the idea comes to you. Is this how it was born?
Italo Funk is an idea from ELI since at some point he realised he had many friends here and that he liked a lot of the productions coming from Italy on top of the lifestyle and the good time! So, I told him that I would have helped him out to hook up with some producers he might not have been in touch or suggest some others. That was it. It took a while; we are all quite busy but hey here we are with volume 2!
Give us a little insight into the history of the sound of Italo Funk. Where and when did the sound begin? Tell us what the concept is behind the project?
We all share this vision that Funk is an attitude more than anything. If you listen to volume 1 and now this one, you can easily find out that the common points are not a certain bpm or beat style or melody. It’s more about a quality deep dance electronic music that has a coolness to it, no? I mean funk is funk…..Let’s say that you had Italo Disco and Italo House, but Italo Funk is more free form and eclectic.
Even before you hear the music the art conjures warm nostalgic feelings of precious family times when we were young. Is that about right?
The artwork strikes the chords of melancholia in a way, yes it’s true. But I believe it’s the way to show good feelings, good vibes, summer as we remember summer as kids: the best thing ever!
Liner notes on an album are always a joy for the discerning. Must have been a lot of fun to write.
This time it had a sour side to it because I had to write about Claudio on top of the other producers who are mostly very good friends of mine. So, some sadness was there when I wrote them
Italo Funk Vol. 2 is dedicated to Claudio Coccoluto. How important has he been to you?
He has been a guiding light and a friend. A mentor and a person you have a laugh with, and you admire with no envy because you can only admit he’s a better Dj than you! I think so many people can say the same about Coccoluto, he was some sort of the president of Italian DJs by merit, by miles….And he took his role seriously, representing all of us without selling out as an artist. He was from the generation before mine and when we got to know each other he supported me a lot even if it’s not given, just because he wanted….
It has to be said ‘Slow Down Rock’ is a killer! Really enjoying Rollover Milano’s cut and Brioski. Rocco Universal makes an impressive debut on the comp. Do you have a particular fave?
I can’t say or I will have to fight with friends! LOL
Are there plans for Volume 3?
Of course! And also plans to have Italo Funk as a proper label, it will happen soon! May the funk (Italo) be with you
Artist: Funk Rimini
Title: King Of Style
Label: Soul Clap Records
Release Date: 2021-12-10
Turn it up & enjoy!