Below is an interview I did with Beppe Loda in 2006. It was originally published on discopia.com but they have gone offline so I've reproduced it here.
Italian DJ Beppe Loda, pioneer of DJ culture and resident at Typhoon (near Brecia) from 1980 to 1987, has been searching for sounds off the beaten path since his first gig in 1973. Playing to as many as 7,000 people a night, producing in excess of 200 mix tapes and pioneering the "Italo Synth" sound with his MC1 project (just reissued on Synthonic), he has just about done it all. His "Afro" style (also called "Cosmic" or "Cosmic Afro") is as disorienting, funky and inspiring now as it was then.
I started this interview in early 2006 and relied heavily on the generous help of Fabio Falcomer for the translation—not to mention Beppe himself for taking the time to write out his detailed answers. (THANK YOU BOTH!) At some point during the process Beppe mentioned wanting to come to the US. One thing led to another and soon he was booked for PS1 Warmup and a few other gigs in New York, Chicago and Detroit. The gigs were spectacular and it was a honor and a privelege to travel, DJ with, and learn from The Man. Hopefully this interview will give you a glimpse of what I was lucky enough to experience firsthand.
Where are you from?
I was born and still reside in Manerbio, a town to the south of Brescia, near Lake Garda.
What are your origins in music? Who inspired you?
My very first record dates back to 1970 when I was 13: a 45 of "Venus" by The Shocking Blue. My mother gave it to me along with a turntable. After that, I collected more 45s, but my first LP was "Live Peace in Toronto" by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, followed by Santana "3", Ten Years After "Undead", and Rare Earth "In Concert". I can say that my musical influences were first beat music, then rock and blues (after I saw the Woodstock movie). These things, as well as my wife Patrizia, were integral to the evolution of my musical tastes.
In Italy, the landmark and thus most influential factor regarding DJing was the RAI (the italian equivalent for BBC) radio broadcast Alto Gradimento, hosted by the great Renzo Arbore and Gianni Boncompagni, along with Hit Parade by Lelio Luttazzi: these highly musically skilled forerunners made the history (and more) of the italian radio.
At Le Cupole club in Manerbio, 1974
When did you start DJing?
Long before Typhoon, my first "official" gig (I was already playing for friends) took place at the end of 1973 at the Kinky club in my hometown of Manerbio. Soon after, becoming acquainted with two well-known local DJs would be crucial. These two guys (with whom I still see keep in touch) were Mec Lamonti, who had a really roaring way to present the music, and Morris, who turned me on to soul and funk and reaquainted me with Sly and The Family Stone (a group I had caught only a glimpse of in the Woodstock movie).
As you surely know, at the time there was neither mixing nor beat matching. I had no mixer at all in fact. Just two buttons and, when you pressed one, a sort of fade-out effect would result. DJs in clubs "worked" as if they were on a radio, dealing directly with the public, playing tricks, and introducing the tracks. It was all very friendly and artless—beautiful and free! Lamonti and Morris were real masters of this type of DJing. The imptortant thing I learned from them was that being a DJ is a way to express one's personality. Later, this would lead me to what I consider the most important source of inspiration: the musical search.
What was Kinky like and what music were you playing there?
Kinky was a little club in downtown Manerbio where I got regular gigs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon and night. It was a nice place to play, filled with a lot of people who enjoyed their time there very much. The owners, Tony and Oreste, were very cute and trusted my "revolutionary" musical selections in full. I played a lot of rock, blues, funk, disco, etc.—mostly 45s. The night was split up by tempo—slow periods, where lights went down and people danced cheek to cheek, up-tempo periods, where you could dance to "boogie-boogie" and "rock 'n roll", and "shake" time when I played disco and funk. Beautiful, really beautiful...even though I was very young, that was the most beautiful time I spent in a club.
When did mixing and beat matching first come into the picture?
I started to learn how to mix in 1977/78. This new way to "arrange" music was imported from Milan (just west of Manerbio) and I have to say I wasn't thrilled at first. To me it seemed like a sort of restriction to my self-expression—as there was no longer room for performance with a microphone—but it was just a matter of method. When I felt comfortable with the new technique, I realized I was still able to express myself in the music—the queen of the communication arts!
What about Typhoon? When did it open/close?
Typhoon opened on December 19th, 1980 and closed on September 3rd, 1987.
Who were the owners and did they have a particular vision in mind?
The owners were Nevio, Mauro Losio, Mauro Co' and Bruno. When I was at Kinky it became very popular with the fashion crowd. Nevio, his wife Susy and sister Anna (who owned the Mister Folly boutique) decided to do a Kinky/Mister Folly party. It was a huge success and we became good friends (I also frequented the boutique)...very fond memories of those days! We got to talking about new parties and how we might open a new kind of club. Nevio brought in the other partners and Typhoon was opened—a product of my musical direction and Nevio's managing skills.
What did it look like?
I am enclosing some pictures of the interior. The sound system was state-of-the-art and included:
The lighting was also excellent—a Coemar system designed by the Castelgoffredo firm from Mantova—and to top it all off, a powerful laser beam.
What was the crowd like?
At the beginning, most people going to Typhoon were from Brescia/Verona/Cremona and Mantova—regulars at the other clubs where I played. (Many of these people are still friends and acquaintances that I see from time to time.) Later, when it became more well-known, people came from all over Italy, Austria, and Germany. I would describe it as a mixed audience with a 70's post-hippy look.
What hours was Typhoon open? Did you typically play from the very beginning to the very end and how did the music you played change over the course of the evening?
As the years passed the opening and closing times changed, but the structure of the night remained the same: 1 hour of warm-up music with a laser light show (by Ivan Jugy), then 3 hours of dancing. Being the resident DJ, I played from start to end (except when there was a guest). For the first hour I played a planed set of mostly slow electronic/new wave/pop/prog stuff, while the later dance set was improvised. During my last years at Typhoon, I played a lot of obscure music, stuff like Soul, Funk-Blaxploitation, Soul-Rock, Psychedelic Soul and Jazz-Fusion.
What records did you play?
After 7 years at Typhoon and approximately 200 mix tapes, suffice it to say that it would be difficult to list all the records I played. Here are some of the artists and styles I like best.
The musical selection at Typhoon evolved thanks to my insatiable lust for music. I've traveled all over Europe looking for records. From 1983 to 1985, my wife Patrizia, my friend Francis and I owned a record shop in Brescia called Señor Salsa—at that point, I was able to go through the distributors' warehouses. Señor Salsa became a point of reference for alternative music (on vinyl and tape). Many DJs, including (Baia degli Angeli and Cosmic resident DJ) Daniele Baldelli were regular customers, but again I digress...I have to say also that our selection improved greatly thanks to all the DJs who played at our parties. Those were the days too...just beautiful days.
It would be easy to describe some of your tapes as druggy or psychedelic. Were drugs a big part of the scene at Typhoon?
Not so much. The owners also owned other important companies, therefore the club was carefully watched by the authorities. Unlike other clubs that were shut down due to illegal drug use, Typhoon was eventually closed for public order concerns. At the September 1987 finale there were almost 10,000 people who couldn't get in and poured out into the streets of Gambara (a town with a population of 4,000). Just imagine! Well...I won't deny the occasional spliff went around.
What years did you play there and how often?
I started to play at Typhoon even before the opening, while it was transitioning from a cinema to club. (I even consulted on the construction and sound system—for instance the DJ booth was tailored to my height.)
At the beginning I played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then the club was only open on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The last Sunday of each month would be a special party, from 3pm to 1am. It was a kind of sacred gathering with people coming from all over (2-3,000 people wandering around this same small town of Gambara, waiting for someone to leave so they could go in!).
I was the resident DJ there from the very beginning until the closing of the club, with the exception of late 1984/early 1985, when I played at Cosmic, then at a club called Chicago and then one called Futura. By March 1985 though, I was back at Typhoon.
My short residence at Cosmic would be crucial to what people now call Cosmic music. It was at that time that Baldelli's electronic style melded with my own Afro style—a term I came up with before Typhoon while playing at Le Cupole in Manerbio.
Afro was meant as a sort of container for the potpourri of different music other DJs and I played—into which you could throw anything outside the mainstream. For example, I would mix a minimal track a-la Philip Glass into a Zaka Percussion track, or a Steve Reich track into an African chant, or Vangelis' Hypothesis over a drum track, or even Richard Wahnfried mixed into the Arpadys. Many DJs adopted this style and it delights me to no end, because it shows that my ideas about DJing and music spread and were understood.
By 1982 this style had broken out at Typhoon thanks to my Afro tape series and the first Afro gathering (my idea, sponsored by Typhoon). Myself, DJs Ebreo, TBC (AKA Claudio Tosi Brandi) and Fari played to 7,000 people at the stadium in Gambara—those were the golden years indeed!
The Afro Sound
Where did the term Afro originate? It's easy to understand that Cosmic refers to the music played at Cosmic, but with Afro there is no such reference point. Out of context, one might assume it means African music.
In Italy, until 1982, people used to define music by the club's name: Typhoon sound (Beppe Loda), Les Pois sound (Daniele Mix), Chicago sound (Ebreo, Spranga and Fari), Cosmic sound (Daniele Baldelli and TBC), Les Cigales sound (Meo, Rubens, Daniele Mix and Joele), Arena sound (DJ Lollo), and so on. There were only a few of these clubs, so it was unavoidable that some records were played by all of us. Those tracks were our hits. Some were "discovered" by one DJ or another, but we all played them. Outside of those commonalities, each of us would lean more in one direction: towards electronic music, jazz, funk, Brazilian music, African music, reggae, etc. No one had yet defined what we were doing as a group though.
I traveled a lot to buy records and developed an interest in African/tribal music (bear in mind that during the 80's there was no such culture in Italy, so the music was very difficult to find). I was very impressed by a mixed (European/African) group of percussionists I saw in Amsterdam (photo below at left). I also noticed the "Afro" hair salons in the Pigalle neighborhood of Paris. Many of us loved and played a lot of afrobeat (Fela, Dibango, Olatunji) and I realized, when you think about it, almost all the music we were playing had African roots. People kept asking me, What do you call this melting pot of music? I connected the dots and my Afro series of mix tapes was born.
So you see, no one DJ can claim to be the originator of the Afro style. It is the result of the ideas and efforts of a group of DJs. I can only claim to have contributed my part and a general term to define it. My new style of DJing was born at Le Cupole in 1979 and, yes, it was a mix of different styles, but it was not the Afro style as a whole.
Unfortunately, the Le Cupole 1/79 mix tape (my first) was badly damaged during a flood in 1992. Someday I will try to restore it. Anyway, it has a lot of funky music on it: Afro-disco, percussion, fusion—Instant Funk, Machine, War, Herbie Hancock, Black Soul, Johnny Wakelin "In Zaire", Candido "Jingo", etc. Ah, and one mix of two records that could be considered musically opposite (a technique I still use): "Jerky Rhythm" by Erotic Drum Band into "Computer Game" by Yellow Magic Orchestra (which, by the way, was a bit of an anthem for me and my friends who did karate).
Back to the music...I think the term Cosmic music (often used outside of Italy) is not the most accurate way to define the melange of electronic/new wave/prog/pop that was very popular here in the 80's (and which I played a lot at Cosmic and during the first hour of my sets).
Much later, during the mid-90's, there was the Cosmic music series of parties by a group of Austrian, Italian and German DJs. They described the parties as Afro, but, while their style comes from the original Afro DJs, there's not much of the original concept left—but then I guess I'm from the old school.
Cosmic, Baia degli Angeli, etc.
How was your experience at Cosmic different than Typhoon?
In September 1984 there were several changes on Saturday nights: I became resident at Cosmic along with Baldelli and TBC (AKA Claudio Tosi Brandi who was so popular, he became a kind of icon of the club—as I had with Typhoon). Ebreo, Fari and Rudy were residents at Typhoon and many other DJs played one-off parties at all these clubs.
My experience at Cosmic was very interesting but short: after about three months the club was shut down by the police (perhaps this was due to neighboring hotels complaints, as the club was in Lazise on the shores of Lake Garda). As far as the music, it was normal for me to start with some electronic music and end with afrobeat or jazz, meandering through different genres. Sometimes the second part of the night was devoted to African rhythms, and the first was a mix of electro/new wave/prog/pop. That was also when I started to play more "world music"—Andean, Brazilian, Asian and African—forming a unique crossover between ethno-rhythms and electronic sounds...ah, and Herbie Hancock, who had some early breakbeat tracks flavored with African instruments (like the Sanza-cora). Other than that, there was plenty of prog (Andy Summers), reggae, dub, etc. This type of thing can be heard on my BL series of tapes which I started around this time.
So all these musical elements, mixed with the new wave/electro stuff Baldelli often played, formed what later became known as Cosmic music or New Afro. Baldelli's style was more electro/new wave, while mine included many other genres. TBC was a really spectacular performer and the music faded to the background for him. The nights at Cosmic with Baldelli and TBC were highly entertaining and innovative, but for me, nothing can compare to those at Typhoon.
Going back a bit here, in interviews Daniele Baldelli speaks of the club Baia degli Angeli opening in 1974 and two Americans DJs Bob and Tom who played the latest American records six months before they were available in Italy—with as-yet-unseen mixing skills. How aware were you of what was going on there?
To understand this, you must look at a map. Manerbio is close to Milan so all the latest trends came from there. People were used to going to clubs to see the hotshot model dancing, or listen to this or that famous American, English or French DJ. In 1973 the first record importers established themselves there and finding those records became much less difficult. I was very fortunate because one of those import pioneers was my insurance agent's brother, Mr. Bonandrini (now a world renown jazz producer).
The first time I heard of Bob and Tom was in 1981 when I met Mozart (AKA Claudio Rispoli who, along with Baldelli, replaced Bob and Tom in 1976). I had asked Nevio to invite him to play at Typhoon because some friends who vacationed in Riccione had gone to Baia degli Angeli and were very enthusiastic.
There is no question that Mozart and the Baia degli Angeli club were at the forefront of Italian club culture, but my references were others. Even if knowing Mozart resulted in a real improvement to my way of DJing, the Typhoon/Loda affaire was a completely different and innovative case.
What other guests played at Typhoon? Are there any that stand out in your memory?
Guests played mostly on Sundays and at the aforementioned gatherings. I played on Saturdays, except when there was a special event, to which Nevio invited other DJs. They were always completely free to express their creativity, thanks to the club layout and the competent public who attended. From the closing of Cosmic and Chicago until 1987, Typhoon was practically the only big name club left. During this period, many DJs played there in turns. From 1983 to 1985 I played with a dear friend of mine, the great DJ Claus (I was a fan of Ebreo and Mozart too).
Were you able to follow much of what DJs outside of Italy were doing in the 70's and 80's—in the UK, USA, Ibiza, or Germany for example?
I would have loved to have met American or English DJs (I believe there is always something to learn) but unfortunately i did not.
In Ibiza there were several Italian DJs, and I've also encountered many German DJs. I recently met two young DJs from Rotterdam, Tako and Loude at a party held by DJ Alex Mohl. It was a pleasant surprise as they introduced me to a kind of new school electro/disco/space sound. Nice! An excellent example of what I mean by "there's always something new to learn."
Can you speak about the Afro style spreading outside of Italy?
In Austria, the forerunners of Afro music were Navajo and Enne, who were regulars at Typhoon and Cosmic. Navajo started throwing parties in Innsbruck and North Tirol with many Italian DJs as guests. (If memory serves, I was the first Italian DJ to play there.) Later, the musical phenomenon would wander around Bavaria in Germany, especially Munich and Augsburg. Here are some words by Enne himself about this:
How much do/did you travel to DJ and where?
I've been traveling a lot in Italy and abroad in recent years—both to DJ and to buy records. In July of 2006 I was invited to play in Stockholm (on the roof of the cultural centre building!) by the Rymd-Discko crew—a gorgeous 5 hour party of 70's-80's electronica. People loved it. I was also invited to play in New York, Chicago, and Detroit by this quite curious American DJ...Jeremy Campbell! My baptism of fire will take place on August 19th at PS1 Warm Up—I'm so delighted! I'd Also like to thank Jason/DJ Spun from PS1 and Rong Music for this great opportunity.
After Typhoon and Now
Where did you play after Typhoon? In the 90's? More recently?
After Typhoon closed, I played at various Italian clubs—mainly around Bergamo, Trento, Venice and Padua. Some of them still exist, but the music is more New Afro. During the 90's I often traveled to Reggio Emilia (my second homeland) to play soul, funk and Afro at Marabu, one of the oldest clubs in Italy. Playing to 2 to 3,000 musically well-trained dancers was always great! James Brown, Earth Wind and Fire, Booker T, Jimmy Castor, Bohannon, African Djole, Temptations, Edwin Starr, Undsputed Truth...I really enjoyed those nights! The most obvious request I ever got was for the Incredible Bongo Band! Just a great, great vibe and great people.
How often do you play today? Is there anywhere you play regularly?
Nowadays I play often in Italy, but I'm far from the New Afro or Cosmic music (as many Austrians and Germans call it these days). Sometimes I play along with a DJ from Bergamo, Mauri, who's deep into the kind of Afro that mixes in a lot of electronic elements—a high quality sound. In recent years though, my taste for the funk/soul/disco of my roots has returned. I'm still up and down Europe playing Electronic stuff, but not 6 out of 7 days like I once was.
I've been to Vienna and Linz recently, playing Soul and Funk 45s and digging with with DJs Scott and Enne. It took me back to the days when I used to play all those hard-to-find 45s and LPs—so beautiful.
I am without a residency at the moment but I hope have one again. It really makes me feel like a king! My musical choices are more inspired and, most importantly, I build a strong relationship with the crowd. If you're a mobile DJ who plays at many clubs it's easy to start thinking of what you do as a job. You're inclined to play more "hits" instead of what you really feel, then you end up asking yourself what it would have been like if you had played different songs in a different order, etc...okay, one night gigs are not so bad, but it's totally different from a residency, where you love the people and they love your music.
Productions and Remixes
What production/remix/re-edit projects have you been involved in and what do you have planned for the future?
With Francesco Boscolo (a member of the prog group Egotrya) I have the Memory Control One project, a duo inspired by the kind of music known as "Italo Synth". I also produced a cover of Sixteen Tons with the band The F 50s introducing Paul and A. Ensamble. During the 90's I did a lot of remixes (almost 60, of which 30 have been released)—many of them in the Typhoon Music Machine series. I've just finished 2 compilations: one is electro/new wave flavoured (to be released on Synthonic) and the other is electronic tracks by German artists (to be released on Compost). In addition to those, there are the Elettronica Meccanica records planned for release on Gomma. And last but not least, I'm working on a remix of a New Italo track by an artist from New York, Professor Genius.
Can you give some more background on MC1?
I will let Francesco speak to that.
To me, Francesco Boscolo is one of the best electronic musicians. He has an unmistakable style and plays many of the song's parts by hand. Our first 12", Basic, from 1983, was recently re-released on Paolo Scotti's Synthonic label. We have since finished the 2nd 12" (started in 1985) and it should be out shortly. We are also working on other unfinished tracks to complete the album (all at the Uhrwald Orange recording studio in Dusseldorf), and on a never before released track by Egotrya which is really nice.
Reissue of the MC1 Basic 12" (left) and Loda & Boscolo at Electric Garden studios (right)
What about the Typhoon Music Machine?
In the mid 90's, DJ Fred (from Germany) asked me if I would like to remix some of the tracks I played in the 80's. I agreed, provided that the project would be open to any DJ or musician wanted to contribute. Fred called it Typhoon Music Machine. We released 5 volumes in collaboration with Italian, Austrian and German DJs—and have material for three more. I also did a few remixes of Afro-Brazilian music for a project called Typhoon Afro Machine and another, Typhoon Celtic Machine, which focused on Celtic music. We are currently working on 5 more in the Typhoon Music Machine series. The first 5 volumes have been recently re-issued in Japan by request of DJ Dr. Nishimura (Cisco Records).
And the Elettronica Meccanica records, are these compilations? It was a series of tapes first right?
The first Elettronica Meccanica 12" is almost finished and contains new tracks, along with the remix of the opening track of tape 22/86 in the BL series, called Elettronica Meccanica. This tape was a seguey into the Elettronica Meccanica series, a culmination of the sound which had appeared as "subliminal messages" in the Dance and BL series tapes.
Many American DJs of the disco era (Larry Levan, Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, etc.) were known for making edits and remixes with razors and reel-to-reel tapes, then playing those tapes directly in the club. Did you ever do anything like this?
Yes, I did, and others too—especially some DJs in the Milan area.
Aside from mixing, were there other ways you "embellished" the music (samples, percussion, effects, extending a song with two copies of the record, etc.)?
I started my collaboration with some recording studios very early. There I learned many tricks to manipulate sound and I can assure you I got up to all sorts of mischief behind the decks. At the time there were no samplers, so I would literally insert bits of a record into the one that was playing, quickly cutting in and out with the fader. I also often used reel-to-reel machines to make edits, or emulate mixing on three decks...or even to add some echo/delay effects. Sometimes I played a record on the left channel and another one on the right, splitting the dancefloor in two, then inverting the records. I remember also making a sort of "sonic error" by pulling the vinyl back and forth and getting an effect that later came to be called scratching. I loved playing with the vocal sections of different records too. These tricks often also required drastically changing the bpm. In the end the result was that my DJ sets were very unique. It was always a challenge, especially playing live with everyone staring at you, but I always had great fun with it.
What about drastically speeding up and slowing down records? Playing 45s at 33 and vice versa seems to have been relatively common for you guys.
At the time it was normal for Afro DJs to slow down records. When more new wave/pop/electronic music began to be played, we did the opposite. Generally I prefer to play a track at the original speed, but some electronic records sound better sped up.
Were your tapes recorded live in the club? At home? Do you have an idea how many copies were sold?
Until 1983 they were strictly live in the club, after that some of both. I would guess in the hundreds of thousands. I sold many copies, which were copied again and again and sold accross Italy in record shops, used-clothing shops and local markets. At the time it was what you Americans would call a booming business and you could find tapes of mine and other DJs literally everywhere.
This huge success brought some problems though. The booth at Typhoon allowed people to see the DJ at work and the records being played. Nothing wrong with that, but eventually the note-takers arrived, writing down the titles of all the songs. Soon after, "my" songs could be easily found (as originals or bootlegs) in the record shops, at the market stalls, on other DJs' tapes, on the radio, etc. I would have taken great satisfaction in this, but it was bad for Typhoon. Since the club was off the beaten path, it needed to remain a unique musical point of reference (i.e. the music had to be mostly exclusive) to ensure people would travel there. For me, the resident DJ with a reputation of continuous innovation, this made things difficult.
In addition, the way I put together a mix was to play it live in front of a crowd, refining the sequence each time, then eventually recording it. This was time-consuming and sometimes other DJs were playing the records before I was able to put them to tape. (Some records that only I owned were on heavy rotation for a year before I put them in a mix.) To avoid all this, in the middle of the 1983 I started covering the titles with stickers that Nevio provided for me. If I was asked nicely though, I was always happy to tell someone more about the music I played!
The Musical Search
You spoke before about importance the musical search. Can you elaborate on what it is for you and how you have approached it? How much has that changed for you over the years with the increased ease of communication and the internet/global market?
For a DJ like me who has been playing against the grain of popular music all his life, the musical search means everything. Finding alternative music is easy, but finding good alternative music that appeals to people not so obvious. Though the internet has become a very important resource, the way I find "my music" has remained essentially the same over the years: travelling and digging—and on that subject we could talk endlessly!
Can you speak about Italo Disco? There isn't much of it in your mixes, though it was being produced on a large scale at the time.
Italo Disco is like any other genre. There are some good productions and plenty of crap. You can find hidden gems like Macho, Peter Jaques Band and Revanche (all produced by Mauro Malavasi), Claudio Simonetti's Easy Going (named after the first club opened in Milan), Celso Valli, Tantra, etc. Most of it was produced in northern Italy (with Milan at the center) and the producers, artists, DJs and distributors all knew each other. I took part in many sessions as a consultant (Klein & MBO, B.B. & Band, etc.), and many of those producers are still friends of mine.
Photos generously provided by Beppe and vintage flyer scans by Alex from Mix Archives. (All images of Typhoon Copyright © Typhoon. All rights reserved.)
1 - at Le Cupole
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