Not all of your heroes died young and left a corpse handsome enough to sell t-shirts twenty years later. Some of your heroes just had bills to pay.
Hardly anyone stays on top in any form of pop music for more than a few years, but the fate of the generation of ’83 that brought the Italo Disco sound to the world seems especially depressing. The music was innovative – yet it foreshadowed House in how the music industry (and even some of its creators) regarded it as totally disposable. After the crash, many of the Italo pioneers fled to the commercial music industry, making saccharine pop that was in so many ways nearly the exact opposite of Italo. Few of them have ever really gotten their due – not for the merits of their “disposable” records, nor the music those records inspired half a world away.
Alexander Robotnick on the other hand never stopped working, and after a hiatus some thirty years later he’s still producing good electronic music in the vein (if not the precise style) he helped pioneer. Robotnick has carved out an extraordinary space for himself in history, though I’m not sure how many people are aware of how unique it is.
Robotnick will probably always be known for Problemes D’Amour, but Vintage Robotnick takes you on a fascinating journey through some of the lesser-known highlights of Robotnick’s early dance music career. A Record Store Day exclusive, this edition from Seattle-based reissue house Medical Records is a wonderful primer of his out-of-print and sometimes poorly distributed Italo and synth-based catalog, most of which was recorded and released between 1982 and 1985.
The collection opens with the 8:30 extended mix of Gina and the Flexix’s “I Wanna Believe”, which appears on most lists of Italo classics. From a distance of two decades, it’s amazing how close this track in particular parallels the commercial New Wave that would wash over the United States a few years later – from the minimal instrumentation to the emphasis on surface sheen and texture over virtuosity, of vocals more important for how they sound than what they say. As with many of these tracks, the drums, guitars and synths have all wormed their way into modern electronic music, from samples or samples-of-samples.
A deep virtuosity does shine through in the more baldly synth-based tracks – “Les Grands Voyages de L’Amour” and the shlock robot boogie of “The Vampir”. An interesting point can be made with the final track on the compilation, “Minore Terzo”, which is from volume 4 of Robotnick’s Archive, his mp3 series released throughout 2012. Though I suspect some of his fans (and certainly fans of a Record Store Day release like this one) are dismayed by it, Robotnick is just as content with digital media as with vinyl. Understandable for a “cult” artist from the past, rapid, reliable and mostly free distribution is a fairly immediate concern for him, though it takes nothing away from the beauty of physical collections like this one.