Various - Studiolo: The '90s Cosmic Afro Era

  • Offbeat cuts from cosmic disco's second wave.
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  • The cosmic and Afro scenes emerged in Northern Italy through the late '70s and '80s. Daniele Baldelli and Claudio "Mozart" Rispoli helped cultivate a sound in the aftermath of disco's peak that was trippy by design. It rolled at slower tempos across kosmische, obscure funk, psychedelic rock and bargain-bin synth pop. The duo began DJing together in the mid-'70s with a residency at Italy's Baia Degli Angeli club, before Baldelli moved on to Cosmic, a club at Lake Garda that gave Baldelli's style its name. Beppe Loda was taking a similar approach to mixing records in his hometown, Manerbio, before landing a key residency at Typhoon, creating what he coined the "Afro" sound. Taken together, these styles are now referred to as either "Afro cosmic" or "cosmic disco." This new compilation from Antinote and Dizonord, compiled by Ygal Ohayon, surveys the early '90s, well after the cosmic Afro sound's peak years, by which time Austrian and German holidaymakers, inspired by these wrong-speed curveballs, fostered likeminded scenes in Innsbruck and Munich. It's a deep, undulating sound that ran alongside the rise of trance, which is unsurprising given the genres' respective roots. The music journalist and DJ Dave Mothersole's piece on the origins of Goa trance echoes what was happening in the Afro cosmic scene in the '80s—DJs mining synth pop B-sides and freaky dub mixes with a mystical aura. The tracks on Studiolo are somewhat obscure. Take DJ Fred, DJ Otti & Jay Pee's 96 BPM thumper "Indien Summer," originally released in 1994 and itself a cover of Max Werner's 1981 ethno-pop oddity "Indian Summer." The original was a cosmic disco classic played at 45 RPM instead of 33, but here the Munich production team pitched it up even further. The chipmunk vocals are an inevitable side effect but were also intrinsic to the cosmic method, as Baldelli has explained. The synthetic didgeridoo drone, brash horns and choppy vocal stutters aren't tasteful, but there's also something charming about their disregard for sophistication. This style of club music is riddled with cheesy bits—lots of pan pipes above all else—but the best tracks on Studiolo, like Fred and Boran DJ's "Cosmic Patch (Lazy'gal Edit)," transcend these pitfalls. Mamukata's melancholic "Tantawina" is even more intoxicating, with its swirling vocals, pulsing arpeggios and patient, dreamy pads. It's trance in all but name, the primary difference being an element of restraint that secures the music's hypnotic effect. Baldelli features on Virtual Roots' "Sonar (Virtual Version)," a 1993 track that demonstrates how to go maximal while still being seductive. Some devotees of cosmic disco have sneered at the sound's second wave. Bill Brewster once said that "the modern version of Afro sound is bloody awful. Terrible world music dressed in drippy hippy nonsense." One could point to "Indien Summer" as an example of this, or the lead on Zendy's 1991 wobbler "Zymotic (Plastic Version)," which teeters on the edge of silliness. Stefan Egger's schlocky "Cosmic Esmeralda," meanwhile, is simply naff. Tracks like these may bemuse. But at its best, the music here is capable of offering spellbinding dance floor experiences.
  • Tracklist
      01. Fred DJ & Boran DJ - Cosmic Patch (Lazy'gal Edit) 02. African Project - Ethno Beat (Afro Version) 03. Mamukata - Tantawina 04. Zendy - Zymotic (Plastic Version) 05. Claudio Diva - Funky Nephos 06. DJ Fred, DJ Otti & Jay Pee - Indian Summer 07. DJ Stefan Egger - Cosmic Esmerelda 08. Virtual Roots - Sonar (Virtual Version) (Ygal Ohayon Low Gravity Edit)