Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Piers Martin and London's Cocadisco

IFM, Jul 20, 2009

It's hard not to do a double-take when Piers Martin says that Italo is "just the best pop music--it's magical!"

Not that he's wrong--he isn't. It's just that he's so sincere.

Most people, at least the sorts that are nerdy enough to care, would define Italo as dance music from Italy in the late '70s and early '80s. To Martin, Italo is much more. It's "a state of mind...a kind of magic...It's freedom and naivete and melody. It's just the best music."

For the last seven years Martin, 34, has been an associate editor at Vice, a magazine that is more associated with un-PC stances on everything from legwarmers to AIDS than the sort of unbridled enthusiasm that Martin expresses. He's also the manager of Heartbreak, the London-based band that's been arousing excitement thanks in large part to their regular appearances at London's most popular italo/electro/disco night, Cocadisco, which Martin runs with Rodaidh McDonald.

Martin studied journalism in university and in 1997 began working as a music journalist for publications including NME and The Face. He was known for his early championing of the Chicks on Speed and the genre that dare not speak its name, electroclash, which Chicks on Speed Member Alex Murray-Leslie referred to in a 2002 tour diary as "Piers Martin pop."

Martin became interested in Italo in 2001, but traces his love affair with the Italian music to his childhood when he lived in Italy between 1981 and 1984. "It must have gotten into my blood somehow," he says. "I got obsessed with Italo because it's the perfect music." "The perfect music" is an expression that Martin repeats ardently whenever discussing Italo, and you can almost see the cartoon hearts floating over his head.

In 2003 Martin and McDonald started the Cocadisco night, named after the Parallax Corporation's album. Martin asked I-f--who was one half of the Parallax Corporation, along with Intergalactic Gary--if he minded if they used the name Cocadisco, and I-f gave permission on one condition: that Martin let him play at the night. Since then, I-f's manned the decks at two of the more memorable Cocadiscos, including the Valentine's fiesta at Corsica Studios. Other notable guests have included David Vunk, DJ Benetti, Chris Cunningham, Marco Passarani, Legowelt, Luke Eargoggle and DMX Krew. "We allow them to play the fruitier side of their record collection that they might not be able to play elsewhere," Martin explains.

That might have been true a few years ago, but the sound that Martin loves is now all over London. "The Internet has exploded everything. Records that used to be obscure, people want to hear them now," Martin says. He seems frustrated when I pessimistically suggest that the increased popularity might hinder his own record collecting. "The obsessive Italo collector freaks just want to horde everything. I can see from a collector point of view that they want to keep it secret and then be the one to turn people on to it and get a rush off of that. But it's just music. It's not something that can be owned like that."

Although Martin himself DJs, he doesn't take it too seriously. "I've never knowingly mixed a record," he says. "I don't know how to do it. I have turntables and a mixer; I have to set it up and get on with it. I just need someone to teach me." He particularly enjoys the contrast between the music, which he describes as "fruity," and the crowd that collects it. "All these blokes hearing 'Spacer Woman' and going, 'Yeah, that's wicked.'" This is, of course, one of the strangest aspects of Italo disco--the juxtaposition between the very gay music and its very straight male fans. "The irony is the people who are militantly into Italo tend not to be very sexy," Martin laughs.

Of course that doesn't apply to Heartbreak, the band that Martin manages who are known both for their love of Italo and their flamboyant stage antics. Martin is very earnest in his affection for Heartbreak (as he seems to be for all of the things he cares about.) "They embody Italo. Kind of glamorous but kind of gritty at the same time...and authentic and genuine but weird and tuneful too." When I ask why the London and Argentina-bred duo are referred to as Italo, he blames the media latching onto the term because it was (is?) the "flavor of the month." "They're just two guys," Martin says. "More like Depeche Mode or the Pet Shop Boys. But if people want to call them Italo, who cares?"

At a recent Cocadisco featuring Richard X, Martin played an Amin Peck heavy set, and included other highlights such as J.M. Band's "Computer Monkey" and Gee Rampley' "Radio Style." Those were just the songs I recognized--it's clear that Martin has a collection far broader than my own. But don't think that he's going to rub your face in it. "You can't criticize someone for getting into Italo last month. People have to start somewhere," Martin says. "If you can help someone get into this amazing music, that's a beautiful thing."