A little over four years ago I was interviewing ex-Amnesia DJ, Leo Mas. My Italian being even worse than my Japanese, Leo had said,
“Hey, if you need some help, I have a friend, a journalist who can translate for you.”
Then within the same week, Max Essa, sent me a mix of Italian Pop.
“Mate, you’ve got to listen to this. It`s brilliant. It`s by an Italian guy. A journalist.”
Turned out that they were one and the same. Christian Zingales.
Christian recently curated a comprehensive retrospective of the music of Milanese musician, Maurizio Marsico, called The Sunny Side Of The Dark Side. He is currently working on a definitive document on Daniele Baldelli, the Cosmic Club and influence of Baldelli on contemporary dance music. Here, for Ban Ban Ton Ton, he focuses on the lesser known later work of legendary Italian singer-songwriter, Lucio Battisti.
Words by Christian Zingales.
Lucio Battisti was a true Pop innovator. From his first recordings in the late 1960s through the `70s he merged traditional Italian melodies with the American and English sounds he loved. Rock, Rhythm ’n’ Blues, Soul, Funk, Progressive, and Disco. His music was revolutionary, but attitude was his biggest revolution. A man and an artist totally guided by instinct and passion. At the same time someone obsessed by detail. In the studio, he was always on a mission for the very best. As a singer his raw voice, always ready for falsetto, was pure emotion. He was searching for something popular that could be also enjoyed at a higher level. By more sophisticated listeners. During his “classic phase”, from the late `60s until 1980, he worked with Mogol. A master Pop music lyricist. Who created around Battisti an imaginary world of modern and ironic sentimentalism. With sparkling connections to the middle-class life of the `70s. As they gained confidence, weaving more complex, cryptic stories. Lucio was in a league of his own. He always sang from a kind of a distance. A consummate actor. He dramatised the space between music and lyrics.
But nobody could have expected the turn that happened in ’81. When the Battisti-Mogol songwriting duo split. Lucio was ready to enter in the second phase of his mission. The first album without Mogol, E Già, has lyrics credited to Velezia. An alias of Battisti’s wife, Grazia Letizia Veronese. But it`s very likely that he wrote them himself. It`s a strange Synth-Pop record. Innocent and disturbing. With naive, childish visions going cheek to cheek with visions of death. It was the bridge to a series of five albums that he produced from 1986 to 1994. Working with with another lyricist. A crazy Avant-garde poet, called Pasquale Panella. Lucio had been impressed by Panella`s lyrics for pop singer Enzo Carella. To produce, he enlisted Englishmen, Greg Walsh, Robyn Smith, Andy Duncan. The results were incredible and still something not easily understood. An alien mix of muzak MIDI songs, jazzy melodramatic sketches and UK style Pop-House. A battle between warm and cold. The mood moving deeper across the five recordings. Panella creating a literary vertigo of exhilarating wordplay. Lyrics that exist between philosophy and entertainment. Comic and tragic. And that Battisti sings like an inscrutable siren. These were his last works. He died in 1998.
Outside of Italy, Battisti`s classic ’70 stuff is well-known. It`s a sound loved by the Balearic scene, Parisian producers like Daft Punk, Phoenix, Sebastien Tellier, and played by a superstar DJs such Ricardo Villalobos (who frequently drops the freaky-tribal La Canzone della Terra). The five albums with Panella however, are quite a new thing. If you find the words difficult, you can feel the music, let go your imagination. Or learn a bit of Italian. Well, more than a bit.
Don Giovanni (1986)
La Sposa Occidentale (1990)