Carlo Troja was born in Northern Italy. In the city of Varese. Toward the Swiss border. About 50, 60 kilometres from Milan. Falling in love with soul records imported from the US, particularly the sound of Philadelphia International, in the late 1970s Carlo became a DJ. First on radio, and then, through the early `80s, in two local clubs, Caminaccio and Zodiaco. In 1988, Carlo began a 5 year residency at Morandi, in Lugano, where he played, almost exclusively, a new musical genre called House. During this time, he also turned his hand to production, and in 1991, his debut release – on iconic Bologna-based imprint, Calypso – entitled Alone, was a global dance-floor smash, defining the house sound of his homeland for decades, perhaps forever. You will no doubt know Carlo better, as Don Carlos.
The success of Alone meant that Carlo was playing all over the country – alongside contemporaries, other legendary DJ / producers such as Flavio Veechi, Ricky Montanari, Massimo Lippoli, Antonio Ferrari, aka DJ Ralf. The Don was also touring aboard, spinning in the USA, UK, Switzerland, France, and Japan. He produced classics under a variety of aliases – Aquanauts, Hoscuro, Indonesia, Love 2 Love Orchestra, and Pnedra. Tunes such as Aqua should need no introduction to the Balearic bods among you. However, the demand for his DJing, meant that around the turn of the millennium, Carlo put production on hold. Then, in 2008, a car accident, which initially had him in a wheelchair, also seemed to put paid to his DJ career.
In 2012, German superstar Hunee began rinsing an edit of Carlo`s track Re Mida. While Carlo says that he wasn’t happy about Hunee`s homage, the edit did put Carlo and his music back in the spotlight, and introduced him to fresh generation of young dance music enthusiasts. Resulting in gems, such as the 1992 mini-LP, Mediterraneo, from which Re Mida was lifted, being reissued.
Still based in Varese, over the last decade Carlo has been mining his vast archive, dusting off and releasing previously untapped treasures, on labels such as Echovolt, Imogen, Flash Forward, and Utopia. 2020 saw Carlo reunited with Calypso, for the expansive collection, Livin’ A Dream, and working on new music with Cosmic Rhythm`s Michele Lamacchia and Nicola Loporchio as the Mediterranean Key Collective. Carlo’s also back DJing again, having just finished a residency in Lake Como, and with dates confirmed in Paris and Switzerland. When I spoke to Carlo recently, he told me, “I love the opportunities that DJing brings. If I don’t do it for a couple of weeks I start to feel down.”
Carlo now has a “new” E.P. out with Brooklyn’s Razor-N-Tape. A collaboration with Stefano Tirone aka S-Tone, as Montego Bay. The four tracks on Dreaming The Future were rescued from sessions that took place 30 years ago. They are further demonstration of The Don’s unique studio skills. Seemingly simple, dynamite, arrangements of just a few elements – uncluttered, but rich, full, and warm – that have been imitated countless times, but their quality never quite attained. There are dynamic drums, and cool vibes runs. Sampled divas are edited into dramatic exclamations: “Ooh! Aah!” Flashes of funky fretwork, clipped, wicked, rhythm guitar weaves around slapped boogie bass. The grooves punctuated by spare, but perfectly placed organ chords. There are classic piano riffs, of course. When the tracks feature strings, they soar, like the Philly soul that first inspired him. It’s the sound of New York garage, filtered through a European sun.
Montego Bay’s Dreaming The Future E.P. is out now, on Razor-N-Tape.
There’s more from The Don to follow, tomorrow…