As if names and nationalities really meant something, Italian producer William (Guglielmo) Bottin’s Horror Disco erects a monolithic mass of exceptionally crafted and intricate Italo-disco that might not send you shrieking into the night, but most certainly horrifies — in some sense of the word. While its obvious historical lineage begins with the oft-intertwined horror movies and disco of late-70s Italy (à la Claudio Simonetti), the conception of Horror Disco was largely the result of a chance encounter with a vintage Italian-made Farfisa Syntorchestra synthesizer that resulted in the title-track and then served as a blueprint for the work as a whole. Essentially a collection of variations, the album’s fourteen tracks, each around five or six minutes long, thematically bring Bottin’s horrific vision to light. It is at times groovy like a Munich Machine, campy like the B-list, and lurid like a Dario Argento film, but never forced, inane, or boring. Horror might be a genre better filmed or written, but with Bottin’s sound it reveals striking dance floor potential.
Taking into account his self-described productive methodology — which relies less on inspiration and more on diligence and studio serendipity — it’s hard to read too much of a conceptual arc into Horror Disco, though his understanding of the genre and how it should play out in strictly musical form is deviously lethal. If anything, the “concept” here is a collection of formal and stylistic techniques developed to give rise to visceral reaction, which could be loosely considered the basis of horror — and dance music — in general. While the developments of horror as a genre have been more effectively visual or narrative, with music serving at best an atmospheric role, Bottin challenges dancers to follow his cues and provide themselves with the appropriately gruesome visual/visceral accompaniment. In the campy context generally set by Italo, the state of mind required to play Bottin’s game is a strange mixture of adult humor and childhood horror. And as the dance floor is a space of (depending on how seriously you take it) “childish” abandon, the tongue-in-cheeky horror Bottin’s pushing takes aim at freakin’ the floor, not exactly freakin’ you out.
Careful listening uncloaks many of the distorted conventions and dimensions that make up Italo-horror according to Bottin. To begin with, erratic modulation is inherently frightening, at higher frequencies mimicking unsteady heartbeats and panicked breathing, while at lower frequencies causing the floor to fall out like rotten wood beneath dancers’ feet. Next, camp vocals on unsettling subjects, which make several appearances in Horror Disco, most notably in “Disco for the Devil,” which finds Douglas Meakin (Easy Going, Crazy Gang) doing his best rip on Vincent Price, and “Bianca,” which takes the cake camp-wise. Third, both triplets and off-beat rhythms are a terrifying way to build tension in any register, and when they accompany staircase pads and leads that rise and fall, twist and turn sour, the effect is unmistakably unsettling as the title-track demonstrate. In fact, all the sounds in Bottin’s repertoire seem to suffer under their own troubled psychological weight, creaking and cracking at random. Supported by the unrelenting tautness of a zombie funk rhythm section (Black Devilry clearly implied on “Venezia Violenta” and “Roger Bacon”), Horror Disco moves briskly from start to finish, albeit on limbs occasionally prone to decay or fall off completely. Exactly how well this might work on the floor is up to the DJ, the set, and the scene. But when you consider that DJing is primarily about manipulating the mood of the room, having this unexpected, horrific flavor up your sleeve is an intriguing idea. And who knows, on the right dance floor one of these tracks might freak you out like peeled grapes in the dark.