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Electric Independence

We aren’t the first to say this, and we surely won’t be the last, but, goodness, that Italians Do It Better label knows what it’s doing. This is the New Jersey/Portland imprint that’s been getting a ridiculous amount of heat online in all the right...

Chromatics

Mike Simonetti

Glass Candy. Photo by Morgan Dye

We aren’t the first to say this, and we surely won’t be the last, but, goodness, that Italians Do It Better label knows what it’s doing. This is the New Jersey/Portland imprint that’s been getting a ridiculous amount of heat online in all the right places—yes, 20jazzfunkgreats, that means you. Where would we be without you?—for most of the year, even though they just released their first run of records this autumn. First up was the CD compilation and label primer After Dark, which introduced listeners to five acts: Glass Candy and Chromatics (these two you might know), and Mirage, Farah and Professor Genius. Then came an individual 12-inch, limited to 1,000 copies and beautifully designed, from each of these acts, except Mirage. Nite Drive, Chromatics’ latest album, their third, came out last month. What started as a blog at vivaitalians.blogspot.com in the summer of 2006 has evolved naturally into a slinky disco imprint with a highly appealing aesthetic. Italians… (IDIB looks too clunky) is run equally by Mike Simonetti and Johnny Jewel from Glass Candy. Simonetti, the New Jersey half, also looks after the experimental noise label Troubleman Unlimited, which has released Black Dice, Growing and Tussle, and happens to be one of those incredible DJs whose sets might just change your life if you are—or he is—in the right mood. “The label came about because I wanted to keep the dance bands separate from the noise stuff,” says Simonetti. “I felt like they weren’t getting the attention they deserved, so we branched out on our own.” From his studio in Portland, Oregon, Johnny Jewel produces, composes for and performs in Glass Candy and Chromatics. He also designs the sleeves for Italians…, and his attention to detail is impeccable. Chromatics’ opiated synth-pop is like ice wrapped in velvet. As Glass Candy, Jewel and singer Ida No swish around the late 70s and early 80s for influences and end up with this sound that’s somewhere between Sparks and Salsoul and “Spacer Woman”. As an aside, James Ford and Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco are fans of the Italians… music, and now that Ford, with his addiction to krautrock and Eno, is producing the new Scissor Sisters album in New York, it will be interesting to see if they emerge with a melancholy, synth-heavy Jewel-hued tinge. The band are keen to take some kind of risk for fear they’ll be marooned in Disneyland forever. Anyway, if you visit the MySpace pages of Chromatics and Glass Candy, Johnny Jewel posts up new tracks for download fairly regularly. One recent addition, Glass Candy’s “Digital Versicolor”, is a prowler of distinction, so get it while it’s hot. Not only that, Jewel is constantly at work in the studio, producing new tracks which end up on CD-Rs for the bands to sell on tour. It’s a grassroots approach that Simonetti believes is missing from most dance labels today. If the people like the CDs they pick up at the shows, he reasons, they’re more likely to order the vinyl or CDs. “Johnny is a very hard worker,” confirms Simonetti, back in New Jersey after a whirlwind weekend DJing in Sweden, one of his favourite places to visit. “He puts 110 per cent into everything, from a perfect vocal take to the spine on the record cover. He’s always been like that, even when Glass Candy were more of a rock band. But they always had dance influences, they just slimmed down their members and added a drum machine. Johnny puts a huge emphasis on vocals and lyrics—a lot of modern hipster dance music is instrumental. And I think a lot of the reason people are drawn to Italians… is because the lyrics and vocals are so great and the music is very moody as well. He is serious about his music—more than anyone I’ve ever seen.” Vice: Where’s the name for the label from, the slogan on that T-shirt Madonna wore in the 80s? Simonetti: No, it’s a saying we have in New Jersey. There’s tons of Italians in Bayonne, where I live. There’s a very high level of Italian pride. How often does someone point out that you share a surname with Claudio Simonetti from Goblin? All the time. I always get asked, “Is he your father?” I always say yes. What about your new Swedish signings? They’re called Tiedye. Our first release is a one-sided 12-inch that is a cover of the Metallica song “Nothing Else Matters”. I’m 100 per cent serious. We’re also working on some edits with them as well. They’re a proper band, not a dude behind a laptop. Sweden has a very exciting thing going on over there. It’s a great place. What are the three things that everyone should know about Chromatics? Adam owns a yacht that he lives on. Ruth is a poet, and Johnny enjoys long walks in the park and sunsets. And Farah? She’s from Texas and Glass Candy met her at one of their shows. They became friends, and she gave them her music. Over time and countless visits, Johnny decided he wanted to record her and write music for her very unique lyrics. Do you see what you’re doing as preservation or progressive? A little bit of both. Is running a record label a fun way to lose money? Things are actually good. We aren’t going to flood the market. I’ve been doing labels for almost 15 years and I’m still alive. The records are just a way to promote the live show and DJ sets, they aren’t a means to an end, and that’s where most labels go wrong. The artists should promote the records, not the other way around. Something quite different that would fit perfectly on Simonetti’s label is the astonishing Kelley Polar remix of the new Caribou single, “She’s the One”, for City Slang. We say remix, but it’s more a radical reinterpretation, and puts Hot Chip’s effort to shame. Polar has composed a creamy track that sounds like Christmas on Venus. He narrates a curdled tale, too, which begins like a passage from The Master and Margarita: “Time was at the beginning of the evening and the moon was melting upward with those stars that were with him when love divine first set in motion those beautiful things.” PIERS MARTIN