The Eternal, Ballistic Brilliance of Mr Flagio’s “Take a Chance”
The finest Italo-disco record ever made.
This post ran originally on THUMP UK.
Despite it being the sort of meaningless cliche music writers regularly trot out, Mr Flagio's "Take a Chance" genuinely is a record I will never get bored of. A record it is impossible to overplay. A record that always go off whenever it fills the dark, dank reaches of a club. It is of course the "ultimate" Italo record; the track you put on when introducing the genre to someone who thinks disco begins and ends with Sister Sledge. Yet, as is often the way when something gets mythologised, much of its nuance and character is neglected in favour of blanket praise.
Created by Giorgio Bacco and Flavio Vidulich, "Take a Chance" was first released in 1983 on Northwest Italian label Squish, an otherwise unremarkable imprint full of the sort of chintzy experiments that typify the early days of Italo-disco—typified by Art of Love's "Looking Through the Night." From the opening chords of "Take a Chance," you'd be forgiven for anticipating a similarly forgettable offering. That tinny, faux-cosmic synth, trying its absolute hardest to sound bigger than it is, is reflective of an era and a genre preoccupied with creating grandeur beyond its economic and sonic means. Then something happens—a pulse starts.
In all honesty, much of the brilliance of "Take a Chance" is in its ludicrousness. Like a futurist-opera, the only vocals come from a vocoder-soaked robot supported by a choir of bombastic angels. Add to that an audacious snaking bassline, that walks flagrantly up and down the hi-hat, and the flirtatious staccato flick of an electric guitar, and it's no wonder this is a record that makes people smile as much as it makes them move. In the past we've described Italo-disco as a b-movie version of disco, and "Take a Chance" emulates that perfectly. It's Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" ramped up to an unmanageable pace, so coiled it sounds like at any second the entire track could explode in a burst of lime green sparks and puce flames. It is Harry Thurman's "Underwater" without an actual orchestra, "Flash" by Queen without an actual sci-fi movie to accompany it. Yet this ludicrousness elevates it to something godlike. The cacophony of drum fills, the thrill of the self-chasing melody, and the desperately sincere wail of the meaningless lyrics—most likely approximations lost somewhere in the translation between Italian and English.
Yet, it's more than a cheap approximation of luxury and bombast. "Take a Chance" is an untouchable example of Italo-disco's sweet-spot—the qualities it possessed over it's American forefather. "Take a Chance" is club-ready, and not in the ostentatious sense that the best of Studio 54's floorfillers were. It is lithe and acidic, bearing as much of a relation to the squelching galactic visions of early techno that would soon be built in Detroit as it does the disco that came first. In its own perhaps primitive way, it bangs, and throbs, it demands to be moved to. In terms of easing the track into a DJ set, "Take a Chance" is structurally perfect, sitting around 120 BPM, ready to be weaponized by everyone across place and time from the hands of Nicky Siano all the way through to Teki Latex.
Testament to this is the reaction it gets whenever it's played out. It's a record most likely very few DJs would be caught without, safe in the knowledge that wherever the night is going, however low it might be dipping, if they pull Mr Flagio out of his dog-eared sleeve and rest him on the table, the hairs on the back of the room's collective neck will stand on end. And it does, and they do, and they will continue to forever and ever. Despite Italo largely inspiring either chic-posturing or a sort of sincere goofiness, "Take a Chance" manages to behave in an altogether more robust, confrontational fashion. For all its space-age decor, it is a demanding, physical record. One that reeks of earthly nighttimes.
As with so many records from this era, it's close to impossible to figure out the backstory of the record beyond the short-lived lifespan of the label that supported it, and as for Bacco and Vidulich, well the best the internet can provide is some indication that one is a radio DJ and the other a Pet Shop Boys-affiliated producer. Yet it barely matters. Some tracks exists as strange alien beings in isolation, their origins as mysterious as the intentions of their creators. It's something that could be said of much Italo-disco, a genre of peculiar experiments and miscommunicated messages, an entire wealth of music born from the haphazard attempts of confused producers as they tried to create something else entirely. Like many great genres—from 1980s African electro to 1990s UK acid house—it created the unique by shooting for the past and missing.
For whatever reason, in the case of this one track, shooting for the past meant reaching that place dance music so rarely does. The alchemy of something bizarre, ballistic and eternal. Even now, Mr Flagio sounds like the future.