It's our great pleasure to bring you an interview with a man we here at Magic Waves hold in an especially high regard. Not just the creator of the legendary Cybernetic Love and one of Italy's greatest ever DJs but also we can happily say our Italo godfather! From the word go this man has leaped in to help Magic Waves out at every turn, from digging out old BASF tapes of 70s mix-sets in his basement to flying over to London and playing one of the most amazing sets we've ever heard from anyone for next to no money, Salvatore Cusato has the true blood of Italo running in his veins! This interview is long overdue!
Hello Salvatore! Can we begin by asking you what your first musical memories are?
- Hello James! My love for spinning songs started with a “His Master's Voice” gramophone and a Bakelite record running at 78rpm. It's easy to remember the song name because it was the only record my father had: Santa Lucia, a Neapolitan song by the tenor Caruso… and the gramophone was the only toy I had… for years. I was 4 years old.
I seem to remember you telling me a couple of years ago that before disco you were into glam rock... can you tell us a bit about that period in your life, and a little about the music scene in Italy in the early to mid 1970s? How would you say it influenced what came after?
- That’s true and it's natural; I started to be a DJ In 1971 and aside from the black music glam rock was making up a big part of the musical selection of every DJ . The musical taste in Italy was mixed between the USA 'funky' and UK 'rock' palettes. Sweet Blockbuster, T Rex Get It On, Bowie Rebel Rebel, Gary Glitter Rock n Roll Part Two, Joe Cocker High Time We Went... and on the other side Mr Dynamite James Brown Sex Machine, all Motown-sound records, the fine Stax Melting Pot (by Booker T & The MGs), Ohio Players, Fatback Band, Commodores, Wild Cherry, Bar Kays…
So what led you to Medel and those chance meetings with Giorgio Moroder?
- First time I met Giorgio was not in L’Medel but at L’Chamin, at his favourite patisserie in the afternoon. In the evening this place was changing skin and becoming a disco club. Giorgio was at home on holidays, being a “normal person” and not a “V.I.P.” He was often visiting the disco at night. He was already famous (having a number of hits in Germany and was having his first number 1 in the UK with Son Of My Father), and he gave me a 45 single to play of Son Of My Father: my synth sickness started like this.
As I stayed as a resident in Val Gardena many seasons, I met Giorgio other times. When Nights in White Satin was out on Casablanca Records... yes at this time I was playing in L’Medel. The most chic place of Dolomiti. And of course where it was strictly forbidden to play commercial songs or current hits... just brand new tracks and pre-releases…
After I left Val Gardena I never again met Giorgio. But I wrote to him to get the permission to cover his song Son Of My Father many years afters (in 1985) and he answered me very quickly and positively from his Giorgio Moroder Enterprises in L.A.
How important would you say is Moroder - both to you personally and to Italo Disco as a whole?
- Moroder is the father of the disco-sound made in Europe, but not only that. To me personally his work means a lot because it's thanks to him I survived; I used so much his music for my DJ job that I wonder that if he didn’t exist, somebody would have had to invent him… he is not just the inventor of Italo Disco if by Italo Disco we mean electronic music born from an Italian brain and made for the purpose of dancing, but he also existed for people who were not into electronic music. I was playing a lot of popular songs such as Looky Looky or Moody Trudy and also Spinach Action Man (1971) too. Spinach were Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. Giorgio was able to put together such genius as Bellotte and Faltermeyer. A phenomenal trio: Moroder-Bellotte-Faltermeyer.
What else? He produced artists such as Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, Blondie, Berlin and so on... was able to win 4 Oscars for the best soundtracks… I think it's ridiculous to think about him just as the musician using vocoders and synthesisers or the man behind Donna Summer. He also wrote Italian melodies, the Olympics anthem, football hymns… whatever he does he has the Midas touch! The best producer of the last century for sure: a real maestro of versatility and creativity. Therefore the fact that he also designed futuristic cars and his brother is one of the most famous wood sculptors in the world... this can give an idea of what's in the gene-pool of the Moroder family artistic talent.
What were the big records getting played in Italy just before Italian records started getting produced in the style we now call Italo (like Easy Going, Baciotti, Azoto, etc)?
- The audience loved pure disco made in the USA obviously! To mention also the incredible success of Buddah Records (Andrea True Connection's album was one of the most played). The funky '70s sound also played a big role in it together with the 'symphonies' disco style like True Sound of Philadelphia.
Download a set of Salvatore's from Medel in 1976 here: Medel 1976
Where were you working at the time Italo started to emerge and what was the disco scene in Italy like in those days?
- I was in Italy at Piranha Discotheque in Novara (close to Milan) as a DJ, and as wholesaler first in Gong (Zanza Records) then as director at the Milan office of Best Records... I was visiting daily Discomagic, Il Discotto and Many Records too… I noticed that 90% of all Italian 12 inches were going to export. Then when I was in Switzerland in Bern DJing at Babalu Discotheque I started to distribute Italo Disco 12 inches to shops myself and I was getting more money from Italo Disco records sales than as a DJ. By the way, the Italian disco scene was very influenced by the UK. The most played were Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet , Culture Club... Paul Hardcastle’s 19 was the number 1 without any doubt. It means that the UK dance sound was on top during those days.
- I toured Italy from North to South (also Germany, Switzerland, France…) with an old small boiling Fiat 600 first, then with a very funny NSU Prinz, a Volkswagen Beetle, a ridiculous yellow 127 and my first new car: a white Renault 4… all these cars had something in common: plenty of vinyl amounting to a total weight of at least 4 people! My only work during my whole life was as a DJ so I had nothing else to do other than spin records and make people dance at all latitudes.
- I was making more than 10.000 people dance every weekend at the famous Piranha Discotheque, one of the first Italian megadiscos I don’t know if was the pick... but when I listen to a k7 of this period I can surely say that it was strange to play my own records in the same night and mixed together with Eurythmics! I felt ashamed and I wanted disappear from the desk as I wasn't feeling big enough as to be spun in the same tracklist as Patrick Cowley or Bobby Orlando… I never liked to play my records. I used to hope the break would arrive quickly so I could change it to something better!
Who were your main musical associates in the early 1980s and are you still in contact with them?
- Amongst all of them I like to remember Elvio Pieri, with whom I produced many records and toured a lot of clubs as a duo, Claudio Casalini of Best Records who played also a main role as distributor, friend and DJ colleague offering me important DJ jobs, and last but not least the people who involved me in the label House of Music. I'm in contact with Pieri regularly, occasionally with Casalini and currently very often with Paolo Del Prete, the only one still active from House of Music.
Download a set of Salvatore's from Dillan's Club in Switzerland, 1981, here: Dillans 1981
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Honestly the award of ‘DJ champion’ - I felt was more of a favour done for me by some generous colleagues during a DJ Festival in a club on the Como’s Lake where they decided as a jury to give me a nice gold plate (they wrote my name on it before the event), without informing me in advance - a prize which really I should have been sharing with all of them. I never felt myself to be the best or a champion DJ, but a champion of spaghetti eating yes, always!
- It wasn’t difficult, actually it was better… in 1986 I had a release on one of the best labels worldwide. The same as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, George Michael... I talk about EPIC RECORDS. In fact in that year I produced proudly my first important artist, the Afro-American Ronnie Jones who is still considered a living legend and an example of longevity for most Italian DJs. The time where I was scared to put my name on the records was finished, ended.
Captain Of Her Heart by Ronnie Jones entered the UK Record Mirror charts (euro section) at number 7 and was released also on ZYX, CBS, and other prestigious labels. Originally it was released on my own very small label SCO. This was just one step before producing house versions of Whitney Houston So Emotional released on EMI Greece, followed by my unique acid track Hey Deejay where I used the pseudonym of Dr Acid. Today this track is getting rare and searched for on ebay very heavily. Casco and Italo Disco were dead for me… a souvenir d’italie as I was moving off in other directions, opening my musical views up to UK downbeat, Soul to Soul style…
Cusato Samba Pa Ti is an example as a remake of Wicked Games by Chris Isaak. But the big surprise was still to come in my production career: in 1997 I achieved a gold record with Comanchero by the Swedish Robin Cook. It was an honour for me to be awarded gold producer in Scandinavia, such a difficult market. I never stopped producing different things under different names, it was the first time I can say that I was not just addicted to one genre. I also got into Eurodance getting the international hit Sarà Perchè Ti Amo by Eu4ya in 2003, top ten in most of the countries where it was released (gossip here is that the singer of this track is today the spouse of soccer star Anelka!).
How does it feel to have your music re-discovered after so many years? Were you surprised by the recent resurgence in interest in Italo Disco?
- Definitely yes. I don’t understand how it came to pass that one day I had to be Casco again… I brushed the dust off my rare old italo vinyl and started to play them again… that’s nice!
What are your favourite gigs that you've ever done and why?
- My favourite gig is always the next one coming up because it can be always the last. That’s why I give all my heart on the turntables till the last drop of my energy. PS The next gig will be in Naples on the 13th of March 2009! :)
We hear you have over 20,000 records stored in your house in Switzerland - what are the ones you keep coming back to?
- Depends if I have to be DJ Discoking or Casco… but for my private life I change the 7 inches in my jukebox every week… soul, disco, jazz... I love music in 360 degrees!
What are your current plans for releases both as Casco and on your Music Control digital label?
- The upcoming release on Music Control Italo is I Love Dirty Italo Disco - it contains tracks by some of the most interesting artists from the current european italo scene such as Ali Renault, Revolving Eyes, Dr Kmer, DJ Gio MC-505, Miss Plug Inn, Bottin as well as material from the more well known Fred Ventura and George Aaron... but the pearl for me is the Finnish cover (sung in Finnish) of Cybernetic Love called Kiberrakkautta by my Scandinavian clone Kasko - this track is now considered legal (cleared by publisher) so it's the first time it will be released digitally legally.
Besides that is Milanese super-DJ Pippi Langstrumpf The Church Of Pippi Langstrumpf on the new sub-label Dischi Bellini, including some experimental infected tracks of emerging electro artists caught by Pippi and Elisa 'Super Liz' Colonna.
Work is in progress also for the Blackway EP featuring Paolo Del Prete. It will contain original versions of Blackway tracks as well as the rare Music For Us re-edited by Casco. As for Casco himself... as we know, "Paganini non ripete" but I'm trying as well to start a new project with the guru of Italo Disco and creator of Cellophane's records, Alex Novaga (top secret!)
You've managed, produced and worked with some very famous names over the years - are there any stories you mind sharing with us?
- I could write a book on it! But is 7 o'clock am and I can only tell you now that I booked over 100 classic dance artists in more than 50 countries around the world, during a 20 year career as artist/manager… Actually don’t trust the appareances…
I'm not a credible tour-manager since I laugh all time on tour and I like to make jokes instead of being the policeman of artists!
I’m better as a DJ :) Hope so!
Can you pick 10 records for us that reflect a typical Casco selection from the old days?
- Casual order:
Mr Flagio Take A Chance
Casco Cybernetic Love
BWH Livin Up
Alexander Robotnick Problemes D’amour
Charlie Spacer Woman
Flexx (Fred Ventura) Love Theme From Flexxy-ball
Cellophane's Brain Gimme Love
Doctor’s Cat Feel The Drive
Finally, any message from Casco for the listeners of Magic Waves?
- If DJ Casionova didn’t exist, Casco would not have come back… Keep on listening to Magic Waves and give honours to Casionova for being so passionate a lover of ITALO bringing to you also musical culture! Also this interview would not be happening if it weren't for my mentor Mr Maurizio Cannici (boss of CGD International for many years), such a wonderful person who helped me in funding and casting at the first pioneer Italian DJ agency Recordmen in Milan in 1973! In fact my professional DJ career started from this moment. Thank you Mauri!