A quick Google search reveals that the Italian Consulate, the Italian government’s L.A. office, is in Century City. But you can catch a true representative of Italian culture at the Offbeat bar in Highland Park, every month at the Dolce Vita Italo disco night.
“Last time this guy came up to the DJ booth and was like, 'I’m Italian! I love Italian music! I’ve got my Alfa Romeo parked outside!'” says David Christian, the event's co-creator and DJ. “That was probably the best response we’ve gotten to the music.”
Italo disco is the cheesy Italian offspring of American disco, best introduced to newcomers via the many YouTube videos of Italian disco stars “performing” in their natural habitat, Italian TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s. Christian discovered it by watching those shows on TV back in the day.
“I spent half my childhood in Italy,” he says. “You could only get four or five TV stations, and half of them had variety shows where they’d have these musicians come out in these crazy costumes and fake-play their keyboards. A lot of the times they’d have these background dancers that would just have their boobs popping out of their clothes. I thought it was annoying at the time, but now I love it.”
“I accidentally stumbled upon this music one night around 2006,” says Alley Shiver, the other co-creator and DJ at Dolce Vita. “I saw this video of Ryan Paris on YouTube, and I just thought it was so awesomely ridiculous that I had to find out everything about the music. That led me down the deep, dark hole of Italo disco.”
In response to the limited availability and affordability of American disco records in the 1970s, Italian producers and DJs started to make their own disco songs, using simple synthesizers and drum machines. The resulting music veered much closer to the upcoming wave of synth-pop music of the 1980s than to the sexy, sweaty sounds of early American disco, born in gay and predominantly African-American nightclubs and filled with the funk of George Clinton and the soul of Philadelphia.
“It’s unapologetically cheesy,” Shiver says.
“But that’s what’s good about it,” Christian adds. “It’s not serious, it’s fun. We, Alley and I, both come from this goth and industrial scene where everybody is too cool for school, but over here, people are just dancing and having fun, and that’s really refreshing.”
“What was really important to me was for people, especially people in the neighborhood, to have a space and a DJ night they feel comfortable in,” says Shiver. Looking around the Offbeat on a Dolce Vita night, it looks like that is the case. Illuminated by the Italo disco videos projected onto the walls, you can see groups of young white hipsters, interspersed with older African-American couples and Latino folks from the neighborhood, all dancing to the same beat.
“Alley has lived here in Highland Park for seven and a half years,” says Christian, “We, together, just bought a home here. It’s a weird time because of this gentrification thing. Over here there’s a lot of anxiety over newer residents, because the old residents feel like they don’t respect them, and you know, they want to drive up prices. But this club brings both crowds together.”
“Yeah, last month David made these mini pizzas on English muffins,” adds Shiver. “After my set was over, I had to go home to get to work early the next morning. It was almost impossible to get through the crowd of people dancing while eating these mini English muffin pizzas. It was crazy.”
Dolce Vita returns to the Offbeat on Sunday, May 8, and Sunday, May 22. Usually, it happens the first Sunday of every month.