Victrola / Big Ben Tribe :: Double review (Dark Entries)

Big Ben Tribe and Victrola are from the same time, and same land, but their use of the synthesizer couldn’t have been more different. Whilst the Trieste group glow with youthful enthusiasm and verve, Victrola darken dreams with overturned ink pots and cigarette ash. Two lost, and almost forgotten, pieces of Italian synthesizer wonder.

victrola_big-ben-tribe_dbl_dark-entriesThe days of the old CBS Top 100 seem like quite a while ago, sure they were with the last being in 2007. True, the idea was revived for Intergalactic FM, but it was some of those early CBS Top 100’s that introduced me to burgeoning New Wave and Synth Disco sounds. I can imagine it might have been this same source where Josh Cheon came across Big Ben Tribe and Victorla, two new 12”s in Dark Entries dancefloor series entitled Editions.

Victrola were the Italian outfit, Antonio Cuscinà and Carlo Smeriglio, who were only active for a handful of years in the early 80s. The group languish in obscurity, their tracks being revived from time to time by Djs like Intergalactic Gary. Nevertheless, Cuscinà and Smeriglio were pioneers of New Wave. Their first, and only, EP features the legendary TB303 and TR606, both machines released in that same year as Maritime Tatami (1983.) The vinyl version of the EP, the original, is by now quite the collector’s item and fetches huge prices on discogs. “A Game Of Despair” opens and drains emotion from the outset. The track is heart-wrenching. Cold strings, subdued chords and a desolate beat give way to hauntingly shallow vocals. The flip is occupied by “Maritime Tatami,” a track which has recently been re-issued on Mutazione (Italian Electronic & New Wave Underground 1980-1988), but for it on vinyl you’re going to have to go down San Francisco way. Once again the twosome delivers. Sorrow courses through machine and man, strings accentuating that downtrodden loveless aspect. The track, as with “A Game Of Despair” is warm in its grainy production but the message is one of coldness and solitude. Two of the best examples of Italian Wave back on vinyl

Tarzan Loves The Summer Nights comes under a similar heading to Victrola, not the genre but that oh-so popular “rare as hen’s teeth” column. The group hail from Trieste in the North of Italy, taking their name from a favourite club in the small town: “Big Ben.” They released three EPs between 1983-84, with the last being the motherload. Tarzan Loves The Summer Nights came out on in ’84 and in the last ten years has become a reason for salivation amongst the Italo Disco faithful. The original two tracks have been reclaimed by Dark Entries. The title piece is full throttle dancefloor action, the female vocals being aural sunshine. The track doesn’t necessarily come from the traditions of the Italian coastline, rather there is something of the Canadian slant to the burgeoning 80s Synth sound. If it wasn’t for those half mangled English lyrics I would set Big Ben Tribe for Unidisc. The track has been skilfully remastered by DE mastering man George Horn, the original brightness being polished to a fine sheen. The flip takes on the usual Italo format, instrumental. The vocals are pared back to introduce reinvigorated bass lines and thick synth lines.

The Editions series was always going to be something special, and Mr. Cheon has set the bar pretty high. Big Ben Tribe and Victrola are from the same time, and same land, but their use of the synthesizer couldn’t have been more different. Whilst the Trieste group glow with youthful enthusiasm and verve, Victrola darken dreams with overturned ink pots and cigarette ash. Two lost, and almost forgotten, pieces of Italian synthesizer wonder.

Both releases are available on Dark Entries.

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