Kano: I’m Ready
Dharma: Plastic Doll
Gaucho: Dance Forever
Pink Project: Disco Project
Ask even a knowledgeable fan of that confusing but utterly exhilarating era of early ’80s dance music about one Mr. Stefano Pulga and they might not know who you’re talking about.
They will. Leaving aside Moroder (and hell, include him if you want), there was perhaps no more visionary musician of his era than the unheralded architect of Italo.
That’s a hell of a statement to make, but I believe it’s completely justified. To tick off Pulga’s accomplishments almost sounds like you’re making it up.
He created some of the first Italo records (by some markers, before a genre called “Italo” supposedly existed).
He created some of the first “post-disco” records – at a time when disco was still very much a going concern.
He created what we’d later call a “mash up” decades before YouTube or even the world wide web existed.
Stefano Pulga was, for a solid three or four year period, probably one of the premier producers in the world.
This is all (some more objectively than others, of course) entirely true. So why don’t we know more about him?
Not all of Pulga’s projects are as obscure in the minds of the masses as his given name. If I was going to introduce Pulga’s music to a friend, the first record I’d pull out is the 1980 track “I’m Ready” by proto-Italo studio band Kano.
I Remember Nu-Disco When They Still Called It Italo.
When it was released in the United States, “I’m Ready” reached #21 on the Black Singles Chart – an odd listing, but one which reflects how far ahead of its time “I’m Ready” was. Nobody had any idea what the hell to do with it. “I’m Ready” sounds as if computers from the near future (say, 1987) swallowed a stack of Salsoul Records like an engorged snake and spit them back out in some chaotic arrangement of instruments and 8 bit sounds.
But Kano only scratches the surface of Pulga’s influence on modern music, for the man contributed to more cult hits than any other producer of the era. While Kano was still underway, Pulga and Luciano Ninzatti developed another project, “Dharma”, which released the incredible “Plastic Doll”.
On “Plastic Doll”, the disco elements still discernible on “I’m Ready” were almost entirely stripped away; Italo (or Pulga) was becoming increasingly confident. The 1982 track was released on System Music, whose famed logo was stylized in such a way as to spell “SYNTH” – and when you hear it, you understand why. Even calling this “Italo” sounds wrong. The instrumental has to be considered one of the most pure synth tracks ever made.
This Record Fried a 20 Year Old Punk’s Face.
“Plastic Doll” was my intro to Italo and Stefano Pulga. That introduction came 10 years after the dawn of Italo and “Plastic Doll” still burned out my synapses. If you grew up in the ’80s ignorant of Italo, you were probably introduced to it by the side door through the thousands of television commercials and music soundtracks made by studio producers fascinated by the sound (and, when it came to Hollywood, the fact that one could record entire albums without hiring session musicians). It’s those happy Italo riffs that the world would come to broadly associate with Skittles commercials & Judge Reinhold movies.
But “Plastic Doll” was the real deal. If I said I’d never heard anything like it, you wouldn’t believe me. It was music without context, totally untouched by either silly arena rock or the cheesy commercial disco I knew.
Then came yet another side project: Gaucho, with their 1983 hit “Dance Forever”. By this point, House Music was becoming established as a grassroots movement in Chicago and the manic percussion of the “DJ version” became something of a proto-DJ tool – a beat track, able to be dropped anywhere, sampled relentlessly (and probably untraceably).
And then there was Pink Project, which perversely became Pulga’s most recognized music outfit, though it’s completely forgotten today. In 1982, legend has it, Pulga and Luciano Ninzatti noticed that Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” and the Alan Parsons Project’s “Mammagamma” had the same tempo. They added APP’s “Sirius” to the intro and created what would later be dubbed a “mash-up”. None of the music from Pink Project was sampled: every note had to be recreated for legal reasons. Under the title “Disco Project”, it became a surprise hit – a novelty more or less forgotten except for the strange genre (if you want to call it that) it created, involving bizarre combinations of seemingly whatever seemed to be at the top of the charts.
People Once Danced to Pink Floyd.
While Pink Project churned out mashed up hits on demand, Kano was rapidly winding down. All this time (and even before Kano), Pulga had been releasing solo albums, eccentric combinations of disco, jazz fusion, italo and rock. Much of it has a cinematic tone, and several of his pieces were in fact used for television and film. It was little surprise then that when Kano, Dharma and his other projects came to an end, Pulga found himself stretching toward steady work making music for TV and film, much like Moroder. Often considered as a kind of bastardization (few will measure Moroder’s work on the Top Gun soundtrack up against his best stuff), it should really be seen as their sanctuary. The late 1980s were not kind to our sorts of heros – work in film was better than many disco refugees could get.
And that’s where Stefano Pulga has remained, working behind the scenes in animation, film, advertising and the like, and sometimes producing records for Italian pop vocalists. His 2008 album The Sky and The Bride is straight adult contemporary. Few of his projects have room for the revolutionary grandeur and sensual pop of his early ’80s work, even if he had any interest in revisiting familiar territory.
Still, with Don Giorgio lead out of retirement and what appear to be still more Gino Soccio sightings, one would hope, as my colleague DEL expressed several months ago in his story about the latter, that there’s some room at the table for another of dance music’s founders.