MORGAN GEIST with MARC DE BREYNE and ANDREW ALLSGOOD at Studio 99 (99 Sudbury), Saturday (February 12). $15 advance, more at the door. www.blackmarketrecords.com. Rating: NNNNN
Groundbreaking 80s revisionist disco-techno duo Metro Area aren't exactly prolific. To fill the gap between releases, Morgan Geist decided to put together Unclassics, a mixed compilation and series of 12-inch singles concentrating on the obscure Italo-disco and early 80s European electronic funk that inspired him and his partner, Darshan Jesrani.
Unclassics is a collection of the electronic disco you've probably never heard, and as a result it sounds disturbingly modern, especially in light of the explosion of 80s revisionist dance music that's taken place in the years since Metro Area blew up.
Maybe it's his New Jersey roots, but Geist has none of the bravado you'd expect from a hot NYC dance producer. He seems to go into each project expecting it to fail horribly, only to be pleasantly surprised and bemused when it does well.
"I'm fairly pessimistic," he cheerfully admits from his home in Brooklyn. "The Unclassics project was a labour of love, not something we did for financial gain.
"I'm totally surprised that it's gotten such a good reaction. This music is a bit of an acquired taste for most people. Sometimes I suspect that reviewers secretly hate it, but their music critic egos won't let them admit it."
He has a point. Somehow, over the past five years, Italo-disco has gone from being a genre few would admit an affection for to one of those hip terms every music nerd is supposed to mention as an influence.
For the uninitiated, "Italo" refers to the low-budget Italian disco of the early 80s, usually based on synths and drum machines rather than string sections and horns, and often featuring the monotone ESL chanting of the producer's girlfriend rather than the gospel-influenced wailing of American disco.
Its newfound popularity means vintage Italo singles now go for big prices on eBay, and obsessive collectors have descended on the market to snatch up everything they can.
"I definitely don't see myself as a real serious collector. I don't care about the condition of the record as long as the needle tracks OK. And I'm definitely not a completist - I actually think most Italo-disco isn't very good, really. I like playing stuff people haven't heard, but I still want them to have a good time and dance."
The recent buzz around these 20-year-old records brought unanticipated success to what Geist expected would be a financial disaster. It also made the process of collecting the rights to these obscurities a lot harder.
"Unclassics was really a compromise. A lot of the tracks that I originally wanted were bootlegged or reissued while I was trying to track down these people and license them properly, so I had to move on to other tracks.
"On the bright side, I got the original master tapes for a lot of them, and the original 24-track recordings of some, which allowed me to do actual remixes rather than just re-edits. It was really educational to be able to take apart these recordings and see how they were put together. They were so much more technically limited, so they really had to push the equipment."