Remembering Disco Piu, the Italian record shop that sold vinyl via hand-made mixtapes

By in Features



Swiss sample veterans In Flagranti on the inspiration for their new “pre-internet-record-buying-concept-album-come-mixtape”.

Long before they united as In Flagranti, producer duo Alex Gloor and Sasa Crnobrnja used to head down to Italy occasionally to buy records from the country’s thriving Afro cosmic scene that were unavailable back home. A cornerstone of that sound was Disco Pui, a small shop in the Adriatic coastal town of Rimini where you might just bump into the likes of Daniele Baldelli or Beppe Loda.

Next: Watch our short film on Daniele Baldelli’s cosmic revolution

While local DJs honed their sound around Disco Pui’s selections, the shop was aware of an audience further afield, developing a unique, hugely labour intensive but fundamentally brilliant mail order system a good twenty years before Discogs and the Internet made this common place.

The concept was simple – customers could sign up to get a cassette mixtape of all the week’s new releases in the post. Each release was recorded for about a minute, with a voice numbering each one so you could pick the ones you liked. Call or fax your requests with the date of the cassette and Disco Pui would send you the records, paying on delivery.

Continuing their fascination with cut and paste music making, ageing formats like VHS and cassette and a restless musical apetite that dips between disco, Latin, house, dub and techno, In Flagranti’s new album Sprezzatura takes its inspiration from Disco Pui on almost every level.

As Sasa explains, “this album will be available as a mix on cassette with each track playing for a minute or two… You’ll be able to choose your favourite tracks from Sprezzatura and buy the full versions as downloads.” Thankfully, fax is no longer obligatory.

With the 30 tracks set to be released via an hour long mixtape on 14th April via Codek Records, we asked Sasa and Alex to tell us a little more about what made Disco Pui so special.

What was the record shopping scene like in Italy in the early ’80s?

Sasa: I remember record shops in general in the early ’80s were really busy, always a lot of people going through records not just vinyl enthusiasts like today but anyone who wanted to buy music was coming through or just hang out and meet people. In Italy the record shops had a much more wide range of genres and since they had a huge club culture they were more streamlined and catered to the DJs. I also remember the Italian record shop owners really knew their stuff. I used to bring a tape with me with music that I recorded from radio and they would play it and just pull out the records I was looking for.

Describe Disco Piu to someone who never went? What was it like?

Sasa: I heard a lot about Disco Piu before I first went there 1988 and to my surprise the shop was really small with about 4 or 5 listening stations, it was really tight as the shop was packed with people and guys constantly coming in and out of the shop either bringing in new records or shipping out. I watched some of the guys that seamed to be local DJs and they would literally buy a crate load at a time! It was the DJ’s record shop.

Tell us about the mixtape service they offered?

Sasa: One of the last times I went I talked to one of the guys working there, I was looking for a particular record and he said he would have it again next week. I replied that I live in Basel/Switzerland and won’t be able to come back next week, so he showed me the cassette they were shipping out to people with all the new releases, they recorded it for a minute long and numbered each song so you could call them or send a fax with your choices and they would send the vinyl in the mail cash on delivery. Of course I gave him my address immediately and I received a tape a few days later.

Was this unique to the shop or did others also operate like this?

Sasa: before I went to Disco Piu I used to go to a shop in Modena/Italy called American Records and Bob the owner would send me a package of about 15 to 20 records every month with his selection of new ‘Cosmic’ stuff, I didn’t know what I would get but I was never disappointed. Other then that I’m not sure if any other of the Shops would do that kind of service.

What kind of music did they specialize in? What did you buy?

Sasa: It was all genres. The Cosmic scene or Afro as they called it in Italy, was really massive so the shops already looked for music that could work for this type of DJ. But they also had clubs that played Italo disco and house music, they had it all. I remember buying some records that I couldn’t find in Switzerland like The Chris Hinze Combination’s Saliah, Moebius Plank Neumeier’s Zero Set, Nommos by Craig Leon, Jasper Van’t Hof’s Pili pili, Zaza’s Jungeliebe, Codek’s Timtoum, and Papa Levi’s Big ’N’ Broad.

Do you still have the mixtapes?

Alex: Yes I do. I went to the Disco Piu with Daniele Baldelli in the 1995 when I visited him for the first time in Italy from New York where I was living. He was very nice and drove me around in his car to show me cool locations like the club Baia Degli Angeli and Disco Piu in Rimini. I always wanted to visit this legendary shop and get one of these promo tapes for my collection. I kept it in a safe place all these years waiting for the right moment to pull it out and do something with it. That moment has arrived now with our new album, In Flagranti – Sprezzatura.

The form of Sprezzatura was obviously very influenced by Disco Piu and that scene. Was the music too?

Alex: All of In Flagranti’s music has been influenced strongly by the cosmic scene, it’s our roots and our understanding of what we like was put in perspective by cosmic DJs like Daniele Baldelli and the mix tapes from that scene. We still enjoy listening to them, they are a refreshing reminder that there was a time when DJ sets where made up of tracks from multiple music genres.

I remember buying vinyl in the early ’80s that did not fit anywhere musically, but I just liked them. Downtempo tracks like Johnny Dynell And New York 88’s ‘Jam Hot’ or a Canada bootleg import of Area Code 615’s ‘Stone Fox Chase’, wonderfull downtempo tracks with an edge. Hearing these mix tapes from Baldelli helped me to open my mind to a new variety of music that could be mixed together. My spin on this 10 years later in the early ’90s was the Smylonylon tapes. I took the idea of a multi-genre-mix-tape and went somewhere else with it, far beyond anything I heard or imagined before I made them. But that’s another story.

For Sprezzatura, we accumulated a lot of tracks in the five years since we our last album Worse For Wear. Doing just another 10 track CD did not appeal to us anymore and thanks to Bandcamp we can sell whatever we like, whenever we like, so the game has changed.

What we needed was an idea to sell the 30 track-album, a gimmick to promote the digital release. After some thinking I remembered the tape from Disco Piu and pulled the tape out of storage and realised this idea would work perfectly for this project. Now we can check what download from the album sells best and do remixes of these tracks on vinyl if we like.

Comment (1)

  1. thisKID 5 months ago

    Nice article but a lot of “piu” and “pui” here and there (it’s “più”).

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