After 15 years in the game, Italian disco don Birdee, now based in LA, has finally released his debut album. Time for a chat...
If there’s a more fitting new album title during the first warm sprinkles of spring than Then Came Then Sun, we’ve yet to find it. Courtesy of Italian-in-LA Birdee, it’s much more than a precision-timed title, too. A fittingly funk-fuelled soundtrack for our current seasonal segue (and all balmy scenarios thereafter), its unapologetically positive sheen, flighty-yet-weighty groovecraft and timeless sense of honest disco-house fun are the perfect sonic complement as we hurtle into 2019 in earnest. They’re a damn fine soothing tonic for the world gone mad around us right now, too…
And so they should be: Birdee definitely knows his way around a groove. Real name Marcello de Angelis, he’s been cooking up full-phat jams for the best part of 15 years. Longer, if you include his band work back in his native Rovereto, Italy prior to breaking through in 2005. Back then he was Plaza de Funk, a man renowned for flexing around the funkier end of breakbeat. Throughout the 2000s he developed a signature for brick-thick kicks and flabby disco basslines, picking up Best Newcomer accolades and setting the foundations for his next musical chapter in the process.
The Birdee migration from breaks began in 2010 with a series of pump-primed house cuts on labels such as Southern Fried, Woot and Wearhouse. Now outclocking his original alias by double the amount of years (and having physically migrated to disco’s spiritual home LA in the last five years, too) he’s gradually developed a much deeper, slower, silkier sound and driven by a more organic, less energetically dancefloor-focused feel.
Over the years, releases have been spotted on the likes of Defected’s disco-dedicated Glitterbox imprint, Seamus Haji’s Big Love, Hot Sunday and, of course, Yam Who?’s ISM, who’ve been one of the most consistent sources of Birdee beats in recent years and, earlier this month, released his aforementioned album. It’s long overdue. After such a long, strong tenure of releasing club records, Then Came The Sun is his debut album, despite his previously swearing he’d never actually make one!
A sonic complement to the current season, a soothing tonic for the current climate and an interesting story with a man who’s been driven by disco since his parents wouldn’t let him go see Saturday Night Fever. Here’s how Birdee’s latest chapter came to be…
Let’s go back to 2010. It’s not often you can do that blank canvas thing…
"Totally. I’d been doing the breakbeat project for a while and it’s no secret the scene had become stale and it was hard to find inspiration. I wanted to do something different, and disco has always been a big thing in my life. I grew up in the 70s and disco was always being played. Early Donna Summer and, embarrassingly, Amanda Lear. I remember having a big argument with my parents because I wanted to see Saturday Night Fever."
A lot of people romanticise Italo disco from that era. Was that part of the backdrop?
"No, I was into metal by then! A lot of it was quite cheesy and you had to dig pretty deep to find the good stuff. What you heard on the radio and TV was very commercial, synth-pop stuff. I’d love to be cool and say I was into it at the time, but I really wasn’t. I never lost that love for original disco and funk though."
It’s been there since your earliest records…
"I think so too. It’s been an evolution and stripping it back to its roots with less production elements. The core hasn't changed that much really in that sense."
I was trying to think of pivotal tracks of yours that mark that development. Early Birdee tracks were still very high in energy but then a few years later with releases like Three Sides Of Love you can hear you slowing down and finessing that sound more...
"That was totally it. That was a transitional EP where I started playing with ideas and experimenting in the direction the album eventually went in."
Is this you mellowing with age?
"Ha ha, maybe?! I am enjoying going to gigs and seeing good bands. Sometimes more so than spending five hours in a banging club night. But I do still love that, too. It’s cool, though; disco and club culture has been around since the 70s and there’s a strong community of older people who still love it and want to hear it and dance to it. And there’s also a strong interest from younger listeners who’ve got into it through DJs like Motor City Drum Ensemble, who’s a renowned digger, or guys like Greg Wilson who were there at the time. So it’s been 50 years of people dancing in clubs, and for the first time we’re seeing these generations mix a lot more."
I think that’s really cool. Look at rock music. You see rockers of all ages going to shows. You don’t stop being a rocker!
So what took you to LA?
"I wanted to do something different. I was playing here more than I was in Europe, I was playing in San Francisco and LA and made some good friends. I’d been in London for eight years and musically I had some of the best years of my life there – the scene is unparalleled, but it’s a very transitional city.
"I had a US Visa and had always wanted to live out here, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a very special place. I grew up with a lot of films and TV shows that sold it as a special place. It’s an interesting place to be – that kinda mix between the hippie and the commercial. Some of the biggest tech companies we use every day are here: Apple, Facebook, Google. There’s a lot of very smart and creative people around."
Have you been lured into the world of Hollywood and started dipping your toes into the big screen?
"A couple of tracks have ended up on relatively big TV shows, which is cool, and it’s something I’d happily pursue in the future. But really I’ve been too busy releasing records to develop that."
Yeah, let’s chat about the album. It’s actually your debut, right?
"As a solo artist yes. I have done two other albums, a long time ago, in bands back in Italy. A rock one and an electronic jazz album with a piano player. But both those projects were so time- consuming that after the second one I was like, ‘Of there’s one thing I know about my life is that I’ll never do an album again’.
"But this came up naturally. I’d done some singles on ISM and Yam Who? said I’d done four EPs for the label so suggested I do an album. I did freeze for a minute and thought, ‘Oh no!’. The only rule I had was to make it really quick. I’ve seen so many people go, ‘Okay I’m making an album’ and shut themselves away and not listen to anything and it takes them too long and they hate it. I wanted to avoid that, so I gave myself a timeline of six months. It was pretty much done in December."
Has it reinstated your faith in albums?
"It was intense. There were definitely a couple of moments of hitting my head on a wall. But yeah, I wouldn’t rule out doing another one, so I guess it worked! I think it captured a moment in time for me and everything that came before it."
My personal favourite is Dinamo. Those pitched vocals at the start are very MJ Cole or Iz & Diz to me.
"Thanks! Dinamo is an interesting one. The title is from the Futurism movement. There was a magazine that a lot of these artists wrote for called Dinamo, and the vocal is actually a sample of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who was one of Futurism’s most famous protagonists."
Wow, that’s an interesting source. How did you find the sample?
"The inspiration comes from my personal background; futurism was big in Italy and one of the artists came from my hometown. There were some recordings, like experimental art, made just after WW1. So that’s where it came from."
That’s a properly personal tune then, and unique inspiration!
"It’s funny you should pick that tune. It’s a homage to my roots and upbringing, and it's really the only track that goes that deep in that type of way on the album. I find it difficult to write personal stuff – sometimes it comes across as cheesy. I was wary of that with the album but Dinamo worked out nicely."
What’s working out nicely next? Do you have projects bubbling or are you staring at a blank canvas right now?
"It's a little bit of a blank canvas to be honest. I do have a release at end of April on Body Heat. I’ll be doing more work with Hot Sunday Records, too. Now the album is done it’s nice to start experimenting again and I’m definitely moving towards more live sounds in the tracks and playing elements myself. I played bass, guitar and keyboards on a few tracks on the album. I love adding the human element into the music and that’s something I want to move towards more. We’ll see what the future brings…"
Words: Dave Jenkins
Then Came The Sun is out now on ISM Records