With Cosmic Disco?! Cosmic Rock!!, legendary Italian out-disco DJ Daniele Baldelli dives anew into a field he helped pioneer with a muscular work-out of a mix on Eskimo Recordings, one that follows-up weirdo-dance acolyte Prins Thomas’ meticulous curatorial effort, Cosmo Galactic Prism, from last year.
In the early ’80s, Baldelli gained his reputation for effectively inventing a deejaying style out of thin air: His career playing records started in 1969, effectively before there was a name for such a thing. The turning point came when he took over the decks at club Cosmic in Lazise and voraciously began mixing together anything he could in the sort of slapdash assault that takes real schizo insight to pull off: Everything imaginable got sucked into Baldelli’s whirling space disco vortex. In an interview with producer/journalist Daniel Wang in Discopia #3, Baldelli gives as good a summary as any regarding his process:
“For example, I used to play Bolero by Ravel, and on top of this I would play an African song by Africa Djola, or maybe an electronic tune by Steve Reich, with which I would mix a Malinké chant from New Guinea. Or, I would mix T-Connection with a song by Moebius and Rodelius, adding the hypnotic-tribal Izitso album of Cat Stevens, and then Lee Ritenour, but also Depeche Mode at 33 instead of 45, or a reggae voice by Yellowman at 45 instead of 33. I might mix 20 African songs on top of a Korg Electronic Drums (machine) rhythm pattern. I would play a Brazilian batucada and mix it with a song by Kraftwerk. I would also use synthesizer effects on the voices of Miriam Makeba, Jorge Ben, or Fela Kuti, or I would play the Oriental melodies of Ofra Haza or Sheila Chandra with the electronic sounds of the German label SKY.”
While such a method might today seem to be a no-brainer for any inventive record geek partial to recreational drugs, recall that not only did Baldelli pull this off out of nowhere thirty years ago, he was exceptionally talented at it. The glory of the early Cosmic mixes lies in their ramshackle, lo-fi eclectic WTF-ness, which at times makes them sound like a more flamboyant, psychedelic incarnation of Afrika Bambatta’s famous hip-hop “Death Mix” or Public Enemy’s head-spinning sonic collages. It’s enough of an avant-experimental approach to using the turntable as an instrument that Baldelli deserves to be counted alongside visual/music artists like Christian Marclay, with one crucial difference: Unlike a museum artist like Marclay, who uses vinyl as raw material for dada/surrealist appropriation, Baldelli can actually spin.
In contrast to those original mixes, here Baldelli somewhat streamlines the beat, using samplers and other instruments to keep a steady, unfolding course that melts a set of rare, deeply dug tracks together into a dense, dizzying conglomerate of shifting loops and sampled drums. This makes the mix exceptionally, almost hypnotically, seamless, but at the price of being at times more slick and rhythmically homogenous than its tribed-up predecessors.
That said, this mix, edited by Marco Dionigi, remains a pretty good indicator that the dark lab of leftfield disco’s original mad scientist is still in full effect: Relentless, chugging low-BPM beats give enough space and backbone to support all manner of compelling dissonance in the higher frequences — check, for example, Baldelli’s editing on the Romantics “A Night Like This”: The DJ keeps the track in a endless freight-train churn where a P.I.L. bass-and-drums stomp holds up a sprawling overdriven harmonica sample in a seemingly endless loop.
“Cosmic Disco?” the title asks, as if saying “Oh, yeah, so that’s what you think this is? You have no idea.” Calling it cosmic rock instead, however, is even more of a playful misnomer, if you think that by as a result it bears any resemblance to blues-derived guitar music. "Rock" here means beat-heavy throwdown, and "Cosmic" is a substitute for "Psychedelic," not in the sense of otherworldly aural tangents but rather some seriously mind-warping smooth-as-shit sound collages. “Psychedelic steamroller” might be a more appropriate if much less euphonic appellate for Baldelli’s visionary free-for-all. Maybe not the best but definitely the weirdest DJ mix you’ll hear all year.