Giorgio Moroder. The history of the EDM Grandfather

George Palladev 23.03.2022

Giorgio Moroder. The history of the EDM Grandfather

“My name is Giovanni Giorgio. But everybody calls me Giorgio.” Boom! And now all the young people know about Giorgio Moroder—the father of modern electronics. “It’s better than being called the grandfather,” grumbles the 80-year-old Moroder. “But I still don’t like it.” However, he kept this title for the Soundcloud page :-)

In the track that brought the pioneer of artificial music back to the forefront, the musician said that he found his vocation at the age of 15, but then it seemed like an impossible dream. Moroder lived in a tiny Italian village of five thousand people and idolised music from Europe and the US: he knew every song by the Beatles and Elvis. Giovanni put together a band and together they travelled around half the continent, singing the overseas rock and roll. “But later I realised that I didn’t just want to play, I wanted to compose music.” After dropping out of school, he turned to the bass. “Now I may have a little bit of a chance.” After playing at German discos, at the age of 18 he got an offer to work as a sound engineer in a Berlin studio. “How can you refuse this?” Moroder asks.

Young Giovanni. Late 60s

Moroder came from the northern Italian lands, which had previously belonged to German-speaking Austria for five hundred years. So he felt comfortable in the largest city of West Germany. “I’d always wanted to do music but I needed to have a year or two learn to score music and get to grips with the technology. I’ve always thought that Italian music however beautiful, is maybe too provincial, made only for Italians. I wanted to be know at an international level, above all in America and in England where lots of bands were being launched. I set up in Germany because it was there that the hits were made. My first hit came after having spent only four months as a composer in Berlin and then I had about another twenty or thirty tracks released for various other German groups. I’d been lucky. In Munich things went even better.” Berlin is located in the north of Germany while Munich is in the south, much closer to his parents’ home. In the basement of a 23-storey hotel, Moroder assembled his own Musicland studio, where almost all the most prominent British rock music was recorded (Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, and Queen were all there; it was cheaper for them). The 30-year-old Moroder gathered a company of session musicians and tried his hand at producing himself: he gave a musical vision, suggested arrangements, set the course, and didn’t forget about personal projects.

“I discovered the synthesizer when I listened to Walter Carlos, the beautiful album called Switched-On Bach, which was a classical rendering of Bach’s music but only played on the synthesizer. And it sounded absolutely intriguing to me, to have one instrument which would play an oboe, a violin, and a piano. So I tried to find out who has one, because I wanted to hear it. In early 70s I’d met a classical composer in Munich, devoted to solid music, Eberhard Schoener, who had a Moog, and showed me how to use it.

I was absolutely taken—it sounded totally new. He made me listen to notes that were low, very long and very boring with no rhythm or effect. Luckily his sound engineer Rober Wedel got me listenin to something elese, something a bit more melodic. When I’d understood the potential of the Moog, I decided I needed to figure out how to use Moogs and sequencers and synthesizers in commercial music.

When I heard Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, I thought they were doing some interesting things, but there was no strong melody. After Einzelganger, I wanted do more with synthesizers and I wanted it to be popular. I needed an extra element, something more human.” So, he added orgasms, summed up the interviewer.

Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder. 1977

In the first half of the 70s, his team met with Donna Summer, an American singer from a devout family who flew to Europe to make a career, fell in love with an actor and took his surname, and, in addition to working in the theatre, did backing vocals in recording studios. The success of the single Love to love you baby (the one that Beyoncé covered later) opened the doors of the American market for Moroder’s team—the single was signed up by the notorious label Casablanca Records, where coke was brought like sugar for confectionery. Things went uphill and the team decided to cultivate the field of disco that was popular back then. In 1976, a concept album I remembered Yesterday was conceived for Donna, where the musical trends of different years would be reflected under the rhythm of disco music: from the 40s, through the present and, finally, to the future. “I started to imagine how a song could sound like the future, and I said, wait a second, I know the synthesizer, so why don’t I use the synthesizer?” Moroder rented Eberhard Schoener’s Moog Modular along with his sound engineer. He became an important person in the realisation of Giorgio’s ideas and one of the authors of I feel love.

“I wanted to create a piece which was totally electronic, futuristic and which used the synthesizer (which I knew well). I put down a bassline, pitched hi-hat and snare drum and synchronized everything. The only sound that I wasn’t able to produce was that of the kick drum. The only thing which did not work was the bass drum, the kick. The Moog was like, foof foof instead of tok tok. So my poor friend Keith Forsey had to sit for eight minutes in a row playing just the kick. When I was making it, I didn’t really think about the melody. I just composed the music. It created a modern, mechanical feel. Then, you add th voice of Donna Summer and it’s melodic and sexy. Donna sang it and it came out nice. That’s a big part of its success still: you have this metallic machine sound that becomes seductive.”

“I thought I had something new, but I absolutely didn’t know that it would have such a strong effect. I only realized that I feel love would have such a strong effect when Brian Eno told David Bowie that he heard the sound of the future in that song.”

Hearing more about it, one might think that when Moroder says I did he attributes other people’s achievements to himself. As for studio work, his I should be understood as we. Giorgio Moroder is a cooperative that includes five people more: keyboardists, drummers, sound engineers, and lyrics writers who contributed greatly to Moroder’s solo albums and collaborations. “Giorgio was always trying to get out of the studio,” his colleagues joke “He wasn’t one to linger on a song.” The man who came up with the theme of Beverly Hills Cop (aka Axel F., Crazy Frog, remember?) and a keyboardist in Moroder’s team, Harold Faltermeyer, recalled:

Harold Faltermeyer

“One time, he told me and drummer Keith Forsey and lyricist Pete Bellotte, You all go into a room and compose a song, then when I come back, we’ll record it. And I said, So, Giorgio, what are you doing then? He said, I’ll be playing pool.” To hear what Moroder can do by himself, listen to his experimental album Einzelgänger (Loner) released in 1975.

Two moustaches: Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. 1976—1977

The success of synthetic sound inspired Moroder to make his first official electronic album—From here to Eternity, which was swiftly recorded in 1977 by Giorgio’s brilliant team. One of his close associates, the bookish Pete Bellotte, who moved from the UK to Munich and wrote almost all the lyrics for Donna Summer, made a lot of successful puns for Giorgio’s solo album. Among other things, he sang the main parts on the record in a mysterious voice, while Moroder hid behind vocoder inserts. “I never really pursued to be a solo artist, because I never had a great voice. I did not really want to perform live. I was always afraid of not remembering the lyrics. Plus at that time, there was no collaborations with other singers. Now, I think that instead of doing From here to Eternity, all the songs, with myself as a singer, I could have had singers to join. But at that time it didn’t exist, or at least I didn’t know.”

From here from Eternity/Utopia muisic video with Moroder on keyboards

Moroder with the team flew to the US to record his second official electronic album E=MC² in 1979. “The idea of this one was I wanted to be the first one, at least in the pop world, to record something on digital. So I found Dr. Stockham in Utah, who had a stereo machine computer, which recorded digital. In fact, I think he invented digital recording. So, I wanted to do it as much as possible as a live track.” They had 25 keyboard synthesisers, 3 microcomputers, a drum kit and a vocoder. In the best marketing traditions, the album booklet announced: “Revolutionary human + computer collaboration. Ultimately digital technology and human creativity merge in live concert. Without distortion and noise. Pure sound.”

Moroder and synthesisers. Behind the musician are two installations of Roland System 700 modular synthesisers. On the right is the Roland MC-8 MicroComposer, one of the first digital sequencers. Late 1970s.

Moroder revealed some secrets: “We recorded the whole thing, I think, in two or three days, and at an incredible cost. I paid, I think, $10,000 a day to get the machinery and all that stuff. And then the problem was whenever you record, you always want to edit, change eight bars here, four bars there, and we could not really do it. Cos it was almost like typing numbers, not notes. I would tell Dr. Stockham, OK, take those eight bars out and join the two others. So it took him about ten minutes to do that, but we could only hear it at that time. We could not hear all the edits. So we had to wait, I think, two, three weeks before I could hear the final thing. So we went to Utah, to Salt Lake City, and then finally I could hear how I did the edits, and I almost had forgotten already how I did it. Because it took so much to render those digital numbers. And E=MC² did not sell that well. People like it, but it wasn’t a big hit. So I said, I better stay away. I’m better behind the whole thing.”

Album ad in Los Angeles

In 1977, an interesting job turned up. The director of Midnight Express, Alan Parker, impressed by the sound and success of I feel love, offered Moroder the opportunity to record music for the film he’d just made. “I thought Alan was crazy. I was in the pop world, I was doing disco which I loved.” Giorgio couldn’t understand it. He explained that at the time there was a separate caste of film composers in Hollywood and a person from the pop industry couldn’t just bring their records to the American cinema. “He said Don’t worry: give me one piece for when the kid runs away when he thinks he made it in Istanbul. Give me the feel of “I feel love” so I did the piece, it worked and he said that was all he needed. I asked him what about the rest of the score, he said: Just do whatever you want.”

The Chase theme, which Giorgio took from one of his early pre-electronic albums, Kings in White Satin, and which could now be called one of the first acid house tracks, was fateful and opened up a new niche with fabulous commissions for Moroder. Very handy, since the disco era only lasted for a few years more. Giorgio exchanged his studio in Munich for a mansion in Los Angeles with a fleet of personal Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In less than fifteen years, he was involved in the scoring of a dozen films, the most famous of which are Flashdance, which recalls a music video, the children’s fantasy The NeverEnding Story and, of course, the gangster Scarface.

Three Oscars and four Golden Globes for soundtracks, together with two Grammies for pop music—Moroder is the most glossy pioneer of electronic music. By the early nineties, he was approaching peak commissions: the official anthems of the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup in Italy. What happened next isn’t exactly clear. In various interviews, Giorgio said that he was tired, lost inspiration, couldn’t do it well anymore or that it was due to flying between his native Italy and overseas Los Angeles. Apparently, the producers couldn’t always run after Moroder. In 1990, he turned 50, got married, became a father, plunged into art, played golf, and made music only out of habit. In general, his future seemed predetermined, but, already in his seventies, he was asked to work as a DJ at a party of his friends from Louis Vuitton (Moroder prepared a 15-minute mix of his electronic tunes), and then suddenly he got a call from Daft Punk asking if he wanted to work with them.

Moroder in 1979 with an Oscar for the music for ‘Midnight Express’. On the right—actress Raquel Welch

The collaboration with Daft Punk is undoubtedly worthy of a separate volume in everyone’s biography. This is something in between the landing of a UFO in the garden, the descent of the holy fire, and the second coming of Christ—the event of a lifetime, which all your great-grandchildren will know about. For the 11-year-old Moroder Jr., the French Daft Punks were like gods. And he asks to join the dinner with Dad, where a joint track will be discussed. To Giorgio’s surprise, he didn’t have to write music. They put three microphones in front of him and for about three hours he talked about his life without the slightest idea which of his words would be used and where. “I told everything, I confessed my whole life! I wasn’t sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch, but I may as well have been!” We hear what came out of this in the 9-minute track Giorgio by Moroder with the sequence typical for Moroder (as an homage and act of gratitude).

Soon, Moroder’s first record in two decades arrived. Déjà Vu, which was released in 2015 with choruses by famous singers, sounds fashionable, light, sweet, and fresh; there is only a little bit of the recognisable 70s electronics. Naturally! The record was prepared with the participation of a dozen producers and a whole bunch of co-authors. Giorgio himself admitted: “I personally don’t have all of that music machinery and all that stuff. I’m a little limited. I just do my demos, and then I have my great musicians to do the tracks, and they then find some new bass sounds and drums and guitars.” This scheme with a famous name on the cover and a bunch of ghostwriters in the booklet is found everywhere in relation to famous albums.

Moroder’s dolce vita in Los Angeles, 1979

Giorgio became young again. He released 74 is the new 24, where he made it clear that he was the same age as his newfound fans. He now DJs in front of crowds of 5-10-15 thousand people, controls their mood with Ableton and teases them with a vocoder voice. He is honoured in numerous interviews and his memories of how his most famous themes were created arouse great interest. “When the news came out that Daft Punk did a song with me—all of a sudden I started getting calls from management companies. I got an agent for DJing when I’ve hardly ever DJ’d before in my life. I got an offer to do an album from a major record company—I can’t say which. David Guetta loves me. I’ve spoken with Avicii. Two months ago, not one of those people was talking to me. Daft Punk has given me credibility.”

And now—tracks produced by Giorgio Moroder