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Zona Di Franco - Wonder Years (Better Sound, 2020)

A wonderful insight into the world of Franco Falsini, one of the definers of the early 90s Italian sound.

Around the world during the early 90s, what better time to be alive within the electronica world. As the ideals of the 80s spread roots, many scenes and individuals lost themselves in the sound, immersed by the new emotions and connections on display, as synths and drum machines made it possible to craft a little home within this new and wonderful universe. What once was a Chicago and Detroit thing became a worldy ideology, as producers and musicians took to heart the mystiques and enthusiasms of these genres and rebuilt them in their own images, reflecting their locality or the night clubs they inhabited. It created a generation of ravers, music lovers and forward thinkers, all united under one banner but expressing a high level of individualism that helped to give birth to so many new and exciting genres. This continual evolution created sounds over night, in the rave, or just through tinkering with machines long enough to create tones and sounds like nothing that came before. One of the places that churned out some of the late 80s and early 90s most diverse, expressive and most cherished music scenes was Italy, that like the rest of Europe took in all they could when the US imports hit the scene. Italy of course has a rich musical history, from its progressive rock scene during the 1970s, through to the Neapolitan funk scene that now dominates the reissue market, and of course Italo Disco that sound tracked the nightclubs from Chicago to London to Saint Tropez. Another that remains equally as important, in some peoples eyes, was the Italian Dream house movement, that was known for its consistent emotive tinge and usage of deep rolling bass lines with the most melodically gorgeous chord lines. It very much became the most beloved of the European deep house scenes, and its power resonates very strongly through to the present day. Its techno scene wasn't too bad either, with the Italians releasing some pretty seminal techno tracks during this time, along with some brilliant tribal and progressive house works. It was an important time not just for Italy's developing electronic scene, but Europe's too, and the country and its various producers and labels played a big part in the continent's rapid rise to the top.

Franco Falsini is very much a name associated with this period of time in Italian dance music. Co-founder of Interactive Test alongside his brother Riccardo, the label was instrumental in releasing some brilliant records during the 90s, tracks that encompassed the full spectrum of sounds and feels with the progressive, house and techno genres. It was a willingness to explore all facets that allowed for the maximum impacts to be felt, where listeners became very involved in the intoxicating rhythms on show. If you are after top quality house and techno, you shouldn't need to look much further than this wonderful label. Falsini released a far amount of music himself under different names, of which most are represented on the EP we are focusing on within this review. As Franco F, he focused on the pureness of deep house, with his 1991 EP 'Simulation Lab' one of the finest examples of Italo house going (check 'Ray-Tracing Sauna' - absolutely sublime); as Agent Fylfoyt, he released two EPs, firstly a self-titled EP, and then 'EP Vol.2', both of which saw a move through the echelons of deep driving techno tinged beats; as Elements, he released one EP back in the day, 1996's flawless 'After Hours Links' record, which is as expansive and bold as you can really achieve. The list could go on and on, his back catalogue impressive in its scale, his touch landing in so many different contexts and moods, not just as a producer for his own music but as a label head, writer and arranger. His guidance lead the label to being held with the utmost respect and love, his own music considered the epitome of high quality 90s deep house and techno. What more could you need? take a dive!

So now, we arrive at this lovingly reissued collection of some of Falsini's treasures from between 1990 to 1991. 'Wonder Years', which goes out on the fantastic Better Sound imprint, is four cuts from the golden years, and is a great introduction to Falsini's music and his various alias. A dive through the hypnotic, the meaningful and the pleasant, its a record that serves up the full blown power of techno alongside the measured approaches of sensual, deep rhythmic house. So lets take a dip.

The opener, 'Enhanced Senses Device', hits us right from the off. The high octane kick drum sends shockwaves through the cavernous space the song inhabits, quickly shifting gears as the bass line drops into view. The percussion keeps things moving along at a rapid pace, before the haunting synth gets introduced. Never over doing it, the sequence aligns perfectly with the drumming patterns, rhythmically on point to give you the maximum level of pummelling. The track breezes between the full and the reduced, but only for mere moments, the pulse always needing to find its away back into the picture. In terms of pure energy, you can't really wish for anymore. Up next comes 'People in Orbit', which takes a more steady and slow affair, but still fairly high octane. The drumming is smooth, creating a easy going sort of atmosphere, as the synths and bass sequences come right into it. The keys and vocal samples are very playful indeed, responding to the consistency of the beats with lots of lovely movements and patterns. Before long, there is a major switch up, the drumming immediately becoming full and extremely percussive, quite a bold move indeed. It all flows superbly, with varying melodic elements brought back into the mix, as the song almost gets built up from the bottom and re crafted into its new form. The morphology doesn't stop there, as the drums tap out for a brief moment, before the drums switch up yet again! this time picking a more sparse arrangement in order to give over maximum impact to the bass lines that abound from it. Its quite the trip this track, giving over three distinct parts that comprise a dance track like no other. Fuck yeah.

Next up comes 'Ultavenus', and there is no messing around here. The pounding drums and equally as pounding bass line work in over drive, the track displaying a unreal level of depth, the kicks and snares diving deep into our souls. The melodic elements on top move and groove with an unbridled sense of joy, these little senses of variations driving the track forward to glory. Its pure slammin', expansive bountiful energies that never let you go. To finish up, we have 'Unflangled Transitions', and the tones arrive at a new destination. The percussive intro is conga rich, creating a urgent sense of rhythm, matching easily the rest of the tracks for energy levels alone. The beneath is considered, flowing between varying beat structures, whilst the bits on top are no less interesting, switching between little key lines with ease. It all comes together after a through runs through, the track hitting its stride as the bass line comes hammering into view. Its a stunning turn of events, as the track works its magic on us. Before long, it breaks down into the rave chords from the gods, that start high then come all the way down. Its the melodic break we were all waiting for, as the kicks come right back in and its a full on assault on the sense. This is proper, proper 90s stuff, the stuff that really sells the era as one where anything felt possible, sheer brilliance was right around the corner if you had that spark or the right keyboard to achieve it. One final explosion of energy, and that's it.

If you ever felt the enticing pull of the 90s, but didn't quite know where to start, this EP is the perfect introduction to all that is grand and wonderful about it. It must have been difficult for the label to select four cuts from such a ridiculously bountiful discography, but they did, and they picked from across the spectrum. Whilst it leans more to the heavy side, the tracks here really do showcase Falsini's brilliant approach to composition and mood building, his considered approach to drumming patterns, and to top it off, the playfulness and the energy that exudes from every corner of each cut. Its brilliant, take the jump, you will not regret it.

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