Various Artists

After Dark Comp

(Italians Do It Better; 2007)

By Philip Guppy | 5 November 2007

When people ask me what my favourite film is I never have an unimpeachable reply. Like music, it depends on my current situation; the slightest emotional spike and I’m swinging towards Targets and away from Les Yeux Sans Visage because my chemistry demands it. There are a small corral of titles that would make the top five on most days, films that I never grow tired of watching, but I couldn’t claim to know specifically why they stay with me. The most insidious miniature barb is mood; it’s the most faceless and deceptive armament, lying quietly and imperceptibly. One such film that frequently draws me in due to its lather of that elusive “mood” is After Hours. There’s just something unknowable about its heart, visualising those three-in-the-morning feelings, binding them in frustration and forcing them to dance in an endless circle. It purports to be a comedy, but the light behind it’s eyes is clawed by sweating terrors, the New York setting acting like a maze of locked doors and blind alleys that share more common ground with the descriptions of Dante than they do with the hyperactivity of Manhattan.

The recent After Dark is a musical sister piece to After Hours in that it drags me to that same place. On the surface it’s a continuance of Giorgio Moroder and his elegant strobe light symphonies to disco excess, taking the electronic steel of John Carpenter’s movie themes and the singing automation of Kraftwerk and refracting them through a prism of dance floor opulence. Everything included is a sumptuous love letter to the Italo Disco golden age; from the faux future drawl of the vocoders to the glowing phosphorescence of the synth lines it drips with languid doe-eyed beauty. But then the spectre of mood creeps in. There’s something in this chain that feels a little too icy to the touch, none of the constituents ever feel truly celebratory or enraptured. If you wander into this expecting the concentrated purity of “I Feel Love” you’ll be drawn in by the deception, before being cut adrift on a lonely sea.

The lead exponent of this is Chromatics’ “Hands In The Dark,” a pulsating beacon ringing out across a simple expanse of electronics. It’s a beautiful dream, dancing fingers beckoning you over the ocean only to find that there’s no salvation in its arms, just the ghostly spray of that lilting refrain repeating over and over. Therein lies the betrayal that violates and yet defines this set, the feeling that everything here is a delicate lie on hypnotic lips, drawing you mimetically towards a bright, narcissistic endpoint. Even the euphoric disco classic “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” is bled white by a Mirage Remix; drained of life it becomes luxurious bait, a fond memory to entice and trap.

Given that Italo Disco always had an eye on the future, perhaps this collection is the ideal realization of that vision. After Dark is not going to lead you through any dark times, it may even suggest a few you hadn’t thought of. This collection entrances you with its twinkling decay in order that you may forget about the cold feeling running down your vertebrae. Like Griffin Dunne in After Hours, the promise of pleasure and the realization of desire pledged by this narcotic set is too much to resist, ensuring that amongst admirers of that synthetic and clinical future hallucination, After Dark will have its fair share of willing victims.