What Is It? Cosmic

Publish date:

Sometimes Gomma's DJ Mooner and Balihu's Danny Wang have the same wet dream. They're in a ritzy club in a seaside town just south of the Italian resort Rimini, and it's 1977 and they're dancing slowly, oh so slowly, like swimming through syrup while a DJ in a glass elevator moves up and down between two dancefloors.

The club in this dream is La Baia Degli Angeli, and it's where Italian DJs Daliele Baldelli and Mozart helped birth a niche sound. Taught to mix by Baia's resident DJs–a pair of unknown New Yorkers named Bob Day and Tom Sison–Baldelli and Mozart created a psychedelic, reverberating, rhythmic musical mass out of the only records they could get their hands on. With a lack of context for the music and almost no outside DJ influence, they simply played anything that sounded good to them: percussion-heavy African recordings, Depeche Mode and Tangerine Dream extended mixes, classical music overlayed with delay effects, funk 45s pitched to 33.

In 1979, Baldelli moved to a new club with a spaceship-shaped DJ booth, where he played through the mid-'80s. This was Cosmic in Lasize on the Lago di Garda, and it's where the name "cosmic" crystallized to describe this slow, pulsing electronic mix. A few towns away, at the Typhoon club in Brescia, Beppe Loda was pioneering a similar vibe he called "Afro," mixing African tracks and proto-house with experimental Chris and Cosey jams.

Though Cosmic/Afro clubs still exist today, they're usually watered-down world music affairs with little of the spacey exoticism of the original. But plenty of obsessive DJs have dug up information from those days, which seem to have influenced everyone from DJ Harvey to Francois K. And if you search "Cosmic" and "Baldelli" on eBay you'll turn up a number of bootleg repressings of tracks from old mixtapes.

"It sounds kind of timeless to me," says New York DJ Jeremy Campbell, when I ask him about his fascination with the sound. "They're taking all those different types of tracks and putting them into a whole new context. They're borrowing from all different types of music and making it work together in interesting ways."

Campbell, who brought Loda to the U.S. last year, plays "cosmic"-influenced sets at his Dazzle Ships party, but says he has to create a balance. "About half of it is danceable stuff and the other half the audience would have to be on Quaaludes to enjoy it. To me, the coolest thing about [cosmic] is it's not usually just one style–it's all about mixing some organic funk track into some arpegiating synth track. You really have to know your records well."