if you’re a fan of nu disco or dance music in general you’re probably familiar with the work of mike simonetti. he runs the lauded Italians Do It Better label along with Glass Candy’s johnny jewel as well as Troubleman Unlimited. he cut his teeth working the NY club scene in the late 80s and started releasing other people’s music in the mid 90s. we caught up with mike as he was easing into his fall tour schedule. check out his chart here.
you grew up in new jersey in the 80s… how did that help shape your musical life? How did you find out about new music back then? where’d you get your music?
growing up in Bayonne was good because it was a mini-mecca for metal in the 80s. there were a few thrash bands from Bayonne that were sorta popular (Attacker and Blood Feast), so the local record stores always had the new metal stuff in there. plus i was only a half hour from the Path train to NYC by bus, so i was able to go to the city in the late 80s and hit up Venus and Bleeker Bobs and Some Records for hardcore records and demos. i bought a lot of fanzines and stuff, and in the late 80s all the NY hardcore bands were referencing rap so i got into that. also people traded cassette tapes via mail back then, thats how you got into bands. when i started working at Mars i just got into new club music by going to the clubs and listening to the radio. on the late night weekends there were always djs playing house and rap stuff live mix style…
who were the best DJs when you were working the club scene in early late 80s/90s? who are your favorite DJs over the years?
i worked at Mars in 88/89. at Mars you had Duke Of Denmark in the basement, Clark Kent on the first floor playing some hip hop and mostly house (hip house a lot), on the 2nd floor you had rotating djs, sometimes it was Moby and sometimes Funkmaster Flex, sometimes DB, in the reggae room it was Bobby Konders, and in the summers on the roof it was rotating. sometimes baambaata and red alert… other clubs i would go to : Red Zone had Ralphie Rosario etc. i lived very close to Zanzibar as well and went there a lot… outlaw parties like DB’s Deep.. NASA, Building, Limelight, Palladium, The World…. then came Soul Kitchen. that was some of my most fun times. the early days of Soul Kitchen at SOBs were great. Biz Markie or the Beastie Boys would just show up and freestyle…
my favorite djs over the years… to be honest in the Mars days i wasn’t paying attention to the djs as much as trying to pick up girls. i was like 18 years old and thats what was on my mind pretty much all the time. but i did love DB back then, and Funk Flex. i would go to Zanzibar a lot but this was in the late 80s, way after the days of Larry Levan and Hippie Torrales. Tony Humphries was the dj when i used to go. but i do remember how amazing the sound was at Zanzibar.
Brighter Days was the Zanzibar track in the early 90s.. i also remember how violent it became. there was a shooting when i was there and i never went back. actually the same thing happened at Mars. the doorguys at Mars were strapped. shit was pretty real back then.
what records were big during that period?
I Got The Power was massive, move your body was still being played, Madonna Vogue, Groove Is In The Heart, Hot Music, Gas Face, The Poem, murder she wrote, cabin stabin , a who seh me dun, ‘one blood’, ‘ting a ling’… that era for dancehall was sick… so many classics.. dancehall was just hitting the clubs and was huge. i loved it. couldnt get enough of it. also hip house… I’ll House You.. hip house was really popular for a minute, and that was minute i was at Mars . they had Native Tongues nights regularly with all those guys… at the time it [wasn't] that bad but looking back… meh… these were all huge tracks. there was other stuff “underground” (not really though) like acid crash, break for love, deep inside, follow me, etc etc… the clubs played the hits… people wanted to party and thats what they did!
what record stores were big during that period?
in Hoboken was Pier Platters, in Jersey City there was WOW Records in the Hudson Mall which was run by a dj who always had stuff, NYC there were tons of record stores as you know. they have all been mythologized…
any good Troubleman A+R stories?
there are a lot of bands i turned down that i didn’t really like at the time that i probably should have “signed”, but i don’t want to name names.
what sparked Italians Do It Better? when did you begin to realize the potential of Italians Do It Better? where’s the label headed?
troubleman was releasing dance stuff like the early glass candy 12″s and Tussle, and Chromatics… i wanted the music to get to the djs but troubleman was seen as a punk label and it simply getting the recognition with the dance scene. me and johnny started Italians at the time to release Glass Candy, Chromatics and the After Dark compilation… but after we released After Dark everything started happening really fast. as far as where we areheaded- keep on releasing music on vinyl… we sell cds for $5. we are trying to keep stuff high quality and low priced. theres so much stuff out there.. its hard to keep up sometimes. so at least with Italians you know the stuff is affordable and good quality.
it looks like you use a lot of vintage synths in your music, any great finds over the years?
I’ve found stuff in the weirdest places. when i moved into my new place in Maplewood, i was at a birthday party for the 2 year old across the street, and one of the dads came up to me and said “you play piano, right? we have this keyboard that was in the basement when we moved in and are throwing it away… its a Moog.” turns out it was a Minitmoog in great shape. its a really rare one, not to be confused with a Minimoog. so yea that was awesome… ive found drum machines in the Salvation Army for 99 cents…
best thing about being in the music industry?
releasing music by musicians i really believe in and when i see their song do well in a club… thats a great feeling. the success of Johnny’s projects make me proud. he works very hard…
worst thing about being in the music industry?
releasing half finished version of songs on shitty sounding lo res mp3s.
why did you shave off your beard?
i can barely grow a beard… it was a sad beard.
what were you like in high school?
a straight edge hardcore kid.
favorite places to eat
late night drunken dj food: 4am: San Loco. at 5am Mamouns.
5 top dj songs
-Daniel Bortz ‘Other Guys;
-Italoboyz (featuring John Coltrane) ‘Bahia’
-benoit & sergio ‘let me count the ways’
-whatever new Chris Burns edit/bootleg is hot at the time
5 top listening songs / albums
-the field ‘looping state of mind’
-whatever Bruce Springsteen is around at the time
-Shocking Blue “Rock In The Sea”
word on the street is you like asian girls, true?
-i only have eyes for one girl .