The Austinites Behind the Curtain: Gino Scaramuzza

Previously in this series:
Erica Lies
Mike Stefanik
Ron Berry

In this series, we’ll be getting to know some of the Austinites who produce our favorite local events. This week, we’re talking to Gino Scaramuzza, one of Austin’s finest italo-disco DJs, who has come to us by way of Buenos Aires.

Please note that Mr. Scaramuzza is not a native English speaker. His answers to these questions have been edited for grammar and syntax with his oversight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lite + Brite: Can you give us a brief intro to your Austin events?

Gino Scaramuzza:I produce authentic situationist plays with an italo-disco soundtrack. These works are usually set in dance parties; they always star Gino Scaramuzza, Disc Jockey; and they usually feature a myriad of other local and international DJs, dancers, actors, and actresses. All of the music is from vinyl records—there is never any incorporation of computers or digital equipment. For the last three years, I have organized the annual “Halloween Disco Terror” at Sahara Lounge, in addition to countless other pop-up disco parties at Carousel Lounge, El Tenampa Bar, Dozen Street, Club Corona Bar, and Cheer Up Charlies.

L+B: For how long have you been organizing events here in Austin?

Gino Scaramuzza: I came to Texas for the first time in 2017. It’s been a disco situation ever since!

L+B: Can you explain what, exactly, italo-disco is?

Gino Scaramuzza: That’s a small question with a complicated answer. I was surprised when I came to the US how few people knew what it was. I would say that italo is electronic dance music from Italy and surrounding countries, from the early 80’s, sung almost entirely in English. The sound has a huge variety. It can range from arpeggiated-synth-cosmic-robotic to more traditional four-on-the-floor disco sounds.

L+B: What is it about italo disco parties that especially appeals to you?

Gino Scaramuzza: I was born and raised in Palermo, Buenos Aires, in Argentina. Italo disco was the music we danced to in the early 80s. At the time, there was a brutal military dictatorship in Argentina that, among more serious human rights abuses, censored lots of rock and disco. Records like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” were illegal and considered subversive to society. In order to avoid government censors (and licensing fees), pirate records sprung up everywhere. The majority of these pirate records were italo disco music. Owning these records and dancing to this music was like giving a middle finger to The Man, and it was a way teleport away from the insanity of the time. If you’re interested in understanding the sound, I would encourage you to look into Gapul Records, one of the more important Argentine pirate labels. 

L+B: What’s the most memorable or unexpected thing that’s ever happened at an event you produced?

Gino Scaramuzza: There are countless tails of disco debauchery over the years, but one of the most memorable would have to be the very first play I ever produced in the US—at El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. I played an electrifying three-hour set, outside in the middle of the desert, and the audience was a mix of Mexicans, cowboys, and hippies. As I was wrapping up, the owner of the Lost Horse Saloon (one of the only bars in Marfa) invited me to play another set. Before I knew it, my turntables and I were in the back of a stranger’s pickup truck, speeding down the highway to the saloon. At the end of another three-hour set at the bar, the bartender closed down, shuffled the last customers out, and a handful of people stayed for another few hours, while I played records with the lights out so as not to attract the sheriff. My first show in the US, first in Texas—a clandestine disco party in a west Texas saloon hiding from the sheriff at 3AM. Totally unforgettable!

L+B: What makes your parties unique?

Gino Scaramuzza: The music, of course! Over many trips back and forth to Argentina, I have brought over 1,500 vinyl records to Austin. Apart from the 1980’s Argentine-sound, every event is designed specifically to create a reawakening of authentic desire in every participant. Many audience members have told me that the show has a surreal quality, or that they feel they are participating in an elaborate prank designed just for them. Neither of these are exactly right, but a disassociated sense is definitely a side-effect of finding yourself in a situation in which life and art are authentically unified.

L+B: Do you organize events in both Austin and Buenos Aires? How would you compare the two scenes?

Gino Scaramuzza: Barring global pandemic, I travel to Buenos Aires for at least 2 months out of every year, usually July and August (TOO damn hot in Texas!). I always organize shows when I go back home—the public demands it! (A random Austin connection: in Buenos Aires, I collaborated with native Austinite Grant Dull, founder of ZZK Records. Austin should be very proud of him—he’s done great work!)

Nothing that I have seen in the United States really compares to the Buenos Aires disco scene. As in Berlin and Barcelona, good parties in Buenos Aires start at one o’clock in the morning and might end 12 hours later with hundreds of people dancing together. Austin is the “live music capital of the world,” and it doesn’t make sense to expect, or falsely put, any of my own DJ parameters over this. DJ parties, and situationist plays, work better and have more history in a place like Buenos Aires. That’s okay with me because I know there is still an audience that needs to hear my music and have an authentic experience here in Austin. It’s always my deepest pleasure to provide it for them.

L+B: What are some of your favorite Austin events to attend that you don’t produce, or favorite venues to work with?

Gino Scaramuzza: Anything at the Museum of Human Achievement is always worth checking out. Eileen Bristol, owner of the Sahara Lounge, is a saint! Working with her is always a pleasure. I really enjoy the shows by local synth-pop producer Dive Bomb Jupiter. One of my favorite Austin events to attend is the Grown Folks Step ‘N’ Roll at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex. I’d love to DJ there sometimes! The midnight Saturday show at Taquería Siete Estrellas is definitely not to be missed if it starts back up in the summer. Great food, great music!

L+B: How can people support you during this time when we can’t go to events?

Gino Scaramuzza: Readers can offer support by stepping outside, raising their arms to the sky, and transmitting positive disco-mojo into the ionosphere. I am a luddite; I have an almost complete absence of involvement on social media or the internet. Over the years fans have started websites, Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud pages for me, but never with my approval or participation. I have always relied on face-to-face communication and constant artistic output to forge new relationships, in person. 

L+B: While we’re all stuck at home, are there any streaming events from Austin creators that you’d recommend?  

Gino Scaramuzza: The only “streaming event” I have listened to is the AMAZING radio show “No Humans Allowed” on KPISS’s channel 2, every Thursday night, at 10pm. Now THAT’S a DJ who knows a lot about italo disco!

[Editor’s note: Given that Brian is the DJ for “No Humans Allowed,” we think both that Gino is telling us what we want to hear, and also that we agree.]