Ten Years Of Disco Romance

Ten years ago, I was a somewhat feisty, hungry, striving for hipster bohemia twenty year old figuring out how I wanted to end my college career.

While balancing school and fun, I was also solidifying musical tastes. Looking back now, I can pin personal audio fulfillment on a single release: Sally Shapiro‘s Disco Romance.

Released on November 22, 2006, the album and band were an electronic myth that defined the modern idea of the electronic artist as anonymous producer. What we knew then (and now) is that half of the act was Johan Agebjörn, Swedish electronic producer, with an anonymous, sweet Swedish pop vocalist who felt both retro and present. Their first singles—”I’ll Be By Your Side” and “Anorak Christmas”—opened the door for a sweeter electronic-pop to form amidst more “hard” sounds of the time like Justice and MSTRKRFT along with the hyper-minimalism produced by Kompakt and the like.

There was an opening for something sweet and nostalgic yet present and powerful and Sally Shapiro took the opportunity, particularly with “Anorak Christmas.” Everything about them was referential in a way that hadn’t become old news or a shitty card trick. This was a time before bands like College and S U R V I V E and M83 were directly riffing off the past, when it only seemed like Italians Do It Better were suggesting this was something people would listen to. Sally Shapiro occupied this territory but took it a step further by going retro with the entire concept of the band.

As Agebjörn explained in an Exclaim! interview, “I chose [the name] Sally Shapiro because we were inspired by artists like Valerie Dore and Katy Gray, who also had a team of producers and writers behind them using the name of a singer as the title for the project.” Sally Shapiro wasn’t nostalgia raking for fun but a thorough, realized traveling back in time as framing device.

They were immediately beloved, earning an 8.5, Best New Music, from Pitchfork. The review helped to heighten the act’s mystique too.

No wonder Sweden’s Sally Shapiro prefers to keep her offline self to herself. Shapiro reputedly declines to be photographed by strangers, and she, like 1980s Italo disco singer Valerie Dore, records under an English pseudonym. (Shapiro hasn’t told us her real name, and she doesn’t do interviews– if “she” exists at all.) Just six months ago, songwriter/producer Johan Agebjörn started posting on message boards announcing her debut 12″ “I’ll Be By Your Side”– Pitchfork’s #27 track of 2006. Not since Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebastian has an artist gotten so much publicity from refusing to do publicity. Here, as then, such reticence befits the music, which speaks, sensitively and eloquently, for itself.

See? They caught a magic no one else had been doing.

And the magic kept going. The project did seem like a one-trick something, a passion project to come and go, but remix albums and sequels suggested this project was more than Disco Romance. No, the other albums didn’t stand up to the original’s charm but it tried while still maintaining anonymity despite success.

Unfortunately, their success also seemed to strip their identity, losing the focus of the band. This is only learned in hindsight, ten years later, but Agebjörn suggested as much in a 2009 FACT interview regarding the sequel album.

I wanted to take influences from more styles than just 80s disco – the first few Sally Shapiro tracks were an attempt to recreate the 80s sound authentically, but I didn’t feel that was interesting anymore. So on this album there are influences from ambient, trance, acid house, jazz and nu-disco…I think the result is a much more varied – though still 100% electronic – album than Disco Romance, and I’m happy about that.

I mean, good, but it also seemed more reactionary to what everyone else was doing instead of truly being a product of their own making. That’s not a bad thing: some things are only meant to be a one-time thing.

After three albums and lots of remixes and random singles, the act realized that what they were doing was a one-time thing: Sally Shapiro announced they were ending their run in April of this year.

Our musical tastes don’t overlap that much anymore. Johan is more into 90s-style electronica these days, and Sally is into non-electronic pop. In three years, we’ve only managed to record these two songs as Sally Shapiro, so with this single we have decided to call our musical project a day, and we would like to thank everyone who followed us on this journey.

Unfortunate, yes, but these little electronic angels likely did more than they should have and now have a legacy of music pinned to late Fall and Winer 2006.

Albums like Disco Romance are the sort of mythic musical release that happen once a decade and live on as a memento to a moment in music. You don’t realize it then either. This was a moment where listeners in and out of electronic music needed something sweet, when the world was changing for better and worse. Ten years later, the same can still be said as we’re all in a bit of a limbo. We all need a little sweetness. Thank you for that, Sally.

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