Disco had the last laugh

Admirers of European clubland electronica should keep a close eye on the intriguing Stankevich.

Alex Henderson

Music should always be understood in a historic context, and when one understands the history behind Olga Stankevich’s Piano and the City: Dreamway, it becomes clear that this early 2011 release is a perfect demonstration of the fact that ultimately, disco had the last laugh.  That includes the European disco sound that helped to pave the way for what Russian keyboardist/composer/producer Stankevich does on this instrumental album, which takes a decidedly European approach to club-oriented electronica. 

Noting that Stankevich has been directly or indirectly influenced by the European branch of old-school disco is not to say that Piano and the City: Dreamway is retro or that it sounds like a Giorgio Moroder or Kraftwerk recording from the late 1970s or early 1980s.  This album sounds like it was recorded in the 21st Century (not 30 or 35 years ago), and Stankevich’s electronic production style and electronic club grooves are certainly relevant to the European club experience of the early 2010s. 

But even so, it is important to understand that Stankevich and other providers of this type of glossy, stylish European dance club electronica are part of a long Euro-dance tradition that goes back to the 1970s and continues to evolve many years later.  As much as disco was vilified by the “death to disco” crowd of the late 1970s and early 1980s, its influence never went away.  Stankevich is proof of that.

The thing that separates Piano and the City: Dreamway from other thumping European dance club electronica of the 21stCentury is the strong European classical influence that Stankevich brings to the table.  The Euro-classical influence is as evident on “Contiguity,” “Ballet in Trash Style” and “Path Towards the Dream” as it is on “Etude,” “Sense of Time,” “Rain” and “The Russian Land.”  Stankevich’s instrumentals are by no means the work of a Euro-classical purist; this is electronic Euro-dance music with Euro-classical overtones, not a symphony orchestra or a small chamber group playing the music of Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin. 

But there is never any doubt that Stankevich’s work is classical-influenced, and she brings a Euro-artsy aesthetic to “The Flight,” “Inspiration” and other tracks.  Melodically, Stankevich’s material also has some new age and ambient influence, but while new age artists are known for tranquility, the rhythmic Stankevich thrives on exuberance.  The only time Suzanne Ciani or Kitaro (two examples of well known new age artists) are going to heat up a dance floor is when someone has provided a dance-oriented remix of one of their recordings, but Piano and the City: Dreamway, in contrast, was recorded with the dance floor in mind.  No mixologist needs to make “Contiguity,” “Inspiration” or “The Russian Land” more danceable; these tunes are quite danceable to begin with.

Electronica, of course, is a far-reaching term that describes a wide variety of electronic music.  Electronica is everything from the harshest and most abrasive and in-your-face of techno to ethereal, melodic downtempo and chillout music; Stankevich operates on the more ethereal side of electronica, but Piano and the City: Dreamway is not ethereal in the relaxed way that downtempo or chillout recordings are ethereal.  Stankevich, rather, knows how to be exuberant and ethereal at the same time, and her ability to be influenced by the beauty of European classical music does not make her any less energetic rhythmically. 

In that sense, Stankevich clearly has got it together; she knows what she is doing.  But if Piano and the City: Dreamway has any noticeable flaw or shortcoming, it is the fact that too many of the tunes sound alike.  This is a generally likable album, but too many of the tracks are interchangeable.  Stankevich has a tendency to coast on her talents rather than going the extra mile.  One hopes that on future recordings, she will be able to offer more variety while maintaining the enchanting qualities that make this album as attractive as it is.

Nonetheless, Piano and the City: Dreamway has more plusses than minuses, and admirers of European clubland electronica should keep a close eye on the intriguing Stankevich.