Dream on

Out There: Nightclubbing is one of the last areas where young people can interact freely. Can you imagine, if they take that away?
Click to follow
Last week, while Jarvis Cocker was upstaging Michael Jackson at the Brits, and the music industry congratulated itself on the success of "Britpop", another odd pop story went virtually unnoticed. An instrumental track by an unknown Italian DJ-turned-producer crashed into the charts at number three. The single had not received any promotion - no video, radio, marketing or press.

Though you may not recognise it by name, chances are that you will have heard "Children" by Robert Miles, a 26-year-old Swiss-Italian who works from his home studio just outside Venice. In fact, it may even be at number one. At the time of writing it has topped the Italian and Swiss charts, is number two in Ireland and The Netherlands, and number three in Spain. It has already peaked in Israel, where it reached second place. Ironically, it was kept off the top spot by Michael Jackson.

Built around a simple piano figure and a pumping Euro-techno rhythm, "Children" is the perfect cruising track, ideal for that poignant ride home after a night of dance floor excess: atmospheric and melodic enough to evoke a subtle emotional response, but not so frantic that it would distract attention from the road ahead. Vorsprung durch techno, if you like.

The motoring analogy is no accident. "Children" is the most successful example of "Dream Music", a genre which evolved in response to public outcry over club-related car crashes. Road conditions in northern Italy are notoriously dangerous, particularly in winter, when heavy fog descends on motorways in and around the Po Valley. But cars are indispensable in a country where most clubs are located outside the major cities, often in semi-industrial areas accessible only by motorway. Along with all-night licensing hours this has led to appalling numbers of fatalities involving young drivers.

By 1991, police were operating road blocks on motorways on Sunday mornings, with hundreds of drivers losing their licences following Breathalyser and drug tests. But the problem persisted until, in 1992, distraught mothers formed the unlikely-sounding Mamma Anti-Rock Movement, demanding the closure of out-of-town clubs by 2am. They focused on the Venice area which, according to statistics, was the most dangerous. They also wanted some clubs closed for good, particularly those playing the frenetic techno beat known as Gabba, which had become synonymous with drug-taking.

"That was when DJs like myself started making Dream Music," says the soft-spoken Robert Miles, who previously made hard-edged techno tracks under his real name, Roberto Milani. "It was an attempt to reintroduce melody and slow the tempo, to make the music less aggressive."

Such sensitivity to social issues seems unlikely from a British perspective, but Gavino Prunas, Miles' manager, says Italian club promoters and DJs were motivated by self-interest. "Italy probably has the biggest club scene in Europe, with more than 4,000 clubs across the country," says Prunas. In the summer months, up to a million tourists descend on nightlife's answer to Las Vegas, with its illuminated pyramids, giant fountains and searchlights raking the sky. With average admission prices about pounds 15-pounds 20, and drinks costing anything from pounds 5 upwards, nightlife has become one of Italy's fastest-growing industries, providing much-needed employment and stimulating the economy - an estimated four million people go to clubs every weekend.

Clearly, earlier closing would result in a dramatic loss of earnings, and the possibility of riots outside clubs. The vengeful mothers had to be placated: Dream Music was the answer. Still, it may be too little, too late. A new law, approved by Italy's upper house of representatives, would force clubs to stop serving alcohol by 1am and close at 2am. It is currently awaiting ratification by the lower house. "If that law is passed," says Miles, "there will be terrible trouble on the streets. Nightclubbing is one of the last areas where young people can interact freely. Can you imagine, if they take that away?"

But how to explain the success of "Children" outside Italy? How, for example, could it sell 50,000 copies in Britain without so much as an advert in the trade press? "Obviously, it's being bought by people who've heard it in nightclubs," says Prunas. Which makes Robert Miles's answer to my final question all the more curious. "My greatest satisfaction," he says, "came the other day, when I saw an 85-year-old grandfather buy a copy."