In Review

Podcasts of the Week: ecstasy, disco and bunga bunga

How a party-loving billionaire hypnotised a nation

Ecstasy: The Battle of Rave is “not your usual hands-aloft-blow-yer-whistle-remember-the-good-times nostalgia-fest”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. It’s much more interesting than that. Available on BBC Sounds as a “bingeable” 12-parter, this exciting but “even-handed” series about late-1980s rave culture has an unusual format. The first six episodes (plus bonus) are a documentary by 5 Live’s Chris Warburton. The next five consist of dramatic monologues by Danny Brocklehurst, in which we hear from “the raver, the dealer, the DJ, the entrepreneur and the policeman” – as portrayed by actors including Ian Hart and Monica Dolan. At first, I worried that Warburton was too obviously unfamiliar with the world of loved-up 1980s hedonism. But I was won over by his warmth and by his excellent interviews. And the dramas are “authentic” and believable. This is an “intense evocation of a short but massively influential time in UK youth culture”. But it did make me feel old. 

If disco was more your thing, check out Speed of Sound from the US record producer Steve Greenberg, said Hannah Verdier in The Guardian. The rise and fall of the genre has been well documented, but this terrific four-parter takes you well beyond Studio 54 into “obscure clubs and the sweaty dancefloors of Fire Island” – and is filled with glorious disco grooves. Another American “uber-producer”, Rick Rubin, is one of the hosts of the interview-based podcast Broken Record, said Francesca Angelini in The Sunday Times. He and fellow hosts Malcolm Gladwell and Bruce Headlam talk to famous musos including Run the Jewels and André 3000. One candid episode features Alicia Keys recalling auditioning for Prince. “Plus she sings a song she wrote at 14. It’s all very lovely.” 

A new series from Wondery made by Benjamin Gray and Giulia Alagna, Bunga Bunga, tells the story of how a party-loving billionaire with no political experience hypnotised an entire nation, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. The riveting saga of Italy’s roistering prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, takes in underage “sex scandals, political wheeler-dealing, financial skulduggery, organised crime and disgruntled wives”, and it positively “revels in lurid details of the infamous ‘bunga bunga’ parties at Berlusconi’s private villa” outside Milan. I enjoyed Bunga Bunga but have one big caveat. While the narrator, comedian Whitney Cummings, does an impeccable job, I do prefer podcasts narrated by the producers who created them – allowing for a special kind of intimacy and authority that is lacking here. Still, this is “political history presented as a comedy caper”, and it is great fun. 

The Week Unwrapped: Green China, Amnesty and online politics 

Will China save us from climate change? Are modern leaders immune to shame? And what can we learn from online party conferences? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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