An interview with musician Toni Cutrone on Italian Occult Psychedelia, his bar DalVerme and label NO=FI recordings
When we last spoke it was in the recent aftermath of Borgata Boredom, how has Roma Est changed since we last spoke?
TC: When we chose the name "Borgata Boredom", we were thinking that if there are so many people in this area doing weird stuff (music, art, silkscreening, photography, fashion), it's probably ‘cos they are bored and are struggling not sink into the snore. I think it’s still like this. It’s a pretty active scene though. You know how gentrification works. Pigneto became hype, fancy people are moving here, new businesses are around, prices are increasing. The rest of Roma Est (way bigger then Pigneto) is still rough and wild, dirty and cheap, crime is increasing and it’s still far from a tourist destination in Rome.
Can you explain the Italian Occult Psychedelia movement?
TC: A couple of years ago an article titled “Italian Occult Psychedelia” was published by Italian music magazine Blow Up. Author Antonio Ciarletta described the existence of a particular local scene in Italy informed by a series of common traits. Let's use the words by Valerio Mattioli, half of Heroin In Tahiti and music journalist himself. “A general psychedelic vibe; a typical Italian atmosphere inspired by 60s and 70s soundtracks (Spaghetti Westerns, Giallo movies). A fascination for some of the darkest aspects of Italian culture and society: Catholicism in its most archaic aspects, neorealism, “sun and violence” and so on. A sort of “mondo aesthetics” which relates to the Italian Mondo movies tradition (exotic names, imaginary takes on different cultures, cannibals, Hawaiian dancers and so on). A Mediterranean approach to the Anglo-American stereotypes of psychedelic music and a rediscovery of the local psychedelic tradition of the past (musicians such as Franco Battiato, Nuova Consonanza, Aktuala, the most obscure italoprog etc).” Simon Reynolds once discussed with Valerio Mattioli the possibility of the bands described by Ciarletta being considered a local version of British hauntology.
How did the Thalassa festival go down and what’s next?
TC: It was a dark and rainy night in Rome. I was at DalVerme, having a drink with Valerio Mattioli (we already said who he is), talking about the future of the world and other stupid topics. Getting back to Ciarletta's article, we noticed that almost all the bands mentioned by him were friends of ours and each other. They shared stages, collaborated together and they all come from a noise-experimental background. They were all bands which had already played at DalVerme, or there was a project to bring 'em here.
TC: So, cocktail after cocktail, we had the idea of a festival which could be a kind of manifesto event for the Italian Occult Psychedelia scene. We started thinking about a name, and after hours of brainstorming we choose THALASSA: for the ancient Greeks it is the sea, the Mediterranean; beautiful and dangerous, shiny and dark, able to hide monsters or precious pearls in its Deep.
April 2013, we made it. And it was great.
And did it again in April 2014!
Let's see if we will have a third edition.
With the scene that exists in Roma Est, it really is all encompassing: food, drink music, labels like your own, and distribution, zines, artwork...
TC: You can smell the real meaning of D.I.Y. and the real attitude of a scene. Not an internet scene but a geo-located scene, which is something rare in these years. What I feel to be one of the main characteristics of the Roma Est scene, is that it's made of people that know each other, share practice rooms, set up shows together or just drink beers together at night talking about projects, plans and dreams... It's grown into this. It means you will find a lot of different people with different jobs, different lives, different hobbies but the same attitude.
Your new musical solo project Mai Mai Mai is very much rooted in your past...
TC: The whole project is a travel back into my culture and my past, in different steps. A part of my family were sailors and fishermen from the deep south of Italy. I grew up and lived on the sea, travelled and felt the culture connected with it. I feel akin to a Mediterranean culture, more then Italian or European. And all I do with Mai Mai Mai is tell stories of memories, feelings and soundscapes located around the Mediterranean Sea. The first two LPs out (Theta on Boring Machines, 2013 and Delta on Yerevan Tapes, 2014) are the first two parts of a trilogy, and I am working on the third installment, out 2015.
What about the food, the idea of cucina povera - the offal, the good bits - the other side of Rome’s cacio e pepe?
TC: We talked in the past about the cucina povera and the rural and lower class food: the different kinds of pasta based around pecorino Romano (Roman sheep cheese), the gricia, the amatriciana and the carbonara. All based on pecorino and guanciale (lard from pigs cheeks) and black pepper. My favourite offal and entrails cooked the Roman way are trippa (tripe), pajata (steer small intestine), coratella (mixed entrails from lamb, rabbit or chicken, mostly heart, liver, lung) or fried golden brain. What I really like is food made by people who take typical Roman food culture and innovate and new combinations of tastes.
TC: Do you remember The Fooders? Our good friends. They finally opened their own place called MAZZO. A great mix of street food culture and Roman food, innovation based on tradition. You will find 'em in an area called Centocelle, more east then Pigneto, in the Roma Est zone. In the same neighbourhood, check for DOL restaurant. DOL means “Di Origine Laziale”, made in Lazio, the region of Rome. They work with Km0 products made by small producers with a native selection of raw materials. Their pizza?!
TC: Back in Pigneto, our friend and beloved chef Marco Gallotta (from Primo al Pigneto, highly recommended) opened a new great place called Rosti, focused on street food.
What do you drink in Rome?
TC: Aperol, for me, stands for easy going drinks and aperitivo. Which I like sometimes but it’s not really my attitude. And not the attitude in Rome. If I drink spritz, I always go for the Spritz Cynar with this artichoke Amaro. You need to try it. I have to thank my girlfriend, she's from Veneto and she was my guide into all this Venetian spritz culture.
TC: In Rome, the aperitivo isn't as common as in Milano or Venice. It's more about plush dinners and after that, hunting for good drinks. And Rome is the right place if you like well done cocktails. The Jerry Thomas project is one of the best bars in Europe, the first speakeasy in Rome. And they began what now is a good wave of real cocktail bars in the Holy and Eternal City. I am glad I work at DalVerme. We started drinking at the Jerry Thomas years ago and after that it was impossible to drink any other way. Our head of bar Ndriu Marziano drunk and studied with 'em and now he himself is one of the best bartenders in town. Francesco and Mario, also at Dalverme's bar, do a great job too.
What did you think of The Great Beauty?
TC: I think the way that Roma has to be seen is more Fellini's way (watch Roma, 1972). I don't like what Sorrentino did to show Roma in this movie. You don't feel the real soul of this city, he didn't let Roma conquer you slowly but inescapably, as it happens and as Neorealismo showed. He just forced your eye into his binary. He shows a part of Rome which suits the superficial part of the population described in his film. Nothing more in my opinion.
And what about the films of Pasolini vs. the films of Paolo Sorrentino?
TC: Pasolini worked a lot in Roma Est because he found here what he needed for his movies, for his poetries and for his life. He was a great political figure in Italy but at the same time rejected and shut out. Our country was too extreme during that period. It’s probably too extreme even now. In his public struggle he used poetry and cinema as a powerful vehicle to transmit his political and social views. His language was so strong to be able to hit every social side, he aimed to wake you up. I'm not sure we can find something so deep, intimate and so disturbingly powerful nowadays. For sure not in Sorrentino.
With the idea of an Eternal City; a crumbling city but very much alive in Roma Est, is there a clash within this state of paralysis vs. a dynamic and home grown attitude?
TC: Rome is a huge city and the neighborhoods are like little towns. Sometimes you feel you deeply belongs to to one area and not to the whole city because it’s really so different what you can smell around Rome. The historical center of Rome is beautiful, really amazing but just made for tourists and by people trying to make business from this. I mean, there's not even a live club or a squat. What is exciting, lively, worthy and what you can really call underground happens beyond the border of the city centre, which often doesn't even seem to be few kilometers from the Vatican, the endless loud line outside the Colosseum, from hundred of tourists eating bad expensive ice creams in front of Fontana di Trevi.
TC: The only big music scene we had in Rome was the punk hardcore scene in the late 80s and 90s. That was great. The first D.I.Y. movement here in town, before internet, before MTV. It was really connected to the American hardcore scene. Rome ate it, digested it and it became something unique.
I feel that Pigneto needs to be experienced at night, what do you think?
TC: Pigneto has got two different faces and I like both. During the day it is like being in a small town. Walking through the little streets, with Roman characters around, old style people ready to talk to you if you want. There’s always time for a good chat Shopping at the street market, talking to real farmers, having a good lunch and enjoying the sun in a nice garden. Then in the evening, let's start with aperitivo, dinner, shows and parties.
Who else should we be looking out for?
TC: In Zaire are one of my most beloved. The Lay Llamas are an Italian act who played the Liverpool Psych Fest, now on Rocket Recordings. Cannibal Movie are my dear friends from Puglia. And Cannibal Movie's Donato Epiro also does beautiful stuff under his own name. Mamuthones are favorites of Julian Cope and all their stuff is amazing. Other bands to check out are La Piramide Di Sangue, Squadra Omega, Architeutis Rex, Spettro Family, Eternal Zio, M.S. Miroslaw, Golden Cup, Rainbow Island. And finally Father Murphy, perhaps the most acclaimed and known name of the family. I love them.
Toni Cutrone records as Mai Mai Mai and runs NO=FI Recordings, responsible for some of our favourite weirdo sounds including Heroin In Tahiti's "Canicola" record. He is also the co-founder of Roma Est bar and venue DalVerme Via Luchino Dal Verme N8, Pigneto, Roma, where you can find very good craft beers upstairs and awesome punk shows downstairs.