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Italy and rock 'n' roll are not mutually exclusive

An Italian music and cultural festival seeks to show that Italians do rock. 'We're not just about the mandolino,' the organizer says.

October 14, 2009|Scott Timberg

Despite its long-held reputation as the most aesthetically minded nation in the civilized West, Italy has never been able to produce a decent, well-known rock band. With (H)itweek L.A., Rome-based music promoter Francesco Del Maro is hoping to change that.

"My main goal is to show the world we're not just about the mandolino," said Del Maro, 37, who is behind the Italian music and culture festival that comes to town this week and concludes Sunday.

"We have very successful artists, from rock to heavy metal to reggae to world music. Negrita has sold out stadiums. Franco Battiato has collaborated with Antony and the Johnsons; he's very far from what you would think of as Italian music."

The festival is designed to showcase a range of rock and pop music made on the peninsula today.

Performances, presented by KCRW, take place at the Henry Fonda Theater on Friday and Saturday and include sets by Africa Unite, a reggae group founded soon after Bob Marley's death; retro hipster Daniele Luppi; Joan Jett-like "rock-noir" band Belladonna; and the Niro, a folkie who resembles Jeff Buckley or Elliott Smith.

A performance by Battiato, a filmmaker and electronic music pioneer who has toured with Brian Eno, at the Broad Stage will close (H)itweek on Sunday.


Beyond Bocelli

According to some of the musicians, Italy remains a difficult place to launch a career.

"We were frustrated; there was no space for us," said Paolo Pavanello, 39, guitarist for the Turin band Linea 77, which claims Rage Against the Machine among its sources of inspiration. "Most executives and labels were looking to promote traditional Italian music, which is not provocative."

The band took off for Britain and built a following there before returning home, he said.

"In reality, many kids in Italy are playing indie rock or heavy rock," he said. "The problem is not the public, the music crowd. It's the executives at the music labels -- most of them are in their 50s and looking for the new [Andrea] Bocelli."

Tommaso Colliva, of Milan-based Calibro35, wanted to come up with a new style still rooted in Italian tradition. While touring as the sound engineer for Italian alt-rock band Afterhours, which is also on (H)itweek's program, he had a revelation: "I was asking myself, 'Does it make sense to come to America with rock 'n' roll?' "

In American record stores, Colliva, 28, came across reissues of soundtracks for Italian exploitation movies from the '60s and '70s -- crime movies, "sexy comedies" and "macaroni combat" films. Each of these genres has its own sonic blueprint, he said.


'A new generation'

"Cop shows had a mix of funk and prog rock. Sex comedies were more like beach music."

Porn films used "fuzzy organs" and strange vocal effects, while B movies set in ancient Rome tried to summon a heroic sound with trumpets and percussion, he added.

Calibro35's melange of all these styles sparked interest in Italy's indie music scene and at film festivals across Europe. "We're doing something that can represent Italy in other countries," Colliva said. "You can feel it, even if you're not Italian."

To Pavanello, the key is to build a real Italian music industry that connects to the outside world.

"There is a new generation of people born in the '70s, like me, with more open minds," he said, adding that Italians need to "be brave enough to think of music as something you export instead of just import."

Del Maro thinks the Italian government should aggressively push its rock music internationally: The French, he points out, have succeeded in part due to public funds, while (H)itweek depends entirely on private sponsors. Still, he's hopeful.

"We think that right now is the moment," Del Maro said. "We're aiming at young people. We want to build a bridge to the younger generation. We don't want to capture the past; we want to show the future."

For a complete schedule of (H)itweek events, go to www


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