How Hardcore Punk Will Save Italy from Gentrification
Giuliana Capobianco

How Hardcore Punk Will Save Italy from Gentrification

While people are trying to turn Bologna into some kind of foodie heaven, XM24 and the local punk scene are fighting to preserve the identity of the city.
July 31, 2017, 3:38pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey Italy.

They say that cracking your joints is bad for you. It fucks up your cartilage, and it happens slowly. As the years go by, all of the air that passes through them ends up making them look all weird, like the bones of a whole chicken that's just been taken apart.

There was a time when my joints weren't aching and Bologna was a place where, if you were into live music, you could always get your weekly fix. In the winter, in the summer, on Sundays, on Fridays. They were that kind of shows you could feel—well, in your joints. There were crowds of about thirty, forty people. Of those forty, about ten showed up as a reason to drink beer; another ten or so felt the urge to have something pierce through their eardrums, were dealing with bad relationship stuff, or had shitty jobs they were trying to forget about; then there were some friends of the bands that were playing, about five true fans, and one lonely guy that would sacrifice himself by stage-diving even though his chances of actually being caught by the crowd weren't that likely.

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At the turn of the millennium, Bologna had a fair share of occupied and self-managed venues. Let's take Bartleby, for instance: It was run by a student collective that used to squat a huge abandoned building in the city centre. You'd spend evenings there, listening to music in the courtyard, talking and exchanging opinions with juniors and seniors. The usual, as far as Bologna's nightlife went: The great thing about it was the feeling that you meant something, that you mattered, even in all of your naïveté.

Then, there was Atlantide: A weird… thing based in the Porta Santo Stefano neighborhood. Bologna used to be a walled city: It's surrounded by medieval gates that were built in the XIII century and had defensive walls going through them. The walls themselves are now gone, but gates and barbicans are still standing. The two fortifications in Santo Stefano have housed the following, through the years: A public bathroom, a urban police station, a neighborhood branch of the Socialist Party, and an anarchist circle. In the early aughts, a bunch of punks, queer people, freaks, and anarchists squatted here, and Atlantide was born. It became a place of activism, of street politics, based on a shared belief in the value of unalienable rights. For me, Atlantide was that kind of place where you could end up on a Sunday afternoon and find yourself in the middle of a Dope Body show. I was never politically active—I experienced Atlantide as many other did, enjoying the amazing bands that local agents booked there.

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Around 2010, part of the local community—probably a cult of zombies headed by a fascist necromancer—decided Atlantide was a virus, and that somebody had to find a cure for it. After five tense years, the police showed up armed with a bunch of trowels, bricks and mortar: On October 9, 2015, the door to Atlantide became a wall. Nobody ever understood why these people were so passionate about their cause, which they called "decency." National and international media mournfully but dutifully reported on the whole thing.

Today, the most "decent" things you can find in Porto Santo Stefano, besides an unavoidable silence, are a bunch of trash bags and hundreds of cockroaches getting high on exhaust fumes. At the time of the clearing out the mayor, Virginio Merola, defined the police's actions as "an example" for the future. In fact, Santo Stefano is now a dazzling display of a dormitory, a non-place where you can poison your eyes and your mind with some TV and find solace between your kitchen walls. A place where music is only the one played by talent show contestants that fill screens all around the neighborhood a couple months a year.

In 2013, the Bartleby was cleared out and walled up—the University covered all expenses, since the idea was to "take back" a place it once occupied. On one side, there were riot police and their batons; on the other, people throwing rotten eggs at them. In the end, the City filled the building with bricks and ghosts. Another victory for the cockroaches. In the span of two years, the undead community grew significantly. Or at least it appeared to be growing, thanks to the involvement of verbose local TV stations and a Bolognese newspaper that forgot what "journalism" is. I won't name it, but if you're Italian, you can guess which one I'm talking about: The one that feels like a house organ for "decency."

xm24 bologna 2017

XM24's courtyard.

The administration dreams of a new Bologna: A shiny new train station, an overground system connecting suburbs and the city centre, an American-inspired university campus. "Dreams" is the right word, since most of the projects just fail miserably. All the while, historical venues and bars are forced to close because of a complete disconnect between city laws and commercial needs.

However, the idea of a "new Bologna" is still going strong. Which means that the last fortress—evil embodied, according to local institutions—must fall. It goes by the name of XM24. It's really hard to explain what it is if you haven't ever heard about it, but it's one of the most important centro sociale in Italy, at least in the last ten years. Quick explanation for non-Italian readers: A "centro sociale"—which translates to "social center"—is a squatted and repurposed building where local youth and communities organize events, classes, and concerts. They may have kitchens and rooms where people can eat and sleep and are usually seen as nuisances by local administrations, which usually try to evict them. Famous examples are probably Leoncavallo and Macao in Milan.

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Is XM a self-managed social center? Yes. I mean, it's not only that. XM (which stands for "Ex Market") is also a coordination centre and a language school for migrants; a hub for local hackers; a "people's gym"; a garden where people grow produce that is then sold in a weekly fruit-and-vegetables market; a collective of occasional workers; a medical centre, a clinic providing support on psychological issues and pregnancies, and lots of other things.

XM is one of the symbols of the Bolognina, a neighborhood which sits just north of the city—in opposition to a South that has been representing for decades the fat part of Bologna. To get to the Bolognina you have to cross the "train station bridge," a huge concrete thing that freezes you in the winter and melts you in the summer, overlooking that mass of debris and metal scraps that is the actual train station. In the Bolognina you'll find a Ustica Massacre museum. It was there that one morning, in 1989, politician Achille Occhetto woke up and decided that Communism was over in Italy. In a nutshell, it's a working-class, multiethnic neighborhood.

xm24 bologna 2017

"If they touch XM24 they'll touch all of us".

Truth be told, XM became national news fodder last year, when street artist Blu decided to erase a huge mural he painted on one of its walls. It was an extreme gesture meant to showcase a breach in the trust he had in a city that was practically regurgitating its cultural blood. You don't need to be a genius to find a thread connecting the thirst for cultural appropriation of the Fondazione Roversi, an "art foundation" that aimed to put in a museum pieces that were meant to be showcased on public walls, to the people that say that XM isn't something bad in principle but that it needs to be cleared out because of drug addicts and satanists hanging around it. Many people railed against Blu because of his actions, that were seen as a gesture that would weaken the Bolognina. His mural, and its cultural value that was recognized even by those who saw centri sociali as menaces to the established order, had already saved XM from demolition in 2013.

Now, XM is moments away from an actual eviction, since it's been included in a "requalification project" that will hit the Bolognina in the next few months. A "requalification" that began with another eviction: Tens of families were recently forced out of their homes.

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Just like Atlantide was, XM24 is also a place where people play music. And lots of music has been played there, first and foremost thanks to the Frigotecniche collective, which was founded in a refrigerating room in the building that was being used as a rehearsal space.

Earlier this month, I was at a Frigotecniche show. There weren't many of us, since at the end of each July students pour out of Bologna. It was a party nonetheless, but every party at XM is also a fight. I decided to give voice to the people who actively experience the places I'm talking about, and I also asked them about how the city that spawned them has changed in the last ten years. The people that took part in this interview are all band members: Raudo, Sabata, and Pastura from Marnero; Francesco, Riccardo and Chiara from Lleroy; Claudio and Demetrio from Cani dei Portici; and Luca Rocco from Storm{o}.

marnero lleroy xm24 bologna

John D. Raudo from Marnero and Francesco from Lleroy.

First off, here's a chat between me and Raudo, a central figure both in the local and national HC scene (he was the frontman of the now-defunct, legendary Laghetto). If you happen to be spending time in Bologna this summer, make the trip to Via Fioravanti 24, in the late afternoon if you can make it. Have a beer at the wooden tables in the courtyard, or go for a walk through the market on Thursdays. If you're anywhere else, just sign the petition to defend XM24.

Raudo: In 1996, Bologna used to have a lot of occupied spaces. The only ones that are left are XM24 and a few more [Làbas, which is under menace of eviction as well, Crash, and TPO]. The main reason is the fact that the left is looking more and more like the right here, but there are other reasons as well. XM24 represents a problem for their idea of a model city. There's a "regeneration" project which, in the long run, means gentrification. They have this idea of Bologna as the new "food capital" of Italy, and thus want to turn the Bolognina—which is historically a working-class neighborhood—into a new, hip part of town. Oscar Farinetti, chairman and founder of Eataly, is one of the architects of this horror.

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Noisey: How does gentrification work in Bologna?
Raudo points to a monstrous building complex standing in front of XM24, made up by tall buildings left unfinished in the urban countryside, literally a couple steps from where we're sitting.
Raudo: This ginormous thing was supposed to house apartments that were going to be sold to hypothetical middle-class buyers. The price for each square meter of land was pretty high, but the point is that those buyers do not exist. So the price plummeted, and the consortium that was spearheading the construction of the complex went bankrupt. Still, the local administration things that this neighborhood needs to become a new SoDoSoPa: A quiet community where that imaginary middle class can sip cocktails with a view on Kenny's home. The Bolognina was chosen to become this SoDoSoPa because it's where the new entrance to the Bologna train station was built. The old station faces Via Indipendenza, which is the main artery running through the rich part of town. The new high-speed train station faces the Bolognina, which now needs to "showcase" the best of the city to travelers getting off there. It's the principle driving the creation of banlieues and favelas: Everything that is considered a surplus, a piece of waste, is just moved towards the outskirts of the city. It's all about building a certain image of Bologna. But since we live in Italy, the plan isn't working out. The train station isn't working as it should. The construction of the new Florence train station, whose project mirrored the station we have here, was stopped because ours turned out to be an economical disaster.

It was designed just like an airport: You show up there, you say bye to the people you're with in the Kiss-and-Ride area, and while you wait for your train you'll go shopping and buy, I don't know, a purse. The whole idea didn't work because it's not based on the way actual Italians live. According to this fantasy, trains would be swarming with young entrepreneurs sitting on human-skin seats in executive class. The truth is more like, normal people crushed in compartments on trains that look more like livestock trucks running hours late. Going back to XM: It's incompatible with the renderings of this type of non-existent city. But it is compatible with the way things actually are. Actually, it's even more essential than it's ever been.

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Noisey: Changing a city both on an urban and social level. It's a model that's gaining more and more traction, something's happening in Turin as well.
Raudo: Urban requalification or, as they call it, "regeneration", is a new way for builder co-ops and their friends to make business using public money. Every kind of resistance to this model gets harshly repressed: There are thousand of vacant houses and apartments that get occupied and are then evicted at a moment's notice through sheer force. The repressive grip is getting tighter and tighter.

For instance, what happened in Piazza Santa Giulia in Turin is an example of how far police can go thanks to the Minniti Decree. Since there's a simple anti-glass public ordinance that stemmed from the stampede on the night Juventus lost the Champions League final (which was some kind of induced terror the crowd got from the media), you automatically use it as an excuse to let riot police attack people sitting in bars, just for the hell of it. And the media play their part by reporting the fact that "Two officers were wounded". And we're back to square one.

Marnero XM24 Bologna

Marnero.

Noisey: If people like Matteo Lepore [a local left-wing politician whose areas of expertise include economics, tourism, international relations and more] came here and spent a day at XM, would he change his mind?
Raudo: Lepore was actually here on April 9 for a meeting, but a person like him only sees XM as potential rubble, a blank canvas-to-be he'll be able to use to get something new built. He notices the surface area of the place, or looks for excuses to justify an eviction (or, as he'd put it, a "refurbishing" of the building). Most of all, he thinks about how the media will portray him since he's thinking about running for mayor in the next election. He plays a part: He's the politician who isn't afraid of dialogue. But these people only reason in terms of power. Listen to this: Let's say you have six thousand people at a concert in a park, and the morning after you talk about there being an incompatibility with the local community, then what are those six thousand people? Lower class citizens? Or do they not exist at all?
Pastura: The confusion of the local administration is a reflection of the wider confusion that's brewing in the Partito Democratico on a national level. You can see that they're a mess at the moment, also on a local level.
Chiara: That party should, as part of their political heritage, preserve spaces like XM, but they won't do it just for the sake of it. Their two-faced attitude is another proof that they're one of our enemies. Do you remember the whole Blu thing? If they don't adopt a stance where they're trying to eliminate what they perceive as a problem, then they try to assimilate it. They subsume it.


I also had the chance to ask a couple questions to some of the bands that are part of XM's lifeblood, and are among the best in the Italian underground. First off is Luca, frontman of the HC band Storm{O}. His band is particularly tied to the city and to one of its most fascinating spaces, the Laboratorio L'Isola, or "The Island Laboratory".

Luca Storm{O} Claudia Lleroy XM24 Bologna

Luca Rocco and Chiara from Lleroy.

Noisey: There's a connection between you guys and Bologna, since I've heard that [Massimo Volume frontman and lyricist] Emidio Clementi is one of your main influences, even though you guys sound nothing alike his band

Luca: Sure! I'd also say that Agota Kristof had a huge influence on what I write. But you know, I don't look at single texts or writers to find inspiration, I just write stuff that I feel. It's just me venting, and sometimes I can't even understand what's the root of it. Obviously what I read plays a part in how I feel, and I'm a huge Emidio Clementi fan. Lyrics and music are born in different moments, and when it's time to merge them it's the beginning of a relationship between word and note in which they intensify each other. What you need to do is understand, in each single song, whether it's the word or the note that is the more cutting.


Listening to Lleroy hurts. Seriously, each and every one of their shows breaks through your heart and ears. Their new album Dissipatio HC is probably one of the best LPs to come out of Italy in the past few years. The first time I saw Riccardo, the Drummer, was in a YouTube video—he was drunk off his ass, playing a toy guitar during Laghetto's last ever show, at a now defunct fest called Anti-MTV Day which used to take place—guess what—at XM 24. Then I got to meet him in person.

Noisey: You guys are part of the Italian HC scene. There's a reasoning behind your making music, and you can tell that your albums are well thought-out. I'm sure that future HC kids will have Lleroy among their influences. But you guys also have day jobs. I mean, how do you get by?
Francesco: We never made a living with our music, and it's getting harder and harder.
Riccardo: You ask yourself the same questions that were floating in your head when you were eighteen. It's about feeling you need to do this. If you listen to SOMA, our last LP, and this one, you'll notice a thread connecting them. It's some sort of physical suffering. As if something was begging to come out of us. The SOMA artwork was pretty meaningful: Six big women with sorrow in their eyes, as if they were trying to lift something heavy. It's a feeling that weighed on me for years.
Francesco: Playing is almost like getting the last scraps of meat from a bone. You focus on some feelings that you get to know better with each passing day. However, having fun is at the heart of what we do.

Lleroy Bologna XM24

Lleroy.


Cani dei Portici always get something undefinable and pure out of their instruments. If you're not looking at Claudio when he's playing you can almost hear three guitars at once, and Demetrio's drumming has a primitive feel to it. The ghost of the Melvins haunts everything they do. The only thing I disapprove about them is the fact that Demetrio asked me to go to the movies with him for months but he always bailed at the last minute.

Cani dei Portici Marnero XM24 Bologna

Cani dei Portici and friends.

Noisey: What is your music about?
Claudio: There are some explicit songs and some narrative ones, like "Buio", which is about a Japanese kamikaze's last moments before he blows himself up. But I like people to interpret what we write how they want, the only thing I care about is for our songs to bring out a positive vibe, and to feel hopeful. You guys are from Crotone, which is in the deep South of Italy. It mustn't have been easy growing up there.
Claudio: The one thing that Crotone left us with is a lot of anger. There was fuck-all to do there when we were kids. And it's why we love touring so much, we'll play anywhere. If I could not answer to this question I wouldn't, I have a difficult relationship with my hometown. Let's say that the only thing we miss are the people we love who still live there. There's only one thing that links Crotone and Bologna: The way streets are completely empty at night. While wandering around in the middle of the night, we used to see these dogs running under the porticoes—they were in a neat formation, a pack, it's almost as if they were marching. We learned how to be strays from them: It's all about being on the road as much as you possibly can.


Marnero need no presentations, if you're Italian. They're a new incarnation of the legendary experimental HC band Laghetto, who had their last show at XM in 2011. Their first three albums are a conceptual trilogy they call "The Trilogy of Failure", with an added book by Raudo thrown in to complete the story.

Noisey: Is there a connection between your lyrics and American literature? I'm thinking of Melville, but also all those pirate and adventure cycles that were written in the XIX and XX centuries.
Raudo: It's true that sea lit is mostly British, but Americans—while being the reference point of some of the subcultures we feel a part of—feel far away from us, both in space and time, and thus their literary tradition can only feel so close to us. We feel more akin to Mediterranean authors, to Fabrizio De André's harbors, to Lisbon's smells, to Erri de Luca's Naples alleyways, to Álvaro Mutis' "Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll", to African ports, to the greasy dives in the South of the world. We love South America—Buenos Aires, that was built by the Genoese, for example. Sure: Melville, Conrad and Stevenson are immortal authors, and we should all have their stuff in our shelves: They're classics. What I find interesting about the classics is that they're never "true" for a specific period of time, they're forever. And there are few human things that actually last that long.

Marnero XM24 Cani dei Portici Bologna

The author (with his back turned to the camera) with three members of Marnero and a member of Cane dei Portici.

Noisey: Let's get back in time and talk about Anti-MTV Day, which used to take place here at XM24—you had your last show with Laghetto during its last edition, in 2011. The point of the fest was presenting an underground that was antithetical to the underground MTV was supposedly supporting, and it wasn't a coincidence that the fest used to run on the same days MTV would throw their own festival here in Bologna.
Raudo: The fest ran for a decade in the early aughts, and each edition obviously meant a lot to us. It was an important decade, and who experienced it firsthand saw the reality he or she was accustomed to change so rapidly that it almost felt we couldn't catch up to it. The Anti-MTV Day surely represented the Italian scene of the decade, and maybe today that idea of a scene does not exist anymore. What remains, though, is a strong network of relationships, friendships and contacts between Italian DIY bands—in the end, these people are actually our best friends, and the fact that they live all around Italy just makes it all better. We were trying to build our own village, in a sense. "And even if the embers don't glow anymore, boy, tomorrow we'll try give it another try".

Noisey: Will the fest ever be back? A new anti-something.
Raudo: We wrote something about the last Anti-MTV Day: "Auto-production is still, more than it has ever been, one of the main tools we can use to create our own spaces, and building a habit is the worst rust of the heart. Now that the ground is falling under our feet, let's all try to get on this infernal catapult that can push us far beyond. Not to run away from something but to get closer to something, since everything begins now. Come on, hard times are head, and the only thing that can help us resist is banding together." The only good thing about that fest is that it didn't age badly, it didn't have time to rot. It killed itself when it reached its apex, just go see its last lineup. Calling all of those bands now would have a significant cost and a big impact. But that fest was based on the relationships between the people that made up those bands, that scene.

And the scene has changed now. The people that used to play in bands and their listeners have grown up. We need to trudge forwards ("even if there's nothing awaiting us"), and find new and actual ways to change the way things are, here and now. Just like the DIY acronym, the word "punk" means "a way of doing things". See, you shouldn't be interviewing me today. You should be speaking with someone who's at least twenty years younger than me and is pushing the discourse on this musical genre forwards with his peers. But all of the people that are playing in bands now are now thirty, forty years old.

There's a thirteen, fourteen year old kid who shows up at every DIY concert in town, he's called Vincenzo. You'll notice him easily in the crowd. The youngest person, apart from him, is at least twenty-six years old. Did we skip a generation? I mean, it's not as if there are less twenty-year-olds in this town. They obviously don't listen to this kind of music anymore. They're more into rap, for instance. This kind of music we call "punk" maybe didn't speak to them, it didn't make them understand what's at the core of it, behind the jackets and tattoos, beyond fashion, patches and hairdos. We think Vincenzo represents the new generation and, if we skipped one, we should try and make what we do an important channel to express what it means to stand against something, to feel the need of an alternative, to feel the urge to say no. It doesn't matter what we will do in this regard, but how we will do it. Probably, since it's 2017, we can't just re-hash meanings and contents that were invented in 1977, 1982, 1987 or during the aughts. We'll need contemporary tools and manners, as complex as the times we are living. Most of all, we'll need to learn how to communicate contents and anger—anger as Pasolini intended it. Because, if there's no anger, this musical genre, its attitude and everything that revolves around it, does not exist.

All photos are by Giuliana Capobianco.