Ah, Rimini – one of Europe’s major tourist destinations, home to a sandy beach and over 1,000 hotels. But also the birthplace of important Italian Oi bands such as Dioxina, who were active from 1981–1986, and Reazione, who have carried on the flame since the 90s. Francesca Bologna interviewed Betty Reazione, founding member and long-standing bassist of the latter band.
Part of our Skingirls Italia series (click here for part 1 and part 2)
Hi Betty, many of our readers will know who you are, but please introduce yourself to the rest of them.
Hi, I’m from Rimini from the Romagna region of Italy. I sing and play bass – or at least I try – in Reazione since the band formed in February 1993.
You became involved in the skinhead scene in the early 80s, together with Ricky [Ricky Reazione is Betty’s partner and the vocalist of Reazione, formerly the singer of early Italian Oi band Dioxina – Editor]. Can you tell us something about that early period before the formation of Reazione?
Well, initially I got infected by punk, and nothing has been quite the same since. Actually, for me punk and skinhead are one and the same reality, with endless things in common: attitude, rebellion and of course music. Music is in fact was turned me on to punk in the first place.
At that time, I had a mohican haircut and everything was very different. Everything was much more difficult. Finding records, t-shirts or anything else was really difficult. Sometimes I would take a train to Bologna or Florence just to buy records and clothing, and once or twice a year we would go to London to meet people, shop and see shows.
In fact, here in Italy at that time people’s attitudes were really hard to bear. I was still in school, and of course I was the only punk in the whole school. The polite kids looked at me like I was an alien, whereas the arseholes made fun of me and almost threw stones at me. You would encounter the same attitudes when you were walking down the street and so on.
But of course, that didn’t stop me at all.
At home, too, I had the extraordinarily good fortune to have wonderful people in my family, but I knew I was making them suffer, so there were also many inner conflicts. Being the way I was certainly not fashionable. On the contrary, it meant going against everything and everyone, or at least that’s how it was for me. Then I met Ricky, and thanks to the many things we have in common, we have been doing everything together ever since.
What was the situation on the Riviera in those years?
Back then, there was the legendary Slego Club and we would meet up every weekend. It was a great club, it often organised punk concerts, and anyway, you’d get everyone there – the whole crew from Romagna, but also people from other parts of Italy. Sometimes you’d get into a fight but this was part of the game…
For a few years there was also another club, the Aleph in Gabicce Mare, and every now and then we used to hang out there too. Ricky sang in Dioxina and we often hung out in their rehearsal room, and we often went to Bologna to meet with our friends from Nabat.
It was certainly an exciting period. Then there was a period of standstill, everything was ‘switched off’, the bands didn’t play anymore, we didn’t see each other anymore for various reasons. From 1993 on, however, there was a revival, many bands started playing again, there were many community centres such as Level 57 in Bologna, the CPA in Florence, Leoncavallo in Milan, but also in Turin, Alessandria, Rome, and others that I can’t remember right now. We played in almost all these community centres, and every Saturday we were out to play or watch gigs. either to play or to go and see concerts.
Continuing on the subject of community centres [centri sociale = left-wing occupied spaces that function as cultural centres – Editor], in those years skinheads did not have a good reputation in certain circles. But you never seem to have had any problems playing there?
In those years Ricky and Yanez and I used to go there practically every Saturday, we used to drive to gigs and most of them took place in community centres. Then we bought our legendary Renault Trafic 9-seater, so the crew grew, and many of our
friends joined in.
As you can imagine, we knew the guys from the community centres very well, in fact we were friends with them. We had a lot of things in common with them and we never had any problems, so playing there was almost a natural thing for us.
In fact, I would say that we probably paved the way for many other skinhead and Oi bands.
Maybe it occurred that some community centres were a little prejudiced against skinheads, and maybe on the other hand some skinheads gave them reason to be.
You yourself have been running a famous club, 4Fun, on the Riviera for a few years. You invited big names from the Oi scene, such as your close friends Red Alert and Red London?
We first met Red Alert at a festival in Belgium in 1994, but we got to know them especially during a memorable tour of Germany in 1996. We were four bands from different parts of the world: Red Alert, Klasse Kriminale, Bitter Grin (from Canada) and Public Toys (Germany). 10 dates and 14 days on the road. Really wonderful.
Since then we became very good friends and in 1997 we organized a tour of four concerts in Italy, Red Alert and Reazione plus various Italian bands.
Afterwards we organized many other mini-tours around Italy, always travelling together on the legendary 9-seater bus…… We also met Red London at a concert in Germany, became very good friends and went on to play a lot of shows together.
The first edition of Riviera Brucia was organised at the Velvet in Rimini as a symbol for a different kind of music and attitude, different from that of the discos and fancy clubs, which had always charactarised Rimini and Riccione and the whole Riviera. During the first edition in July 1994 Reazione, Los Fastidios, Fuori Controllo and Rappresaglia played. Then we organized it for another seven or eight years, always in the summer, inviting various bands from our region and other parts of Italy.
The 4Fun was run by Ricky and myself, with help from many friends who helped us out at the bar, in the kitchen, or in the security room, from 2003 to 2005. There was the pub, the restaurant, and above all the stage for gigs.
We had totally modified the venue, literally building the stage and the backstage ouselves so we could get the bands we wanted to play. The first big concert we organised was The Exploited, no less.
Hundreds of punks and skinheads from all over Italy invaded in the true sense of the word, the ‘charming seaside town’ Bellaria-Igea Marina… Truly epic… And after that we got a lot of bands playing from all over the world, just to mention a few: Anti-Nowhere League, Vibrators, Peter & the Test tube Babies, D.O.A., Roger Miret, Red Alert, The Crack, Oxymoron, Nabat, and many others, in addition to the countless Italian bands both well-known and up and coming. One real regret for me is that I didn’t manage to get my legendary and amazing friends The Business to play. Anyway, those were two very intense years, we managed to create a meeting place and reference point for many people. We had to close because the costs were really high, impossible to sustain.
Reazione were formed in February 1993, but from 94 to 97 you were in Klasse Kriminale?
I remember well when in 1994 we played with Reazione at the Riviera Brucia here in Rimini. Marco Balestrino was there, and on that occasion, he asked me to play in Klasse Kriminale. Obviously, I was very happy, so I gladly accepted and it lasted for three years – in spite of the distance. In fact, for rehearsals we sometimes met in Savona da Marco, sometimes here in Rimini and other times at the Nabat rehearsal room in Bologna. It was a very intense period, we played all over Europe and met lots of bands and fantastic people.
Both with Klasse Kriminale and Reazione, I had the opportunity to play with bands that had changed my life and become good friends with them – such as The Business, Red Alert and Cock Sparrer.
Among other things, you and Ricky were also the editor of Spread Out one of the best Italian fanzines from those days…
We only did three issues of Spread Out. Issue 3 came out in 2000), and issue 4 was almost ready, but we didn’t manage to publish it in the end. The experience was really great, obviously we were talking about punk, Oi, gigs, record releases, band interviews, but also everyday life. We had collaborators from all over the world who were sending us reviews. We had a lot of contacts, so there were many interviews with the bands we loved the most. And then there were so many photos, not only of bands and gigs, but of a lot of friends from all over the world. But it was all printed on paper and even bound, and quite well at that. So the expenses were too much in the long run. Anyway, it was nice.
You mentioned earlier that everything was completely different back in the day. Do you think something got lost over the years?
I don’t want to say that the spirit of the past is no longer there, or at least I wouldn’t generalise that. Today everything is much easier, everything is at your fingertips, many doors have been thrown wide open long ago, so to speak…
For sure, there are some fantastic people who carry on with passion and true spirit. But then there are also many fashionable poseurs, it has to be said. Not to mention the fashion – when I see the well-to-do girls with their Dr Martens, torn jeans and studs, all of which they bought in boutiques, and their green, orange and purple hair, it really makes me sick. When I remember how many insults they used to throw my way because of my appearance without even knowing me. At the time, let’ s say you really had to believe it. At least that’s what I think based on my own experience. what I think, from my experience.
Over time, the skinhead style has retained its distinctive features: the ones that allow it to be identified as such, which is a source of pride. The style of skinhead girls, on the other hand, seems to have changed a lot since the nineties. There has been a similar development in the punk subculture. What are your thoughts on that?
To tell the truth, I’ve always loved the personal touch. That is, I have always believed that everyone can modify and interpret the style in their own way. Honestly, I’m not the type to accept rules that are imposed, even when it comes to style. As you say, it’s nice to follow a style that represents you and is also a source of pride. But I don’t want to feel constrained by rules that are too rigid. In this sense, too, I sometimes like to transgress.
In an old interview for an English webzine, when talking about a well-known Italian band that that takes a very open and very partisan political stand, you criticised people who use music to make propaganda. Do you still have the same opinion about bands that take clear political positions?
At the moment I really don’t remember this statement, nor which band it was. Anyway, in general I don’t like very much when music becomes a pretext to make political speeches, let’s say when it’s too ‘shameless’. On the other hand, it’s clear that when you address various subjects in your songs, you’re already doing politics in some way. I like it when music and songs make me feel something. I like hearing people’s thoughts, both positive and negative feelings. I like when they talk about everyday life, about passions and dreams.
To tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like political lyrics. I like lyrics about freedom, dignity and respect. But I don’t really like seeing symbols of political parties at concerts. That’s one thing I’m not too fond of, and I was probably referring to that in that old interview.
Let’s say that in punk and Oi I prefer to highlight the many things and passions that we have in common rather than push those that will cause division. Obviously within certain limits.
You have been active for decades and are well known and appreciated internationally. As you yourself have said, you were the first Italian Oi band to be invited to play at major festivals around the world. Did you have the same feedback here in Italy?
Well I must say that we can’t complain, we’ve played a lot all these years. But I have to say that the Latin proverb “no man is a prophet in his own land” is true. Maybe a band coming from abroad just seems more important than a local band. We played as headliners in New York in Lou Reed’s club. It was packed, and everyone knew our songs… That’s just to give you an example.
In a couple of years it will be 30 years of Reazione, and you are still very active musically. Do you have plans for the future?
Yes, it’s almost unbelievable: 30 years! We have recorded some new songs, we have been preparing some videos, we were supposed to play at Rebellion in Blackpool last August, we were planning dates in the US. But then fucking Covid hit… say no more. We really hope this shitty period will pass soon.
We all hope so. Above all, we hope to see you on stage again soon. Thanks Betty, see you soon!