South Italy is a beautiful place, even if living there can be difficult for many who leave in search of a better life. But there are those who decide to stay to create something different, which then becomes a source of pride, and they decide to export it to other places – for example, by recording a new album. Just like Lumpen, an Oi band from Calabria that has been active in the skinhead scene for more than 20 years. Francesca Chiari spoke to Silverio Tucci, the band’s original guitarist from Cosenza.
Lumpen have been going for 22 years. Would you like to go back in time and tell us how it all began?
We were young and beautiful and part of a large group of punks and skinheads – there were about forty of us – who would gather at the warehouse of a friend of ours, the Morrison’s pub – when you entered, it felt like London, all mohicans and shaved heads – and the self-managed social centre Gramna, which no longer exists but at the time was a source of musical and political initiatives. The Gramna has a rehearsal room, and it was there that Lumpen was born. There was me on guitar, Alessandro on vocals, Alessandro ‘Arancino’ on bass and Valerio on drums.
What was becoming and being a skinhead in Southern Italy like for you at the time?
As for me and my brother Mattia, our bassist, I remember one day we went to a record shop and bought Azken Guda Dantza by Kortatu, a live album from 1988, released by Gridalo Forte Records. It was the Italian edition, so it was uncensored. And that’s when everything changed for us. I think it might have been 1993-94. We didn’t dress in skinhead style yet – no Ben Sherman, no Lonsdale – partly because we couldn’t find any such clobber in Cosenza. We started out wearing my sister’s trousers and braces. That’s how we started out.
Initially, we were closer to the ska scene – we even played in two ska bands in our first year of high school: Black Whole Ska and Skarico. There had already been a skinhead and rude boy scene in Cosenza back in the 80s. In fact, I remember a veteran skinhead from Cosenza who lived in Rome and who is now unfortunately no longer with us: Fabrizio aka ‘Banana’, who was very active in the scene and played with Totally Pissed. But I have to say that we didn’t have a great relationship with those who were older than us.
Tell us about Lumpen and football – it’s an essential part of your lives, right?
Yes – before were played in any band we were, and we remain, ultras.
The ultras of Cosenza were called Nuclei Scolvolti, formed in 1983. They were the first Italian fans to have a marijuana leaf in their banner, the first to use banners with two poles, and the first ultras gathering was in Cosenza: ‘Vivere ultrà per vivere’. It was the scene of 1983-84, and on all Italian terraces you could find right-wing movements – but in Cosenza you’d find something completely different: it was an almost anarchic style, with all these chants based on Blues Brothers and Bob Marley songs that we did.
Growing up in this environment made it much easier for us to be what we are. Cosenza has always been very sensitive to anti-racism and anti-fascism, so for us it was fertile ground on which to grow. And that’s the context in which Lumpen was born.
Now, given the present situation with covid and all, it’s unfortunately not possible for us to follow our team as we’d like to, but I want to stress that Lumpen are part of Cosenza, and Cosenza, is something that we carry in our hearts. The bond with our city is strong because we love it so much.
The album In ogni caso, nessun rimorso (In any case, no remorse) contains tracks from your 1999 demo, the one with the first line-up, but also one entitled ‘Dax odia ancora’ (Dax hates again). It’s about the anti-fascist guy who was killed during what has become known as the ‘black night of Milan’. Apart from being a beautiful dedication, the song shows that you are openly partisan – also considering the choice of your name.
The name was given to our band by Arancino, the first bass player. It was the most political name we could find, and we wanted to take a stand because there was an ambiguity problem in the skinhead environment at the time, even among those who defined themselves as apolitical. And we wanted to do this in a really clear way. So on the cover of the Demo (1999) we decided to put the image of the Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag over Berlin. Even though we were never Stalinists, at that moment we needed to underline which side we have always been on, which is even more important that being skinheads. We wanted to make sure that nobody would wonder about our politics or mistake us for something else.
It’s something we’ve always said: Lumpen is just a group of skinheads who like to go drinking in pubs and who like to go to football, and we’re open to any kind of culture and subculture – but we are, and we will remain, socialists. We are people who have chosen a political idea. So we’ll never have anything to do with some arsehole with a celtic cross tattoo just because he is a skinhead.
To return to Dax, I remember how it upset up when he was killed. We had just played in Milan. We wrote the song on the spot the next day – to send a clear message about how we felt.
Apart from the Demo, all the other albums were produced by Kob Records, which is the record label of Enrico from Los Fastidios. I imagine you’ve had a good relationship for a long time.
When we started organising concerts in Cosenza, at Gramna, we also invited Los Fastidios, and a great friendship was born that has lasted for twenty years and more. Around the time when there was a line-up change in Lumpen and Mattia, my brother, and Francesco came in, I also play4r with Los Fastidios around Europe for a bit. Putting out our records with Enrico was a wonderful experience for us. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that, whether people like them or not, Los Fastidios are what I call musicians and comrades. They’ve made music their business and deserve to be well-known, given all the effort they have always put into it.
Tell us your thoughts about the Italian skinhead music scene.
The Italian music boasts some big names who deserve a lot of credit, including for paving the way for those who, like us, came later. But I think we also need to give space and support to those who are new to this subculture, and I don’t just mean the music.
Let me explain: often I feel there’s a certain close-mindedness and suspiciousness on the part of those who have lived this ‘style’ for longer. We glorify a past that we say was better, but I think that’s partly because it reminds us of our youth. The scene wasn’t as big as it is now.
So we have to support new people, new Oi bands, new people getting into the scene. But we should also support longer-established bands that are still doing great work. Let’s stop clinging to what has been. The essence of skinhead is immutable, it will never be lost – but we have to look forward, not backward, if we want to preserve it.
I know that on 21 April your new seven-inch will be released on Out of Control Records – and it’s in English. Why did you decide to do that?
The record was made during the lockdown, in a period when people like us who have always been working found themselves unable to earn money to eat and to be able to fulfil themselves.
I’m a cook and I love my job, so during the first lockdown period, I felt lost. I decided that I would do something that I had never done before but always wanted to do. I decided to use my energies for this record, in which you can hear the influence of the bands that have inspired me: Cock Sparrer, Social Distortion, Undertones, Kortatu, and also Banda Bassotti, with whom we have a special friendship.
But we decided to work in a different way, putting in more effort than we had ever done before, maybe believing in it more. Putting in all that Lumpen have experienced in these 22 years, the places where we’ve been, sharing stages with bands such as Angelic Upstarts, The Last Resort, The Oppressed, Sham 69, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and others, but above all the people we’ve met along the way: Bull Brigade, Gargiulo of Tacita, Dalton, Filippo Andreani, Inerzia, Los Fastidios, and Damiano (Colonna Infame Skinhead – Payback) who is taking care of the graphic and stylistic part.
This seven-inch will be released with the help of Out of control Records and printed by the American label Pirate Press. It’s in English because we want to bring our message outside the Country. In any case, we sold out of pre-orders, disc and t-shirt, in two days.
Last question: you’ve been flying the Lumpen flag for 22 years. If not remorse, do you have any regrets?
Yes, I do have regrets. First of all, not believing enough in what we were doing in music when I was 20, when for me it was just ‘scene’, shaved head and Dr Martens, millions of beers and falling asleep somewhere drunk. We’ve done a lot, but we’ve put a lot of passion into it and we’ll continue because this is our life. We’re happy with everything we’ve been, because “yes, we have regrets, but no remorse”.