It’s been a while since my last article for Creases Like Knives. Work and other matters got in the way, but I’m ready to start again, and I’ll do the best I can.
This time we go to Tuscany – Livorno, to be precise, which is located in the western part of the region. A port city overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, Livorno is famous for its ‘cacciucco’ (fish soup), ‘ponce’ (an alcoholic drink derived from the British punch) and ‘Farinata’ (a cake made with chickpea flour) among other dishes. Livorno is also well-known for the hospitality of its inhabitants: the Livornese are an open-minded, quintessentially seafaring people who’ll welcome anyone (or almost anyone) who happens to stop by, and they know how to make you feel right at home even if you’re hundreds of miles away.
Within Italy, Livorno bears the nickname ‘la rossa’ (the red one). It is here that the Italian Communist Party was formed in 1921. Livorno is a working class city and, historically and presently, without a doubt anti-fascist. To be ‘militant’ is practically a duty here, or at least to have a clear idea which side you’re on. The local skinhead scene is no exception – but beyond having clear ideas, they’re also very active in the area: the crew is simply called ‘Skinhead Livorno’. Laura, a tattoo artist and Livorno born and bred, is also part of this group.
Francesca: Hi Laura, please introduce yourself!
Hello everyone! I was born in Pisa but grew up in Livorno, where I lived until I was 19. I then moved to Bolzano, where I attended a glass-working professional school, and later to Venice, where I studied the various techniques of glass working further and then opened my own workshop in the city of Cremona. When I was 25, I returned to Livorno, because, as they say in these parts: ‘You can’t explain the sea to someone who wasn’t born here’. I missed it so much, and its call was too strong not to heed it. So here I am, writing to you from this magical city of bandits and sailors, of the sea, of 5e5 (chickpea cake), of punch, cacciucco and salmastro.
Can you tell us how you got involved in the skinhead movement?
As I said, I lived in Venice for three years, where I started to frequent the local social centres: Rivolta di Marghera and Zona Bandita di Venezia. And it was there that I started attending gigs and political demonstrations and then getting to know skinheads from various Italian cities and towns. At that time, I was going back and forth from Venice to Cremona because I had friends there. They introduced me to the autonomous social centres [centri sociale] and the CSA Dordoni. After a few years I moved to Cremona, and through my boyfriend at the time, Lorenzo, I finally joined the skinhead scene for good… From there, a world of gigs, events, friends, and lots and lots of beer opened up to me.
Was there a strong skinhead contingent in Venice – and what year are we talking about more or less?
I didn’t really know many skinheads in Venice. That was about 2003 to 2006. I did see some skinheads at the Rivolta di Marghera, but didn’t know them personally.
The Dordoni social centre was closed this year after 26 years. Were there many skinheads there?
At Dordoni there was more of a skinhead contingent – they were the guys from the collective. It wasn’t a real scene, but they were well-known across Italy because of their militancy at the social centre and their presence at gigs.
Let’s talk about Livorno.
There was very little skinhead history in Livorno. The first to put on ska nights with DJ sets or invite Oi bands to play were Trade Unions in the mid-2000s. Trade Unions were an Oi band who in their songs spoke about living here, the working class, the football terraces, and the riots in the Livorno shipyard.
Together with other comrades, the members of the group organised one of the first RASH Italia meetings at the Godzilla social centre, but the project ended within a short time. In the late 70s and early 80s there was a punk band here called Traumatic. They formed in Livorno in 1979 and were the local support act for punk heroes such as Discharge and UK Subs. But everything else is recent history. There have always been skinheads in Livorno, but apart from music and political activism there has never been a real scene.
Since you mentioned it, let’s talk about the stadium. There’s a nice photo of you with the anti-fascist flag in the background. Even on the terraces, politics rules – what’s the curva like in the Livorno stadium? [curva = the curved stands of Italian stadiums; the curva is an integral part of ultras culture – Editor]
Livorno supporters range from one year to almost 100 years of age. There’s the north curve, which is where we are, there’s the tiered seating area and the grandstands. The stadium reflects our city – so in the curva you might find a father with his child, while the grandfather might be over in the seating area – or, in some cases, it might be the other way round (laughs). You’ll even meet the various mayors of Livorno in the curva. All the fans and ultras are leftists, by the way… like 99% of the people of Livorno.
How have the people of Livorno responded to the presence of skinheads?
Livorno, being a harbour town born from a mix of different cultures, is open-minded compared to other towns, so it has no problems with ‘diversity’ – excuse the term. From the newborn to the elderly, we all go to the stadium here, so since people know practically all of us, we do not provoke any ‘discrimination’ from anyone. In the street, people don’t even notice us. Keep in mind that the Livornese often go to the shop in their pyjamas to buy bread and constantly walk around in flip-flops. In short, in Livorno clothing is not a problem, and as far as tattoos are concerned… well, in Livorno you’re a weirdo if you don’t have any.
Let’s talk about the present, then.
In Livorno at the moment, there isn’t a real scene. We started a crew called ‘Skinhead Livorno’ about 3-4 years ago: we try to promote ‘our’ music in various venues, but also organise events such as debates on current political topics, book presentations, gigs, etc… But because of Covid, we had to stop for now. So in this period, we’re limiting ourselves to a few musical events and sit-ins in solidarity with various social and political causes affecting comrades across Italy. During the lockdown, we created Radio Skinhead Livorno, where we played music and had spoken-word contributions by comrades from various Italian cities on their situation regarding work and repression during that period. It was a weekly two-hour broadcast featuring counter-information and good music. The point was to pass on a bit of light-heartedness during those months of imprisonment.
Besides, I’ve been involved in other initiatives, almost all of which are linked to political militancy, ranging from housing struggles, workers’ struggles and campaigns in social centres to the Active Solidarity Brigades, where comrades from all over Italy take action when natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods strike. We provide support and basic necessities for the people affected.
Where do the Livorno skins meet?
We meet in bars, community centres, clubs, and of course in the stadium. In Livorno, the choice is very broad: there are a few bars that we’re loyal to and where we sometimes play our DJ sets. There are also quite a few bars run by comrades, as well as restaurants and pubs where we can hang out with friends who know the scene very well, even if they aren’t skinheads themselves. Then there are the social centres, many of which have unfortunately been closed down. The ‘Ex Caserma Occupata’, where we organise gigs, initiatives, fundraiser dinners etc, is still active.
In Livorno, we all know each other – and even if there are sometimes difficulties among us, which are partly due to the strong personality types that distinguish the Livornese – we all come together again in serious matters and in fun, confirming the notion that others have of Livorno and of the Livornese. As I said earlier, there are various groups in Livorno, but we all gravitate to the same places. So there are skinheads, sympathisers, anarchists, autonomists, various ‘ordinary’ people, and also many comrades, each with their own taste, who live together and attend the same spaces daily.
Are there any Oi bands in Livorno?
No one in our crew is in a band, but there are other comrades, including skinheads, who have played or still play in Oi groups in Livorno. The was Trade Unions, who we talked about earlier. Since they split, the singer and the bassist have formed another group called Urban Vietcong with two other people. But even though we don’t play in bands, we’re always very active up front at gigs, with lots of beer and pushing and shoving.
In the skinhead subculture, people often discuss everything from style to music, but not politics. Even in Italy, some people follow the British way – i.e. ‘no politics in the scene’. But you take a different stance.
As to the notion that skinheads are apolitical and that politics should be kept out of the scene, that isn’t something you can tell a Livornese. A Livornese puts politics into everything. It’s no coincidence that in 1921 the Communist Party of Italy was formed in Livorno, and it went on to become the biggest Communist Party in the west. I don’t think it’s possible not to take sides politically, and those who try only do so to avoid problems.
As we all know, skinheads are often mistaken for nazis, and I don’t understand how one could accept that. In my opinion, you can’t dance Jamaican ska and be aware of the cultural context from in which the genre emerged and not call yourself anti-racist. Just as you can’t ‘dress up’ as a skinhead and not call yourself anti-fascist when you know what some of your comrades have gone through (beatings, stabbings and in some cases death).
For me, if you live, if you think, if you speak, you’re already taking sides. When you reason, when you interpret reality and facts in everyday conversation, banal or not, there’s always a position behind it, a political stance. So, in a complex and beautiful scene such as the skinhead scene, where you live and breathe the ‘street’ one hundred percent, you have all the more reason to take sides. And if you take sides, you can’t call yourself apolitical. That’s my opinion anyway.
OK, I’d say we’ve drawing to a close. Do you still have your glass workshop? I know that there are very few women in Italy who know how to work with glass, and I think it’s a great art form. But I know that you’re also a tattooist?
I used to have a glass workshop that I had to abandon for various reasons. I hope I’ll be able to get back to working with glass sooner or later, because it’s a wonderful material. Yes, I’m tattooing now. It’s something I started doing five years ago, when my boyfriend gave me a kit to try and doodle a little – initially just on him and on myself. I had no idea then that it would become my job.
Thanks Laura, hoping to see you in Livorno soon!