Italia Skins part 2: Music, politics & trouble

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Back to 1980s Italy, though… Nabat are often cited as kickstarting the skinhead scene in the Emilia-Romagna region, maybe even Italy as a whole. Reading Nabat interviews from the mid to late 80s, they seem at least culturally left-wing. Was that the case from the beginning?

I think everybody agrees that Nabat kickstarted the whole Italian skinhead scene. They formed in 1979 as a punk band and took their name from a Ukrainian anarchist confederation. Most of Nabat’s past and current members had – and still have – radical left-wing views, mostly anarchist. At least in the beginning, some of their fans and of Oi in general were militants of Autonomia Operaia [an Italian ultraleft/autonomist movement – Editor]. Also, Nabat and other Oi bands played in squats and at events put on by left-wing groups and organisations, both anarchist and communist, from the beginning. When a part of the scene went far right, Nabat, Rough from Torino, and other bands took a more openly political stand.

Yet the same time, Nabat made anti-politics statements, no?

It’s true that Nabat had a song, ‘Zombie Rock’, where they shouted “no politics” in the chorus, and the same song had the line, “Communists and fascists, you’re all the same”. However, it’s also true that when far-right politics became an issue, they changed that verse, and later they explained that ‘Zombie Rock’ referred to party politics, not the extra-parliamentary kind. They still play that song today.

You have to consider that Nabat was mostly a libertarian band, and their town was traditionally ruled by Italian Communist Party… so they had to deal with the hypocritical politics of a party that had increasingly become distant from the working class.

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Early days: Nabat

In 1970s and early 80s Italy, you had far-right and far-left terrorist groups planting bombs and so on. Was it possible for Italian skins to be apolitical in this heavily politicised atmosphere?

I think that the apolitical approach had definitely something to do with the things you are talking about. As far as the left is concerned, it’s true that it was rooted in the working class for many decades, but in the 80s you had a Communist Party that clearly cared less and less about workers and the youth in general, and on the other hand you had extra-parliamentary groups that failed in their politics. Part of the working class increasingly perceived the left in general as distant from daily reality.

When the far right presence in the skinhead scene became significant, the ‘no politics’ slogan, for many, was a way to underline that they had nothing to do with that degeneration. The only politics that posed a threat to the scene was Nazi politics, not communist or anarchist politics. In fact, in the 80s and very early 90s, left-wing groups generally didn’t want anything to do with skinheads, who at least in some towns weren’t even allowed into centri sociali [political squats with public spaces for music events etc – Editor]. Of course, under the ‘no politics’ slogan there have been different attitudes, sometimes even opportunism. But until the early 90s many, many skinheads claimed to be unpolitical, so obviously there were various meanings to the phrase, ‘no politics’.

On a side note, Italian leftist armed groups never did things like planting bombs in public places, that’s something that only fascist groups did.

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In 1982, Nabat published a split tape with Rip Off, and it was during the ‘3rd Raduno Oi!’ festival in Toscana on 18th June 1983, where both bands played, that a ‘split’ of a different kind occurred. Could you outline what happened?

In the beginning, Rip Off had verses like “I don’t want the police, that’s my kind of anarchy”. Basic lyrics, but certainly not right-wing. Later on, though, they had a line-up change, which also coincided with a political change. When the third Oi meeting took place in Certaldo near Florence, scuffles broke out because of football, town and crew rivalries, as well as fights between punks and skins. The main reason, though, was the strong far right skinhead presence. What’s more, the massive use of alcohol and drugs didn’t help…

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Pugnaro of Rip Off. (P) Italian Skinheads

Rip Off got on stage with two members of their crew, who gave stiff-arm salutes and even made some pseudo-political proclamations. Rough refused to play to a crowd in which a large section were giving fascist salutes. It was one continuous punch-up, many were injured, and the venue that hosted the event was seriously damaged.

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Leaflet for the disastrous 3rd Raduno Oi! festival

How important was this event for Italian skinhead history?

Before Certaldo, going far right was mostly a pose for many skinheads – or a phase, if you prefer. When the problems began, some of these kids understood the consequences of what they were doing and didn’t want to dabble in fascist politics anymore, while others became real far right militants. Certaldo marked the beginning of a split in the Italian scene: you had left-wing and apolitical skinheads on one side and Nazis on the other. Far right skins attracted people who didn’t care about subculture and were in it only for politics, so their numbers grew.

Certaldo is sometimes remembered as the ‘Italian Southall’ because it became very difficult to book Oi concerts after that event. The Oi scene became weaker and eventually almost died – not just because of Nazis, but for other reasons too, including drug abuse –, so skinhead became more of a terrace thing. There had been skins on the terraces before, but now football became more important because of the lack of other reference points. Unfortunately, fascist activities in the stadiums were already strong, so this actually played in the boneheads’ favour too.

(P) Italian Skinheads

The second half of the 80s was the era of boneheads in many other western European countries, too – see Blood & Honour, PNFE, etc. Did a normal skinhead scene continue to exist in Italy in some way?

After Certaldo, there were no Oi meetings or other big events for many years. All of the old bands gradually disappeared: Nabat disbanded in 1987, at which point the other bands were already gone, and very few new bands like Klasse Kriminale from Savona and Ghetto 84 from Bologna kept the Oi flag waving.

Despite that, even after Certaldo the non-racist skinhead numbers kept growing, especially around 1987-1988. As I implied earlier, some skins got a more sussed look and started hanging out in the mod scene – until the mods drove them out in the early 90s.

In the late 80s and in the following years, the bonehead scene became even stronger as TV and newspapers portrayed skinheads as far-right activists because of what was happening in Germany after her reunification. The media were continuously talking about skinhead attacks on ethnic minorities even when the aggressors didn’t have cropped hair… This created many imitators in Italy as well, so you had many young fascists who cropped their hair overnight, got some boots and a flight jacket and claimed to be skinheads.

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Plastic Surgery: Rivolta 7′ back cover, 1986

A right-wing Italian skin band called Plastic Surgery seemed to have a fairly intellectual take on RAC, at least by international standards…

Yes, Plastic Surgery were from Verona, which is in Veneto. It was the first region in Italy to have a genuine far-right skinhead scene when in the rest of the country being a nazi still was mostly a fashion. They started as a hardcore punk band, but some members became skinheads and got into fascist politics. In Italy, an intellectual far right current had adopted themes from Julius Evola: struggle against the modern world, a focus on the spiritual dimension, and so on. Plastic Surgery followed that specific path, and that’s where the main influences in their lyrics stem from.

Were they an exception?

Most other Italian RAC bands had, and still have, rough and direct lyrics, although there are very few active bonehead bands at the moment. So yes, I think Plastic Surgery were at least a rarity. Keep in mind that I’m not a great connoisseur of far-right music, though.

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One of several SHARP Italia logos

Did the far right drift provoke a response in the Italian scene?

Around the mid 80s, some left-wing skinheads became more politicised, and some of them began to declare that they were ‘redskins’. In the second part of the decade, more sections of the non-racist scene became political.

By the way, the most powerful answer to the growth of the Nazis was SHARP. In Italy, it started in the early 90s, and at least in its first phase, it contained both political and non-political skins. In 1994, a national network named ‘SHARP Italia’ was founded, which comprised all the existing SHARP chapters and some that formed for the occasion. More chapters were formed in the following years, but for various reasons they weren’t directly tied to the national network

There was some very good and intense activity in the SHARP scene, but as the years passed, some chapters tried to force the whole scene to adopt their political views, which is when problems started. Quarrels and splits occurred for stupid reasons such as rumours and misunderstandings, and there was often a witch-hunting atmosphere.

Despite these negative outcomes, though, the birth of redskins earlier on and SHARP later gave new strength to the non-racist scene – or in fact, anti-racist at that point. It finally balanced the previous situation.

Klasse Kriminale in 1987 (P) Italian Skinheads

As with Nabat, whose original guitarist drifted to the far right, there was a political split of sorts in Klasse Kriminale. Today, two versions of the band exist – Antonella’s and Marco Balestrino’s. Now, according to Antonella, Klasse Kriminale was originally a ‘nationalist’ band and only turned ‘politically correct’ later on. Is there any truth to that?

I think the only Klasse Kriminale lyric by that is openly patriotic, rather than nationalist, is ‘Costruito in Italia’ (Made in Italy), the title track their 1988 debut EP. They also used the Italian tricolour on some occasions, but many Italian skins did that in the 80s and even early 90s.

I’m not sure what Antonella means by ‘politically correct’, but I guess she uses the term as a synonym for left-wing. Well yes, Klasse Kriminale were gradually politicised and started playing in centri sociali and at events linked to left-wing groups. From about the mid-90s onward, they consistently stopped calling themselves apolitical.

However, that’s just the way most of the Italian skinhead scene was rolling in those days. After years of mutual dislike and misunderstanding, and also thanks to the work of SHARP, a large section of the Italian skinhead scene began to hang out in centri sociali, which also became favourite places to play gigs. Marco Balestrino’s band was no exception. Also, keep in mind that Klasse Kriminale never became a militant or combat rock band; in fact you can still consider them a traditional Oi punk combo.

Klasse Kriminale live in Siziano, 1993. (P) Italian Skinheads

Back to your question, Klasse Kriminale never split. Antonella’s line-up is very recent and was formed many years after she had left the band. Balestrino, on the other hand, never stopped carrying the banner. He has kept Klasse Kriminale going for 32 years now, so there should be no doubt which line-up is the real deal. Also, while Antonella was important for Klasse Kriminale, they did very well without her. In fact, they recorded their best album, I Ragazzi Sono Innocenti, in 1993 when she was no longer with them.

Click for part 3: Today and tomorrow

Antonella outside a Redskins gig, 1986. (P) Italian Skinheads