Italia Skins part 3: Today and tomorrow

What about Banda Bassotti – were they ever an actual skinhead band, or just a ska punk band?

Some Banda Bassotti members were skinheads since the early 80s, and the same goes for some of their crew. They became increasingly political as the years went by, and apparently, they started to call themselves ‘redskins’ from around 1985. Their early stuff, from their first compilation appearances in 1992 up until their second album Avanzo de Cantiere of 1995, contains some references to skinhead culture.

rsz banda
Banda Bassotti

Over time, Banda Bassotti attracted larger and more mixed audiences – militants, students, and so on. They also developed a different sound by adding horns and some South-American elements, whereas previously their influences had mainly been Oi, ska and combat rock. What’s more, they cut out any references to skinhead culture and focused even more on politics. Either way, they never turned their backs on their original supporters, and in fact, there’s still a good number of skins in their following. Other old fans, including myself, lost their interest in the band after Avanzo de Cantiere.

Let’s talk about Italian skinheads today. The British scene is ageing. What about Italy – are there many young skins?

First, I have to say that, although I’m still involved in the skinhead scene, I’m not as active anymore. When I was young, I always travelled around Italy for gigs and meetings, which is no longer the case – so my view may be limited.

It seems to me that, even though there are a good number of young skins, many of them attend fewer events, especially when there are no ‘big’ bands scheduled. Also, many are just ‘consumers’ rather than active. There are some conflicting signals, though. For example, it’s true that most Oi and skinhead bands are formed by people in their thirties and forties, but there has also been a comeback of skinzines, and these are all edited by young skins.

There is also some good DJing activity – mainly reggae, rocksteady and ska, but also soul and mod-related music in general, although most DJs are older. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the younger kids will do. It has to be said, though, that other scenes such as hardcore face similar problems, so this situation may have to do with broader issues.

Sticker by Italian skinhead contingent at East London’s Clapton FC, circa 2015

Maybe it’s because younger Italian skins all live in London now, ha ha! They’re usually nice people, although most of them seem to support Clapton FC…

Yeah, many Italian youths move to London looking for a job as it’s getting harder and harder to find one here. Also, as I mentioned earlier, London has always been a sort of Mecca for Italian skins, so I guess a young Italian who also happens to be a skinhead is more motivated to move there than to some other place.

A few years ago, I also met an older Italian guy who runs a rehearsal studio in White City, west London. He told me he used to drum for a mid 80 Italian skinhead Oi band called Dirty Joy. I looked them up, but couldn’t find much info. Do you know them?

Yes, I know them. They were from Venice, and I think that they only put out a demo tape, although a song of theirs appears on a 7’ bootleg compilation, Killed by Italian Skinhead, in 1998. Good to see he is still involved in music in some way! I have no clue what the other band members are doing today.

Dirty Joy live in Venice, 1985

Back to today’s Italian scene. What’s the gender balance?

There are definitely more girls involved in the scene today, and they are often more active than their 90s and early 2000s counterparts. Even in those days, there were notable exceptions, but the female presence was generally small and not very visible. This is the reason why I’ve only been able to interview a few skingirls for my book.

Do you get a lot of snobbery and inverted snobbery between Oi skins and traditionalists?

In Italy, there was never a real split between Oi skins and the more traditionalist ones, except in some situations. From the mid-80s onwards, there have always been a good number of skins involved in the mod and scooter scenes, yet at the same time attended at Oi and punk gigs. One of the reasons why some kids have stopped attending the ‘main’ skinhead scene completely or almost completely is because of its strong politicisation. Some ways of doing politics tends to drive people away instead of reaching out to them.

Many skinheads who are mainly into Oi also listen to black music and vice versa, and as far as I remember, it’s always been like this. At Oi gigs, you can see both kids dressed in a very basic way – t-shirts and boots or sneakers – as well as more sussed kids. Chances are you’ll meet the exact same people at a ska gig.

That’s why you can’t really talk about two separate scenes, even if some kids are closer to the punk approach and others more traditionalist as individuals. I always considered myself a kind of ‘compromise’ between the two as far as attitude and music taste, whereas I’ve undergone various changes in my clothing style over the years. I never looked like a ‘bald punk’, though, ha ha! I think this mixed approach is a characteristic feature of the Italian skinhead scene.

Cock Sparrer gig in Milan, 1994 (P) Italian Skinheads

Perhaps unusually, most Italian skins seem to smoke weed.

I think the wide scale use of pot and weed among Italian skinheads has to do with the fact that these drugs are very popular among local working class kids. So in my opinion, it has to do more with class and country rather than with subculture. In the 80s, there was a huge heroin problem in the lower classes, and skinheads were affected as well. From about 2000, cocaine got cheaper, so it was no longer a rich people’s drug, and it became widespread in all social classes. In this case, too, various skinhead groups were no exception. It seems to me that in the past few years, hashish and weed have been less popular among youths in general, and unsurprisingly, the same is true for skinheads.

On the other hand, some drugs are common in other environments, but nonexistent – or almost nonexistent – in the skinhead scene. By that, I mean psychedelic substances that are generally considered hippie and raver drugs. In any case, keep in mind that many skins use no drugs at all, and that the situation may differ from town to town and from crew to crew.

Finally, what about Italian bands today?

There are currently very few proper Oi bands. Many might be classified combat rock rather than Oi. Even though they play street punk, their lyrics are very militant, contain lots of slogans, and rarely have much in common with the traditional topics of the genre. I have nothing against them, but I’m not very passionate about that kind of approach, unless they’re really brilliant – in fact, I’m a big fan of militant bands like Redskins and Crisis.

What I’d like to see is more Oi bands, possibly with lyrics and sounds that aren’t commonplace and banal.

1982 roma skins
Skins in Rome, 1982. (P) Italian Skinheads