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Why in Italy there are so many talented artists but few original music scenes?

Di Gerolamo Sacco
Data di pubblicazione 28/02/2017

(di Gerolamo Sacco)

Hi everyone, I’d like to give you some food for thought and share my reflection on music scenes and music in general with you, in particular relatively to the Italian situation of today.

Let’s start with something very positive: Italy is a mine of talents. The thing I ask myself, as a director of four recording projects, a producer of music, but also simply as a listener is: how come there are so few original music scenes when there’s so much talent and creativity? For anyone who’s doubtful about Italy’s outstanding qualities when it comes to music, I’ll slip some hints of Italian contributions to music so far:

The seven notes/notation/first music books, handwritten/first music books, printed/first “hit” in the history/opera, aria/harpsichord/piano/violin,viola,cello/other instruments/orchestra/song (!) And I’m just in the 1600… To make it short lets jump over 400 years and focus on the period from the post-war till today. So: first music festival (San Remo 1951)/first talent show (the legendary Cantagiro)/electronic pop song (from Areknames by Battiato to Moroder 1975 with the most famous I Feel Love)/”white” vinyl (that is without the label)/first audio streaming (Pietro Grossi)/dance music (the one that stars with Ride on Time, 1989). Right now, Italy is present in the VST world with IK Multimedia company, to whom I’m a happy client. In my opion it’s the best in the world together with Native Instruments (Germany) and Waves (Israel).

Despite these contributions, Italy still struggles to create varied and colourful music scenes. It’s perfectly able to remain the mine of creativity and, fortunately, to export its great inventions, but without taking advantage of its true potential. I know that some will start to talk about politics, the crisis, and other things of today’s problems, but that’s not the answer: were not talking about iron and steel industry or real estate market. We’re talking about music scenes. Everything has to be analyzed with a proper lense. Let’s try in 10 steps.

1) Italy is unaware of itself, it puts itself in a marginal place to which it’s never been adapted.

We’ve risked a lot with food, but we’ve made it: today noone thinks pesto is American. Maybe Americans do, but surely not Italians, no doubt about that. But look at music. I found myself reading a Wikipedia entry about Italian instruments: I thought I’d find harpsichord, piano, violin, the whole orchestra (it’s not by chance that the term is in Italian). However, the list I found was quite bizzare: launedda, fischiotto, bagpipe were among the most famous examples. Believe me, I have absolutely nothing against those wonderful instruments originating in Southern Italian cultures, the problem is that this colorful list is not representative. Where’s the violin, where the piano? This entry shouldn’t be titled “Italian instruments” but “Italian instruments unknown to the world”, or “Italian instruments popular in communities under 600 inhabitants”. It’s like omitting pasta, pizza, all types of cheese, sweets, and all famous meat and fish dishes in Italian food entry and instead mentioning pane Carasau, bagna cauda, and spumini, which anyway are more recognized than fischiotto. Just take a look:

And that’s just the beginning.

2) The Italian music critique does immesurable damage in every sector.

Italian music critique is almost totally unprepared to face the Italian music world. I’m not saying all of it and I don’t want to offend anyone. Am I generalizing? Of course. But it’s not always wrong to do so. I’d like to listen to your opinions, from my perspective it’s like this.

It’s in Italian creativity’s nature to be exported, it’s born to travel the world. The world, culturally speaking, is made in quite a big part by products of Italy (which invented or produced, among other things, Christianity, money, banks, universities, majority of musical instruments, 70% of world’s art, radio, microchip, and PC), which could be understood for what it is. Instead, the Italian critique, in order to appear intelligent, snob, sofisticated, not only finished as such, but also did incalculable damage. To be in favor of Italian critics as a musician, you don’t have to make hits, you have to fall in the category of the “ordinary guy”. Long thing short: you can’t be problematic. And most of all, you have to buy their consent. And I think that artists should be problematic, without bribing anyone. But let’s go deeper.

  • Classical/contemporary. In this sector the critique is by now independent with its music schools. There’s no research on the market and no market for research. But firstly, the critique doesn’t want to hear melodies. Melodies are intuitive, so that could expose all those artists who don’t have a bit of composing talent. What works is the noise, atonality, and clash. Politicized avant-garde. Everything rigorously written down on the score. If real music critique existed , they’d tear all the music maestros to pieces right at their birth, from Germany to Sicily, together with their schools and atonal, robotic students, graphomaniac like notaries from the 19th century. But theres no such thing as a serious contemporary music critique.

  • Rock. If you can’t sing you use old amplifiers, you paint yourself vintage, you suffer and have suffered, you don’t do catchy songs, your sound is always the same as in your practice room. Then you have a chance with the critique. A lot of youngsters got that, and that’s why almost all of them have been clones of Marlene Kuntz, for 20 years now. Sometimes they pay the press office and a small article magically appears in the most remote corner of the web/newspaper.

  • Pop. The critique doesn’t like pop. But, if you’re doing pop you can gain critique’s favour by adopting some tricks, like using ethic instruments live, not having original sound, looking in the camera with an annoyed expression, and having some other characteristics which have nothing to do with music, like being a homosexual, a foreigner, or just politically oriented.

  • Electronic. In this case the critique is interested in you, only if you have never sold a copy, if you don’t do festivals, don’t write songs, only gutter punks come to your concerts, your tracks feel old or are made wholly by a machine, or both, but most of all, if you don’t play at discotheques and entertain people. If you perform for a stoned audience, dressed in a green, military jacket, the intellectuals are won, and you’re in. One day in a big library, I got my hands on a text talking about great artists of electronic music, divided by nationalities. I looked for Italy, expecting to find firstly the great maestro Giorgio, and after that at least 50 pages of material. You know, Italian electronic is like, let’s say, the French, or German, or English one, that is – you like it or not – a lot of stuff. From Moroder to Mauro Picotto, from Gigi D’Agostino to Benny Benassi, dance is almost all done by us, not to mention the avant-garde. And what did the book offer? Marco Carola. Only. The next page was about the next country. So here you have it, Marco Carola is what critique likes in electronic music. A good DJ (technique-wise great), minimal, non-irritating loop, nothing catchy, sounds already heard before, stuff for dim clubs you enter with your sports card and that allow smoking inside. Obviously, I don’t think Carola shouldn’t be there, I just think he can’t be the only one to represent the entirety of Italian electronic music. It makes no sense.

3) The multinationals in Italy deal with the first local market in the world, but they work it independently only in case of one genre: pop.

This and the next point will be passionate. Both reflections are based on one fact: Italy is the first “local” market in the world, which means that people in Italy mostly buy music made in Italy. France is second. It’s quite a new data, coming from Digital Report 2015. To understand this, consider that Italy is the eighth musical market in the whole world (USA-Japan-UK-Germany-France-Australia-Canada-Italy), but in all preceding countries the sold music comes mostly from abroad. This should, in theory, get attention of the multinationals, which occupy their time dealing with pop, but it’s not like this.

You’ll realize this, even if you’re not professionals in the field, it’s enough to look. If you go to Sony, Universal, iTunes, or any other big player’s website you’ll see that their Italian divisions take care only of the mainstream market, that is the hodgepodge of pop, while the remaining crew globalizes the rest. We could talk about jazz, techno, or contemporary scene in Italy, accounting for the massive production. On iTunes store’s page titled “electronic” spots are reserved only for the international productions. This macro operation led by the big, paradoxically makes it easier for an artist doing pop to emerge in Italy, while in countries like the US it’s much easier with niche genres, directed at few attentive listeners, willing to trust the artist (without making him spend a fortune). Also because it’s quite difficult to construct a pop scene, which, being pop, collects many diverse music scenes under one enormous roof. So, that’s how Italian underground music scenes find themselves being just mere copies of something big happening somewhere else. I talked about it once with a guy, who in an extreme and sudden rush of provincialism said: “that’s why I want to change the country”. I said: “just change your iTunes”, more practical.

4) The multinationals don’t consider Italian music separate from the Latin and Anglo-Saxon.

This problem as always comes from the wrongful valutation on the part of the big players, and the situation is identical also in France. France, like Italy, is not Spain, so it doesn’t throw its works in the middle of Southern American ones (ah, Cortez, Cortez… Reggaeton is your fault). In fact, linguistically speaking France is Latin, but you’d never say that Air, Alizeè, and Plastic Bertrand (random three..) represent Latin music. The French make French music. The same goes for the Italian, and not only with pop. Tarantella from Salento, for instance, is much closer to Turkish or Greek music, than to the Spanish’. Hence, Italy represents a separate culture and even has its own, well-defined market. It doesn’t have its own definition of genre and lacks independent critique, and what follows its cultural visibility is deficient. If you ever end up on American iTunes, you’ll see that Italian artists are under “Latin” category only if they sell in South America. Others, on the other hand, are in the midst of European cauldron and enjoy much less space that the English-singing colleagues , who are “globalized” together inside the anglosphere spreading from Sweden to California. This ignorance isn’t harmful only to Italy, but also France, Japan, Brasil, and many other countries which have independent music scenes and cultures.

5) The young culturally self-colonize themselves because of the insecurities of their age.

No. I can’t explain this one to you, it’d become an essay in anthropology. Anyway, when you see an Italian band whose lyrics are in Italian, but their name is something like “The Sound of Collision” and the bio is written in English… Well, then you can ask yourselves the same questions I ask myself.

6) The free press

The majority of newspapers hang on because of the financing (by politics and the multinationals), so they’ll always speak about the already allocated scenes, super famous, super super recognized, or the ones they want to be recognized. Attracting investors and readers goes before giving information. Very often, the articles talk about the numbers an artist makes even two or three years after he or she’s become a star. If they talk about someone who’s not famous, look at point 2. So, you’ll find articles in those two categories: the big, and the loved by critique. Fedez and Baustelle, AC/DC and Luigi Tenco, Queen and I Cani, Michael Jackson and Elio. I could go on for hours. Also David Guetta and Marco Carola.

7) In Anglo-Saxon world its easier to emerge, but more difficult to remain on top. I Latin world, and especially in Italy, it’s exactly the opposite.

Some of you could think that Peter Gabriel, Sting, Paul McCartney don’t record anymore. Not true, they still do. It’s simply that noone cares about them anymore. When in England a new album of some old star comes out, it usually ends up behind the one of an 18 years old kid from YouTube. In Italy, however, Vasco Rossi or Ligabue could easily sing the same song for another 50 years and still be absolute kings of charts and radio playlists. Some hate that aspect, I’m neutral. It has its pros and cons. But surely it doesn’t help the new music scenes develop.

8) The musicians still haven’t understood that they can’t achieve anything if they don’t unite. The public, on the other hand, is rock-hard united.

In the picture you can see the legendary J Ax, Fedez, and Nek. An example of unity in the recording world, and not by chance a real artistic pop “scene”. Let me specify: this aspect doesn’t have anything to do with Italy, rather with any civilized society of today. A society which is a bit individual but also normalized. Seems like a paradox, but it isn’t, quite the opposite: it’s the picture we see today. Today people tend to feel united if they do something that everybody else does. Imagine the decline of music in this aspect. As I said at the beginning, we’re talking about the world here, and it’s a general fact that it came also from the English culture, and Italy is among the globalized countries so it’s not immune to its influence.

Confronted with such situation, artists should be united, work on different music scenes together, with diverse targets. But instead, everyone is coupling and making wars. And united they could speak to the world that awaits them, unanimous, through two or three means, not more. This kind of response was adopted naturally by some countries. For sure in the USA and many Anglo-Saxon countries, especially in Sweden. One day an American friend of mine wrote me: “an Italian has the impact of ten Americans but is always alone, and Americans always move in packs of twenty”. Isn’t it ironic?

9) Big stations follow the money. Small stations follow the big ones.

Small radio stations could really make numbers. But the smaller they are, the more they compete with the latest hit of Alvaro Soler, it’s like their nemesis. They destroy themselves working for the big, and later they’re forced to sell the frequency to someone who’ll include Alvaro Soler anyway, taking money for it. There’s something sacred in all this. The big stations receive sponsorship packages in millions. I have nothing against the liberal economy, but often it becomes monotonous, quite a bit.

10) Is Queen better than Pulcino Pio? Bad jokes of insecurity.

We’ve reached the last point. The last but not the least as our Brexit friends say. It’s fundamental, actually. One day I was doing my daily surf on internet, checking the usual “what happens in the world” and I came across an article talking about the success of Pulcino, or PPAP, I don’t recall exactly which one of them, anyway, we’re talking about one of those ridiculous things that become viral successes. Glimpsing at he comment section under the article, I got struck. The majority of comments were similar: heavy and insulting, Crozza’s Napalm 51 style (go check it out on YouTube), but attention, everyone took care of saying that they listened to serious stuff and that Pulcino wasn’t real music. Some to Queen or Led Zeppelin, some to Beethoven or Mozart, the value of great artists forced to counterbalance this stupidity is really significant. I was unaware that I had just pinpointed a psychiatric dilemma. I’ll explain myself: if someone has the need to mention listening to Genesis while commenting the article about Pulcino, it means two things: 1) he’s terrorized by the possibility of appearing inadequate, or stupid, or whatever, to others, 2) he’s made a list of bands that in his head make him seem educated and seriously passionate about music, but in fact, he couldn’t culturally differentiate between Freddie Mercury and Pulcino. He’s not only putting them in the same category, he also compares them. Without laughing. Well, I’m totally sure that this thing limits the rise of new music scenes. To identify something gone bad, or a scene, or a new idea, you need to have the same characteristics, exactly upside down.

You have to think with your own head, without conditioning, and you have to know a lot of music. It can be done, it’s possible. Despite the multinationals and the critique. Despite the radio stations. I invite all of you to do it. Follow new music scenes, do your research. Listen to things with 1000 visualizations, not 900 millions. Do it for everyone and for yourselves.

Don’t forget to let me know what you think! See you next time. Kisses! ?



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