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Flemming Dalum and friends in Rimini 1985
Flemming Dalum and friends in Rimini 1985photography Flemming Dalum, courtesy of Flemming Dalum

Revisit the Italian club scene that time forgot

Lorenzo Cibrario’s photo collection captures an 80s Italian youth culture on a quest for kicks

When you think of dance music through the ages, you think of the meccas of clubbing. Ibiza, long lost hotspots like Haçienda, Berghain, and despite the loss of Fabric we can still add that one to the list. But one exhibition is uncovering the long-lost era of Spaghetti Disco — an Italian dance music subculture, born out of the volatile and drug-ridden 70s. With clubs like Cosmic playing host to youth searching for an escape from the violence of their heated political climate, it doesn’t look too dissimilar to London today. When there’s a popular disdain for politics, most of the time, escapism is the answer. But through escapism, sometimes something beautiful can be born out of it. We spoke to Lorenzo Cibrario, an Italian copywriter and music journalist based in London, who spent a summer tracking down archival material in Italy from ex-big dogs in the Italo Disco music scene, looking to immortalise this time in a collection that speaks volumes about the power of youthful rebellion, and the importance of cool. Moustaches and all.

Why is it called Spaghetti Disco?

Lorenzo Cibrario: Well, with the term 'Spaghetti Disco' or 'Italo Disco' we usually refer to a precise kind of music made in Italy first, and Europe later, between the early 70s and the mid-80s (roughly). Originally, it was called 'Italian Disco' or 'Italo Disco' and it was used to define a sound characterised by the use of synthesisers, drum machines and vocoders, with a very clear Italian taste for catchy melodies. The noun 'Spaghetti' was used abroad to define our Italian dance music made in those years. It is quite a simplistic process, but it worked for the masses, so I guess it was good marketing.

What sparked your interest in documenting this subculture?

Lorenzo Cibrario: Well, I had been asked by the Red Gallery to curate this exhibition from scratch. Last March they contacted and asked me to deal with this, as part of a bigger plan to display the history of European sub-cultures. They are covering, with exhibitions, youth cultures in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Hungary and so on. Because of my background (an Italian native speaker and music journalist), I think I was the right person and the right time.

“At the end of the day, a discotheque or a club are perfect non-places, places where time and space can disappear”

How did you go about finding these photos?

Lorenzo Cibrario: Ah, thanks for this question! It has been the best part of the whole project to be honest. While I was in London, making phone calls, Skype calls or sending emails, I realised the process was just a bit too slow. Most of the people I was dealing with were not happy to deal with a stranger from London. So I just packed my backpack, went to Italy and travelled throughout the whole summer: Milan, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Turin, Genoa, stopping by the coast to have a swim, sleeping at friends and meeting awesome new people all over my country. It was surprising how much word of mouth helped to speed up the process. I was literally knocking the door of the musicians, photographers, club owners, producers and asking them to show me their archives. On a few occasions, we went to dusty attics, or dark garages to look through these old boxes full of polaroids. It was nice to go through the memories of these people.

Is there a particular piece of Italian Disco music you would recommend?

Lorenzo Cibrario: It is not really easy to choose one single track, because Spaghetti/Italo Disco lasted for almost 15 years, covering several types of music. I can provide you a top ten in no particular order: Change - The Glow of Love, Easy Going - Fear, La Bionda - I Want to be Your Lover, Giorgio Moroder - Baby Blue, Gaznevada - I.C. Love Affair, Fred Ventura - Wind of Change, Alexander Robotnick - Problèmes d’Amour, My Mine - Hypnotic Tango, Atelier Folie - No Rhyme No Reason and Matia Bazar - Ti Sento. My favourite, for personal reasons, is Righeira - L'estate sta finendo.

Do you see a similarity between the dance scene then and now is there a nostalgic aspect to the photos? 

Lorenzo Cibrario: There is a nostalgic aspect for sure, I guess it is given by the "polaroid factor", and with this I mean the colours and the format. Perhaps every picture we take brings its own nostalgic aspect — freezing a moment in eternity, a moment in time that can not be lived twice. After all, pictures are memories, and memories are ontologically nostalgic. Saying this, I played with the contemporaneity of these pictures. I like them because, in many cases, they are pictures from the 70s and 80s in Italy, but they could have been taken in East London now. I guess it is the circle of the fashion and the modes, they repeat themselves, taking elements from the previous decades.

Would you say the hostile political climate of the time is reflected in these photos?

Lorenzo Cibrario: The history of Italy during those years is extremely complex, as there were many cases of local terrorists attacks, due to the extreme left party called the ‘Brigate Rosse’ (Red Brigades) and the neo-fascists parties. Those years are called 'Years of Lead'. It is interesting to note that in those years, together with a punk scene, and a politically active songwriters movement, there was a massive Disco Music phenomenon. I think people were trying to forget the tough life they were living in. Like a cathartic process, Disco music was used to entertain people and make them forget the bloody days they were living in. At the end of the day, a discotheque or a club are perfect non-places, places where time and space can disappear.

Why do you think this scene died out in Italy?

Lorenzo Cibrario: For two possible reasons: the former, more organic, is just a classic curve process — the movement started in the early 70s, reached its climax in the early 80s and then gradually faded out by the second half of the 80s. The latter was a general loss of authenticity inside the movement itself, it became more money driven and less art-driven. People were then looking in other directions, as rave culture was becoming more popular and the grunge from the US was ready to explode. This loss of authenticity in order to capitalise this subculture destroyed the movement from the inside, creating small movements during the 90s.

What do you plan to do with the photos? Is there another way to find your work?

Lorenzo Cibrario: I am going to publish a book out of these pics. I have roughly 100 pictures, I am going to make a selection and publish them in UK and Italy.

The exhibition is running until 5th November at Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington St, London EC2A 3DT.
The final night of Italian Disco at Kamio will include DJ sets Severino and Toni Rossano 5th November from 7pm - 2am.