May 30, 2017
One Class-y Playlist
by Franceso Pacifico
We asked the highly excellent Italian author Francesco Pacifico—whose subversive, expansive, exhilarating novel Class we’re publishing today—for some music recs. And oh, how he obliged.
When I set out to write Class, a novel populated by the denizens of today’s globalized Italian bourgeoisie, I knew I wanted to describe what young people were up to — but I was already thirty-four and didn’t know any young people. So I nosed around until I discovered the hipsters, and my instincts as a reader of Balzac, Zola, Proust, and Henry James were first tickled, then blown away. These people were exactly what I was looking for: a transnational Versailles, brimming with its own habits and signifiers, its residents staring at a void in society.
What follows is a bunch of music by Italian artists I either met or was inspired by while writing the book.
Niccolò Contessa, who wrote this song, has reinvented Italian indie rock for this decade. A band of one and gifted lyricist, he writes about the whims of the young—and not-so-young—bourgeoisie. The “velleità” (“velleities”) of the title are those half-formed drives for artistic success that so often give meaning to the lives of trustafarians. “Velleità will get you laid,” says the chorus. The lyrics to this are basically the plot of Class in a nutshell.
Dark Polo Gang
These rappers came out after I wrote Class, but they embody it. Much like Marcello, the trust-fund kid who’s a producer and a rapper, they’re sons of great wealth who rap about making money. They even once commented, “We are money,” which sounds just as absurd in Italian (“Noi siamo i soldi”). One of their fathers is an accomplished director who references Pasolini in his work. DPG wear Gucci and are sponsored by Nike.
Also like the characters in Class, they drop a lot of English in their lyrics, with lines like “Mi trovi in giro solo con la mia squad / Fumiamo questi chiacchieroni come un bong,” (“I only hang with my squad / let’s smoke these big-mouthed fools like a bong”), or “Karate flow con i carati nei denti” (“Karate flow with carats on my teeth.”) The title means “tiny horses” — the kind you see on a Ralph Lauren polo.
Mai Mai Mai
Βάσσαι / Bassae
The man behind Mai Mai Mai, native Calabrian Toni Cutrone, was a part-owner of Dal Verme — Rome’s best place to hear weird music for years, until an angry mob of neighbors recently pressured them to close shop. To me, the acts it attracted represented everything pure and inspired about my lost generation. Mai Mai Mai is Cutrone’s neopagan drone project, with which he’s currently touring the world to nurse the wounds incurred in the doomed struggle to keep Dal Verme alive.
Crystal Smerluvio Riddims
Marco Caizzi of Rainbow Island is a joyfully beserk subcultural savant. He writes about videogames online and is a paragon of Facebook savoir-faire. His “riddims” are one good way to keep doing your thing instead of becoming a corporate hipster.
I think they’re former boy scouts. Their frontman, Davide Panizza, exudes pure sex and élan. They combine vintage Italo disco, Romanian pop, and midtempo county fair music, with lyrics that seem written by Google Translate. No sense in trying to describe them, actually. I can only say that what they’re doing is saving the passion and vitality of classic Italian pop by making it dirtily meta — but not too meta. They’re real pop art. I should add one more song:
When I listen to this, I think American ears will never duplicate the effects of fantastic dance music on the Italian heart. Their producer, by the way, inspired Marcello, the craziest character in Class. He gets the novel’s last word, since his rant is what ends it.
Heroin in Tahiti
A duo — one’s an art director (Francesco de Figueredo), the other is the best music critic in Italy (Valerio Mattioli). Everything about them is a statement, and their take on Ennio Morricone makes perfect sense.
Edoardo D’Erme, who goes by “Calcutta,” is a sleazily cute singer-songwriter who views life with a jaded longing that recalls Adam Thirlwell’s Lurid and Cute. He comes from the city of Latina, founded by fascists in 1932 (my wife was born there, too) — think Hoboken to Rome’s Manhattan. D’Erme has an awesome voice; it gets me like Bill Callahan gets me. He was a darling of our indie scene, before he went mainstream in 2015 with an album called Mainstream. He once told an interviewer he doesn’t pay attention to the production on his records, which should be overseen by the mutua, our national health service. Still, he didn’t go quite as mainstream as Thegiornalisti did. So if you’re interested in ballads by Italian indie-rockers, you should compare the two.
A band coming from and earnestly embodying the milieu that Lorenzo, Class’s wannabe filmmaker, belongs to. “Sold Out” is off their third album. They tried to make it big and succeeded. Their frontman is wonderfully crazy and beautifully drunk on his own fame, not to mentioned totally self-obsessed and impeccably eighties. He studied at an all-boys prep school in Piazza di Spagna, or so I’m told.
Francesco Pacifico was born in Rome in 1977. He is the author of The Story of My Purity and has translated Will Eisner, Dave Eggers, Henry Miller, Ray Charles, and Dana Spiotta. His work has appeared in n+1, McSweeney’s, and the White Review, among other publications.