Miracles, punk and electric resurrections: the saga of CCCP and CSI

Many of my non-Italian friends have asked me to write something about a wonderful collective in Italian music history.
I took a cue from an article I originally published on July 2, 2014 on the Son Of Marketing website for this piece.

Berlin, 80’s. Two guys meet in a disco and start talking. They are both Italians, both from Reggio Emilia. One has escaped from an institution where he worked for five years as a psychiatric operator, has a spirited look and a way of speaking that hypnotises you. The other is a cerebral type, behind his glasses there are a million ideas ready to explode. The meeting is a revelation and a few months are enough to deliver to the Italian music scene one of the most important and original groups in its history.

Giovanni Lindo Ferretti and Massimo Zamboni return from that Berlin meeting with a sea of question marks and a few certainties. In their ears the Berlin sounds that had taken possession of them: the cold electronics of the Einstürzende Neubauten, the verve of the Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F.) and, above all, Ideal with their unpredictable mixture of genres filtered through punk. In their eyes Berlin, a divided, contradictory city, a polaroid of recent history. In their minds, the certainty of starting a band.

Berlinzulage | West Berlin / Art / 1980s – Exhibition at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin

Ferretti’s words intermingle with Zamboni’s guitar strumming, while a drum machine counterbalances Umberto Negri’s full-bodied bass. The disruptive soul of the group passes through the involvement of the audience and so the concerts become performances, dynamic installations. Danilo Fatur and Annarella Giudici are loose cannons, entering and leaving the songs on the set list, entertaining, bewitching. The result is an impressive shock wave with Ferretti’s voice psalmodising asphyxiating, repetitive phrases over hammering rhythms.

It’s 1984 and it takes little more than ten minutes to merge all this into three songs: CCCP Fedeli Alla Linea’s debut EP is called Ortodossia and opens with Live in Punkow, a samizdat in whose pages the geographical coordinates of Germany, the Soviet Union, Emilia Romagna and Europe alternate. Chaos envelops this political-emotional map; different cultures, disparate quotations find their place in surgical lyrics. The following year came a second Ep: Ortodossia II added just one more track to the previous ones and was distributed in the UK by Crass Records.

1985 is the year of the first LP: 1964-1985 Affinità-divergenze fra il compagno Togliatti e noi – Del conseguimento della maggiore età contains ten tracks, including Morire, which dispenses praises to Mishima and Mayakovski, and Emilia Paranoica, an eight-minute ride with a dilated, obsessive and nervous rhythm that is thrown to the ground by a relentless surge of punk rhythms. An aesthetic and intent manifesto starts the dance: CCCP. Mi Ami deals with sad erections, emotionless sperms, and a modest coitus. Curami starts slow, explodes and remains suspended in an endless shouted chant: “I’m a therapy, I’m  a therapy, I’m a therapy…”. In the beautiful beat of Valium Tavor Serenase, the folk song Romagna Mia bursts in, complete with accordion. 

The record sells well, Virgin Records notices, and the step that takes the Italian band from Attack Punk Records to the majors is taken. Many kilometres travelled and consequent live performances on the most diverse stages of the peninsula. For the first LP, Ferretti and co. had to deal with motorway noise that disturbed the low-cost recordings, now there are no such problems. Socialismo e Barbarie (Socialism And Barbarism)  is anticipated by the single Oh! Battagliero and marks the group’s first evolutionary step: on the one hand, what had been done in previous releases, on the other, new themes such as Catholicism in Libera Me DomineA ja ljublju SSSR takes up the Soviet anthem, there is still Islam (Radio KabulInch’Allah ça va) and Ferretti’s references does the rest. Tu Menti (You Lie) uses irony against the Sex Pistols.

In 1987 the first rare television appearances arrive, a theatrical show that does not have the desired effects, but the group continues its march dragging everything and the opposite of everything with it. One example is the improbable but successful Tomorrow sung with Amanda Lear.

The eighties are waning and social upheavals chase each other on a daily basis, CCCP are children of their own era and their last two albums are snapshots of all this: Canzoni preghiere danze del II millennio – Sezione Europa (1989) opens with a traditional alpine song, on the cover there is the Virgin Mary to whom a piece of the album is also dedicated, which guarantees an unexpected review in the Italian Catholic weekly “Famiglia Cristiana” (Christian Family). The keyboards drown out the guitars and the electronics keep the debut punk at bay. Fourteen tracks are perhaps too many, but there is no lack of irony, as in Fedele alla Lira? (“Faithful to the Lira?”, the old Italian currency), which goes straight to the controversy of some fans disappointed by the move to the major. 

Una bellissima macchina da guerra»: 30 anni di ‘Epica Etica Etnica Pathos’ dei CCCP | Rolling Stone Italia

A mini-tour in the Soviet Union with the Italian new wave band Litfiba and rock band Rats allows a conscious look into the twilight. Ferretti faces it all bluntly: “After singing in Moscow, with a colossal hangover, in the middle of a show that I thought was extraordinary, with the military standing by during A Ja Ljublju SSSR, what more could I ask for?”.

Some of Litfiba’s own musicians (Maroccolo, Magnelli, De Palma) and the sound engineer Canali are absorbed into the group. There are new vibrations in the air, there is a testament to be written: Epica Etica Etnica Pathos is imbued with a melancholic, decadent atmosphere. The title of CCCP’s last record – released in 1990 – is nothing more than the union of the subtitles of the four sides of the vinyl. The arrangements are more sophisticated, Amandoti is a rare gem, Narko’$ a reminder of what has been. Ferretti in his lyrics embraces intimism, mysticism. He no longer shouts, he often sighs, his psalmody sounds more like a Gregorian chant.

Many say that, more than the last record of a group, Epica Etica Etnica Pathos is the first of a new line-up. The change has already taken place but there is a need to codify gestures and sensations, to reorganize space and to chase after one’s own identity.

CSI, the Community of Independent States, replaces the Soviet Union (CCCP). The name of the new band is also an acronym that in Italian stands for “Consortium of Independent Sounders”: the course is set, 1992 can be considered a new year zero.

The musical and conceptual re-foundation takes shape far away from the Emilia that had given birth to CCCP, Ko De Mondo (a mispronunciation of Codemondo, a hamlet of Reggio Emilia) is written and recorded in Le Prajou, a manor in Finisterre in Brittany.

Contrasting the chaotic harsh sounds of CCCP, here’s the order and cleanliness of the sound: guitars peeping out in the first part and then taking centre stage in the second, Ferretti’s voice is subdued, no longer screaming as it once did, he has become aware of his timbre and has found a new identity. Del Mondo is a poignant ballad about a weak and disconsolate world. Home Sweet Homeand Occidente are the masks of CSI’s other two souls, the one that is more rock and violent and the one that veers towards folk.

Linea Gotica (Gothic Line) was released in 1996 and is the definitive detachment from the past, a reflection at once historical and introspective that unfolds along ten tracks, subdued tones and a few flashes, the first is sombre and is blown by the wind from the Balkans. Cupe Vampe opens the album with vocals and acoustic guitar keeping rough saturations at bay. The themes are that of the fires in Sarajevo and the threat to places of knowledge, such as the National Library. 

La storia dei C.S.I. attraverso i loro concerti | Rolling Stone Italia

The historical dimension (the Balkan war, the “Gothic Line”, i.e. the German defence plan in Italy during the Second World War) alternates with the personal one: Millenni is a reflection on the Catholic Church, Irata a delicate caress steeped in the thoughts of Pier Paolo Pasolini. There’s a cover of Franco Battiato moving song E ti vengo a cercare, who also participates in the recording.

It is a whispered, poetic, introspective record. With each listen, one is forced to come to terms with oneself, questioning one’s own “Gothic line”, one’s own point of History and everyday life.

Linea Gotica is followed by a trip to Mongolia. Asian ravines leave a few cracks in the personalities who return to the studio to record new material. Field recordings and loops stolen from Mongolian folk tradition mix with an imposing sonic power: the result is Tabula Rasa Elettrificata, a rough album, a rock that verges on shoegaze at several points. Unità di Produzione opens CSI’s latest studio work and represents all this well: an angular verse clashes with an open, musical refrain. 

Contrasts are the real protagonists: tension and liberation, Ferretti’s monotonous voice and Ginevra Di Marco’s angelic one. Nouns and adjectives often alternate without a verb: “Bolshevik technological dream, mystic atheist mechanics”. The words are punctuated almost in syllables in a vortex that leads straight to the apocalyptic twilight of an increasingly mechanical, cold and impersonal society.

Tabula Rasa Elettrificata reaches number one in the Italian charts for a week, a small great miracle for an alternative band. The subsequent tour sells out everywhere, Ferretti often sings with a blindfold on, he is getting sicker and sicker while relationships fade, you go on as long as there is another stage to play on, but when it all ends you need another strong experience. 

For CCCP it was the Soviet Union, this time it is the former Yugoslavia: concerts in Mostar and Banja Luka are self-inflicted euthanasia. After the experience in the Balkans, the need is to rebuild their own identity, roads diverge to cross sporadically in the new millennium.

CCCP Fedeli alla Linea and CSI were two unique realities on the Italian music scene, two different but indissolubly linked musical expressions at a point of intersection that links the personal and collective dimensions, the ideological and the practical, poetry and abrasive sound.

Fernando Rennis