Interview with Italian punk collective Kalashnikov, originally published in Bulgarian language in Tigersuit Zine, #3 (2011).
Hello, romantic punx! Let’s start with some definition of terms and tell us why Kalashnikov is not just a band but a collective? Do you think punk-rock is really something revolutionary and that a punk band can be seen as a revolutionary cell? And what’s the story of your collective?
Kalashnikov collective has been active since 1996. We prefer to self-organize in a collective because we want to be a more “open” entity: in a band, everyone usually has his fixed role/instrument and that’s it, but in a collective we can change every role and add some people that give us different supports. For example, Peppus creates some concepts for the songs and Claudio is a driver: why should we give them only a marginal role? They help us and believe in the Kalashnikov project, so they are important as a guitarist or other musicians.
About “punk”, I need to think in a different way: every form of expression could be revolutionary if you create it to show the contradictions of society. The word “punk” is too used up, it’s useless. We care about messages: the message is revolutionary, not labels.
What’s so romantic about politics and revolution? How can you manage to mix politics and ideas of dissent with love and romantic? What’s your definition of love and what’s the importance of love, passion, and creativity to humyn life?
Area – an Italian band of the Seventies – wrote a song called “Joy and Revolution”: they wanted to tell about the fun of destroying an order and live our life in freedom, rebuilding the world as we want. Sometimes we have been defined as romantic, that’s why our first album is called “Romantic songs of dissidence”. In this meaning romantic means feeling the emotions on the skin of the people. We tell stories not slogan, and we hope that guys can understand the meaning of words like “war”, “oppression” and “alienation” feeling the emotions of the characters of our stories.
It seems that you’re influenced by the libertarian tradition of anarchism and autonomism, but you don’t play some fast crust punk or hardcore as most of the political DIY bands in our scene. What is the reason for you to play more melodic and not so aggressive style of music? What do you think of bands like Chumbawamba, who tried to use the pop music as a medium to expose a similar message as yours?
We like elusive identity and unpredictable things: they can surprise you! DIY means “Do it yourself”: get your instrument and create songs by yourself! But it also means: be independent in thinking. Your songs should tell something different from capitalist artists. Invent your own means of expression and do not become the copy of someone else! If you play standard music how could your message be really revolutionary? If you make your music with your own means the message must be unique as well. If you consider bands as Chumbawamba, Scritti Politti, Gang of Four who want to reach commercial success to get to as many people as possible there is probably a misunderstanding: the message you want to tell is linked to the means that you use to express it. Everything is connected and it’s not realistic if you try to spread a revolutionary message and at the same time to make the major labels earn more money. If your band is on the shelves of a shopping center it means that it’s already dead…
I’ve read an essay trying to make analogies between the 77′ punk-rock explosion in the UK and the Italian autonomist movement of that time. Do you find such analogies and what’s the importance both of punk-rock and of the 70’s autonomist movements to the world?
Both movements explode in a very different situation from ’68: during the sixties people wanted to realize ideals of equality, pace and freedom; during ’77 this promise seems to be a lie. In the modern civilization there will be no space for ideals and freedom. It was clear that capitalism and technologies will rule the world. In ’68 people tell that future will be gorgeous, in ’77 people speaks about “No Future”. Autonomous people wrote on the city walls “We don’t have past, we don’t have future: history kills us”. The union of punk and autonomous people is the knowledge that you can’t escape the system: capitalism has killed democracy and policies cannot drive the world’s destiny. It’s the blind power of economy that guides the world.
I think you’re all from Milan. I’ve watched an old movie about Virus Squat, which I guess was a very important place for the development of political punk in the 80’s, can you talk a bit about the history of punk-rock in Milan? Do you live in a squat and what’s the situation with the autonomous spaces in Italy?
Virus was the first real anarchist squat in Milan, in the 80’s the most important bands were Wretched, Rappresaglia and Crash Box. Wretched were one of the first important anarchopunk bands with a unique sound like the early Discharge, Disorder and the dark atmosphere of Amebix and Antisect. Crashbox were influenced by the fastest American hardcore. Rappresaglia were a punk rock band that reminded English bands like Blitz, Angelic Upstarts and Lurkers. After a dark period between the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s punk scene was born again. In the 90’s a lot of new bands founded following the melodic punk from California. They tried to enter in the main stream music scene but without success. Most of these bands do not exist any more and the DIY of 00’s has become stronger and aware. Now squatting is quite strong in Milan although the repression is strong too.
We are very near at Villa Vegan squat and Telos squat in the north of the city: we often play there and we think that they are the best places for our music.
In your releases you’re doing covers of old bands such as Italian Wretched or the UK band The Mob, which are the bands that influence you the most? Are you going to do a cover of Contropotere in some of your new releases, I think it would be great!
Some people compare Kalashnikov collective with Contropotere: we have a creative approach at anarcho-punk like them. Anyway, I don’t think that we could make a cover of Contropotere: they had a very personal style, it could be very hard to remake their songs! We love to get a song and transform it by our own way. We think that the desire of playing new music it was a very important target for 80’s punk. Now this spirit of innovation is weak. We were influenced by old hardcore bands from Italy and England about attitude, politics and music. Somebody underestimate English anarcho-punk bands but The Mob, Karma Sutra, Liberty, Alternative, Crass, Poison Girls played great and creative music.
Each one of your releases looks great and you don’t use plastic cases for your CD’s. You’re so dedicated to the DIY approach in every aspect of your music, tell us about the process of writing new songs, about your lyrics, rehearsals, shows, putting out records…
The process that starts by imagining a song up to packaging the disc on which it is recorded is very long but very funny: the game is to take nothing for granted and, indeed, to reinvent each step. We try not to delegate anything to the assembly line, with its standard and prepackaged ideas, but we want that everything we do is made as a coherent thought project with the greater possible control.
What’s the strangest places that you have played gigs? Any interesting stories from your shows?
We played in many strange places, in some cases you don’t have to go far to find them: in Milan a few years ago there was a place called Approdo Caronte that was a warehouse for boats abandoned and landing on the banks of a canal in Milan. It was a sewer, in the mud and with the rats, inside it can fit in 30 people. It was incredible. In France, we played in the mountains, in places reachable only by paths in the forest, where lived some primitive communities, without electricity, gas and water supply. In Moscow, we had a gig in a Cuban bar run by an old Russian woman; in St. Petersburg we have made a show in an illegal squat in a building occupied in the suburbs, everyone was afraid of the arrival of the neo-Nazis or of the cops.
You’re putting all of your releases for free download on the internet. Also you have an internet blog where you put a lot of information and mp3 for free of a lot of punk bands from all around the world. What do you think about copyrights and what are the positive aspects of internet for punk-rock? Also your blog looks a webzine, with much more than just mp3s, it seems that you really enjoy writing stuff, communicating with a lot of people and exposing radical ideas to the people with whom you communicate with.
Internet allowed the free movement of things that before were really hard to get. If you are a curious person, with the Internet you can really satisfy all of your perversion!
What do you think about the case with WikiLeaks?
It is gossip at high levels, appreciated for its iconoclastic and pirate charge, but in the reality it did not significantly alter the condition of ordinary people, who already know to be governed by people who make their own damn business. Wikileaks has revealed that Berlusconi is believed to be a clown, a bad governor and that thinks about his business, well, do you think that the Italians did not know it already? But mainly: do you believe that all of this can interest to Italians? For many Italians, Berlusconi is an idol, as a rockstar. He could be the worst inept, but these people will continue to support and vote for him. So for us the revelations of Wikileaks are useless at all.
Are you all vegans and do you think that veganism really makes sense in the larger context of today’s world, or it’s just a personal moral choice for the liberal modern citizen? A lot of political activists say that veganism is just another niché for capitalism to sell things and try to look more humane by putting labels such as “vegan”, “bio”, “organic”, “fair-trade”, etc. If it is something more than just a consumer boycott or a lifestyle for middle-class and privileged people, what’s then? What can you say on the animal liberation movement in Italy?
Being vegetarian and vegan is an effort, not so hard to do, to boycott the meat industry and respect the planet and themselves. A trend? We hope it become more and more! A person can be vegan and vegetarian for many reasons. Ethical reasons if you refuses exploitation and experimentation on animals, philosophy if you embrace a antispeciesist vision, or healthy if you are interest in the well-being. All good reasons that make the good of persons and environment. A few people knows that the breeding of pigs, beef and chickens is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, more than the pollution of the engine means. Not to mention the further damage, such as the impoverishment of the soil, destruction of biodiversity, water pollution, the use of land and resources that could be used for other (let’s not forget that the breeding of animals is much more expensive than cultivation and needs a lot more space). Certainly then, I admit that nowadays, in most industrialized countries, being a vegetarian is cool, it means being part of a cultural elite. But I do not see nothing wrong!
In Italy there are many eco-radicals and animal rights groups, mostly involved in struggles against the laboratories where there is the practical of testing animals and the vivisection.
Tell us about your projects outside of Kalashnikov. In what other kind of things are you interested in and what are you doing in the sense of art, creativity, activism?
In reality, everything we do (excluding the hateful need to work) is part of the activities of the Kalashnikov collective, for the simple reason that there is not difference between “the band” and our existence on earth. As Kalashnikov collective we have made some documentary videos about strikes or occupations, we have organized gigs and benefits, managed distro, led underground radio programs or other political and creative activities: we do not have the need to create for us another “label” under which categorize the various facets of our being. And this is too another aspect that we find effective in being a “collective” respect a simple band.
Do you have any knowledge about Bulgaria and what do you know about the underground music scene and punk in the ex-communist countries?
We know little or nothing about the punk scene in Bulgaria and we have never been in it… I think that the ex Soviet bloc countries have produced great punk bands and much more. I have a disc of an old Bulgarian group of the early 80’s called Turbo. It ‘s very funny! We know very well the history of punk in the ex- USSR: there existed great bands, from the unique sound and great poetry. In the globalized post-Soviet world there is not much more space for the personality, originality and creativity.
Thank you for your time, anything you want to say, that I missed to focus my questions on?
Really thanks for your very interesting questions, we love get in touch with such zines from all around the world: we hope to come Bulgaria for a couple of gigs to know Bulgarian people and learn something about Bulgarian DIY scene. A big hug and take care!