Thus began the period in Italian history known as the “Years of Lead” or the Anni di piombo. These years of social upheaval frame the political context (at least in part) of much of Italy’s underground electronic music scene from 1980 to 1988, a scene borne of seething political dissatisfaction, and a reaction to the violent ideological clashes going on across the country. Combine that with the discovery of new, ever increasingly more affordable technologies to make music with (i.e. synthesizers, drum sequencers and tape recorders) and you have “art as activism”. A survey of this previously undocumented slice of music history can be heard on the recently released collection from Strut Records, Mutazione – Italian Electronic New Wave & Underground 1980-1988.
The set available on double LP or CD was curated by Alessio Natalizia of the electronic duo WALLS. It is an elaborate and informative collection, containing 26 tracks of confrontational punk-like, machine music and acts as a kind of collective communiqué of an under represented scene’s reaction to the aforementioned extreme social conflict on the right and left.
The physical edition (while available to stream on Spotify) includes essays on the historical background in its thorough liner notes, providing much needed band biographies and summaries of the political powers that were at odds during this period, namely neo-fascist paramilitaries, anarchists and the Italian government. Prior to the release of Mutazione, many of the songs included could only be found on out-of-print cassette or 7”, released at the time in conjunction with fellow politically-minded zines and pamphlets, thus making them truly rare affair. This DIY ethos was a part of song construction amongst these artists as well. For example, The Trax Collective (members of which are featured on the compilation) traded ideas on tape via their own intricate social network of international artists proving to be prescient in what is now commonplace amongst electronic musicians in the age of the Internet.