No Place Like Home: Qlowski’s guide to the Music Scene in Bologna

Qlowski release their debut album Quale Futuro? through Maple Death Records this week, a captivating slice of twee-punk which prompted Joyzine’s own Paul F Cook to declare “only the brave push the sonic envelope to near-breaking point and yet still maintain enough cohesion to keep from being thrown from the horse” in his review of the LP.

The band are now based in London, but with band leaders Mickey and Cecilia hailing from Bologna in northern Italy, we thought we’d ask them to take us on a tour of the musical landscape of their home town.

What makes Bologna a special place for music and bands?

Bologna is a big town or small city of almost 400 thousand citizens, of  which around 60/70 thousands are university students. It is also known as ‘The Red City’ partly because of the terracotta colour brick buildings, but in modern days, mainly for the long lasting left-wing tradition of the city. I think these two factors made Bologna, since the 1970s, the perfect ground for counterculture, music and art to flourish. In particular, the presence of many squats, social centres and independent venues has been pivotal during the years for the survival of a countercultural/diy approach to music and art through different generations of young artists.

Is there a scene or a sound that you would describe as being specific or special to the area?

What I would say most of the bands/artists from Bologna have in common is a sort of artsy vibe, probably because most of the bands are made of university students. That applies to different bands and music genres. But in general I would say that music and politics are considered two very important matters in Bologna.

Give us a quick history lesson – who are some of your favourite Bologna bands of the past?

Without going too far back, we should probably start in the late 1970s. If in London 1977 was the year of punk, in Bologna it’s remembered mostly as the year tanks broke in the university area to stop protests after a student and Lotta Continua militant was killed by the police. But from that political situation came some great bands like Gaznevada, Skiantos and Confusional Quartet.

In the early 1980s, RAF Punk were the paladins of anarcho-punk in Bologna. They founded a label, Attack Punk Records that at some point co-released some records with Crass’s own Crass Records. Steno, the bassist from RAF Punk ended up giving birth to Nabat, Italy’s Oi/Skinhead legends. He now manages some studios where we practised a few times at the beginning.

Later in the early 1990s, like anywhere else the Italian independent music scene was thriving, and Bologna’s heroes at that time were Massimo Volume. Guitars and drums create the atmosphere while the spoken-word takes you for a journey in someone else’s life. 

Finally, we’ve arrived at our time in Bologna, and our soundtrack for those days couldn’t be other than His Clancyness. One of Italy’s finest indie acts!

But we can’t talk about Bologna without talking about Lucio Dalla. Jazz musician at first and then singer/songwriter. He is Bologna. Visceral and sweet at the same time.

And who should we be looking out for right now?

One of our labels, Maple Death Records, is based between Bologna and London, and they constantly release some of the best obscure music, and a lot of it is from amazing artists based in Bologna: Fera, JH Guraj, John Duncan & Stefano Pilia

Other bands/artists we love are: Brutal BirthdayHorror Vacui, KrasueLaura AgnusDeiClever Square and Massimo Carrozzi.

Where are your favourite places to play/see bands in the area?

If you’re ever in Bologna there are a few venues that you should check, our all time favourite though is definitely Freakout Club. It’s a small venue, 100/120 cap, just one room, that gets very sweaty on good nights, our second home when we’re in town. 

Second to that comes Covo Club, that is something in between the Shacklewell Arms and Moth Club if you’d like a comparison for Londoners, and it’s been active since 1980, quite a legendary place. 

Another venue we really like is Locomotiv Club. It’s the biggest one among these in terms of capacity, so you usually go there for bigger gigs.

Also, we need to mention Atlantide, that was so much more than a venue. It was an extremely inclusive space for culture, counterculture, and diversity in town. A place, and people that really formed us. Sadly, they were evicted by the council a few years ago, and that was heartbreaking. A book about this venue just came out, and it’s beautiful, we truly recommend you to check it out . 

Independent music venues in the UK have been under threat, first from rising costs and developers, and more recently as a result of the pandemic and lockdown – how are your local venues coping?

We don’t live in Bologna anymore, so we weren’t there throughout the lockdowns but we know from our friends that just like everywhere else, it was a very very hard year (and a half) for venues. The government isn’t doing much for the arts in Italy, and venues in Italy have been relying on the support of the people mainly. Luckily enough they all survived so far, and we can’t wait to go back and play there soon!

Aside from the bands, who are some of the local music heroes working to keep music thriving in Bologna?

One of our labels, Maple Death Records, is based between Bologna and London, and they are absolute legends. Jonathan is probably the most proactive and energetic person we know, a force of nature. Constantly releasing gems, putting on gigs, working on new projects! Follow them and listen to all the fantastic obscure music they put out!

Another incredible label based in Bologna is Avant! Records, and if you define yourself a goth that’s the place you wanna go.

Finally, if you’re in town and up for a revelatory big night out check if there’s any Undicesima Casa events happening.

Click here to check out Qlowski’s Bologna music playlist.

Gaznevada – Criminale
As mentioned before, we can’t talk about the start of the punk scene in Bologna without Gaznevada.

His Clancyness – Machines
A very important band for Qlowski. His Clancyness have been touring around the world  showing how great and unique the italian sound can be. If you are into noise pop mixing krautrock mixing some special psychedelia you have to listen to them. 

Massimo Volume – Il Primo Dio
Massimo Volume are some of Bologna’s finest, merging a theatrical spoken word performance to some very articulated guitar music that creates very unique atmospheres. 

Baseball Gregg – Sad Sandra
Indie pop at its best. The band is based between Bologna and Stockton (US). Warm atmospheres and nostalgia all around!

Lucio Dalla – Lucio Dove Vai
As we said already, Lucio Dalla is one of the most iconic singer/songwriters from Bologna. This song is a little soul gem.

Sangue Misto – Cani Sciolti
One of Italy’s first hip-hop groups, they were part of the incredibly explosive underground scene that originated from the social centres and squats network in the 1990s all over Italy.

Settlefish – the boy and the light
Do you remember the early 2000s emo/post-hardcore wave? Settlefish are one of the best bands of that era from Italy.

Francesco Guccini – Eskimo
Guccini is one of the great italian singer/songwriters from the 1970s. He’s not from Bologna, but he lived there during the university years and this song talks about those years, and some of the spots in Bologna. Every time makes me feel so nostalgic of my uni days there.

Nabat – Laida Bologna
Italian Oi! Punk legends. Laida Bologna can be translated as “nasty Bologna”, and it’s about the city council administration.

Caterina Barbieri – Fantas
Back to 2020s. Caterina Barbieri is one of the best contemporary Italian composers. She’s from Bologna, lived in Berlin for years and now based in Milan. Her research is focused mainly on machine intelligence, and she’s definitely one of the most interesting artists in Europe at the moment.

Qlowski’s debut album Quale Futuro? is out now on Maple Death Records. Order now on vinyl or digital download via Bandcamp.

Catch Qlowski live at the following shows:
Friday 4th June – Moth Club, London (tickets)
Friday 30th July – Engine Room, London
Saturday 14th August – No Man’s Land, Manchester (tickets)

Follow Qlowski on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

Introduction by Paul Maps
Photograph by Patrick Smith

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