Punkadeka Festival honors 20 years of “Anarchism!” with Italy’s punk website
When it comes to the average American’s knowledge of Europe, it’s best described as being at the level of a Lonely Planet guidebook—mostly the first two chapters on “Essentials” and “How Not To Be Killed There.” One would have thought that technology, in the form of music streaming services and international music discovery apps such as Radiooooo, could’ve connected us all better by now, at least musically. Hell no. We’re more apart than ever and more afraid of each other than ever.
Regardless, a punk is a punk, no matter your background or what type of political machine is running (or ruining) your country. A stage dive into an ongoing mosh pit is universal and timeless.
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On Aug. 30 at the Carroponte in Sesto San Giovanni outside Milan, Italy, the largest and longest-running Italian punk-rock site Punkadeka will be celebrating the 20th anniversary since the formation of their own online moshpit with a day-long music festival. The Milano punk scene has a long, varied history and even though the squats where a lot of shows went down have been Giuliani’d and shut down, the community there is still strong and vibrant enough to support this festival.
Performing will be some of Italy’s best punk bands around, many of them from the ’90s. Headlining are the Punkreas, arguably one of the most important bands in Italian punk history. Formed in 1989 in Parabiago, Northwest Milan, the band are most known for being the first punk band to sign to a major label in Italy. After a dozen-plus records and fan dedication over three decades, the band are now often put in the same league with NOFX, Bad Religion and Rancid.
The Impossibles (Gli Impossibili) are another Milanese group playing who have named the Ramones and the Queers as influences while the FFDs (Four-Flying Dicks) are a classic Oi! band from Parma, Italy.
The historic all-female group, the Cleopatras, hail from Tuscany. With a sound influenced by garage rock, punk, power pop and surf, they also cite Joan Jett, Bikini Kill, the Bangles and girl groups from the ’50s and ’60s as inspiration.
The Water Tower! from Brianza, north of Milan, are celebrating their 30th year of ska-influenced punk. The Viboras , a kick-ass female-fronted group from Milan who’ve been around since 2003 are one of the most requested bands on the festival lineup. Love the Distillers and Hole? Check out the Viboras’ latest album on Bandcamp and start with the second track, “I Can Too (feat. Fabio Gallo).”
Flower punk was a hybrid style that merged the Ramones with surf-beat and two Italian legends of that era, Crummy Stuff and SenzaBenza, will have their frontmen, Luca and Nando, come together for a set of their classics from the past 25 years.
AP founder Mike Shea spoke with Punkadeka’s founders, Davide Tamburlini and the super-unknown character known as Deka, about the site’s history and the Italian punk scene.
Punkadeka started as a webzine in 1999 to give a voice to the Italian underground music community. Who was behind the initial zine, and how did it eventually come together?
Deka: I wish I could say that. [Laughs.] Truth is that my ambition at that time was simply to have a space to talk about the music I loved with some friends. That’s it. I would have never thought that 20 years later Punkadeka would have still been here.
Davide: That’s true. It all started with the “boss” Deka creating this space, and then in the years it kept growing. Twenty years later with much less hair on our heads but with the same passion, we are still here.
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Deka: In 1999, I created the first pages of Punkadeka for fun without having the slightest idea of what it would have become. Otherwise, I [would have] gave it a more decent name than Punkadeka. [Laughs.] I enjoyed publishing like a fanzine reviews of the albums I liked and the reviews of the concerts I saw...then slowly, thanks to the chats—do you remember IRC?—Punkadeka grew into a magazine with a real editorial staff.
What’s the philosophy for Punkadeka as a site and staff? What motivates you each day to produce content for the site and promote bands?
Davide: That’s a very good question. I guess the answer is pretty simple: anarchism! I think it’s only because we are genuinely passionate about what we do. We never had anyone imposing a specific editorial line or direction. It just grew spontaneously over time.
Deka: Actually, the only time when I “intervene” is when I can see that perhaps the author of an article is brutally honest so I ask her/him: “Are you sure you want to do it? Don’t forget that one day you may meet these guys at a show, and you may have unpleasant conversations…” [Laughs.] On Punkadeka you can find the interview with Pennywise just next to the review of the demo of a new band. We have always treated all the artists with the same level of respect.
When you first started as a webzine, what were some of the things you had to learn to do that maybe you didn’t know how to do before? Was it difficult to produce?
Deka: Definitely coding! We started in the HTML era. There was no WordPress or template. It was everything coded by me. Then the nerd that is inside of me took over, and I started to truly enjoy coding, and thanks to Punkadeka, I could also find my current job.
Davide: Let me quote Bill Gates here: “Content is king.” We have been lucky to invest a lot in the quality of our articles, and we could always keep our independence and talk about whatever we wanted. What I am most particularly proud [of] is that we did not talk only about music but also tried to keep an eye in the society we live in, trying to share meaningful input with our readers.
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Deka: Another important lesson: Haters will always pop up and comment [on] whatever you do, so better not to care.
What were some of the ups and downs for Punkadeka over the past 20 years? How did you survive as a media outlet in this environment?
Davide: If we could survive the emo scene without being “infected,” nothing can kill us. [Laughs.] We tried always to keep the bar straight and not follow the latest trend of the moment…Perhaps this is one of the secrets of our longevity.
Deka: When we started, we were fresh high school graduates. Now we all have jobs and family juggling between different priorities. We have been lucky that the Punkadeka family kept growing during these 20 years. Some have left, some have joined, but the passion remained always alive. The festival will be also an emotional moment for us. For the first time in our lives, the whole Punkadeka family will get together, and some of us will meet for the first time. Really looking forward to that.
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What’s the best story of your time with Punkadeka so far?
Davide: In 2002, NOFX were at the peak of their careers and declined all types of interviews. We were at a festival, and I truly stalked Fat Mike for a whole day to have an interview…In the end, he was so fed up of me that he said: “Yes, I’ll talk to you, but then get fuck out of my way for the rest of my life!” Punkadeka was the only media that year that could have an interview with him.
A lot of us media outlets diversify at some point or another, and we start new projects. For you, it was decided to expand Punkadeka into booking bands to tour around Italy. How did that go?
Deka: We tried and were successful. We had many sold-out shows in different regions of Italy in big clubs. Why did we stop? Booking is a full-time job. It was impossible to cope with the website, my “official” job (the one I use for paying the bills at home), my girlfriend that later became my wife…I had to draw a line. That’s the truth.
You also produced a compilation album. Fans think those things are so easy to pull together, but they are not. Just the legal work will make you regret doing it.
Deka: I could find one on eBay some weeks ago for an insane price. As we wrote on the cd back then: If you pay more than 10 bucks, they are ripping you off. With lots of enthusiasm we decided to have a compilation in 2004, but no one told us the madness that is behind doing it and all the paperwork, chasing bands, etc…
Davide: I think it was the time when you definitely lost your last hair Deka… [Laughs.]
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Deka: Bastard! [Laughs.] We had 50 bands, both international and Italian. From the Lawrence Arms to Marky Ramone, from the Gamits to Raw Power…
Davide: Since we could not find the order of the songs in the end, we decided for a democratic “alphabetic order.” Most of the songs are previously unreleased tracks: Fifteen years later, I can say that if some band decided not to release those tracks and give it to us, there was indeed a reason. [Laughs.] Punk rock!
Are the punk scenes in Italy different from region to region? Do bands in the north differ from bands in the south of Italy? Are there music styles or appearances that are specific to Italian punk bands versus bands from other regions of Europe?
Davide: Indeed. There are several differences. For bands from the south of Italy, it’s really hard to emerge. Most of the punk bands are from the north. In the north, the punk community is stronger thanks also to historical squats that allowed bands to have a place to gather, share experiences and support each other.
Deka: If it’s hard to make a living out of punk in the U.S., in Italy is even harder...We would love to say that there is a strong community all over Italy, but [the] truth is that it has always been really fragmented with silly fights among scenes of different genre or city. In some small way we tried as Punkadeka to be a point where the community could get together.
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How has the underground punk scene changed in Italy since you first started Punkadeka?
Deka: I used to go to see concerts in squats or in DIY places. Nowadays local municipalities have closed most of these places. Therefore, there are less places where bands can play or practice. In the city area of Milan, there is not much left for live music. All historical places have been shut down.
Davide: Another side of the problem is also how social media has changed the way we interact. Don’t want to sound like an old grandpa, but [the] truth is that before I used to go to a squat and have a place to socialize and get into punk music. Nowadays kids have Spotify and can access almost all the music of the world, but most probably they will never have the chance to see them live or live fully [in] a punk scene like we did.
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Deka: Perhaps I am old, but I can still find “romantic” the moment where your older school mates gave you the cassette with the album of the new band he discovered…For the new generations, [it’s] only a matter of a click on a device. I miss that sense of community we had back in time.
When it comes to what Americans generally know about Italy today, beyond tourist guidebooks, they may have seen something on the news about the Five Star Movement, and that’s about it. How is the underground music scene reflective of current Italian society? Does it have a socio-political viewpoint? Are there artists who are similar to FEVER 333 who have become activists and are trying to bring fans together for specific causes?
Davide: On behalf of the Italian punk scene, we do sincerely apologize for the awful things our current government is doing. We are truly ashamed of how the migrations policies are handled, and it does not reflect the humanity of the people of our country has always displayed towards people in need.
Deka: Sadly, we have forgotten that once we were the “immigrants.” Nowadays, at the government we have a partnerships between two populist parties that are incompetent, true charlatans. The Five Star Movement from the newspaper seems a great revolution in nowadays politics, and I do believe it started with the best intentions. But you know, the road to hell is paved with the best intentions…
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Davide: I can only echo the words of Deka. We have still a strong antifascist component in our punk scene, and we have bands that are trying to send a strong message. Just to name a few, we have Banda Bassotti [who have been] constantly campaigning against the civil war in Donbass [for five years], Los Fastidios that, among others, support Sea Shepherd. I must confess that this social activism was one of the things why the punk scene has always been close to my heart, and this is the same for the whole Punkadeka family.
So, if I’m an American punk fan and I’m going to Italy for the first time, which cities have vibrant punk scenes that I should travel to?
Deka: As I said before, it’s not the city itself but the whole region that has a vibrant scene. Recently I’ve been to the Punk Rock Raduno near Milan that is a free festival with plenty of awesome Ramones-core bands. We don’t have huge festivals like we had 15 years ago, but the scene is still alive, and you can find great spots like this all over Center-North Italy.
I just wanted to confirm, but this appears to be the first festival that Punkadeka has produced?
Deka: Back in the day around mid-2000s, we had a kind of itinerant tour, but we never had a big event like this where we have called together many friends. After the great Joe left us, in cooperation with other partners, we have organized the yearly Italian Tribute to Joe Strummer, and we have donated the proceeds to the Joe Strummer Foundation.
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Davide: Back in 2003, we had a yearly gathering at the Italian Festival for indie records where every year we presented the Italian Punk awards. It was the most attended party of the festival and also a great way to see friends from the scene celebrating the successes of the scene.
How did the Punkadeka festival come together? Is the festival just with bands? What else can you do at the festival? How many fans are expected to attend?
Deka: I think it is the right time to have a proper celebration. Many times during the years I have been asked to organize or sponsor a festival but never really felt it was time to. Twenty years is a long time, and I think we deserve to have a proper celebration for what we have achieved. I am amazed by the number of bands that offered to come to play. It was not easy to pick those seven, and I am sorry for those we could not invite. We are thrilled to have Cleopatras, Punkreas, FFD, Impossibili, Water Tower and Viboras onstage. We will also have a “super-band” (Crummy World) formed by members of different important punk bands that will join together only for that show. I could have never imagined so much love, really.
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Davide: Well, [this is the] first time in life Deka will disclose his real identify and present himself to the world. You won’t believe [this] Mike, but most people think that in reality Deka does not exist, [that] he is a sort of a Banksy of the punk scene. Furthermore, there will be lots of distros, labels, street food and what we are most proud of: the grandmother of a guy of the staff will come and teach people how to sew patches. We want to help all the people that have bought patches in their lives and then struggle to sew on their favorite jacket.
If you wanted to say anything to American punk fans, what would it be?
Deka: Well, first and foremost, a big thanks goes to you and AP for the space. A big thumbs up for the guys of the crew: Devil, Penta, Matt Murphys, Benjamin Rauch, Amanda, Ga and Matteo Paganelli. If you are in Milan, the 30th of August, the Punkadeka Festival is definitely the place to be.
Davide: Oi to the world!
Check out Punkadeka’s Spotify playlist featuring tracks from all of the bands appearing at the festival, including a split between songs sung in English vs. Italian, below. For more on Punkadeka, head here, and for festival information, head here.