Friday, 11 March 2016

Contropotere "Il seme della devianza" Lp, 1991

I often tend to see Contropotere in the same light as Bad Influence. Not that the bands sound similar (they do not) but because they are both unique anarchopunk bands with a creative sound of their own and a peculiar approach to both punk and anarchism, bringing relevant outside influences to the table. I love both bands an awful lot, sensibly and intellectually, although I do not necessarily overplay them at home (their music requires me to be in a certain mood actually). Contropotere and Bad Influence are powerful, meaningful and genuine and that is quite uncommon. Of course, both of them are incredibly difficult to review and aptly describe, and the second Contropotere album is quite possibly the hardest record I have ever dealt with on Terminal Sound Nuisance. Am I becoming a masochist?

I don't think you can love Contropotere's "Il seme della devianza" on the first listen. Of course, it does depend a lot on your own musical background, and if you have been listening to freakish music for years, they might make sense more rapidly. I remember that I just could not listen to it at first. It sounded tortuous, unfocused, disparate, like a set of unbound elements that did not create meaning. The first Lp sounded much more accessible and familiar (it still does in fact), despite an incredibly original dramatic atmosphere that was new to me at the time. As a weird protocrust band, Contropotere were unbelievable in the 80's and "Nessuna speranza, nessuna paura" remains one of my favourite Italian punk albums. It bridged the gap between the fury of classic Italian hardcore, mid/late 80's metal-punk and oriental/eastern music (as unlikely as it reads, I know...). No one sounded like them then and no one has since, despite decades of musical experimentation in the punk scene. In retrospect, it was only logical for the next album to be even more innovative, bohemian, eccentric and just plain strange. I think I just needed more easily palatable music when I first heard "Il seme della devianza" but the Lp does make more sense to me today. Does it mean I really get it? Maybe. Let's say I have come to terms with it but it is not really something you can play while chatting with your mates.

Contropotere was not really a band. They defined themselves as a collective, a family or even as a tribe. Music was an artistic means of expression but they were not a "rock'n'roll band". On that level, the parallel with Crass is not without relevance. Often seen as a Naples band, Contropotere originally came into existence in the Venice area but, as I understand it, the members came from different parts of the country. After a stay in Bologna, the collective settled and increased its activities in Naples after the release of the first album. Although their music grew to defy genres, Contropotere's origins were rooted in the 80's Italian hardcore scene. Some members played in Link Larm (who released a rather good demo in 1984) and in Elettrokrazia (a band I have never heard), the Lp was released on Attack Punk Records (the label's last record), and, as I mentioned, the early recordings of Contropotere were strongly reminiscent of the local brand of hardcore for their intensity and their desperate anger (think Rappresaglia). Undeniably, a band like Franti - with their Crass-like multivocal anarchopunk weirdness, their sense of atmosphere and their distinct theatrical vibe - must have been a strong influence. I would also venture that the propensity to innovation of the UK anarchopunk scene (especially on the All The Madmen side of things) and the heavy, ominous, pagan sound of Amebix may have been inspirations as well.

By the time "Il seme della devianza" was released in 1991, Contropotere had toured Europe and left strong impression on everyone, with their strong stage performance and their dramatic, atmospheric and yet tense, ominously aggressive music. But if Contropotere's nature had as much to do with drama than with music, how do you translate that multifaceted identity into an Lp? A near impossible task which explains the flaws of an album that is ultimately successful thanks to its narrative quality and its drama structure. I would argue that "Il seme della devianza" is as much an Lp as it craves to be a play. I am not saying Contropotere pulled that one through, but the fact they tried to confer their album a drama quality, with what sound like acts and a dramatic structure, points to such an endeavour. Thats is also why it is such a difficult Lp to listen to, it is not just a collection of songs, it must be dealt with as a modern play, a performance and therefore as an interconnected narrative whole. It is probably not as refined as it should be, and the production is by far "Il seme della devianza"'s biggest problem, but it is a fascinating work nevertheless and very few bands could have done an anarchopunk play as well as Contropotere did.

There is a lot going on musically. The songs (but are they really songs?) are usually long and convulsive, dark and fueled by tension, cold, heavy and almost sinister, especially with the anguished vocals of the female singer, but with an organic quality (perhaps one that has more to do with endless agony than sheer vibrance, but you get my point). They are almost never linear, the structures have been mostly dismantled, and sometimes have an incantatory feel, a ritualistic element that the sometimes mystic, pagan lyrics tend to complement (not being really a mystic person myself, I can only infer that they were summoning furious anti-capitalist spirits or something). I cannot really tell you what Contropotere sound like on this Lp. There are thrash metal elements (some parts remind me of their contemporaries and label mates Anarcrust actually, especially with the frenetic, epileptic vibe of the Lp), Nausea-like heavy crust bits, long industrial moments, some goth-like parts, some fast hardcore ones but also experimental punk sonorities (think late Crass, The Ex or Dog-Faced Hermans)... This is an intricately heavy, twisted, labyrinthine, anguished, exhausting album from start to finish that is close to impossible to render in words.

There is a massive, beautiful booklet with the Lp with English (and German) translations so that you can get what Contropotere were all about: liberation, empowerment, subversion and deviance. "For the power that everyone possesses as a potential for transformation. Against all kinds of imposed power". The band used metaphors of dreams, nightmares, occult visions or time to make their point and fight mediocrity and resignation in the face of modern alienation. Strong, passionate words that are vividly illustrated through the music and you can hear that the band spent time thinking about the complicated relationship between form and content (and let's get real, all great punk records blend the boundaries between form and content). "Il seme della devianza" was the second release of Skuld Releases and certainly one of the label's most challenging. After this Lp, Contropotere did another record for Skuld, the "Solo selvaggi" Ep in 1992, and released a work of electronic music in 1994 as CP/01 (which I have never dared to listen to...but hopefully I will one day find the courage to do so) entitled "Cyborg 100%".


  1. Thank you. For all the things I've already thanked you, multiply it by several for this entry. A pivotal album for me. Upon that first listen, an album with such power and fascination that it makes you stop what you're doing and fall through its rabbit hole into a world of ideas, theater, and execution. It's such a satisfying listen, though when it is over, you're left dazed and full of wonder of what you just experienced. One of those albums that encourages silence in its aftermath. The kind of art that has the greatest potential to permanently change perspective. After all, how can you be the same after this opus?

    That first paragraph. Absolutely. Contropotere and Bad Influence. Forget the descriptions. Appreciate the effort. Listen to how others experience this difficult thing we try to discuss and go from there.

    They also released a video, possibly on Skuld as well. Extreme Noise rented it when they offered VHS for rental. I've been looking for it since. I think parts of it might exist on youtube, but I've never found it complete. It's been a while since I looked. I'll do that today.

    I encourage everyone who loves this band to give CP/01 a chance. It's good. It's different, but it is 100% Contropotere. I can upload it and share the link if you'd like. -ZM

    1. Thanks for the support! To be honest, this Lp and Armia's "Legenda" were very challenging to write about, I just couldn't use the usual comparative perspective but it was an interesting task. Reminded me of my days as a lit student!

      I agree with you that it is not a "light" album, not something you can listen to while chatting or cooking or whatever. It is an exhausting listen and I am still struggling to know if I actually love it. But at least, it challenges me and I have always been drawn to it for some reason. I should probably give CP/01 another chance as well so if you feel like uploading it, I am up for it.

  2. I should have also said that I love the VoiVod reference at 2:20 of track 2. Someone loved Killing Technology. That's the other thing about this album. This album feels like it has so many references and influences, like you'd expect out of a community of participants vs. a band that usually has one or two primary writers. It has the complexity of a city vs that of a group. -ZM

  3. Contropotere - CP/01 ‎– Cyborg 100% 1994