Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lou Reed Riots in Italy 1975

Following the recent death of Lou Reed, I could write a lot about his influence on me and the many hours of my life spent listening to him and the Velvet Underground. Intense student nights discovering chemicals whilst listening to 'Berlin' ('The Bed' still makes me shiver), hitch hiking to Amsterdam and getting a lift in a BMW playing 'Venus in Furs', all that indie pop taking its cue from 'Pale Blue Eyes' and 'What goes On' - indeed all those nights at How Does it Feel to be Loved? in Brixton, taking its name from the fade out of 'Beginning to see the light'. But I guess most of us could tell such stories.

Instead of going any further down my own memory lane I'm going to write a bit about a lesser known episode in Lou Reed's career: the riots at his gigs in Italy in February 1975. In Milan, Reed fled the stage after just two songs (Sweet Jane and Coney Island Baby). In Rome, there were clashes between police and young people trying to get in to the concert for free. Tear gas was fired, bars were looted, and many people were injured and/or arrested.

Rome 1975
These weren't anti-Lou Reed riots as such though, rather they were moments in a wider social movement. As Robert Lumley outlines in his book 'States of emergency: Cultures of revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978':

'Between 1975 and 1979 young people in several major Italian cities entered the political scene as the protagonists of new forms of urban conflict. In Rome, Bologna, Turin, Naples, Milan and other cities, they organized themselves into collectives and ‘proletarian youth groups’, squatted in buildings and carried out autoriduzione (that is, fixed their own prices) of transport fares and cinema tickets, set up free radio stations. At the height of the movement in 1977, tens of thousands of young people were involved in mass protest and street battles with the police'.

As well organising their own counter-cultural music festivals, the movement contested the cost of commercial cultural events: 'Autoriduzione of tickets at pop concerts had already been carried out ‘spontaneously’ in Milan in the early seventies. In September 1977, at a Santana concert in Milan, the practice became formalized; youth groups assured the organizers that the event would not be disrupted in exchange for a fixed price reduction. Earlier, in October 1976, youth groups launched a campaign to force cinemas to reduce ticket prices. A leaflet of the youth groups of zona Venezia declared: "The defence of the living standards of the masses also means establishing the right to a life consisting not just of work and the home, but of culture, amusement and recreation"'.

The 'autoriduttori' movement was promoted by the Milan-based Stampa Alternativa (Alternative Press), who set up stalls outside concerts organised by promoter David Zard - including Lou Reed's 1975 gigs. There's some misleading information about these events online - one source claims that 50 people died in Rome, but in fact there were no fatalities. You may also find mention of 'fascists' being involved - again, this does not seem to be true. It was common practice at the time for the Communist Party in Italy to denounce militants of autonomia and the extra-parliamentary left as 'fascists', even as these same militants were fighting in the streets with the actual fascists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just come across your astounding blog. So many things of interest here, starting with this post on the Lou Reed riots. I remember reading something about them at the time, but it was probably in Rolling Stone, and of course along the lines of "those crazy Italians". So good to get the facts here, and more importantly to read about the Robert Lumley book, which sounds fascinating.

Also, had forgotten about Datacide. I'll also be ordering a copy of #13.

Will continue to peruse your older posts. What I can see of them looks pretty wonderful.

Thanks!

Steve Lafreniere
Jamestown, NY