Ordine ’91 – ’96: a varied palette ranging from post-punk / garage to severe minimal abstraction

Starfuckers, Ordine ’91 – ’96, Sometimes Records, CD SR_02 (2010)

Here’s an interesting compilation of songs by Italian band Starfuckers that traces the musicians’ evolution from Stooges / MC5 / Patti Smith -styled post-punk to deconstructed anti-rock minimalism verging on abstraction and musique concrete. According to the information in the accompanying booklet, tracks 1 – 6 come from a mini-album “Brodo di Cagne Strategico” and the bulk of the compilation’s second half comes from a full-length recording “Sinistri”. The remaining three tracks on the collection appear never to have been released previously and include a cover of the old Beatles song “Dear Prudence”.

The songs from the mini-album are out-and-out garage rockers with saxophone lending a funky jazz edge on most tracks. Vocalist Manuele Giannini announces the lyrics in a rather arch, almost distant manner, as if regarding the music with some irony or amusement. Even the Beatles number, when it comes, is treated with some disdain to the extent that it can only be recognised from the sparse beat and the key changes that correspond to the original song’s choruses.  By now the band’s half-rock / half-jazz approach includes a fair number of electronics-based effects and found sound recordings that put these astral followers on a groove parallel to New Zealand’s The Dead C. The other cover “Mechanical Man” sees a slightly more noisy Starfuckers band experimenting with space; at this point they’re sounding a little like The Fall in their heyday.

Tracks 9 to 15 come off the “Sinistri” album and a strange lot they are, more like fragments of other songs that for some reason fell apart and only scraps of them survived the disaster that caused them to disintegrate. Some of these songs got spliced together again but not necessarily in correct order; you can’t even be sure that some tracks are not jumbled bits and pieces of several songs. “251 Infinito” is an eerie piece of disjointed sounds and proto-melody filaments linked by space and more atmosphere than would normally be found in so-called ambient or atmospheric mood music. Another mysterious track is “Mutilati”, a noirish mood piece of urban blues guitar tones, Giannini’s spoken lyrics delivered in a matter-of-fact way as though he were a hard-boiled private eye dispassionately describing a vicious murder in an alley-way, shrill falling-comet effects and sharp snare drum work. The quietest and noisiest track on this part of the album is “Zentropia”: deep and dead silence is punctuated by howls of guitar and percussion effects. At the rate these guys were developing their music, it’s a wonder they didn’t create Onkyo music before the likes of Yoshihide Otomo and Sachiko Matsubara did.

“Ordine pubblico” is a rather odd song to be found on this side of the compilation, nested up against such abstract improv: it must have been intended as singles material and Giannini’s declamations suggest a political sensibility that must surely have been a long-standing motivator for their music. There is still considerable experimentation with rumbles and handclaps in the instrumental parts of the song. Bringing up the rear is “Quattro studi (su un’intervista) I”, about as abstract, unstructured and improvised as a song can be this side of Raster Noton.

It’s a wonder that a band with such a varied palette of music that on paper would jar so much yet when heard makes complete sense has remained little known outside its native Italy. The language barrier and perhaps the band’s lyrical preoccupations about Italian politics and society would have been major barriers to their acceptance in the wider world. (As would also be the usual stereotypes we have about the Mafia pulling the strings in politics.) One would like to think that the band’s style – perhaps a bit ironic but always open-minded and defiantly idiosyncratic – would be the main attraction for potential followers outside Italy. Starfuckers would be an ideal musician’s band for sure.

Contact: Sometimes Records, Starfuckers