Under the volcano: From Caruso to Neapolitan Power and Vesuwave to techno – Mail and Guardian
The arrival of house music redefined the culture of clubbing in Naples, but also of the communities formed by music. By 1991 the clubbing scene in its various forms was buzzing, although interest was principally centred on the new house music clubs. Despite the initial influence of British progressive house, the city synchronised with the sounds that had been more successful in Italy and could be found more easily in DJs’ record-stores. They mostly consisted of American house on labels like Strictly Rhythm or Nervous.
The towns of Rimini and Riccione, with venues like Cocoricò, Club dei 99, Vae Victis, Ethos Mama Club, became hotspots on the map of Italian clubbing. In Naples, Angels of Love were moving in the same direction, promoting DJ Claudio Coccoluto, as well as big names of American house music, such as David Morales and Todd Terry.
In mid-1992, post-punk anarchist Ivan Maria Vele and Susy Luciano, a regular clubber in Riccione, formed a non-aligned group that aimed to differentiate itself from the Angels of Love. Ivan & Susy, along with their resident DJs — Danylo (me, author of this text) and JG Bros (the Generale brothers, Massimo and Paolo) — launched their first night at the My Way club, titled Deep Inside The City. This was the same club to which the Funk Machine team brought house music a few years earlier.
Within a few months, My Way hosted Italian DJs like Ralf, Leo Mas, Luca Colombo, Flavio Vecchi, and Gabry Fasano. This would culminate with a one-off party, which saw the US DJ Frankie Knuckles, together with Morales, for the first time in Naples.
The situation would acquire shape with the opening of a new club called Hipe, just outside the city in Caserta. Hipe, which had a capacity of at least 1 000 people, was the first venue in the history of the metropolitan area of Naples devoted mainly to house. It was a typical postmodern style discotheque: a glittering dancehall with many mirrors and a sound system with a crunchy wooden sound. The large ballroom was circular, with a big pillar in the centre.
Hipe attracted crowds from all social and cultural backgrounds, and the dance floor was a true contact zone between diversities. Hipe’s story changed at the end of 1992, when it moved to a much larger space in the city of Caserta. This was the period in which house music exploded as a phenomenon, dominating local clubbing. The new Hipe club was a concrete warehouse, with more than 1 500 people on its dance floor every Saturday. Naples was now recognised as a crucial destination for many Italian and international DJs.
After the time at My Way, Ivan & Susy were involved in running the new Hipe club, where I also became resident DJ. We went to see the new place during the construction process; it was a giant underground space: a large deposit of concrete with two very wide naves. Before becoming a club, it had been a food storage warehouse. It did not have any decoration: just grey concrete, a large counter with the bar, and a kind of stage for the DJ booth. This new venue could hold almost 2 000 people, and it was always packed.
Together with the JG Bros, I played every Saturday, sometimes at the opening, sometimes at the closing. What I liked most about this situation was the power to wipe out the social and ideological conflict between people through empathy and the aggregating energy of the sound. The DJs were important, but the people were interested in the music and dancing — they were the show. All in all, it was a complete jump from everyday life.
In my perception, it was also a form of “the politics of no politics”, an absolute novelty, something entirely different from what was happening at the Centri Sociali (social centres), such as Officina 99. House music erased political backgrounds and dogmas, as well as previous aesthetics. The club was a liminal space — a space of transition and transformation. Music was the main ingredient of this new attitude of being together which, combined with the effects of ecstasy, would end the nihilism of the past decade with a fast stroke of sound.
The new Hipe club reopened in November 1992 as a premiere national event. The guests were renowned US house DJ team Masters at Work. During this season, the Hipe club hosted several DJs with whom I had the pleasure to share the decks; above all, one of the fathers of house music, Robert Owens, a great vocalist with a deeply tribal sound. We finally had our Paradise Garage.
House clubs in those years were all located in the provinces of Naples. Clubbers travelled by car, and early in the morning they drove back to town or went to some after-hours party. It was not unusual to see large groups of clubbers having breakfast at motorway service stations, like Martians, slumped back into everyday life having just emerged from an extra-temporal sonic tunnel. In Naples, as in other cities, some people went out from Friday to Sunday evening, if not longer.
It was like a space-time continuum, where the music laid a metronomic base that measured a stretched time lapse unfolding towards infinity: an intensive socialisation supported by MDMA and 4/4 bass drum pulsations; catharsis and redemption; the happy unconsciousness and the psychedelic trip. This new scene brought with it a positive and progressive attitude and the new music was also a new project of togetherness.
Meanwhile, the Angels of Love project had certainly not ended. Actually, its audience had increased. In 1993, its new venue was Cube which had a capacity of 3 000 people. Guest DJs included renowned US stars like Tony Humphries and Roger Sanchez. London’s newly opened huge club, Ministry of Sound, invited them to organise a one-off party in its venue. Naples had now entered the privileged circles of European clubbing.
In 1994, the American DJ Little Louie Vega was a guest of the Angels of Love for the entire season at Cube. From here on, house music in Naples would be associated with the Angels of Love, which grew unabated from Cube to bigger clubs like Ennenci and Metropolis, where up to 10 000 people danced.
Between 1993 and 1994 the clubbing scene in Naples experienced a second evolutionary spin-off. While the Angels of Love continued along the path of house music, a progressive techno scene emerged in the city. There was a buzz that could be felt in the air. It manifested itself around groups of clubbers who wished to look beyond the house sound, now considered an almost commercial, mainstream phenomenon.
They wanted to reconnect with their punk roots and looked to the UK’s progressive techno scene and its offerings like the project Sabres of Paradise and releases on the label Rising High, which were finally available in local shops. Inspired by psychedelic techno tribalism, several people, among them Ivan Maria Vele, Lulu Kennedy, the DJ team 3 Imaginary Boys and myself, founded the United Tribes (of underground and progressive people).
It was an almost militant and self-referential organisation that, overnight, ended the domination of house music and opened the doors to a new musical landscape. Bored by soul voice samples and a capella, tired of piano house riffs and funky guitars, we went back to the basics: solid beats with deep kick-drums and penetrating basslines. The music of this period laid the basis for different genres that would emerge from these roots, above all, trance techno.
UK progressive house was filled with the debris of punk and dub reggae, but everything was reconsidered in a landscape of electronic sounds and beats. It was not yet a globalised sound, deterritorialised like techno, where it is often impossible to define a geographical origin.
The first events organised by United Tribes were a glimpse of a journey into the future, commencing from the past. This starting point in the past was the reopening of Diamond Dogs for three unforgettable nights before the police busted it. Co-founder Ivan Maria Vele recalls: “There were clubbers dancing and pogoing to the tribal-progressive rhythm of Underworld, Sabres of Paradise, Leftfield.
“Punk and disco music finally lived together, and the revolution of United Tribes occurred – albeit episodically – in the historical Diamond Dogs and especially at the rave where we announced ‘The end of the industrial age! Ecchereccà 3’, an event that, in the spring of 1994, showcased the symbiosis of electronic dub and progressive house with gigs and DJ sets from Ziontrain, Almamegretta and Paul Daley from Leftfield. United Tribes would disappear after this event.”
Ten Cities (Spector Books/Goethe-Institut), a book on clubbing in Nairobi, Cairo, Kyiv, Johannesburg, Naples, Berlin, Luanda, Lagos, Bristol and Lisbon between 1960 and March 2020, is edited by Johannes Hossfeld Etyang, Joyce Nyairo and Florian Sievers. This extract, on how house and progressive techno remade Naples, is the fifth in a series of 10 weekly excerpts.