Monday 13 January 2020

Talking with... Mr Occhio One-man-band

Les Roches Noires - the nowadays deserted surf spot, Saint Gilles-les-Bains, Reunion Island.
Under a January bright and hot sun, Cristian Bergoglio, the tattooed guy in Mr Occhio, a local and awesome garage punk / delta blues one-man-band, explained his frustration and disappointment about the local surfing situation : "fucking sharks crisis" !
It was kind of a duty to interview him in the place where we had met three years before.
The guy, in his mi-40’s, was Italian born and left his country 6 years ago for Reunion Island. He was really talkative - he talked for two, easy thing for a hushing interviewer on his first try - and lengthily came back on his Turin’s background, his musical tastes, his ups and downs in his carrier as a one-man-band, his Reunion Island years, his projects and his brand new Absürd festival organisation.

U’ Onda d’Urto Italiana! is the perfect soundtrack to read this wild thing. A travel, settled down with the help of Mr Occhio of course, through 50 years of degenerated Italian rock’n’roll : rockab,  60’s beat, psyche garage, glam rock, proto-punk, 77 punk, Oi, post-punk, revival garage, hxc, anarco-punk, garage punk, surf, lo-fi noisy garage, power-pop, punk’n’roll, dark wave, weirdos… 
Two more little things to add : you need to register on a free Deezer account to listen to more than 30-seconds-lasting songs, sorry for that... And you're right, among these 30 songs, there's half a mistake (French Savoie used to be an Italian area indeed), up to you to find it!


Fasten your seat bells and enjoy the whole thing !

You arrived here in 2013. Why did you move from your country ?
Well, living in Italia was a pretty difficult thing after 20 years of Berlusconi's policy. His neo-liberalism policy was pretty special and he was a dickhead, but above alI, I couldn't stand all those people who had voted for him and it became a problem in my daily life. Your job's colleagues, folks in pubs and in fact, most of the people surrounding you who had caught that collective mentality called berlusconism... It's a complex thing to live with such people.
There was also the ambiant racism, the shading conditions in the job world resulting from this hard neo-liberalism wave, the cultural devastation due to his media control, all those sorts of things... With the arrival of the liberal left to power, things didn't change that much. Yet, I'm all the more grateful that they saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean Sea during the Italian Mare Nostrum's operations, even if it widely opened the gates to far right populisms and radical answers to immigration issues.

So you left Italy because of the toxic political and social atmosphere... Why did you choose La Reunion Island?
In fact, I wanted to set down in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a Swiss Canton lost in the Jura mountains, where some close friends of mine lived and organized gigs. A really special and nice place, but it was so cold there ! As I had lived many years in a tiny village perched at 1500m in the Alps, I decided to have a 6-monthes try in a sunny country during the winter time, bought a single ticket to Reunion Island and I have stayed here ever since. I don't see any other more lovely place to live on so far, Europe is so spoiled and fucked up. Life is really good around here ! Sunny life, cool people, daily fishing parties...

The Background: the Turin hxc punk years.

How did you get into punk music? What were the first bands plugged into your ears ?
Thanx to my skateboard’s friends ! We were 13 years old teenagers fond of Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer, Metallica and trash metal, I deeply loved Appetite For Destruction, the Guns N’Roses best album !

In the early 90’s, you played in Cruelty Free Core and started to get involved in the Turin punk hardcore (hxc) scene… How was this scene ?
It was a punk hxc band indeed. It was before the vulgarisation and the business made with some US punk bands (Offspring, Green Day…), we had no official media or major label relays. The Turin punk scene was an underground DIY scene, coming straight from the mid-80’s which saw bands such as Negazione. We self-released records and the only places in Turin where we could organize punk gigs were self-managed places and social centers. This alternative hxc punk wave was a really huge thing in Italy for teenagers, there was nothing else to do beside nightclubing, which wasn’t our cup of tea...

Were they something like the squats we had in France in the early 80’s ?
I don’t know, but these weren’t those squats with gutter punks addicted to drugs and rave parties that surged in the late 90’s. I have the feeling that the Trainspotting movie brought some kinds of glamour to heroin and I saw my underworld being spoiled by hard drugs around 1998.
They were hold by seriously politicised militants linked to anarchist and autonomous political movements which had emerged during the 70’s Italian Years of Leads. During those bloody years, the Italian government had taken many restrictive actions to fight against political meetings, and by extension public gatherings. These autonomous, mostly illegal, places remained a long time after the only places for counter-culture, DIY fanzines, radio, rock gigs and networks.
In 1995/96, Turin, with its one billion inhabitants, had something like 15 self-managed places with 2/3 gigs a week each. Fugazi, NoFX, Offspring, Rancid played there during their first tours.

What were the influences of the punks from the late 70’s/early 80’s on hxc punk scene?
Really weak. The autonomist guys in these centers had strictly no understanding of the British movement. For them, the Sex Pistols were just a nihilist band, some provocative folklores at best or some stupid nazis at least. But when the UK band Crass surged around 81/82 with its political approach, they really started to look at the punk movement in a different way. The libertarian attitude linked to this band brought a new vitality to these places, a new generation get involved in anarchist action, created new illegal places...

You played later on with I Fichissimi (1994 - 1996) and La Maschera Di Ferro (1997 - 2000). The sound of the last one seemed much more into melodic hxc… The militant side was still there ?
Melodic hxc, not that much… We didn’t listen to the Californian skatepunk bands, Epitaph Records, etc... We were more into the Washington hxc bands, such a Rites of Spring, Embrace... We also loved the bands on Ebullition Records and the HeartattaCk fanzine, it was what we called emocore, not talking here about Tokio Hotel of course.
I Fichissimi was pretty well known among Italian teenagers and quickly won some fame in the country. The lyrics might appear quite simple and fun, but there were still strong reflexions underneath. We didn’t play that much outside Turin but when we did, it was on a week-end return journey and we were stronghly looking after militant places for our shows. They still remained our world.
Check this little anecdote ! We were in contact with Propagandhi, an activist Canadian punk band which had won a huge notoriety. They were scheduled by a big tour-booker who was planning tours for NoFx and all these commercial things, he was going to made them play in appalling nightclubs and shitty places. We were so sorry for them, these places didn’t match with the political commitment of Propagandhi ! We offered them the opportunity to play huge social, cultural and political self-managed center, with something like 2000 people, Il Forte Prenestino in Rome or Leoncavallo in Milan. They finally toured with us and their decision was in the straight line of their speech. Something normal in fact that could seem nowadays quite extremist for many.

The Italian illustrator ZeroCalcare, often comes back in his comix to the mid-90’s Roman hxc scene and all these autonomous places… He also talks about the 2001 protests at the anti-G8-summit in Gênes.
I know his work but we’ve never met, we have the same common background.
Of course, I was in Gênes in 2001. With many friends coming from the hxc movement, we were deeply involved into the Black Blocs, we did violent things - we weren’t hippies, and surprisingly, none of us was worried or sued afterward. I really realized during theses events that the government leaders let the things going spoiled on purpose. They knew who we were, but did nothing… Although they had really efficient methods to deal with stadiums hooligans for instance, they left the Black Blocs do whatever they wanted and launched a massive attack on pacific protestors. They did it on purpose to discredit the whole pacific movement and to avoid to speak about the reasons of the protest ! A technique that still works nowadays…
You really need to understand that all those autonomous places, this anarchist activism and this alternative hxc punk movement were a really huge thing in Italy They were my background. You couldn’t avoid the thing if you were a wild teenager. The same kind of thing occured earlier in France with Bérurier Noir.

Did you like Nabat and Italian Oi music?
Nabat, of course ! They were a legend. A moment occured when I get really fed up with all these political things, I moved away in a small village in the Alps and had lots of shitty jobs. I there felt in love with scooterism, Vespa customizing, records’ collecting, scooter conventions, I started Dj’ing rock steady, Jamaican ska and Northern soul, so, even if I wasn’t really into Oi music, I was pretty close to the skinhead scene. Klasse Kriminale even asked me once to be their guitarist.
I also played in a band, Paula Rebels, it was really fun, we were dressed up as Piedmontese mountains people, we made covers of punk and Oi standards (Cock Sparrer, the 4-Skins, the Stooges…), on our own Italian-translated way : Piedmunt belongs to me, All Civic Are Bastards (ACAB)...

Mr Occhio : the Italian period.

And when did you come into garage music ?
When I was 15, I made a Cramps’ tape that turned round a lot. I think I had ever appreciated the Italian 60’s garage beat. Just to name a few : I Pelati, I Bisonti, I Raggazi Dai Capelli Verdi, the Ranger Sound or I Fantom’s with their pre-Velvet Underground psyche sound.

In 2005, you set Mr Occhio. How did it happened ?
I bought one day a Robert Johnson double-Cd compilation, I thought there were three guitars. He was alone ! I decided to buy a 2-tapes delta blues guitar method and worked a few monthes on finger picking. You know, my guitar play had ever been really done on a punk way.
I once saw a King Automatic’s show in Nice, France... I then realized that this was the music I wanted to play !
Later on, we shared many stages. Perhaps 50 shows. I even made choirs on one of his records, Lorraine Exotica, on Voodoo Rhythm Records. I had some days off and I drove to Nancy to Jeremy’s place. He was recording songs and needed an extra-voice. As I was around… We had lots of fun !

Things quickly started for the one-man-band…
Thanx to Myspace ! It used to be an awesome social network dedicated to culture and music, much better than facebook ! A pity that it get totally disused… I recorded a song in my kitchen and loaded it on Myspace. In a 3-months time, I had something like 100.000 views !

After this blowing Myspace start, Squoodge Records released a song of Mr Occhio on a 7inch compilation in 2008...
Yeah, and shortly after, I recorded the album Hard Boiled. Five labels released it. That the advantage of a co-release, each label had its own audience, contact and press relay. Pescesiluro Records, that was me. You know I’m in love with fishing, there were those huge silurid/catfish in the local Pô river and it was a kind of reference to the Mississippi river. Burning Sound Records were those close friends living in La Chaux-de-Fonds. They also play in Hallelujah Mother Helpers, a great garage psyche band. Escape From Today Records came from the Turin hxc scene, a familial structure too, we all knew each other, they strongly extanded their musical range and always released high quality bands. Check their funtastic Paolo Spaccamonti’s noisy releases ! Sonatine Records was also a hxc label, releasing good hardcore sound, not the plastic one. They were also into stoner things. The last one, Jacob Records, was more into garage (Movie Star junkies) and noisy experimental things (Le Singe Blanc, I’m pretty glad they’re playing the next Rock à la Buse festival this year).

Are you still happy with this album ?
Yes, for sure ! My only regrets is not to have issued 700 copies ! The 500 issues were quickly sold out. The distribution was mainly based on DIY trades and I sold many of them after my shows.

You toured a lot and played international show…
I played something like 100 shows a year, I had a central position in Europe, so it was pretty easy to play Italy, Switzerland and Germany. But France was pretty difficult. I notice there are two single ways to play there. If you’re famous, you have access to public fundings places (SMACs...) with nice earnings, but if you’re unknown, you play bars with modest fees than hardly pay the gaz for the car. There’s something weird around that. In taly and Germany, café-concert bars have a professional oragnisation, they have their own sound checker, lots of people are involved and artists are well treated...

I guess you pretty well knew the Movie Star Junkies from Turin ?
Yes, they are good friends of mine !
During the mid-80’s revival garage, there was a huge Turin band, Sick Rose. They boosted a lot the local garage scene. By the way, they still play a nice power-pop sound. Later on in the mid-90’s, we had those awesome nuggets called the Cave Dogs, kinds of local Cramps, the Two Bo’s Maniacs which had an extrem lo-fi garage sound - they shared a split with the Oblivians on Hate Records, and Killer Klown . It was a huge blast for the Turin garage scene, they organized awesome garage punk gigs’ in the El Paso squat, New Bomb Turks, Teengenerates and all the Crypt Records bands played there, that was how I discovered garage punk. Something was really on !!
The guys in Movie Star Junkies ? I met them when they were teenagers, they had a band called Braccobaldos, we had the same rehearsal studio, La maschera Di Ferro, in the Barocchio social center. After, they started with the Introducers, released on Slovenly Records...

Pete Slovenly is an Italian guy, isn’t it ? I met him during the 2006 Spits’ tour...
His grand-mother was Neapolitan but he grew up in the USA. He came back in Naples and opened there the Slovenly bar in the early noughties. The Southern city wasn’t really into rock’n’roll things, but all the garage punk bands touring Europe played there during the 2 years he was holding the bar. He organized a Slovenly festival in Naples two years ago, a documentary film was made. This guy is everywhere... During a Brasilian tour, some guys there ask me if I knew Pete. He was DJ’ing the week before… At the beginning, he was a sticker guy, his company has produced stickers for the whole American underground world. He has his great label, he organizes international festivals and loves his work…

Yeah, the last one was in VietNam !! Ok, let’s end up with this Italian period...

Mr Occhio : Reunion Island time.

You arrived on Reunion Island in 2013 and didn’t play with Mr Occhio right away. A need to turn the page?
When I left Italy, I wasn’t fed up with rock’n’roll at all, but with its miserable conditions. I earned 200€a gig, played two gigs a week, had to pay for the gas and the fatal car repairs, my rental, without any state allowances… I did it 5 years, but as I was reaching my 40’s, I was in a need for some more decent jobs. So, after my move to Reunion Island, I worked into decoration, restauration… Showing isn’t my job anymore , I play 5 times a year for my pleasure, that’s all.

However, I have the feeling that you still have some desires… You have new songs, you are invited to an Italian festival...
Yes, some friends are organizing a one-man-band festival, Invasione Monobanda, in Roma on late-March. I said ok, I booked a few additional dates in Italy and Switzerland. I see this little tour as a short holidays period full of good time, I will surely take my father with me in the van. I wanted to release a 7inch for this tour but the recording session dragged on.

I saw that you have two new songs.
Nico, from the local noisy band Pamplemousse, is going to record them at home. He’s the only guy on Reunion Island with whom I’m 100% compatible regarding sounding questions, all the power directly from the onward guitar !

You have an other band, Son Of Ze Beach...
They were looking for a guiratist, I said ok, even if I didn’t have so much time for it. A tropical rock’n’roll band with 50’s and Cramps’ influences.

Any other side-project bands ?
Yes, I’m working on a vibrant kabar-noise project with the Tahitian-born Warren Hasawa. He’s a multifaceted artist, musician, poet, painter… A creator of the words and a sculptor of the speech… The idea is to back up him with disturbing, noisy layers of guitar on a ternary Indian Ocean tempo. A weirdos sound, mixing noise and kabar - the local jammed maloya fest - something in the same way as Master Musicians Of Bukkake.

Do you like maloya and sega lontan?
I love them both, but the 7inch are pretty hard to find on Reunion flea markets. Thanx to the awesome Geneva label Bongo Joe Records for the release of so many nuggets on its Indian Ocean sega compilations. I also love the old Mauritian sega, far more primitive, tribal, in a maloya’ way, than the Reunion sega, which was more a ballroom music. I think these three musical styles are as important as Jamaican rock steady. I recently discovered, thanx to You Tube, some 70’s Mauritian sega jewel, Grup Latanier, Siven Chinien…Whatever your favorite music, you can’t miss sega and maloya when you’re around here. It’s everywhere, on the radio, in the streets. Even the radio hits songs can be good, I’m thinking right now about the dancing Dodo baba, played by Sky To Be  : Dodo Baba, Dodo Alexi, Dodo Alexi, Mai Alexi Na Pa Lé Dormi... 

Absürd Fest, the blowing festival.

You organized a tour for Maria Violenza two monthes ago . How did you get in touch with her ?
I have known her for ages, I liked what she was doing with this one-woman-band, I didn’t have the money to pay plane tickets for a 4-pieces band and I wanted to organize a little event to tease our brand new structure : Absürd… So I invited her for a 5-dates tour in the local bars. She seemed to have loved the shows and the local life. The budget was balanced, the only sad thing was that I couldn’t pay her that much.

What’s going on with this Absürd Festival on the 29th of February 2020?
I was talking with some guys of the Kabardock’s team, most of them were involved into bands and gigs’ organisations, and they kind of pushed me to settle down a good rock’n’roll festival in late February 2020. I don’t have a huge budget enveloppe for the first edition, so I decided to start with a one-man-band festival : King Automatic from Nancy (Voodoo Rhythm Records) and Mr Marcaille from Lille (Et Mon Cul, C’est Du Tofu ? Records). They both are going to play a few additionnal shows as a teasing of the main event. Two huge headliners are invited on the big night on the 29th of February  : Bob Log III and Reverend Beatman. They both are going to play the next day a cruising live show on the Maloya catamaran. Mr Occhio, Remi Bricabrack and the local experimental psyche band Wanaï Jan will open the night. There’s a one-man-band concept, many opening and closing gigs, that’s a huge festival, all the bands are just awesome, cool and so rock’n’roll. I used to share stages with all of them, except for Reverend Beatman, but we once had some talks after a Monsters’ show in Zurich.

Is this a one-shot festival ? Will you keep on going with it afterward ?Any bands you would love to invite on Reunion Island ?
We won’t stand on the one-man-band concept. We’ll see… I would love to have Tom Waits or Nick Cave !! Grinderman would be so so great ! The band with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, their video clips are realized by John Hillcoat.

You’re wearing a T-shirt with the ABR (A Beastly Rage) logo. Can you talk about this local artist ?
I met SaMi in this place, Les Roches Noires, during a surf session and he became a good drinking-party friend. He is a great street artist. With Mr Occhio, we made some live art performance together, that was fun.He does the visuel art of the flyers and the video teasers for Absürd (Maria Violenza, the forthcoming festival...). He left for Australia. The call for surf…

The call for surf… We met on this spot of les Roches Noires too... What about surfing on the island nowadays ? What about your other hobbies : Fishing and downhill skate ?
As we said before the interview, surf is sadly dead for me in this place… Even with a shark shield or with the sharks’ watchers in the water, it remains far too dangerous. So I restart fishing, I have good hopes to catch one day bull sharks or a tiger sharks. They are a plague, they are everywhere around here and kill everything, little reefs sharks, thuna fishes and so on. I don’t see the point to protect them as they are a threat for the other endangered species.
Reunion Island is the best spot in the world for downhill skate ! I started in the Alps because I was too old for skateparks. It’s less dangerous, the feelings are great… There’s a nice structure here, Bourbon Longskate. I even have an initiating federal certificate !

You’re covered with tattooes. Everybody has some nowadays… Does that still match with rock’n’roll ?
That’s really annoying, indeed ! I sometimes want to fade them all away ! I started early on. Some friends at school had built an ink machine with a walkman rotor and a pen. Later on, with my first salary, I bought a Gibson guitar, with my second one a Marshall amp and with my third one, a tattoo machine. I still do some tattoo at home.

Anything to add ?
Life is beautiful on Reunion Island. And thank you for your interest.

OK, you now know everything about Cristian's public life and tastes! All you need to do now is to check his sound, have a drink at his shows and with him, come to his festival and more generally, support your local rock’n’roll scene. Cheers !

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