Gaz Nevada, the No Wave Italian Disco
I open the musical section with an emphasis on a band I feel is essential today, the Bolognese, Gaz Nevada.
Italy is a country of pioneers in art and music, and it could not be less so. It was where at the beginning of the century the futurist Luigi Russolo laid the first stone of what we know today as electronic music with his intonarumori (an orchestra of noise-making devices) and his manifesto “The art of noises”. Italy also gave birth to disco music where Giorgio Moroder, besides recording orgasms with Donna Summer, showed us how far we could go by twisting the potentiometers to that new machine, the synthesizer.
As for the origins of punk, one thing is clear to me, and that is that I would locate it in New York and of course not in Italy, although with the amount of Italian-Americans in New York I wouldn’t be surprised if they also had something to do with it. These precedents, and many more, mean that we should never lose sight of Italy, no matter how many romantic crooners with two-day beards they exported.
I was on one of my often disappointing dives into cyberspace when I came across them. Gaz Nevada. I noticed them because I thought the name was so cool.. At first, I thought it would be a solo singer like Neil Sedaka or Demis Roussos and when I heard it my head turned around…. How?…But what is this?… One of those moments that you would like to kneel down and thank God for being a music junkie. That didn’t sound like a melodic singer, it sounded like James Chance & the Contortions, Devo, Moroder, Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem, Happy Mondays, Ramones, the early The Cure… What I like! And the voice? But it sounds like Shaun Ryder singing in Italian! Let’s go for it ….
1977-Bologna-communism-art-drugs-Raymond Chandler-punk-situationism and an illegally occupied house-which became known as the Traumfabrik and was the epicentre of the city’s bohemian life, was frequented by artists of all kinds, aspiring revolutionaries, beggars, junkies and dogs. These were the components which, suddenly shaken by the adrenaline, the strength, the effervescence and youth of our protagonists, exploded as one of the most interesting European no-wave bands known to me to date. Their first name was “Centro d’urlo metropolitano” something like “metropolitan shouting centre”. With this name they released their first single-make with a single song called “Mamma dammi la benza” -Mommy give me the gasoline- edited by the student movement of the University of Dams (university of fine art and music of Bologna). That same year and after a trip to London (to attend to a sex pistols gig maybe) they decide to change the name of the group and stay with Gaz Nevada as a tribute to Raymond Chandler and his story “Nevada Gas”.
An important milestone for the Italian punk movement was on September 25, 1977 when, as Gaz Nevada, they performed “Mamma dammi la benza” at a local festival in Bologna, which ended in a paper ball battle between the band and the audience. This is considered (by many) the beginning of the Italian punk movement, which was later called “demenziale rock” and one of its main representatives was their Bolognese compatriots Skiantos.
After this came his debut on the harpo’s music label — a label created by Ordeso Rubini, one of the garments that swarmed the Traumfabrik, and which later became the independent Italian Records — entitled “Gaznevada” (1979, Harpo’s music) also known as “Cassetta Harpo” . It was the label’s seventh reference and was a compilation of essays in traumfabrik recorded on tape by Rubuni himself. A year later these songs were re-recorded in the studio and published in a 7" of the same name. In it, songs such as the wild “Criminale”, the very “Mamma dammi la benza”, the thug “Teleporno t.v.” and the sharp “Nevadagaz” stand out, all of them born from punk but in which one can already glimpse a spirit of being avant-garde, of experimentation and of adding to their punk spirit elements that were not normally found in this type of song. They play pre-recorded samples, use delays, sound fleeting sax solos, sing each song in a different way and make their instruments sound different too. In this recording they also do something that they will repeat until the end and that is to combine songs sung in Italian with others sung in English.
On the starting line were Alessandro Raffini (aka Billy Blade), Ciro Pagano (aka Robert Squibb), Marco Dondini (aka Bat Matic), Giorgio Lavagna (aka Andy Nevada), Giampiero Huber (aka Johnny Tramonta) and Gianluca Galliani (aka Nico Gamma). This formation will suffer many changes in the life of the group, which will motivate changes in the sound of the group and that this one goes mutating across the time from the punk to the postpunk, punkfunk, newwave, nowave, synthpop, pop, poprock, dancerock, up to coming to touch the italodisco, or perhaps it was the changes in the sound of the group that motivated the changes in the formation of the group or… what was the chicken or the egg before? At the end of that year Marco Bongiovanni (aka Chainsaw Sally) enters the group as a bassist and the official formation is completed.
The progressive Bolognese kid had not hesitated to show his face when Gaz Nevada released their first official LP “Sick Soundtrack” (1980, Italian Records) and in the first song the surprise was already there: a drum machine! No avalanche of guitars! -in fact it seems as if the guitar was played by an epileptic in full shock- andy no longer shouted or spat on the microphone, besides the title also gave one of the keys of the matter “Going underground”. Gaz Nevada, to the certain disappointment of their fans, had already gone beyond the screen and embraced what was known overseas as postpunk and nowave.
The album is not wasted, I could start dissecting it but I prefer you to do it. They are the same elements as always but applied with a taste and measure that only the very good have. If I had to take a Gaz Nevada album to a desert island it would be this one.
The following year they would release the 12" “Dressed to kill” (1981, Italian Records) inspired by the film of the same name by Brian de Palma. They turn the screw a little bit by introducing some more electronic sounds and darker atmospheres. This increase in electronic gadgets will be the prelude to a new mutation in the sound of the band, now the guys who used to nod want to dance. The new winds are carried away by Andy Nevada himself — the band’s singer — who leaves the group claiming that the group was beginning to sound too commercial — he sets up a solo project called The Stupid Set. It’s the end of 1982 and the rest of the band is about to record “I.C. Love Affair”, a song that will put an end to their postpunk and no wave stage and puts them looking towards new wave and the record.
The following year they released “psicopatico party” (1983, Italian Records), in which their two most popular songs stand out, the aforementioned “I.C. Love Affair” and “Agente Speciale” and also songs of a high solvency like “Whispers” highly influenced by the New York sounds coming from the chattering heads, or “(Black dressed) white old boys” that curiously reminds me quite a lot of another New York group, the ultra-mechanical LCD Soundsystem.
C.I. Love Affair becomes a hit in Italy and our boys taste the honey of success and fame. In nineteen hundred and eighty-four they recorded the single “Ticket to Los Angeles” which would be their final stop with Italian records and later signed to EMI music.
Well from this point on everything I have heard from them is pretty much dispensable so I will leave it to the reader to investigate on his own.