Interview with Fottutissima Pellicceria Elsa, 2019

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Introduction and Interview by Michael O'Flinn, conducted in 2019

The shit-fi vein runs deep in the annals of Italian punk and hardcore. From the off the rails raging insanity of Wretched to the lurching rumble of teenage creeps Mittageisen*—from loads of semi-officially released live comp tapes to the majority of the Attack Punk Records catalog—there is much gold to be mined from the boot for those willing to dig. But one release that has always stood out is the 1983 self-released cassette demo by Fottutissima Pellicceria Elsa (FPE). Hailing from the tiny town of Gorizia in northeastern Italy, the band both embraced and challenged the prevailing ideas about what constituted hardcore at the time. Incorporating elements of psych rock, jazz, improvisation, and the avant garde the band blasted out a tape full of bizarre raging punk and tense sludgy dirges, sounding unlike anything else before or since. 

When the demo was first released Tim Yohannon compared it to MDC and the Meat Puppets, and though I understand the comparison, in hindsight it misses the mark. A more accurate retroactive description would be to start with an impromptu jam between Negazione and Sonic Youth (both of whom were in their infancies at the time and not widely known, at least certainly not in Gorizia) all shredded throat vocals, detuned instruments, and atonal guitar leads, and then add in bursts of wild and messy thrash in the great Italian tradition (think Underage’s faster moments but even more stripped down and furious). But FPE took their music in so many different directions that this brief summation doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story: "Burattini" [Marionettes] sounds like someone learned the chords to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and then tried to play it without ever having heard the song; "Dentro: Vuoti" [Inside: Void] features demented surfy guitars and a bass line that would’ve brought No Trend to their knees; most of "Gorizia Nelle Notte" [Gorizia at Night] could pass for a Las Rallizes Denudes jam. Oh, and also the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on a shitty boombox in a tiny concrete room (hint: because it was), everything in the red, everything louder than everything else. In short, it is an incredible recording. 

Italy was in the midst of a tremendous political and cultural upheaval in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the band’s lyrics reflect this directly. Specifically, the police, the military, and the apathetic masses received FPE’s direct attention, and without a hint of subtlety: even when you can’t understand what they’re saying you know they fucking mean it. Their most biting and vicious eruptions, however, were aimed squarely at the issue of animal rights, with the band penning lyrics on the subject that rival the vitriol Dropdead would spew forth nearly a decade later. From "Moda Assassina" [Fashion Kills]: “Have you ever asked yourself how stupid it all is? / You rape animals for useless purposes / You feel superior / You stupid fools / … The only thing left for you is to take your rifle and shove it up your arse.” Even the band’s name was a nod to their passion for animals translating roughly to Fuck Elsa Furs. (Elsa Furs refers to a specific fur coat store in Gorizia.)

When I searched and found no firsthand information (and very little information in general) about FPE I decided to see if I could track down any of the members to get the scoop and spread the word myself. After a few false starts and dead ends I managed to locate Sandro, the guitarist. He does not speak English but was kind enough to forward my message to Luca, the drummer of the band who agreed to do an interview. I found Luca to be incredibly kind, smart, and still full of passion for wild music and radical politics. What follows is an email interview I conducted with Luca over the course of a few weeks in October and November of 2019. I did my best to maintain his specific words and writing style whenever possible but there were a few odd phrases that needed to be cleaned up. After light editing, I resubmitted, the interview to Luca, who approved the changes. Sandro also approved the content of the interview.

A few quick acknowledgments: thanks first of course to Luca and Sandro for the tunes (thanks Roby and Ennio for that as well) and for agreeing to do this. Thanks to Renza from Warfare for digging up Sandro’s email address and sharing it with me, and to Scott Soriano of S-S Records for doing his best to try and do so before that. Finally, thanks to Stuart for continuing to maintain this site so that music like this continues to have a place to be covered.

One more quick note: while doing research for this article I came across a review of the S-S Records 2013 vinyl pressing of the demo that had some disparaging things to say about the music, implying somehow that due to its poor sound quality and amateurish nature that it was not worthy of being resurrected and shared, that it was essentially at the bottom of a very large barrel of punk and hardcore demos from that time. I feel bad for whoever wrote that because to me the FPE demo represents everything I love about not only shit-fi music, but punk rock in general: a band with nothing to gain creating intensely passionate art only for the purpose of immediate, exuberant expression. And if that’s not what you’re here for, why are you here at all???

* Legend has it Mittageisen were so humiliated after their one and only show that they promptly broke up and destroyed all remaining copies of their single.

S-F You mentioned in our previous correspondence that you came upon punk through your interest in political protest. Can you discuss what the political situation in Italy was like at that time, how you first become involved in political protest, and how that led you to punk?

FPE Politics in Italy at the time was in an absolute stalemate. We were teenagers during this time (1980).
We had just DEFINITELY come out of the "years of lead" (1975–1980) and "the survivors" (a few years older than us) seemed to have abandoned their means of communication and their meeting places, just as they were abandoning their beliefs. (Although, I realize today they left us some valuable ideas). 
Punk (born in the UK ... approximately in 1977 like it or not by the SEx PiStoLs) offered a "senseless" but effective and revolting attitude that mocked, with exaggeration, the imposing of strict market capitalist thought that the Government was pushing in the name of pacification. In Italy, Punk immediately took hold as a "means of expression," musically and in other ways. FPE was formed in this context.
S-F How did you meet the other members of the band and how/when did the band start? What was your musical background before starting the band?
FPE [We met through] Friends. Tired of spending hours in bars ... tired of seeing young People drowning in alcohol and drugs ... we "woke up". It was like a film where the Country is populated by zombies (step by step we became humans!); in all of Italy you could see this.
[So] we became thinking men ... the early musical background was rock and early metal. There was no way around it.
S-F When the FPE demo was released in 1983, punk bands singing about animal rights were still a relatively new development (at least outside of the UK). How did the band become involved in the animal rights movement?
FPE Animals really seemed to be the last [considered], those beings that just suffered. At the time (though now that has completely changed where animals are replaced in the ferocious violence endured passively and without hope by other human beings ... much of the southern hemisphere will understand ...) animals were a way to indicate that the Government was wrong as they wanted to spread the oppression of animals to us as well…
S-F The band’s name (as far as I can tell without speaking Italian) translates to “Fuck Elsa Furs”. I have read that Elsa Furs was a fur seller in Gorizia, but was there a specific reason (besides the obvious) that the band chose to call out that particular business? Was there ever any direct conflict between the band and the store due to the band name?
FPE That store was our scapegoat, neither more nor less.
S-F Gorizia is a pretty small town. I know that FPE and Warfare are from there, and I read about the Dead Kennedys playing there once, but haven’t been able to find out much else. What was the punk scene like in Gorizia at the time? What were shows like there and how was FPE generally received in the town?
FPE Credit for the Dead Kennedys show in Gorizia (it seems to me the first and only "show" there!) is due to Richard from Warfare (a band that still exists today). Gorizia was and is a depressed provincial town and FPE never played there. With the feelings of that time I'm sure we would have refused to play there anyway.
S-F Did FPE ever tour or play outside of Gorizia? Outside of Friuli Venezia Giulia? Outside of Italy? If so, what were these experiences like?
FPE Well... I remember... Trieste, a little sea-town close to Gorizia... maybe Milano (but... I'm not sure...) and certainly in Ljubljana, the Capital city of former Jugoslavija (today Slovenija, is the country closest to the Gorizia border...) where we had very good shows... Yes! We were very appreciated and well followed in the former socialist "Jugo" thanks to Enjo and his contacts I must say.
S-F FPE has a very unique sound for the time. Were you or any of the other members of FPE deep into any other types of music besides punk at the time such as psych rock, industrial, krautrock, jazz, etc, and if so did these interests have an impact on FPE’s music?
FPE Enjo, Sandro and I were, and we are even today, buried by vinyl, CDs, and cassettes as we are music lovers.
Enjo (if I may say) is a great connoisseur of all that is underground (and even below) in the Eastern European scene; Sandro is very into Nordic bands, metal, and rock in general and I have always had a love of jazz and the avant-garde, up to even the most extreme improvisation. Then ... I don't know what to say: it came out in FPE.
S-F Gorizia borders the former state of Yugoslavia. Were you or the other members of the band aware of or in contact with any of the punk bands coming out of that country at the time?
FPE Yes, as I said there was a lot of collaboration.
While (in Jugo) there was a "Berlin" climate (there were soldiers with loaded machine guns) and for a time also a curfew ... we still came and went, and were able to share materials, texts ... photos... album(s) .... although we had little money... we were able to buy food there (very high quality because the industry was not developed at all) and many albums, although often without covers or information.
We shared beautiful moments together and the borders were, for us ... only a tool of the Governments to suppress the spread of ideas.
S-F The FPE demo was self-released on Fucof Records in 1983. Do you recall how it was received by the larger punk scene in Italy and internationally at the time? Did there seem to be a lot of interest? Was there ever discussion of a vinyl release back then?
FPE We were recording with a radio recorder.
In damp cellars of (I swear!) 3.5 square meters.
Drums, bass, vocals and ... some person who followed us... all inside of it!
I had (as a drummer) the bass head inside the cymbals.
The amp of the guitar and the amplifier of the vocals were 5 (five!) centimeters from Sandro's ears. Should I add anything else?
There was no other way. Cassettes were THE ONLY "media" for us. ("Fucof" was a word that... is... "fuck off")
All the material produced by "Punk" was strictly "self-production"; the mail and the letters with the cassettes were the only media available. Then to catch a bus or a train to see who was on the other side ... it was vital and real.
S-F Over the years the FPE demo has gained a sort of cult status among weirdos like myself who are obsessed with Italian hardcore. Are you surprised that people are still interested and excited about the band?
FPE Sincerely yes.
We are in 2020; I must add that some years ago a friend came forward from the U.S. (now lost touch due to our ... negligence... who knows) who produced an LP [from the demo] even trying to "improve" the quality of "recording," in California I think .... and at zero cost for us... He did everything, even giving us about ten copies, I think.
An LP with lots of lyrics, inserts ... and we would like to thank him again, if it is possible: GRAZIE, Scott Soriano.
S-F How and when did the band come to an end? Did you or any of the other members of FPE go on to be in any other bands (punk or otherwise)? Do you still keep in contact with any of the members of the band?
FPE I can't say how and why here ... there may be some personal feelings about it, but I know for sure that among all (although Roby is, it would seem, a different person; we’ve not seen him for 25 years; IMHO I consider him an open and closed parenthesis) there is always an open feeling. Music, as I said, remains our passion, as well as political and social issues.
We "lost each other" a little ... I admit ... but life must take its course, after all.
Sandro continued for a short period as FPE (without me and Enjo... it was NO LONGER FPE let me say...) ... Enjo has not touched a bass in a long time, but has joined anti-military, animalist, etc. associations ... and me ... Well, I work (when I work) in the "management" of immigration, which is a large issue in the EU as it is in the USA, I think I can say. 
Today ... I came out with a book but ... that's another story ;-)
[Note: Sandro has played in several bands since FPE that you can check out on his YouTube page.]
S-F What are your best memories from your time in FPE?
FPE The best "memories" are that (in my opinion, the only one I can leave to you now) there are no memories; we live looking forward and not behind.
S-F What do you feel the legacy of FPE is and what do you want people to take away from their experiences with the music and the band?
FPE Maximum freedom. Everyone must be able to live the way he believes is best; to think, however, that FPE was only "noise-music" or "protesting" is to miss the point; it was a lived experience. 
The issues FPE addressed still exist and the hypocrisy we have always tried to destroy [is still being fought] ... probably with the help of Music.
An appeal to the reader: the State that raises a flag to tell you that you are its citizen is an oppressor who uses you at its will.
There are no flags, only people; even when they have to use a document to move.
The USA has shown this to the world in some way.
Today, USA is no longer USA.
USA is dead: Long Live USA!!!
Michael O’Flinn is not a real writer; but he is a real punk rocker.