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“Il Sorprendente Album D’Esordio De I Cani”, 10 years later

What we still have of the Roman hipster dimension sung by Niccolò Contessa

“Il Sorprendente Album D’Esordio De I Cani”, 10 years later What we still have of the Roman hipster dimension sung by Niccolò Contessa

I remember that the first time I listened to "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani", I did it because I was curious to know why so many authors I follow found this album so exciting. The first listen was revealing and unforgettable: in a moment I perceived the context of Rome in 2011, the graduation, the scooters that passed through the streets of the capital, the backpacks, the Vans, and everything that was inside the characters who populated that environment. Their feelings, their social spectrum. Everything had been collected in the lyrics of Niccolò Contessa, today a true cult artist of the Italian indie scene, and above all, the big brother of many. Sadly, not mine, because in 2011 I was 10, and my 2011 was 2016 when trap rap exploded in Italy and it seemed to live on another planet. But I often wonder if I would have liked more to live that 2011, with the debut album of I Cani, or to stay with my 2016, with Tedua, the Dark Polo Gang and Sfera Ebbasta.

I have always found prisms fascinating, and so I did with the possibility of observing the seven fundamental colours of the world in their various angles. Like a prism, "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani", which was published exactly ten years ago, is capable of sharing a unique vision. The experiences of the founder of the project, Niccolò Contessa, who has always been one of us, are there represented. "I have an older brother who listened to a lot of music, he is 10 years older than me, so he grew up in the 90s, going from grunge to all the American indie: from the Pavement to the Pixies, the Dinosaur Jr., the whole Chicago scene, the Slint, the post-rock from which I absorbed a lot, the Sonic Youth are perhaps my favourite band, or at least they were when I was a kid, when I used to play bass"  he said to Dude Mag ten years ago, introducing the most genuine of the middle-class family contexts, his. He is inspired by his brother's tastes, then takes something from the Sonic Youth, Franco Battiato, the Baustelle and Vasco Brondi, and invents something purely his own, with the influences of a Roman boy in his early twenties, who attends the university and with the unclear ideas about the future.


There are songs from the debut album of I Cani that in my opinion are simply immortal. "Hipsteria", for example, is a teenage cross-section, an episode of Skam Italia, and it's incredibly real. In fact, it tells of the interest of young people to "showcase themselves", and in particular the story of Caterina, a slightly neurotic young Roman hipster who seeks an escape from the reality in which she is caged, to which she no longer feels she belongs. In fact, as early as 2011, the ID card of the millennial generation was the feed of Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr or Facebook. Ten years later, social networks have evolved, trends have passed, yet the message to be transmitted would be the same today. But the ability to transmit it in an alternative way is what catches the eye the most. The video clip of the song, in fact, is a gallery of photos taken and processed on the iPhone with Hipstamatic and aims to accurately frame the historical moment of that time, experienced from the perspective of a teenager. Hence the idea of ​​a collage of images - some of which are of course selfies -, all strictly in poor quality, but at the same time preparatory to making the meaning of the song more direct.

Appearance is the key to feeling safe in a place where being safe is the last sure thing, which is the city. Rome, in this sense, is perfect. If Niccolò Contessa had been from Milan, and he would have told about Milan or any other Italian city, his ideas would have had very different nuances, and the result would have been different.

"The couples say stop and they are no more friends on the social networks

However, she says that he did all to get left

After months she meet him at a party and look if his new fianceé is hotter than herself

They say each other we should not be strangers or enemies"

is the last verse of "Le Coppie". I find this track interesting: although it's among the shortest on the album, in my opinion, it's among the most incisive. He paints a definite scenario: two people who love each other, in the end, end up no more loving each other. And apparently, it seems a routine, an already written plot. Moreover, it doesn't sound like a song from ten years ago.

The role of Contessa in this song is that of the narrator. In two moments in particular, the author exposes himself on the relationship of the protagonists: the refrains, all different from each other and based on the verse they follow, and the two interludes. The Roman songwriter tries to analyze the situation in a cold and neutral way: first, he realizes how couples are never stopped by roadblocks, which facilitates the driver, who is clearly tipsy in this case clearly; then he affirms that basically many couples find it easier to continue arguing without breaking up because stability suits everyone; finally, he observes how, despite all good intentions, rebuilding a relationship that is now stranded is practically impossible. And he adds two statistical pills: the first to kiss after having sex is generally the one who will be left, the first to break away from the kiss, instead, who will break up.

Fundamental in "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani" is the aesthetic and the ability to recreate moments of the life of a Roman 20-year-old, writing for pictures. The focal points of that youth that thinks it's bohémien, but that Contessa summarized well in his second album, "Glamour", with the pairing "Pasolini and Jay-Z" are many, all recalled in the songs: the digital reflex cameras, the scooters, the "films with the quatrains" - that are the amateur sex tapes that the 18-year-olds shot with the students of the first high school / fourth gymnasium -, the novels by David Foster Wallace, "aperitifs in Monti", American Apparel clothes, men with languid eyes, girls a little insecure, a little vain, nerds and radical chic, North Rome and the Circolo degli Artisti. Many of these elements are no longer there today: the Circolo closed in 2015, American Apparel went out of business, David Foster Wallace went out of fashion. However, one of the foundations of Contessa's poetics is nostalgia, which nourishes the memory of these pieces of a bygone Rome, making them eternal. And then the cover of the album, which depicts boys, scouts judging by the handkerchiefs they wear around their necks, who tie a friend to a tree for fun, a picture necessary to explain, according to Contessa, how life is hard at 20. In "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio de I Cani" everything has a specific weight, even the title of the album, witty and chosen precisely to exorcise the pressure that had been created on the band after the release of the first singles - with immediate success - a few months earlier. Art has taught us that recounting adolescence is one of the most complex tasks for a creative: how many films or teen dramas have failed in their purpose? The value of the first album by the band led by Niccolò Contessa is right here. 

«The explosion of I Cani reached the culmination of a journey that had seen the affirmation of what some years later would have improperly called" The Roman scene"» explains Francesco, who in 2011 was attending university and was a PR. Those years were crucial for Italian music because not only the way of making it changed but also the way in which one addressed the public. The Internet, in fact, was becoming the main means of communication, and social networks were the ideal vector for promoting oneself.

"The thing that attracted me to I Cani was that patina of detachment that mocked the aesthetics and the hipster culture that had remained quite convoluted in Rome in 2010" says Filippo, who at the time was part of the reference target of I Cani, being 18 years old. Contessa's ability to communicate in an alternative way marked a watershed in the Italian music scene as if there was a period before I Cani and after I Cani. The idea of ​​anonymity, of surprise releases, the name of the band itself are all part of a much bigger project envisioned by the group leader, which is to attract attention simply by being himself, beyond the music. It's no coincidence that this way of thinking has remained (does the name of Liberato tell you something?). «The difference was in the irony and awareness of their position, at the centre of the "Roman scene", this meant that I Cani could play with their own identity» adds Filippo. I Cani, even today, after the interviews, the concerts and three albums, are a big question mark, and this is what characterizes them most of all. Mystery has always fascinated people, and they have always worked trying to shift the general attention to their work, rather than their faces.

Interviewed by La Repubblica, Contessa once said:«I didn't like the idea of ​​a name that was too specific, that it evoked too much imagination. "I Cani" has the advantage that it has many connotations because the dog is the actor who cannot act, he's man's best friend, the dog is faithful, the dog can be the parlour dog, the stray dog, the dogfighting between dogs».

I Cani has always had the possibility of being interpreted under different interpretations. For this reason, concerts with paper bags covering the face, or the total social anonymity. I Cani are there and they aren't, and this is what waters their aura every day. Their every hint of life - like releasing a single on SoundCloud, "Alla fine del sogno", a few time ago - wakes up their fans from a sleep who knows each time how long it could last.

We can debate for hours on the legacy of the band and their first album. To say that Contessa changed Italian music seems excessive, but perhaps it's a bit true because it was in that period that the last Italian independent scene began to take shape. Calcutta, Tommaso Paradiso, all followed I Cani, who were certainly among the first to shape indie music in Italy, idealizing it, identifying it in those lyrics and in those sounds.

Because of this, we can only be grateful to Niccolò Contessa and I Cani. Ten years after "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani", we find ourselves in front of a milestone of Italian indie music, but most of all, in front of a photograph of the past. Personally, I have always felt transported by "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani". Starting from “Themes From The Cameretta” to “Wes Anderson”, the journey is one of those generational ones, which marks you inside. Looking back at 2011 with different eyes is priceless. I think that at the time I had just finished fourth grade, I had no idea how everything around me worked. I didn't know the word "hipster", I had never taken a photo with a Polaroid and I didn't feel the need to experience the world as I do now. I Cani, now that I have another maturity, another point of view, help me to metabolize what I see and hear in a different way. Today I can dance on "Post Punk", or find myself in "Hipsteria", and this fills me with sensations I have never experienced before. Happiness and sadness have a different flavour if you try with "Il Sorprendente Album D'Esordio De I Cani" in the headphones.

The World has completely changed in ten years, but sometimes it's good to look back and, casually, end up looking in the mirror, remembering one's adolescence or, as in my case, continuing to live its last days, then turning around and, smiling, thinking that:

"I am in no hurry: I know very well what awaits me".