A dialogue with Roberto Maria Clemente
Interview Cecilia Arata / Nicolò Pujia, photo Maurizio Bo
Roberto, we know you’re the co-founder of Bellissimo and the Beast, you teach the IED and are part of a musical group, Larsen, with thirteen albums under its belt. What came first, music or design?
Music, historically, was my first passion. When I was in middle school I bought music magazines, discovering various genres and selecting in way, I admit, confused. At 16, however, with the intention of making a “fanzine” never seen before, I interviewed foreign bands that played in Turin, also doing the photography with mostly amateur results. In the early eighties I saw Rockerilla magazine for the first time, which was about the field of music, post punk, that interested me the most, opened my eyes to the world of publishing. Almost fifteen years later, my thesis of contemporary archi- tectural history, which occupied two years of my life, nicely forced me on a permanent basis into the library where, thanks to the unexpected wealth of material, I built my background eye, getting more and more in touch with design. Studying architecture involuntarily offers a versatile preparation, which really work in various visual areas. I came across true and proper design by chance in collaboration with a magazine, Label, where I began to write about music, and in then ended up working on the aesthetic as well. In fact I was not prepared: my sector-based visual culture was not great and my skills with programs such as Photoshop or Xpress were almost nothing. But in my ignorance I had catalytical visual ideas in mind related to my musical passion, like the covers of Peter Saville for the Joy Division, absolutely unforgettable.
What is the relationship betwe- en fast fashion – underground music – visual arts and pop culture? Has it changed over time?
I think that the link between music and tradition today isn’t as strong, because in recent years there haven’t been any major genres, everything seems to be less defined. And even now the big brands tend to hide in an “un- branded” status rather than ma- king a show of themselves, as they did before. In any case they are not able to say why this evolution happened. Of course, if you think about Britain around the time of the arrival of punk, the energy of DoItYourself, which produced
a new stimulus of designer in various disciplines, and you think about those years and how they were able to generate and regenerate a number of urban groups linked to defined musical styles (in addition to punk, Mods, Skins, Ska, New romantic), which ending up in magazines such as Melody Maker, New musical Express, and especially the Face, they went from underground to pop, becoming a social phenomena … I realize that the last few years have definitely been different and perhaps less able to create original cultures.
When can you say that a song / band / singer passes from un- derground to overground, until you get to mainstream?
I think today, what is under- ground or overground is much less mappable. More than other forms of counterculture or alternatively generated culture, besides from 60s to the late ‘90s, seem to have vanished. The sense of belonging to a group and the ability to choose, to identify the values, taking even the slightest inspiration from ideologies and take some kind of position has almost vanished. Which in itself is not negative, because it reduces unnecessary boundaries; but the pursuit of beauty, just as beau- tiful as it is futile, has ended up weakening the value and weight of choices. In the era of digital music, with a music consumption system that is pulverized and turned on its head compared to the past, and a totally different way of conveying information, the stairs connecting underground and overground move so fast that they almost dematerialize. Today all you need is a meme and you can be famous overnight. The problem is that the stairs are faster downhill than uphill: in one night you can become mainstre- am, because everyone is talking about you, though no one knew you before it, and the next day you disappear.
Once upon a time, values were essential elements in fashion and music, but now everything seems to be more “superficial.” Why is that?
To answer in a clear and concise manner, I immediately think of hardcore / punk, kind of a unique sincerity, brought to life by people who have created a world community, and they were able to travel the world playing with an approach, that today we will say “sustainable”, where everyone was participating in organizing, making records and fanzines. Today it’s re-fished out for fashion purposes, making a mistake, though, knowingly and honestly, giving the opportunity to some new “seeker” of trends to build an “virgin” alternative or boast a perfect adhesion to a mo- vement that appeals to extremi- sm. This “re-fishing” process that takes place shows you how much fashion needs content and how much hard work it takes today to find it in today’s music.
In the music world, what part of an artist do you feel first? Music or aesthetics?
Music. I have more of a positive American model in mind. Many groups overseas apparently don’t seem to have a sense of aesthetics. The American underground base is pure: what counts the most is playing, even in extreme condi- tions, without paying attention to the red jacket rather than blue. In the US underground scene the passage to the mainstream tends to never upset the final quality: paradoxically, you can still find musicians who became famous playing in small rooms along side those who never reached that level, without any problems, prejudices or whatever.
Peter Saville has been instru- mental in the development of the relationship between music and the visual, creating covers that have become icons (Joy Division, New Order, Pulp to name a few). Today, are there any designers who can recreate this combination?
There is less consumption, because music has almost been completely dematerialized, by consumers, and also from the per- ceptual point of view, so there are also few people who are willing to work in a market that doesn’t do much financially. In general,
a clever artist always takes every aspect into account, putting innovation in every channel of communication it uses. But in
the past, the passion for a group or a musical genre was deep, because not much was available. You built your veneration on the few lines written on the cover of a disc, and then you dreamt about it. Today everything is accessible, and it becomes difficult to express exclusive preferences because on the other hand the material is manifold and varied. Right now a work by Peter Saville would still be beautiful, but it would risk get lost in the mass.