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Balera and “liscio” is back: the rebirth of a genre

Michelle DavisJULY 26, 2019 – 22:11 

Marco Dalmasso, aka Ghiaccioli e Branzini, is an unchained spirit, a musical time traveler who’s not afraid to mix the past, the present and possible futures in his colorful world-inspired tracks and DJ sets. 

An active member of local cultural association La Scena Muta and part of the artistic direction committee behind BUH Circolo Culturale Urbano’s brimming annual calendar of events, he also travels the globe as a producer and composer, showcasing his quirky musical selection and collaborating with live musical projects such as Camillocromo Beat Band, Fanfara Station and Hugolini. On July 27, Dalmasso will be the last act in the spotlight of Florence Folks Festival’s fourth edition, held in the industrial setting of Manifattura Tabacchi.

On July 27, Dalmasso will be the last act in the spotlight of Florence Folks Festival’s fourth edition, held in industrial setting of Manifattura Tabacchi.

Michelle Davis: Ghiaccioli e Branzini, your stage name, which means “icicles and seabass” in English, is endearingly bizarre and surely comes with a fun story (not a recipe, I hope!). How did you come up with it and when did you start making music?

Ghiaccioli e Branzini: It’s a cute name, isn’t it? [he laughs and charmingly dodges the subject, ed.] A few years ago, I began a collaboration with Gli Anelli Mancanti, an amazing Florence-based association that teaches Italian to migrants and offers a wide array of services to those in need. Me, Federico de Nardo (also known as Dede) and a few other guys came up with the idea of creating a street-tv called Anelli Mancanti TV, which was broadcast every Monday on Uhf60, an untapped television frequency that goes under the radar of mainstream networks. Our signal had a 6/700 meters coverage of the area around Gli Anelli Mancanti’s headquarters in via Palazzuolo, but since most of our diehard fans didn’t live in this part of the city we decided to host musical aperitivos in the association’s basement. We would play Brazilian tropicalist tunes, African beats, obscure Italo-American singer-songwriters… We really winged it most of the time, so it was a bit of a ragtag, fun-filled affair. I had brought my Technics 1200 DJ turntables with me from my hometown of Candiolo, 14 kilometres or so southwest of Turin. Growing up, I was kind of tacky when it came to my taste in music… I was really into the trance and prog scene that buzzed around Turin at the time. I hosted an ongoing radio show at L’Ultimo Impero, one of the city’s biggest clubs, and this allowed me to perform as a warm-up act inside their “Rave Room” over the weekends. When I came of age I started travelling more and this really helped me expand my musical and cultural horizons… 

MD: How do you feel about “liscio” music and how would you describe this genre to those who have yet to fall for its charm? What made you want to give it a contemporary twist with your new single Mascotte/Mazurka Boom that was released in June?

GB: My collaboration with historical Italian label Casadei Sonora began last year, when I was in Gatteo a Mare, in the Emilia-Romagna region, to receive the FolkInt – Festival di Extraliscio Internazionale award. While I was there I met some of the family members of the late Secondo Casadei, one of the masterminds behind the original liscio repertoire… and that’s what jumpstarted the creation and release of Mascotte/Mazurka Boom

Liscio manages to wrap waltz, polka and mazurka into one. It made its first appearance in Romagna at the beginning of the nineteenth century and began to spread all throughout Italy thanks to Secondo and his nephew Raul Casadei. Over the past few years, a good number of projects, such as Orchestra Grande Evento, Extraliscio, Orchestrina di Molto Agevole, Il Vangelo Secondo, Mr Zombie Orchestra and others, have stood up against the exaggerated use of pre-recorded live accompaniments. I must say that to see and hear this music played by an orchestra of real instruments is a rare and beautiful thing that I enjoy immensely. My work with liscio music is deeply inspired by the rhythmic potential of the three-quarters time signature that is not often used in electronic music. Then I add a pinch of sampling, pitch variations, re-grooving… basically all the tools that infernal modern-day technology has to offer. Liscio has always been contaminated by nature, since it stems from the clash of Mitteleuropean ballroom dances and Romagna’s folk spirit. This is what makes it so special. 

MD: Liscio get-togethers usually took place inside so-called balera dance halls. Do they still exist? Do you have a secret map of these nostalgic remains of Italy’s musical past?

GB: They do still exist, but it’s hard to find anything really authentic. My favorite balera is the Le Roi in Turin, designed by Carlo Mollino. It truly is a magical place: table service only and livery-clad waiters protect drinks with square sheets of embroidered paper. The pinnacle of bygone Turin elegance. 

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MD: Florence has been your home since 2000 and you have always kept busy planning events and creating new circuits, especially for young up-and-coming musicians. What brought you here and what drives your desire to improve and further its cultural offer?

GB: I find that Florence is an incredibly balanced city and even now, after almost 20 years, my conviction has not wavered, not in the slightest. Florentines are neither close-minded nor provincial, like people often say they are. I love the ever-changing vibe of the city, the tram, new openings such as the Manifattura Tabacchi, Impact Hub/ BUH (where I work in the cultural association of La Scena Muta, which I consider my acquired Florentine family) and The Student Hotel; these spaces didn’t exist ten years ago. Many of these changes can be attributed to a knowledgeable cultural policy that is setting an example for the entire country. I hope things keep going in this direction, so that Florentines can enjoy their city to the fullest, from the center to the suburbs. The image of the old town’s empty streets in the evening is a blow to my heart. 

MD: Tell us about the 2019 edition of the Florence Folks Festival and what we can expect from your performance on July 27?

GB: This year’s line-up is mind-blowing, also thanks to La Scena Muta’s partnership with Manifattura Tabacchi and the support of Estate Fiorentina, as well as sponsors Sammontana and Ruffino. On the closing evening the stage will welcome the Orchestrina di Molto Agevole, followed by my DJ set. I’ll be paying tribute to balera music from the 1900s, mixing electronic liscio re-edits with the classic tunes that made our parents swoon: Celentano Peppino di Capri, Bobby Solo, Patti Pravo, etc. We’ll recreate the vital vibe that made those sun-tinged dancefloors so popular, the same vibe that to this day makes summer the most vibrant and social season of the year. So, let’s live it to the fullest: sweat, joy and all! 

Check out the festival’s program here.

Michelle Davis

American dad, Italian mom, and so the story goes. After a childhood spent in the golden foothills of California’s Yuba County, Michelle Davis left the United States and somehow magically ended up in Florence. Named after The Beatles’ song, music has always been an important part of Michelle’s life and she’s a firm supporter of Florence’s indie scene.

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