'Destroy gondola!' – How Venice became Europe's hardcore punk capital

'Destroy gondola!' – How Venice became Europe's hardcore punk capital

Held in a squatted factory in the industrial neighbourhood of Marghera, Venezia Hardcore festival is a hub for anti-capitalist art and activism in Italy and beyond.

The words NO SPACE FOR HEROIN appear in large graffiti on the wall of an abandoned building neighbouring Centro Sociale Rivolta, one of the most important squats in northern Italy. Stationed in Marghera, an industrial neighbourhood of Venice developed a century ago to accommodate factories that authorities thought would negatively impact the historical city centre and its tourism, Centro Sociale Rivolta is a huge former spice factory that’s been occupied since 1995. Surrounded by shipyard cranes and disused railway tracks, the anti-fascist and anti-capitalist space has been through the most important social battles of the last 30 years – from the G8 in Genoa in 2001, to the protests against huge cruise ships in the lagoon in 2021. For this weekend in late-May, though, it transforms into a venue, with hundreds of people making their way on foot or pulling up in cars for one of the biggest hardcore punk events in Europe.

Established in 2013 by Trivel, a collective of local bands, Venezia Hardcore is a two-day, volunteer-run festival of music, skateboarding, art and tattooing. More than 30 acts play over the course of the weekend, with acts from all over Europe alternating between two main indoor stages. This is the tenth edition of Venezia Hardcore, and in that time it’s become one of the most significant countercultural events in Italy – thanks, in part, due to Venice’s fiercely active and tight-knit local scene. Previous editions of the festival have drawn bands from all over the world, from California's Trash Talk, to Sweden's Satanic Surfers, to Death Side and Mustang from Japan, as well as local idols like Raw Power and Nabat.

Top to bottom: High Vis. Venezia Hardcore kids. Skaters on the indoor ramp. Caged.

This year welcomes international heavy-hitters like London-based Britpop-influenced punks High Vis, Wisconsin stoner metallers Bongzilla, Chicago electro-noise duo Hide and Italian screamo veterans Raein alongside a slew of European talent. Bologna-based straight edge band Caged kick off the weekend, the singer of the Hamburg-based Implore unleashes circle pit chaos with an almost imperceptible finger gesture, and Madrid’s Arma X keep the crowd amped with their rhythmic hardcore and vegan straight edge lyrics.

The stack of Italian bands old and new also underscores how much the country has found itself united by hardcore in recent years. Lombardy-based Overcharge play their fast and distorted brand of metal blending mix Slayer and Motörhead (the singer also kind of looks like Lemmy). Black metal punks The End Of Six Thousand Years, recently out of retirement for their first album since 2012, play a reunion show. Da4th – exports of the Neapolitan scene (more precisely, of Caserta), which has always sent excellent bands to the festival like Face Your Enemy and Fulci – take to the stage with their muscular brand of hardcore. After them: Straight Opposition from Pescara, whose furious lyrics lash out against fascism, sexism and the contradictions of mass society, while the singer ends the set in the middle of the crowd, declaring “I like it more here.”

Top to bottom: Arma X. A moment in the pit. People in the outdoor area of the festival. Straight Opposition.

Despite the far-flung nature of the bands, Centro Sociale Rivolta becomes a space for collective resistance and shared anger, both on stage and off. The festival’s motto, emblazoned across its hoodies and t-shirts, is DESTROY GONDOLA!, with the phrase accompanied by a drawing of a punk kicking the symbol that, more than any other, represents the romantic stereotype of the city. More localised anger is also directed towards how Venice is governed, with the city being left to drown in mass tourism and gentrification, with no prospects for residents looking for a home as heroin-related deaths skyrocket.

By early afternoon on the second day, the festival is packed to the gills. Alongside the usual mosh-pit veterans there are teenagers pouring in from all over Italy, Spain, Slovenia, France, Germany and Austria for their first music weekender, as well as families with young children and girls draped in Napoli football scarves. Everyone wanders between the outdoor area, the two stages and the large hangar, where there are merch tables selling t-shirts and records. There’s also a space dedicated to retro games created by irreverent software house Giochi Penosi, while skaters gathered around an indoor ramp ready to challenge each other in competition. And like every year I miss the winner, because I’m having too much fun watching the bands.

Top to bottom: Raein. Da4th. Heather Gabel of Hide. Arma X.

Closing the weekend, native heroes Raein take to the stage to hearty applause and a room so packed it’s almost impossible to move. “Many of our friends could not come today,” says vocalist Andrea Console. “But we wanted to be here and share this moment with you and do everything possible to help regarding what is happening in our land.” 

Raein, active for twenty years, come from Forlì – one of the cities most affected by the floods that have devastated the Emilia Romagna region in recent weeks. The flood, caused by the combination of exceptional rainfall, intense soil consumption and neglect of the territory, left more than 20,000 people displaced for days. 

Their set is a bedlam: the pit is huge, and everyone sings their songs in Italian by heart. There is a powerful atmosphere of sharing and solidarity, even before it becomes political action – which it inevitably does. The day after the festival, a group of activists from the squats network left for Emilia Romagna to shovel mud and help empty some houses submerged in water. A few days later, Raein announced a benefit concert in June to raise funds to help rebuilding efforts in their territory.

Top to bottom: Raein. Pit action.

Beyond the expanse of water surrounding Centro Sociale Rivolta, an endless procession of tourists weaves around one of the most desired cities in the world. But, though few of those lost in the calli will realise it, the true heart of Venice actually lies outside of the city. It beats here, among the abandoned factories and amidst the sweat and enthusiasm of Venezia Hardcore and all those who attend it. See you next year, fioi.

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