I wish I could say that living in Italy gives me a unique insight into aspects of the country’s underground music scene. Unfortunately, I do not move in such privileged circles so a lot of the time I, like anyone else, make discoveries by chance, more often than not in cyberspace.

Where I live in Romagna the local ‘folk music’ – I use the term loosely – is a mixture of polka, waltz and mazurka played on accordion, woozy clarinet and guitars and generally performed by swarthy men and whorish female singers. It’s a deadly combination of the brash and the bland.

I haven’t yet been to Southern Italy but it’s plain that the folklore traditions there are more interesting. A prime example is ‘La Tarantella’ , a music and dance that some sources say has been around in some form since the late 14th century.

Legend has it that the frenzied dance that accompanies this music was conceived to ward off the otherwise fatal effects of a bite by a tarantula, the idea being that profuse perspiration of non stop dancing forces the spider’s venom out through the pores of the body.

There are many variations in Southern Italy. According to the Wiki, its name may also derive from the town of Taranto, but doubtless natives of towns like Sicily or Calabria would dispute this.

In the region of Irpinia, a carnival takes place every year in the small village of Montemarano where a version of ‘La Tarantella’ is played through the streets.

A DVD (Mediaterrae Vol.1) from 2007 – given away free to the readers of Blow Up magazine (Italy’s answer to The Wire) – included a documentary of 18 electronica artists from around the world who came together in this region to share ideas and create audiovisuals inspired by the local landscape and traditions. In drawing from the past to create new sounds many noted that the hypnotic repetition that is an integral part of ‘La Tarantella’ had a lot in common with the loops that feature so prominently in electronica.

This nice amateur clip on You Tube captures some of the energy of the tune and dance at a show in Puglia:

Two of the key names to drop when talking of Southern Italy’s underground music are Fabio Orsi and Valerio Cosi . These are both in their early 20s and both hail from Taranto.

Whether consciously or not it seems to me that Orsi and Cosi are also strongly influenced by evocative folklore traditions in their home region. Like the Mediaterrae group, you can hear that the atmospheres they create are full of these trance-like cycles of repeated rhythms and drones. The sound is very contemporary but the spiritual heart of the music is timeless. Cosi has defined this as “jazz. improvisation, ultrapsychedelia and kraut renaissance“.

Of the two, Orsi is more comparable to the artists who gathered in Irpinia as he relies heavily on a laptop to create his soundscapes.

Cosi’s main instrument is the saxophone but he also incorporates other instrumentation and synthetic sounds.

The prolific output of these two is hard to keep up with although eminently gettable through on-line sources like E-music, music blogs and/or Soulseek

If you’re a fan of New Weird America ‘s Avant-folk and Psych-Noise, then I’d strongly urge you to track down their music.

As an introduction, I’d recommend the following (I’ve added blog-share links where known):

Fabio Orsi – Osci (Small Voices, 2005) – two long tracks of organic drones and ambient tones, using found sounds, samples and electronic effects.

Gianluca Becuzzi & Fabio Orsi – Muddy Speaking Ghosts Through My Machines (A Silent Place, 2006) – more drone fueled electronica, this time mixed in with samples from Alan Lomax’s collected folk songs.

Pulga – Pulga Loves You (Museum Fire, 2007) – A long distance collaboration between Vanessa Niwi Rossetto from Austin, Texas and Cosi. The two never actually met during the recording, relying instead on Soulseek to exchange their respective contributions. The richness and diversity of the sound they create is amazing.

Fabio Orsi & Valerio Cosi – We Could For Hours (A Silent Place, 2008) – the two stars join forces on four extended tracks.

Valerio Cosi – Heavy Electronic Pacific Rock (Digitalis, 2008) – a brilliant and futuristic blend of free jazz-noise-and Krautrock

There’s also a great downloadable mix-tape from Pontone of new Italian experimental music which features Orsi , Cosi as well as other up and coming names

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