Life & Culture

Inside Sicily’s Underground Punk Scene

In the 1980s, the city of Palermo was home to a small but vibrant punk scene – here, Fabio Sgroi previews his new book which captures this moment in subcultural history

  • TextMiss Rosen

Picture the scene. It’s Sicily, 1984, and a young man named Fabio Sgroi is coming of age in Palermo, while a mafia war rages around him. The city is dark and desolate, but Sgroi and his friends find solace in the town’s nascent punk scene that – at this time at least – is strictly underground.

Over the next two years, Sgroi documents the punks, anarchists, surly drunkards, and melancholy monsters who gather regularly in Politeama Square or in each other’s homes, playing music and plotting schemes. Theirs is a teen rebellion filled with adolescent angst, the final chapter of a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; the last moment before the realities of adulthood begin to set in.

With the publication of Palermo 1984-1986, Early Works (Yard Press), Sgroi’s second book, we are transported to this Palermo – “an apotheosis of anarchy, where anomaly is normalcy,” as Francesco De Grandi describes it in the afterword. Ahead of the book’s release this Friday, Sgroi tells us more about this moment in subcultural history and the unique nature of Palermo punk.

“I got into photography accidentally [laughs]. I discovered the camera when I was 18 and started taking these intimate pictures of my friends without any notion of other photographers or [photographic] styles. I was very simple, clear, and fast. I was not planning on being a photographer; I was playing in a punk band called MG and had no idea what I was going to do – the idea of being photographer came from my heart.

“These are the first pictures I made before I started working as a photojournalist for L’Ora, one of the two daily newspapers in Palermo, alongside Letizia Battaglia and Franco Zecchin. Letizia came from Milan, making ‘living theater’ with the patients at a psychiatric hospital up in the mountains. In December ’85, we decided to do a concert for the patients. They were the quiet ones, not the fighters. The concert was called ROCK ’85. A friend of mine suggested this subtitle Qualcuno Volò Sul Nido Del Cu after the Jack Nicholson movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It literally means, ‘Someone flew in the ass(hole).’ It was a joke between us, the place where we had the concert,  and the famous film. Some of the pictures are in this book.

“At this time, Palermo was really dark and desolate. It was the time of Mattanza, people of the mafia. The city was at war. One, two, three people were dying every day. It was like a ghost town; there was no one on the streets. But there were some small cultural things to do, a few places to sit and drink. We were a little group of punks, skinheads, goths who played music and kept ourselves. No one really knows about punk scene in Palermo in the 80s because we were very closed. After ‘86, everyone started to do other things. Some moved to Milan and Rome, so we finished totally. The scene was over.”

Palermo 1984-1986, Early Works, published by Yard Press, is out now