If my recent playlist of Italian music proved anything it is that the breadth and depth of the psych scene in that country is extremely large. Of course to call it a single ‘scene’ is misleading and probably quite wrong. Nevertheless the point stands that there is a great deal of high quality leftfield music coming out of Italy, a lot of it both experimental and accomplished. In fact there is so much going on (and I included two further Italian bands in my most recent playlist) that it is positively bewildering.
It is often the case that it is difficult to know where to start in when the choice is so baffling, and so it was with me (and I’m really still trying to get to grips which the myriad of strands of Italian experimental music). That is why Heroin in Tahiti have been so important for me in coming to terms with what’s going on. For me they have been the gatekeepers who have lead me into much of the labyrinthine and mysterious music that is currently coming out of Italy. In saying this I am in no way suggesting that they are setting themselves up as standard bearers, but they do seem to have been at the heart of matters both musically and in terms of where they have released their music.
They have put out records through such as Boring Machines, No-Fi Recordings and, most recently with this new album, Soave (a new label already putting out a great range of music)… and if you follow those links you will open yourself up to a whole panoply of amazing music that will lead you to more amazing music etc… Moreover, they have a track on the magnificent ‘Nostra Signore Delle Tenebre’ compilation on Backwards Records: seriously if you haven’t heard this do yourself a favour and have a listen to the fifteen great tracks on there… it was a total revelation to me when I heard it.
Musically Heroin in Tahiti can, along with many of the other bands featured by the above mentioned labels, come out of the Italian Occult Psychedelia tradition; which in itself seems to cover a vast area of music that encompasses many genre that you would associate with psych. Perhaps the added elements here though could be the influence of horror and spaghetti western soundtracks and Italian cult folklore with and emphasis on dark soundscapes and hauntingly dramatic sonic backdrops.
This atmosphere can be seen in this new album from Heroin in Tahiti both through the concept and the music itself. To quote the press release:
In Roman mythology, the murder of Remus by his brother Romulus is the key event that led to the founding of the city of Rome. But what if Remus overcame Romulus? Easy: rather than Rome, we’d have Remoria, the city that never happened…
In their new “alternate history LP”, Heroin In Tahiti explore the negative occult side of their native city, portraying the myths, the legends, the heroes and the tragedies of that original “what if”, and sinking into the abyss of Rome’s psyche and griefs.
Wow what a concept! This, for me sets out not only the scope of this work, but also underlines why I find this sort of music so fascinating and involving. ‘Remoria’ is separated into seven tracks… well I guess you could call them movements. ‘I’ is marked by the incessant electronic/ percussive toll throughout, the first half of the track seemingly underpinning the idea that here is a city which is failing… you can feel the squalor. Out of this comes something more grand and bellicose… yet no less dark. You are left with little doubt that this is a city ill at ease with itself.
Beginning with a simple bass ‘II’ quickly moves up through the gears and opens out into a panoramic soundscape of the muted dark synths and off-kilter beats. There is a sense of disorientation here amidst the continuing theme of decaying grandiosity. There is a real sense of movement here, of the square or market with a mixture of eastern and western tones working together coherently, yet all the time there is this sense of unease just below the surface.
Things get even darker with ‘III’, the carrion birds are hovering over the decay and, again, there is an incessant percussing beat that gives the whole track a feeling of foreboding… nothing is getting better, there is no sense of resolution or redemption… this is the sound of collapse.
Any hope of a respite is initially dashed by the sinister beginning to ‘IV’ which quickly opens out into a brass-led maelstrom of sounds, a cacophony from which…for a time at least… there breaks out a coherent and accessible melody that drives the narrative forward. At the centre of the album this feels like a moment of clarity, and fleeting sense of beauty. There is a majesty to this which seems to portray the strength that lies in the city… for good or ill.
After this the album returns to themes of decay and despair in ‘V’. The synesthesic effect of this track for me is that you can almost smell the open sewers through the music as the increasingly oppressive keyboards press down on the stark percussion and squalid beats. This is a track/ movement that becomes increasingly claustrophobic until the sound of angelic voices break in, perhaps not a ciphers for the salvic process, rather a siren leading the unsuspecting populous towards its inevitable fate as the occult organ breaks in at the end to seal the deal.
The introduction to ‘VI’ involves a huge crashing gong with the bells of the mass two contrasting sounds that are loaded with meaning and resonance. This is essentially an interlude, a moment of calm before the final reckoning of ‘VII’ which opens in a hugely grand and dramatic manner. In one sense there is a simplicity here with a central synth sound that dominates throughout… yet around it is we get an increasingly complex sound that fades into a spoken word (in English) about ‘Romulous’ and ‘Remus’ essentially bringing us back into the Rome of our perception.
Listening to this superb album I cannot help thinking about how Heroin in Tahiti have used this idea of an alternative history as a cipher for our current world. Through it they have reflected the darkness of our times and shone an ominous mirror upon it. Yet there is also another message here, a message that this does not have to be the only way. There are alternative approaches to politics, to economics and in the way that we treat and associate with our fellow humans. This then, for me, is a powerful album that is reflective of our times that, despite its dystopian foundations also offers hope to those who seek to effect change.
‘Remoria’ is released by Soave