It is rare that we get this particular genre of music performed live in Malta, particularly by a band that has already enjoyed considerable success on the niche festival market of post-punk and darkwave. The upcoming performance by Vidi Aquam – an Italian trio that is set to bring their distinctive sound to V-Gen next weekend – continues on this relatively newly-found tradition of experimentation and of pushing the boundaries that music-lovers in Malta are finally experiencing vis-a-vis live bands.
The band has been active for these past eighteen years: founded by the Milanese frontman Nikita, it underwent a number of line-up changes, not to mention evolution its sound, before getting where it is now.
The line-up today includes Nikita on vocals, synths and lyrics, Daniele Viola (who has been with the band since 1998) on electric guitar and Fabio Degiorgi (who joined in 2001) on electric bass. Since 2006, Vidi Aquam has focused on maintaining the style that has helped the band reach the success it enjoys today: their 2010 CD release, The World Dies, released on the label Rosa Selvaggia and which includes ten tracks whose sounds vary from postpunk to darkwave, was given the definite sign of approval by fans.
With bands like this, the music is not to be taken at face value: Daniele explains that for them it’s all about transmitting the spontaneity, the energy, the experimentation of post-punk by channelling it through the heavy atmosphere of darkwave. Although for many of the fans, the band falls under the Goth genre, the musicians tell me that in reality only Nikita can be said to really live that lifestyle.
“I’ve been into goth music since 1985 and then in the early ‘90s also decided to start DJing at dark-wave events. This preference to the gothic side of life is reflected in everything, not just in the music I listen to. This is true particularly with literature: I count Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Umberto Eco, Vergil Polydore, Jeffrey Stevenson, Ugo Tarchetti, Charles Baudelaire as my favourite authors.”
As expected, even with movies he tends to lean towards horror vintage, from the silent expressionists arthouse favourites like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to the iconic Hammer horror productions from the ‘50s and ‘60s to the more recent offerings like Herzog’s Nosferatu, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even series like The Addams Family and The Monsters.
“Living a gothic lifestyle, for me, means enjoying all these elements that point towards the darker emotions – with a certain sense of irony and without falling into the trap of trash,” he tells me.
The other two band members, fans will be disappointed to learn, don’t really follow what is understood by a typical goth lifestyle. Fabio adds that in reality there is o such thing as a predefined goth lifestyle: for him, it was punk and postpunk that shaped his thoughts and his music, together with surreal art and various thinkers and writers from Pier Paolo Pasolini to Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant and Henry David Thoreau.
“I am the introvert, the one who thinks more than talks, the one who loves desolate landscapes… whether people classify this as being ‘goth’ is not important to me.”
Daniele also distances himself from the descriptor, adding that he’d rather use the word “dark”, as the genre was referred to in Italy during the ‘80s. But surely, whatever you choose to call it, image has a certain importance for a band like Vidi Aquam? Nikita agrees, but adds that the image is not the be-all and end-all.
“Sometimes, behind a perfect image, there is emptiness. It’s because the whole thing would be artificial. I prefer having charisma and being able to transmit emotions through my music, rather than having the expected image.”
Fabio agrees, adding that it’s a shame when image overrides music in importance, with Daniele adding that nowadays the group prefers to focus solely on the music rather than issues of image.
“What attracts us to this genre of music is not the image, but the pulsating and rhythmic sounds, the dark feel of the music, the cutting guitar riffs.”
Fabio adds that it is the intensity of the music, which creates that particular vibe the trio is so well-known for, that they look at.
And yet, despite this lack of focus on image, it is unavoidable that the genre brings with it misconceptions from audiences who are not familiar with the music and who will choose to look at the perceived image. Fabio puts this down to prejudice and to people’s predilection for generalising that which they are not familiar with. Thus, it is common to hear statements on the lines of: darkwave music promotes the culture of death and the macabre. The musicians’ reply is pragmatic.
“Ah well, it’s a bit like saying that all Italians are mafiosi. Or that we all play the mandolin. It’s really not worth wasting time on these criticisms. We are certainly not into promoting a culture of death; this is sad and disgusts us.”
Daniele adds that if anything, not being scared of looking death in the eye is an affirmation of life. However, he tells me, the music of Vidi Aquam does not even really deal with this particular topic; most of the tracks are in a way a social commentary about the somewhat artificial lifestyles that people nowadays indulge in.
“In reality our lyrics typically have more to do with values, love and the importance of friendships.”
Nikita agrees, but also adds that even musicians that often tackle the topic of death are not necessarily celebrating it. He believes that if anything, it is quite the opposite.
“When a song talks about death, in a way it is exorcising death and celebrating the beauty of life. Moreover, people’s perception nowadays is not as bad as it was, say, twenty years ago. I remember walking around in the ‘80s and ‘90s, all dressed in black, complete with weird hairdo and ear-ring… People did give me strange looks. Nowadays things are different. Tattoes and piercings are common and, at least in Milan, the alternative lifestyle is pretty much accepted into the mainstream.”
Fabio also remembers having a tough time when younger, mostly because he grow up in the suburbs, where pretty much everyone conformed to a certain look. Nowadays, he tells me, the transgressive look has been absorbed by commercial fashion and no-one really finds anything strange anymore.
I turn the topic to lighter matters; fine, so image is no longer that important but I’m sure that the guys do have different onstage/offstage personae? Nikita cheekily replies that of course he does and he is a bit of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in fact.
“I really become someone else on stage. As the frontman I’m constantly trying to transmit the emotions that shaped the tracks I’m singing. My onstage personality depends a lot on the ambience. I’ve been known to get off the stage and walk in the midst of my audience, continuing the gig from among the public. But then when I’m away from the stage I’m actually quite shy and timid.”
For Fabio and Daniele, the transformation might not be as extreme but they both conceded that they find themselves a lot more at ease while performing, finding it easier to harness that internal energy than in the context of normal day-to-day life. I ask about the band’s achievements, and all three agree that the milestone closest to their heart is their first official album The World Dies. This, coupled with the fact that they’ve been going strong for the past eighteen years in such a fickle industry. When it comes to other music than theirs, Fabio mentions that he can never get enough of Joy Division, Devo, Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Neu!, Danse Society, Velvet Underground, The Who, The Clash, The Ramones… Daniele adds David Bowie, Jesus & Mary Chain and old-school punk bands like The Dead Kennedys to the list, while Nikita says that it’s impossible not to mention Bauhaus, the Damned and Simple Minds.
“Watching the Bauhaus perform live in Milan back in 1997, for their first reunion, was legendary. I never thought I’d get to see them live,” he says.
Fabio mentions Italian post-punk outfit CCCP Fedeli alla linea’s gig in Milan, back in 1988, as one of his all-time favourite experiences while for Daniele, it was The Cure 1995 concert in Milan that really stands out in his memory.
From their own compositions, Nikita is particularly in love with Stone mask, mainly because it was the first track created for Vidi Aquam back in 1994.
“The whole thing really started from there. We have re-mixed it in our new CD with an even more powerful sound. But in reality I love all our works, particularly the ones in the new CD. It’s like they’re all our little children, to be nurtured and developed so they can give joy to others.”
Fabio and Daniele add Suicide Girl to the list, together with Withered Flowers, both from the very latest repertoire.
“They’re compact and totally devoid of any compromises,” Daniele explains.
Amongst the bands the three would love to collaborate with are Wire’s Colin Newman, Depeche Mode’s and Recoil’s Alan Wilder and Rosa Crux. Recognition for their music from the public is not essential, they tell me. However, the odd genuine and positive word from a member of the audience after a concert are not to be discounted when it comes to motivation.
“Well, yes it is nice to be appreciated and it does help motivate us to continue. But of course, recognition is not the primary purpose of the music. Of course, what we think of ourselves as musicians is important for us.”
And with this statement, the interview comes to an end.
Vidi Aquam will be performing on Saturday March 17 at V-Gen in Paceville. Early-bird tickets are available online from www.nuwavemalta.com or at the door. For more information find the events page on Facebook.
This interview appeared on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).