XABIER IRIONDO
Milanese from Milan, 45 years old, musician

ROCK, THE BASQUE PELOTA AND THE DESIRE TO GO AWAY (FOR A WHILE)

by ANDREA SCARPA - Photo by ANDREA COLZANI

XABIER IRIONDO

Video 1
I was born in Milan in ’71 in the Isola neighborhood. The memories I have of my childhood are of a very gray and very foggy Milan. Isola is an animated neighborhood, with its narrow alleys, it looks almost like a village, a village within the metropolis. I remember that when we went to the center it was always like taking a trip… Isola is one of those areas that have undergone major transformations, it is border district that was once attached to the city… From Corso Como it expanded up to the Comasina area. At one point the railroad cut this neighborhood out of the rest of the city and so the Isola’s inhabitants remained cut off from everything else.

MANY WORKERS, SOME THUGS
The inhabitants worked at Siemens or Pirelli, which was a little bit further, in the Bicocca area. Let’s say that the Isola condition of being cut out from all the rest favored a very strong increase in crime. That was before the war, but especially since the war onwards.

MILAN’S ROBIN HOOD
There was also a sort of Robin Hood named Ezio Barbieri, who was a criminal, a thug, he is still alive, class ’22, who stole from the rich entrepreneurs who had made a lot of money with the black market and redistributed it amongst the poor people of the district, he was obviously protected by the district.

TOUGH AND SPECIAL ISOLA
When I was a boy, in the 70s, it was a tough neighborhood, a bit like Baggio or Quarto Oggiaro in the 80s. In fact this neighborhood has always been special because it has undergone many urban transformations, not just the most recent ones. For example the axis of Viale Zara-Fulvio Testi, which leads out of town, starts from Piazzale Lagosta…

THE MOJAZZA CEMETERY
Once this square was the site of a cemetery, the Mojazza cemetery. In this cemetery Beccaria and Parini were buried… With the new urban axis in the ’30s this cemetery was swept away because the Monumental Cemetery was built and the most illustrious citizens were transferred there. The poor ones, those ended up in mass graves, disappeared.

THE ISOLA TRANSFORMATION
The transformation of Porta Nuova has already been in the air for forty years. The mayor Aniasi’s town plan dates back to 1975, so that area has waited forty years to be re-converted. This is because since the war, with the bombing destroying many buildings, empty areas remained and hosted the former Varesine, a big fairground that was right where the Unicredit skyscrapers are now. On the right of Melchiorre Gioia, going towards the Porta Garibaldi station, there was another large square where circus tents and stuff like that were set up.

I DON’T LIKE IT NOW
I don’t like it because it upset the balance and the neighborhood dynamics that were, in my opinion, a heritage of the inhabitants themselves. The revaluation of rents and property prices implied that many people who were born in the Isola, especially the older ones, left the neighborhood because they could no longer afford to stay there.

THE VANISHED BALANCE
I think that a bit of the magic that was in this neighborhood, made possible by the socialization between the different social classes, has been lost. Now there still is a strong level of socialization, but it is tied to the new premises, ethnic restaurants, bars, nightlife. Like in many other parts of the city. Where the development was essentially linked to economy and production, whereas once socialization was based on primary dynamics.

I’M STILL HERE
I stayed in the Isola. I lived in another area for a while, in the north, in the Bicocca-Niguarda area, also a working-class neighborhood. Then I came back about twenty years ago and I still live here.

Video 2
MILANESE AND BASQUE
My Basque part is very strong. Although I was born in this city, and I feel I am a Milanese, I am very attached to that territory, northern Spain, the Basque Country, to my family, and I’ve gone there all my life and I’ve never I missed a year.

MY DAD, A PELOTA CHAMPION
My father came to Milan to work. He was a professional pelota player, and in Milan, in the 50s, the Sphaeristerium was in Via Palermo, in the Garibaldi district. This, the fact that the Basque Pelota was a very popular sport, and many artists such as Walter Chiari, Giorgio Strehler, all friends of my father at the time… My mother met my father because the Basque pelota was a popular sport. In the evening people used to go to see these players who threw a ball at nearly 300 km / h in these baskets…

1953, STARIGHT TO LA SCALA
My father arrived at the Central Station and the first thing he asked all the friends who went to pick him up, and who already played pelota here, was ‘Good, let’s take the metro: take me straight to the La Scala Opera House’, since my father loved the opera he definitely wanted to see it. His friends looked at him and said, ‘What metro? In Milan there is no metro!’. He said, ‘How is it possible? It’s such an important city, so international…’.

TO THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW MILAN
I say it is a lively and welcoming city with a strong personality, qualities that it has always had because it has always developed through transformations, the trips that people made to come here to work and learn. (To those who don’t know Milan) I also tell the more normal things, fashion, design and all the specialties of Milan. The things that I tell everyone are the more special ones, the more hidden ones, that may not be so evident to those who have just got here.

MILAN’S STRENGTH
Undoubtedly its ability to change also through the inputs that come from the outside, by the people who come here to live. But also the ability to absorb the best of all the stories and professionalisms with this magic of ‘doing’.

MAGIC AND CONDEMNATION
This being in constant motion, in constant transformation. This is what is magic about this city, and perhaps also its condemnation.

AWAY FROM HERE
I could choose to leave, but I stayed because… Well! First, because I felt attached to this beautiful and also damned city. And then because I had already developed my profession, so here I had all the contacts and relationships.

THE JUNGLE SOUND RECORDS EXPERIENCE
In the 90s I attended the Jungle Sounds Records, which is in the Navigli area, where all those who represented the music scenes and groups of the ’80s in Milan were. I’m speaking about the Afterhours, the band I play with, but also the Ritmo Tribale, the Casino Royale, Karma … Many revolved around this recording studio and rehearsal room, which was then also a good container of ideas. At the time I had to choose whether to go and live in the Basque Country or in Paris, and I chose to stay here in Milan, and I think it was a wise choice.

Video 3
A GENEROUS CITY
This city gave me a lot, even when I developed this strange and a bit crazy project: opening a shop to sell musical instruments, and more.

A CRAZY LABORATORY
A laboratory where every Saturday musicians from completely different fields performed: from electronic to blues, from folk to rock, free concerts and performances.

A SMALL VENUE
The place was small, it could accommodate up to 30-40 people. There were also evenings with only 10 people.
2005-2010, LEAVING MY MARK
I wanted to leave a little mark in this five-year plan from 2005 to 2010. That made me realize and feel that this city really is moving.

ATTENTIVE AND CURIOUS
Always ready to receive even bizarre and special things. Because when you organize, for example, a dance show which showcased bare Butu artists and people stop in front of the shop window, and some curious ones go in just to understand and find out what is going on, I realize that this city is open to many challenges.

THE STATE OF THE ART
Rock, already an old type music, has had a series of changes, there are new entities…

THE LOGIC OF ‘DOING’
I believe in the logic of ‘doing’, right? The Milanese has it, the new Milanesi have. It is a city that can offer new possibilities because it has always been like a building site for artistic and musical ideas…

THE MONTE STELLA EXAMPLE
The Monte Stella was born from all the rubble, because the idea of transformation and change has always existed in Milan. In particular, in the specific case of the Monte Stella, it was dictated by a need: not only did we find a place to dispose of the rubble, but we made a small mountain in a completely flat area and we changed it. We built sewers, supplied it with electricity to make it become a place where the Milanesi people can go and enjoy a city hill with lots of woods.

SPECIAL PLACES
I think The Last Supper is one of the places of excellence in this city, a truly magical place. I encourage everyone, even the Milanesi who have never visited it, and there are many, to go and see it. It is a truly special place. Another special place is the Martesana canal.

DIALECT
No, I don’t speak it, but I understand it. In my family we spoke mostly in Italian, Spanish and Basque. My mother spoke Milan’s dialect but my father was not so ready…

Video 4
YES TO THE MOSQUE (AND NOT ONLY)
This city is growing more and the more international it will become – it surely will – the more we will have to get used to the fact that there isn’t only ‘our’ religion, the Catholic religion, but also the other ones. Therefore, this city has to offer appropriate places and spaces for them. People can’t think that the Milan of 2020 or of 2025 is the same as Milan in the 50s or 60s.

A NEW CHALLENGE
Perhaps thinking that doing is important – it has always been – but that we must also stop and relate to others to figure out what really needs to be done. The engine should not be doing at all costs, but relating to others to do what’s good for everyone.

PISAPIA’S SUCCESSOR
I hope and wish that we can find a convergence for which we find a progressive person like Pisapia, one that is able to promote a new season in the life of this city.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE?
I think the crisis has brought and given strong signals for a radical change: the Milano da bere (Milan to drink) no longer exists, not even the Milano post da bere. We must completely rethink Milan.

STARTING FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD
I think the network of associations and realities linked to the territory are a good starting point. They can help us regain possession of the neighborhood and its history.

A CITY MADE OF VILLAGES
This city is made of many neighborhoods, many villages fused together in the last 150 years. This side of Milan must be brought out, we must share it with the young people, the people who come here for the first time, that every neighborhood has its history and strength. The cinemas for example, Talking about the Isola: in 1910 a cinema was built in via Garigliano, it was called Cinema Sociale. It was one of the major theaters of the city, a little peripheral but active until the ’70s. Especially in the ’30s and after World War II, it was transformed into Cinema Zara, it had its glory. This cinema theatre had nearly eight hundred seats inside, and so it was an important social gathering place. This cinema then became secondary and in the 70s, it became the first hard rock hall in Milan: it was called Punto Rosso Hard Rock. All the hard rock or heavy-metal bands of the late 70’s early 80’s past through here, even the first punk bands who managed to arrive in Europe and Italy. It had its history, its strength, then the snowfall in ‘85 brought the roof down, so the place was abandoned and eventually occupied and it became the social center of Via Garigliano, the headquarters of Casino Royale, where for years parties, shows, alternative cinema were hosted. This is to say that every place of this city can be transformed, it is important not to imagine that the final spirit should always be that of real estate speculation that has always triumphed in Milan.

AN EXPERIENCE ABROAD
I have lived in this city for 45 years, and so now it might make sense to move somewhere else for one, two, three years.