Wellor P38-La Gang, that all changed on May 1, 2022, Labor Day. The Italian rap group had a concert at the Arci Tunnel club in Reggio Emilia. The location did not seem accidental. This is the city that gave birth to the Red Brigades, the far-left terrorist group that shocked Italy with kidnappings, knee-jerk attacks and more than 80 political assassinations in the 1970s and 1980s – a period of social upheaval known as the “Lead years”. On stage that day, the four covered their faces with balaclavas and made a three-finger gesture representing a P38 pistol, a symbol of the 1970s left-wing movement Autonomia Operaia. As usual, the band flew the Red Brigades flag at the back of the stage – the title of their 2021 debut album, Nuove BR, translates to ‘new red brigades’.
Until then, the Bologna-based band was considered one of the strangest and most original newcomers to the Italian trap scene: angry, fun, outrageous, paradoxical, even a novelty, depending on who you ask. Mixing bad taste with insulting politicians and talk show reporters, ridiculing terrorism and dictatorships, P38-La Gang showed a face of Italy that few people want to see: the anger of workers paid €3 an hour and of a generation defeated by the struggling class who survive on memes and desperate irony.
The group, whose members are aged between 25 and 33 and come from all over Italy, described the idea behind the group as “very simple: to create a far-left and communist form of trap”. They speak as one in an email interview: a counter-narrative to the “individualistic, gangsta-mafia and misogynistic” themes of Italian trap. “The folly is that most trap artists and fans live first-hand in the most bitter living conditions created by capitalism: they come from the suburbs, they have a crappy future ahead of them and their loved ones.” This reality, they say, means that their work is not entirely gentle. “This genre derives much of its effectiveness from being extreme.”
The media and politicians – such as right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Social Democrat Stefano Bonacini – would interpret these extremes differently. A complaint was already filed in April 2022 after a P38-La Gang concert in Pescara by Bruno D’Alfonso, son of carabiner Giovanni D’Alfonso, who died following a kidnapping carried out by the Red Brigades in June 1975. Public outrage grew after their introduction on Labor Day. Their concerts were routinely cancelled, with venue managers fearing police reprisals: Marco Vicini, then president of Arci Tunnel, was charged with incitement to commit a crime and subsequently removed from his post. (When the club announced its new board in October, Vicini responded: “I continue to defend the decision to organize this concert and to oppose censorship and for freedom of expression. I failed to effectively protect the Arci tunnel from enemy attacks and from a broad repressive campaign against me and the Arci tunnel.”)
On November 25, the band members – who go by the stage names Astor, Jimmy Pentotal, Dimitri and Jung Stalin – were identified by police and their homes were searched. They are currently under investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Turin, accused of incitement to commit a crime with an aggravating circumstance of terrorism, which dates back to the formation of the group in September 2020. The case is still in the investigation phase, with a certain trial to start in a few months: if found guilty, they risk a sentence of more than eight years.
The group denies the association. “We believe that the prosecutor of Turin has mistaken us for a terrorist group, when in fact we are a music group,” the band said. “Certainly in our songs we say strong things… maybe objectionable in some ways. But we do not hope for a return to armed struggle. We clumsily try to do something artistic. Which, of course, has political connotations like any work of art.
P38 have put music on hold and launched a crowdfunding campaign to help with their legal costs, raising more than €16,000 in a week. They claim that their lyrical explorations of historical terrorists, freedom fighters and repressive regimes are a “work of art”, citing 1980s Italian “pro-Soviet punk” band CCCP as an influence. Their texts are filled with figures such as Ho Chi Minh, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and the Italian anarchist Gaetano Breschi: a chaotic and provocative collage that brings together the ideals and horrors of the history of the left. Asked how they stand on these issues, the group says: “Our political opinion on each of these individual events, organizations and people is not very important.”
Another song, Nuove BR, mentions the kidnapping and assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978. His daughter, Maria Fida Moro, also condemned the group. P38 says he feels compassion for the Moro family. “It’s normal for them to be angry. But we are not and do not want to kill anyone. The murder of Aldo Moro is a historical event that marked the history of our country.
Emilio Gatti, the deputy prosecutor of Turin, admitted that this was an “extremely rare case” and that it was “not common” for a gang to be investigated on such grounds. Aside from their fans and some underground musicians and music magazines, very few have publicly expressed solidarity with the P38-La Gang. Italian journalist and writer Christian Raimo shared a video interview with the gang, accompanied by the comment: “The repression is very well explained.”
“We believe our situation is absolutely unique,” the group says. “What mobilizes the media and law enforcement is only our music, our concerts, our lyrics. While the Italian music scene is flooded with very clear references to rape, large-scale drug trafficking and mafia crimes in lyrics performed by the most listened to artists, we are the ones who are being investigated for referring to the years of lead. “