How does an Italian band overcome an indifferent scene at home and the insular, unexposed audiences overseas? Why, by conquering America first, of course... one show at a time.
The Punk Thing to Do
Dada Swing singer/guitarist Manuela Marugj uses the word "punk" a lot. Her band isn't punk in the conventional sense; it's punk in an unconventional sense, which makes it actually punk. Like her band mates, singer/guitarist Nino Pizzino and drummer Antonio Cutrone, Marugj looks pretty normal. She's slender, dresses neatly and practically, and wouldn't stand out in a crowd. But the punk comes out when she speaks. Her Italian accent is quiet but forceful, and makes it clear that she takes no nonsense. Onstage, her voice ranges from a bratty child's to a manic woman's. Pizzino's voice, too, runs the gamut, and when Cutrone also grabs a microphone, the result is joyous cacophony.
On its debut full-length, Cut, Cut, Cut..., the band pours dance punk, no wave, electro, and pretty much the rest of the kitchen sink into a lo-fi blender. Live, it spits out the stew through cheap guitars and toys like sampler, glockenspiel, and melodica. Dada Swing's sound is very American, specifically Bay Area-esque -- the trio brings to mind the nervous energy of Erase Errata and the unpredictability of Deerhoof. The problem is, they live in Rome, and in Europe there's not much of a market for bands like Dada Swing. What would be the punk thing to do? Come to America, of course. In the past year, Dada Swing has self-financed two US tours, carrying instruments on planes as hand luggage, and renting equipment and vans upon arrival.
The first tour was a test run; the band booked all its shows itself, which resulted in a wild patchwork of gigs at clubs, bars, basements, and house parties. The band found itself sharing the stage with a dizzying assortment of acts. Art-skronk, prog rock, noisecore, singer-songwriter -- you name it, Dada Swing played with it. Coming from Europe, the band found American distances large, and American cars even larger. The Southwest particularly challenged the band's mettle. They played in Phoenix during the summer heat wave that killed dozens (Pizzino's commentary: "We melted"). Texas was no better, and much to Pizzino's twisted delight, he drove an SUV for the first time (Marugj's commentary: "We are never going back to Texas").
But Dada Swing did return to Texas. The tour wasn't a resounding success, but the band broke even and made enough contacts to make a second tour worthwhile. This time around, they employed a booking agency. This tour also had its share of troubles, though. Due to a misunderstanding, the instrument rental place gave Cutrone a hi-hat and nothing more, forcing him to borrow drums for the rest of the tour. A South by Southwest gig with high expectations had disastrously low turnout. But in general, Dada Swing found itself playing to more people who knew the band's music.
Dada Swing's second run through San Francisco went particularly well. Having spent weeks on the road playing together, the band sounded tight, yet loose. Marugj, who is the band's worst critic, seemed uncharacteristically confident that night. New songs fit comfortably next to old ones, and the old ones ran like clockwork. Spontaneous dancing broke out near the stage, as it often does at Dada Swing shows. The only hiccup was when the band briefly forgot what song to play next. Pizzino bashfully admitted that the band doesn't write set lists; the crowd only laughed and cheered harder.
Crucial to Dada Swing's appeal is the fact that the members have distinct personalities. Marugj is the quiet one who can erupt into screaming, Pizzino is the crowd charmer with rock star moves, and Cutrone is the wild card who plays drums, guitar, melodica, and whatever else is lying around. From the universally favorable crowds at its shows, one would think the band is much bigger than it is. But at the moment, Dada Swing is three people living in Rome, working odd jobs to make ends meet between tours. The band is thinking of moving to Belgium, a more central location in Europe for touring. That would be the punk thing to do.