For a sampling of daring, unique underground industrial music from the Mediterranean, this is a document well worth studying and enjoying.
I dove into this set with precious little background information. It’s almost incomprehensible, in this day and age, how little data is available online on the subject of Italian siblings Giancarlo and Roberto Drago, a.k.a. the Tapes. And here were are, presented with a two-record anthology of their work.
Selected Works 1982-1992 is, as its name implies, a sampling of ten years of the Tapes. The simplicity of their name is fitting, considering the relatively uncomplicated nature of their music. Described by their record company as “primitive industrial minimalism", the Brothers Drago attack each composition with precious few ingredients -- lo-fi synthesizers, drum machines, samples -- committing everything to tape with what sounds like a complete absence of retakes or fussiness. Mistakes are practically encouraged. Spontaneity is part and parcel of the lo-fi aesthetic.
If what I’m describing sounds like a series of easygoing soundscapes designed to serve as background music while you curl up with the latest hardcover best-seller, think again. This is hard, angular, abrasive stuff. It’s fitting that the opening track, “Cinque", kicks off with a sample – presumably from an old, obscure film – of a woman crying and pleading. This is followed by a Spanish guitar sample, a primitive drum machine loop that sounds like it was recorded underwater, and a series of random analog synth pulses.
While most of the tracks embody beats and loops that encourage some form of danceability, it’s a joyless dance. It’s been suggested that the gloom that permeates the Tapes’ work of this period is inspired by the previous decade’s Anni di Piombo, or Year of Lead; an era of socio-political turmoil in the Drago brothers’ native Italy marked by a wave of terrorism. The noisy, joyless, nihilistic beat that propels “Time Out of Joint” is almost anti-musical (reminiscent of Twitch-era Ministry) and appropriately illustrates the frustration of violence and social unrest.
There are times, however, when the Tapes seem tempted to infuse their work with commercial viability. “Nervous Breakdown” begins with the makings of industrial car chase music, perhaps a discarded track from Diva or To Live and Die in L.A., but such hopes are dashed when the lead instrument soon becomes a relentless metallic squonk that sounds like an insect trapped inside a steel drum. The Tapes seem to enjoy courting accessibility, but only enough to drag you into their web.
"The Tapes was an unplanned experience, an unplanned need to express myself," Giancarlo Drago explains. "Looking back on this music, I wonder sometimes how I did it -- the whole process from the concept to the completion. Everything I do now seems trivial and obvious and I just end up aborting the idea. And exactly for this reason I think that everything as its time, with a beginning and an end."
The ten years represented here provide a glimpse of a sub-genre rarely chronicled in the mainstream music press. For a sampling of daring, unique underground industrial music from the Mediterranean, Selected Works 1982-1992 is a document well worth studying and enjoying.