First published in 1997 by the Italian independent publishing house Shake, Costretti a Sanguinare is Marco Philopat’s first novel. In the ’80s he was an agitator of punk hardcore culture and one of the founders of Virus (a major Italian community center, based in Milan). Written as a stream of consciousness in a punk world, Costretti a Sanguinare makes readers experience what life was at that time.

Philophat’s aim was to give a glimpse at what the ’80s had been, what was Milan like at that time, how deindustrialization and crisis shaped a whole generation. And of course, how a subculture like hardcore could spring up in such a difficult context. A subculture that created not only a musical genre, but also a brand new imaginative approach that still influences music, style, and videogames.

Biography of a generation

Born in a suburb of Milan in 1962, Philopat starts telling his story in 1977, when he discovered punk culture. Milan was one of the cities suffering from the process of deindustrialization: economic and social crises were rampant. To escape from a depressing reality, plenty of people fell into the abyss called heroin. Philopat’s story is different, though: when he was fourteen he spent the summer in London. There he met punk culture and found a different way out.

Costretti a Sanguinare goes through Philopat’s life to tell the story of many young people like him. His school was occupied: instead of regular lessons, there were political debates and open conferences. But with the beginning of “Years of Lead” (a period in Italian history between the ’70s and the ’80s, characterized by strong political turmoil and terrorist attacks) everything changed. The army had been mobilized, there was a curfew and ban on gathering, which meant that every group of more than three people could be stopped and taken to the police station. In the same period, though, community centers sprang up in European cities, giving examples for new social communities.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Philopat and lots of Italian young people like him traveled around Europe. Soon they gave life to an international community that followed concerts and met in squats. They wanted to find “a place” in Milan, like the ones they saw abroad. And after some attempts, in 1982 they eventually found and occupied Virus, an abandoned factory. Virus became a landmark for Italian hardcore culture: there were people living there, playing music, organising festivals against drugs and political repression. Costretti a Sanguinare also tells also the story of its occupation, which ended in 1987, after three operations to forcibly vacate it.

Writing as moshing

I capelli sono fondamentali – bisogna tenerli dritti – in piedi – come spilli o borchie taglienti – sono un simbolo importante – le punte rigide significano odio – i capelli devono stare in piedi – incazzati con il mondo intero…

(Hair is fundamental – it has to be straight – upright – as pins or sharp studs – it’s an important symbol – firm points mean hate – hair has to be upright – pissed off with the whole world…”.

Philopat chose to write Costretti a Sanguinare with a technique that directly follows his thoughts and reflections. His book results in a stream of consciousness in a punk world, a stormy and perceivable world. As Philopat said, he wrote the book as he was moshing (moshing was a violent dance invented during punk concerts). And that is exactly how readers feel while reading Costretti a Sanguinare. The total absence of commas and full stops give the impression of a breathless run; after a few sentences, one is right in the author’s mind. This way one can experience the protagonist’s euphoria and sadness, oppression and freedom.

Costretti a Sanguinare is an emotional journey through a historic period, inside a subculture whose activists won the game. Not only because they changed a world that didn’t suit them, but because they changed themselves. Every sentence is a punch, a kick, a jump. A glance in the life of people who felt like they were dying suffocated. And found in moshing and in punk hardcore a way to be alive.