“We just want to say to the whole of Europe, to the whole world… ROCK’N’ROLL NEVER DIES!”
If you were placing bets on where the next great rock’n’roll band would come from, the Italian entry to Eurovision is unlikely to have been top of your list. But with frontman Damiano David’s hollered words of victory in 2021, that’s exactly how Måneskin – kohled eyes glittering, half-naked, stylish, tattooed, resplendent – put a platform heel through the received wisdom.
“It was very emotional for us,” David tells The Big Issue, when the band join us from their Barcelona dressing room ahead of yet another date on their post-Eurovision global perma-tour, “because we were coming to a point of our career where we were having a lot of struggles getting our music accepted by the people that were working with us.” Piled in around him on a suddenly super-glam sofa, the rest of the band – Victoria De Angelis (bass), Thomas Raggi (guitar) and Ethan Torchio (drums) – nod vigorously.
“We had a very harsh year trying to convince people that what we were doing was actually worth it,” David continues. “And so, winning it was like shutting down all the shit. It was like Europe told us that we were right, and they were wrong. So it was a huge relief that from now on we were going to be able to do what we want to do, because we’ve shown that it’s actually valuable.”
Since then, they’ve delivered in spades. They’ve become the first Italian rock band to reach the top 10 on the UK singles chart. They released a single with Iggy Pop and the raucously infectious album Rush!, featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. They’ve been nominated for dozens of international awards, including at the Brits, Grammys, and NME Awards. They won at the MTV Awards, the American Music Awards and the Billboard Awards. They’ve sold more than 40 million records and been streamed more than four billion times. This week, they play their biggest UK date yet, headlining a sold-out show at the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London. In the summer they’ll be gracing Glastonbury.
“When we were kids, we were looking at the videos on YouTube dreaming about it,” De Angelis says of Glasto, “but we’ve never been.” David laughs: “Because we used to have no money.”
People have been pronouncing the death of rock’n’roll since at least the late ’50s. So far, rebellious guitar music has proven something of a cockroach, persistently finding ways to come back. But of late, even its greatest advocates (and reader, that includes me) have been forced to admit that if not dead, precisely, it may be… getting on a bit. Of the ‘current’ crop of biggest touring rockers, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses are pushing their 60s, Dave Grohl’s 54, The Rolling Stones are in their late 70s. Paul McCartney is 81 in June, goddamnit. Even Arctic Monkeys are no longer whippersnappers.
Aged between 22 and 24, Måneskin are a righteous jolt of youthful energy. A reminder of the essential, sweaty joy four friends with guitar, bass and drums can bring to the world. Rock’n’roll started as a youth movement, and they’re reclaiming it for a new generation.
“It’s stupid to say that rock or any music genre is dead because it’s literally up to people, you know?” says De Angelis. “So if there’s people making it and people enjoying it, then why should it be dead?”
What does rock’n’roll mean to Måneskin then? “For us, it’s an attitude and a message of freedom,” she continues. “So that’s what we want to bring back.”
David, De Angelis, and Raggi met while at high school in Rome, Torchio joined after the trio advertised on Facebook for a drummer to complete Måneskin. After cutting their teeth busking in tourist areas of Rome (you quickly learn you have “just one shot” to grab people’s attention, says Raggi), they went on to enter the Italian version of The X Factor. They came second after Lorenzo Licitra, but soon eclipsed the singer.
Looking as they do, growing up in conservative Italy wasn’t always easy. Both De Angelis and Torchio identify as queer, which remains a challenge in their homeland.
“I remember when I first started dating girls, I felt people really staring,” says De Angelis. “These things can really make you uncomfortable, even if it’s not such a big deal compared to what other people deal with. But I still just wish it could be completely normal.
“It’s very conservative still, in Italy. It’s a very Catholic country and many, many people still believe, because of that, that it’s a sin to be homosexual. So that’s why many people still can’t get over this. But hopefully the younger generations are opening their minds more, and even if they are religious, they can learn to be more respectful and tolerant towards people that just have their own sexuality. I think that’s a step that is starting now in Italy but it’s still gonna need time.”
Liberated and elevated by rock’n’roll self-determination, Måneskin blur gender boundaries with every appearance. But it’s not just about using their platform to create a safe bubble – it’s also about challenging the power structures that repress people for who they are. Against a backdrop of increasing oppression in Poland in 2021, including the institution of ‘anti-LGBT zones’, David and Raggi shared a passionate kiss on stage to protest the country’s anti-gay legislation.
“We’re about freedom,” De Angelis explains. “So we would really just like to live in a more respectful world, where everyone can be safe and allowed to be who they are, without having to deal with any racism, homophobia, misogyny, or violence of any kind. We want to spread the message of believing in yourself and finding the courage to be who you are. But also… like, the fucking idiots should stop being such dicks, you know?”
Another “fucking idiot” they’re keen to challenge is one Vladimir Putin – the aggressor who has reduced many parts of Ukraine to rubble. Their song Gasoline (“How are you sleeping at night? How do you close both your eyes? Living with all of those lives on your hands?”) is, in part, addressed to the Russian leader.
Last year, alongside U2, Billie Eilish and Bon Jovi, Måneskin joined the international #StandUpForUkraine campaign, urging their social media followers to demand humanitarian aid and support for Ukrainian refugees. The event raised €9.1 billion (around £8bn) for people fleeing the Russian invasion, and for those still in the war-torn country.
“Music has a huge, huge power,” insists David. “It can influence people and push people to think about things.”
As then-reigning champions, Måneskin were in the room at last year’s Eurovision final, when Kalush Orchestra won for Ukraine. “You could really just feel that everyone was really happy about it. It had a bigger meaning than just the win itself, of course,” says De Angelis. “I think it was an amazing signal and message. It gave one moment of happiness and hope.”
Still under attack, Ukraine is unable to hold the contest this year, so the BBC has stepped in to host on their behalf. The event happens the same week Måneskin play in London, so can we expect a visit?
There’s a riot of mischievous laughter… “Ooooooh!” smirks De Angelis… “Let’s see, let’s see!”
Like their guitar-wielding forebears, Måneskin’s revolution is an undeniably sexy affair. But the world that welcomed Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Mötley Crüe has changed. Doing the ‘sex’ bit of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll is a different proposition in a post-#MeToo world.
“I think it’s a very big discussion, even between the four of us because we are three guys and a girl,” says David. “The perception that people have of, for example, me or Ethan or Vic, if we do the same thing. It’s different. When I post shirtless pictures on Instagram, nobody says anything. And when a female artist does it, it’s a huge deal. It shouldn’t be like that.” Women should be able to “use their body to communicate” without fear of judgement or assault, he says. Though David emphasises that he is “more protected” as a man, that doesn’t mean he’s always felt safe.
“Sometimes people feel like, if we are sexy on stage, we are accessible to everybody at every time. And this is not the case,” he says. “Three days ago, at a gig, a fan touched my… [he gestures with a cupping motion] ‘jewellery’. Like literally grabbed it. And the response of a lot of people on social media was like, ‘he acts like that on stage. What would you expect?’ But of course, it’s not like that. The fact that we act in a certain way on stage doesn’t allow anybody to do anything with our bodies without permission.”
If Måneskin are still finding their way through contemporary sexual politics – and attempting to reshape it along the way – they’re clearer on their attitude to that third pillar of the rock stereotype. Even though they’ve been on tour forever, they’re doing it without chemical stimulation, they say. Sex and rock’n’roll, yes – David: “those are the harmless things” – but the band aren’t into drugs.
“It’s not cool to follow something just to fit in that lifestyle,” DeAngelis adds. “I think what is cool and rock’n’roll is just to be yourself and not care about having to look cool.”
What do they do to blow off steam after the incredible high of a live show, then? “We’ll go out together – we go to dinner or have a drink… or,” she gestures to the boys… “they go to go-karts!” Hang on, what? Did you say go-karts? “Yes! Literally after the show, they’ll say ‘we have to hurry, we have to go’!”
“Last time we did we were in Florence,” adds David, “we finished the gig and then we went straight over.”
“Damiano is the fastest,” admits Raggi, “but I also want to drive as fast. And so it is a challenge between us.”
There you have it. Måneskin – living life in the fast lane.
Rush! by Måneskin is out now. Måneskin play the O2 Arena London on May 8 and Manchester AO Arena on December 19
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