Qlowski: Longing for Counter Culture

‘What Future?’, the English translation of Qlowski’s new album, Quale Futuro? is a title made bespoke for our times. Having endured a year of civil restrictions and the shift of all interpersonal interactions to the online sphere, the feeling of emotional exhaustion is, by now, universally felt. Seeing the landscape of our day to day lives change in such a dramatic way has inevitably caused us to question whether normality as we knew it will return, and by watching the world’s turmoil through the unfiltered and panoramic lens of social media, it’s hard not to sit there as the average citizen and ask yourself, ‘where is all of this going?’ And so too, just like the rest of us, Qlowski have been experiencing the same existential thoughts.

Quale Futuro? is a self-described 11 part manifesto tackling the tricky issue of what comes next after our current global trials come to a close. “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity” famously said a certain German-born physicist, and in the spirit of change, core members Michele Tellarini and Cecilia Corapi reflect upon how the current upended nature of modern living can be used as a vehicle for society-wide progress. From the safe spaces of our sofas, we’ve watched events unfold over the last year that have caused caustic rifts amongst global populations; with the 2020 US elections and the resulting storming of Capitol Hill encapsulating the full ugliness of what division left unchecked can do. But with a perceptive eye, Qlowski raise awareness to the idea that only through true unity and solidarity can people affect real change.

This longing for a counter culture that challenges the current norm is expressed throughout every instance of the new record, with songs like ‘In A Cab to Work’ with its twisted doo-wop riffs and cacophonous backdrop calling out the forces that stifle progress, and lead single ‘A Woman’ advocating for continued resistance against systematic oppression no matter how many tries it takes to conquer. However, nowhere is this idea of collective will power more perfectly captured than in the complimentary zine that releases in parallel with the new album. Sharing the same title as the record, the 28-page booklet is an example of the very community building exercise that the band want to see happening everywhere, bringing together a plethora of artists to help further expand upon the ideas captured within the album’s lyrics to create something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Quale Futuro?, even by the band’s own admission, is not a definitive guide to navigate us out of the tough times we’re currently experiencing, but it’s already ahead of the curve by simply encouraging everyone caught up in the crisis to look forward. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and as we’re starting to see more talk about building a world post-lockdown, the choice to shore up our foundations and develop nurturing, supportive relationships with our neighbours is ours to make; and by listening to Qlowski and their music, the process should be made that little bit easier. 

The new album and its overall concept has been described by yourselves as a “full blown manifesto”. Give us a run down of some of the key points of this ‘manifesto’ and explain why it was so important for you to build a record around these ideas.

Michele Tellarini: Let me break it down to you like this: we are living in a capitalistic society, and I feel our generation is starting to realise just how much this system is affecting our daily life for the worst. Even our relationships with our friends and family are being influenced by this system. For example, when you’re out with your friends and you haven’t used your phone all evening, when you get back home you feel like the experience hasn’t happened because you didn’t post about it online. And if you think about that, it’s horrible we all now feel this need to capitalise on such experiences like a simple night out.

When it comes to the subject of music and writing songs, this creative process should be a moment where you feel free and able to express yourself authentically. But even in those moments, I feel oppressed because there’s always this pressure that what I should be making needs to be of value so I can just sell it later. I think the album is a reflection on this feeling of pressure we’re all experiencing today, with all the songs on the album trying to raise the question, “what can we do about this?” 

So following on from that angle, the record’s title ‘What Future?’ is a poignant question to be asking after enduring a year like 2020. Does the album try to make an attempt at answering this question, or are you simply raising awareness to the issue so as to inspire others to answer it for themselves? 

MT: I think the album tries to do both. The main thing that me and Cecelia realised whilst writing the record and creating the zine that goes along with it, is that one of the answers to this problem of uncertainty is nurturing a supportive and likeminded community. I don’t want to be critical, but sometimes I feel like there’s too much competition between bands in this country. It’s a good thing to be in a band, but it shouldn’t be about competition, it shouldn’t be about how many views you have, and it shouldn’t be about how much money you can put into your art. 

When we wanted to do the album zine, it was because we felt like we needed more people to help to answer the question “what future?”. So we reached out to some friends and people whose work we liked, and just connecting with this creative community and the people within it felt so good, because it felt like there was a different way outside of being competitive. As a band we’ve  recently been talking a lot about some of the issues within the music industry, and we agreed that if it’s always just about showing off, it won’t ever get fixed until it’s just people simply making things. I think the album tries to answer the question ‘what future?’ by highlighting the importance of community, but also tries to show that community can only come from ‘solidarity, unity, and togetherness’. 

Let’s talk about the zine then. It’s interesting that you said you needed help articulating the concept of the record, so explain to me what the zine brought to the overall vision you had for the album that the music didn’t. 

Cecilia Corapi: To me the zine has always been a part of the process from the very beginning. We knew that we wanted to do something that went along with the album and we wanted to have people outside of the band involved. The other day I was explaining the concept of the zine and the album to a friend and what we wanted to achieve, and during the conversation I realised we finished the album saying “unity”, and I was like, “this all makes sense!”.

One section/essay I really enjoyed from the zine was entitled ‘Longing for Counterculture’, and it highlights that, because of the sudden disruption to every part of society over the last year, people now have an opportunity to bring about real change – especially within the music industry. What role do you think the creative sector can have in influencing society at large as we begin to build a new future post lockdown?

MT: I already feel that the creative sector is the leading sector for championing so many issues. Historically, it’s only been through art and music that some of the most radical messages have managed to reach the mainstream. 

What we tried to do as a band during the pandemic was whenever there was an opportunity to make some money, we’d give 50% of the profits to charity. So whatever was happening at the time and needing support, like Black Lives Matter, relief for people affected by the explosion in Lebanon, helping the crisis in Yemen, that’s what we gave to.

However, if I had to think about things in more general terms, there’s a lot more that we could do. Like for instance that Group Therapy compilation. That compilation is a great example of what we’re talking about: a community coming together in solidarity for a good cause and going for it. We’re not going to change the world, but seeing musicians and artists trying to help, trying to talk about and embrace the issues really means something. So I think that if everyone in their own community just started doing small things, change will accumulate and things will get better. 

That’s a very interesting answer. It’s like no matter how big or how small the platform is, we should utilise what we have in every way we can, because you never know what difference it can make. 

MT: Exactly. I really believe in an idea that comes from French philosophy which centres around the concept of revolutionising your daily life. Rather than simply trying to overthrow the government for example, why don’t we start revolutionising our own lives on a daily basis in simple ways. We could stop, for instance, buying from named brands and buy locally instead, or simply try to start finding ways of helping our neighbours in any way we can. All these things we could do that could actually change things and make life better for whoever is around you. 

Album lead single ‘A Woman’ is to me an excellent example of your songwriting ability, and it’s subject matter is highly relevant for today. However, for you personally as a band, when it came to deciding on an album single, what made ‘A Woman’ feel like the best choice?

CC: For me, the song and its subject matter is so important, and releasing and performing it was one of the bravest things I’ve done. 

MT: I genuinely think ‘A Woman’ is the best song we’ve ever written, especially when it comes to song structure. As soon as we recorded the album, I always felt that this song could be the single. 

Was this song written by observation or through personal experience?

CC: Every word represents one day of complaining or talking with Michele about my struggles [laughs]. It feels like, as a woman, every day is a fight just to prove that you’re good enough. Sometimes I feel like I’ve chosen the worst environments to work in too, because I study computer engineering as well as music, and we all know that they’re both very male dominated. For me, when we wrote that song, I was having this realisation that it’s not just me feeling so much anxiety and so much stress; other people are going through the same thing as well. This song just kept on bringing all these realisations together and made me visualise my problems, and when you visualise something you can deal with it in a better way.

The single also came accompanied with a music video. The video ends with Cecilia being led away by two men in uniforms wearing a ‘futuro’ badge on their shoulders. Explain to me what point you were trying to make with this scene? 

CC: The whole video is set in a dystopian world where everything is falling to pieces and people are not free to go and do what they want to do. The point of that scene was even if we try to struggle, sometimes it’s not enough. The song is acknowledging that, “right, I tried to escape, but you pushed me down. I’ll try again and I’m here and I will come back.” Even if our future police try to break us down, we will always try to escape what’s suppressing us, no matter how many tries it takes.  

So having made your point about the necessity for a change in thinking now the UK is starting to recover from last year, how do you see your music playing a role in bringing about the change that you desire?

MT: We were actually talking about this a few days ago, because every week we get this one day where we are all really depressed because we feel like we’re not doing enough as a band and no one cares. And then usually we look at the zine and then we say, “oh man this is great!” I think going back to the idea of nurturing a community is essential in all of this. 

We used to be a four piece before moving to London, but when we got here we had to find new people to play with. We’ve been so lucky in having so many people play with us that sometimes I feel that, although it’s still just me and Cecilia, it’s more of a collective now. I’ve realised that people are so great and that there are so many nice people out there doing all of this for free just because they believe in it. I want to keep this going, keep meeting people, keep expanding this community and keep learning. I think our music is this medium for us to travel and talk and keep building.

CC: As has already been said, we probably won’t make any difference, but at least we will be one less band trying to destroy the other by instead attempting to bring everyone together. When the live scene comes back again, we want to try and push other bands and help them. When I think about how we grew up and started playing, it’s thanks to people who put everything together for us so we had a chance. If we can do that at our gigs and have different people playing with us and we can support them, I think that’s a big achievement.

Words: Danny Brown // Photos: Patrick Smith

‘Quale Futuro?’ is out now via Maple Death Records. You can stream and purchase the album via Bandcamp.

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