Writing about Marco Corbelli and his work is not easy, especially if you want to avoid cheesy exploitation and clichés around his life and obsessions. Just like with church burnings and murders in Norwegian black metal, the circumstances of his death vastly obscured the impressive amount of material he left behind and the impact he had on the little niche of underground music that I call home. I’ll do my best to pay the utmost respect to one of the most influential artists in the history of Italian industrial music here; there’s a lack of serious documentation about him in English available online. In short: this article had to be written.
I met Corbelli only once (at a Whitehouse gig, of all places—I was introduced to him by Adriano Vincenti from Macelleria Mobile di Mezzanotte) and our correspondence lasted only a handful of years, but, like for many others in Italy and abroad, the importance of his own productions and especially his label and distribution was immense for me, my own music, and most of all, for cementing my love for noise, industrial, and power electronics. Discovering Slaughter Productions‘s catalogue was like a baptism of fire. I think it was after getting a copy of his collaboration with fellow Tuscan musicians P.O.S.K., La Casa Delle Finestre Che Ridono, that I found out about the label. I vaguely knew the Atrax Morgue name, but at the time I only knew it was a weird guy in a tiny Italian town releasing harsh noise and death industrial tapes. Of course, I immediately felt admiration for him since I also was some weird guy in a tiny Italian town trying to play noise myself. I just had to know more. It must have been in 2002. Shortly thereafter, I bought my first Japanese harsh noise tape from Corbelli: Pain Jerk‘s Neurotten. In the same order, I purchased my first Mauthausen Orchestra material, Nekrofellatio/Mafarka, on tape, and the Atrax Morgue CD-R Lesion 22. I fell in love with that stuff and I still rate it among my favorites in the genre. The minimal, creepy, deranged sounds of Atrax Morgue immediately stood out as something unique. I bought lots of stuff from Slaughter Productions during those years and we traded even more. Our correspondences were nothing special to speak of, but Corbelli gave me a few tips and I discovered many projects through his label that I still cherish to this day. Most of all, his incredible aesthetic coherence and the stripped-down, intense nature of his sounds stroke a special chord in my heart and really set him apart from the rest of the scene. I still think there’s very little else as pure and effective around.
Apparently, he started Atrax Morgue and Slaughter Productions back in 1992 with very simple means: a keyboard, a microphone, some effects, a twisted set of interests and fetishes, and a very strong passion for death. All his releases dealt with death, corpses, total nihilism, pornography, and paraphilia, often mixed together with his cult for old, morbid Italian horror/exploitation films. The very standardised, industrial graphic style of the artwork complemented his cold, raw, and minimal version of death industrial very well and set the tone for a whole branch of Italian noise labels (I’m thinking Butcher’s House, for example, or Spatter).
In almost fifteen years of activity, Corbelli used many pseudonyms, collaborated with many other artists, and had a few solo projects. Not everything was good, though some of it was brilliant and legendary, but the absolute integrity of his vision was impressive. His goals never changed, and his work got more and more minimal until his proclamation, ‘DO NOTHING is the most creative act’. He actually did more than a few things after publishing that statement on his website, but that’s besides the point.
Corbelli’s side-projects feature some of the best music he ever recorded: the excellent Mörder Machine, a somewhat ‘rhythmic’ version of Atrax Morgue; Necrophonie, his collaboration with Devis Granziera from Teatro Satanico/Lunus that brought him to Japan for a couple of gigs; Pervas Nefandum and Progetto Morte, legendary collaborations with like-minded poets Menarca and Walter Piano that sadly are a bit lost on foreign listeners since the amazing lyrics are in Italian (‘Let’s not procreate, don’t make children condemned to death’, ‘the highway is my discotheque, cars are my music, desolation is my Ceres, tonight I’m going on the highway and I’ll wait for the pills to work’, and ‘whores, black shades in the night, like cypresses’—I could go on forever, but you get the idea).
Describing Corbelli’s attitude and approach to music is quite easy because he was so focused, but I’ll use his own words:
‘I don’t think I’m creating art; I don’t want to console nor entertain anybody. I want only to create nuisance and noise creates noise. If anything, mine is a blind attack against any “form of being”; mainly an attack against myself, and also against music. The instant of creation always coincides with the instant of destruction; what comes out is pure negative energy, snapshots of sonic instants that die in moments. Darkness is always there. Constant. Atrax Morgue is but a reflection of my senseless condition of being. The sounds I produce mirror my hell.’
‘I live my decomposition moment after moment, a continuous metastasis, the disaster of my corpse between streams of damned life energy, a nauseating shipwreck.’
‘Pornography, and in its extreme version necrophilia, are consequences of this annihilation of the body; you reduce yourself to simple objects on which to transcribe a pathologic calligraphy, frozen.’
Of course, those are not groundbreaking revelations or even very original thoughts, but they’re extremely honest and heartfelt confessions from one of the most genuine artists I know of, and they perfectly encapsulate his body of work. One element that perhaps is under-studied or even ignored by foreign fans is that Corbelli’s vision perfectly narrates the gloomy, desperate, bleak atmosphere of Italian suburbia. Small towns disseminated in every province always exude death, ignorance, and isolation. The bloodiest and saddest cronaca nera (‘true-crime’, more or less) stories in Italy always come from such places, and any self-respecting Italian knows in their heart that we are walking on a pile of corpses all the time, and centuries of blood flow under our feet and in our walls. The image of Italy that the rest of the world has is that of a sunny, happy place full of stupid, happy people that try to rip you off and fuck you, but also cook amazing food—and it’s partially true—but the boot of Europe has a big dark side…perhaps one of the biggest dark sides in the world. We had thousands of years to build it up, after all. Most of this country is desolate and cruel, not as much in its landscapes as in the hearts and minds of its people. Corbelli and a few others perfectly represented this often overlooked aspect, and for that I’m forever grateful. His live performances were very few and I believe he wasn’t very happy with them. From old interviews it seems he was annoyed at the audience, who was not really interested in the show. Italian goths (which populate lots of underground industrial events even today) are seldom interested in anything besides their clothes, and that might have been part of the problem.
For some reason Marco’s music is much more appreciated outside of Italy nowadays, but the influence he had on the Italian scene is enormous. He continued the tradition of Mauthausen Orchestra and Maurizio Bianchi while condensing it into something even more sinister and violent. Many people started making music because of him and even named their projects after some of his tracks, so I suppose Atrax Morgue is like the Ramones of the second wave of Italian industrial. He even gained the respect of the very dance floor-oriented Italian goth/industrial scene, with many people still remembering him and sharing YouTube videos on Facebook. Some years back, the profile of a teenage girl obsessed with Corbelli sprung up on YouTube, complete with a bizarre, typical display of adolescent adoration that usually goes together with rock bands in the comment section. I still don’t know if it was fake or not, but it still speaks to the devotion his figure still inspires. I even remember a fellow noise musician from the Balkans repeatedly asking me if it was possible to visit his grave while he was in Emilia-Romagna some years ago! Paris has Serge Gainsbourg and Jim Morrison, but we have Marco Corbelli.
As I’m writing this, it has been exactly ten years since Corbelli passed. I just hope this little article does him justice and can work as an introduction for people who have yet to experience his legacy.
The following are words, fragments, and memories from some people who were closer to Corbelli than I. These are from actual friends and collaborators; I merely translated what they sent me:
D. Tozzoli (N.):
Besides the interest linked to noise and industrial music, I shared a passion for mondo movies and Italian thriller cinema from the seventies with Marco, something that he knew truly well. I think that this passion influenced Atrax Morgue a lot, both aesthetically and thematically (he had a strong yet personal connection with the themes of those movies). Some of those movies became almost an obsession—first of all Cop Killer by R. Faenza—to the point that, for a while, he dressed in a quite similar fashion to the main character portrayed by J. Lydon.
Among his musical interests were some heterogeneous and not-so-predictable genres. I remember he was truly open 360 degrees. Among his passions there was some Cramps or Link Wray-style garage rock and some disco music from the seventies, but among his favorites was Kraftwerk, whom he loved because of their cold, mechanic sound and for their desire to look like machine mannequins.
On the other hand, his recording style was basic and spontaneous, consisting of a synth (six track), a microphone, and a multi-effect he used for vocals.
Every recording was considered an evolution towards the reduction to the skeleton of sound. His last recordings were made on old reel-to-reel recorders, a support he found particularly fitting and interesting for the possibilities it offered, that is direct manipulation of sound acting on the support itself or on speed and direction. All these aspects are clear in one of his last works, ‘Negative Frequencies’, a perfect example entirely created with a monochord sound on reel-to-reel, then manipulated and re-recorded.
Adriano Vincenti (M.M.M. / Signora Ward Records)
I consider Atrax Morgue the most influential project for my aesthetic and musical vision, and I can say that through ups and downs it has always been a beacon of reference within my musical path. The first thing to say to those who never met Marco in person or that got into his sounds only recently is that Atrax Morgue was cult already when he was alive, while his albums were being released and his label Slaughter Productions was active. I approached Atrax Morgue around 1999, I was looking for different sounds. I came from dark ambient, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. The Internet in Italy was only starting to spread, but fortunately I stumbled upon Slaughter’s website, which from then until 2004 would become my bible. I remember the first emails to Marco to order stuff (during the years we also had long phone calls) and the first album I got from Slaughter: I Vizi Morbosi Di Una Giovane Infermiera. Years later, Marco gave me the super rare VHS as a present, which I still treasure. I remember the first meeting with Marco very well, when me and Alessandro Marchettini (Malato, Butcher’s House, No Light for Tomorrow, etc.) organized a gig for him in Rome through the Butcher’s House label. It wasn’t a success at all, but for us it was like bringing Elvis to Rome. I remember the thrill of meeting for the first time at Termini station (Rome’s exceedingly sleazy and messy central station); it was unforgettable and we kept on talking about that night for years. I dedicated the first album from my project Macelleria Mobile di Mezzanotte, Profilo Ottimale Delle Ferite, to Marco, whose sound and aesthetic moulded M.M.M. in its first phase. I had some stuff in common with Marco: a few fetishes, but also a great passion for Italian movies from the seventies, and of course extreme stuff we both collected. I sent my first few demos to Slaughter and my unfulfilled dream in those years had been not being released by that label (although it went pretty well, maybe even better, with Old Europa Cafè). I remember the first gig I did outside Rome with M.M.M., at Siddhartha in Prato (legendary goth club in Tuscany, near Florence), at the II Congresso Post-Industriale. I was nervous and I was backstage with Marco and I told him my worries while we drank J&B, worshipping poliziotteschi movies from the seventies. I remember his comforting and encouraging words, which after many years are still with me. It was a dream come true playing on the same stage with Marco and fortunately it happened again the following year at the III Congresso. Then my industrial phase kind of ended, at least with M.M.M.; other sounds and interests came about, but Marco left an indelible mark even if I followed his last artistic phase and life a lot less closely. I remember the morning of his death; I learned about it almost immediately from Marco Deplano. I remember I cried. I remember.
Devis Granziera (Teatro Satanico, Lvnvs, Necrophonie, etc.)
I don’t remember if it was 1992 or 1993. I met Marco around that time, before he was simply and exclusively ‘Atrax Morgue’ to everybody. ‘Knew’, as much as that word is worth. Who truly and profoundly gets to properly know a person, even if it’s a friend? Marco and I were friends; I think ours was one of the few friendships that lasted until the end because Marco was a socially amiable person but also very selective and absolutely stubborn, even hardheaded in his choices. The few times that he happened to meet some spirit he considered akin he almost got carried away by the pleasant find, until he often fell into an opposing feeling of bleakness and disappointment when he realized that most of the time, those people, whom he considered worthy of dialogue, revealed themselves as impostors. This happened most often with notorious people in the death-industrial scene. I’ll always remember how he regularly fell prey to profound and intense disappointments when he learnt that this or that idol of his, in their private life, was a lovable father or a happy and known member of the bourgeoisie. Marco was like this. Perhaps it was naive of him from a certain point of view, but to him, well-respected figures in the death industrial scene should have behaved with at least some coherence that he considered to be the bare minimum standard of decency and credibility. The thing that pissed him off the most was insincerity. He could not stand people around him that said one thing and then, in a totally hypocritical manner, behaved differently. He wasn’t intolerant; he actually accepted a diversity of views even if they were completely different from his way of thinking, but sincerity was more than a virtue to Marco. It was a sort of necessary condition in order to keep on dragging on with the complex web of compromises that social life entails. This personal attitude, so inflexible and adamant, reflected his artistic production. ‘Minimal’ is an adjective that lots of people use when describing Atrax Morgue’s work. Perhaps it’s true, but that minimalism was strongly researched and intentional, while trying to have a clear, sharp, essential order. Marco worked for this rigor until the end, taking it almost to its most extreme consequence. If we analyze his last works like Negative Frequencies or the tracks he left as (in)voluntary testament on his reel-to-reel and posthumously released in the Atrax Morgue’s Mörder Machine box set, so much rigor will seem uncommon, if not alien, to a lot of noise artists that declare themselves inspired by chaos and produce endless tout-court cacophonies. To Marco, death, decay, and entropy were the closest things to an honored promise: an impossible goal to achieve; without compromises; absolutely alien to the petty proliferation of scams and lies of everyday life.
Don’t think that Marco was a sort of anchorite though. On the contrary, he indulged with pleasure in the activities that he enjoyed. Not many people remember it, but in addition to being a fan of exploitation movies, he followed the contemporary art scene closely. We once had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Hermann Nitsch, to whom he dedicated the Beating the Meat tape compilation. I still remember fondly a visit we paid together to a Gilbert & George exhibition in 1996. I remember browsing through catalogues from J.P. Within, Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Trevor Brown with him. I remember his passion for design and vintage objects, and I remember the living room in his apartment, with original furniture from Joe Colombo. And how can I forget his passion for seventies digital watches, that for a while became a sort of full-time job…
But the readers will be interested more in Atrax Morgue’s work and his performances, so… I was at his first show in Modena in 1995. I shot it on video using a now obsolete JVC camera. The video was then released on VHS by Slaughter Productions (then reissued on DVD by Old Europa Cafè). I remember how he was literally forced to stop his show between whistling and insults from the goth audience. There are many people in Italy’s underground music scene that ridiculed Marco more or less openly while he was alive, then writing improbable panegyrics after his death. Assholes are always the majority. I was with him in Tokyo for his last live show. I remember the Japanese audience was literally worshipping him on their feet. Even if with time Marco gained confidence with the stage, in both occasions he kept the same stoic, unshakeable attitude, completely focused on his performance, not giving a fuck about booing or clapping from the audience. ‘You are a warrior!’: those were the words that after his performance Yama Akago, Incapacitant‘s Fumio Kosakai‘s wife, said to Marco. I know that for many people Atrax Morgue is an artist with no compromises, but what I selfishly miss the most is Marco. His art is still here, and it’s honestly comforting feeling that all his work and dedication left a cut, if not an actual mark, on the underground music scene. But I miss a friend, one of the few, if not the only one, with whom I could literally share everything, every single thing, and in all sincerity.