The setting is set in Verona, where 22,000 shrieking youths have crowded the city’s immaculate Roman amphitheater.
The Arena Di Verona, which was built in 30AD, has seen a lot of drama take place within its walls, from gladiator wars and medieval jousts to extravagant performances of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, which is set in this palatial city of romance.
Another love story will be told tonight. Mneskin, Italy’s Eurovision Song Contest 2021 winners, have returned as bona fide global superstars after not performing on home soil in two and a half years. Mneskin, who already had two albums to their name when they smashed the competition, had already released two albums when they smashed the competition. Fans have been lining up around the sun-drenched Piazza Bra central area all day as if the Pope was coming to town.
“It’s nice and odd in the greatest way possible,” frontman Damiano David tells NME ahead of the event, puffing a cigarette and sipping an espresso with an almost cartoon degree of Italian cool. “It’ll be our largest show in Italy, if not the world.”
The flashy rock band, which also includes Victoria De Angelis on bass, Thomas Raggi on guitar, and Ethan Torchio on drums, recently played two consecutive weekends at Coachella in California. On a festival lineup dominated by pop and solo performers like Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Megan Thee Stallion, they were one of the most talked-about acts.
“Everyone who came to our shows said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this,'” De Angelis said. “There were like three other bands at Coachella.”
Their rock’n’roll energy, glam style, and no-holds-barred attitude have gotten them a lot of attention in the United States. Jared Leto, the frontman of Thirty Seconds To Mars, was among those queuing for a selfie. “He was in the crowd!” Torchio exclaims. “He’s a fantastic man.”
Where there any other out-of-this-world encounters with the glitterati’s brightest and best?
“Breakfast at Chris Martin and Dakota Jones’ house,” De Angelis chuckles. “‘What the fuck!?'” says the narrator.
“Yeah, Dakota Jones cooked eggs for us, and Sean Penn was there,” David admits, his face lit up with surprise. It was a rough ride.”
Torchio adds, “They were good eggs,” though it’s unclear whether he’s referring to the meal or his hosts.
It’s easy to see why America has splashed them all over billboards and late-night talk shows after meeting these four fantastic pals all happily crowded onto the same small sofa. They’re all between the ages of 21 and 23, and they’re the group your mother warned you about: eyeliner, long hair, tattoos, and leopard print. But is Italo-rock sanctioned by Eurovision? Who in their right mind could have predicted that?
“We’re not new in the sense that thousands of bands have performed as well as or better than us, but it’s rare to see a band break globally these days,” David explains. “Italians enchant everyone, and Americans are enamored with them.” That adds a little zing.”
“It’s hard for Americans to find an Italian band that makes it over there and plays a real instrument,” Raggi, who is fearless on stage but more reserved in interviews, agrees: “It’s hard for Americans to find an Italian band that makes it over there and plays a real instrument.” It’s a strange situation.”
Of course, life in Mneskin wasn’t all festival excitement and celebrity eggs. The band first came to the attention of the rest of the globe a year ago this week when they won Eurovision 2021 with the Italian language hard-rock stomper ‘Zitti E Buoni.’ They looked and sounded like a youthful, Mediterranean Jane’s Addiction, with their leather, studs, naked chests, and big guitar licks. Among the customary cheese and pomp of the song contest, the millions who watched them win through popular voting discovered a breath of fresh air.
However, fame quickly turned to notoriety when several viewers believed they witnessed David sniffing cocaine off a table in the green room, and they became international tabloid fodder. They denied it, and the musician passed a drug test on his own. They can still joke about it today.
After a psychotic cackle, David exclaims, “I fucking regret my decision to shut it off!” “I should’ve just walked away.” Imagine if no one knew whether or not I threw a line of blows in front of 80 million people. That would’ve been the stuff of legends! I’d have done it all over again this year — in front of every fucking camera!”
“We could do it every year!” says Torchio.
Despite the fact that David has “never done coke in my life” and “doesn’t think I ever will because my heart is too weak for that and I’m too fucking anxious,” he enjoys playing up the rock’n’roll myth Mneskin has built. When asked for advice for this year’s contenders after singing at the recent 2022 Eurovision grand final, he simply said, “Have fun and don’t get too close to the table, folks.”
For most rockers, Eurovision may seem like a weird move, yet wide appeal and unadulterated entertainment are at the core of this band’s DNA. They started in Rome in 2016 “to have some fun and fill up our afternoons,” according to David. They were soon busking, performing in any dirty pub, school auditorium, or street corner that would have them. “It became really bad in a very short period of time,” De Angelis recalls. “We were always hoping for something bigger, even though we were very young and it felt like a dream.”
In 2017, they made their first huge move by competing in the Italian edition of The X Factor, coming second. What is the X Factor? “Basically, we were weary of lugging instruments and amps around on our fucking shoulders,” David says bluntly. “We recognized an opening and jumped on the train right away.”