Travel /
Emilia Romagna

The Heart of Discoteca Italiana

The walls, the dance floors, the colored lights tell the lives of thousands of young people, who must return to take back their physical spaces as an act of freedom.

There was a time in which music was the master of our movements; it seems like ages ago. Back in the days, summer welcomed the crowds, the holidays did the rest. There were places where it was allowed to get rid of all inhibitions, somewhere, on top of another, in underground gatherings with strong and intermittent lights or in psychedelic spaces under the stars in which to spin like alien spaceships: discos.

They say discos were born in Paris, thanks to a sorceress of the night named Régine. Those were the boîtes, as the French call them, literally “boxes”, nocturnal places with an intimate atmosphere, where you could meet to dance and listen to music.

In Italy, however, after 1975 and the opening of the Piper in Rome, the Riviera Romagnola (part of Emilia Romagna) from Riccione to Gabicce, became the main source of entertainment, both at night and during the day.. From June to September, the striped sunbeds on the beaches emptied in favor of another tan, that of the moon. We went up to Colle dei Pini, feeling like Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever. We used to go to Peter Pan’s garden, an antidote to the passing of time, or to Bilbò (now Byblos), a Mediterranean-style villa with a swimming pool surrounded by a park of pines and olive trees, a house for exclusive parties.

Gabicce was  the epicenter of the Saturday night fever outbreak. The same year Piper (the Roman disco) was born, the Baia degli Angeli (now Baia Imperiale), the local watershed of “disco music”, was founded. It was entrepreneur Giancarlo Tirotti who anticipated the exclusive Studio 54 in New York, creating a revolutionary location on the ashes of a sporting club in the hills, equipped with swimming pools and panoramic views. The new venue had white walls with reflective mirrors and images of Marylin Monroe. The logo represented a giant angel with a halo, bright and smiling, ready to welcome anyone. The luckiest guest, as well as the most coveted by the crowd, was naturally of course the DJ. The chosen one for the evenings, initially a Puerto Rican DJ named Tom Sison, positioned himself in a transparent elevator on the Baia, a jewel, and moved between the two levels of the disco, mixing vinyls and alternating between indoor and outdoor dance floors, between swimming pool and sea. A dream that soon materialized in the Big Apple too. Carmen D’Alessio, event organizer and PR, exported the Baia, founding Studio 54 in 1977.

Aleph (another disco in Gabicce) also marked the golden age of discos, but unlike the Baia, its architecture was desolate and unattractive. It was an underground bomb bunker with an uninviting slogan “An empty room. Like you.” It was in pure new wave style, made of white tiles and colored neon lights. After the arrival of the artistic director Giovanni Tommaso Garattoni, the aesthetics of the place changed in favor of a Victorian tapestry and a libertine shade of Oscar Wilde’s times; the exclusive private room was also named after the writer.

Initially, discos all had their own character and autonomy, the genres were less hybrid than today and the artistic directors created real installations that should have conveyed a philosophy, a precise identity. Each disco had its own music; it was an avant-garde place, where ideas and art circulated,  a parallel and possible world, one that was built in clubs. Since the 1960s, the disco faced different changes, reflecting the pace of society’s movements. In Italy, during the economic boom, a new audience filled with youth emerged, something that did not exist before. In  the 1970s, youth malaise exploded and conquered the world with the revolution. Politics dictated fashion. In the following decade, the season of uprising seemed to end. In the 80s, gay culture promoted a free lifestyle devoid of dogmatic thoughts. Back then, in the disco you could meet VIPs, models, celebrities of all kinds, as well as stylists and eclectic people, all united by the desire to cross a space-time gap into other worlds. It is no coincidence that one of the most famous clubs in Rimini was called L’Altro Mondo Studios (The Studios of Another World).

Architecture of the disco itself had to purposefully  recreate other cosmos, a structure of possibilities. There were towers for lighting, for light shows, mini-bars, projections, stepped tribunes, curtains and ceilings, stainless steel dance floors and deformed mirrors like at amusement parks. Even the bathrooms could become real “experiences”. As Ettore Sottsass also recalls in the 1969 exhibition “Miljö för en ny planet” (Landscape for a fresh planet), the disco was a sort of paradise, “a catalyst for a kind of liberation from the control and manipulation of thought, for a possible detachment from the tight and controlled circle of actions and reactions in the world of the civilization of well-being. […]”

In today’s urban landscape, however, the buildings of the nightclubs seem relics to be reconverted after terrible shipwrecks. Millennials, with the arrival of social media, have invented a new geography, new ways to meet. And the clubs that survive are mostly devoid from their glorious history. The walls, the dance floors, the colored lights tell the lives of thousands of young people, who must return to take back their physical spaces as an act of freedom.

In this context of reappropriation, a new project of one of the historic nightclubs of the Riviera fulfills this mission by its resurrection plan. After a long silence, Cocoricò is ready to be reborn from its ashes, like a totem on the horizon. Founded in 1989, among the colorful villas of a Los Angeles-style Riccione, it became the quintessential nightclub, located on the cliffs of the city. A symbol, with its glass pyramid (also taken from the Villa delle Rose), of a timeless Italian summer. The club, once the temple of the night, is turning into a museum: the Cocoricò Discocratic Republic. The project resembles the one of Disco Diva in Gabicce, a music festival during the third weekend of June, with the aim of preserving the history of Disco Music. Both are signals that summer has begun.

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