For those of us born before the 1970s, this film is a nostalgic and endearing trip down memory lane to a time when music first became mobile. Fifty years ago all of us used to borrow LPs to mix and record cassettes so we could enjoy music in the car or on boomboxes wherever we happened to be and nobody viewed it in those days as an illegal activity.
Like the film ‘Rose Island’, also directed and partially written by Sydney Sibilia, ‘Mixed by Erry’ is a similarly light-hearted take on real life events, embellished of course for dramatic effect.
Set in Naples over a 15 year period from 1976 to 1991, the Frattasio family is a typical inner-city Neapolitan family of that era where you survived on your wits and dealing in contraband cigarettes and whisky was one of the few ‘honest’ ways to make a living, especially perhaps in the Forcella district.
Enrico ‘Erry’ Frattasio dreamed of becoming a disc jockey but when his ambition was continually thwarted he put his impressive knowledge of contemporary music to good use by making his own music mixes on cassettes.
Enrico had a real talent for this and his mixed cassettes, trademarked ‘Mixed by Erry’, became very popular in Naples and he started selling them in all the same places that his dad was selling counterfeit whisky and where others were peddling smuggled cigarettes.
After the release of this film in 2023 and the release of the book (photo right) by Simona Frasca on which the movie is based, Enrico has been thrust back in the public eye at the age of 60 and in a recent interview he described his creative process all those decades ago:
“When I recorded cassettes, since a record usually lasted 45 minutes and the cassette could record up to 60 minutes, I left a quarter of an hour of music similar to what was asked of me: if they asked me about Duran Duran at the end I'd put on a bit of Spandau Ballet, if they asked me for Elton John I'd put in a few minutes of Sting, so maybe the next time they'd ask me for that too. A bit like Spotify does today! “
Enrico mixed and recorded cassettes for 14 hours a day and his two brothers joined him in the fledging enterprise which then made a quantum leap forward once they had acquired the technology to record many more cassettes simultaneously.
Neapolitans in those days would often give a special mix of music, la cassetina, to their girlfriends as a romantic present and Mixed by Erry quickly became the trusted brand despite many imitators. The Frattasio brothers also paid great attention to the audio quality of their cassettes and this further differentiated their product from the competition.
It’s worth remembering that there were no music piracy laws in Italy at the time so the Frattasio business was not technically illegal when they first started and nor did they try to hide their activities from law enforcement. In fact the police used to frequently make surprise raids into the Forcella district in pursuit of counterfeiters and smugglers and they would routinely ask Enrico what he was doing and were always satisfied with his response when he told them he was running a business copying music onto cassettes.
In addition there are Italian artists that have commented since that although on the one hand they were losing royalties to Mixed by Erry, they were relatively unknown musicians at that time and Enrico helped introduce them to a wider public when he included some of their songs into his mixes, especially when the Mixed by Erry business burst out of Naples and spread all around Italy.
From a market stall in Naples with their first cassette duplication machines funded by a loan shark, Mixed by Erry in little more than a decade grew to become one of Italy’s biggest record labels.
With such an incredible and enormous market position they were bound to attract the attention of powerful corporate interests and by the dawn of the 1990s the information technology revolution inevitably ushered in a new era of copyright laws and the game was up.
It’s an interesting footnote that only a few years after Mixed by Erry ceased business, Napster arrived on the scene with its internet file sharing service but it too was always bound to fall foul of copyright laws and it was later left to Spotify and i-tunes to negotiate with artists to create a legal and sustainable model of digital music distribution.
And which songs would Enrico have in his personal mix today? They include Luci a San Siro by Roberto Vecchioni, Generale and Rimmel by Francesco De Gregori, Liberi liberi by Vasco Rossi and Song for you by Roberto Carlos. His sole remaining musical ambition is to meet his idol Paul McCartney.
Finally, Mixed by Erry was such a phenomenon in Naples itself, which the film does a good job of portraying, that if you meet a Neapolitan today who is anywhere around 45-60 years old you will probably find that he still has a huge collection of Mixed by Erry cassettes and, by way of proof, the photo above is just a small sample of cassettes bought in the late 1980s by a friend of mine from Naples who now lives in Lucca.