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Finally today — the Sanremo Music Festival. It used to be Italy’s premiere musical showcase — the contest that crowned the new kings and queens of Italian song.

A lot has changed since the first Sanremo Festival was held in 1951. TV audiences have dipped.

But Sanremo’s still got a massive following, especially among Italians who adore the middle-of-the road power ballads a lot of the artists bring to Sanremo.

Enter the Milan-based indie-rock band Afterhours. They’ve been around for two decades.

But this year Afterhours decided to enter the Sanremo competition for the first time — as a kind of protest against the smooth pop the festival represents.

The public phoned in and voted them off in the first round. But that didn’t keep the Sanremo judges from voting the Afterhours song “Il Paese e Reale” as the festival’s best composition.

Manuel Agnelli is the singer for Afterhours. I caught up with him at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Afterhours was playing there, too.

Agnelli says despite the support Sanremo still has in Italy, the underground scene is starting to emerge.

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