This was supposed to be a day off for a 15 hour ferry ride to Finland but the ferry was sold out, so we quickly made plans to drive up Sweden and down Finland- 17 hours over 2 days. Dead Vows then realized that we were going right through Lulea where Linus (guitar) and Johannes (bass) grew up, so we could crash with their families and maybe even get a show instead of having a day off. Luck struck, as there just so happened to be a crust punk show happening and we were allowed to jump on.
The show was at some sort of community or youth center. There were kids milling around outside when we pulled up and as I looked around at the striped tights, green hair, Dis___ (fill in the blank) shirts, and dread mullets, I realized this was going to be a fun(ny) night for us. I was right, but not in the way I had expected.
Once inside I noticed a huge banner that read, "THIS IS NOT SWEDEN." (It was.) We were served bean stew and rice and coffee and given a local zine, written in English, about the bands that come out that section of northern Sweden. I flipped through as I ate, reading about dozens of bands that had come from a cluster of neighboring Swedish towns.
In this part of the world, there are 8 months of winter. During these long months, the sun shines for only 2 or 3 hours a day. And in the summer the sun never sets. (This amazed us and we took a million photos and videos of sunlight at 12 AM.) A local girl with long pink dreads, a patched up visor, and baggie Negative Approach shirt ("They are like our Black Flag!") told me about northern Sweden's high suicide rate. "2 hours sun light a day, and we are in our houses going BLEEEHHGGHHKKK..." (she mimed tying a noose around her neck and hanging herself, tongue jutting out of her mouth, eyes bulging), she laughed and shrugged sarcastically, "... and I just don't get why."
I asked local kids at the show what they did in the winter. "Wait for the grass to grow" was the answer given to me by a small group of wistful and be-studded kids. Yet, as I perused that zine, reading about all the folks (a surprisingly equal amount of males and females) playing all versions of punk and hardcore in this remote part of the world, I saw something that perhaps only an outsider can see. Much like Oregon's rain does to the kids there, the dark, cold days of Lulea's winter drives these Swedes into a creative frenzy. They learn to play instruments. They learn to sing. They form band after band. To them, this is the norm. In fact, this is considered "waiting for the grass to grow." Almost everyone I met that night- young or old, male or female, played music. What was unremarkable to them, was quite remarkable to me.
Another thing I noticed about these kids is how much they loved music. Negative Approach girl for example, who was in the last band that played that night- a party-driven crust band called Kollaps- told Pierce and I about her favorite band, a skate punk band called No Fun At All. She told us about one song of theirs that was so great that she cried when she listened to it. She fidgeted like a school girl and beamed, "I hear them and I think, 'This is it. THIS is fucking skate punk.' And I want to cry. They are the greatest band in the world." Then, suddenly, she started hopping around. "I have them in my mobile phone!", then sheepishly, "I keep them with me always... but you can hear them! The song- oh, it's the greatest song on earth! You will love it!" She pushed a button and I heard a very faint and trebly No Fun At All. NA girl shone with pride. I listened. It sounded like poppy melodic punk with singy vocals, verging on radio-friendly. This is precisely the kind of stuff I hate, but I tried to keep my face neutral. Pierce and I said nothing, each politely straining to hear the song, each nodding our heads to show that it was being heard. Finally, she burst out, "Well, you have to at least admit it's GOOD, right?" Oh yes, we both agreed, it's good. It's ok. It's... I'm glad you like it so much?
Every band, save for Dead Vows, had both boys and girls in them. Some bands more girls than boys, some an equal amount. Dave noted later that, for the first time that either of us had ever seen, this was not regarded as some feat of strength, in fact, it wasn't regarded at all. That's just the way it is there, people play music- gender is irrelevant. It was pretty neat.
As we set up, Ryan looked out at the crowd incredulously. "Are we still playing Project X?" "Uh yeah dude, we're still straight edge." We played a short set, and I'll admit that I didn't think the beer-guzzling up-punking crowd was going to dig us. But they raised and shook their fists during the heavy parts, they nodded in approval at the fast parts, and 2 girls from the Polish band that played that night (The Fight) sang along to the cover. We even sold some stuff after the set.
I love shows like this. I need them. I need reminders that punk and hardcore aren't that far apart, that we can watch each other's bands and enjoy maybe not all of it, but some. The Fight had some heavy riffs. Kollaps was fucking hilarious. We got compliments like, "I like what you talk about", which of course has nothing to do with how we sound, but it was a common ground. Somewhere between a spiked bracelet and a Trapped Under Ice belt is a place where we can see eye to eye, eat stew, and thrash till a sunny midnight.