Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Euro tour update #12, Kyiv, Ukraine



We arrived in the afternoon at the promoter's "second house" (What was with everyone having second houses?) and were led into a fairly elegant dining room and served a huge meal on a long, oiled oak table. This guy had told me that last night's guy didn't know what vegan was, but that he knew exactly what is was. Then some very questionable looking deep fried cakes showed up and I wondered how acquainted he really was with the ideology. Regardless, some definitely vegan and very appreciated fried salty zucchini, eggplant stew, coffee, and juice filled our stomachs. The "we go now" promoter from the night before was there, and as we finished our meals he told us, predictably, "we go now." I motioned to my dish and said that I needed to wash it. He nodded in the direction of the kitchen where his wife (witch hands) and the other promoter's wife were. "Pshhh, that's women's work." He laughed, and left. Then that night's promoter rushed over to me and said, "He's joking, he's joking."

During our quick tour of downtown Kyiv we saw remnants of Communism, like a huge building that used to be devoted to Stalin which is now an art museum, and monuments to Ukraine's independence in the center of the city. I asked the promoter (who was also our guide) if he remembered communism. "Of course." It was very hard to get details out of him, in part because of the language barrier and in part, I think, because he didn't know what to tell me. It was what is was. He had nothing from my life to compare it to. "It is much different now." How? "Better." Why? "More opportunity." That was illuminating, thank you.

From there we went to a flea market. It was on a narrow, winding cobblestone street, the kind that you imagine when you think of Europe. There was maybe a foot and half of room to maneuver through the crowded sidewalk. A huge church stood beautiful and stoic ahead, brightly colored laundry hung drying on balconies all around. You know, the usual. (Dave says I'm "euro jaded" since I don't marvel constantly at every little thing we see. It's still rad, I swear, it's just my 3rd time here and I'm growing accustomed to it all.) The tiny booths were filled with things like nesting dolls (including an set of Obama dolls), wooden spoons, military apparel, scarves, and other tacky and/or strange bullshit.

Back at the venue a crowd had started to gather. I recognized a lot people from the night before. Green pant photo taker. Minor Threat shirt guy. 3 year straight edge anniversary dude. And low and behold, there was the Granddaughter from St Petersburg and her Ukrainian friend!

The room was too big for the amount of people in it and the walls were mirrored. Giant, leather-clad bikers stood in front of the band to "protect" them (I guess?), making it impossible for the crowd to see the band and vise versa. I wasn't even excited to play, but then we plugged in, sound checked, and- as always- as soon as the first chord was hit I remembered that playing is absolutely my favorite thing ever. The bikers left. The kids went nuts. Mad pitting and such. Sing alongs from familiar faces. A couple hilarious kids pretending to sing along the entire set but not actually uttering a single word, just moving their mouths like sweaty Ukrainian fish surfacing for food. I sweat so much my hands became slippery and dropped and broke my mic.










While walking around Moscow I acquired a very strange and painful series of bug bites on my right ankle (the same ankle I busted on the Bishop tour). Over the days that followed the bites grew and swelled and opened and oozed. The slow, throbbing pain made it hard to sleep. Red, spider-veined filled circles surrounded the bites. Yellowish puss-bubbles would form and break, making my lower leg both unsightly and sticky. By evening the bites would almost dry out, then we would play and sweat would soften the scabs, which would then rub against random things and/or people and tear back open. In Kyiv, I was almost scabbed over when our set started, then some kids snatched me up to pass me around the crowd- and just so happened to snatch me by my bug bite covered ankle. From there, I didn't stand a chance. With the collective sweat of a hardcore show rubbed into my leg, I could feel the infection starting to set in.

When our set was over kids cheered for another song. We played "Hollow Bones". The floor was open, kids were moshing, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Then a small cluster of kids formed. At first I didn't know what they were doing, I thought maybe someone fell. We kept playing until someone ran over and told us to stop. I looked at the cluster again and saw that it was a fight. Then I caught sight of who was getting beat up- it was Green Pant photo taker who I'd met and chatted with the night before, and it was about 10 dudes on him. Oh hell no. I ran over to help break it up. The fight- if you want to call it that since it was really more a beating- got torn apart. I was told shortly after that the beef was that Green Pants was drunk and the kids beating him up were straight edge. That was allllllllmost funny, just because it was absurd that actual straight edge revenge had taken place, but Green Pants was a very nice guy. I jogged over to the bathroom to see how he was doing. His head was in the sink, red water washing down the drain. "You ok?!?!?!" He lifted his face to look at me. There were two or three huge, open gashes on the bridge his nose. His face was swollen. I gasped. He laughed, "No! I'm not!" (Euro honesty.)

Kids filtered out of the show, some taking photos with us, many apologizing for the "accident". At least 15 people told me they were sorry we "had to see that", and assured me it was rare. This, of course, struck me as funny since fights at hardcore shows are a pretty common thing to witness in America.

After Green Pants' head was done bleeding, he asked to take a photo with me. He emailed me this a few days ago:



After the show one of the leather-clad bikers took up to a grocery store in a neighborhood he explained was Kyiv's Harlem- "back when Harlem was bad." This was a conservative working-class area, they didn't like long haired bikers like him or tattooed-covered kids like us. Our stay, he told me, should be short. He guided us around the store, translating ingredients for us. This proved frustrating when we were craving chips and the only available flavors were ham, crab, and cheese. They seriously didn't have salted. Roasted chicken? Sure. Bacon and chive? Yep. But no plain. "If you are vegetarian, may I suggest you try eating a carrot?" In the end we got bread and jam and a delicious Ukrainian snack- puffed corn (like cheese doodles minus the cheese) coated in sugar. We bought like 23584567364547384 bags of this as it was the most god damn delicious treat I've had since I first discovered Tings.



Dave and I waited by the entrance scarfing corn puffs as Johannes and Biker finished their shopping. A clean-cut, shirt-tucked-into-pant Ukrainian man came over and asked where we were from. "American? Don't stay here tonight. Americans don't belong here. Leave here. Don't stay. Americans are not welcome here." Ok man, on our way out now. "Good. Don't stay. Go. Go tonight."

On our way out of Ukrainian Harlem our biker friend made it his mission to get me bandages for what was very obviously something that needed more than a pant leg cuffed to give it air. When the drug store was closed, he went from car to car in the parking lot asking for first aid. This is not something an American would do (unless it was a real dire situation), and I was embarrassed by his commitment to my wound. I hid in the the van. Minutes later, he appeared with donated gauze and bid us a good night and safe tour.





Epilogue. My ankle, thanks to the bandages, healed within a few days.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Euro tour update #11, Cernihiv, Ukraine

It was as if I had crawled through a desert. I'm dying. With all of the shit I've done in my life, I am going to end up dying of dehydration in the goddamn van. No stores accepted credit cards. We had no Ukrainian money. Waters were brought to the cash register, then back to the coolers. Tap water wasn't safe to drink, something about stomach bugs. My mouth went from dry, to sticky, to just-ate-a-spoonful-of-flour, can't-breath, terra-cotta-pot-baking-in-the-sun. We were under the impression that Cernihiv was close, yet as we drove on and on and on and I began to think the idea of the city was a mirage. An idea mirage, who's ever heard of that? But that's exactly how desperate our situation had become. My hair stuck to my skin in dirty ringlets. I felt like someone had poured baby oil on my head. How the hell am I so greasy? Sweat poured off every bit of every one. Why do I even do this? I'm over it, I'm never doing another tour again. This was the most miserable I have ever been. I slunk down in my seat, wallowing in self and group pity.

My Mom almost drown once when she was a kid. While swimming deep in a lake she became tangled in some weeds. At first she fought to free herself, thrashing and kicking. Then realism overcame panic: she was trapped, nothing could be done. Then desperation overcame realism: she screamed for help, but her scream went unheard and her wasted air was swallowed up by the unforgiving water. It was terrible. The fear. Seeing the surface just inches away but being unable to reach it. Knowing that people were close but totally oblivious to her plight. The helplessness. Soon she floated limply, suspended in the water, gazing toward the surface, watching her last breaths escape her and rise toward the sun. The fear was finally gone. "The last thing I thought was, 'What beautiful bubbles...'"

She told me that it would have been a nice way to die. That it was almost euphoric. Lucky for both of us, my uncle grabbed her out and she lived. But I've always found that story interesting. It illustrates, more or less, the entire human condition. The way we all struggle against things we can't change. How malleable emotion can be. How in a matter of minutes a situation can go from terrifying to magical. Obviously, when your life is at stake everything you have inside of you is called forward to help you either protect yourself or cope with what you can't change- but my Mom's day at the lake could easily represent situations that aren't life and death, even things mundane. Fear of trying a new food. Getting fired. Losing your favorite shoes in Upsala, Sweden. (Ok, I'm talking about myself on that one...) I reference her experience often in my own life. Whether doctors tell me I may die in 2 days, or pasta salad with cucumbers is what's served for dinner- I try to see the beauty in the bubbles, since life, and even death, is all in how you choose to view it.

Point being, for the first time that I can recall, I saw nothing in this day. From the border to van, the speeding ticket to this death drive, life had become, depressing, irredeemable Crowbar-song-turned-reality.

The van slowed. Out the window I saw a town. Holy shit... is this... Cernihiv? We parked. I felt weak. My lips had become little dry iguanas, my entire body felt as if it were made of sand and held together by hot bacon fat. "Are we... there?" "No, we're waiting for the promoter, then we'll go to a house to eat." My lizards cracked into a slight smile, then, exhausted, fell back into melting misery.

Waiting for 20 minutes has never taken so long. The promoter came, and we were led to an entirely blue apartment. Blue couches, blue walls, blue curtains. The place was the promoter's second home, or he and his wife were selling it, or... no one was really sure. The promoter was a short, gruff Ukrainian with piercing blue eyes. His wife was thin and very tan with long, pointy acrylic nails and made her look like she had witch hands. The only thing in the room was a TV and the couple's wedding video was playing. There was a small table by the kitchen and on it some cups and soda. From here it's a blur of guzzling and stuffing face. Fried zucchini, stew with mock meat, bread, and cookies- cookies which we found out later were not vegan, and also that Ukrainians have a fairly slim grasp of what vegan actually is. Luckily no one got sick. The food was enough for maybe 4 people and we were a starving 9. The drinks ran out, and tap water wasn't safe. God damn it.

As we ate the promoter and his wife wiped up around us, taking our dishes the second we had eaten the last bite off of them, cleaning and re-cleaning the table. It felt like we weren't supposed to be there, or like we were horrible slobs, or like we were in a tremendous hurry. The promoter spoke little English, but I didn't realize this at first so I thought he was an asshole. He would just snap orders at us "Eat now" "You READY?" "We go now."

This marked the first day of the eastern European "We go now." "Now" has an absolutely different meaning in eastern Europe as it does everywhere else in the world. It doesn't mean "this instant", but rather something more like, "eventually, when I feel like leaving, or remember that it's time to go." But we didn't know that yet, so when the promoter snapped that "we go now", we busted ass back to the van. Then, we waited. And waited. More hot van, more thirst. I had to pee when we left but I was told to "go now! GO!" so I ran down the stairs.

The venue was a garage in the middle of nowhere. On one side of it was a prison, the other a convent. There was no room for unloading, or setting up merch, or even standing. Outside, the mosquitoes were terrible. I had swamp ass and wanted nothing more than a shower. And fuck did I have to pee. "Excuse me, where's the bathroom?" I asked the promoter. He laughed at me, the pointed at the overgrown lot surrounding us, "It is... everywhere." God DAMN IT!!!

This?

This was the worst day of my fucking life.

Dave after trying and failing to tape merch to the wall:


I went to the van to change out of my dirty clothes into some less dirty clothes. I am never doing this again. This is the last goddamn tour. Outside the van a little kid had wrecked his bike and was crying and holding his knee. Hardcore and punk kids milled around smoking cigs and talking in little circles. Same shit no matter where you go. A dude in a plaid sleeveless came over to me. Now what.

"Dah-vin?" He pulled out a bouquet of flowers from behind him. "These are for you! From the men of Ukraine." Behind him everyone at the show was looking at us, smiling warmly. I was flabbergasted. Flowers? For ME? I've never been given flowers in my life, and that was just... just... so god damn sweet.

I accepted the flowers and people clapped. Dudes behind him nodded in approval. I blushed. "Thank you SO much!!!!" I was so embarrassed and flattered and weirded out. I'm not usually much for chivalry, and I really hate my gender being made into any sort of deal, but this was the right bouquet from the right people at the most perfect time. I laughed until my cheeks hurt. Suddenly being tangled in the weeds of this day wasn't so awful. I sniffed the daisies. Before leaving me to my flowers, Sleeveless added one last thing about my gift, "There is cannabis in it!" Sure enough, I looked down and saw what appeared and smelled to be some kind of marijuana.




I looked around at the show with fresh eyes. So many Xed up hands. Dave and I cleared off a bench for merch. I noticed a kid in a home-made Minor Threat shirt. There were a few other sharpie-and-white-tee shirts. Ukraine is a very poor country. We dropped our shirt prices and still hardly sold any. Kids tried to haggle with us over everything. I "guest listed" two kids who couldn't afford to come in. A girl came over to me and announced that Casey Jones was her favorite band and she wanted to see us very badly but had no money. I was out of "spots" and couldn't get her in, but I think she managed anyway. I talked to the Minor Threat kid about his shirt. "It is my first DIY project!"




Once my camera was out everyone wanted me to take their picture. They all told me something about themselves. One kid was 14 years old and straight edge. Another was celebrating his 3rd anniversary of straight edge the next day. They told us that we were the first American straight edge band to come to the Ukraine (though I think we were only the first to come to their area.)

UKRAINIAN STRAIGHT EDGE:


me and Casey Jones girl:

I've always been sad that I wasn't old enough in the 80's to go to shows. I have always wondered what it felt like when hardcore was new, unself conscious, real. Before "hype", before sneakers, before know-it-all holier-than-thou douchebags. On this night, I felt it.

We got on stage and the garage was packed so full you could not move. An ocean of excited kids- mohawks spiked or heads freshly shaved- swayed in anticipation. "We're Kingdom, from..." applause and cheering drowned me out. We started our set and the place fucking EXPLODED. I have never seen anything like it. Stage dives, circle pits, crowd crawling, pile ons, pushing, flailing, moshing... everyone moved, everyone raged, everyone smiled and cheered and sang along. We were Gorilla Biscuits. We were Black Flag. I high fived kids while we played. The 14 year old floated around on people's heads for an entire song. Young and old, punk and hardcore, drunk and straight edge, boys and girls, it was all there, together, losing total control.

This?

This was the greatest night of my entire life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Euro tour update #10, Fuck the border

My in-van daytime playlist for the last week has consisted of exactly 2 things: Blood For Blood "Revenge On Society", and Chuck Ragan "The Blueprint Sessions". However, on the long, dark, over-night drives there's been no music. Instead, Dave and I took turns watching the show True Blood. I caught 2 episodes of this HBO masterpiece on the plane and downloaded the entire first season as soon as I could after landing. In short (for those who don't know): it takes place in present day America (outside of New Orleans, LA) and everything is normal, except that vampires are not only real, but have blended in with mainstream society- drinking synthetic blood, dating mortals, and demanding equal rights (the right to marry, etc) We've gone through all 12 episodes in 7 days and my mind is so fully immersed in vampire lore that I've been dreaming nightly of encountering the unexceptional undead- vampire grocery clerks, vampire border guards.

The appearance of vampire guards happened a few days after we crossed the Russian/Ukrainian border, which was far worse in its reality than any nightmare I've had about it since. We had been warned by several people that this border was exceptionally corrupt, but I really wasn't sweating it after we crossed the Finish/Russian border with such ease.

I should have sweat.

We had decided in advance that I would be the one to deal with the border guards since our driver at the time was a bit of a pushover (Don't get me wrong, he was a nice guy, just without a single assertive bone in his body. The day before the Ukrainian/Russian border he got pulled over for a bogus "speeding" charge and police demanded 5,000 rubbles from him. The real charge for a speeding ticket is 500 rubbles. Our driver handed it over [from our/Dead Vows money, btw], while our pacifist tourmates looked on saying "I'm sure he's doing everything he can," and I was trying to claw my out of the van- slight cultural difference?) I was confident that if I was present there was no way that a single rubble would leave our pockets. I'm from Philly, a Russian border guard ain't got shit on the folks I encounter on Girard Ave.

After a long wait in line our van was lead to a private garage to be searched. My impression of our assigned guard was that he wasn't crooked, just worn down, frustrated, bored, and all those other things people feel when they're at work. This was comforting. I wasn't worried about an extortion. However, while he may not have been a badge-toting criminal, he was set to do his job. Everything had to come out of the van.

Dave hopped out to be the silent unloaded while I played guide. The guard spoke no English and I no Russian so questions, orders, and explanations were all done in pantomime. I strummed to explain the guitar case. He cracked a slim smile before ordering Dave to open it. He pulled out a bag of merch. I pulled at my T shirt and told him "promotional". He nodded that he understood. Everything went smoothly in this fashion until we got to my bag.

See, this is a very long tour, and thus, I have like 4 months of birth control with me. The guard had pawed through my shirts, shorts, undies, laughing and joking with me, but horseplay ended abruptly when he found my stash of pills. He plucked out one pack and raised his eyebrow in what I understood to be a, "gotcha!", then spoke quick, harsh words into his walkie talkie. Oh shit, seriously?

Before we left America, NPR ran a piece about the top 3 countries that imprison people without explanation, contact to their families/lawyers, or trial. China was #1, Russia was #2, and somewhere else was #3. Russia was definitely #2 though. This is all I could think about as the border guard held my Sprintec is his suspicious, terrifyingly authoritive grip. I am going to jail in Russia as a drug smuggler. Will it be a co-ed jail? Think they have vegan options for inmates?

In a well-concealed panic I pantomimed, speaking english slowly and clearly with each movement, as if somehow my diction would make the guard bi-lingual. I pointed to my uterus. "NO BAY-BIES." He stared at me blankly. I motioned toward my crotch. "GIRLIE MED-I-CINE." Nothing. I mimicked giving birth. No reaction. More slightly obscene gestures. "NO PREGNANT. U-TER-US. I AM A GIRL." and finally, when all else had failed, I pulled a tampon out of my bag, motioned toward my birth control, the tampon, and the part of my body where all my lady guts are contained, trying to tie it all together for him. My heart was pounding in my chest. A line of sweat glistened on my brow. It was, I can say confidently, a really great performance. But award winning as it may have been on a stage, it was completely lost on that guard in the Russian border garage. The birth control backup he had radioed for came in, rugged, thick, with a permanent frown on his mean face. Undaunted, I tried my "it's birth control, I'm not a smuggler" routine on him but he walked away in the middle of it with a sample of my medicine, I assume to be tested in some sort of lab.

Drug dogs come in to sniff our shit. A young and nervous guard in camo fatigues came in and started going through the same things the other guard had just gone through. The guys had gotten out of the van at this point and everyone was trying to pat the drug dog (me included), and we got yelled at. The pooch was led to my bag and I was relieved to see that they had brought an intelligent creature in to investigate my case and clear my name.

Guard #1 called me over to the van. Time to go through our backpacks. Before we had gotten to the border I took all of the money (our money and the tour money) and hidden it underneath some baby wipes in a dirty old plastic case. "There's no way they'll look there," I had assured Dave. Guard #1 pointed to the baby wipe case. I took it out, opening it voluntarily to show him it contained ass-wipes. He motioned for me to lift the wipes. Damn it. Under the wipes I exposed a very large chunk of change. This time I was the one with the poker face and he was the mime. He motioned at the money, then me. Was it my money? I shrugged a "sort of", then motioned that it was every one's money, but I was the caretaker. He looked unconvinced. I flexed like a bodybuilder, then dusted off my shoulders to show that I was the one in charge... no big deal. (Of course, this isn't really true- Dave is the tour manager, he and I make Kingdom decisions, and Johannes takes care of his band's matters.) This amused the guard. He laughed, shook his head in a "damn crazy kids" sorta way, closed the case, and set it back in my backpack.

Whew.

Behind the van, the human drug investigator had come back with the results. Surprise! I was not a drug smuggler.

On the floor camo guard was going through our merch bags, taking out shirts, checking out designs.

Annoyed, I walked over to him. "What are you doing?"

He glanced up at me for a second then continued digging through our shirts. I touched his wrist.

"What are you doing?"

He pulled out one of every design, in every color, with no regard to size, and no regard to my timid interrogation. On a dirty bench he had a pile of Kingdom shirts- long sleeves, tanks, everything. I pulled up the youth size shirt. "This for you?" He stared at me. I held it up as if I was looking at him wearing it, then motioned that it was very small, and then laughed at him for taking it. He started to smile, but stopped to continue looting our merch bags.

I shifted over to Gabi, our driver. "What the fuck is he doing?"

"We told them promotional, so they want their share of free shirts."

Thankfully, that was the worst of it. (They also took 4 or 5 Dead Vows cds)

We reassembled our van, got in, and let out a collective sigh of relief. That wasn't so hard. We had been warned that this border took 6 hours to cross and we had made it in a stressful but record breaking hour and a half. We pulled out of the garage and drove past the guard station. Suckers!

Happy chatter filled van. "An hour and a half!" "Dude I bet that fat guard is taking that Kingdom shirt home to his kid." "Think they're listening to the Dead Vows CD right now?"

Another few feet on the road and we were stuck in a line very similar to the one we had just waited in.

"Hey uh.... guess what? That border was just to get out of Russia... we haven't even crossed into Ukraine yet."

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Five and half hours later we set wheel in Ukraine, with only a single fabricated law infraction and 20 euro fine because of it (we were charged for not having a Swedish sticker on the van.) We finally set off for our first Ukrainian show in Cernihiv, so happy for the border to be over that we didn't care that we were dirty, or starving, or so dehydrated that we were turning from human hardcore bands into 80's claymation pop sensations, The California Raisins. This carefree attitude took over the van for a solid 10 minutes, until we got pulled over for "speeding". The cops told Gabi we had to follow them, and we drove right back to the edges of the border. Inside, they demanded a bribe. Gabi, thinking on his feet (learning a thing or two from the 5000 rubble experience), gave them Hungarian money (Forints), claiming that he was giving them 20 Euros worth (when really it was about 3) They accepted.

A long, irritating road lay ahead of us and I went to sleep to put myself out of my thirsty misery. Fuck the Russian/Ukrainian border.

Epilogue:

A few days later we played with Have Heart in Romania. Guess where they had just come from? The Ukrainian border! After 6 hours they (as well as Shipwreck and Rise and Fall) were turned away for "having too many nationalities in van" (we had the same number when we crossed, so it was obviously a bogus charge.) Fuck the Ukrainian border!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Euro tour update #9, Moscow, Russia

We arrived at Igor and Red's flat in the early afternoon. They made us beans and rice with loads of dill in it. Dill, by the way, had been the most prevalent flavor in all the food we were given in Russia. Dill mushroom soup. Roasted potatoes with dill. Lentils, bulgar wheat, and dill. It was a flavor I'm unaccustomed to and not super into, but Dave and Pierce loved it.

We had just enough time to shower and pack our stuff back up before Kiwi and another dude that plays in Igor's band took us to see Moscow. After our first day in Russia when Kiwi had told me about getting jumped by Nazis, I had spoken a bit about Nazis during our set every night and sent songs out to Russia's anti-fascist movement. I had been unsure if that was ok with him, or safe to say (I had heard stories- and continue to hear as I write this through a drive in Romania- about Nazis attacking shows, street brawls, and deaths. This is a very serious matter here), so I kept it pretty mellow. As I combed my hair in front of the mirror, Kiwi came over to me. "Dah-vin, May I have a word?" My stomach dropped, but my gut, for once- and thankfully, was wrong.

"I would like, very much, if tonight you could say more about Nazis... especially those in hardcore. We have straight edge nazis here, and they may be at the show. I want them to hear from you that they are not welcome." Oh hell yeah, talking shit to racist scum? Not a prob. I asked if there would be trouble tonight. "There may be a fight." He smiled, bashfully, though I wasn't sure why. I told him that he could count us on their side. "No, you stay inside. This is our fight."

I thought all day about what I wanted to say at the show that night, and I realized I had a huge problem. How do you talk shit to racist scum when you don't speak their language?

From Igor's, we took the subway to Red Square. It was absolutely breathtaking. Buildings bright as candy towered over us and I felt like a tiny, pasty spec. We took a zillion photos, and videos.






There was a lady in a port-o-potty, sitting on the toilet with the door open, all her clothes on, doing her make up. A block later, we walked by another lady sitting in an open bathroom, clothes hanging inside as if she lived there. What the hell? Kiwi said the toilet cost money and those ladies worked them. Oh. Shitty job.



From there we walked to the venue, the Tochka Club. This place was fucking HUGE. A line waited outside the entrance, hours before doors. We walked past it and it was very weird. I felt like such an asshole. "'Cuse me... VIP here... in a band... comin through" (For those a bit dense, we didn't actually say this. We uncomfortably and silently walked past the line.) Inside Igor and the 2 other promoters gave us the tour. 2 backstages. One for our things and to hang in right before we played, and another on the 3rd level with a glowing sign above it that said "CHILL OUT ROOM". The walls were carpeted in white shag. This is where we were fed. "Our chef is a great at cooking vegan food." Waitresses brought us our meals. I asked if there was coffee around anywhere. "If you need it, we will find it." (Stop being so nice! No... don't stop, please?)

The venue, I realized as I walked around, was a concert hall. Spotlights. Tiered seating above the floor. A stage as tall as me. A private stage entrance. Guards watching the back stage door. Back stage passes. I was very grateful to be playing in Moscow, and to have such a big show, but it felt very... off. Like the time we covered a Minor Threat song at a huge club and strobe lights and fog machines went off in the middle of it. Fucking weird.

The doors opened and line outside poured in. "Dah-vin! I make photo with you?" I struggled through conversations with lots of kids who spoke with very limited english. They were all super nice, and so excited that the antipathy I felt toward playing a club that size quickly began to wane. "I came very far just to see you play. We will be stage diving whole set." I nodded at the stage, "Pshhyeah, if you can even get up there." I'm such a whiner sometimes, so busy being a baby that I'm unable to see how totally sweet things are. The kid grinned broadly. "For you, we find a way."

Tthe moment had come for me to address 500 Russians about their trouble with nazis. As I stared into the blinding spotlight the only face I could make out was Kiwi's. I had wanted to tell a story about having an Anti-Semitic stalker when I was very young, how hardcore had been a safe haven for me in so many ways (like it has been/is for so many people)- including as someone persecuted for being from a Jewish family, but as I looked out I realized it was pointless. I ditched my plan and spoke from my heart, with very little eloquence. I shouted that Nazis and white power have no place in hardcore. That if they saw it, they should kick it out by any means. That they were in control of their scene, and they got to decide what kind of scene it was going to be, and I sure as hell hoped it wasn't going to be a place where racism was condoned. I went on, I don't remember exactly what I said, buy in the midst of it a chant arose from the crowd. "FUCK NA-ZIS! FUCK NA-ZIS! FUCK NA-ZIS!" Fists shook in the air. I saw Kiwi smiling and screaming along. It was spectacular. I realized I had stopped pacing (as I do when we play and when I talk on the phone) and was staring, mouth agape, at the crowd. I joined in the chant. We all did.

After our set I headed from the backstage to the merch table. I was stopped by a dude in the stairwell. He was beaming. "Thank you for show! Um. My English. Um..." he made huge sweeping motions and said, grandly, "Hardcore is #1! Hardcore team is my.... is my whole life!"

The rest of the night was more photos, more hugs, more autographs. That night we sold more t shirts than we ever have. I guess that's what happens at concerts. It came out to around $900 American dollars. Can you believe that?! I don't even think we made that much on our entire first tour and that shit was like a month long.

This night ended like most others. We were hungry and soaked in sweat, packed into the van like sleepy sardines, waiting to cross yet another border.

Russia, financially- which people always get weird talking about (but when you're touring all the time and using your rent money to fund it, hoping that you at least make back enough of the money you've sunk into your band not to get evicted, it becomes an important issue)- with many thanks to that cr00sh merch night in Moscow, was a break-even venture. No extra money to pay our merch debts, or our label debts, or our pockets back. But, and here's where people get comfortable again- it was an amazing experience and we would do it hundred times over. To Igor, to Kiwi, to Red, to the Ukrainian girl and the Granddaughter, to all the kids in Petrozavodsk- we cannot thank you enough. We can't wait until next time! Russian hardcore is #1!

some Russian hardcore bands to check out:

What We Feel (Moscow Anti-Fascist HC)
Next Round (St Petersburg Allstars)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Euro tour update #8, St Petersburg, Russia

As we slept in the van, sweat from the night before dried in our salt-stained clothes. Oh, tour. We headed to a girl's "flat" (that's what they call apartments in Europe), where we were told that we could sleep there for a few hours, take showers (what a luxury!), and get fed (what a luxury!) We pulled into a huge apartment complex on the outskirts of St Pete, and the girl led us up a graffiti-covered cement staircase littered with empty beer bottles. Her flat was small and cute, like a hobbit home. A tiny table set for two. A small couch and a single chair. There was hardly enough room for all of us to stand, forget lay out sleeping bags, so some of the dudes went to sleep in the van.

Something felt vaguely off about her place. The drab, brown wall paper. The oiled wooden furniture. The "tick... tick... tick" echoing eerily through the rooms. It reminded me of something. I noticed the maroon crushed velvet pillow on the couch. Ahhh. Yes. Grandparents. This had to be her grandparent's hobbit hole, not hers. I figured they either had died and left it to her and she was too sentimental to get rid of their things (as we've stayed at many places like that), or maybe were just on vacation.

I fell asleep to the sound and smell of falafel being fried, and awoke to the dudes yelling "We'll wake her up! Stop! Stop! STOP!" at a young Russian girl with braces who was shaking me violently. "FUCK!! I'M UP!" God fucking damn it. Who the hell was she waking me up in some flat that was probably hers? I rolled off her couch, groggy, hungry, and annoyed. A small group of girls were moving in circle 8s around the tiny home, telling us to "Hurry!" I wet my hair in the sink and before I pulled the towel off one of the girls was coming at me with a hair dryer. "We have not much time. Maybe you need a hair dryer." Man, fuck off. What is this mad rush? I haven't even eaten yet! I was so tired. I deeply resented these girls who were kind enough to let us crash at their place and considerate enough to make us food, because they had woken and rushed me. In my own personal hell, someone is following me around telling me to be quick. I'm also in wet socks, forever. So glad hell isn't real.

I wove through the girls and the dudes all rushing for unknown reasons- the guys stuffing falafel into their mouths and downing juice, me trying to get my things ready to "hurry!" to the van, the girls chattering in broken english for us to pick up the pace. Dave (my Mother Hen, always) had saved me a small plate of food but I couldn't stomach anything after waking up in a panic. I pushed my way to the kitchen for a sip of anything to ease my dry throat (tap water was not safe for us to drink there so I was terribly dehydrated), and then I heard it.

It started far away. A deep rumble, rising in the staircase outside the front door. As it grew closer everyone in the hobbit hole fell silent. The rumble became a roar, a devil's voice from the bowels of the apartment complex. It was the man behind the hurry, the owner of the crushed velvet pillow, the Grandfather.

The door burst open so hard sparks probably flew. I hid in the kitchen, terrified, clutching my glass of juice. Grandpa was on fire. He stormed through the tiny house shouting short, harsh, consonant-filled words, gesturing furiously at everything, Obviously, we weren't supposed to be there. A girl came over to me. "Uhh... we go now." Fuck yes we go now. We bolted out into the rain, the Ukrainian friend of the girl we stayed with huddled under the overhang with us. "I have never met her Grandfather, and I hope to never meet him again." We all agreed, and headed to the club, leaving the lion to his den and bringing his poor, flustered Granddaughter with us.

We walked around St Petersburg. It was beautiful, and very metropolitan.





As we approached the club, something stranger than the previous night's recognition happened. It became quickly obvious that in St Petersburg, Russia- in and around Orlandia Club- I am a bonafide celebrity. Dave and I walked by kids milling around outside the venue on our way to the back door. "Dah-vin!"

Huh?

"DAH-VIN! I make one photo with you, ok?" A small group of dudes grinned at me, one with camera in hand. Surreal. I put my arm around the dude and we snapped a couple photos. "You are badass. You are goddess." Dave and I awkwardly made our way inside.

This was to only be the start of my Eastern European fame. My 15 minutes would continue for 3 solid, strange days. Throughout the night, I took photo after photo. I'd say I literally posed for 150 pictures. I signed autographs. I did a private portrait shoot in a dark bathroom. My name was called constantly. "Dah-vin!" I'd introduce myself to people and they'd giggle and say "I know." It was BIZARRE.



In America, there is no bigger faux pas than asking for an autograph from someone in a hardcore band. That's the whole thing with hardcore- it's accessible. You can like a band, meet the band, and become friends with the band. It's a scene without stars, just people we think are really, really sweet. If you want, you can even talk to Ian McKaye. That's one of the things that's unique and rad about what we do. But these concepts have not made it to a lot of Europe. And you can't fault the kids there. So in the interest of staying accessible, you take photos and sign scraps of paper. You would seem like an asshole if you didn't. ("No. I will not take a photo with you.") It was weird place to be. To uphold the ideals I have about hardcore, I had to go against them.



The club was huge. There was a barrier between the crowd and the stage, which was another WTF, but was easily solved by kids jumping it and me jumping off the stage. The crowd went nuts when we played. At one point I saw someone being passed around while sitting in a chair. After the set was done I was enveloped by hugs. A kid asked for Pierce's pick and said that after seeing us, he wanted to learn how to play bass for a hardcore band. I was so fucking happy. Kids asked to take their photos with me and I grabbed my camera and asked to take photos with them.




Dave and I hugged behind the merch table, so happy to have shared the night, to be in this band, to meet these people, to play our music all over the world. Who ever though we'd have a night like this in fucking RUSSIA? It probably sounds corny now, but I was so completely moved by the appreciation of these kids. I asked one to take a photo of me and Dave. He took my camera, pointed it at himself, looked at us (we were yelling, "No! The other way! Turn it around!"), and said, "Ok!" and snapped the photo.



Then he turned the camera around and tried again:




The night fizzled out like a sparkler in July and left us outside, just 9 dirty kids in the cold, drenched in sweat, packing in the van for another overnight drive.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Euro tour update #7 The Russian Border / Petrozavodsk, Russia

We were about hour from Helsinki when we reached the Russian border. We had been dreading this moment since before we left Philly, and as the station loomed before us I felt queasy. We were going in on tourist visas, our story was that we were a band (the van full of equipment would make that hard to conceal) that was taking a few days off between Finland and the Ukraine to sight see in Russia.

To get into Russia you need to be invited by someone who lives there (in our case we were invited by a dude named Igor who helped book all 3 of our Russian shows) and you have to get visas weeks before you plan to enter the country. To get a visa, you need to go into a Russian Embassy with your passport and special visa photos. Easy enough. Well, Dave and I live in Philly, Pierce is in Ohio, and Ryan lives in upstate NY. The closest Russian Embassy to any of us was in NYC. And one person couldn't take care of every one's visas, we each had to go in and do our own which was absolutely impossible. So we went through an agency that does Russian visas. We mailed our passports, special photos, and $1200, with our fingers crossed that they didn't deny us (and keep the money, as they are able to do- with no explanation.) After days of worrying that we wouldn't get the visas, or wouldn't get them in time, they arrived the day our flight to Europe left.

Now we had to cross our fingers again. If they denied any of us, tour was fucked. We were out $1200, our shows were cancelled, and we had 3 days off and HUGE drive to the Ukraine. All the worry was for nothing though, the hardest part of getting across was trying to figure out the paperwork that asked for things like our "Patronomy" (no one filled this out or figured out what it was) and dealing with border guards who knew as little English as we knew Russian. They didn't even search the van. They opened the back door, saw how full of junk it was, and just waved us through.

Phew.

Back in the van, it was more sleeping. I woke up as we pulled up to the club- a sprawling bar in the middle of another nowhere.



We met Igor, his girlfriend (who had brilliantly red hair), and Igor's friend that was to become my favorite Russian, a dude I mentally nicknamed "Kiwi", but whose real name I never said aloud because my American tongue could not make it happen. We hopped on a bus and went to check out downtown Petrozavodsk with Igor, Red, and Kiwi, and they took us to the area's largest lake. Here, Kiwi and I walked together. He and Igor live in Moscow which was about 15-20 hours away from where we were, but to make sure we were taken care of (fed, shown around, translated for, made comfortable- remember what I said about embarrassing displays of kindness?) they came to all of our Russian shows. They traveled huge distances every day to be with us, which is what they did for all foreign bands that came through.



(how random is that graffiti?!)




Kiwi told me about when Die Young played in St Petersburg (where we played the next night.), a bit about the Russian scene, and a horrifying personal story. The day of the Die Young show, Kiwi took the subway to the venue. He got off at the stop on the block of the club, but before he could climb the stairs to ground level he was accosted by a group of dudes. They were in normal clothes, so he didn't immediately suspect anything. They asked him if he was anti-fascist, and before he could even answer, they jumped him. "They kick, and hit, and beat me- calling me anti-fascist asshole. Then they hold me down and try to burn my face, but cops come then and they run." Kiwi did not make it to the show. He also said what happened to him "wasn't so bad", that often people die getting beaten by nazis, and he and Igor had lost many friends in the past years- last month they someone especially close to them and heavily involved in the anti-fascist movement. He speculated that it was an assassination, possibly involving local police. The nazi movement in Russia is strong, especially in St Petersburg and Moscow. The nazis purposely go near and to hardcore shows to fight people like Kiwi. "I guess they just thought I looked anti-fascist." And, like in Germany, there are even nazi hardcore kids.

Back at the venue, we were met with a surprise. People in Russia know us. People in Russia know what we look like, and know our names. It was very, very strange. "Dah-vin!" A small group of girls presented me with a shirt and undies from their distro (the undies say "SXE GRRL" on them), as well as a home-made straight edge necklace. I was so flustered, turning all shades of pink and red, and I couldn't thank them enough. I immediately changed into the shirt.

Our set was fucking explosive. Kids knew the words to almost all the songs, circle pitted, moshed, stage dove, piled on me- it was great. Dave later said that as he played part of "Hollow Bones", he looked up at the crowd and was stunned. "I wrote that riff in my bedroom in Allston (Mass) last year and now kids in RUSSIA are going crazy to it." The club was so hot that I saw spots and almost fainted twice during our set. When we were done, a chant arose for more songs. So we played our Reagan Youth cover. After that was done, a chant arose for "9 Lives"

"But we opened with that!"

"We don't care! Play it again! 9 LIVES! 9 LIVES! 9 LIVES!"

I looked out over the red stage lights at the mass of glistening, sweaty, smiling kids. "Thank you, Russia. This is.... surreal." We played 9 lives again, this time sloppy, picks and sticks slipping from our sweat, I could hardly squeeze the words out I was so exhausted.



We left the venue 20 minutes or so after we finished playing, soaked in sweat. Back in the van. Another overnight drive. The air outside was freezing, maybe 40 degrees. I shivered. From the van window we noticed a herd of ferrel dogs- like 7 or 8 of them, all running in a pack together, no clear leader, tongues dangling, tails wagging. I watched them running to an abandoned building, through some fence, and off, joyously, into the horizon.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Euro tour update #6 Helsinki, Finland

We arrived at the venue- a squat called Satama, groggy per use and anxious to see Helsinki, which we had been told was quite beautiful. Satama was a colorful graffiti-covered building smack dab in the middle of an industrial, chain-link fence, dirt parking lot nowhere. After a very strange interaction with the promoter, who, after hearing that our new full length is not coming out on vinyl any time soon stuck his tongue out at me for an uncomfortably long amount of time, Dave and I got directions to the subway and made our way to downtown Helsinki.

I grew up in Maine. All of Northern Sweden and Finland had reminded me of the forests of New England and left me with pangs of homesickness. But in Helsinki, I ached for my hometown. Helsinki is very much like any older ocean-side New England City- Providence, Boston, Portland. Cobble stone streets, seagulls cawing overhead, a cool breeze blowing in off the water. We stopped at a corner store to grab a cup of coffee, and how precisely we got it perfectly illustrates the difference between America, and Europe.

video

Back at the venue, I fell asleep on the merch bags as around 150 people filtered past me and bought t shirts from my bed of duffles. The opening band was vegan straight edge and covered Bulldoze (perfect combo), then a very rad local band called Eye for All played played. Someone told me they were Finland's greatest hardcore band, but I had also been told that about The Lighthouse Project the previous night, and just didn't know what to believe. Who IS the greatest?

The show was a mix of hardcore kids, punks, and crusties, as Europe tends to be (especially squat shows). I always think this diversity is really cool, except for tonight. In fact, this night I've never felt such a huge chasm between "them" and "us". Fuck what I thought in Lulea. Fuck punks. Fuck drunks. I was ready for a real-life version of Edge Of Quarrel.

Tension grew as kids wanted to mosh for Eye For All but were foiled again and again by drunk/high push moshing punks. The punks swarmed around anyone trying to dance, eyes rolled back, hurling their bodies forward, arms above their heads, fists shaking in the universal punk "yeahhhhh", legs swaying and stepping in a drunken square dance. They fell, they got up, they fell again. They smashed themselves into guitarists, bassists, singers. By the time we played, frustration with the punks had given way to apathy. What could be done? This wasn't America, they weren't just going to toss them out for being annoying. Scene unity comes with sacrifice. But, this was their scene, not ours, and at the end of the day I'm just another ignorant American.



When the punks were knocking into the dudes while we we trying to play, knocking me over in their furious square dance, and then touching me for no clear reason (one punk dude slipped his arm around my neck in a more-than-friendly way), I could take no more. Between songs, I told them all to up the punks all they wanted, just not in my god damn face. I mentioned that, in America, and I believe the world over, people enjoy a thing called "personal space" and that in general, women- especially me- do not like to be touched by men they don't know, and to promptly leave me the fuck alone. Of course I was ignored by all the touchy-punk who had been publicly shamed for being a creep and slunk back into the crowd. The punks continued- with only a short break when one passed out on the dance floor- and it got to point where the dudes had to stop playing to throw the thrashing punks off of them, but by the end of the set I had gone so far past mad that I had settled into a sort of annoyed amusement.

The second I unplugged my mic I was approached by an older hardcore kid that told me he and his friends were surprise to see me wearing a Shattered Realm shirt. "Are they not very violent?" I was unsure of what to say, since I dig that band, think they're nice dudes, and know lots of violent people (who doesn't?) I was saved by a dude running up and interrupting our conversation to tell me that we had to plug back in RIGHT NOW and play our Bulldoze cover, and that we weren't leaving Finland without doing it. Ryan never learned that song (as we generally only do covers once), so I told him to welcome me as a new resident of Finland. Anti-violence guy walked away after the Bulldoze convo continued for far too long, and Bulldoze-fan, after saying over and over "Play Bulldoze" at me finally walked away, too.

Before we split, I chatted with a dude involved in the squat. I had been struck on how clean and well organized it was, even the kitchen. The squat, he told me, had only been legal for a few months, but they had worked very hard on it and hoped to keep up having shows. I asked if the cops gave them problems. He laughed. "They don't come here. We have a biker gang and gypsies protecting us. And fire arms."

Did I hear right?

"Fire arms.... you know, Guns. Lots and lots of guns. They wouldn't dare come here."

Oooh.

After a quick shower upstairs we headed out for an overnight drive to Russia. As well pulled out of Satama's dirt parking lot, someone pointed out an orange bus parked nearby. "A family lives in that, and the grandfather died a little while ago... and... see that cross? That's his grave. They buried him RIGHT THERE." I saw a little grave a few paces from the bus's front door, and fell asleep thinking about ghosts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Euro tour update #5, Jyvaskyla, Finland

(Sorry it's taken so long for the update- we haven't had internet in days! Russia and the Ukraine are not very connected.)

We awoke at Linus's Mom's house early (though it looked very similar to late since the sun had barely set) and I immediately fell asleep in the van. The only memories I recall from this entire drive up the rest of Sweden and down into Finland are:

1. Stopping at a gas station in a very remote town in Sweden to pee, and 2 strange paths crossing- first, in line for the "WC" (what they call bathrooms all over Europe), ours with the singer of Refused, and second, mine with a game that has two paddles printed with brightly colored images of strange kittens in clothes and cows driving cars with the word "GOOD!" in English over their heads, and a ball you hit with them. (I later found out this game is more fun to find in a gas station in Sweden than to actually play.)

And 2. As we drove through the incredibly cold and pristine countryside of Finland, we saw a moose. I woke up just in time to catch a glimpse of it standing conspicuously gigantic in the middle of a field, long face turning in interest as the van drove past.

I awoke upside down in my seat with my legs on the windows and my feet near the ceiling. Very confusing.

The venue was a huge and "very Finnish" building from the 1930's. Akin to a log cabin, it sat nestled quaintly in the forest, with a big white porch and a bronze historical building plaque near the entrance. I, too groggy to interact with anyone yet, sat alone in a cool patch of sun as a wide variety of punk and hardcore kids milled around the parking lot. It was obvious that while there was a definite scene being represented in the crowd, there were also a lot of local kids who had nothing better to do than come to "Muurame hardcore fest", despite having no real interest in the music. There was girl wearing a rotary phone as an accessory- and I don't mean to pass judgement based on appearance, but she didn't appear to be there for us.

The promoter was like most European promoters- accommodating us to a level that's almost embarrassing, fretting over our comfort, overstuffing and overhydrating us- but like most Europeans, adding an expected twist to his kindness. "You sleep here tonight. There are no showers (all promoters are supposed to provide a place to shower for us), but there is a river over there," (it was about 50 degrees outside at the warmest point in the day, maybe) "so you can just.... swim." (We took sink baths instead.)

After the band meal of pasta and sauce and a Finnish favorite- banana chips with raisins (this is amazing!), Dave and I went down to investigate the river. There we found a beautiful and more than likely enchanted path that wound through forest, where if we walked down long enough we would undoubtedly encounter all genus and species of mythical creatures. The air was clean like I've never breathed, the water reflective and magnificent like a framed photo of "inspiring nature" in an office building, the grass and trees looked as if they had been colored with crayons they were so intense. It was ridiculous. We wandered down the forest footpath until we came to this:



And, though we were convinced there were gingerbread houses with candy cane pillars and gum drop trees just ahead, we headed back to Muurame Hardcore Fest to watch the shredding. The first band was fucking sweet. Their name was complicated to my American-speaking mind and I lost the stickers they gave me, but they brought me back to a time when I first discovered Slap A Ham Records and power violence. It's really easy to fuck up PV, or to think you're playing it when, for example, you're actually just some idiotic hype kid that heard Ceremony and "Power Violence" in the same sentence and decided they defined the genre (it's my opinion that Ceremony is just a hardcore band- which is anything but a bad thing, in fact, it's my favorite thing, but it's certainly not power violence.) Point being, this band did it right.

After the brush with magic in the enchanted Finnish forest, I was back in the "band room" (another common Euro thing, no matter how DIY the show) sipping at some coffee and in walks a dude in a suit. This wasn't that strange, considering the rotary phone girl and the assortment of mildly rapmetal people at the show. But then in comes another dude, suit guy's friend I guessed, who pulled out a large paper Mc Donald's bag, then covered business dude's head with it. He then added a collar and leash to biz-punk's get-up, and all eyes in the band room were frozen on the strange pair. Forks hung midway from bowls to mouths. Uneasy and/or mocking glances were exchanged around the room. But the duo never noticed, and as soon as the outfit was complete they walked out of the room- well, the friend walked, biz-dude was led blindly by his collar. I sipped my coffee. Then I wondered.... where were they going?

Curiosity led me to the stage, where the friend was screaming into a mic and the dog-man was roaming the stage like a zombie. The beat was brutal. The guitarist shirtless, drunk, with dreads thrashing in every direction like an octopus trying to fly. Every member of this band was everywhere on the stage, kicking out one fast song after another, dropping in slow parts like a wet fart of distorted bass and drums, and oh my god did I love it. Then 2 songs in I was left feeling like the biggest moron ever when I saw what collar-boy actually was- he was "The Man", a suit and tie, a corporate zombie. Duh! It was brilliantly simple, the imagery exactly as it was supposed to be. Nothing was refined with this band. The crowd was taken into little consideration. They thrashed for their own reasons, and all we could do was bear witness to it. This was punk at its purest- smashing the state the same now as it did decades ago, still barely knowing how to play its instruments, never giving a fuck. This thrash and stomp, this absurdity, this was power violence. At the end of their set, I noticed that my cheeks hurt from smiling. It's not much sometimes, that kind of music. But it manages to convey it all- a worldview, reasons for being, love and hate- like this band so succinctly did, in 15 relentless minutes, and you gotta give it credit for that.

After that, a band called Deathbed played a very sweet set (I couldn't afford their 12 euro a CD tune-age but I do recommend checking it out) and after them, "Finland's greatest hardcore band" as I was told by locals, a band called The Lighthouse Project. Their set was explosive, like Finland's own Have Heart or something... and we had to play after them. Oof.

After the show the promoter and his friends made a million mattresses appear out of nowhere and we had a big slumber party in the venue, below the stage. I was reminded of words spoken to me by Thomas, the singer of Strike Anywhere, 9 years ago. "(in Europe) Sometimes you sleep, sometimes you mosh. Sometimes you sleep where you mosh." For years that baffled me, but finally I understood.

Before bed, word circulated that there were Nazis outside and that we should stay in to be safe. Obviously we went running out to escort these Nazis away from the venue. What we found outside was the last dwindlers from the show. A Finnish kid whispered to me as a group of trashy-looking faux-thug type kids walked away, "Those are the nazis." Those tools? Really? I was skeptical. I asked the kid if they were racist. "Oh no, they're not racist. They just like to cause trouble and get in fights." I defined a nazi for him, mentioning that racism is inherent. "No no, then I guess they're not nazis. They live around here, they come to shows to start fights when they're bored." I asked if they had a word in his language for "townies". He laughed, and nodded, and the "nazis" walked into the sun-lit night and we, exhausted, went to sleep.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Euro tour update #4 Lulea, Sweden

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.

Thanks Lulea.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Euro tour update #3 Gothenburg/Uppsala, Sweden

Tour update #3. Gothenburg/Uppsala, Sweden.

We had a day off in Gothenburg, where Dead Vows live. We spent a day putzing around doing touristy shit, eating a dish called "Tzay" from a vegan fast food hut called Jonsborg, then, while everyone was out playing a strange version of soft ball, Dave and I made a video tour update.



The next day we played a venue in Uppsala called The Grand. The venue, from the outside, looked like it sounds. It called to mind a movie I recently saw about the life of French singer Edith Piaf. It seemed like a place where someone like her, someone with a beautiful voice and fine gown, would croon out songs of heartbreak to an upscale audience in 1937. Inside, it was a bit less dramatic. We played an upstairs space, which looked more like a room I'd attend a free lesson of ballroom dancing in than play a show. 2 large and 2 small crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, an old jukebox sat in the shadows, vintage records were pinned to the wall. By the merch table hung a few black and white photos of The Grand. My guess outside had been right. The oldest photo looked to be from the early 40's, and showed a fancy, fur-clad crowd gathered around the entrance. The next photo showed a group of dudes in the 80's hanging outside in varsity jackets and acid wash jeans. I looked around the room. Before me stood 50 kids in fresh sneaks and flat or flipped brim hats, and, for whatever it's worth, this moment could easily serve as our snapshot in time on The Grand's wall.

There was a large low-lit bar near the merch tables that had a spread of food already awaiting us when we arrived. Again, it was pasta salad. This surprised both Dave and I. It seemed a bit strange to get twice in 3 days, since I've never been served it in my life. The Swedes asked why I found it odd, "isn't this common summer food?" I explained that in America, it's usually a side dish. But regardless of pasta salad's unexpected entree status in Sweden, we were grateful for the food, and all but me and Ryan (the pickiest eater ever) ate it. This left me feeling terribly guilty, but I assure you that my decision not to eat pasta salad was not based on snobbery or lack of appreciation for the kids who booked us. See, I don't eat salads of any type. They repulse me. Furthermore, my own personal hell could easily be constructed with the slicing of a single cucumber in a place where I could smell it- so this dish, filled with the hellish veggie and bearing the name "salad", was not even in the realm of possibility for me to eat. Bread and margarine held me over, and delicious coconut chocolate cookies. There was also iced tea, a variety of hot teas, and coffee.

I did not see this myself, but I heard that the guard at the door was giving sobriety tests. Downstairs an extremely tall dude set up a table with Swedish literature on animal rights. In the bathroom I saw graffiti that said, "Fuck wannabe Axl Rose", and spent the rest of the night looking for this person, hoping he or she was a regular at The Grand.



"Hey Dave... how long would this venue last in America?" I asked as I nodded at the chandeliers.

He evaluated. "One show. And it wouldn't even make it to the last band."

The first band was a metalcore band a la 2003, the singer was about 6'6" and in very tight pants and a tight purple tank top. He was so... vertical, and reminded me of a human stick bug. He lamented to me after the show that the mosh had not been sick enough during their set so video taping it was a total bust. But, in one bout of moshing, someone had knocked one of the chandeliers crooked. After the set was over someone rushed to fix it, and people were mindful the rest of the evening.

I, I think from only eating bread, felt faint our whole set and my voice was weak, I'd say ranking in the top 3 worst shows I've ever played. Someone near the left side of the stage kept farting and the smell was fucking unnatural. Every time I found myself over there I went quickly bounding back to the right side, and even there the scent lingered. The room was incredibly hot and humid, like what I imagine the jungles of Indonesia to feel like. My hair was plastered to my head, my face a cherry tomato, and my shoes filled with pools of foot sweat. I kicked them off mid-song, and OH LORD what an odor. After the song I apologized to the giggling crowd, who were all suffering my stench (not to mention the anonymous ass ripper), and after our set I asked Dave if he had smelled my feet, and before I could even get the question out he said, "Yep. Mhmm, absolutely." That's my lot in life. To be in an elegant setting, participating in an activity that leaves me soaked in sweat and smelling like old corn chips.

After the show a kid explained to me that the reason the Swedes don't destroy their venues (as I had explained during our set American kids frequently do), is because then they would get shut down and they couldn't have shows anymore. I laughed at this, because he sincerely thought that I, and American hardcore kids at large, had not considered this little cycle of action/reaction. We have, we're just idiots. So we ruin our venues, and our scenes, then complain about it. This is so stupid that it doesn't translate.

After the show we stayed at a youth space that had a stage, a cafe, 10 couches for us to sleep on, and a huge kitchen (where I eagerly made myself a stir fry). The bathroom was a room on the 3rd floor that was literally a room with a shower head it in. The sun never went down completely and I saw lily pads for the first time.

Now we're on a 10 hour drive to the top of Sweden, and I'm very tired. Goodnight.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Euro Tour update #2 Malmo, Sweden

We were awoken by the nice residents of G18 at 8 am. They had gotten up early to prepare breakfast for us- warm rolls, tofu scramble, and coffee. Fucking Euros, you know? I would not get up at 8 am for any thing or one. This is just one of the many reasons I believe that someday moving to Europe will, eventually, make me a better person. After breakfast we got into the van where I fell asleep for hours. I woke up as we pulled up to the ferry we had to take from Germany to Denmark. I spent the 30 minute ride washing up in the bathroom as Danish and German ladies came in and out and sitting on the deck, taking in the sun. Back in the van, I fell asleep for more hours.

We played a venue called Untkanten- in English this means "Outskirts", a name chosen, I was told, because it represents both the location of the warehouse (on the outskirts of Malmo), and the political ideologies of those who frequent it. Witty, no? Untkanten is a warehouse space used for shows and political events. More political graffiti, bicycles everywhere, a weight room, and a huge kitchen filled with swedes who were busy cooking us dinner.

This was a 2 band show, just us and Dead Vows, so after dinner (this was pasta salad that I passed up, instead purchasing my own soy milk and chocolate crisp cereal), some games of ping pong (I suck, so does Dave, and Ryan beat Gabi like 8 million times), Dead Vows hit the stage. We were about to start, but noticed a kid up front about to X up. "We'll wait for straight edge." Our set was very hot and very fun. Stage dives, pile ons, and by the end very little remained of the Xs on my hands. All had been sweat and smeared off, probably on the faces of Swedish kids.

Now it is is past midnight. Dead Vows and Ryan are crashed out, Pierce is beside me watching Law and Order, Dave is on my other side asleep in the most uncomfortable looking position. I'm listening to Wisdom in Chains ("Nazi head stomp!") and watching Gabi drive us through a thick fog. On one side of the van the sky is black and a half moon hangs in the sky. On the other side it looks like sunset- old, fading blues leak into deep lavenders and dusky pinks, silhouetting the little towns and trees we drive by. Tomorrow's show fell through so we will finally sleep at our leisure, and maybe, hopefully, adjust to living 6 hours in the future.