Smurfpunx

08/29/2009

Smurfpunx’ start in ‘Netwerk’

Filed under: Netwerk, Aalst — Tags: , , , , , , — smurfpunx @ 16:06

I used to be an active member of Smurfpunx, though not one of its founding members. How I go ‘into it’? Well, the question is interesting enough to widen it up: how does somebody gets into hardcore, punk or another subculture for hat matter, in the first place?

In my specific case, we have to go back to the first half of the eighties. First, there’s the town of what was to become the temporary hardcore-punk ‘mecca’ of Aalst and the task of having to grow up there. The circumstances of life compelled my family to live there for thirteen years. Of course that’s subjective. I can imagine that Aalst has its charms and advantages, though that depends on you and on what you aim for in life. Aalst is a province-town roughly situated between Brussels and Gent that tends (or at least tended back then) to take itself for a metropolis in its own right. Back then, if a self-respecting teenager wanted more than carnaval and weekend binges in whatever pub was in vogue, in the illusion to escape overall mediocrity, he or she could either leave or go for ‘something unusual’. That’s what I did. And I found that ‘something unusual’ with the first punk- and hardcore-‘products’ I coincidentally laid my hands on in ‘Solbemol’, a grotty record-shop with a worn-out owner in a small side-street in Aalst.

That must have happened somewhere in 1984 if I’m not mistaken. It was a spilt-EP (more than a single but less than an album and, euh?!, made of vinyl: CD’s did exist already but were a gadget for yuppies and technology-buffs) of ‘Zyklome A’ and ‘Wulpse Varkens’. Both Belgian bands. And there was also a live-album of an English punk band called the ‘Anti-Nowhere League’: ‘Live in Yugoslavia ‘((!) yes, that country still existed). It stuck. Later I wrote directly to ‘Punk Etc.’ the label wo put out the ‘Zyklome A/Wulpse Varkens’ split-EP, to ask if the bands were set to perform somewhere so that I could try to go and see them live. The reply contained a couple of fanzines: the ‘Nieuwe Koekrand’ from Amsterdam and a zine published by Werner Exelmans called ‘Extreme Noise’. These opened a new world for me: the global hardcore- and punk-scene. They spoke about punk- and hardcore-bands in what were then somewhat unreal places for me like Finland and Milan (until then, punks were only something I’d only seen around Brussels’ central station, in London and a bit in Gent too). What especially catched me was the direct contact and the absence of any hierarchy or distance. I mean, this was not a thing that was handled by farty PR- and management-bureaus sending out standard replies and merchandise lists.

Second, there were the early eighties. The Cold War and arms-race were still in full swing. So did reaganomics, new conservatism and yuppiehood. Ethiopia was ravaged by civil-war and mediagenic famine, and eventually the violence came very close to our sleepy Belgian doorsteps with the CCC (Belgium’s junior answer to Baader-Meinhof and Action Directe) and the so-called ‘Bende van Nijvel’ (‘les Tueurs du Brabant-Wallon’ in French, a roving death-squad specialised in supermarket-shootings and allegedly linked to a right-wing plot within the Belgian gendarmerie and the military). The violence both shocked and fascinated me. Probably this climate, or at least my impressions of these times, were best reflected in the brutality of hardcore-punk music.

So it went. From one came the other, as we say. Later I got involved in a couple of ephemeral bands like ‘The Inapt’ (which never made it on stage but did published one track on a Swiss compilation-cassette whose name I forgot) and in ‘Pigs in Blue Glue’ (PIBG), one of the older Belgian punk-bands which knew a brief ‘resurgence’ in 1985. PIBG’s ambition (or arrogance?) was to be a bit of a Belgian answer to ‘The Ex’. In its last line-up, PIBG existed for some 8 months and played three gigs: in ‘De Gele Limonade’ in Aalst, ‘De Waag’ in Antwerp (where, to my delight, we managed to irritate the assholes of ‘X-Creta’ to such an extent that they just left) and in a small club in Leuven whose name escaped. It was great, yet things never really ‘stuck’ between the older (the singer and bass-player) and younger (me on guitar and a drummer I am still friends with) ‘parts’ of PIBG. So, one day, it just ended.

During my time with PIBG, I also organised two gigs in a moribund, sort of post-68 ‘alternative’ pub called ‘De Gele Limonade’ in Aalst. The first (with ‘X-Creta’ before they became unpleasant and the apparently undestructible ‘Dirty Scums’) went well, the other (with ‘Pigs in Blue Glue’ and ‘Vortex’) ended in a fiasco after a brawl with a skinhead-gang from Brussels. Man, that was a mess! [Brob: I know…I was there. Got to know Mokka that evening and the whole thing became subject of one of Repulsives’ most popular songs: ‘Fascist Skins’.] It had lasting effects too: not so much in the sense that it sent a shock-wave through Aalst (that was rather funny) but that it was the end of my planned gigs-series in ‘De Gele Limonade’. Its ‘board’, actually a post-68 club, was in shock and decided not to allow any more punk-gigs. “That chases away our regular crowd!” As if they had that… :-) LOL

After the split of ‘Pigs in Blue Glue’ and the skinhead-fiasco in ‘De Gele Limonade’, I was ‘technically unemployed’ and looking for new challenges, new and *commited* people to work with: both for a band as well as for organizing shows. I’m a person that rather takes things in hand and explosive/determined in nature. Being active with one’s own music, I thought, was fantastic. In that period the Smurpunx got busy in the ‘hood’: concerts in the ‘Roxy’ in Dendermonde and in the ‘Madelon’ in Aalst. The pieces of the puzzle started fitting together spontaneously. My first contacts with Smurfpunx and ‘Hate Crew’ were with Guido and Kris [Brob: lead-guitarist and singer; the latter was a member of Smurfpunx too.], with whom I got a good personal contact.

The contacts with ‘Netwerk’ [Brob: At that time an ‘alternative cultural centre’.] were my initiative. We were looking for a permanent venue. At first I was thinking of something in Gent but what I found was too small and could only hold some forty people. Then there was the idea to squat a place in the same street as ‘Netwerk’: the ‘Rio’, an old cinema where they used to show porn. In fact I was dreaming of setting up something in the vein of ‘Blitz’ in Oslo. [Brob: Famous autonomous centre in Norway’s capital.] But that soon turned out to be unrealistic, also because of the shabby state of the ‘Rio’ (collapsed roof) and because a few arrogant characters in the leftist scene (‘the Student Committee’, who were to collaborate) had, as usual, a lot of talk but didn’t do much when push came to shove.

The post-68 schoolmasters who were running the stagnating ‘Netwerk’ – in fact more as a theatre- and exhibition-hall – at that time, showed quite some resistance against our presence at first. Yet Mokka and I managed to convince one younger staff-member who had had a bit of a punk-past himself and was still fond of ‘The Ex’ and ‘Crass’, and somehow felt sympathy for us, to let us try one gig. The rest followed when they saw that we had insurance and when we brought up the perspective of a considerable bar-turnover – the entrance-money was for Smurfpunx, the bar for ‘Netwerk’- in case of a successful turnout. For its part, Aalst’s local punk-scene at the time, which was basically centred around a bunch of posers and pretentious wankers who patronised a café called ‘De Cactus’, did not welcome us. In fact, they ran a bit of a hate-campaign against Smurfpunx.

So the first concert that Smurfpunx organised in ‘Netwerk’ was the one with the Berlin band ‘Ceresit’ and ‘No Pigs’ from Amsterdam [Brob: Along with my own ‘Repulsives’]. ‘Ceresit’, a band who, like ‘Vorkriegsjugend’ and ‘Inferno’, brought metalcore in German, showed up with an entourage of ca. 30 people. The next day, they had another gig in Limburg. There was also an opening act from Limburg called ‘Astrant’ (then just re-named ‘Dawn of Liberty’), not a bad band either. ‘No Pigs’ cancelled a few days before the concert (can anyone refresh my memory on who replaced them, if anybody? ‘CPD’?) allegedly due to illness of the drummer. As far as I remember, there were about 300 people, which was a success. That’s how we got started for a few very intensive years…

Last but not least, this… Those of you who are born in the eighties and read this may have a hard time (or a bemused laugh) to imagine how we worked, technically. There were no laptops nor even widespread PC’s: the first were something futuristic and the latter did already existed but were a luxury or confined to engineering-bureaus, academic institutions and an administration here and there. There was no internet, no e-mail, no mobiles or text-messages and – What?! Nooo!!! – no Facebook and Twitter either. Medieval? No, boys’n’girls: that was the case even until well into the nineties. What we did have were: a) the classical post, called ‘snail-mail’ in today’s lingo, b) the landline-phone with tariffs for inter-zonal and international calls being a multitude of what they are today and c) when it was urgent, a telegram. Some of our correspondent bands or gig-organisers, for example those living in squats, did not even had phones of their own. So we had always to leave messages with parents or girlfiends with phones. Paypal, credit-cards of bank-transfers? Pfff. Yeah, right. Payments were either done in cash when we met the relevant people at gigs or else, by post, well-hidden and folded between several sheets of paper. There was also that hilarious trick to put soap on post-stamps so that the post-office mark could be removed and the stamps used again. Man-man-man… Likewise, there were no computer-programmes to design gig-flyers and -posters either. The master-copies were produced by hand (many by me), literally drawing, painting, cutting and pasting, and then xeroxed – black and white of course, because a colour-copy could only be made at one or two places in Gent or Brussels at € 2,50 or more per A4-page. To get the message out, we had to do our ‘tours’ with supplies of flyers, posters and scotch-tape calling at the relevant gigs, pubs and record-shops which are also becoming a rarity these days… If we had the gig info in time, we could also have it advertised in ‘De Nar’, a bi-weekly (yes, made of paper and not in PDF!) ‘alternative newsletter’. Apparently, it still exists.

Duco

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4 Comments »

  1. I don’t think there ever was a ‘Zyklome A’ / ‘Wulpse Varkens’ split-EP… I guess you’re talking about the ‘Zyklome A’ / ‘Moral Demolition’ split? Anyway, it’s the same one that opened my eyes to this kind of music (‘dropped my jaws’ is more like it actually)…
    Bart Schoofs
    [Brob: according to the ‘Dirty Scums’ there was the ‘Repression’ split-EP by ‘Zyklome A’ / ‘Moral Demolition’ and the EP by ‘Wulpse Varkens’ called ‘Tot ergernis van velen’…]

    Comment by Brt — 08/30/2009 @ 23:09

  2. Bart, indeed. Thanx. ‘Wulpse Varkens’ had a separate EP.
    Duco

    Comment by Duco — 08/31/2009 @ 10:39

  3. Coincidentally, about a year ago, I had to be in Aalst to visit an old pal who works there and since I was too early and out of curiosity, I called at the De Ridderstraat, the narrow street where ‘Netwerk’ and ‘De Gele Limonade’ used to be.
    Part of the street, including the portion where the ‘Rio’ used to be, has been torn down and replaced by new appartments and backside buildings of a bank and a department-store.
    ‘Netwerk’ itself, now a Centre for Contemporary Art, has apparently moved to another location out of the town-centre though the place where we had all our gigs apparently still serves for some of its activities.
    ‘De Gele Limonade’ is now another café, something of a Latino theme bar I think.
    Duco

    Comment by Duco — 08/31/2009 @ 14:41

  4. This is a rad posting! Thanks for sharing your memories! When I ride my bike through the ‘De Ridderstraat’ I still see images of punx and hardcore kids hanging out on the street or skatepunkx doing tricks, waiting for the next band to play. Those times I will never forget.
    Bart Van Mulders

    Comment by Bart Van Mulders — 09/01/2009 @ 21:50


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