Smurfpunx

12/27/2010

87-10-31 (Netwerk) Ignition – So Much Hate – Lärm – Violent Mosquitos

Filed under: Netwerk, Aalst — Tags: , , , , , , — smurfpunx @ 17:13

A few months before ‘Lärm’ had played a gig in my hometown [see Non-Smurfpunx concert-list * Marbel, Tielt, 28 mar 87 (Lärm)]; “One of the best we ever did!”, Menno wrote then. They sure had left an impression! I interviewed them for my zine Tilt! (by mail, cause they were “too tired to talk” after their show in Tielt) and I wanted to ask ‘em over as soon as possible. The others of the collective were not all that keen for their “noise” anymore – even though they had played fot Smurfpunx before – but I knew there was so much more to ‘Lärm’ than just that so we did invite them again… Or was it someone else (Michel DC)? Anyway, the guys from Amersfoort had become good friends and Paul & me were running a very busy correspondence.

As one can see, there’s no mentioning of Smurfpunx on the flyer. It started more as a personal initiative of Michel DC (the later ‘dissident’) but of course some other Smurfpunx-volunteers helped out… It was set up as a ‘DoeWatDag’ (‘Do Something Day’), where thought-provoking activities (unfortunately not everyone got active) were offered alongside more-or-less political bands. There were info-stalls, the movie ‘Suburbia’ (about the ‘punk lifestyle’ and squatting) was shown, some performance/theatre,…

This was also the first time I got to meet ‘So Much Hate’ live. I think it was Armin (‘Skeezicks’ & X-Mist recs) who introduced me to them. Great people (guitarist Børre Løvik, drummer Finn-Erik Tangen, bassist Per-Arne Haugen and singer Gunnar Nuven, who still was with Ute at that time); Gunnar and me would start a correspondence and I’ld distribute records from his X-Port Plater label. The start also of a long-lasting cooperation with Norwegian bands and the Blitz-scene.

‘Violent Mosquitos’ were a trio from Aalst, the combo of our collaborator Frank ‘drank’ [Frank ‘booze’] who was almost single-handedly decimating the weekly supply of Safir pils [local brewery at that time]… Okay, I’m exaggerating…a bit.

‘Ignition’ was a Dischord band with Ian MacKaye’s brother Alec and Chris Bald (both formerly in ‘Faith’), Dante Ferrando (‘Gray Matter’) and Chris Thomson (‘Soulside’)… The next day they also played in Scherpenheuvel.

Brob

We left Amsterdam for Belgium after our show at Labyrinth, which was a club in a squatted anatomy college. First we had to drop off the van we drove down from Oslo because it had a cracked water-jacket and was barely running. We left it with a guy who was squatting an entire shipyard outside Amsterdam who offered/agreed to rebuild the engine. All ten of us (‘So Much Hate’ and ‘Ignition’, plus Ute, the tour mastermind and Bret the surprise roadie) piled into the De Konkurrent van. It was a rough drive.

We arrived in Aalst at 8:30 a.m. and found the hall, a community-centre [actually an independent centre for ‘alternative culture’] called Centrum Netwerk. The people were incredibly nice. We got fed and did brief radio interviews [Radio Katanga]. The show was amazing. Four bands – us, ‘So Much Hate’, ‘Lärm’ from Amsterdam [actually Amersfoort] and ‘Violent Mosquitos’ played to about four-hundred people. There was an alternative bazaar, of sorts, with records and other stuff for sale, as well as some poets and a screening of Penelope Spheeris’ movie ‘Suburbia’. It was strange to see all those kids sit down and seemingly soak in the movie as if it was reality – when it was pretty corny Hollywood fantasy…

People came by train from all over, sort of taking over the town-centre. There were a couple of guys from Venice Beach, California that we met before the show when one of them said to me: “Oh you speak American – that’s cool”. They turned out to be pretty embarrassing examples of American youth abroad when the show got underway. I think they were jacked up by seeing that fictional movie. The show ended early, so people could catch trains home.

We drove to Scherpenheuvel, about an hour away, to stay at Werner’s grandmother’s house. When we arrived, she looked a little unhappy and her house seemed small and tidy, so I thought for sure she was going to kick us out and/or call the police. Instead she smiled and patted us on our heads and made sure we all had comfortable sleeping arrangements. We woke up to fresh strong coffee and delicious bread.

Alec MacKaye (‘Ignition’ vocalist)

‘Ignition’ @ Netwerk: Alec MacKaye (vocals) & Chris Bald (guitar), under the attention of Kockie & Kris Fiers (pic by Onno H.)

extra photos (Lärm, Ignition, So Much Hate)

This was a great event, as usual we took the train from Bruges and arrived in the afternoon, just in time to catch the film ‘Suburbia’ and all the bands… Since we always travelled by train, we had to get the last train home, so sometimes we missed the last band (missing ‘Napalm Death’ was a big disappointment back in those days) but this time we caught all bands… ‘Violent Mosquitos’ did a good warm up but we really got excited to see ‘Lärm’ again, we already caught them in Tielt with ‘Heibel’ (that show in Tielt was my first punk/HC show I attended or was it ‘Government Issue’ in Scherpenheuvel?… I was 16-17 at the time… Anyway ‘Lärm’ blew our heads off with their high-octane, super-fast noise-core. ‘Ignition’ seemed quite dark and distant compared to other bands but I was really into it… Alec MacKaye seemed hypnotised (or stoned?) but I remember him leaping offstage and hitting me headfirst in my stomach… ‘So Much Hate’ were a great band. All in all a great day, with lots of little info-stalls, veggie food…

Steve ‘Sling’ (‘Chronic Disease’)

Kim in her ‘zine Durty Skum #21: >>Aalst is becoming a weekly meeting-spot for me. This time I went over there for the ‘DoeWatDag’; mainly to see the movie ‘Suburbia’ and ‘So Much Hate’. The whole thing started at 1 p.m. with the movie. The first band was ‘Violent Mosquitos’ – they had to interrupt their set 3 times because there were some riots in the venue with a few nazipunx from Brussels. The crowd managed to get them out. ‘V.M.’ sound good musically, there also not afraid to move – unlike many other bands. However, I thought they went too far by putting a flame to a big piece of paper with ‘No Debt’ on it and shouting that they were a bunch of fascists! That’s totally wrong: why would they take a coloured drummer!? Oh well, anyone gets it wrong from time to time… In-between bands there were all kinds of stalls with info to visit. Then there was ‘Lärm’ who still sound as fast as ever and have a lot of influence on the audience. After them came ‘So Much Hate’ from Norway; their singer who splashed me twice with his sweaty hair. A drawback was that the vocals could hardly be heard. Still, there was a lot of dancing going on. The last band was from America. Their singer seemed drunk and asmathic: he fell over every 5 minutes; so I didn’t dare to ask for an interview. Instead I joined the Vikings upstairs…<<

review in Jan Claus’ zine Rattebeet #4

Here’s ‘Lärm’ on stage (spot the frantic Kockie); courtesy of Nathalie Guyot, photographed by Bart Van Mulders:

‘So Much Hate’  (courtesy of Agna & Gunter Vaes):

‘So Much Hate’  (courtesy of Mike Du Bois):

12/20/2010

20 (+) years Vort’n Vis

Filed under: POST Smurfpunx — Tags: , , — smurfpunx @ 15:38

Is it really already 20 years ago that the Vort’n Vis was established? We really start to grow old. The present ‘mother’-association ‘Autonomous Regional Meeting-centre’ (ART; Autonoom Regionaal Trefcentrum’) was founded on May 21st 1989 and was then still called ‘Autonomous Youth Centre’ (AJC; ‘Autonoom Jongerencentrum’). A month later, on June 23rd, 1989, it would initiate it’s pub, the Vort’n Vis [South-West-Flemish dialect for ‘rotten fish’]. Sometimes the time before an event seems long ago, while for other things it only seems like a while ago. It is hard to imagine but 20 years ago the world looked very different on many levels. To get an idea: here are a few comparisons.

Technologically, things were very different. Internet was not yet available for the big masses (it was still a technically very complicated thing, only for militaries and academics), a 40Mb hard-disk was a very big hard-disk (13 songs in MP3 format; nowadays a memory-stick holds 4 to 8 Gb and a hard-disk up to 320 Gb) and an AT-computer with 386-processor (8-16 Mhz) was a very modern thing (at present a processor of a standard computer clocks at 1333 Mhz). The spaceship Voyager 2 had made the first images of Uranus and Neptunus (and their moons) in January 1986 and August 1989, and after centuries of speculation we finally knew how these looked like from nearby. The Space Shuttles were already operating and on January 28th, 1986 one had already exploded. This space-technology of the era 1970-1980 is still flying (with outdated computer-processors!); seems like they will have to retire soon.

Politically the world also looked totally different. The Iron Curtain, the Eastern Bloc and the Sovjet-Union were about to disappear. The nowadays reunited Germany was still divided in West- and communist East-Germany. On May 2nd, 1989 Hungary opened the Iron Curtain and on November ‘89 East-Germany also opened its borders. On the other side of the world the Chinese student-protests in Beijing on June 4th, 1989 were bloodily suppressed. In 1988 Ronald Reagan served his last term as president of the United (6 years later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s), Gorbatsjov was at the top of the Sovjet-Union, John-Paul II was pope, Martens our Prime Minister Boudewijn I still king of the still unitary and non-federal (but already trilingual) Belgium, and the Cold War was starting to thaw a bit (years later it would turn out we’d only just escaped an accidental nuclear war – in that case there probably wouldn’t have been a Vort’n Vis, Pit’s or 4AD). At that time the big enemies of the West weren’t the islamists, but the communists. Even more: the West still supported the islamitic resistance against the Sovjet occupation in Afghanistan. Small problem: years later the islamitic militants in Afghanistan would not only destroy their own country after dispelling the Sovjet-occupiers, but also attack their former Western allies. Only a few things haven’t changed yet: Kadhafi was already in power in Libia, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and Fidel Castro in Cuba. And the ‘Vlaams Blok/Belang’ [The extreme right, nationalist party ‘Vlaams Blok’ was considerd racist after a court-case; they changed their name into ‘Vlaams Belang’ to be able to continue.] was already then against everything and everyone who was a bit ‘different’.

Also the music-world looked different then. The big record-companies still had the monopoly on the recording and distribution of music, although a lot more small and independent record-labels and fanzines popped up since the punk- and new-wave revolution of 1977 to break their monopolies (one of which was the alternative record-label 4AD after which the music-centre in Diksmuide was called). Music was then still recorded on cassettes and vinyl. The greedy music-industry felt already then threatened by home-taping (which allowed us to swap lp’s with friends and record them without buying). The industry was already campaigning against the copying of music; the slogan at that time was: ‘Hometaping is killing music’. The fact that 20 years later – despite the increased possibilities to copy and distribute – more music and more different musical styles exist than ever, seems to prove them wrong. ;-)

Recording and distributing music independently was technically and organisationally still a very cumbersome challenge that required a lot perseverance. Laptops and internet were not yet available for the masses (that only happened halfway the 90s with the arrival of the browser Netscape); it was still too sluggish for the distribution of music – MP3 and MySpace didn’t exist yet. For music that differed from the mainstream, one still had to explore obscure record-stores for half a day, or the boxes obscure distros at obscure concerts. A lot of these obscure concerts in that time-frame were organised by the legendary Smurfpunx of Brob, Mokka and co in Netwerk in Aalst. It was there that the idea was born to start with the Vort’n Vis in Ieper (“If others can do this, then we can realise this in our own area too.”).

One had to inform her/him-self on what alternative music was available via small concerts in old pig-sheds on the country-side and through fanzines with a ‘print-run’ of 50 pieces, and records had to be ordered at small distros (like the Nieuwe Koekrand) via ‘Aunty Post’. To get to know other music than that of the major record-labels, the music-lover then really had to make an effort, so she/he awarded a bigger value to the music. The irony of the fate is that the democratisation of the music reduced the value and the expiration-date of that very music. Democratisation of the creativity does lead to more creativity, but unfortunately also to more junk. But the freedom to take one’s chances and to make junk is indeed the price of that freedom (where others have fought for under more difficult circumstances). Luckily more real talents can also take a shot because of that bigger freedom, making the result positive in the end. Compare the music of today with that of 20 years ago, and it’s clear that an enormous evolution has taken place. Almost everything has changed. There are (unfortunately!) a few consistencies: at parties DJs still, after a quarter century, play that dreaded ‘Meat Loaf’ and ‘Deep Purple’; the music-industry is still as conservative and greedy, and SABAM [author’s rights organisation] is still the private tax-service of the music-business. :-(

Also socially the world looked different. The Westhoek [area around Ieper] and the rest of the South of West-Flanders still was a backward hell-hole where reactionary catholics waved the sceptre and decided what was best for the others. When you looked different or did your own thing without their permission, you were constantly kicked your ass: regular identity-checks, razzias at parties or concerts, fines based on dubious rules, administrative detentions, and other harassment and forms of abuse of power. For many young people and creative souls the Westhoek and the rest of the South of West-Flanders was a suffocating, backward peasant-hole, and many moved to the big cities.

This is more or less the background by the end of the 80s. Being young and creative wasn’t easy back then. But the most stubborn refused to flee and started to unite. During this period the 4AD (Diksmuide), the Pit’s (Kortrijk) and the Vort’n Vis (Ieper) arose. All worked, in their own manner according the principles of DIY (Do It Yourself) and ‘think globally, act locally’. Each had their own local operation but they did maintain close mutual contact. This triplet were the meeting-places of those who were ‘different’ in the South of West-Flanders back then. They each had their specialty. In the beginning the Vort’n Vis focussed mainly on hardcore and punk, the 4AD on experimental music and the Pit’s on alternative rock, even though also the other genres were addressed. The Vort’n Vis eventually became the incubator of the H8000-crew (in hardcore-circles internationally notorious West-Flemish hardcore-scene) that spawned many local but internationally famous hardcore-bands like ‘Congress’ and ‘Liar’. Nowadays the ‘Republyk’ Vort’n Vis organises, with its sister-organisation from Ghent Genet, the yearly hardcore-festival Ieperfest. The Vort’n Vis, that once started as a small pub on the Kiekenmarkt in Ieper begun to walk the path of a medium-sized association and concert-organiser. But this didn’t happen by accident.

By taking their fate in their own hands, establishing their own free meeting-place and not caring about the opinion of the local authorities and people-in-the-street, the Vort’n Vis, the Pits and the 4AD gave them the middle-finger. The founders of the Vort’n Vis were open about the fact that they too were born in Ieper and that they wouldn’t hide themselves any longer for the Anglo-Saxon war-tourists. The founders of the 4AD no longer wanted to hide each year for the nazis coming to the ‘IJzerbedevaart’ to terrorize the locals.

The local authorities and elite in the 80s reacted very furious against the fact that those ‘a-socials’ no longer wanted to hide because of appearances , in the place they were born. And they continuously sent down the cops. In response, the Republyk Vort’n Vis (RVV) declared itself independent of Belgium and Flanders on April 1st 1990, after the example of the former Sovjet-republics (who’d declared their independence in the same period). The RVV declared itself the 4th member-state of the BeNeLuxVort and the 13th member-state of the European Community (who only counted 12 back then). The collaborators of the RVV pronounced themselves Members of the Government and diplomats of the RVV, and demanded diplomatic immunity for themselves. For practical reasons we maintained a trade-relationship with the Kingdom of Belgium because the brewery was located there.  ;-)

In the beginning the Vort’n Vis was closed down once for 2 weeks for “noise-complaints”. There was also twice a razzia during concerts. The first time the arrested punks and Dutch squatters almost demolished the police-station in Ieper, and the second time people were just laughing in the cops’ faces (“See you next time!”, the cops waved goodbye when they left frustrated and with a ‘result’; and we just partied on.). The cops also wanted to try a third razzia but when they arrived at the Vort’n Vis with all their busses, we had closed down early because there were no people, so they stood for a closed door. To save their faces, they did a razzia in a newly opened trendy pub where the kids of the local elite were. It would seen that the floor there was covered with drugs. Ever since they never tried another razzia at the Vort’n Vis.  ;-)

In the mean time the Vort’n Vis became an established value in the underground milieu and accepted by the locals as a full member of their community. After all these years we have been able to prove that we were more than a bunch of “a-social marginals”. We have been able to prove that we were able to accomplish something and that the DIY meeting-centre wasthere to stay. Meanwhile we became owner of our own building in the Sint-Jacobsstraat.

But once things were different. Without idealistic go-getters who dared to swim against the current, this would never had happened, let alone stayed that way. One can indeed change the circumstances and the course of history, even if it’s only via small contributions in the nearby surroundings or by gratefully using new technologies, new conditions and other possibilities.

Meanwhile the mother-association ART has had some offspring. On April 1st, 1994 the record-company/distribution Genet / Fuse [Brob: the latter being a short-lived cooperation of Genet, Tilt! & United We Stand…] seperated from the mother-association and nowadays Genet is a sister-association based in Ghent. ART and Genet were since then the driving force behind the, in 1992 founded, Hardcore-festival that is now known as Ieperfest. On January 23rd, 2005 the mother-association ART was split in 3 associations (1 management-association and 2 operational associations) each with their own function. This in order to spread out the risks. The mother-association ART was slimmed down to a management-association that controls the building and properties of the association. Next to that, the operational association Republyk Vort’n Vis (RVV) was founded, accounting for the youth-house. And together with Genet, the sister-association in Ghent, the RVV has founded the association YperVist / Ieperfest, that organises the yearly Ieperfest. These 4 associations together form the Vort’n Vis Family, sort of a Vort’n Vis community modelled after the European Union.

Jan ‘Darklord Doomy’ Claus, co-founder of the Vort’n Vis

(written on the occasion of the Vort’n Vis 20th birthday: Ieper, June 3rd, 2009)

[For an (uncomplete) list of the Vort’n Vis gigs: Concerts * POST Smurfpunx]

12/12/2010

‘Horrendous cut-throat system’

Filed under: Philosophy & Politics — Tags: , , , , , — smurfpunx @ 11:50

Here’s a piece of writing of a guy that visited some Smurfpunx concerts and offered to share his views about that era as a writer/art-critic/philosopher…

My time spent in the Belgian hardcore-scene – that’s what we called it back then, it would probably be called the Flemish hardcore-scene today, if it still existed – was brief, intense and (on a personal level) absolutely formative. I probably heard my first punk record some time in 1985 (when I turned thirteen – it may well have been Tielt’s unholy ‘Dirty Scums’), saw my first punk show in 1986 (French noise-core outfit ‘Scraps’, in Torhout, if I remember correctly), published the first issue of my fanzine Pyrobolum in 1988, the same year I co-founded a handful of short-lived bands (only ‘Sloth’ ever played a gig, only ‘Anal Disobedience’ ever recorded a demo-tape), organized my first gig in 1989 (featuring Bradford’s crust-punk super-group ‘Warfear’, at the Vort’n Vis in Ieper) and checked out of the whole thing after moving from the West-Flemish outback – hardcore-punk music was largely a rural or small-town phenomenon – to Ghent, to study philosophy late in 1990. The fanzine folded, the bands disbanded, my music listening habits changed rather radically and so did my dress-sense. But the spirit that had led me to engage with the hardcore-scene – evidently it was never just about music, hence the heterogeneity of my rushed involvement in something called a ‘scene’ – more or less remained the same, and much of the beliefs that first took shape in that short but packed period have remained with me since (much of the beliefs were also already there – once again, that’s what led me to engage with something called a ‘scene’ in the first place). I don’t have to explain what those ‘beliefs’ are, right? It’s twenty years ago, more or less, and I have since gone back, on occasion, to the scene’s connective tissue – the music. I liked the loud, fast and brutal stuff back then, and I like it still – the physical experience of hearing, say, ‘Extreme Noise Terror’ play certainly mattered to me then, as did the aesthetic choices of the bands associated with that particular paradigm (if I may be allowed to call it that). There’s nothing quite like the extreme bodily experience of a full-on grindcore assault and when I first heard early ‘Napalm Death’s infamous one-or-two-second songs, I was immediately turned on to this music’s (largely unconscious) connection to the long history of transgression in art – to me, this wasn’t so far removed from Dada and certain Surrealist and Futurist practices, and fuelled my interest in those nebulous regions where hardcore’s outer fringes bled into art. (I should probably add here that I come from an ‘artistic’ milieu and eventually returned to that milieu after graduating from university. Before my love affair with hardcore music, I had been listening to more explicitly ‘arty’ stuff too – ‘Einstürzende Neubauten’, ‘Psychic TV’, ‘SPK’, etc.) The poppier, less abrasive melodious punk stuff never quite did it for me – too close to the conventional pop-format (I’ve always hated pop music) and no amount of intelligent, engaging lyricism could alter that fact (this wasn’t helped by the fact that this was the genre preferred by many Straight Edge bands, whose tendency to ‘police’ the hardcore-scene and overall humorlessness I disliked intensely). Which is probably why I didn’t go to many Smurfpunx concerts, or hardly remember the ones I did go to. What I did appreciate in the particular scene-culture fostered and promoted by Smurfpunx and their associates, however, was the relative sophistication of their political stances. They may have been a bit too overbearing and righteous at times, but at least there was some basic intelligence at work in them (Brob wore glasses – like me) and it was the general lack of intelligence, and a deeply seated anti-intellectualism – not to mention a clear distrust of, or hostility towards, anything smacking of ‘art’ (this is where I first heard the slur ‘arty farty’ after all) – which finally forced me out of hardcore-punk. And the fact, finally, that people like Smurfpunx were regularly denounced as doctrinaire and overly zealous ideologues did much to secure my sympathies already then, if only because the late eighties signaled the beginning of those post-ideological, post-political times that, depressingly, constitute our only reality today, twenty years on. Many bad things could be said about ideologues but at least they’re people with ideas, and the passion for ideas, if convincingly argued, is what matters most to me in the end. (A necessary digression to put my readership at ease: the problem of homophobia and racism, for instance, is not so much that they are bad ideas – who’s to say that they are, after all? – but above and beyond all that they are poor ideas that do not stand up to the test of dialogical argument.) A passion for ideas entwined with a passion for noise – that, in short, was what the hardcore-punk experience was about for me.

So what gigs do I remember? ‘Sore Throat’ in Poperinge – probably organized by Bruno Vandevyvere, who more or less introduced me to the whole scene – and ‘Sore Throat’ in Liège. They were one of my favorite bands at the time, not only because they were loud, fast and abrasive, but also because they were funny (though not a ‘joke’ band); ‘Napalm Death’ were just loud, fast and abrasive – their humorlessness more than anything else would precipitate their downfall. (The often-told anecdote about the violent showdown between ‘Mad’ Mick Harris and Rich Militia does not really consider that this may well have been a battle of the humorists versus the humorless.) In Poperinge, my bandmate David ‘Spans Hrac’ Stubbe and I were invited at some point to mount the stage (a great honor of course: I was not insensitive to the trappings of fandom) to growl along with ‘Horrendous Cut-Throat System’:

>>Mucked about, fucked about /// And generally abused /// Horrendous cut-throat system /// Stabbed in the back /// And kicked in the face /// Horrendous cut-throat system<<

What was this cut-throat system they were going on about anyway? Was it ‘the’ system that everyone was used to hearing about or was this a veiled comment upon the hardcore-punk ‘system’ instead? For this little island off the coast of society that we called our ‘scene’ did resemble ‘society’ in one aspect too many to fully deserve the accolade of being something else, a somewhere else or ‘heterotopia’.

‘Hiatus’ were around then too, which usually also made for maximum comic effect, if only because in their drunken stupor they often tended to soil their pants – I distinctly remember the urine-stains on one mattress in the Vort’n Vis backroom we used as a rehearsal-space in particular, and I didn’t think this was especially disgusting. It was OK to wet one’s pants. ‘Dirt’ was also part of a certain aesthetic that seemed to flower along the axis that was most vital to my involvement in the scene, one that tied Ieper together with Bradford up in the British Midlands – home to the notorious ‘1 in 12’ Club, home to half of ‘Doom’ and half of ‘Sore Throat’, stomping ground of ‘Generic’, ‘One by One’, ‘Pleasant Valley Children’, etc. (Sometime in the early nineties, after I had checked out of it all, I went to see a ‘Health Hazard’ gig at the Vort’n Vis in Ieper, a Bradford band fronted by a woman I proceeded to fall in love with.)

Embarking on this trip down memory-lane, I suddenly remember a handful of pen-pals from back in the day (pen-pals!, none of them were ever female, and all of us wrote our letters by hand – imagine that): Jamie, who played guitar for ‘Jailcell Recipes’ (who hailed from Huddersfield or something like it) and showered me with US HC tunes; a French fellow who played in a band called ‘Ice Cream’ whom I ended up having a bit of an argument with concerning the vices of pop music; a very nice guy called George (Yorgos to his mother, I assume) who ran an Athens-based fanzine called Screaming For A Change, who, amazingly, turned into a born-again Christian in the course of our correspondence (I like him a lot because of his passion for the idea of Christ but could not join him in his enthusiasm for Christianity); Bri from ‘Doom’/’Sore Throat’/’Warfear’ and Rich from ‘Sore Throat’/’Warfear’; Vrokker from Brugge’s own ‘Chronic Disease’ (what was his real name? Why would anyone ever call himself ‘Vrokker’?)… And who were the great people around back then whom I only met sporadically but enjoyed talking to? A strange fellow called Nicolas, a bit of a boy wonder, hailing from the unlikely locale of Maubeuge in the barren north of France. The guy who ran Raising Hell – maybe the best fanzine coming out of England at the time, not in the least because it had such a wicked sense of humor (I’ll happily admit that Pyrobolum was modeled after Raising Hell in the main). A late arrival on the Vort’n Vis scene but a very funny one: Steve ‘Meat Heap’ Wackenier, who founded ‘Neuthrone’ with one of my best friends at the time, the aforementioned David Stubbe. Of course, Ieper was quite a hub at the time and there were plenty of wackos around. Jan ‘Doomy’ Claus is another person I remember with great fondness – why did he wear earplugs to loud concerts? That really didn’t make sense to me at the time. (That said, I must admit that I mostly listen to Morton Feldman nowadays.) Kortrijk was nearby but just as far away: I remember going to a ‘Gorilla Biscuits’ gig there and not being caught when I attempted a stage-dive – perhaps I was too scruffy-looking? Was I wearing the wrong patches? I had the strong impression that was pretty much what it was about and this certainly accelerated my growing alienation from particular strands within the hardcore scene. (I should add here that I don’t remember there being many assholes and the ones I knew were still quite friendly and entertaining – very different from the assholes I meet in my professional environment today.)

But let me go back to Aalst because that, in part, is what the Smurfpunx blog requires. I remember an underwhelming ‘Intense Degree’ gig – another band that, once on stage, could not deliver the goods promised by their tremendous debut album and Peel Sessions recordings. ‘Force Fed’, yes, but please don’t ask me any details. Is Netwerk were I first saw ‘Agathocles’ perform live or did that happen in the B-52 in Torhout – or was that in Tielt? And is Tielt where Tilt! got its name?

I’ve rambled on quite a bit. Too long for blogging purposes perhaps – I acquired my writing-skills before the advent of the blogosphere after all and I’ve never mastered the art, so crucial to online ‘journalism’, of the sound-byte.

Perhaps I may be allowed one long last look back before I bid this late-twentieth century countercultural Atlantis farewell.

I may be mistaken in believing that the hardcore-punk movement reached its zenith pretty much around the same time I became involved in it (the classic symptom of any egocentric fallacy) but there definitely was something special in the air during the second half of the eighties and that ‘something’ has long since ceased to exist – its disappearance belongs to the same history that has enable the emergence of the very medium I am now using to write all this down and communicate with a readership of unknowns. Hardcore-punk culture belonged to my youth, adolescence and early adulthood, and I now look back upon it as a crucial phase in the processual politicization of my views on life and general attitude towards the world. Although music, in the end, was what it was all about for most of us – and there’s nothing wrong with that – this music came with a certain politics (and a no less certain belief in the validity of politics as such) at a time when the depoliticization of public life and of youth-culture in particular was getting ready to make itself felt. (Hence my previous statement about these ‘post-political’ times.) I was a vegetarian for a year and a half only (we depended on my mom’s cooking and the vegetarian regime we wanted to impose on our household proved too much of challenge for her rather limited cooking-abilities) but at least I returned to a carnivorous way of life enriched with an awareness of the politics of food. I’ve never set foot in a McDonald’s restaurant again since checking out of the hardcore-scene in 1990 (and in some parts of the earth, like Moscow anno 2002 or Mumbai anno 2003, that wasn’t always so easy). The early exposure, sometime around 1986-1987, to discussions of racism, sexism and phobias of all kinds have decisively shaped the political culture of the environment I inhabit today. And the do-it-yourself ethic which, on a purely procedural, methodological level, is perhaps hardcore’s most dearly held principle, well – who does not want to do it him- or herself rather than trust ‘the system’ to do it for them or on their behalf or (worst of all) in their stead?

This brings me back, in conclusion, to a discussion of the ‘horrendous cut-throat system’. Hardcore is gone, punk is gone (‘dead’) – ‘the’ system has prevailed. Some of the bands from the Golden Age of hardcore-punk never split up and are still going, well, ‘strong’; interestingly, many of them reunited in the second half of the noughties – why that had to happen exactly then is a whole other question, but one that requires consideration nonetheless. Just a little while I came across a poster in Berlin (where I now live, in a part of town where many people born in the eighties wear ‘Exploited’, ‘Discharge’ or ‘Amebix’ T-shirts – a bit like the Jimi Hendrix or ‘Led Zeppelin’ T-shirts I saw people of my own age wear around 1991) advertising a ‘Spermbirds’ and ‘Youth of Today’ gig. ‘Youth of Today’??? Didn’t they re-invent themselves as ‘Shelter’ and turn all Hare Krishna? Haven’t they become the ‘Youth of the Day before Yesterday’ in the meantime? It’s hard to say exactly what I think of this but these are obviously events that cater for the strong and very profitable taste for retro experiences in contemporary culture. Whatever hardcore-punk is and was, it belonged to a certain time and place, and that time has gone and that place has changed – better still, it has disappeared, and one of the ‘sites’ where it forever dissolved is none other than what is now known as the internet.

Dieter Roelstraete (a writer based in Berlin => Chicago) *** www.muhka.be * www.afterall.org

Yours truly and the writer, ‘Sore Throat’ wellcoming-comittee, Poperinge 1990 (pictured by Sned)

12/03/2010

A bit of a schisma… (summer of ’89)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — smurfpunx @ 17:43

Somewhere in the summer of ’89 Michel De Cock (with the help of some others) started organising concerts in Netwerk on his own. Bands that we didn’t want to host (mainly because they were working with agencies, like Roadrunner e.g.): ‘Vandals’, etc. We kind of ‘kicked’ him out of the collective, ‘fired’ him because he wanted to do things in a more commercial, non-alternative way. I guess it started with the concert of the ‘Napalm Death’/’S.O.B.’ tour (Netwerk, Aalst, 3 jun 89 (Napalm Death))… Leen & Natasja H. followed him. We knew it was going to be more difficult ’cause there were less people to get things done, the audience had more concerts to go to (not everyone in our audience said categorically ‘no’ to the big bands, touring through commercial agencies, that we didn’t want to book) and it turned out more difficult to be able to use Netwerk as our venue. Also: Michel and his friends were getting full financial support from Netwerk. Something we never got. After having grown ‘big’ and a time over ‘over-exposure’ (and doing maybe a bit too many concerts), we’d also had some where the crowd wasn’t thát big (and we lost money)… People were perhaps ‘saturated’, jaded…

People started to see HC/punk more and more as just a musical style, something to sell; in stead of a way of thinking, something intrinsically subversive. For a while it seemed to me that superficially people were pretending to do things but in fact it was often only blah-blah. When things really needed to be done (a minor thing or a boycot-action), they started to crawl back.

Around that time there were also some problems with ‘our’ pub (Gele Limonade – see ‘Smurfpunx @ Gele Limonade’). We re-decorated it (investing quite some money) and worked our arses off trying to ‘keep it going’. Especially Natsja D. & Guy invested a lot of time in it. Things had grown bigger and bigger (more people working at the pub, hence longer opening-hours), we had to ask other people for help and make compromises with people who had different ideologies than ours; it was changing into something we’d never wanted. That sometimes made the collaboration difficult… When Mokka & me returned from California, things had escalated somewhat and there was a moment when we asked ourselves if we should continue to keep putting time and effort into it but we did… Apparently the advantages were more important than the disadvantages at that time. Some of the Smurfpunx kept coorporating more than others: Mokka and me were concentrating more on organising. In the long run we just used the pub as a sleeping-place for bands and Mokka did a punk radio-show at Radio Katanga for a while.

The pamphlet I wrote about ‘N.D.’, the resulting brawl and the initial lack of support with all that, disillusioned me. But gradually came the letters of support (also for the collective; Paul ‘Seein’Red’: “Smurfpunx stand for something!”). In San Francisco, I noticed the grass wasn’t always greener on the other side, that there’s areseholes and people who care everywhere… It encouraged me to try to go on the way we were doing things. Also the remainig Smurfpunx assured me they would work even harder so we decided to go on. We ‘retreated’ a bit to be able to gain strength and ‘strike’ again… That did mean we couldn’t help all those wonderful bands that we díd want to support. Maybe if that wouldn’t have happened, we would’ve been able to help Reiner Mettner get ‘Dissent’ over here or I would’ve been in the position to invite ‘Moral Crux’ for a tour or ‘Agent 86’ would’ve been able to come over earlier… Who will tell…

Brob

The group that seperated from Smurfpunx was called ‘Something to Believe in’…

Yes, that was some sort of turning-point. The beginning of the end, in sorts. Already, the scene was indeed into a phase of decadence well before mid-1989. But it was not so much about the question of engaging commercial outfits or not, I think. Already in 1988, the three people who you mention often complained that they no longer felt at home with the Smurfpunx that “had become an arrogant bunch” and was “led in a non-democratic and sexist way”. (smile)

It’s true that some members of ‘Hate Crew’ who were active members of Smurfpunx too, and their girlfriends, had gotten some sort of ‘attitude’ by then. On the other hand, they were good workers and took good initiatives, which for me counts more than ‘being pleasant’.

In terms of Smurfpunx’ leadership, one criticism was that basically everything was decided by ‘the Roman Triumvirate’, exclusively consisting of (oh horror, pull out your crucifixes and garlic!) men: Mokka, Brob and yours truly. Yes, that was the case, and this is the way it had to be. First, we took the initiatives and the risks: it was a meritocracy. And second, you can simply not run a thing like Smurfpunx on the bases of mothballed ‘consensus democracy’ where the slightest fart is subject to endless meetings in which you are obliged to reckon with people who talk and criticise a lot, but who do little or don’t propose anything realistic.

Hageland Hardcore, for instance, was basically run by one couple (and later by one bloke) who decided everything themselves and delegated tasks to friends and sympathisers. This is no negative criticism, this was a proper way of management for the circumstances they had to work in. The weakness of more ‘individualised’ ways of management is, though, that when the boss is not around for one reason or another, little happens. So I think our ‘Roman Triumvirate’ was a good compromise between both.

In short, the whole ‘schisma’ Brob talks about was much less about lofty democratic principles than about infantile egos, petty clique politics and, indeed, snapping a proper slice of a scene which had by then become a big cake (the petty sides of human nature, in sorts).

The main instigator was a smart fellow with a strong ego and a keen master of intrigue at that. He simply manipulated the two others, who I found a bit, well, ‘unstable’ at that time. Personally, I also had the impression that certain individuals of the ‘old alternative scene’ in Aalst, set around the ‘Cactus’, de ‘Gele Limonade’, ‘Radio Katanga’ and indeed some in ‘Netwerk’ itself, never quite ‘digested’ the appearance of Smurfpunx on their home-turf after 1986. They were, of course, delighted by the situation and gave their support.

Now that we’re at it: there was a first ‘schisma attempt’ in early 1988, when two of them tried to set up a gig with ‘Fear of God’ and ‘Neuroot’ – see Netwerk, Aalst, 13 mar 88 (Neuroot). [Brob: Not sure about that but it did happen more: Netwerk, Aalst, 14 jan 89 (Profound) …] When it became clear that they couldn’t handle it, they asked for our help (speaking of pride… ) so this is why it eventually took place as a Smurfpunx event. We also made it a benefit-gig.

In ’89, about one year after I’d left Smurfpunx and the scene in general, the main instigator once sounded out my interest, with a lot of joviality and flattering and all, to join their new collective. Something I contemptuously turned down at once.

Duco

The concerts of ‘Scream’, ‘The Vandals’, ‘Bad Religion’ (through Ute [M.A.D. agency, Berlin] or Doug Carron, Revelation recs) and Negazione (Foundation) were organised in Netwerk by us. The socalled ‘group’ Something to Believe in, were just myself and Natasja H. Maybe we left around the same time as Michel but he did his own thing. We never worked together with/got money from Netwerk and lost our OWN money on some of those shows…

Heleen Valk

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