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…


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.


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


1 Comment »

  1. From a personal letter (Dec ’89): “We want to stick to our ideals but it seems like no-one (bands/promoters/audience) is into that anymore! It’s getting very difficult for us to organise shows. One could say ‘do smaller bands’… That’s in fact what I’ld love to do (also because there are a lot of very good, unknown bands) but it’s financially and practically impossible, also because the audience is not showing up in big numbers when we book rather unknown bands and the costs remain the same for us (P.A., posters, food, taxes, etc.). The future for Smurfpunx remains uncertain… For me this means it’s getting more and more difficult to set up tours (I’ve always invested a lot of my own money but I get some financial help from the collective). I love to keep organising tours for honest and dedicated bands but I can’t keep playing Santaclaus.”

    Comment by Brob Tilt — 01/02/2011 @ 17:22

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