Travels with Joe, March 2019
So the tour was done and all we had to do now was drop the van and gear back off at the hire place and get to the airport. The warehouse reminded me of the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark where they hide the ark away. It’s a huge room filled with every kind of musical equipment you could imagine, each box or shelf with a sticker bearing the name of the last or next band to use it. I spotted a couple of mate’s names, and also a few legends (NAPALM DEATH on one big meaty bass cab). One final time I got the sense of being on a path that so many others who love music have followed around the continent. After that, the bloke from the hire place drove us to the airport and we said our emotional goodbyes and that was that, back to reality. (Though while sitting around waiting for my flight I got a message from the band to say that because their first flight was delayed they missed their connecting flight and had to spend an extra night in Switzerland. Europe wasn’t gonna let em go just yet, but they did make it home in one piece eventually.)
It was an incredible experience and I can’t thank Mike, Marissa and Jarrett enough for inviting me along. Truly three of the nicest, funniest and most talented people you could ever hope to meet and three of the best weeks of my life. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Brexit. Shortly after I got back they voted to extend the deadline six months because literally no-one knows what’s gonna happen with it, least of all the people in charge who are actually at the negotiating table, but it was lovely to travel around the continent and see so many like-minded people motivated by their love of music, to be reminded of the smaller differences and the larger similarities, to see the dedication and influence of one band, and to follow in the footsteps of countless others, making our own mark. I’m sure by the next time they come back this side of the pond there will be scores more bands dotted around places like Ravenna and Munich who had been inspired by seeing the Screamales giving it their all on the stage, that there will be people proudly sporting their 2019 Screaming Females tour shirts, taking their friends along to see the best live rock and roll band on the planet, who they just have not stopped talking about since the last time they took that stage apart.
Oh, and two months later I got a message from Marissa to say that Cyprian, in addition to holding a benefit show to raise money for her replacement pedals, had tracked down her pedalbox in apawn shop in Krakow and was shipping them back to her. What a fucking legend! Oi! Oi! Punk, rock and roll and DIY forever. Go start your own fucking band, anyone can do it!
The final gig of the tour. First, we stopped off in Amsterdam for some vegan junk food and to pick up Christian. He brought us a bottle of traditional Dutch alcholo and regaled us with some brewing stories. In return, I punished him and the rest of the van by insisting that we listen to Rotterdam’s main musical contribution to the world – gabber, techno and hardcore’s misshapen criminal-minded younger brother, big distorted kicks, ugly synths, a mixture of crime movie samples and just blokes with the intensity of Mark in Krakow, the audio equivalent of being punched in the fuckin head at 180bpm.
The venue was on a street with a couple record shops and so I was able to pick up a few choice cuts of said musical terrorism. In one of the shops, I bumped into my mate Bryan, who was driving the other band that was playing this show, Bad Breeding, a noisy hardcore outfit from the UK. Another rocking Feels set, one more killer Screaming Females power-hour, and an intense noisy closing set from Bad Breeding and that was that, we were done but for one more moment of drama.
Driving away from the venue, a car speeding past with no lights on almost hit us, and when Jarrett beeped the horn at them they screeched to a stop, and made as if they were going to get out and fight us. It was a tense few moments, but luckily they were all bark, and zoomed off into the night after a few threatening revs of their engines. “I’m glad this isn’t in the US because those guys definitely would’ve had a gun,” Mike quipped, after they’d finally fucked off and we got to the hotel, which was on a boat, another small circle completed from when I’d joined the tour in Lyon.
Vera in Groningen is an incredible place. The cellar bar dates back to the 15th century. In 1899, the main part of the building was established as a student club, which changed with the times, becoming part of the radical student movements of the 60s and by the time of punk, it had evolved into a collectively run radical venue. It’s a big complex, you drive your van into the venue downstairs, play in the main venue on the ground floor, and sleep in the band apartments on the top floor. It has an incredible sense of musical history, plastered with promo shots for the bands that have played there, with some amazing albums of flyers from throughout the years, from Joy Division to Slayer, Nirvana to Nomeansno. They also have a yearly poll of the volunteers for the best gig of the year, with the winners having their name emblazoned on the wall of the main gig room, alongside past winners like Dead Moon, DAF, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The only downside to the venue is that it has something which we had so far avoided encountering, the dreaded European shelf toilets. If you’ve never seen these, some places on continental Europe have toilets where the waste does not drop directly down into the water, but sits on a shelf, staring at you, accusingly. This is apparently a throwback to a time when people would inspect their own dumps for worms or something (or some people say it’s just to avoid splashback). Maybe it’s what makes people around there so polite. It’s a humbling experience to have to confront what just slid out of the backside of you every day, you can’t be up on your high-horse when you’ve got such rude evidence of your basic humanity eyeing you up from the bowl on the regular, especially when you’ve spent several weeks packing yourself with every cheese imaginable. Some of those things looked like they could argue with you, bloody hell.
Another bangin set from Feels and then Screaming Females took the stage. Maybe taking the list of poll winners as a direct challenge, they tore through one of the very best sets of the tour, tight yet fluid, wild yet just looking completely in control at every second. They knew it too. No grumbling about small flubs after the show this time. “Some days it just feels easy” said Jarrett, and it looked it. They were having an amazing time up there and the whole room was buzzing.
We hung out with some of the volunteers after the show. One of the older guys was telling us how one year they secured a bit of extra government funding and so flew Dead Moon out for their first European gig, and from then on whenever Fred and Toody played Europe they would start their tours with a secret gig in the tiny cellar bar, and end them with a triumphant show in the great hall. We went down to the cellar bar for some more drinks with Feels and they were heading off into the night. We wavered, still riding the high of the gig, but decided against it, just a bit too beaten down by the effects of the almost-completed tour. It was a pretty wise decision as the next day I was a little worse for wear but Feels looked absolutely blown through, all sporting the thousand-yard-stare of a deep deep hangover.
The next day we got on the road to Copenhagen but ended up getting straight into a massive traffic jam, which was the result of a nasty accident somewhere up the road. It took us almost an hour or so to get to the next exit where we could get off the motorway and circle around it through the winding hilly Stockholm backstreets and make it out of town. In total it took us the better part of three hours to get out of the city, by which time we were all absolutely starving and stopped for the only food which was immediately available to us – a roadside McDonald’s. Apparently this was also breaking a band rule, being the first time they had patronised the golden arches on tour as a band. A pretty incredible streak, but needs must and we loaded up and continued back down through Sweden, past Malmo again, back across the truly impressive Øresund bridge into Denmark and Copenhagen.
The venue was in the neighbourhood of Christiania, a truly unique place. An old army barracks and ramparts, which have been squatted and governed at least semi-autonomously since the early 1970s. Christiania has a few common law rules: no weapons, no cars, no hard drugs, no biker colours. We had to break that second one (with permission of course) to load in, but we were warned to drive extremely slowly behind our guide as the locals had been known to smash the windows of cars who did not respect their surroundings. The venue was on the second floor, but thankfully they had an automatic pulley system so we didn’t have to lug everything up a few flights as we’d done in other places. I went for a wander around the area. It’s a truly magical place, especially the quieter, more rural section, where every house has been individually constructed (without having to pay attention to zoning laws or planning permission) and each one is unique. You kinda want to knock on everyone’s door and ask if you can pop in for a cup of tea, and the place does give off the feeling that a lot of people would be chill with that. There’s a real sense of serenity about the place that I haven’t felt in many places.
Of course, one thing that Christiania is notorious for is that in its rules it specifies no HARD drugs and there is a street in the more bustling central part of it where they sell weed openly in every form you can think of. I’m not really a stoner, usually it just makes me sleepy, but I thought I would indulge a bit (when in Rome) and got myself a couple of cookies. I was gonna save them til later but Mike encouraged me to have one so I did, and sat down thinking I would just have a nice chill time for the rest of the night. About an hour later, just as the high was starting to creep into the edge of my consciousness, Jarrett informed me that the hostel we were staying in stated that their latest check-in was midnight and since the gig was due to finish around half-eleven there was no way we could make it there after the show, so I had to go and check-in for the band. He handed me the band credit card and the details of the hotel. Here are a few things you really don’t wanna do when you are rolling up into the full-body high of an edible – cross a city you’ve never been to before at night, hail a cab in said city, check-in to a hotel under someone else’s name, use some kind of self-check-in machine at a hostel, hail a cab again, sign someone else’s name on a credit card receipt for said cab and thus technically commit identity fraud. All of these things are probably not that fun to do without battling through the fog of cookie-induced paranoia. I was simultaneously extremely stressed out, and also giggling to myself at the absurdity of the situation I had found myself in.
But I made it back successfully, and celebrated my return with the second cookie, ready to watch Feels and Screaming Females both smash it again, carried away by the soaring guitar lines and the very strong skunk.
Another hefty drive across beautiful Scandinavian scenery to Stockholm. The venue was the smaller entrance part of a much, much larger venue, and the band room at the other end of the entire building, in a little hut out the back. It felt very Spinal Tap walking to and from the stage.
Off I went looking for records again, this time with a very specific purpose. I crossed the city by train, managing to somehow lose my ticket midway through the journey. Just as I was tossing up my options of either A) explaining my predicament to a station worker, hoping they’d take pity on an idiot tourist and let me out or B) hopping the turnstile and legging it, I realised that the Stockholm metro only scans your ticket on the way in and just lets you out automatically the other end, so it was all to the good. I was heading for The Trash Palace, which I had been told by my mate Tom Ellis, who runs Static Shock Records and its attendant Weekend, had the most impressive selection of punk records he’d ever seen, and knowing Tom that was not an empty claim. Truly it was a magnificent shop, the noisy stuff, which in many shops is just thrown together in one big bin marked “ROCK/METAL/PUNK” was meticulously organised by subgenre and country of origin, a whole section of Danish hardcore, doom metal clearly delineated from sludge-metal. And yes, as Tom said, on the wall some of the rarest classic punk records you could ever hope to see. Of course, some legendary Swedish numbers like Anti-Cimex’s Victims of a Bomb Raid and Shitlickers, but also European slammers like the 83 EP Afri Cani by Underage, which pushes Wretched’s Finira Mai in my opinion for the title of greatest Italian hardcore record, or a couple of lovely looking Black Flag singles. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, all these were way outside my price range but still very cool to see. I left with a modern repress comp of Totalitar’s singles.
Back at the venue we met Feels, from LA, who would be accompanying us on the final four dates of our tour. They were about a week into their own European tour behind their new LP Post-Earth. I wasn’t familiar with them but their set, a mix of hard-rocking garage that would break into more tender melodic turns, sharper Wire-ish moments and wild hardcore sections that almost sounded Bad Brainsy was great and we were excited that we’d get to see them another three times.
We stayed in a hotel ten minutes from the venue which was part of a sports stadium, and the window of our room looked out onto a concourse dominated by O’Leary’s, a Swedish chain that describes itself as ‘en autentisk sportbar från Boston’. Yes, it was a Scandinavian take on an Irish-American Boston bar. It’s always extremely weird to see another culture’s stereotype-laden take on an aspect of your own (I’ve encountered the same thing curiously entering ‘English pubs’ in Texas). We were tempted to have a drink there just for the experience but it looked like they were just closing up. The bar, however, did have a massive billboard screen which played a rolling advert for itself and the other businesses in the complex twenty-four-seven, luckily the curtains of our room were thick enough to block out the light.
It was a beautiful drive to Oslo. Had we been back in Northern Italy, the flushes of summer would’ve been starting to come through, here, though it wasn’t particularly cold, snow still covered the ground in lots of places. We went for a walk and popped into a music shop to further remedy Marissa’s pedal situation, picking up a new fuzz. Oslo is an incredibly expensive city, at one point we passed a Mexican restaurant which the band all recognised as the place where they’d accidentally spent $100 on some decidely average burritos nine years prior. They still looked bitter about it, and fair enough. We found a decent burger place recommended by my mate Daniel AKA Skunk who runs the amazing label Byllepest Distro putting out amazing punk from around the world, Istanbul to Bogota, and organises a very cool mini-fest every summer.
Playing with a bouncy rubber ball, waiting for someone to turn up, trying to skip it across some bar tables outside the venue. Inevitably, as has happened every time in my life from childhood onwards that I’ve had a bouncy rubber ball, it bounced away under a fence and me and Marissa formed an impromptu cat-burgling team to climb over a gate and get it. To be honest, it’s very satisfying breaking into somewhere you know you’re not supposed to be, even if you’re just retrieving a lost item. If the music stuff doesn’t work out, we’re planning on going full time with it. Don’t grass!
Once inside it was another venue that they realised they were familiar with, the sound person had had been in the band that supported them the first they’d played Oslo and Mike recalled that this was the place where he’d spent his twenty-third birthday. The support band played what at first seemed to be catchy street-punk, with a few very nineties ska breaks thrown in. Just when we thought we’d got a handle on their sound, they threw in a couple of startling super-fast blastbeat sections into the mix, which we were absolutely not expecting. Fair play to them for finding a musical combination that none of us, with all of our collective music listening experiences between us, had ever encountered before.
Norway has the same cashless attitude as Sweden, but we still sold a fair few records. We were running low. The merch, which a couple weeks ago had been a wall of boxes in the van, was now dwindling. We were out of a bunch of albums and we had a load of empty boxes, most of which we gave to Daniel for his distro, as even the cardboard mailers are pricey there.
The amount of beer we had in the fridge at the band room probably came close to equaling in value the money we’d make from the show. When we told the other band we were only taking a few six packs, and that they could have the rest, their faces shone with gratitude, the long-haired extremely metal-looking bassist who had been telling me about his time as a touring guitarist for a black metal band (you are never more than ten feet away from a black metal musician in Norway) asking “Are you sure?” with the air of gleeful child told he’s been allowed to stay up late.
The new pedal and a couple days familiarity with the rest of them and I could tell that Marissa was getting her groove back. It was a ripping set.