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Guest Columnist #87 - Stef's Requiem tour of Europe

My Adventures on a DIY Punk Tour of Europe
    My name is Stef and I just returned home from four months of touring with my band, Requiem. Chris has invited me to write about the European portion of our tour for S&L and I am very excited because I have so many cool stories I would love to share and there is no better place than in my favorite zine. Our friends in the Norwegian band The Spectacle brought us on this two-month excursion through eighteen European countries as a return favor for us having brought them on tour in the US. We had more adventures and met more amazing people than I can count, but I only have the space to write about a few of my favorite stories. I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful friends and to have such wild opportunities. DIY or DIE!!!!
    Most of our entourage of Americans arrived one by one in Amsterdam, it being one of the more sensible and affordable flying destinations. We were welcomed by our good friend Ard-Gota to the amazing squat that he shares with half a dozen other young people. We were given a tour of this amazing building in the downtown of Amsterdam, right in the middle of everything, and learned that it is actually two buildings that they connected by knocking out part of a wall. The occupants have bedrooms that are almost the size of my entire house! And this is a squat, IN DOWNTOWN! Let the adventure begin.
    We had a few days in Am’dam before the tour began, so we visited an infoshop and several different squatted bars and watched people in the park near Ard’s house play chess with two-foot-tall game pieces while others break-danced for a large crowd. We were lucky to be around on a Sunday as well, because it is Squatting Action day.
    Dutch law states that if it can be proven that a particular building has been unoccupied for a year or more and a chair, table, and mattress are moved into it, the person(s) who do so have the legal right to live there until the owner brings them to court to evict them. In order to have the occupants evicted, the owner must prove in court that he or she has a plan for the building and the finances to make that plan happen. That’s a pretty wild sounding law if, like me, you’ve grown up in America, where police will remove trespassers by force in virtually any situation.
    The city is divided into sections, and every Sunday there is a squatting action in each. Each area has an independent group, consisting mostly of anarchists, that organizes a location and a plan each week. A building that has been researched and is known to have been vacant for a year or more is chosen, and a large group of squatters gathers at a secret location. They walk en mass to the empty building, and in a matter of minutes break into it and move in a chair, mattress, and table. Then, one of the squatters will call the police and ask them to come. Several cops will arrive and take note of the information and file it. This way, there is evidence for the squatters that the three items required by law were in the building at that time. Now the building is officially squatted. Over the next few days, weeks, or months the people at the new squat will learn how likely it is that they will be able to stay for a long time, and invest the time and effort to renovate the building accordingly.
    After our Am’dam adventures, we were finally met by our friends in The Spectacle. They had toured down from the north of Norway, picking up our van for us in Germany on the way, and now we were ready to take off on tour together.
    One of our earliest shows was at the Ieper Festival in Belgium. This is a large mostly chugga-chugga hardcore festival that occurs every year in a tiny town in Belgium. Ordinarily, this would not be our crowd, but we figured we might be able to make some good connections, being a very political and anarchist band among a mass of mostly depoliticized hipster hardcore kids. And we were right: we met some amazing people that we would see again in the following months. One of my bandmates also took part in a few workshops including one about direct action in the US. While at the fest, I went to go watch Trust, an all-girl straightedge hardcore band from South America. I was not able to watch the set because dumb hardcore boys were dancing too violently and I don’t fancy being kicked in the head now that I’m an adult. I guess hardcore boys being macho idiots seems to be a given most places you go.
    After Ieper Fest we headed north to Hoogaveen back in the Netherlands to play a show with, among others, the amazing German band Morser and our good friends from back home, Kylesa. Most of us had been anticipating seeing Morser for a long time, and they were everything we hoped they would be... one of the best bands I’ve seen play live. This was Kylesa’s first show in Europe and, for that matter, with their new drummer, so they were quite nervous. They hit the stage with a bang and ruled it! They were amazing as always. Even the one of our crew who had earlier said “I can’t stand Kylesa” after I played him one of their recordings became a believer—he now rocks a pink Kylesa shirt he bought at that show. Our set was memorable because Laura from Kylesa joined us with improvised vocals on a then-incomplete song.
    About a week later, after having traveled through France, we were lost on the way to Valencia, in the Basque country of Spain. Spain and Italy are some of few countries in Western Europe where by and large people don’t speak English. It certainly makes it more of a challenge and an adventure for those of us who do rely on the language of the imperialists. Our directions to the squat we were to play at said something in bad English along the lines of “Get into town and ask people where the squat is,” and we had no phone number or street address. After driving around lost for hours, we were able to find the place because we had happened upon the train station and a promoter from another show—whose number we did have—told us he thought it might be near there. This was a pretty typical situation for Spain and Italy.
    Now that we had finally found the place, we could explore a little bit. The building was shaped like a piece of pie: it was long and much wider on one end then the other. It was painted wild colors inside and out, and was home to several families and other assorted anarchists and punx. They had a rad show space in the basement with lots of bizarre art and, like most squats, a DIY bar. Spain, in general, loves to party: after an amazing show that ended pretty late anyway, punx blasted a variety of music through the PA and a few people snorted coke off the bar until about  8am. This was somewhat of an out-of-the-ordinary situation for our crew of mostly straightedgers, but a fun time nonetheless.
    A few days passed and we were in Barcelona, the squatting capital of Europe. There were squatted buildings occupied by people of many walks of life, young and old and with varying politics, in every direction you looked. A new building was squatted the evening we arrived, so we could be housed in a brand-new squat! After spending the day at the beach, we loaded our equipment into a huge squatted community center that was part of a group of seven occupied buildings that spanned more than a block. The show was incredible, with so many activists, punx, and their kids. Many squatters brought their dogs, who all seemed to be best friends and ran around the property on their own adventures. Barcelona was certainly one of our best shows of the tour.
    Later we arrived in Zurich, Switzerland. The show was at a squatted train station next to a lot full of tracks that are still used to park some of the city’s metro trams at the end of the day—we had to move the vans because they were in the way of the trams! Our hosts cooked us some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted in an oven made from a fifty-gallon drum, and we ate on the roof of that four story building as the sun set over downtown Zurich.
A week later we had the pleasure of arriving at Metelkova Mesto, a partially legalized squatted village in the center of Ljubljana, Slovenia. In some circumstances, if a property has been occupied for squatters long enough or the owner and the squatters come to some sort of agreement, a squat will be legalized and the residents can have the security of knowing that they will not be evicted. This is often more trouble than it is worth, because this usually means bringing the property up to code and possibly paying rent to the owners or the city. The village has many buildings used for all sorts of different events and projects. We played in one building while a play went on in another and down the street people visited the infoshop; later, we went to the bar there and some of us were part of reggae dance night.
    Our next episode was certainly the wildest of the tour. We ventured into Slovakia, to the city of Spisska Nova Ves, where very few touring bands have been. The roads to the city were in much worse condition than we had anticipated and this caused us to be very late. When we finally arrived, the random youth and adults that had patiently waited for us, were, for the most part, quite intoxicated. Slovakia is a pretty poor country and in many of the poorer countries in Eastern Europe there’s a lot of drinking. To make matters even more of a challenge, no one spoke a word of English, with the slight exception of our promoter who was already on his way to being so wasted that he later could not remember where he lived. I got in to an uncomfortable situation in which I swung a chair at a very tall young man who was too drunk to listen to my body language or the word “stop,” which he may not have understood, and would not quit touching and following me because he liked my strange-looking patched-up hoodie.
    Later that night, some of us ended up being brought to the house of someone’s mother, who did not know that her drunken son would be bringing a bunch of weird-looking foreigners home with him. She screamed at us in Slovakian and attempted to call the police; this went on for most of the night while our lovely host pinned the door to the living room shut with his body so we could all sleep for a few hours. In the morning, we met up with the rest of our crew, ate the most amazing vegan stew prepared by our hung-over promoter, and headed outside to pile into the vans. As 10 am rolled around and we said our farewells to our new wild friends, one of them explained to us: “Now we go to get beer—and then to work.” We left Slovakia feeling like we had increased our volume of life experience, and counting our blessings that we were still alive.
    Several days later, we pulled into a squat in Wroclaw, Poland. It was our first of four Polish shows and I was quite excited because some of my favorite bands are from this country. We met up with our friend, Robert, who had helped book the four shows and he introduced us to some of the people at the squat. We were immediately warned not to walk around outside by ourselves under any circumstances because Nazis were on the prowl and much violence had occurred recently. We were told that we might be attacked because we look punk. Andreas, Fredrick and I cautiously walked to the gas station to eat gummy bears anyway, and saw several pairs of police on foot, apparently patrolling the area due to the recent altercations. The show was poorly attended and our promoters told us it was because people were afraid to come to the squat because of the Nazi violence. It was an eye-opening experience to talk with people who had to fear for their lives every day. We have some pathetic little skinheads here in the United States, but these people have to deal with murderers. My new pen pal, Dennis, who promoted our show a few days later in Vilnius, Lithuania, emailed me in October, as we were touring the US, to inform me that his friend, Timur, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, had been stabbed multiple times in the neck on his way home from cooking Food Not Bombs. Timur died. The friend he was walking with, who was also attacked, survived with pretty serious injuries.
Poznan, Poland was memorable because, although I was quite sick, I watched the show anyway and saw Mind Pollution, which is now one of my new favorite bands. They play a combination of fast and slow crust with sometimes brutal and sometimes melodic female vocals, with the lyrics all in Polish. They have long epic songs with quiet builds and haunting melodies and are not afraid to get artsy- but not too artsy. And they have a dog named Crusty, and more dreadlocks than I’ve seen in one band in a long time. Check out their website if you have a minute- mindpollution.band.pl.
    After several more cold and difficult days in Eastern Europe, we headed west to Dresden, Germany. And, praise the frickin lord, the next day we were going to have off (we only had two days off in seven weeks). Hallstein, the spectacle’s friend and sound engineer, had joined us the night before. Hallstein is the best because he is completely obsessed with audio engineering. The squat we were playing at in Dresden had a nice PA and mixer, so for the show that night (and most of the shows over the remaining few weeks of tour) both bands sounded fucken amazing. Later, after the show, one of the fancy Norwegians hooked their fancy iPod up to the PA and we danced until the early morning to pop songs that are far to embarrassing to mention in this article.
    When we awoke, it was our day off! It was also the birthday of Martin, the bassist of The Spectacle. It was typical German weather for that time of year—grey, cold and damp—but we spent the day exploring Dresden nonetheless, and some of us had dinner out to celebrate Martin’s birthday. Later, we met up with our (very cute) friends in the Lithuanian band Bora, whose tour crisscrossed with ours about five times, and spent the evening hanging out with them at the amazing community space/squat that we had been staying at since arriving in Dresden.
    ven after we’d been on the road for quite a while, there were still exciting things happening all the time. We arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark to play the first of three shows with our very close friends in Zegota. The show was at the legendary Ungdomshuset squat. This was Zegota’s fourth time playing there, and even though their drummer, Will, was very sick, they ruled. This was also the night that, on a dare, Andreas from The Spectacle played in only boxers and a sombrero we had stolen somewhere. “I don’t usually look so stupid,” he told the audience.
    The next night was in Karlskrona, Sweden. This was a pretty small town with a lot of young punx. We played at a youth center and it was quite similar to playing at one in the US. This show was particularly memorable because all the drummers had to play inside an isolation booth of clear plastic barrier walls. The purpose of this was to dampen the sound in order to follow some strange noise ordinance. The sound engineer had a gadget that measured decibels and Brian and I had a screaming contest to see if we could break the legal limit. I could scream louder than we were legally permitted to play as a band. That was one of the more ridiculous situations I’ve been in.
    Sweden is not nearly as cool as many US punx think it is and this show, with all the regulations, was evidence. I had a lengthy conversation with one Swedish punk one night about the differences in our cultures. He actually was slightly jealous of kids he had met from America because, to him, living in the States sounded like it had some element of danger and excitement. He explained that everything is easy and boring in Sweden. there’s so much diversity in the US—rich, poor, different ethnicities, different ways to live—but in Sweden, to hear him tell it, things are much more predictable. There is good welfare and funding for the arts, but because of that, there is not much resistance, or communal living or people working together on big important activist projects like squatting buildings as in other countries in Europe or doing things like Food Not Bombs in the US. If that’s true, the show the next night must have been a strange occurrence in that country, because it seemed like the kids there were more aware of the power we all shared.
We drove to Gothenburg the next day to play our last show in Sweden. There had been messages from the promoter for weeks that he was having trouble securing a venue, so at the last minute, he decided to throw the event at his band’s practice space. This, being in Sweden, was a public building provided by the city and shared by many bands. There was risk involved with the show because it was not permitted. The space was small and had a shitty PA, so we all crammed in the room like it was a show in the US. And this was one of the best shows of the tour. The energy in the room was intense with our sweaty bodies mushed together.
    The next day we played in Oslo, Norway. This was a day that we had anticipated for most of the tour. Our Norwegian friends were excited to be in and show off their native land, and most of us Americans had many other Norwegian friends that we were excited to connect with. The show was at a place called Haus Mania. This huge building is one of few current squats in Norway (although I understand that it is partially squatted and partially rented). It has living quarters and serves as a coffee shop and a community space, with a big room for shows, a huge computer room that doubles as a place for big meeting and presentations, a graffiti courtyard that is constantly changing and can be viewed live on the internet, and lots of other things that I didn’t have the chance to learn about during our brief stay. We played with a Swedish band called Through a Mist of Tears. I usually don’t like metalcore, but they were incredible. I guess you can’t go too wrong with “Swedish metal” solos if you’re actually Swedish!
    Our friends in The Spectacle hail from a tiny town of forty thousand people in the northern part of the country, called BodØ. It is above the Arctic Circle, which sounds like it would take a long time to get to- and it does! We drove for sixteen hours from the previous show in Trondheim before finally arriving in BodØ. Luckily, we didn’t have a show until the following evening. Our friend Ragna had the world’s most delicious vegan soup and homemade rolls waiting for us, and we relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company, knowing we only had a few days left together.
    A few of us Americans had spent many weeks in this town before, so we spent the time before the show there catching up with friends and wandering over familiar ground. A few of us went to see Saltstraumen, located right outside of BodØ. This is the strongest tidal current in the world. The outgoing tide flowing through a small break in the land creates many whirlpools and during certain times of each day it is very dangerous to go near this place in a boat.
    The show that night was wonderful. Since BodØ is a small remote town that touring bands don’t usually travel to, a good number of people came out. Many of them were teenagers and it was awesome to play to a bunch of young faces. Seeing The Spectacle play to their hometown audience was amazing. I always love watching bands play where they are local heroes whose lyrics everyone knows. We also had the pleasure of seeing a performance by Manna, an excellent local reggae band. Yes, reggae north of the Arctic Circle!
    A few days later we parted ways with what had been our family for a few months, and headed south through Sweden towards Germany so we could drop off the van. We got to play with To What End in Stockholm, something I had requested months earlier since they are one of my favorite bands. They were amazing. We drove forever and finally made it to Dortmund and dropped off the van we had rented. We then took a train to Am’dam and caught our flights home.
    We met so many wonderful friends on this tour and came home with much inspiration to pour into all of our projects in the US. Thank you all for taking the time to read this—and if this writing makes it to anyone who helped us out on this tour, know that your work is very much appreciated and we love you!