May 19, 2014
by Tjeerd van Erve
Richard was pretty drunk, sipping a – I kid you not – highly inflammable cocktail. Jasper sat on a sofa, reading the biography of Bob Mould. This could have gone down in history as the most boring meeting of Luifabriek in its short life so far, were it not for the hours that had gone before. Hell, my t-shirt was still drenched in the sweat of John Robb, who had rubbed it off on me during the The Membranes show earlier the evening.
We’re sat in a squat, a true squat; an old office just across from Leiden station. Multiplex’s the name, and “No Meat, No Murder” is written in graceful graffiti above the kitchen. Bottles of Schultenbräu sold at a self-made wooden bar. You see, office afterlife can be so full of glam and glitter. The beer’s cheap, the toilet offers revolutionary literature in many colours, (though mostly permanent black marker) and a leaflet on the wall teaches me that to work is evil; act outside the capitalist system is the message of the day. “Geen huis, geen kroning” – the historian in me believes he has stepped in to the past, especially with the sound of the opening band Sociale Onrust. They started late, but luckily I arrived even later. Apparently the NS helped me along here; in not really wanting to hear or see this sorry excuse for a punk band and offered me a delay of something like fifteen minutes. Though I must admit the duo fits well in the setting, I don’t think it’ll ever outgrow it.
Still, the beer is cheap and I finally get to see my Luifabriek mates together again, the third time all three of us are in the same room in this first year of our existence. So beer it is; beer, mates, and chats and Richard introducing Jasper and me as the top notch of Dutch music journalism to whosoever he runs into. The night keeps getting better. Especially when Las Kellies show up. The Argentine trio mixes post punk with dub in a way that comes close to a slowed down version of The Slits. Somewhere there’s a hint of samba, giving it an extra swing. The problem for me though is the lack of variation in the songs. The sound is great, the vibe is great, but I would love the band to go from mid tempo to an explosion at one point or another. They keep hanging around in this downbeat, mid-tempo “sunny weather slacking” vibe though, so I make my move to the bar just to run into the true top notch of the Dutch underground, the Subroutine team whom – as I find out later – love the place. But that’s not why Niek and Koen are here. That’d be Repetitor, the Serbian noise rock trio closing Cultuur Barbaar’s festivities this second day.
Still; before that, it is up to some true veterans to make me feel old and young at the same time.
I was born in 1976, so the first two years of my life saw the rise (and fall) of punk from something happened in the sweaty holes on the brim of society to being used by nurses as a nickname for my younger brother because of his pointy hair right after his birth. The Membranes, with John Robb, played in active role in this first wave of punk and its phoenix like rebirth into post punk. As a band, of course, but singer and bass player John Robb is a key figure in the registration of its history, as journalist and publishing author. So when Richard – who had been roped into doing some PR for the band on this tour – asked if I wanted to interview John Robb, I chickened out. The man is made out of the material that makes legends, has lived rock ‘n’ roll my entire life feeding it on tea and healthy living. An example to all. I feel pretty insignificant in his surroundings, so we get this awkward situation when Richard introduces me to the bunch of muscles; “Hey, John! This is Tjeerd. I want you to meet him. He is a great journalist! He writes these awesome articles The Modern Participation Society! He is really one of the best journalists of the Netherlands! (Richard – really a guy to love – talks in exclamation marks when he is truly enthusiastic about something. I though am Dutch, and eager to get my head back under ‘het maaiveld”; dismissing the compliments, whilst shaking John’s hand:) “Well, well… Journalist… I am not a journalist; I just write and just happen to do so about music. But a journalist I am not….” (John Robb looks at me understanding, his firm hand still squeezing mine.) “Yeah, I totally get that. It’s about the writing. About the music.”
And yes, it is all about the music. So The Membranes take the stage. A boiling stage by now, as with every squat, air conditioning is not an issue in Multiplex and the crowd has by now grown to just over a hundred, maybe more, ready to mosh, dive and be driven on the energetic wave of rock ‘n’ roll. Sweaty is the word to describe the full 45 minutes that John Robb and The Membranes make it their own. For those whom haven’t done the math yet, I am 37, but two chords into the The Membranes show I feel 73. Only one step away from me four musicians in their late forties and early fifties showcase more energy than I dare let go in a week. John Robb, a distinguished man of calm and rest offstage, turns into a bass slamming beast and a vivid entertainer the moment he steps behind the microphone.
An energy that is contagious; Spanish flu style, and one that brings the temperature of the squat to tropical heights. Soon enough I see Jasper jump into the crowd, lovingly slamming some young punks, his briefcase still swinging on his side, jumping into an equally enthusiastic Richard. John Robb dives into the mad crowd as well, wipes his sweaty torso clean against my shirt and plays on all along. Just because he can, just because that’s what rock ‘n’ roll’s all about: going a bit crazy. But it is not only about “going a bit crazy”; this here is one of the best (post) punk shows I have seen in ages. Driven, “begeisterd”, explosive, all one can hope for from three guitars and a drum kit. It is the music and the location combined that makes me want to jump along like the teenage kid I once was. Ok, the cheap beer fuels the emotion even more. But hell, this is the best Luifabriek meeting ever, celebrated with a crew selfie whilst John Robb is shedding his sweat all over the Multiplex stage. Mythical, legendary, material for big granddaddy stories; something which becomes even better when David Fagan of Rats On Rafts joins the punk veterans in a lengthy post punk mantra to close the show (Wipers anyone?).
By now I’m ecstatic, but the night is far from over. Honestly the best is yet to come; Repetitor, noise rock all the way from Serbia, ready to blow your mind. The rhythm machine; two timid girls in the crowd who become a two headed monster on stage, is as tight as the jeans that I wore when I was sixteen would be on me now, and if you thought John Robb was an restless energy bomb, these three combined are noise rock nuke. Having spent most of my teenage years listening to the likes of Sonic Youth, Fugazi and the most noisiest examples of indie rock, I have seen and heard my share of post hardcore, noise rock and no wave shizzle, but still this threesome manages to take me off guard. True, I have been mouth syncing on “Dobrodošli Na Okean”, the latest Repetitor release, for something like two years now as it is one of the best noise rock records I have heard in the last few years, but that it would have this effect live was unexpected. Maybe it is the alcohol, probably it is, but when the three leave the stage I have the strong feeling this was a legendary show. A show of a band that is about to be big in the niche scene that it is in, and I was part of it.
It was loud, it was ferocious and powerful, I usually avoid the word, but this whole show had a sense of urgency; these three are not a band for being a band, they are a band because they have to get it out of their system. Or at least that’s how the play. Slow burning post hardcore, maybe even with a touch of sludge, that drags you along, fierce crying guitars and great unavoidable sing-a-long punk lyrics shouted as if it is the last thing to be said. I don’t understand a word Serbian or Slavic for that matter, but they mean it and I know it. And when I start shouting along, I mean it too.
Drained, drunk with joy (and other things) and fuelled to the max, I see these young gods leave the stage, suppress me wanting to touch them as they pass by; heroes of a kind. And then some Balkan beats kick in. Not my choice. Jasper finds a sofa and dives into his book, Richard finds his way to the cocktail bar, drunk with joy and other things. I finally find the time to wipe John Robb’s sweat off my forehead. Our band could be your life pops in mind when I see the topic of Jasper’s book, but I would die if I had to do this every night. The full monty; rock ‘n’ roll, living nights of legends. In Leiden; shyte, of all places in Leiden. This must have been the best Luifabriek meeting ever, paradise can only top this.