We have a longish drive to the Fluff Fest in Rokycany, Czech Republic. We need to leave around eleven am. to make sure we're there in good time for our 7pm. stage slot. This is the show I've been looking forward to all summer. The last time we played there was two years ago and apart from an appalling stage sound, the show was immense! There were about a thousand people in the crowd and about another sixty circled around us on stage, with a constant wave of stage divers flying from the stage into the crowd below. It was one of those “special shows”. If today is half as good, I'll be happy.
Before we load out the van and leave, we sit down to breakfast with the guys from Nothing in the kitchen at the venue. They're a really nice group of guys, and we chat about touring and the likes. It turns out we have a friend in common, a great guy named Zoli from Budapest. Speedhorn had toured together with Zoli's band, Bridge To Solace, in Europe a few years back. It was a lot of fun. Zoli himself promotes shows in Budapest and had organised a show there on our tour, and it turned out to be the best show of that tour. The guys in Nothing were there just last week. We chat through breakfast, which just as last night's dinner, is superb. The woman running the venue has put on a great spread of various dishes such as scrambled eggs and a mozzarella, tomato and basil salad dressed in balsamic vinegar. Washed down with some strong, black coffee, it's a fine start to the day.
We've only been on the road a few minutes when the news starts filtering through...
Jenny sends me a text commenting on how terrible the events in Norway are. At first I assume she means the bombing in the city of Oslo, but she soon texts me back with the news that over eighty kids have been shot to death at a youth camp on an island just outside of Oslo. It appears to be the same person who was responsible for the bombing, just an a couple of hours earlier. News is that the gunman, a Christian Fundamentalist with extreme right wing leanings, travelled to the island on a passenger boat, dressed as a policeman, armed with an assortment of guns. They say that he gathered a large group of children together and then started executing them.
It's hard to get to grips with something like that. The news puts an obvious downer on the atmosphere in the van, and I spend the best part of the next six hour journey to Rokycany silently thinking about the horror that exists in life. Playing a show at a hardcore festival suddenly feels completely irrelevant.
The journey today is another long one. We stop just over the Czech border to purchase a road tax ticket for the rest of the journey. We all get out at the service station, taking advantage of the chance to stretch our legs. The sun is at least shining today, which should make for a good atmosphere at the festival. On the way into the service station I notice a scruffy looking bastard, drinking beer and talking loudly with himself. When we're done buying the usual pile of junk food and we head back out to the van, the crazy guy is still standing there, being loud. We walk past him back to our van, and of course, he stops Jon for a talk. We turn around and begin to laugh at the spectacle. I only hear Jon telling the guy a couple of times that he's Swedish, and then the guy asks him if he has any hash or weed. Jon just shakes his head and walks away. I'm cracking up when Jon gets back to the rest of us, waiting at the van. Jon tells me he's sure the guy was an undercover cop. I hadn't even considered that option. Maybe Jon is paranoid. Maybe he's a lot wiser to the world than I am...but the more I think about it the more I think Jon could well have been right.
We finally get to the Fluff Festival at five twenty pm. On the rider details we received from Tomas the promoter, it said we were playing at seven. It now says on the schedule in the backstage that we're actually playing at six. Fuck. It's lucky we weren't any later, although it doesn't leave us with the best preparation to get up and play a show. Fuck knows what happened with the communication breakdown.
The first person we see when we start unloading the van is our friend Goran, who plays drums in the straight-edge band Stay Hungry. Goran played drums in Jon's old hardcore band, Outlast, who played a reunion show at Fluff Fest last time we were here. They were playing the day before us and I'd flown down with the Outlast guys to hang out for the whole weekend. We had a great time then, and it's good to see Goran again. It also helps us with another thing that's been on my mind today, the spare guitar situation. The guys from Stay Hungry do indeed come to the rescue.
Another thing that was announced on the original schedule I'd seen was that Joe Lally, the Fugazi bass player, was playing right before our slot. I had been completely psyched about this, since I'm a huge Fugazi fan, and this would probably be the closest I'd ever get to playing with them... It turns out that Joe is on right after us instead, which is absolutely fine with me. The funny thing is, his tour manager approaches us and asks if Joe can borrow Johan's bass as a back-up, and if his guitarist can borrow my head. Johan, another Fugazi fan, is as happy as I am to help out. In fact, we're chuffed.
To add to the list of surprises today, I find out that Swing Kids, or at least, Swing Kids minus the deceased guitarist, with two other guitarists in his place, are headlining the main stage tonight. I absolutely loved Swing Kids on record. So, sharing a stage with both Joe and Swing Kids in one day puts a bit of a brightener on things. Again, in the light of yesterday's events it pales into insignificance, but...
The band before us are a hardcore straight-edge band from San Francisco, called Punch. They have a young female vocalist, who screams her lungs out for the entire set. They're pretty good and it's fun watching them. There are a few people up around the side of the stage and plenty of people jumping up and off of it. The only thing that is troubling me is that the stage times are running a half hour late on the main stage, and I can hear music blasting out from the tented stage suggesting that the usual streamlined alternating stage times are of cue.
We set up on the big open stage and there is hardly anyone lingering around in the audience. I guess most are over by the tent. By the time we're ready to start though the main stage area has filled out, although Johan still has to call them to come forward a little. The sun is beaming through the scattered clouds in the otherwise blue sky, the setting is perfect. But something with the atmosphere seems amiss. There are only a couple of people hanging around on the sides of the stage. Before we kicked off last time around there were people literally hanging off the back of my amp. Something feels different this time around. The stage feels wide open and lonely. Not what I'd expected.
Just as we're about to start some Italian guy holding what seems to be a note in his hand, comes on to the middle of the stage and takes a hold of the mic. He then starts reading from his note, informing the crowd that three militant animal rights activists, fellow Italians, have been sentenced to three years imprisonment for conspiring to blow up a conceived target of theirs, in the name of their struggle in the fight against vivisection. He pledges his support to his comrades and it almost feels like we're stood there in support. He gets a rippled applause from the crowd. Now of course I'm against all forms of cruelty to animals, but I'm also against using violence as a means to and end. Violence breeds violence. I don't understand how blowing up a building, with the possibility of inflicting death, can solve anything. It's a weird start to our set.
We kick into the first block and already half way through V5 I've both dropped a pick and Andy and I have lost Johan and Jon on the far side of the stage. We look at each other confused and struggle to find our way back into the song. There isn't a whole lot of movement from the crowd either. Shit start.
It gets better from the second block onwards though. By the time we're half way through the set the crowd stretches all the way to the back of the main stage area, with what must be at least one thousand people. The reaction between songs gets louder with every break, but the crowd still aren't moving as much as they normally do at this festival. It's not until This Is The End that things really start kicking off and people start stage diving.