Oh for a good night's sleep. And a shower. And a hearty breakfast. About as good as morning on tour can get. I feel a million times better than I did this time yesterday.
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.
We play a solid enough set and I feel myself getting more and more into it as is goes on. There are still only a few people around the side of the stage though and try as I might, the atmosphere just isn't the same this time around. I can't seem to keep a solid hold of my pick either, and my index finger of my right hand is streaming a steady flow of blood on to my new strings and the bridge pick up below them. Fucking typical that I only restrung my guitar yesterday. Right at the end of the last song I collide with some stray stage diver, just as I'm about to swing around towards my amp. His leg catches me right in the back of my left calf with an almighty thud and the two of us hit the surface of the stage like a sack of fucking spuds. I manage to save my guitar from hitting the deck but as I roll up onto my feet, like a twat, I angrily sling the guitar down at the base of my speaker cabinet anyway. It lands ok though and manages to stay stood upright. Just. The red mist of anger soon disperses and I start packing down. The crowd screaming for one more song from us. When the PA music comes on the crowd boos us. My leg is faintly throbbing. Some American guy stood on-stage comments, “That was a hell of way to end the set!” I shrug my shoulders and make some comment about that being the way it goes sometimes.
After cooling off back stage and loading the gear, minus the stuff we've lent to Lally, into the back of the van, I go off in search of the wonderful tofu burgers they sell here. And after I'm done with that I want a beer and I want to watch Joe Lally. We get fed and then with beer in hand, Johan and I check out Joe's set. There are probably no more than a couple of hundred people watching him in the early evening sun. This really isn't the festival for him to be playing. He just kinds jams his way through his relaxed set. It sounds exactly as one would imagine it to. There isn't much action but I enjoy watching him play. The guy is an amazing bass player and it's a lesson in musicianship just watching him. I'm starting to feel truly good for the first time today.
After Joe is done and I've put my amp away in the van with the rest of the gear, we hang out for a while at the merchandise area with Nico. It seems things are going well. The show might not have had quite the same magic as last time, but we've already sold more merch than we did a couple of years ago.
I go for a walk around the distro area of the festival, although I'm not really in the mood for buying records. I do pick up and album by a band called Captain, You Ship Is Sinking though. The sticker on the record says they sound like a cross between Aussitot Mort and Envy. If that's true then it's worth taking a chance on. I pick that up and then wander over to a distro called Goodwill Records, that are based in Berlin. I get talking to the guy at the stall whose name is Adam, and of course, he knows Andy. I'm fucking chuffed to find a copy of Peruvian Vacation by The Stupids and we stand there chatting for a while. He's a really nice guy and later on I send Andy over to say hello. It's a small punk rock world..
The news has filtered through that Amy Winehouse has died today. Someone has written a note on a piece of paper and stuck it above the entrance to the festival site. Another one added to the twenty seven club. A friend of ours from the States, Megan, texts Jon telling him she heard it was due to natural causes... This has Jon brings Jon close to tears of laughter.
By the time Swing Kids are about to play, I've meandered down to the front of the crowd on my todd, beer in hand, to watch what was once a great band. There are quite a lot of people in the crowd, although not as many as I expected. Justin Pearson stands around posing for the best part of fifteen minutes whilst they get the sound sorted on stage.
It's a great surprise to get to see them play, but if I'm honest, apart from Pearson, it feels a bit stiff. A bit like the whole festival in general really. I watch the entire set but as much as it's great getting to see classics like El Camino Car Crash live, after a while Pearson’s unashamed posing starts getting on my tits. He doesn't say a word between songs, he just kinds stands there doing his utmost to look like an arrogant cunt. Maybe he is, or maybe I'm just not in the mood. The sound isn't particularly great either, which doesn't help. Although Swing Kids set is still better than most of the stuff you see at shows these days, it isn't quite as good as I'd hoped for and I'm a little disappointed. I guess I'm getting snobby in my old age.
We meet back at the merch stall afterwards and Jon is absolutely lyrical about the Swing Kids set. I make a remark about Pearson being a posing cunt, to which Jon replies, “Yeah yeah, but he's so fucking handsome I almost had a wank in the crowd!”. What can I say to that? Nothing. Whereas Johan and I are the Fugazi fans in the band, it's Jon who shares my love of Swing Kids records...
The festival is closing down for the evening now and we follow suit and start to pack away the merch. This being the third time Victims have played Fluff in the last five years, it's probably time for us to take a break from the place for a while. Too bad that our boys in Black Breath are playing tomorrow night, it would have been great to hang out with them, but we're flying home from Bremen at seven pm, which means leaving the hostel at nine am. for a long days drive.
We pack down the merch and head over to the van. Johan goes off in search of the key for the hostel and is told that the keys are with the festival's band driver who is on his way back from Prague. It's going to be at least half an hour. We decide that the only thing to do is get some beer in. Jon and Andy go off to the beer tent and bring back Gambrinus in abundance. We hang out in by the side of the van behind the stage in the what is by now, dark, chilly night. Stachel is moping around, saying he doesn't like this emo screamo festival...or something to that effect. Come to think of it, I've hardly seen that sod all day.
By the time the driver turns up in his car with the keys, I'm have that slightly warm, slightly cosy feeling that a few beers can give you. We follow the crazy driver guy, I remember him from last time, good guy, always laughing, in our van back to the hostel. I remember the place we slept last time around looking like Resident Evil, this place tonight doesn't look so bad though. Still, we decide to spend as little time as possible in it. We throw our bags on the beds in the dormitory the four of us in the band are sharing and me and Johan look at each other. Johan asks me, “Are you thinking about going for a beer?”. There had been some vague talk of it in the van trip back to the hostel...and I did noticed we had passed a bar just around the corner. I look at the time. Midnight. We're not getting up until eight and all we have to do is sit in the van all day tomorrow...but then I could do with a good night's sleep... “Well, if everyone else told me that they were going for a beer then I would probably follow”, I reply. “Yeah, that's probably what I would say...if everyone else was going for a beer I mean..” Johan retorts, a slight grin spreading across his face.
"Come on let's go"...
The four of us decide to head off in search of that bar we'd passed in the van. I can tell by the look in Andy's expression that he's starting to get drunk. That and the fact he's saying something about having to finish what has been started. Stachel is tapping out for the night, but Nico mentions about tagging along. We wait around outside the hostel for all of twenty seconds and then leave, deciding to call Nico with directions when we get to the bar. Just as we get back to the main road, the driver guy pulls up and tells us to hop in, offering us a lift. Perfect.
The sign above the door says “Sports Bar”. It's a dark, quiet street and there isn't a sound coming from the bar. The light is on though, we step inside.
It's a small, basic room with a little bar in the corner. Behind the bar stands a rather haggard looking middle aged woman, staring into thin air. She hardly acknowledges our presence. The only other patrons in the establishment are a group of three old men, sat together at a table on one side of the room, each with a beer in hand, barely uttering a word to each other. There are a couple of tv's dotted around the room showing a dubbed version of the film Hannibal. We take a table opposite the bar and Johan sorts out a round of beer. The beer is the Czech Republic is some of the finest you will find, and it's ridiculously cheap for us Swedes. At the festival we were selling t-shirts for three hundred Czech kronors, which is the equivalent of the one hundred Swedish kronors, or ten English pounds we usually sell them for. A pint of Gambrinus at this bar costs just ten Czech kronors! “Four beers please”.
We sit around in the bar for a couple of rounds. The old boys and the bartender hardly uttering a word the whole time we're there. We're happy as pigs in shit though! We guzzle down a couple of beers, chatting about this and that. Every now and again somebody comes into the bar, usually an older man, with an empty, plastic one litre bottle and hands it over to the bartender for re-filling, then leaves again after paying. Things certainly work differently here than they do in old Sverige.
After a couple of rounds, with the time approaching one am, the lady behind the bar tells us with the use of sign language that the bar is closing. We drink up and make to leave for the hostel. Andy engages her in some sort of conversation as we're heading out the door. The lady points to the ceiling and says something about another bar being open upstairs. We're all getting a bit drunk by now and we probably should go back to hostel and get some sleep. We don't, of course...
The bar upstairs is a larger, brighter room. Other than that, it's the same deal. The bartender is a younger, happier looking girl who's broad smile greets us as we walk to the bar and park our arses on the four vacant bar stools. There is a group of slightly younger but just as haggard looking men gathered round a table in the middle of the room, albeit far from sitting quietly drinking their beers they're in full song. I like this bar.
During the hour or so we're there we drink three beers each and we share a couple of surprisingly delicious cheese pizzas. The lot of that comes to less than two hundred Czech kronors... At one point Andy goes off to the bog and upon his return tells us he's found a roulette table in another room. Now I'm not the slightest bit interested in gambling, apart from the odd flutter on the pools, but Johan is up for it.
It's one of those digital roulette tables. It's the same size as a normal table, just that it's electrically powered as opposed to having someone work it. We stand around it like a haggle of lost sheep, staring at the contraption. Johan feeds a one hundred kronor note into the slot. Nothing happens. Cue four guys scratching their heads, looking confused... Johan surmises that we probably put too little into the machine and this time tries a five hundred note. Still nothing..
Jon attempts to converse with the bartender, hoping his German will help breach the barrier gap. I can't really understand how, but he manages to get across the message. The girl brings out a complaint form for Johan to fill out. It's written in Czech of course. Johan and Jon actually attempt to start filling it out but quickly give up. The scene is quite ridiculous. We've just pissed away about two hundred Swedish kronors of the bands money, or about sixty pints of Gambrinus! Fuck it, we've had a good day at the merch stall...
After another pint each we decide it really is time to head back. Time and sleep is ticking away. I really feel now that I could stay here until the sun comes up drinking, and if we were playing another show tomorrow instead of flying home, then I probably would. I'm not eighteen years old any more and at some point, some morsel of sense must prevail...
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