Off To Europe
with my bags packed to circumvent suspicious customs agents as much as possible, i boarded my first flight at the newly named hartsfield-jackson international airport. the cheapest way to get to my first stop, copenhagen, was to take a klm flight to amsterdam, wait for a bit, then hop on another plane to denmark. as it turned out, this was not a bad thing at all as the klm flights were comfortable and the staff and food were far more pleasant than anything i've ever experienced on delta. the eight hour flight (with six hours gained thanks to our planet's axial orbit) put me in amsterdam at seven in the morning local time, still midnight or so my time. thankfully, the dutch have seen fit to provide a quick laugh for visitors as soon as they arrive. as i approached the customs desk, (which i was told in advance would be a breeze to get through, even if i was carrying a bazooka!) i noticed an odd syncronicity amongst the customs officers. the three desks were staffed by six young men, all beautiful, chiseled, in neatly-pressed uniforms and with perfectly and rigidly styled hair. the first guy was wearing blocky black frame glasses with a beckham-esque faux-hawk. next to him was a tall, bronzed platinum blond pretty boy. at the next desk sat a shorter fellow with sculpted cheekbones and a blisteringly white smile full of teeth, while to his right was... wait a minute, holland's immigration desk was staffed by a boy band! all of the chinese youth orchestra girls in front of me certainly saw it too as they giggled and fanned each other's faces. the message: dutch people are hot! if you've ever been through US immigration, you'll be able to instantly see what our country is doing wrong. we've got it all backwards. instead of grouchy heavy-set ladies who bark 'where are you going?' we need to employ the aspiring boy bands and pop singers to welcome people to the land of plenty.
the next klm flight to copenhagen was short, but just as pleasant save for the man sitting behind me who was so proud of his failing heart muscle that he unbuttoned his shirt to show off 'the world's only open heart'. i lucked out on my seating arrangement by one row. to offset the unnecessary medical gore, the klm office had apparently decided to put their top talent on the flight and i was served a nice vegetarian sandwich by one of the most beautiful women i have ever seen. this solidified the theory in my mind that klm is in fact the official day job of newbie pop singers in the netherlands. either that, or they are cloners, damn good ones too.
It Begins in Copenhagen
copenhagen is a bit more like japan than i would have imagined. it's certainly a scandanavian city first and foremost, but the bicycles and trains and kiosks and soda machines and buildings sitting so close together that you can lean out of one and touch the next all reminded me of kyoto. there's a beautiful oldness to copenhagen, where you can feel the history seeping through cracks in the wall and oozing out over the cobblestone streets. there's a fair bit of modernity too, like the neon signs and jumbotron banners that clumsily adorn the roofs of buildings older than most cities in the US, but it all tied together with a kind of charm. you haven't lived until you've seen an innuit dressed in faux fubu selling hip hop jackets and roca wear! after meeting up with roland from needle sharing, i had some wonderful chocolate/hazelnut milk and some exotic fanta flavors (one was actually CALLED exotic) and we stopped for danish hotdogs on the street. now, i'm not sure if this is just an american conceit, but when i ordered a frankfurter and the man in the cart asked if i wanted a bun, i naturally said yes and assumed that the sausage would be placed INSIDE the bun. instead, i was faced with the hidden-camera-like challenge of eating the hotdog on its own, with a side-order of bun--an unsplit mini-loaf of bread. this was all a little weird and i don't like eating greasy food with my fingers so i cobbled together a frankenstein weiner out of ripped pieces of bread and the hot dog. after all that, it was actually pretty good.
it seems that everyone in denmark speaks english. this is good if you are trying to get around on the trains or looking for food or trying to discuss the finer points of the rift between the goth and industrial scenes with locals, but it made me feel a bit uneasy that i knew virtually nothing about denmark and danish customs. from what i could gather, there's a proud dedication to community and the value of communication in europe. in the US, people complain that they have to select english at the atm, but in denmark, one of my hosts explained it to me in a simple but profound way. she said: "i learned to speak five languages so that i could commincate with my neighbors and the people around me." we could learn so much from that attitude, from the willingness to put in the effort to meet other people half-way and to try and understand them. the danes had some pretty fundamental misconceptions about me, assuming i'd be a 'typical american' which in their view constituted a love of summer blockbusters, fast food, and excess. instead, i think it surprised them that i could talk to them about lars von trier films and asked where the nearest juice bar was. i guess in some ways, i'm more european than i know. but i still like a good hot dog (in a bun, please) and i don't put ketchup on my pasta bolognese.
the show in copenhagen was pretty nice. the crowd was a bit smaller than the organizers had hoped, but still considerably bigger than most shows in the states. mago opened up and had a great video mixer and video-kaoss pad which i drooled over a bit. most of the danish audience had never heard of larvae and weren't sure what i was going to be doing, but they quickly got the hang of it. it appears that the language of beats is universal. disdain for starbucks is apparently almost as universal, as i had a conversation with someone after the show about how much he liked the anti-starbucks video we play. as the noise drones of 'destroy all monsters' faded out, i looked up to leave the stage only to see the stage being bum rushed by a few zany fans who were chanting 'restart' and bowing down on the stage a la wayne and garth. this was quite embarrassing but also a good sign that it was a good show. i sold a handful of cds and wound up signing almost all of them, something i still wish people wouldn't ask me to do but something i have to live with i guess. i don't understand the desire for an autograph, but i'm not going to be rude to people who've just bought an album. thankfully there's enough space on the inside of the cover for me to write witty things like 'rotoscoping is fun' and 'don't buy nike!'
from copenhagen it was on to krefeld, germany for the maschinenfest. krefeld isn't geographically all that far from copenhagen, so if there was a copenhagen-krefeld express train, the whole trip would have been a little easier. as it was though, there isn't such a direct route so roland and i hopped onto an easyjet flight to the UK to pick up mothboy and then on another easyjet to amsterdam, where we met nicolas for the drive into germany. easyjet is a concept we need in the states. when companies like delta and united whine about prices and losing money and all the breaks they aren't getting from the government after september 11th, it astounds me to see how easyjet works. the flight from copenhagen to london set me back about 10 bucks. that's FLIGHT for 10 bucks! you can catch a leg from aberdeen, scotland to london for about a pound fifty. that's roughly equivalent to catching marta from my apartment to philips arena and back! i am still in shock about how this works, but it appears to be a model of efficiency. no free nuts and drinks, no seat assignments, no first class, business class, skyteam, delta loves you cards... you pick where you want to go, buy a ticket, show up, get on the plane, find a seat, and you're off. this is how flying should be. sure, it lacks some of the amenities like movies and reruns of 'friends', but for short flights of an hour or two or three, who cares? if i could trip off to houston or dc or new york any old day for twenty bucks, you'd better believe i'd be all over it. we need us some easyjet.
at this point, it's only fair to mention that mothboy and his partner chris have a tolerance for alcohol that appears to be unparalleled in my experience. we met them and right away it was 'let's get a beer' so we were off to the in-airport pub. (of course) two pints later, we were looking for the departure gate only to find that it wasn't quite time for us to board, so we stopped in the lounge for... a beer. one can of heineken on the plane, a bottle at the sandwich shop in amsterdam, and a six pack of (sadly) non-alcoholic brew later, and we were finally in krefeld. there was just enough time for two bottles of beer from the vending machine to hold them on the walk to the venue, and then we made a b-line for the artist area backstage where the beer was free and flowing. sometime around 1 am as i was getting ready to head out back to the hotel, i was talking with simon and realized he had just sat his beer down to take a couple swigs from his half-empty bottle of wine. chris was drinking double fisted as well, and this apparently continued well into the night until finally someone found one or the both of them in a stairwell. i have to say, for having ingested that much alcohol, at 1 am when i left them they appeared entirely lucid and capable of perfectly normal conversation. it wasn't until the next day that i realized that the conversation had been a waste of time as we started to lapse into it again with seemingly no recollection that we had talked about the same exact things 12 hours before.
the maschinenfest was about what i expected when i walked in, but bigger. i knew they had sold about 1300 tickets and that this was the biggest festival for 'this kind' of music in germany, and therefore, the world, but nothing really prepared me for walking into a giant auditorium with a 1000+ capacity and seeing 800+ freaks in all shades of black bouncing up and down to heavy pounding rhythmic noise. i immediately froze and thought that the show would probably be an utter disaster where people just left the space by the hundred to take a break while the dumb american played his not-so-dark music. i watched the reaction to other acts like s.cage and mothboy though,and i realized that people are really pretty accepting of just about anything you put in front of them at MF as long as it has a beat. everyone else i talked to seemed nervous about performing but for some reason, after practicing the night before in the hotel and a quick 10 minute soundcheck, i felt like this would be pretty easy to pull off.
The Mighty Maschinenfest
i lucked out and the hooked up with the guys from mlada fronta who had brought their own custom made projection screen and 'beamer'. they were more than happy to let me use it because it meant they could have it set up before they played and not have to rush things in-between sets. the screen everyone else used was behind some lighting rigs and was usually obscured by mass volumes of smoke, but the french screen was a thing of beauty. it stretched the length of the stage and stood as from the floor to the ceiling. the projection was nearly the size of that in a standard movie theater, and i was able to stand just in front of it and to the side, with plenty of light bouncing off the screen to light up my controllers. i got roland to grab a megaphone and introduce me to break the tension and my nerves. it was great to get an endorsement from someone as well known and imposing as needle sharing. it's always good when someone's got your back. the set starts off slowly but with some of the best videos, so from the beginning, people weren't moving a whole lot but they seemed into it. after refuse died out and the video went black, there was a pretty nice bit of applause, enough to let me know that they didn't hate it, and i knew that if i could get past the first four songs, that they'd be well-into the latter half of the set.
the problem was, i wasn't really prepared for just HOW into it they would be! as the faster songs crept into the set and the videos moved from the social commentary to just plain funny territory, things ramped up. the appluase and screaming after each song was getting louder each time and i was starting to get a little shaky at the prospect that people were really into this in the way i used to be into my favorite bands. during the bollywood video, there was actually an audible uproar of approval when the enduser meets larvae breaks kicked in with the spastic bollywood dancing. it was at this point that the crowd went from being excited to going apeshit. when 'destroy all monsters' was finally over and the screen was black, i wound the throbbing noise down and then yanked the audio cord and there was a ridiculous ovation that i thought couldn't possibly be for larvae. i waved a quick thanks and took off backstage.
roland greeted me with a huge hug and i talked a bit with him and mike of 5f_55 about how the show went well and how i was happy with it and having fun. after a minute or two, i was aware that people were STILL SCREAMING and demanding some more. nicolas had told me to prepare an encore in case this happened, but the set is designed so that i really leave it all on stage at the end of the monster music section. in my mind, there's not an adequate follow up to that, but there wasn't really an end in sight for the shouting and clapping so i walked sheepishly back onstage and tried to figure out what i could play. i had saved off a version of crazyeye in live that i knew i could boot up but i wasn't sure how the machine would handle it because i never practiced a set and then an encore. after some false starts and a puzzled look on my part, i rebooted to a large cheer and then fired away with crazyeye. knowing that it wasn't anywhere near as dense and macabre as the end of destroy all monsters, i kicked the volume up a bit in live and just went for it and even without the video, people seemed to appreciate it.
what followed was amazing and surreal. after making music for 10+ years and playing countless shows with this band and others, i was pretty resigned to the fact that the music i make would always find a small sub-population of any room that related to it and the rest would just kind of shrug it off as weird or not really what they were into. here, though, were 1000+ people flipping the fuck out for tunes that i had written and videos that bryan had put together and it definitely instilled in me a new sense of responsibility to an audience
The First Bump In The Road
after the immense high of the success at maschinenfest, it was only fair to expect a bit of a low. missing my flight to athens definitely qualified as a low! remember the easyjet i loved so much? well part of their mojo is not letting people check in for a flight less than 40 minutes before departure. we got to the airport with about 20 min to spare, but that was not good enough so i was stranded. after some frantic email-checking and running around to half a dozen travel agent desks, we managed to find a direct flight to athens later in the day. the good news was that it was on olypic air, an airline with abormally large seats and legroom. the bad news was that this would set me or nicolas or someone back about 200 bucks. it pays to get to the airport on time!
i arrived in greece at 5 instead of noon, which pretty well killed any chance for sight-seeing. i don't really care so much about seeing the castles and churches in germany because i've done that before, but i was really looking forward to seeing the acropolis and some mythological beasts. no such luck, although i was able to snap a picture of the acropolis from the car! nikos met me at the airport and was a tremendous host. after picking up the diy PA, installing it in the basement of the club, testing out the sound (which was immense) and chatting about the states, we went out to a very traditional taverna. the music was playing, a kid was dancing, people were all drinking water from glass bottles, and the food came in waves on small plates that we all shared for at least an hour. by the time the main course was delivered, i had already stuffed myself on several varieties of cheese, chickpeas, bread, and cucumbers. this was the kind of thing i had hoped for in greece: a real down-to-earth meal with some locals that made the experience of being in athens tangible. nikos mentioned that athens wasn't really the best example of greece, and that i should come back some time to tour the islands. good idea.
the show was another incredible experience. if the maschinenfest was an exercise in pumping up a crowd of 1000 with a giant PA and screen, the athens show was about rocking a small concrete basement with 50 or 60 friends with the projection on the wall and not a light in the room. the dj sets before i went on were great, but not overly hard and nikos mentioned that venetian snares had played a week or so before me and wound up being too much for people to enjoy. i wouldn't ever draw a comparison to what i do with v.snares, but the fact that the audience did have a treshhold for noise and weirdness was in the back of my mind as i kicked into the harder part of the set. everyone loved it though, and amidst the wacky dancing and curious looks at the video, the energy in the room was fantastic. the small pa that we had brought in a tiny car somehow pumped out enough bass to make bodies quake, and the design of the room sort of trapped the sound, making it a bit overwhelming. when i was done and the djs came back on, everything was much, much harder and more abrasive, ending with a set from nikos that ranks up there with the loudest and most violent things i have ever heard. why is it that the nicest, kindest people enjoy the punishing noise the most?
Dinner With The Mongoose
from athens, it was back to berlin and by now, the tour was not even half-over but it was feeling like it had been going on for too long. my inital plan to take two sets with me to provide some variation was scrapped in favor of performing the same set every night for the sake of simplicity with the videos. while i had already watched three very different rooms all react overwhelmingly positively to the show, i still had my doubts about berlin.
how is it that the smallest of pebbles can make the largest ripples in the pond? maschinenfest was intimidating, but ultimately something i could suck up, handle, and eventually conqure. somehow, one man in berlin was able to make me more nervous than 1000+ at the maschinenfest. his name: mick harris. it's no secret that i've looked up to mick for a long, long time. comparisons of larvae to scorn in reviews are fair and warranted, and i can honestly say that if it weren't for scorn i would not be making the music i am making today. harris has been a constant teacher and inspiration, and someone i've been lucky enough to talk to in email a few times, but never meet. as odd as it might sound, i never wanted to play a show with scorn. i love the stuff, probably to the point of excess and distraction, but mick harris is someone i've never felt i could hold the stage with. he's an icon. so it was a great honor to open for him, but also a scary and tension-inducing thing. would he like it? would he even watch it? would people think i was just pulling off a second-rate version of scorn? somehow this small, friendly and really un-imposing guy had me nervous and talking like an idiot and incapable of sitting still.
when i took the stage though, the nerves went away and i could feel that people were with me from the first couple beats of 'refuse'. it wasn't until after 'redline' that the second small pebble made its ripples. some twit who had already had too much to drink felt like he needed to voice his disapproval of the videos by shouting 'boring' in between songs. this jerked me out of my happy place and sent a chill of doubt through me. even though people were dancing, watching the videos intently, clapping and sometimes screaming "yeah!" at me, this one idiot very nearly negated all of the positive vibe. i shot back with a quick flip of the bird the second time he yelled at me, which in retrospect i regret because it might have been interpreted as a bird at the whole audience, but i went on, sucked it up, and did the best i could. luckily, in my experience the bollywood remix and the 'destroy all monsters' are almost immistakably fun and entertaining. even with a lackluster reception from the audience for the first half of the set, the ending always seems to work and this was no exception. we sold proportionately as many cds in berlin as at the maschinenfest and i got about as many thumbs up and broken english compliments as i had been getting at other shows, so everything pointed to the show being a success. oddly, it still felt sort of tainted by the heckler and by the feeling that it wasn't as awe-inspiring as i had hoped as a set before scorn. scorn was, of course, immense.
it was difficult to gauge how mick liked or didn't like the evening. he seemed okay with it, but not overly-enthusistic about it which put doubts in all of our minds about how well the show really came off. i guess we all had expectations of a kind of magical experience where a room packed to the walls was just throbbing and head nodding to scorn and larvae and while that happened a little, it was somehow less than what we'd hoped for. the local opener LFO Demon was quite good too, and all in all, if the show had happened in any other place or without the raging drunk idiot (who also tried to wind mick up) it would have been amazing. as it was, it was just really good, spoiled a bit by cicrumstance, but still highly enjoyable and filled with monsterous bass.
it is at this point that the story got truly bizarre. i met up with gunnar at the train station in rostok and with very little dialogue we went back to his place to sit for a minute, then on to the local college campus for some lunch. i don't think i said more than 30 words between the time i was picked up at the train station and then dropped off aboard the MS Stubnitz, but that was okay. i was shown directly to my cabin on the real-life, working, sailing Stubnitz, a former east german fishing boat that has been turned into a floating culture venue by an enterprising german guy. after thumbing through an American Slang dictionary that was written for polish sailors, i took a nap on the sofa in my cabin for quite a few hours.
the gig took place in the big performance deck which the ship's schematics show as being half-way under the water line. this was definitely my first show sub-sea level. the stubnitz is something you really have to see to believe, with projections and lights everywhere, and scrapped nautical fixtures like radars and depth charges serving mundane new tasks like cash register and disco ball. the promoter told me that often a week-night show like this would get about 10 people, so i was expecting to just have fun on the boat and play for a handful of the curious. instead, the boat was turning a brisk business which surprised about everyone.
the opening band was a candaian/french duo who played a weird kind of ethnic psuedo-surf rock. i liked it quite a bit, but wondered if people would be into what i had in store for them after something like that. for the first half of the set, the reaction was polite but reserved. somewhere halfway through though, the lighting tech decided to kick on the smoke machine. normally i would hate this, but it actually worked to get people dancing. something about not being able to see each other clearly seemed to open people up at about the time that the set got faster. the end of the set worked as well on the stubnitz as it had anywhere else, and i was beginning to think that maybe i should consider an entire set of uptempo tunes.
The Fun Wears Off, The Sickness Creeps In
Something had been 'not right' with me physically since returning from Greece and it was starting to take a real toll after playing on the boat. a combination of an inhuman number of flights, constant cigarette smoke, and little to no sleep was finally taking its toll as we drove back to berlin so i could catch a flight to basel. the swiss promoters were tremendously hospitable and a great deal of fun to talk with, but i wound up spending most of the morning crashed out on a spare bed. after lunch at a restaurant run by anarchists!?! we hopped into a van with rachel (hecate) and took off for lausanne.
it never failed that everywhere i went, people wanted my opinion of the upcoming presidential election. europeans, at least the ones i met, are following the situation very cloesly--even watching the debates to try and gauge whether or not they will have to put up with 4 more years of tyranny. bush isn't just disliked or disagreed with in europe, he is downright loathed. and not just bush, but all of his advisors are the collective hitlists of european youth who see the dominating US imperialism as a threat to everyone everywhere. one guy at the maschinenfest got so worked up when i told him i was from the states that he told me 'i take george bush and i put him in my asshole' and then he walked away! i wasn't sure what that meant, but it didn't sound good.
by the time we soundchecked in lausanne and i realized that the strict swiss noise ordinance was going to kill any power the set might have had, i crashed back at the super-swank hotel and then in the backstage of the club until the promoter woke me up to play. as much as i tried to get into the show, it was just impossible to overcome the low-volume and crowd dominated by old-school goths who weren't ready for glitchy hip-hop beats. by the end of the set, as usual, things kicked in and people were asking me to play more but i was completely exhausted and couldn't imagine getting people any more into it, so i ducked out and tried to relax. i stayed for a few minutes of panacea's set becuase it was an incredible feat to be playing with him, but even his well-crafted slices of dance-floor pounding rave-n-bass sounded thin with the volume knobs at half-mast. i wanted to stay and see hecate as we had gotten on really well during the day, but it just wasn't in the cards. when i got back to the hotel, i threw everything on the floor and passed out about four questions into the second debate being aired live on cnn world.
One More Show
i kept telling myself that there was only one more show. by this point, it was sad that i was looking forward more to the end of the whole thing than to the next exciting new place. thankfully the promoters in lyon were astoundingly friendly and helpful. i felt embarrassingly pampered, but then they told me that it's not every day that someone from the states drops in to play a set in lyon. the night opened up with a short home-made film about a forbidden love between a black metal girl and a rastafarian raver who meet over a love of ganja. it was silly and quite a bit over the top but a lot of fun and it played well without me understanding a word of french.
the opening band in lyon was the promoters themselves who played an amazing blend of industrial metal percussion, spoken word, broken jazz, and electronic beats. i was so impressed and invigorated at seeing them play that i got a last-minute jolt that made the last european larvae set possible. i actually didn't want to follow picore, because they were so good and so sincere and so diverse that i felt like me with a laptop and some videos and a lot of electronic music would be a let down afterwards. apparently not, as the reaction was quite warm and got more and more enthusiastic as the set progressed. i wound up playing the normal set in live and then switching to traktor for a special dj set of remixes and unreleased tracks so that the tour could end with a real bang. on the bright side, dancing behind the laptop tended to clear up my sinuses temporarily allowing me to breathe. on the downside, directly after the show i was taken to the lyon airport to wait for a 6:45 an plane to amsterdam... no sleep.
so the larvae world-domination tour has come to an end, and what have i learned from it all? i've learned that the human body (at least mine) probably isn't designed to deal with 9 flights in 10 days with a side-dish of second-hand smoke. i learned that the language of beats really is universal, and that mashed up jungle rhythms and videos that take the piss out of hip hop excess and bollywood musicals need no explanation to be funny. i learned that a plush godzilla makes a good stage prop but an even better pillow when faced with the task of trying to catch a nap on a concrete floor. i learned that some people like to put ketchup on pasta, or eat spreads made from rabbit or wild boar, or have hotdogs with detached buns, or drink beer with EVERYTHING, and that i'd give almost anything to live in a country where i could walk down the street to buy fresh bread every morning. i learned that people really, really don't like bush, rumsfeld, or just about anyone currently in power in the states.
there are so many people to thank for the tour, from chris and bryan who didn't get to go but made it possible, to nicolas for setting it all up, to dani for promoting and helping, to all of the wonderful promoters, bands, djs, and people yelling strange things at me. i'm sure that when my head clears and the V-like alien face underneath my real face finally pops out and relieves this pressure, i'll have nothing but good things to say about it all. i'm sure also that this is just a start.
Off To Europe