Bird of Passage

Posted: September 15, 2012 in History
Tags: , , ,

There I stood on the left hand side of the stage, as a member of a Hardcore band named ‘Rothead’, for what was to be our first gig. I held a bass-guitar that wasn’t mine (hell, even the plectrum wasn’t mine), and I was flanked to the right by David on drums, Peter on guitar and my friend Bruno, himself caught up in a life and death struggle with the microphone. I had never played a bass-guitar prior to ‘Rothead’ (or any other musical instrument) but a few ramshackle rehearsals in the dingy room at the back of the Vort’n Vis were supposed to have prepared us for our debut. To make matters worse, a few girls from the girls’ high-school neighboring Bruno’s and mine sauntered in, only to make the DIY (do-it-yourself) principle well up under my armpits, in beads of sweat soiling my carefully chosen ‘Spermbirds’ T-shirt. And boy was I happy to get off stage once we had played through our oeuvre consisting of maybe three, four or five songs, some of which I think we played twice – playing (in my case) meant the execution of a series of finger-movements I had learned by heart, three times here, four times there, three times here again.

I believe (it’s been a while, hasn’t it?) Bruno and I were friends before he eventually became the catalyst for my conversion into a member of Ieper’s Hardcore scene, and so it seems only fitting that long after Hardcore has disappeared from my life, I’m friends with Bruno still. We shared the same high-school, a passion for soccer and a taste for Poperinge’s nightlife (Poperinge being a small city a stone’s throw away from Ieper and its legendary Hardcore venue, the Vort’n Vis, whose inception we were both involved in).

You were either ‘in’ or ‘out’ and although I was certainly ‘in’ for a while, in hindsight my brush with Hardcore was both short-lived and limited. It all happened in ‘89 and ‘90, while being in 5th and 6th grade, but petered out quickly from ‘91 onward, when I had become a chemistry-student at Ghent’s University. I never owned the obligate (and preferably obscure) Japanese or Finnish Hardcore EPs, I never wore the crust uniform but if my recollection is correct, I played two gigs with ‘Rothead’ (in total) and acted as the organizer for three multi-band concerts (to be precise) – all this in addition of course to countless visits to Hardcore gigs. In my memory most of these were held in winter (rime covering the naked fields of the Westhoek); there was always the issue of how to get somewhere and to make sure not to have to hitchhike back at 4 a.m. in the dark cold night, but excitement was a guarantee, as was the meeting up with friends who could be counted on to be there, the sudden and repeated crystallization of a scene from individual lives. I remember ‘The Ex’ in Diksmuide, ‘Gorilla Biscuits’ in Kortrijk, ‘Bad Religion’ in Amsterdam, but above all the gigs at home-base the Vort’n Vis, with local bands, the great ‘Chronic Disease’ from Brugge or ‘Scraps’ from Lille, just across the French-Belgian border.

Perhaps I need to tease apart my dalliance with Hardcore from my involvement with the Vort’n Vis, because even though the two are one and the same thing for most people, for me they were not. Hardcore clearly was music but also an ideology, and I never understood the strange tension that existed perennially between these two poles. Guys just in it for the music (rabid record-collectors) were bad because they were too far on the music side. But Straight Edge was bad too because they were too far on the ideology side; and so on – ad infinitum. In contrast, the Vort’n Vis (and its inception) was a refreshing experience, as what the venture lacked in ideology, it made up for in fun, the fun to open and run a wrong café in a right place, or a right café in a wrong place. I must make a special reference here to the good soul Johan D., who borrowed (he wasn’t the only one) his vinyl records to the Vort’n Vis, where they suffered from unspeakable abuse in the grit of long smoky nights. His records constituted a colorful mix (and allowed me to see for the first time the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland) so that music-wise too, the Vort’n Vis was a little more airy than the Hardcore scene. I’m not even talking about the variety of people potentially walking through the Vort’n Vis’s door on a Saturday night. Motor Club ‘MC The Kings’ comes to mind (a motley heavy-metal crew on mopeds), hence also why it was wise to run the café with two, which is what I did for quite a while, every other Friday, together with the aforementioned Peter.

Circling back to the ideology part of Hardcore once more: one component of the Hardcore ideology that always puzzled me was the idea that multinationals were bad by definition, simply because of them being multi-national. One example of a target having to endure this type of over-simplified hostility was Coca-Cola, a peddler of sugared drinks. (Although I’m sure there’s someone out there who could easily whip up a list of all Coca-Cola’s heinous crimes.) [Brob: People could try and track down the booklet ‘Dirty Fingers in Dirty Pies’, which was distributed in the punk-scene in that era, to get an idea…] It’s important to be mindful here that we were still prior the widespread usage of e-mail, internet and cell-phones (let alone social media) back then. If anything, the tendency in all areas of life has been toward more globalization since. I had the good fortune of having worked for two multinationals in the meantime – good fortune because as an individual I was in both cases treated very well. When I left the last multinational I worked for (to become a stay-at-home dad), they were in the process of settling a healthcare fraud case for 3 billion dollar (after having plead guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges), while at the same time achieving significant milestones toward the free distribution of a malaria-vaccine in Africa. If multinationals are to be bad, it can only be because the people in them are bad and I’m not willing to go that far. There were assholes in Hardcore too.

A component of the Hardcore ideology that did pass the test of time is vegetarianism/veganism, the societal importance of which has only grown in the past decades, among other because of global warming (another novelty!) and ecological pressures.

However, what stands out the most in hindsight (we’re 20 years later now) are the great people I met during those few years (and not ideologies): Bruno, Peter, Johan D. (all three mentioned earlier), Brob (whose lanky silhouette adorned the back wall of many a concert-hall) [Brob: I think Klaas refers to the distro-stalls I used to put up…] and of course Jan C. as well, who not so long ago graciously (in name of the Vort’n Vis) repaid me the 600 euro that another Vort’n Vis co-worker (an ass named Titus who went on to buy a moped with the money) had stolen from the cash-register during one of the gigs I had organized. As I was a teenager spending my last years in recomposed (decomposed) family-units, they provided me with a home away from home, or a home away from many homes, before I finally left for university and learned to build a home within myself (however corny that sounds). I was a bird of passage and the Vort’n Vis / Hardcore scene was my temporary resting-place. (And a place of great times.)

Klaas Hardeman (Mountaintop.be); Ghent, Belgium, Sep. 14, 2012

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