MRR #392

Punk is Love: Recollections from Not Dead Yet festival 2015, Toronto

The caffeine starts to kick in at about 6am, as I am looking at my BART pass wondering why the heck it won’t work. “It’s got like $10 on it, can’t I go through?” The guy gives me some response that’s way too complex and detailed for so early in the morning. “You can get a single at the machine.” Fuckinelle, I’ve got a flight to catch ya know. Hand written sign taped to machine reads CASH ONLY. Well what if I haven’t got any cash?! Canada has its own dollar! Eye roll. “Here,” the guy takes my ticket, trashes it and lets me through. I thank him for his begrudging accommodating me and run through, plane ticket in hand. Oof. Enter airport, locate check-in desk. “Two-hour delay? What the hell?!” Deep breaths. More coffee. Chain smoking. Freaking out but glad I find that old joint in my winter coat pocket before going through security. Finally—boarding. Knotted stomach, all wound up, stuck between two large guys; coding and cross word puzzles. Turbulence outside the plane and inside my brain. I bet I snored.

“Welcome to Philadelphia, local time is just after 5pm. We hope you enjoyed flying with us.” Uh…no! Run out, locate next gate, then closest smoking area. “Yes miss, you’d have to go out and then come through security again.” Bollocks! OK then, something to eat. Bored clerk, big sign: CASH ONLY. OK, bank. “We’re sorry, this option is not available at this time.” For fuck sake. Phone is almost dead, probably won’t work in Canada anyway. Better that way. Social media detox. Live in the moment. I charge it anyway, sprawled out on the floor, frazzled and smelly, my All Coppers Are Cunts shirt getting funny looks.

It’s 5.45 pm. Boarding time says 5.45 pm. Two flight attendants sitting near me at the gate scroll through their phones looking bored. “Um, pardon me but, how are we supposed to be leaving at 5.45 when we’re all still out here?” Without looking up from her phone—very flatly—one of them responds. “That’s a suggested time.” Silence. Then “Oh did I say that out loud?” followed by magpie cackles from both of them. My eyeballs bulge and I don’t know how to respond other than to hang my head in defeat. 6pm finally the heavy aircraft door closes. The plane is tiny, with like 50 seats and one flight attendant who looks like Kirsten Dunst circa Virgin Suicides. It’s unnerving. I’m in a window seat. We’re immobile. I’m evidently agitated. By 6.10, we’re still not moving. 6.20, nothing. I fumble through the in-flight magazine for drink options. The golden ticket.

6.30, finally from the cockpit “Well, the runway is clogged up and we haven’t been given a queue number yet but hopefully within fifteen minutes we’ll be getting in line.” The first band has probably already started. I mumble under my breath like Daffy Duck. At long last, at 6.50 the view outside my window starts to change. “Excuse me, do you serve alcohol on this flight?” “Oh, no. We don’t.” [smile] “It’s regulation for such a short flight to not offer alcoholic beverages to our passengers.” [big smile] “Gotcha, thanks!” I look away in despair and sink further into my seat, half-laughing half-whimpering. The person in front of me briskly turns around giving me a clear “could you please get over yourself and shut the fuck up?” look. I silently glare back and I bury my face into my scarf and try to stay calm.

After landing I rush to the currency exchange, get some plastic see-through Canadian dollars that are so stiff they won’t fold into my wallet, and hit the bathrooms, where I pull a Madonna in Desperately Seeking. Fuck this stress—I’m ready to be at the fucking show! I decide to set my frugality aside and just hail a cab to get me there. Screw negotiating tickets and train lines and terminals and coins. “How much to get to 486 Spanida Avenue?” “$40.” “Here’s $50, let’s go!” We drove past the financial district, past the famous CN Tower, through Chinatown, streets teaming with people, and half an hour later I’m walking up to the Silver Dollar, wondering how I’m gonna get inside, since my ticket is with a friend inside and my phone is OOS. By a sheer strike of luck I see the Bay’s very own Max Wickham smoking outside, twiddling his drumsticks. He helps me out and before long I am inside as Triage are ending their last song. I’m seeing faces I know through the crowd, it’s warm and there’s a long bar extending before me like a runway to paradise. The vibe in the room is great and it feels like a reunion, a celebration. Drinks are hella cheap and they measure and mix ’em consistently, so intoxication, unlike my flight, is gradual and smooth. I’m chatting away, seeing old friends, meeting new people, sharing drinks and drugs and fears and ideas, passions and secrets. I’m getting a weird but very welcome sense of ease. Booze and conversation flows, people mingle, Sadicos hit the stage. Damn are they solid! Intense and uplifting, and watching Austin on drums is riveting. Impalers follow and it’s as vigorous and imposing as I hoped; manic singer and all. Diät close off the night and I’m just over the moon with how good they are. I have been spinning the new record from the second I laid my bony fingers on a copy at Revolver a few weeks ago, and seeing that delivered live in a beautiful new city among some of the best punks on the planet felt like some kind of divine act of perfect universal timing. I passed on the karaoke and instead opted for after-hour quality time with friends, my body still on West Coast time, my brain tingling with delight. I fall asleep exhausted but truly happy to be where I was in that very moment.

The next day is sunny and cold, ideal for walking around, marveling at the autumn leaves, the black squirrels and the good-looking folk on the street. Toronto feels like a posi city and the punks are hospitable, engaging and involved. Even the random people I encounter are suspiciously nice—the taxi drivers, the corner store employees, the drug dealers, even at airport security the guards were cracking (polite) jokes with people in line. Not as terrorizing as some of their US counterparts…

Surprisingly without a hangover I shuffle my feet outside D-Beatstro where Strutter, Blank Spell, Sadicos and Desgraciados are about to play. The space is sizeable but cozy, the sound is pretty good and they all play tight sets. I buy a bunch of tapes and talk to a bunch of cool people about their projects and plans, about MRR and what’s up in the Bay, how things are back in Greece, how things are in their city, the expected catch-up chit-chat. After the third “so when are you gonna come see us in _____?” (enter city name) I couldn’t help but feel the world expand (and yet shrink) in front of my eyes just a little. Congregated with punks from a vast variation of places, all connected by this thing we love and call punk, the limitations of space seemed to shift. Time, however, I could see it run ahead of me, eyes in the back of its head glaring at me, sneering at how I will always be one step behind. Every moment felt imperative. There is no up or down anymore. Only forward.

The night only gets better with a stunning show by local rippers S.H.I.T., whose music and delivery grabs you by the face and makes for a hella fun pit. Texas’ Glue have morphed into a wild animal foaming at the mouth, and Barcelona’s Una Bèstia Incontrolable, are undoubtedly one of the best bands I have ever seen live. Punk orgasmica. “De puta madre.” And they played the after show at a sick punk-run space called Soybomb! There’s a half pipe in the middle, which makes for loads of slippery fun during CCTV (yes, they’re really good!) and Digital Octopus (Ridiculous? Ingenious? Does it really matter?). It also proves an ideal place to stand and enjoy the view as people go nuts during Una Bèstia Incontrolable, Greg Benedetto actually standing in front of the drums, protecting them from the pit! There’s an area for merch in the back, a couch corner on one end, a well stocked bar, friendly punks running the doors, a working (beautiful!) bathroom, and the neatest sound booth, protected by chicken wire, cables all neatly hung inside and the nicest chap doing sound. To top it off, there’s a flipping rooftop hangout area that has a view of downtown Toronto, the CN Tower and, that weekend, the chalk-white moon. A hand drawn sign points to the back of the long rooftop. “Pee alley. Make out corner.” Excellent! I’m turned up to 11! There’s a sense of connection in my interactions, communication feels organic and I’m too engrossed in the experience to be thinking about it. I’m sure I chain smoke and babble and stumbled and mumble, but it feels good to be raw and real and enthralled by it all. Dame la droga, déjame bailar.

Dumplings in Chinatown for breakfast the next day, then the newly opened Faith/Void record store/underground (literally) space, run by Ryan, the singer of S.H.I.T.. He’s done a fantastic job with the layout of the space (I’ll say one thing: moving walls) and it’s a great locale for the art show and panel on documenting punk. Browse the zines or flip through a hand-picked (and expanding) selection of punk and hardcore records, among other goodies. I wish there were more spaces like this in the Bay!

Five (!) shows to chose from tonight, but not before cocktails and a hot shower! Highlights of the night include Ajax and Boston Strangler, with Rixe and Orden Mundial just superseding my expectations. Rixe are as pogo perfect as it gets, the set short but kickass, and they played the self titled track by almighty Camera Silens. Oh bliss! As soon as they were done Orden Mundial were playing the main room upstairs at thee old Silver Dollar and finally I got to experience the madness! There is a reason they are loved among punks worldwide—they are crazy good live and tight as fuck. Also, the coolest people! The after show of choice was at Soybomb, loads of fun, and Mommy from NYC killed it! At this point I’m sure I’ve crossed over into excess and exaggeration, waving my hands around, mixing drinks and languages. I was star-struck and somewhat dumbfounded. Jusqu’ici tout va bien.

By Sunday I could feel the comedown, more mental than physical. Myn glas loopt ras. I tried not to let my rampant emotions get in the way of enjoying what time I had left but I have no doubt I blushed and gushed. The OM and UBI crew, the fabulous Núria and Paola from Frau (both are simply the best), Pablo from Cadenaxo, Kazu from Punk and Destroy (thanks for the Lucky Strikes!), the NYC crew, Lauren, Santi, the LA punx, Max the Digital Octopus, Tom “precisely” Ellis aka Static Shock Weekend mastermind, the Diät boys, the one and only Paco. I feel so very luck to have spent the weekend with this awesome peña and all the local and traveling punks we shared moments with. Punk is love.

Seeing Blazing Eye rip it all up gave me back some vigor and I soaked up the energy. After the show we hung out at Sandy’s from Fucked Up and she was so incredibly hospitable, and her porch view of the full moon was just stunning. Instead of drinking to forget how sad I would be the next day, in my mind I drank to celebrate. The power and impact of punk, the people who make it happen, the support and strength it gives us, the inspiration it fuels, and the hunger it feeds. I drift to sleep thinking of all the exciting prospects of what could lay ahead from here on out. The next day I face my fate. I say my reluctant goodbyes and Greg (the best) Benedetto drives me and Núria and Jeremy from Scalped to the airport. How fucking nice of him! I spend my last $20 CAN on one sandwich and one pint, with some loose change to prove to my up-coming SF self that this wasn’t all a dream.

I’m dizzy on the first flight. I’ve got a full blown fever by the time I board my second flight in Dallas, TX. I’m in a window seat with the two people next to me sleeping like the dead. I start to feel seriously nauseous, dripping hot, then shivering cold. I push the flight attendant button. I wait five minutes. I push the button again. I turn around and I see the flight attendants chatting in the rear with their backs to the passengers. I worry about throwing up in my seat. I start to work myself into a panic. I’m still turned around looking at the oblivious posse in the back. Too dizzy to even try getting up and I worry about puking on the lady next to me. The girl behind me offers me a tissue. The lady next to me wakes up and offers me some gum—possibly because the sugar would help but mainly because my breath smells like ass. In the meantime, the pressure (and my chronic jaw clenching/teeth grinding) has set off some kind of toothache and my lower right molar is hella swollen and sore and probably pusing. Fuck me. Eventually an attendant arrives, by which time I’m mad and extremely claustrophobic. “Can I have some water please?” I manage to whisper. “Excuse me miss?” “I just want a glass of water, please?” I snap at the guy. He pulls back rather shocked and I mumble something about being too young to die of a panic attack on an American Airlines flight, then look away to stare out the window at the yellow lights dotting the Bay beneath us.

After a half-hour wait on the runway post landing and by the time I get my luggage, my phone is about to die on me and BART is no longer running. I’m practically ready to collapse. People give me funny looks. That bad ey? No cabs in sight. “Excuse me miss, you can’t smoke here.” Whatever. I manage to split an Uber ride with some dorky museum guy and by 2 am I’m unlocking my front door. 4am rolls around and I’m wide-awake. Jet lag fever. So tired yet so restless. I stare at the ceiling, sore, cold and delirious but somehow ecstatic in my anguish. Things seem inexplicably clear, some sort of prism effect in my mind. I want to freeze the frame and step out of the picture for a minute. So I decide to do just that.

By the time you read this I will have quit my job (thank you Revolver for being my half-way home, it’s been a pleasure), moved out of my house, packed up all my things, booked a flight and… Wait, I shouldn’t give it all away just yet. I’m keeping this column so no need to say any goodbyes because you’ll be hearing from me soon!

lydia@maximumrocknroll.com

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