MRR #394

There Is No Up Or Down Anymore, Only Forward

What’s up my malaka mates? You miss me? Good riddance 2015, you were a pain of a fuckin’ year! Welcome 2016, wishing you all less stress, more sex! Get ready for another installment of my random, intoxicated, self-indulging updates, this time from my grand US exodus: life is too short to be unhappy about the things you can change. So, since my last column two issues ago—and with a countdown clock numbered at 40 days—I purged half my shit, boxed up my books and records, took down my posters and left my old Victorian Adam’s Family house in West Oakland. I went on a drug binge for Halloween, quit my job before Punxgiving, then hosted Punxgiving, saw as many of my friends as possible, and recorded one final MRR radio show, part of my Year End Top Ten—more on that in a minute. I postponed all my magazine subscriptions, tried to stay healthy and sober for as long as I possible, then went on one last high-flyin’ rave with my koubaros Jason Halal to see (by universal coincidence) Bill Kouligas from Athens, but based in Berlin, work his enchanting, minimal, experimental sound architecture magic. I’d know him from Athens and have been a fan since his then project Family Battle Snake shook the walls of our Katarameno basement circa 2010. He’s one of the most interesting people right now making electronic music and curating and supporting projects via his label, PAN Records. If you’re a fan of eclectic, electric, forward-pushing unconventionality in the form of sound waves, check out his catalogue at delinear.p-a-n.org.

On December 4th I said my teary-eyed goodbye to my main man Mike and set out on my journey. It has been a crazy 3.5 years and I remained sane in large part thanks to Mike and his support, so I want to officially thank him for everything—a good egg if ever there was one! Life in the Bay is what it is but for me it was time to take care of some business back in Europe, and things aligned in a way they very rarely do. That “once in a lifetime” kinda timing—like when I booked a one-way flight to SF to coordinate this here fabulous magazine four years go. “Buy the ticker, take the ride.” “Now she can only smile and say goodbye…”

I’m sitting at an extremely orderly desk in an equally tidy and organized home—a place for everything and everything in its place. Outside the big bay windows in front of me I can see downtown Toronto and the CN tower, sometimes the tip cloaked in clouds. I’m here to celebrate the union of two amazing people, Dave and mi hermana Merm. I’m thrilled to have joined in on the celebration and I could think of no better reason to visit Toronto again; the first leg of my near-month long trip. The ceremony (and champagne) had me teary and but appreciative of all the loving and supportive people I am lucky enough to call friends and family. It’s humbling and encouraging to see two dynamic, creative and passionate people decide to build a common future together, a power partnership. Heart swelling moments for sure. [snif]

On my first night I went to Thirsty & Miserable, a beer bar run by Katie from Brutal Knights, with a great selection of IPAs, ciders and more, and had a couple on my own, happy to catch up with myself. I also went to Aunties & Uncles, twice, where the food is delish, nourishing and home made. I’ve been staying with Sandy (from Fucked Up among other projects) who is truly the hostess with the mostess, so grateful for her wonderful hospitality! Hanging out with her and the lovely Nuria from Frau, who (by universal coincidence) was also visiting at the same time, were definite highlights of the trip! I’m also super chuffed that the rad ladies from Shequalizing-x-Distort radio invited me and Nuria to go on air with them! to talk a bit about the upcoming MRR festival, Still Not Quiet On The Western Front, which we are putting together for yall out (t)here at the edge of the world! Check out info at maximumrocknroll.com/fest. CIUT 89.5 FM, where Equalizing-x-Distort radio is hosted, has a wicked, modern set up inside a 100-year-old building on campus at the University of Toronto and it made me want to continue being active in radio and broadcasting—I want the airwaves! You can check out the show at equalizingxdistort.blogspot.ca/2015/12/radio-sunday-december-6th-2015.html.

So, it’s 5.45 am, and I’ve just come back from conducting a fascinating interview with Steph Perry of Equalizing-X-Distort radio. We’d been in touch for years via the magazine but I had never actually met him—I feel honoured to tell you the truth that I finally did. During and after the show with Sarde, Chloe, Zoë and Marjie, he and I chatted and picked each other’s brain like there was no tomorrow. I had so many questions, every answer of his creating new ones in my brain. “Ugh, I should be recording this! I didn’t think to bring my bloody Dictaphone!” “We could always do it in here…” says Steph pointing to the adjacent studio to the one the girls recorded in, everything set up, ready and waiting for us! I had to laugh! So, hour be damned (Steph had to wake up really early the next day for work, what a warrior!) I interviewed Steph and then Steph interviewed me! He has been hosting his own radio show, as well as syndicating MRR radio shows, for decades—since MRR was sending tapes of the show in the mail. A lifer and big MRR fan, he is still impressively active in his support and promotion of both local and international punk music and culture via his radio shows, zines, and more. Did you know he reads MRR scene reports and then compiles radio shows with bands mentioned? Did you know he also does a punk music radio special called Notes From Behind the Iron Curtain, a series after my own heart. I have about two hours on Steph and, as soon as I transcribe it, we’ll be getting it out into the world for ya! So watch this space and—if you aren’t already a big fan—check the show out at equalizingxdistort.blogspot.com.

On my last day I had arranged to get dumplings with Nuria and Ryan of Faith/Void space, and blow me down if (by universal coincidence) our columnist Christina P. wasn’t sitting in Mother’s Dumplings right there with them! “Is it really you?!” Just two days earlier, after connecting on social media, was the first time I saw a picture of her, so I was amazed that she was there in the flesh, in the same city as me! After 2+ years of correspondence it was great to chat “IRL” about life away from home, life in the US, life as a female punk, going to shows, booking shows, cultural differences, cross-cultural divides, boys, bands, boy bands and our upcoming projects. Nothing beats thoroughly good conversation and I feel Christina and I hit it off like a house on fire. I’m going to be asking her a few questions about her label, Blow Blood Records (blow-blood.tumblr.com) so watch this space for more info on that too, and grab a copy of the most recent issue of her zine, Stitches in My Head Zine. (stitchesinmyhead.blogspot.com.au)

I’ve had one of Sandy’s “golden coldies” (best coffee, hail winter cold-coffee drinkers!) and I’m also still on West Coast time, so I’m feeling wide awake. Who needs sleep when you have ideas? Also, I haven’t yet finished my Year End Top 10 so I try to work on that, stretching my ex-coord privilege juuust a bit. It’s been a pretty decent year (for punk releases anyway) with a lot of neat 7” records, which is my favourite format anyway—along with tapes of course! Maybe you read my obsession list for 2015 in the last issue. If not, and you so feel the urge to do so, you can find that and the radio show I did to go along with it at nemesisknox.com/best-of-2015.

***

“I’m taking you to see a time capsule of old New York.” Jay Bay Rigas has just picked me up at LaGuardia Airport and has a special surprise. We drove to the Marine Air terminal, parked the car and pushed through the heavy brass doors, walking into a circular building with art deco details and the old wooden benches from the 1930s still intact. A massive 235-foot circular mural by James Brooks lines the whole wall. Curated under Roosevelt and finished in 1942, it is titled “Flight” and depicts man’s relationship to the concept since the beginning of time and up until the modern age. Then, in the 1950s—or so the story goes—in an anti-communist move made by the Port Authority, it got covered up, as some saw left-wing sympathy in Brooks’ work. Thankfully, in the 1970s, a historian called Geoffrey Arend managed to get it restored, and what a mural it is! A glimpse into another world. Our next stop was Astoria for another glimpse into a different world: some real ass Greek food! “This place is the worst, but it’s really kinda the best” Jason and his best-of-the-worst underground food spots. I was in food heaven. Then a short, windy drive through the forest, jamming Muerte and watching out for deer that might get caught in the headlights.

Jason’s house is supper cozy. With a beautiful guest room, sun lit garden room and a kitchen any cook would die for, we hung out in our tracksuits (I endorse them!) and did nada for the first couple days, which was an ideal time for me to catch up on some writing and emailing. Went to Long Island beach (“On a clear day you can see Connecticut!”) then had a triple-decker tuna sandwich for breakfast and—when in Rome—the worst Long Island ice tea I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve had a fair few) at a typical Greek diner. Chrome forever! Then it was back home to sweatpants and books, home made Chinese dinner and late night comedy shows. So far from the horrible capitalist collective hysteria that are the Christmas holidays. So quiet!

Eventually, on day three, we left the house and headed for Heaven Street Records in Brooklyn. Blew a bunch of money on records, but didn’t care one bit, because music is an investment, it’s a relationship, it’s a timeline of your life and a companion forever after. I’m merrily flipping through records, adding to my Buy Pile—current London sound artist Helm, Killed By Death comps, Yugoslavian hardcore, NWONYHC, ’80s Spanish techno—when (by universal coincidence) I come across a Hibernation (Greek crust) record just as Jason and I are discussing the Athens scene. Two seconds later, Jason pulls out the Lowest Form EP, just as I’m opening up a picture from their recording session, which was happening half way across the ocean at that very same moment! Is the universe talking to me? Every record was like a clue to some cosmic scavenger hunt, yet finding me somehow. I’m not a dedicated record collector, but I’d rather be poor and have books and records fill every inch of my floor and have sublime music flood my shitty basement room, than be rich and void of duende—that physical and emotional reaction we have to art, expression and passion; that evoked soul. Those connections made—to the locations, people and physical interactions, and to the words and sounds of the music that colours and underlines our life—they act like knots tying together the fragments of our being; like beacons leading us further down the rabbit hole of experiential discovery. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

***

I’m sitting by a large window in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s early evening and I’m listening to Velvet Underground & Nico, the rush hour traffic still loud on the street a few stories below. Even now, so many years after my first introduction, I marvel at what a mesmerizing record it is; a mangle of vulnerable pop tunes and drug-deranged rocker hedonism, two sounds that contrast as they do supplement each other, devour each other and enamor each other. Something dreamy and nightmarish, soft and raw, sparkling and dirty. My thoughts wander, my gaze distracted by the Empire State building, standing taller than the rest on the skyline, lit up in deep red. I keep waiting for it to move, or flash its lights, or to start glowing in Morse code. I swear New York would continue to live on even after you eradicate all the humans. The traffic lights would still blink, the automatic doors would open and close with the passing packs of pets gone wild, the rats would bring dustbins clattering to the ground as they claw into last week’s moldy leftovers. Pre-programmed coffee machines across the financial district would brew for no one; 24-hour diner signs would softly buzz in the night as they flash neon pink and blue along the BQE. An unlikely orchestra of modernity.

It’s 1.30am and I am getting invitations to go do things—at this hour! #ThisIsBrooklynNotTheBay I would normally jump at the chance, but I’ve just come home from a pretty busy day of trekking the Brooklyn asphalt streets and need some sleep, some HoZac. I started with a big breakfast with my lovely hosts Stav and Dana and their hella fluffy felines Gordon and Charlie. Then off to the Acheron for a punk bazaar where my other Greek punk friend Ermis—from the Katarameno Syndromo crew—was selling prints: still frames from Greek cult teenspoilation movies from the ’80s, but with Greek captions. I was hyper as usual, so I guzzled beer as we caught up on major life events and changes and made little translation cards for the prints: [Distressed Father, also a priest] “My son, the truth lies in the word of God!” [Punk Son] “No father! The truth lies in the Sex Pistols, gé gé?” Queue son doing a funky dance in his underwear around his bewildered parents then dancing away and out into the street. Taken from Φυλακές Ανηλίκων (Juvenile Hall, 1982) Check them our at ermisart.com

There I also met up with one of my fave worldies, Dave Rata, who had just moved to Brooklyn a couple weeks before and we chatted over Brooklyn Lagers. East Coast meets West Coast via Texas on the border via Athens via Mexico. We lament the loss of personal quality free time in the age of the constant hustle and agree that being broke and living in a basement in a place like New York is still preferable in our eyes to a lot of other places we’ve been. Check out Dave’s new band, Nandas at nandas.bandcamp.com. After the bazaar, Dave and I head to another bazaar that Santi told us about (Santi is putting out the Chroma record on his label Hysteria Records—very excited! Check out hysteriarecords.bigcartel.com for more info) called the Silent Barn, a short walk away. When the train roars up above our heads we don’t pause for it to go by, we just yell a little louder. We were greeted by a front yard with big pic-nick tables, benches and a little caravan; walked through the main space with its bar and tables and announcement boards and art up on the wall and loads of zines and colourful people, then to the front where the lending library is situated. A collectively run space, Silent Barn also hosts all ages shows, among its various activities. After that we moved on to Punk Alley, where a couple of the shops were still open, including the collectively run Better Read Than Dead used book store and Sam Ryser’s Dripper World. As Sam put it, “a treasure chest of wonders.” Chain smoking, joke cracking and hard hanging with thee Reed Dunlea, Dave and Dave (of Better Read Than Dead books), asking too many questions about everything. Final stop for the night was Molasses books, a used bookstore that also works as a bar—neat. The next day I went back to Punk Alley to hang out with Avi Spivak and ask him a few questions about his lil’ record store called Rebel Rouser, a charming space with an eye-catching interior. Find him at facebook.com/rebelrousershopnyc and stay tuned at this space for more on the upcoming interview! He’s a very chill chap, a born and bred New Yorker, and it was great chatting to him over hot toddies about New York history, garage and rock’n’roll music, books and movies and punk aesthetics.

I’m well over my limit, and there’s still so much to write about, but I’ve just lost my passport and I’m flying to the UK tomorrow so… I’ll be back next month, reporting from London, Barcelona and Athens, weeping over my keyboard, jamming all my favourite David Bowie records at top volume, drunk on red wine. Live or die trying! lydia@maximumrocknroll.com

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