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Anarchist Europe – a view from the outside. Part 2

Rai Ko Ris, A punk band from Nepal, toured Europe last autumn. Frontwoman Sareena Rai describes how the anarchist scene surprised her.

ImageRai Ko Ris in Paris

 

Much of my time in Europe was spent drinking… drinking tons of their best herbal teas and not-so-good chalky hot water. It was not until I got back to Nepal that I thought, maybe that chalky stuff all boiled up and hot probably didn’t help my voice recover one bit.

Drinking alcohol is big in Europe, I decided. There is no party without a drink. And there is no gig without drink. There are band names about drink; there are band names named after beer, or drinking, or about being drunk, or having a hangover.

If I listed them that would be my 2000-word article for ‘Pissed News’ right there. And show organizers make more money from selling beer than selling tickets at the entrance to a show, so I can’t argue.

Many of the spaces we played in run on empty, so any little cash raised goes towards the upkeep of underground spaces, infoshops, and food… and again drink.

I used to hand out my drink vouchers (free for bands) to whoever was “nice” to me. Most of the time my partner was the one who was extremely nice to me. One person who had quit drinking gave me a high five. Then they looked at me weird when I said I didn’t quit, I just don’t really drink alcohol.

Some places where we played had been occupied and then were threatened with closure so a bunch of people got together and bought the place in order to save it. That seemed to be the recent trend. But it’s a lot of money.

Some people tended to break away from the dominant squat scene venues and created their own thing that was half-merged with a local community project because there was too much drinking and the fake “you’re my brother… we are all brothers” type of nonsense sentimentality didn’t do it for them. It also made them more responsible because they would have to “report” everything to the local council, including accounts.

On the whole, Germany out-organized the other countries.

I thought the punk mosh pit in the west would make for a good sociological study you could compare to tribal gatherings and ritual dancing. People miss touching one another and merging with one another in a violent frenzy of happiness.

One of my best experiences was dancing in a mosh pit where three women were beside me also jumping around, and since they were much larger and taller than me, they decided to protect me throughout the whole show. That was beautiful; to see all these women and men pushing and shoving one another, touching but smiling and feeling safe. I think that’s a very egalitarian situation I’ve not experienced before and of course it was in Scandinavia.

But the drinking and drugs mixed with the violent mosh pit can be a bad combination, as I’ve experienced time and again here in Nepal. That’s one of the reasons maybe why a lot of women shy away from a gig in Kathmandu. And I also think it’s too bad that there is such a huge drinking culture in activist circles; but when I look at the landscape you’re dealing with, I can hardly blame people for wanting to escape.

A lot of the ways in which us humans sustain ourselves I reckon, is perfectly portrayed in the snake biting its tail. Underground activist spaces are no different, except you also have the cops biting your tail too.

It was interesting for some that because I was coming from Nepal to tour Europe with a punk band I made sure I didn’t look “punk” one bit. In fact I made an effort to look smart. I wore a smart black jacket, carried a small suitcase with wheels that looked kind of smart, and wore a pink scarf. Well, I wanted to look like everyone else and blend in. This was totally contrary to the punks we came across who were out to totally stick it to the man.

Me, I wanted to BE the man, the oh-please-I-don’t-want-to-get-busted man.

I was crossing international borders with anarchist literature and no permit to play anywhere and I had this passport that totally sets “illegal immigrant” or “terrorist” alarm bells going (especially since the war in Nepal). I just didn’t want to be searched. But for some reason or another, any opportunity they got, the cops searched me and my partner in turn. And for some reason or another, they never checked the smart suitcase with wheels that carried all the literature.

One time on the train they told us to take everything out of one of our bags, watched us, and then just walked off without a word. We were standing there in front of all the other passengers feeling a little lost and stupid and were left to pack up our stuff again without any goodbye or whatever. Weird.

Another time on the way to a show, we got stopped and searched.

While the rest of us nervously hung around waiting, my partner struck up a conversation with one of the younger cops and asked him about his life, about his work while the other three searched our car and ran our IDs through their internal database. I didn’t have mine on me so they took an extra long time checking me out.

The cop was kind of shocked to be asked so many questions, but seemed quite willing to converse. Our friends in the car with us were staring in disbelief. “I can’t believe he’s talking to that cop! Why the hell is he doing that? What the heck is he doing?” I explained that that was what we do in Nepal. We talk to people, even cops sometimes, as if he were a younger brother or as if he were a person.

My partner’s work during the war in Nepal involved talking with both government and guerrilla forces. Often he would end up in conversation with a young cop or soldier who was not happily guarding his base; he would be trembling at his post and was there because it was the only work he found that could feed his family. His only thought was that if he got killed, at least a small pension would cover some basic living costs for his kids.