March 14, 2014 by cosmoakacitizensmith
So I spent a very agreeable ten days or so in the company of James “Bar” Bowen and the Merry Looters playing our way in a booze-fuelled haze around squatted social centres in the Netherlands and some delightful venues in Germany! With the criminalisation of squatting in the UK, and relative lack of centres providing alternative ways to engage politically, culturally and socially here, I thought I’d jot down a few observations about how things are working in the places we visited and what we can learn from it.
The first stop is Amsterdam, the legendary Molli Chaoot, a small squat bar that’s been around since the late 70s. Out host Jack is regaling us with tales of back in the day when almost half of Amsterdam was squatted, including the street where the Molli is located. This film, De Stad Was Ons (It Was Our City), documents how the Dutch squat scene started in the early 1970s in response to a massive hosing crisis, and the anarchist politics that underlie it. It also shows the government repression that followed in its wake. I haven’t seen all of it but it looks well worth a view and has many lessons for us now. This is what happens when the state deems the underground too big for its boots!
In Den Bosch, we are joined by Lotte AKA Bettie Akkemaai, which means “does it bite if I stroke it?”!! She’s very good and writes songs in Dutch and English.
Bar and the Merry Looters rocking Knoflook.
Knoflook, a residential squat, also runs regular events and “people’s kitchens” – more about that later. The people there are dead sound – it’s always like coming home! Lotte laters takes us round where she lives, a former squatted hospital that is now a legal housing co-op with about 50 people living there. Here are the resident goats….
Pictured from the co-op showing the history of the squat:
At Autonoom Centruum Den Haag, (the Hague), they are gearing up for a nuclear industry summit later in March. The place is almost in lockdown and we hear murky tales of repression and infiltration. They’re having a good laugh about it all, though. Every anarcho has their own take on what anarchism is, but with this lot I always feel we are very much on the same wavelength! The gig is a scream and we all have a good sing-a-long…
Everywhere we go we see stickers opposing Geert Wilders. He’s like a cross between Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage, virulently Islamophobic but his party Partij voor de Vrijheid is the fourth largest in the Dutch Parliament. Many of the activists we speak to are worried after tyhe next election he will have a more influential role. “What will happen then?” I ask one night. “War,” came the reply.
The tour criss-crosses in and out of Germany and the Netherlands, via Hengelo, Koln, Geissen and Groningen. The places we play are very enthusiastic and welcoming, and there are fantastic, up-for-it crowds. The nights are wild with music-making going on till dawn in some cases, each of us getting to do a couple of sets. The venues in Germany are slightly less anarchic and attract a bit of a broader crowd. Finally, we end up on the last night back in Amsterdam at the legendary Paradiso club and watch veteran punks the Ex headline their own festival, complete with west African drummers and capoeira dancers. Many thanks to Gustav for sorting all that out!
Despite recent legislation clamping down on the Dutch squat scene, the social and residential spaces still seem clean, vibrant and well organised. From a not-particularly-well-known-musician’s point of view, it works because we are put up, fed both when we arrive and in the morning we leave, and get as much free booze as we want! What this means in practice is that we can actually break even on tours and in some cases make money. Is that such a bad thing? If we want grassroots music to thrive in the UK, we could learn a lot from this approach.
Social centres also act as safe spaces for anarchists. It’s great being in a crowded bar with your mates and not feel weird for being the only anarchos in town! In terms of the wider communities, they also act as a hub for grassroots campaign organising. We saw some very impressive work being done with antifascism and undocumented migrants in particular.
We played at several “people’s kitchen” events, where a mass vegan cook-up is done and dished out for free or donations to large numbers of people. These events have taken off in the UK too; I’ve seen them done at the Red and Black Umbrella in Cardiff. We supplied the music for several “people’s kitchens” on this tour. They seem to be a great way of getting people together socially outside of the intense world of actions and campaigns. They are also welcoming to people who may see themselves as fellow travellers rather than anarchists.
It will be interesting to see the roles these social centres play in countering the rightward lurch of UK and European politics. Will they survive and thrive, or go the same way as the UK squat scene? Can we revitalise things here? I’m particularly interested in helping create a similar gig/social centre network in the UK, and connecting up with the scene in Europe. If you want to get involved, check out the AnarchoFolk network on Facebook, or drop me a line.
Many thanks to all of you who put us up, organised shows, fed us and turned up to listen. See you all again soon! 🙂