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Coffee in Amsterdam

April 4th, 2007 · post by Mikey · Make a comment

Mikey column header I closed my hands around the warm coffee mug, reached for the sugar and then smiled at my friend across the table. I looked around the beautiful kitchen and thought about how lucky we were and how kind the two smiling girls, one sitting across the table and the other lounging on the sofa with a lazy cat, were to invite us in and make us coffee and talk to us as if we were old friends. I gazed out of the window and heard the touristy bustle of the street below and grinned. Hard to believe something as wonderful as this space exists tucked away in a street of tacky and over-priced restaurants, I think that made its discovery all the sweeter. As sweet as the coffee in my hand actually, funny that I’d never really drank it before but it would have been rude to refuse such a kind offer. I sipped and smiled again and thought back to how different this now was to the beginning of our trip…

The pleasures of travelling I think is one that not to be underestimated, and I kind of wanted to write this piece about travel but also more the idea of travel from a community perspective. The beginning of my trip was marred by me being a grumpy bastard and taking it out on my friend, but the thing (or things I should say) which saved it were the people we met who took us by the hand and led us away from all the tourist bullshit and instead welcomed us into their communities and lives for no other real reason than we were ‘nice kids’ and into punk rock. In a world where it seems that nearly every relationship or interaction we have is on some form of superficial or monetary based-level, to be shown that kindness is really something special. I want to thank Ralph, Sanne, Steve and all the other wonderful people who were so kind to us whilst in the Netherlands. To be shown these different sides of life in Amsterdam and Utrecht, away from hostels and tourist attractions was a really fulfilling experience, and definitely made me feel like I had actually been ‘away’ from my life at home rather, than just seeing the same old things in a different language.

Finding such an amazing level of communication between the “punk” scene and “political” scene (I use those terms in a VERY general sense) was really eye-opening, and lead me to wonder about the way different areas of the punk and hardcore scene in Brighton have started to operate. This summer saw Brighton’s libertarian social centre, the Cowely Club start to be used as a venue for punk and hardcore shows. Whilst previously thought of as an ‘anarchist bar’, the Cowely Club has turned out to be a really valuable asset to the alternative music community.

To me the Cowely had always seemed like the place I wanted and hoped gigs could happen in but never thought would actually exist. I’d heard all about DIY show spaces in America, and my experiences of Europe and the bands from there seemed to suggest that community spaces and squats were really legitimate and valuable places for punk rock gigs to happen. After all, they arguably should have the same values and stand for the same things. A venue then which is not only run by volunteers, but in the day time hosts a vegan café and bookstore, and in the evening hosts a number of different meetings events for different political and social groups around Brighton almost seems too good to be true.

There have been some amazing gigs take place since the summer with the likes of I Object!, The Mingers, End the Agony, The Mock Heroic and many others all playing different gigs, whilst recent nights such as the Smash-EDO benefit with the King Blues playing to a RAMMED club really made me feel like the Punk community had hopefully found a new home.

It was at the recent Defiance Ohio and Witch-hunt shows however that I really felt like something was happening. People who’d felt uncomfortable or unrepresented at other gig venues kept commenting on how Cowely felt different, how it was a place where they felt more comfortable, both as performers and audience members. Those two gigs in particular made me remember why I adore punk rock so much in the first place, a throng of sweaty people all dancing and finger pointing together whilst also looking out for each other. The other enjoyable part of Cowely shows is there is no need to get out of the venue by 11 so bands and audience are able to relax and hang out afterwards, something which has lead to pretty hectic and crazy nights there!

Of course this is bound to be an overtly-romantic view of the past few months and it certainly hasn’t been as rosy a picture as I’ve painted. There have been incidents which have left a bitter after taste in my mouth (such as a friend doing the bar being threatened for not giving a wanker another beer when the bar had closed for the evening), though I also feel it is important that these incidents remind me that the club is NOT a utopia. Nothing is, and it requires a lot of effort and energy to maintain being a volunteer and there are people who have been there from the start who have done so much more than myself and will continue to do so much more.

I think I need to start wrapping this up, and so I also need to stress that this is just my opinion on the events of the last few months but I really feel that there is a lot of good stuff happening at Cowely, and not just in relation to the Punk scene. One of the important parts I think in developing communities is to embrace and respect people’s differences and as well as provide spaces for meeting and political discussions also to just have an area where people can come and get to know each other and socialise. I certainly feel like the club does this amazingly, and hopefully judging by the interest over the last few months, more people are beginning to too.

Mikey

Endnotes:
1.This column goes to everyone who volunteers or helps in some way at the Cowely
2.Thanks to everyone who came down to the Witch Hunt/Fall of Efrafa show. Not only are Witch Hunt one of the best punk bands I’ve seen in a very, very long time, they are also amazing people and generally just rock.
3.I’m doing a dissertation on the expression of marginalised gender roles and their within diy punk…if you think you can help me or have any opinions you wish to share with me on this subject, please get in touch via email: PhatMikeyD@hotmail.com

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