Archive for February, 2010

Being in a band

I am a drummer. And me and my friends are in a band. I was recently asked by someone what it is like to be in a band. He sighed, and could only imagine the rock ‘n roll lifestyle: The fans, the girls, the gigs, the booze… It must be great right? I sighed too. But this time not of happy anticipation, this was a sigh of disappointment -a sigh of unwanted reality.

The truth is, the rock ‘n roll lifestyle some bands acclaim is only reserved for the top 0,1% of all the bands in the world. All the rest face the gruesome reality of not being popular. Our gigs (if we even have them) are usually only witnessed by the sound guy and the band who plays after us. No underwear has ever found its way to our stage; no screaming girls pushing each other to catch a glimpse. When we finish a song, all we hear is the feedback from our speakers, and some  reluctant yet mandatory applause, not the exuberant and hysterical kind you would expect. If we’re lucky, someone manages to press out a mild whoo… But that could have been someone coughing as well.

So my friend asked me, why are you still doing this? What drives you to keep on going with this strange (and rather expensive) hobby? Honestly, I don’t know. For years we have been doing this and truthfully, we have never actually met someone who really likes our music. How sad is that? I mean, we recorded 2 full albums all on our own, with instruments we bought ourselves in a studio we built ourselves. We never had any money to spend, so we didn’t have a sound guy, producer or any technical support whatsoever, it took us nearly the entire summer to record the second album, and even longer to mix and master it. Others spend those days outside having fun, socializing, basically having a life. We however, locked ourselves in a 3 by 4  room without proper ventilation, smoking cheap tobacco and drinking warm beer, all the time practicing and recording songs nobody will probably even listen to.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the real rock ‘n roll lifestyle. And let me help you out of the dream: There are no girls or drugs, no money, no label or fame; nothing to distract you from the single most important thing there is: making the music you like. There is this feeling, it’s hard to explain -maybe sensation is a better word- you experience it when you make music together and everything just works out like you imagined it would; everything finds its place. This happens when you are playing together without distractions. You are in some kind of trance, and you get this tense look in your eyes. The other guys and you know it: In between us something has formed in the musical universe, a fragile balance of rhythm and tones. It’s like we have tamed ourselves and our instruments; tamed the chaos until it shaped into something that came out of us. We wanted to grasp that feeling and make it last, that’s why we went through the effort of recording it. Not because we wanted to become famous and appear on MTV (although that would have been a enjoyable side-effect), but because we wanted to experience that feeling again. We went through all that time and effort for our own enjoyment.

So there you go. We are the only people who can properly appreciate our own music, so we don’t really care what others think. And when we die, our music will disappear in time. When someone in the year 2100 accidentally runs into our demo, he or she will most likely smile and frown, and put it away again. They could not know how many hours, days, droplets of sweat, cigarettes and beers it has taken to get to this point. For them it is just another hard rock band. For us it is a part of our lives.

We’re called Figure, and we make grunge-rock. Heavy, numb-making, pounding grunge-rock, inspired by bands such as the Melvins, Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Kyuss, QOTSA and of course Nirvana. We will perform in cafe “de Roozen”, on Friday March 19th at 20:00 in the amazing metropole of Hilversum. Come, and enjoy an evening of true, pure, unbridled music.

Cafe “De Roozen”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Kampstraat 2bc, Hilversum

Facebook link to event here


The Fox and the Grapes

I live in a house on a great location in Amsterdam. Build up against the oldest existing monument in Amsterdam, the Old Church, right in the middle of the Red Light district. My neighbors are some self-employed, scarcely dressed Columbian ladies; a sports cafe and an Irish pub; a male gay attributes shop (think leather); a youth hostel/”coffee”shop, and of course a beautiful 16th century Protestant Church, with whom we share an equally ancient wall.

Each day (and night) hundreds of tourists pass our house, looking rather confused, and I can’t blame them. The area is thoroughly confusing, considering certain “conflicting elements” (a church opposite prostitutes). Add to this substantial amounts of confusing substances, and the twilight zone has become reality. Looking at them from our living room wandering by lacking any real purpose except, well… wandering around, I can’t help to feel sorry for them. I do not usually come into contact with the tourists in the area, except maybe for the occasional Japanese couple, who shamelessly rings our doorbell to ask for directions (apparently this is a normal thing to do in Japan). To be honest, when you live in an area infested with tourists, you even start to develop a certain disliking for them. They always want something from you, especially the kind of tourist that likes to hang around in the Red Light district. They want to know where to eat, where to smoke weed, where to rent bicycles, and more importantly where “the party is”…

Because that is what they are all looking for: The real Amsterdam party. And I can’t blame them. The bars and clubs in the tourist area are notoriously bad and expensive (thus rightly avoided by Amsterdammers) and this does not rime with the Amsterdam legacy of tolerance and freedom, which lured all of them here in the first place. Dozens of young British males run around “de Wallen”, frantically looking for the realization of that image: A place full of Dutch girls, who will perform fellatio without charge; a place where the booze and drugs are free, and the music is loud. In short, a place which does not exist, at least, not for them.

This is where our house comes in. I mentioned we have a good view of streets below, but this also means the people in the streets have a good view of what is going on inside our house. And sometimes -most recently during new years eve- we actually have a real Amsterdam party. We invite our friends, acquire all the substances needed and we play loud, repetitive music all night long. The tourists -cold, drunk and weary of overcrowded bars and streets, pass by, and look up to see a crowded and cozy living room, bathed in a warm glow of togetherness and fun and filled to the brim with dancing and laughing young people (among them also the fabled “Dutch girls”). They stop and look up. The look in their eyes says it all: They want in on this. This is exactly what they came for. Already they can picture themselves among us, experiencing the real Amsterdam vibe with the locals. The stories they could tell their friends at home…

At first they merely stand there looking. Some of them shake their heads and move along, knowing this is not for them, but there is also the kind of tourist that won’t give up that easily. They paid good money to get to Amsterdam, and they expect Amsterdam to give them want they desire. So firstly they’ll just stand there with a sort of begging, puppy-like look on their face (imagine a drunk, English 40-year old bachelor do that). This is usually ignored by the people inside, for good reasons. Then phase two begins: They will attempt to get your attention by waving or smiling. Preferably at the same time. When they are finally noticed by someone inside, they’ll start to make wild gestures, trying to get their intentions across. When this fails, they usually stand around a bit, doubting whether to actually ring the doorbell. After a while, they have gathered enough courage to do so. I open the door, mumble “I’m sorry, this is a private party…” and the door is slammed shut in their face. Then something remarkable happens: They become angry.

This happened a lot past new years eve. A sudden change in attitude: the previous expectation is gone, only to be replaced by a new, disillusioned way of looking at the party going on upstairs. “It’ll most likely suck anyway”, or “Those chicks probably look ugly from up close” are things you can hear them say on those moments.

What just happened? Did the party suddenly become unenjoyable for them? No. The disappointment they had to endure triggered a self-defence mechanism in their brain, protecting them from harm. Aesop, a sixth-century fable writer, known for stories like “The Tortoise and the Hare” and “The Boy who cried Wolf” explained this best in his fable entitled “The Fox and the Grapes”: A fox spots some delicious grapes hanging from a vine, but fails to reach them. He then gives up, and murmurs “They are probably sour anyway…”

Stockings and rational discrepancy: How we lie to close the gap

Last thursday, I had one of those ray-of-sunlight-in-my-face-choir-singing-moments, if you know what I mean (those of you who regularly watch lame comedies do). No, I did not brew the best beer in the world, nor did I find a way to study and sleep at the same time, but I did finally find some great ammo for my sarcasm gun. And I would point that gun at all of you out there who still naively believe there is something called a “free will”…

One day, some decades ago in America, a brilliant psychologist thought of a very easy and effective way to test how humans cope with certain unconscious preferences. This man or women (I haven’t a clue what his/her name was, or how his/her research was called, but what the hell, this is a blog, not a research paper) suspected humans have an unconscious preference for the right side of things. As in right and left. People tend to prefer things on the right side, and the researcher wanted to prove this with an unusual experiment.

If I remember correctly, the experiment took place in multiple shopping malls throughout America. A table would be set up, and on it there would be three identical black stockings. A sign would say “If you can guess which stocking is the best, you can keep it to yourself!” As you can imagine, within a minimal amount of time, dozens of people gathered around the table and threw themselves on the stockings, stretching them, feeling them and testing them in all sorts of ways. After they were done testing the stockings, they had to fill out a small form, giving their reasons for picking this particular stocking. As you can already predict, a majority of the people were convinced the stockings on the right side were the best ones, which is strange, considering all of them were identical.

So what just happened? Our unconscious self has evidently chosen the stocking on the right, but what role does our conscious self play? All it did is invent reasons to justify our unconscious preference for the right side of things. There is a gap between our unconscious, irrational, preferences and our need to rationally explain this decision to the outside world (and more importantly, to ourselves). We close this gap by simply lying to ourselves, inventing reasons that would explain our decision. Clearly, we are unaware of this process. This is very important, because if we would be constantly aware of this “rational discrepancy” (I just made that up, it sounds really cool though) within ourselves, we would undermine the very foundations of our existence.

When I first heard about this experiment, I was astonished. It made so much sense to me I couldn’t even believe it! Our conscious rational mind isn’t some glorious entity capable of solving the mysteries of the galaxy, it is merely there to trick us into thinking we make our own decisions; it’s there to trick us into thinking we have a free will, when we really don’t.  So many questions came to mind: How often does this happen? All the time? Most of the time? Sometimes?

From now on, I will dedicate some of this virtual space to finding examples of that gap, and the lies that fill it. With myself as prime subject. I hope I will have some self-respect left when I finish…