by: Tom Rau
Things fall apart when one’s fate is caught between the sun and the moon…
After the show was the after party. After the party was….a boat full of angry German men wearing futbol jerseys and sweating profusely, grinding across the dance floor hoping they would blindly fall into a woman who somehow goes for that sort of thing. After boat bar there was a rave in an abandoned train tunnel completely awash with graffiti. And then, there was nothing. We finally swallowed the moon.
A typical night for the nine of us traveling with the Purple Velvet International Female Hip Hop Tour goes something like this: We arrive at the venue at 4 or 5pm. There is almost always a snack consisting of various breads, cheeses, and drinks ((One particular snack consisted of homemade mint, watermelon, and pineapple juice served out of the watermelon, with the pineapple stuffed into the top. We drank it through a series of giant straws that were burrowed into the side of the watermelon. The time, effort, and heart that people have put into making us feel comfortable on this tour is beyond special.)). After we are sufficiently snacked, we soundcheck. Soundcheck commences around 6 or 7pm. Between 7pm and 10pm, we hangout, do internet things, drink, look at graffiti, etcetera. Sometimes there are press related events. Myself and Gabe, our DJ/percussion player, generally get to skip out on the press, but we have done a few interviews at this point along the tour. At L-Beach, a huge lesbian festival in Germany, they asked Gabe and on multiple sessions, “What’s it like to be a man surrounded by so many women, so many lesbians?” or “As a man, what is it like to play here?” or “Do you feel exotic?”….Tell me kind sir, as man, what is it like to shit?
Shows typically start between 9pm and 11pm. We are three acts deep. I play bass, keys, and some cowbell with my good friend, and talented poet/rapper, Shirlette Ammons. Lex Lafoy and DJ Doo-Wap are the dynamic-duo from Johannesburg, South Africa. They bring energy, love, and enough bass to rattle your head for days. I don’t even know where to begin with Sookie. Without her, this doesn’t even exist.
Sookie is a German rapper and wordsmith who has uncompromising political beliefs and uses her music as a vehicle to speak out against Homophobia, Anti-fascism, Capitalism and the current state of the world. She is wedged right between the underground, where she can speak both freely and directly to those with the ears to listen, and mainstream German rap. She already has a large fan base and is actively out there trying to change the world through music. This puts her in a unique situation and I can’t help but question, How much of your music, your soul, and your message gets twisted when you swallow the pill that is pop stardom? How many of the people that believed in you, followed you, and needed you to give strength to their own minority views, lose touch with what you are perceived to have become, when all of a sudden you are viewed as something else entirely? Does the fact that your voice becomes louder outweigh the fact that your words may become diluted? As a human and individual, can you survive the machine?
Anyways, our trio of acts typically play until around 1am. After the shows, our DJ’s spin the after-party. This typically goes on until around 3am. That’s when we get off of work. By then, I am unquestionably, drunk. We load up our equipment and roll the dice.
Würzburg, Bavaria started off like any typical tour night for us, barring the fact that the show started a bit later than usual. We arrived at the venue at 7pm for a show that was to start between 10 or 11pm. The venue is housed within a beautiful modern art museum that sits perched above the Main River. On the opposite side of the river was a behemoth of a castle that emitted three large, colorful rings of lights into the sky. We later learned these were part of a circus. Sitting in the water was a large boat. Inscribed on the hull were the words, “Arte Noah.” Two huge giraffes cut-outs were grazing on the deck. Hopefully, the rest of the animals got onto a different boat. Noah’s Arte was kind of shitty.
That evening Sookie had a friend joining her on stage as a DJ, guest rapper, and hypeman. His name was Alex. Somehow he managed to look both innocent and incorrigible simultaneously. I liked Alex’s vibe immediately. After they finished an emotionally charged set, Lex and Doo-Wap did that unique and infectious Lex and Doo-Wap thing that sits somewhere between the intersection of Major Lazer, Nicki Minaj, and M.I.A., tinged with South African dances and rhythms, and loaded with heapings and heaping of bass. After their set, Alex returned to do his first rotation as after-party DJ. Doo-Wap and Alex would be trading off sets until the party stopped, in this case around 3am. Now at some point during the after-party I managed to get back to our hotel room and catch a quick 20 minutes of shut eye. My plan was to sneak back down to the venue, grab my bass, keyboard, and amp, and then creep back to the hotel and get an actual night’s worth of sleep. But, as they say, things fall apart.
I opened my eyes at 2:15am. Gabe was laughing at me. It was probably safe to go back and pack up my equipment I thought. That said, I was feeling pretty salty about the whole thing at the time. I just wanted to sleep. I walked along the riverfront street in front of a giant multiplex cinema called Cinemaxx until I reached the Art Museum. The old 100 meter long building was now awash with columns of long blue LED lights falling from the roof like a psychedelic waterfall. It was a beautiful. When I arrived back at the venue the crowd had thinned, but there was still a party going on. It was possible I could make it out in stealth under the cover of dancing lights and sweaty bodies. Alex was on stage DJ’ing, fistpumping and smiling. I saw Doo-Wap and Lex towards the front of the room dancing. Doo-Wop spotted me and bounded over, inquiring about my recent disappearance. Fail. I knew I would have to be strong. “Sleeping, and I’m going back to sleep in ten minutes,” I replied. To which she responded, “Lex finally found the coffee Patron she has been looking for. You must take a shot with her.” And like that I was done. Plus, what is one shot of coffee flavored tequila.
Before I knew it, the bartender had pulled out a large glass carafe filled with jet black liquid. I was confused. That was definitely not Patron Coffee Tequila. I asked Lex. “No, this isn’t coffee tequila, but it is the closest thing I have found. I am very happy right now Tommy. We will take a shot, yes?” The statement was half a question, but posed more as a reminder of my soon to be realized fate. We took the shot. Doo-Wap joined us for another. I ordered a beer. And so it began. Oops…
An hour later, I was reluctantly back on the party train. I did, however, manage to get both my gear in the van as well as help Anna, our tour manager, pack up the merchandise. It was now well-after 3am. Doo-Wap had shut down the after-party and informed me that 200 yards away from the venue and directly behind our hotel there was a boat bar that was popping off. As I approached the boat, I could begin to make out the name on its side. It read, “Boot-A-Lot.” Ironically, right in front of our hotel were five ornate columns. In front of each column rested five steaming fresh piles of puke. Boot-a-Lot sat directly behind our hotel. The bar/boat was overflowing with guys ranging in age from their early 20’s to mid 40’s. I’d guess there were maybe 300 people on the boat. The air consisted of 60% testerone and 40% sweat. It was some sort of alternate German Hell. I briefly questioned if I had stepped into a divergent universe where Germany had conquered the world. It made the shittiest dance club you can think of in whatever city you live in look like the coolest dive bar you have ever been to. The bouncers were huge, with bald heads, black shirts and goatees. I imagined they were Nazi’s.
For the most part my attitude going into this little piece of Hell was that it was going to be immensely entertaining and potentially dangerous for a hot minute. After about fifteen minutes the DJ played Mattafix’s “Big City Lights.” Immediately a song that meant a lot to me was reduced to ashes. All of these assholes knew the words. One asshole even had the nerve to put up a hand to high five me. I love high fives, apparently more than I hate assholes. I returned the favor. My new friend Alex, leaned over, and jokingly yelled at me over the music, “He wants to salute you!” Later I asked him if there were Nazi’s in the bar. He started laughing, “Yes of course, and the rest of them probably just don’t know it yet.” I was in love.
We may have lasted 45 minutes on the party-boat, tops. The six of us that were still up decided to walk down to the riverside to have a quick smoke. This afforded me one last attempt to plot another escape back to my hotel room. We were standing on a giant set of steps that reminded me of the ones that Rocky ran up in except for the fact that they descended directly into the river’s end. One of the guys who had worked at the show we had just played saw us. He eagerly approached and told us of a rave going on in an abandoned underground subway tunnel, intimating that the potential for something special was a distinct possibility. He then proceeded to mention the atrocity of the place called “Boot-A-Lot.” With that, he had purchased some trust. That said, sleep was calling me. I feigned walking with the group towards the rave. When I sensed our group turning to the right, I made a break in the opposite direction thinking I could just casually say goodbye and head back. Doo-Wap intercepted me, “Noooooo, Tommy Tomatoe! Please come. It’s going to be dope! You must!” This was, I figured, the sound of fate ringing in my ears.
Ten minutes later we were walking through a quiet neighborhood in Wurzburg. It was after 4am when we began to notice people hovering around the entrance to the tunnel ((Photocred for header pic: Iwo Belonkultur)). As we entered, the human traffic was much what you would expect from a lesser subway station in the middle of the night; just a light trickle in both directions. There was however, a slight difference. The inside of the tunnel was completely covered with tags and graffiti. The people going in and out might as well have been also. It quickly felt like we had walked into a scene from Trainspotting. It couldn’t have been more than 15 feet wide throughout. The pulse of the bass drum was slowly increasing in volume as we approached the core. The density of people had shifted from a few drops to a stream. And then from a stream to molasses. And then finally it was solid, only a wall of sound and bodies. We had merely walked about 300 meters. We had to get into the center.
We pushed through the bodies until out of nowhere a small break appeared. At first it didn’t make sense to me. There were now people directly across forming a wall that looked exactly like the solid mass we had just emerged from. Standing in the center of the opening and surrounded by people in a much less dense fashion, was the source of it all. It was nothing more than a small computer desk. Perched upon it was a laptop, two massive computer speakers and a DJ controller. Standing behind that was a young DJ with an angelic face bouncing up and down. A wall of people reigned immediately behind him. No one had any space to move, yet everyone was moving. When he would filter out the lows, leaving only a trace of audible music, he would pump his fist in the air and start yelling in German. The pressure inside of the tunnel would rise to a fever pitch, the frequency of the crowd matching the frequency sweep generated by the DJ. The bass was about to drop. When it did the entire tunnel would erupt, screaming back at him. After about an hour of this a few of our crew left, a few went to get beer – I wasn’t going anywhere. This shit was fucking bonkers.
There was an older guy who must have been 6’3″ and in his early 50’s who seemed to hold a special position in the crowd. Despite his age, he never stopped moving. Nor did he ever leave the space immediately adjacent to the DJ table. He wore a stubbly face, small rectangular wireframe glasses, a dirty tan overcoat, and camouflage cargo pants. Occasionally, he would hold up one of the speakers and briefly dance with it, seemingly feeding it to the crowd. His go-to dance move involved marching in place while pointing his fingers all around in rectangular directions. I’m not going to lie, it was a sweet move. On his hip sat a bag. Doo-Wop tapped me on the shoulder and said “You know what they say about the guy wearing a bag at a party. He is always the drug dealer.” I quickly scanned my memories, a very astute observation.
Eventually time had stopped moving. It was almost 6am. We were exhausted. We headed back through the crowd, the wall of people slowly thinning back out from solid to normal human density. A few groups of people were huddled together, surrounded by broken glass and flickering lights talking and smoking. We made the long walk back through the tunnel. When we arrived at the surface, I looked at the sky. The moon and the sun were both watching us. They told me that my fate was finally just to sleep.