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Anarchist Europe – a view from the outside. Part 1

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

“To exist as a band without the corporate music industry is in itself a political feat” – sticker stuck on a wall at a venue in North Germany

Sitting in a village on the edge of Kathmandu happily listening to the Subhumans, I had this yearning to go to Europe.

A good friend of ours from Holland calls the West “the fortress”; he said the people, the culture, and the way the whole place works is like a fortress, sealed and intimidating. I agreed with him and so why would I want to leave my six-year-old son behind for six weeks to travel in hostile territory? Not for work, nor for a better life, or for fortune but because I am “virused” and I am a little punkish.

In 2009, we got an email from somebody who’d been following our band for a while, asking us to gig at some shows for a festival organized by the ministry of culture in Denmark, all expenses paid. Though the other half of my band (my partner, who is also the drummer) was totally sceptical about a government-funded offer – the fact that some comrades of a similar “virused” nature happened to be part of the organising committee gave us confidence that we weren’t going to become sell-outs just yet.

The festival’s theme was “subculture”, so we fitted in along with the South African slam poetry and Zimbabwean street theatre. “Punk from Nepal” on posters all across Copenhagen did look kind of funny, juxtaposed with gargoyles and sports shop mannequins wearing nothing but shoulder-strapped red G-strings (the G-string was my moment of uncontrollable laughter on tour).

We stayed in apartments and hotels and had to undertake lots of meetings with press. Fleeting moments of that uncomfortable thing called “fame” were encountered when we had to be interviewed by some big newspaper journo or a slick dude on TV who had to wear a lot of make-up, asking us why we weren’t into wearing make-up.

The idea was to do this festival then continue to tour four other countries in Europe. The UK was also initially on the agenda, however I was really sad that nobody responded to my call for help with contacts. I heard it was difficult and expensive so I concluded that UK is definitely the most sealed fortress of them all.

By the third gig in Copenhagen I lost my voice due to coming out of a steamy hot venue into the sharp, cold Scandinavian night air. In retrospect, the worst part of our tour wasn’t the cops searching us or the time I got rejected while about to board a flight that transited through the UK (I found out the hard way that Nepalis need a transit visa for this fortress – I was miffed because I know my father, a retired gurkha, still pays taxes to Britain).

No, the worst part of the tour was this half-cracked voice that somehow stuck with me throughout my whole six weeks in five countries of Europe. I sounded like a cross between my chain-smoking dead grandma and an evil toad. And I kind of felt really guilty when people said: “You have such a cool voice”, knowing that it wasn’t mine.

In fact, I lost my real voice the night we played two gigs in a row, the second of which took place in Christiania.

I had given up on Christiania when I saw it had become like Camden market but instead of multi-culti stuff for sale, it was multi-culti drug stuff for sale. I was also really not used to peeing in toilets that didn’t have doors. There I was, witnessing the height of liberalism and anti-sexism and I just couldn’t handle it. However, after hanging out with high school kids and giving them workshops on Nepal and punk all day, that night we had been invited to play at a 20-something anniversary for old Danish punks who decided to do a grand reunion to commemorate the old days, and it ended up being great fun.

Forty- to fifty-year-old parents – some of them now grandparents – were in the mosh pit and said it was one of the best shows they had ever seen!

The organizers were a sweet old couple who gave us a verbal tour of their lives and how though their daughters were all grown up and wearing tattoos, sadly they weren’t into punk music as much as the parents.

I totally understood what they meant; we aren’t how the media portray us – cool, fashionable and daring rebels; most of us are in fact a bunch of weirdos and losers who celebrate it and most kids I know don’t want anything to do with their parents or weirdos and losers for that matter.

Somebody once said: “punk rock saves lives”. I think it does.
After my trip to the fortress, I realize how hard life is for people in the west, and though it’s a different kind of “hard” from Nepal, a different kind of “struggle”, there is a common problem and to quote one famous band, the problem is you.

You get all screwed up mainly because of all the structuring that comes with rapid industrialization or capitalism, or as they call it in Nepal “development”. It’s hard to cope with the modern world.
For example one of the things that really struck me that I’d forgotten about the west was how there were roads everywhere. Roads stretch for miles and miles and miles and there’s not just a few – there are loads of them just covering up the earth. And I
reckon it not only messes with the earth but also with our minds.

It might sound crazy, but punk helps some of us as we try to exist parallel to this new world order. Punk is not just music (and by the way is not just punk music either – the diversity of music from punk to out jazz I encountered on the tour just blew me away) but a forum where all sorts of misfits are able to express themselves without the constraints of conformism through music, art and literature without it being competitive or painfully academic. Personally, for me it’s a way to say “I’m not crazy. They’re the ones that are crazy.”