My band Mystic Inane has toured a bunch over the past few years. We went up the East Coast twice, hit Canada last winter, the West Coast the following summer. But last year we were invited to come tour Europe, which has been a longtime dream for all four of us since we were 16 year-olds. We spent six months making the necessary preparations, and then finally in late September, Candice (guitar), Nathan (bass), Jonah (vocals), and I (drums) got on a plane bound for Barcelona. We straight up toured the shit out of Europe for a month and while we were there I took pictures and kept a diary.
We flew into Barcelona in full jet lag zombie mode and remained in that state for five days. Jet lag sounds like a cool thing to have because it implies jet-setting, but in reality it sucks. When we finally managed to fall asleep in a drafty Barcelona warehouse, we all had nightmares. Candice said that Nathan, Jonah, and I had our hands reflexively over our crotches, like some European psycho was going to stomp on our privates.
I downloaded all of Young Thug’s Slime Season mixtapes for tour so I could see what all the fuss was about and I’ve got to say, I don’t get it. Am I just getting old? Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury is my idea of a challenging rap album and that came out ten years ago.
Our first show was in a squatted movie theater. The promotional posters for Inception watermarked the year the theater transitioned to a squat. The sound was surprisingly bad but the vibe was cool and everyone danced. On the inside of the doorway was a box filled with heavy wooden sticks so they could fight off the cops if they ever came trying to knock down the door. A lot of the squats we played at had cool antipolice home defense systems—at Kopi layered materials: tin, wood, PVC, etc. so that cops would have to change their grinder blade like five times if they tried to get through.
Barcelona is a big dog town. Every third person has a dog and they’re mostly hounds with spots and big ears, which to me is ideal. The owners just let them off their leashes to graze on tapas scraps. Some of them are seriously big enough to ride. I thought about catching one, putting some service animal tags on him, and telling the customs agent that I had a nervous breakdown on the Autobahn and that he saved my life. Ven aqui! We also stayed with a little guy who knew each one of his five toys by name. Pretty impressive.
Our third day was in Arnedo and we stayed with Tejo, who had the oldest house in town. It had gargoyles on it. In the backyard behind his weed plants was a tunnel that led to an 8th century Moorish castle. In the morning he took us to his farm on the outskirts of town and we spent an afternoon straight out of a dream sequence from Sex and the City. We sat around and drank young wine while our hosts prepared a lunch culled from the garden. Tejo pointed out a mountain that contained 100 mysterious caves that could have been made by Romans, Muslims, Early Christians, or Barbarians from the north.
We were warned that people are crazy in Arnedo, and sure enough after the show everyone started doing meth and going crazy. Nathan, Candice, and I went straight to bed, but Jonah hung out for a while and at one point late in the evening, the guy who booked our show grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled “Do you want to sleep or do you want to FUCK!?” Jonah went to sleep.
The next day we spent in Basque country. We climbed a castle and then went bodysurfing. I skated a sick bowl on the beach. The origin of the Basque language is a mystery, but they think it’s probably Celtic. Before Franco died, he passed the dictatorship along to his head stooge Carrero Blanco. Six months into Blanco’s new job, a group of Basque separatists known as the ETA blew him up with a car bomb and ended fascism in Spain for good.
I love Spain and its history. Our driver, Hector, is a Spanish anarchist and he told me about how workers in Spain created a classless utopia for a couple years before Franco came in and destroyed it. A lot of those anarchists fled to France, and when World War II happened, they became known as the best fighters in the French underground. Some of those who were captured by the Germans led resistances from inside the death camps. Hector and I mused that these anarchists lived through some of the highest highs and lowest lows human society has offered.
In France I was in danger of getting a blonde dreadlock stuck between my teeth at a show. I noticed on this tour that the richer the country we played happened to be, the more “broke” people were who couldn’t pay for the show or buy merch. They for sure had the best castles though.
In the States, when you play a show and there’s a sound guy present, it generally means the booker couldn’t find a house, so they had to book it at a shitty bar, and so then this dude is there who wants your drums to sound either like Morbid Angel or Def Jam-era Rick Rubin. The sound guy is basically the record store clerk who thinks he knows more about everything than you do.
I always had a little thing about sound guys, and in Europe I learned that a lot of people share this intolerance. The singer of this legendary Hungarian hardcore band (whose name I forgot) had a special vendetta against them. We were told that sometimes he would just stand there silently throughout the band’s whole set, just staring at the sound guy. Then when the set was over he would sprint to the back of the room and attack him.
In Europe, sound guys, mic’d drums, and soundchecks are all just facts of life—this is true even for a lot of squats we played. I started to enjoy having my drums mic’d. I didn’t have to play as hard and everyone could hear my deft kick drum technique and snappy snare rolls. One thing that really sucked, though, is that pretty much everywhere we played they wanted us to show up at 6 p.m. for a soundcheck, even though we never went on before 11. This made it almost impossible to get into town and go swimming, go to a secret restaurant, look at a castle, or visit the Mona Lisa.
Bars should always just play reggae between sets. It’s bad when the venue plays punk between bands, even worse when they play hardcore punk. It’s most miserable when they play records by the hardcore bands playing the show, which is what they were doing in Paris when one of the most violent bar fights I’ve ever seen broke out. Out of nowhere, this big dude broke a bottle over another big dude’s head. Then they started punching each other and I could hear the thuds from all the way across the room, over the music. The bartender vaulted over a set of tables and skidded behind the bar, knocking over a bunch of expensive-looking liquor bottles. He popped back up holding a masonry hammer, then launched over the bar and into the mix. The fight made its way outside and we all just stood there with this shitty street punk coming through the PA that seemed to ask, “who’s up next?” From what I saw, without the threat of gun violence, hand-to-hand combat has reached the kind of brutal sophistication that you don’t often see in the States. The bartender and the owner both returned with their white Lacoste polos sprayed with blood. I apologized for the violence but they were totally unfazed. They bought two blood-free Mystic Inane t-shirts with a €50 bill, told us to keep the change, and posed for some photos with us.
After our set, Jonah asked the DJ to play “I Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode. “No,” said the bartender, “people get stabbed when that song comes on.”
In Brighton, I watched a 10 year-old kid in a tracksuit smoke a cigarette and text on a mid-2000s Nokia brick phone. Perfection.
The bathrooms of the German squats we played at all had these stickers calling for male-bodied people to sit down while they pee. And while I totally agree that no one should have to sit on a pee-soaked seat, I couldn’t help but think there was something very German about policing people’s bathroom time.
On tour I was introduced to a great piece of punk slang: the punisher. A punisher is a guy who is just a little too intense. The archetypal punisher is from that scene in Star Trek IV where this punk terrorizes a city bus full of people by blasting a song called “I Hate You” on his boombox while scowling at them. Then Spock does the Vulcan death grip on him and everybody cheers. At the end of our set in Leeds everyone chanted “Fookin’ ‘ell! Fookin ‘ell!” which was sick. That night we stayed with a very cool dude who was also a total punisher. At 2:30 in the morning we were all yawning and rolling out our sleeping bags suggestively, while he just sat on the couch drinking a caffeinated sweet wine called Buckfast (“Brewed by monks, drank by punks”), blasting Discharge’s Why, and weighing the pros and cons of all the drugs he’d ever tried.
I made a big mistake bringing my snare head, which during our West Coast tour had formed the perfect visage of Jerry Garcia’s face. I noticed him staring at me on the exact date The Dead played their final show ever. Instead of selling it on eBay, I took it to Europe and destroyed it.
My buddy Grainne told me not to waste time drinking with the punks, to split off from the group and wander around the cities, taking in as much of the local flavor as I could. What I found is that most cities are pretty much the same. Sure, some of them have a castle in the middle, but the experience of being a foreign tourist with ten bucks in your pocket is more or less the same in any city.
At around two and a half weeks into tour I got sick of eating fresh bread all the time, a certain someone’s snoring became unbearable, all the castles started looking the same, and Europe began to feel like just another whateversville with the far right creeping into their mainstream. I was ready to go home. When I heard that my good friend Neight died, I just couldn’t deal. I set my brain on autopilot for the remaining week and now here I am back in New Orleans.
So that was our tour, and what a tour it was! How else could four broke-ass, emotionally crippled wingdings like us snorkel in Spain, have a spa day in Budapest, and even visit the factory where they invented stainless steel in Britain? Of course, anyone who’s ever been in a band will tell you that it really is a whole lot like that Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster. Whether you’re touring through the south of France or southwest Indiana, most of your time is spent in a cramped van with your bandmates, trying to maintain a civil group dynamic. But all that shit is worth it when you finally set up your drums and start playing. And playing a great show every night for a whole month is a dream, even if it is for a bunch of Europeans.
Mystic Inane is playing a fundraiser for Trystereo New Orleans Harm Reduction Center, with Patsy, Room 101 one man band, and TV-MA on Saturday, November 19th at THE BUILDING (1427 Oretha Castle Haley). For more info on Mystic Inane, check out mysticinane.bandcamp.com