Massgrav in Finland
Maybe it’s a totally pointless thing to even write this giglog, but we’ll get to that in a while.
Anyway. One of all the benefits of bringing Jesper into the band is that he’s much more of a “make things happen” guy than the rest of us. Normally, we just respond to whatever gig requests we get and play the shows that sound fun and seem to offer a reasonable deal. Jesper suggested we’d get someone who could help us set up some shows, not to necessarily play a ton more shows per year, but rather to try to replace crappy shows that make you want to leave the band with better shows that remind you of why it’s the best thing in the world to be a Massgrav band member. So that’s how we ended up getting Zoltan of Doomstar Bookings trying to arrange stuff for us, and an initial idea was to do some stuff with Victims, which sounded good to us. You know who they are so we won’t get into that, except to say that although all of us didn’t know all of them super well, some of us know them and they seem like fun, nice people to share a van with, not prone to punk as fuck chaos and idiocy. Also, they’re vaguely in the same genre as us, but not similar enough to make it boring. They are also slower, which helps patch up the tiny hole in our egos caused by the fact that they are immensely more popular than us.
The only worry, really was that after reading Victims guitarist Gareth’s latest blog posts, it seemed like they were sliding into teetotalism, drinking something like five beers total over a long weekend. Together, not each. This seemed like a thing that might clash with the viking beer warrior lifestyle of ours, but what the heck, they’d probably be used to it, right? Oh, about that blog - Gareth’s Punk Rock and Coffee is one of the best and most detailed blogs out there and probably the biggest inspiration for me writing the Massgrav giglog and it’s also why this text might be pointless - what’s the use of writing about the same trip that’s already being covered by him? Well… choosing the smart and easy route has never been our thing so let’s do it anyway, but feel free to check out his version too, maybe you’ll find some differing views of what happened, who knows?
To keep this short, I’ll glance over a few parts. But getting to Finland was a bit stressful. Finding a van, replacing the van with one that didn’t have its papers locked into an unopenable glove box. Driving that behemoth of a van. Getting it on to the ferry. There was a lot of things you could have lived without and it was nice to finally settle down on the boat and open the first beer of the night. Being a wednesday nite, the ferry was very very quiet. On weekends, these are party boats, but this time it wasn’t. The disco was empty. The show restaurant was not even half full. In the karaoke bar, a few Finnish Romani women were singing grossly out of tune to an audience of maybe 15 old men. We flipped through the karaoke song folder but opted out, there’s no point in doing it if there’s nobody there to watch you make an ass of yourself. We amused ourselves with imagining what songs the various members of Victims would have sung and giggled away half an hour or so. Most of the night was spent in the piano bar, listening to soft music, chatting to Victims.
We arrived way too fucking early. We were supposed to be delayed 90 minutes. Some people say we weren’t, after all, but who the fuck knows - it was too early to understand much of anything anyway. We rolled off the ferry in Åbo and out on the highway to Helsinki and stopped at a motorway service station - huge place with gambling machines and half of a department store tucked away in a corner. It was windy. It rained. Everything was gray. We ate sad sandwiches. We were slightly hung over. It’s like that sometimes.
We arrived in Helsinki waaay to early and decided to take a chance on the hotel and we struck gold. Not only could we have our rooms although it was only noon, the hotel was really central and nice. Is this what it’s like when someone else books the tour for you? Is this how it is for Victims all the time. We could get used to this.
Norse and Jesper went to the movies, Fenok and me went sightseeing in the rain. At about four thirty or so, we drove over to the venue. We were met by an annoyed sound tech who said we were two hours late. Since there was no load in time in the super detailed advance sheet we’d gotten from them, we didn’t feel very guilty, but instead loaded in the gear and Victims got to soundchecking, which then turned into problem city. First, Jon’s amp just stopped making sounds, which prompted a lot of cable and fuse checking that ended in him switching to Norse’s amp instead (good thing we decided we’d all bring our own amps). Then their sampler wouldn’t make sounds. We tried being helpful by shouting slurs about this is what happens when you bring a synth on stage and such, but that didn’t seem to help either. Anyway, they finished and we did our check, set up merch and all the usual. The room seemed really good - great shape and size, reasonably high stage and an adjacent bar.
The opening band will only be remembered for two things. One: the bass player had an axe bass. Who the fuck has that? Well, him apparently. Second, their singer puked on stage and left a big puddle for us to stand in. There’s a fucking limit to things though, and it goes right there - on this side of puddles of puke on stage and he was made to clean the stage before we entered it.
There’s no polite way of saying this: the Helsinki crowd was shit. Standing waay back, arms crossed, grumpy faces. Fuck, just stay at home and drink, why don’t you. Norse just couldn’t be arsed and spoke swedish the whole gig through. With no energy feedback from the crowd and even less help from the sound in the monitors, we did a pretty bleak gig, fucking up more than necessary. We left the stage in a frustrated huff.
Initially, the crowd offered Victims the same response, but after a while, they at least got some people nodding and shaking fists which is, at least, something. But yeah, Helsinki… not impressed. We had a few friendly people come up to us afterwards telling us they loved the show, sure, but… not a night to remember. We tucked in to the ample supply of backstage beers.To my eternal annoyance, Jesper had put “no fucking IPA” on the rider, but fortunately, the Victims rider was the complete oposite and they were nice enough to share a few. We stayed around until the fridge was empty, the house lights were on and all the staff started ignoring the smoking indoors ban and started asking us to leave.
We were supposed to pick up our gear from the venue at two and then drive two hours to Tampere - pretty sweet deal. Time for plenty of sleep and a nice hotel breakfast. Unfortunately, Jesper and Fenok decided to trust Jesper’s internal alarm clock (“I’m a dad, I wake up at seven every day”) and missed breakfast but the rest of us helped ourselves to coffee with double cream and other Finnish delights and then had another 90 minutes of rest before we had to check out. We walked back to the venue, stopping for coffee to kill time and then picked up our stuff and headed north.
It’s another day of shit weather, with strong winds trying to push our huge van off the road as soon as there aren’t any trees to shelter us. It’s been like this every time we’ve been to Finland - do they ever have nice weather? We roll into Tampere with a few hours to spare and check in to the no staff, all automatic hotel. Andy and me went for a walk, the rest just lounge at the hotel. Tampere looked like a really nice town, had a bit of Norrköping vibe going with all the brick industrial building from the 1800s down by the river. My feet are soaked and I know my boots won’t have time to dry, it’ll be like this for the rest of the weekend.
Vastavirta is a classic old punk venue and we played there nine years ago too, the second gig we ever did with Fenok on drums. Good things about this: professional staff who know what they’re doing, being able to count on drawing at least somewhat of a crowd and a good atmosphere. Bad things about this: the smell when the place is empty and you’re still sober.
After the crap gig in Helsinki, we were out to get revenge and prove to ourselves and the guys in Victims that we are a mean live band so we stayed almost sober and paid extra attention to sound checking. Some of us played pinball (Fenok - as always - declaring that the machine was set up all wrong), we had cold pasta and warm chickpea stew and waited for people to show up.
The opening act is pretty much everything we’re not, to be polite. Banana riffs, metallic guitar, gruffy vocals, pretty slow - not my thing. The fact that they just got onstage and helped themselves to our gear may influence the impression of them that we got, but all in all I don’t think we’ll be setting up shows in Sweden for them like they asked us too. It does instill a certain “let’s show them what fast music is all about” feeling in us though, so it’s not all bad.
And then we played. And the sound on stage was good. And the crowd was good. And we got in the right type of mode, so to speak and it felt like we did one of our better gigs in a long time - lots of fun and lots of crowd insulting inbetween songs, but also letting them know how much better they are than the Helsinki crowd, which they seem to love. The parts about being a misplaced part of Sweden - not quite as popular (but just as true).
And then Victims played. Last night in Helsinki, I wasn’t really paying attention, just being pissed off with our own subpar performance, but this time I catch the whole show and it’s one hell of a show. Over the last few years, my acceptance of slower, crustier d-beat stuff has increased and I guess it’s gotten to the point where I can really enjoy a Victims live set. By now, the beer and shots are starting to kick in and I get this idea in my head that makes me laugh out loud, how they’re like a steamroller whereas we’re more like a manic speedfreak on a stolen dirtbike. Not to put ourselves down in any way, but they come off as very… professional? Not 100% sure they’ll like that description, but it’s very solid. Anyway, great show, and the audience laps it up. This night is so incredibly much better than last night, it’s ridiculous.
The band beer was shockingly few, but at least they also gave us a discount, letting us have huge beers for three euros, which normally would be great, except we were expecting to drink for free all night. We still manage to get pretty hammered, although it’s nothing compared to the finns. One young woman tries to get me to go home with her to have sex and her husband, who’s right next to her, starts calling her a fucking whore, which doesn’t deterr her. There’s a bit of a fight breaking out backstage at one point - luckily it’s enough to look menacing, give the guy the eye and ask what the fuck his problem is, I never have to back my bluster up. At some other point, there’s also some kind of fight or tussle and girl with dreadlocks crashes in to me. As I catch her, she looks up and slurs “are you married?”. When I say yes, she just says “too bad” and heads off. It’s a weird night, but fun.
All of a sudden, the place is closing down and it’s 2.30 am or something like that and someone who’s sober enough (I’m guessing Johan - he seems to be the responsible type) sorts out a cab back into town. Norse gets a lot of pleasure from lying about me being the girl magnet in the band (we all know it’s Fenok). As we reach the hotel, me and Fenok are up for food and more beer, the rest go to bed. However, by the time we have found and eaten our gigantic kebabs and falafel rolls, sleepiness hits us pretty hard and we head back to the hotel. Too bad, there seemed to be a lot of cool bars and pubs in central Tampere.
Another morning where we don’t have to pick up the gear until two. This morning Jesper’s internal alarm clock is back to its usual self and when the rest of us wakes up, it’s to a text about him eating breakfast at some buffet that he says is great. We decide to have brunch there after we check out of the hotel at noon and go for a bit of a walk first. I wanted to check out the local liquor store, Alko, but suddenly I’m not in the mood to buy beer. Norse has an ice cream, the rest of us stick to drinking soda. It’s gray and drizzly. The buffet is fine, but I wouldn’t go as far as great, but we all like different things, I guess. Picking up the gear goes smoothly, eight people carrying things make it fast and easy to load, and our van is so massive, we could have fitted twice the gear in the back, so there’s not a lot of fiddling with packing either. Jesper takes the wheel and we keep driving north, to Jyväskylä. I have my doubts about this gig. Sure, it’s a Saturday, but the venue seems to be pretty large and located on the outskirts of town and the facebook attendance number is low.
The venue is a big hall in a basement, seems more suited to state financed touring theatre companies or something - the very oposite of Vastavirta. Still, nice sound and light rig, nice sound tech that seems to know what he’s doing as we set stuff up. I sit behind the merch table and watch Victims start to souncheck and it sounds… shit. Every drum that Andy checks is so incredibly boomy, my teeth feel like they’re about to fall out of my mouth. To my complete amazement, the sound guy just nods his head and moves on to the next drum. When he then asks Andy to play the entire kit, it just sounds like utter crap, just a bit undefined BOOOOOOM! I get up to walk down to the mixing table to ask what the fuck he’s up to, only to discover I’ve been sitting i a corner that acts as some kind of bass trap - as soon as I get ten steps away from the merch table, everything sounds fine. Good thing I didn't start shouting insults from where I was sitting.
Our soundcheck goes… ok. The vocals in the monitor seem weird and I can hardly hear my bass, but sound guy assures me there’s nothing more he can do, and I’m not allowed to turn my amp up any more. He’s already been complaining about Jesper and Norse having their amps cranked up so insanely high, me and Fenok giving each other a look of “welcome to our world”. I still think to myself that I’ll turn my amp up just a little once it’s time, and probably the others think the same. We’re terrible like that.
Then there’s an hour and a half or so of waiting and moaning about how few people are there and how little merch we’re selling, but as the opening act start playing, there’s an ok crowd I guess. When they’re done, it becomes apparent they may not have played a ton of shows, because they walk off stage, leaving everything behind, to hug each other, crack open beers and sit down backstage to talk about the gig. When you’ve been yelled at a few times at festivals, your initial response after playing is to pack your shit up immediately and clear the stage for the next band. I get a much needed spike of anger so I’m only half pissed off when I finally aske them to take their stuff off the stage.
The first half of this show is pretty miserable. The audience is standing still. The sound isn’t even what it was at soundcheck and you can tell that we just don’t have the fire we did last night. Norse makes it very apparent when he just gives up mid sentence in between songs: “Here’s a song about…. some shit” and we also makes way too many mistakes - we KNOW these fucking songs! After about half the set is done, I decide to let go of caring and just give it all I’ve got (which isn’t much - after drinking beer for four days, playing a couple of shows and yapping all the fucking time, I don’t have much voice left, even after sucking on a disgusting but helpful throat soothing pill that Johan offered me) - I know I’ll have much more fun if I do. And the rest of the gig is a little better, I guess.
I have a couple of people come up to me and say they’ve never heard of us before but were blown away. Now me, I’d be embarrassed to admit to a band that’s been around for more than 20 years that I’d never heard of them, but I guess we all operate on different routines. As I barge into the backstage room to have a shower, the opening act is sitting there with friends and girlfriends but just as I’m thinking about whether to make a stink about bringing non band members back there AND letting them drink the band beer, they all get up and clear out - I guess it showed pretty clearly what I was thinking.
Victims get on stage and it’s almost annoying that they seem to have no problem with the sound. At least they also suffer from a distant crowd, but about halfway through the set, the classic “come closer”-wave that NEVER works for any band, does the trick for them and they get an enthusiastic although a bit thin mosh pit going. This time, I’m up front by the PA speaker and again, I’m well impress - it sounds fucking massive! Jon’s new thing (“he always has a thing”, the Victims guys tell me) is playing barefoot. Who cares if he looks a bit like a ballet ninja on stage, he plays great! I hope Gareth didn’t mind me telling him (I was drunk at the time and regret it now) but his manic headbanging reminds me of some clip I’ve seen of Kermit the frog going mental. I’m already looking forward to seeing them in Stockholm later this fall. Afterwords, Andy isn’t satisfied, due to a couple of fuckups but I’m starting to think that’s his thing. I punch him in the arm and tell him not to be an idiot, it was a great gig.
The end bit
So now comes the bit we’ve all dreaded. To avoid taking another day off from work, we need to catch the morning ferry home. Which means we need to drive through the night to Åbo.
We load up all the stuff in the van, empty the backstage fridge of the last beer and head out. The sound guy warns us that there will be plenty of deer and moose on the road once we pass Tampere so we need to be alert. To make things worse, it’s really foggy, visibility is shit. Gareth is driving and I’m riding shotgun to keep him awake, so I do my best to keep the music interesting and to keep talking to him. I guess I’m a bit of an asshole for not offering to drive this part, but I know I’m a terrible driver when I’m tired and that I go from “I’m fine” to jerking awake without noticing it myself, so… Let’s say it’s for the good of everyone, ok?
We stop at a truck stop to load up on food, candy, red bull and whatnot to keep us awake. We’re the only people there and there’s a pretty eerie feel to it all. Jesper has to buy warm food so we have to wait forever on that while eating our chips and sandwiches. And then we’re back on the road. After Tampere, Gareth hands over the wheel to Norse and it starts to rain heavily. He doesn’t want me DJ:ing, he’d rather listen to entire albums, which makes it harder for me to stay awake. The last half hour is brutal but we make it to the terminal fine. Except the signage is piss poor and the GPS coordinates don’t quite line up. Jon says he’s been there before, but I still make Norse go an extra lap to look at a different place, but it turns out Jon was right all the time. 90 minutes until check in. The rain is pooring down and it’s pitch black. Finland…
Once we get on the ferry, we all get some much longed for sleep and then spend the rest of the day kicking back, watching football on the tv and some sort of crappy talent show on stage. Once we drive off the boat, I breathe out a bit. The combo of the big van and the ferry travel has had me stressed out the last couple of weeks but everything goes smooth, including unloading the van and returning it. I get home about 9.30 at night, shattered. It’ll take me a few days to get back to normal. Still, Gareth is much worse off - he has to evacuate his apartment to have all his plumbing replaced and needs to pack up and move in with his mum in law that night.
All in all, this was a great trip and with great company - give me a week to get some sleep and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Except I renew my vows not to go to Finland in the fall. Next up is Scandinavian Death Fest and after that, we need to see about getting a new album done.