‘Listen Or Die’

A History of the punk hard core pirate station ‘Radio Death’

Amsterdam 1985-1987

By Geert Lovink

‘To us, Dood was never a mere radio station, it was a cover- up. It

was about ideas, music was just an excuse. We were anarchists, but in

covert ways, honest and naive. Our ideas may not have been that clear,

but as it turned out they were. We started out as small and futile as

possible, then quietly to evolve into something bigger. We thought of

Radio Dood as some cancerous growth, which was finally to infect the

whole of the Dutch body. A threat to all that we knew. Radio Kills, you

see?’ – Wolf

Radio Dood (‘Radio Death’) was founded at the end of 1985, just before

the dissolution of Amsterdam’s squatters’ and activists’ movement of

the 1980s. Dood thought of itself as a punks-only radio station, run by

and directing itself at punk rockers. Things revolved around squats,

bars and concert halls. The relationship to ‘the movements” political

activists was an uneasy one to say the very least. Many of the

squatters were probably never even aware of the existence of a Radio

Dood during the one and a half years it did. The punx comprised a

separate community within the movements’ network, hardly touched upon

by the bourgeois majority (and then mostly by way of conflicts). In

1985, there were several other free radios operating from squats. De

Vrije Keijzer was an exclusive activists’ info station. In the

Staatslieden district there was the Staatsradio, militant as to both

its music and its information. Apart from this, during the same year a

coalition of various groups gave rise to Radio 100, which focused on

independent labels, reggae, world music, industrial, and on sound

collage shows such as Rabotnik and DFM.

Since, as a ‘movement within the movement’, the punx had gained enough

strength, the time seemed ripe to get a station of their own. Jan,

together with Wolf (a.k.a. ‘Pluimpje’, or Tuftsy) and a technician,

formed the threesome that was to get Dood off the ground: ‘There was a

riotous mood in the city, I liked it. I was rehearsing five days a week

with this band, Human Exit, then with Take One In. We were incredibly

intense super-hardcore. Wolf had asked me to join in on a radio

station. Before long, we sat brainstorming every night. Wolf was into

all this stuff, mysticism, letter reversal. I thought I could get my

house to make some financial donations. Those squatters’ assemblies are

so gullible, so easy to get them going if you come up with the right

idea. While the technician worked on the transmitter, Wolf and I went

out recruiting. You know, just go by intuition: take to the street and

pick someone.’

Bart: ‘I was 18 years old back then and a real punk rocker, the

mohican, studded jacket and all. One day I was standing in Boudisque,

the record store, going through some hardcore albums, when a guy

approached me, asking, ‘You’re into punk rock then? Feel like doing a

show for our radio station?’. Perplexed, I bought myself f60,- worth

of records, went to the adress he gave me and started a radio show.

Never seen a microphone in my life, I’ve no idea what it sounded like,

quite amateurish I’m sure. At first I named it ‘Dr. Theopolis till 9’,

after this terrible science fiction series on TV which featured a

talking lamppost by the same name. I soon got rid of that one, it was

too dumb. Afterwards I was known as ‘The beast with a last name’, after

a famous Dutch children’s book called The beast without a last name.’

Before Radio Dood, Wolf did a punk show for Staatsradio. ‘We just

brought in our records and put them on the air. During those shows, I

came to see the potentialities of radio. I thought there must be way

more to it. I was looking for a wider dimension than that of the Vrije

Keijser, a broader, overall picture. Besides music and ideology, more

experimenta- tion was called for.’ Vendex joined the station shortly

after: ‘Legend has it Radio Dood was founded by Hans Kok and Wolf. They

did a show for Staatsradio, called Radio Dood. Apparently they moved to

some secret location downtown, to start their own radio station with a

transmitter they had just finished. By the time I joined them they were

broadcasting three days a week, which eventually became four.’

Yet, according to Wolf there was never much of an idea behind Dood.

‘There was just this general discontent over the way things were being

brought to attention. It was all too soft, too little. The whole

situation of Amsterdam at the time held much more potential. I was

anti-everything. Even the punks were too soft, so was the whole

squatters’ attitude. It was all so bearable. In the

Staatsliedendistrict at the time, there were scores of evictions.

‘We’ve gotta stop them, all of us as one body.’ But no, everyone just

abandoned their little flats, just like that, leaving everything to be

demolished by the municipality. I couldn’t stand it, they all just

copped out. Things needed to get way harder, way hotter and much more

hectic, a showdown with the lot, let the whole thing get out of hand.’

The function of radio had to be that of catalyst. The worse the better.

It was time to let the general mood show. The final spark. Wolf: ‘I

thought radio was much more effective than magazines. If you’ll excuse

my expression, people were more easily herded by radio, I mean in our

own devious ways. That’s what I was after. Some said it was perverted

to incite others to act, to rouse them from their slumber. I was hoping

that after the death of Hans K. (in ’85), we’d have our own Rote Armee

Fraktion, just like in Germany after the death of that student in 1967.

The attacks by RaRa were fine. The strange thing was, only RaRa did

things like that. Squatters could have been much more of a threat.

There were too many discussions. At the time it meant now or never. As

it turned out, it was never.

[Tr. note: See, for an account of the death of Hans Kok in a police cell after an eviction

in the Staatslieden district, ADILKNO: Cracking the Movement, Autonomedia, NY

’94.]

Radical Anti-Racist Action (RaRa, translatable as ‘Guess Who?’)

carried out several effective attacks against companies supporting the

South African Apartheid-regime. After the forced financial withdrawal

of a warehouse chain (insurance companies refused to cover for any more

of their departments burning down), they spawned the Dutch anti-Shell

movement of the late 1980s. They are currently targeting institutions

involved in the expulsion of refugees fleeing to Holland].

The general outlook in Amsterdam was still solid by ’85/’86, but Wolf

and others felt things could be taken much further. Radio Dood did not

aspire to becoming yet another part of the movement, not some cultural

expression. Wolf: ‘Punk had become another segment, in which nothing

happened. After a gig, everyone would just go home in despair. We were

afraid it would all peter out quietly.’ Wolf and his gang had little to

do with current activist themes. ‘We were against actions supporting

the South Africans or Nicaragua. While everyone supported all these

distant causes, down here things were left to grind to a halt. I

thought it was cowardly. I guess we should have infiltrated other

groups, but we never did. We kept to ourselves.’

Jan did a show called ‘Operation Slaughterhouse’, together with Dood’s

technician. ‘I wasn’t the sort of politically minded squatter. All I

wanted was this heavy punk station, no pretentions, perhaps provoke a

few people. Before I started, I bought an incredible heap of records in

order to have some recent stuff. Doing a show on speed, it comes out

fast as anything, makes you feel like going for it. Only you get

paranoid and chaotic if you overdo it.’ Dood was more than just playing

your albums or tapes. Jan: ‘If there was some action going on, I would

go there and stick in my mike. There was Melanoom, de Muur and Emma,

I’d bring in my bit of equip- ment and tape these incredible gigs,

which we then put on the air.’

Vendex did his ‘Youth Resistance Show’, one of the few programs to

feature non-punk rock. ‘I was more interested in general deviation and

rebellion than in more defined areas such as punk or hardcore. During

the mid-’80s you could still get away with playing sixties’ rebel

music, it wasn’t a fashi- on yet. Thus I returned to pre-punk rebel

music, such as early rock ‘n’ roll. I’m a great fan of 1966’s music,

when it seemed a change was at hand. Everything would be different,

although noone knew what it would look like. This resulted in a freedom

to go your own way. The year after, it was all over. After- wards there

was nothing new, just a rehash of what had been thought up during the

early 1960s. That Dutch Woodstock at Kralingse Bos, that wasn’t youth

resistance, it was youth commerce, financed by Coca Cola. Nowadays any

cheap substitute of the 1960s will do, but not so in the Youth

Resistance Show.’

Vendex had picked up the notion of ‘resistance’ in a discus- sion held

in various punk zines during the early ’80s, ‘Does punk equal

resistance?’ On the one hand, there was the band Nitwitz who claimed

that ‘punk is an outing, having a beer with your friends’. On the other

extreme end, there was the Rotterdam-based Mao-Communist fraction of

the band De Rondo’s and Raket publishers. They held that ‘Punk=ReV.’.

Vendex: ‘The discussion went on for one and a half years and by the end

of it they still hadn’t figured it out. I believe that all civi-

lisation comes from deviation. People need to go their own ways if

there is to be any change in the world. A lot of bad things may come of

it, but also the one good idea that everyone’s been waiting for. Youth

needs to be encouraged to get thorougly out of hand, some good old

deviant behaviour. I believed in personal development.’

‘Youth Resistance’ featured Dood’s best jingle; (orchestra) ‘Yes folks,

wouldn’t it be great to play the guitar in a top ranking orchestra like

that. Don’t we all dream of it. Perhaps you’ve even tried to learn the

old fashioned way, buy a guitar, get one of your neighbours to teach

you the first three chords, and then – well, what? Trying to get there

on your own, studying by yourself, listening to the others, jealously

listening to and watching bands on telly. Another tune whist- led to

those painstaking chords. (break) Ohhh Nooooo!… Dood Radio presents

to you: the Youth Resistance Show. A spectacular game show with

political resonances. Your host: Vendex. Offering the choicest pick of

vinyl old and new, sure to inspire your spontaneous, youthful Dutch

spirit.’

At the end of the show Vendex would read the codes of resistance. ‘I

received them in a sealed envelope every week, with which contents it

was agreed I would not interfere. First there’s the codes for various

sectors, for instance North-North East 52 28 E. Then there’s the key

codes, such as ‘Piet goes off to work’. I was trying to suggest a fifth

column and luckily it worked. I prefer the notion of youth resistance

to that of punk rockers, who, as the story goes, linked up with

squatters to form the ‘movement’. ‘Youth resistance’ sounds young,

alive. Youth is in the best position to revolt, so tune in…’

David was asked by Jeroen. Together they started off ‘Vox Christiana’,

after the Vatican label that published the Pope’s speeches. Vox

imitated christian beliefs. David: ‘I grew up in a leftist artists’

community, so after ten years of the same old slogans, you’re up to

something new. I started out by reversing one’s own opinions, looking

for negative means of expression, not the old raising of the finger.

It’s allright to voice your opinions, the thing is nobody gives a fuck.

It’s easy winding up women, minorities or people with different sexual

attitudes, but the real aim after all is provocation of bourgeois

society itself. Christianity is a good testcase. If you just rant and

rave, they’ll think: ‘What’s he on about?’. I would mix in leftist

ideas as well: ‘God opposes European Americanisation’, a synthesis of

communism and christianity, sure to cause a bit of confusion’.

David bought a few Bibles, attended a mass gathering and studied

christian rhetorics. Vox Christiana played hymns, childrens’ choirs,

speeches, Salvation Army records, mixed in with analog synthesizers,

pure noise and no text. Music pro- duction started with David who took

two small cassette recorders into the subway to make recordings,

banging on a piece of metal, then cutting this up. At times they would

take all the equipment with them to the studio and have 10 or 20 sound

sources blaring at the same time.

David: ‘Whether you churn out pure and utter crap, as long as you have

the right approach they’ll love it – or they won’t. I mostly had a good

time. Dood offered me a means of expression. It was the show part I was

into. Vox Christiana’s highlight was a performance we did in the

squatted Conrad- straat. I played a priest in long, green robes with

wide sleeves, accompanied on both sides by priestesses and a backing

band. It took just a few sentences to start them off, ‘Dirty fascists’,

‘Fucking christians’. At the time I compared it to the outrage over

Fassbinder’s ‘Der Mll, die Stadt und der Tod’. What you incorporate is

a fascist’s portrait, not a fascist, to which people fail to notice the

difference. Which becomes impossible anyway, once you do a realistic

impersonation. At Vox Christiana we balanced on that same thin edge of

parody and pure imitation. As soon as you cross that line, it no

longer makes any difference whether you’re a christian or not. Your

program is successful if some people see it as a good act, whereas

others will wonder whether you’ve actually been converted.’

Bart played later hardcore, Christ on Parade, Die Kreuzen, D.R.I., Dead

Kennedys, tight, smooth punkrock. ‘I’d discovered Iggy Pop just a few

years before. From pre-punk, I went straight ahead with the new

hardcore, since the old punk rock was obscure and no longer on sale.

Radio Dood being a station of genre, we all favoured the same bands.

Sewer Zombies and their track ‘They died with their Willy Nelson

T-Shirts on’ were popular, a sort of chaos punk. Besides music, I’d

have these jingles with bits of ‘Theo & Thea”s and other childrens’

albums. There was a tape you could order with Mad, called ‘Mad

minutes’, with sketches on it that I would mix in.’

Wolf in his show ‘Sick of Music’ played exclusively the loudest, the

hardest, and the shortest. Half of it was mixed back home, the rest was

live improvisation. Wolf: ‘In my view, I couldn’t start up a song or it

had to be finished. Halfway through I’d come up with the next one,

saying, ‘Shut the fuck up guys!’. Accompanied by nasty horror movie

recordings, lots of screaming and yelling. Things that were out of

line, no porn though. I was looking for a sonic hurricane. Horror and

panic was what I was after. I wanted Radio Dood to be disgusting. ‘I

hate listeners’ was one of those slogans. I set out to insult people.

Even negative reaction is a form of action. I was well aware of when

I’d go too far. Some slogans can be quite effective and hit straight

home. We were not sexist, racist or fascist, simple as that. With me,

there was no info, only insults, curses and a general raising of hell.

‘Morning you mary jane junkies!’ Passivity was all around and it needed

to be combated, which I did in nasty ways. With good reason though, in

my eyes.’

Negazione’s ‘Tutti Pazzi’, the Dead Kennedys’ ‘Kill the Poor’, the Sex

Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ or Sid Vicious’ ‘My Way’… songs that were

definitely out according to Wolf. From a long line of punk hits he

composed a sort of anti-charts, the ‘Boring 20’. Wolf: ‘It listed all

those pass top-of-the-list groups. To outsiders, this was the real punk

rock, but we thought they were far too regular. We were after more

obscure stuff, something unlabelled. Punk was dead to start with

really, it was declared so back in ’77 and many times after. Only, the

punks refused to go. An annoying situation. Then, Pop!, a punk radio

even! Radio Dood happened at the end of the third punk wave and we did

it because of our fear that punk rock would bleed to death, which by

the way it did soon after.’

By the time of ’85/’86, punk rock still hadn’t become a trend or a

fashion.

Vendex: ‘After Britain ’76/’77, there was the international

punk wave that spread across the world like ripples on a pond. Suddenly

there was punk rock everywhere. British punk rock got more daft by the

day. Then there was ska. Suddenly a thing called hardcore sprang up.

They still practised real punk rock, people like Disorder, Discharge.

Pure and uncut defeatism: there wasn’t a band without some track titled

‘Worldwar III’ or ‘Democracy’, another ‘I don’t want to die in your

war’. In ’82 there was the Finnish wave, soon followed by the Italians,

with bands like Negazione and Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers. America

took over, introducing new punk styles. Personally I favoured the

Scandinavian welle. At first records were still being produced, but

this turned out to be commercially unsuccessful. So, by ’83/’84 you had

the compilation cassette. Neighbouring bands would line up their demos,

leaving as little blank spaces as possible. All hardcore accepted was a

well-known slogan in the compilation ads. ‘If it’s hard and fast we’ll

include it’. A lot of bands made use of that. This way, by 1986 you saw

these immense piles of independent punk records and compilation

cassettes being produced, with this incredibly obscure fantastic music.

The fact that Radio Dood played only punk and hardcore music may sound

quite sectarian. But it was so marvelously speciali- sed, that I have

never since heard a station providing so thorough a study of the whole

thing. Punk was never on radio. Most of its baptisement on the air was

through Radio Dood. We’ve interviewed bands that had never seen a radio

microphone in their life.’ Besides punk rock, there was always a stack

of dump albums ready for airplay, such as ‘Robert Stolz in Vienna’,

Peter Kreutzer, ‘The Very Best of Albert West’, ’13 roaring rocking

hits’, which were used for background noises. Repulsive music played in

the hope that ‘noone in his right mind would stay tuned to this’.

Bart: ‘Besides the person doing the show, there were always at least

two more people in the studio, smoking joints and hanging around. The

people I met with were punk rockers provi- ding for a uniform sound.

There was reggae, but the guy was so out of it, after the second time

he never showed up again. Johan Koecrandt, of the famous punk magazine,

stuck out for being so awfully tidy. The microphone had to be picked

up, spoken into and laid down again, producing a nice katanggg. Johan

however would take off his scarf and place the micropho- ne on top of

it. Needless to say, Amsterdam’s punk pope did a very good show.’

Dood’s motto was ‘Listen Or Die’. Wolf’s general spirit, deterring as

many listeners as you can, found response. ‘We are punks, you all suck,

fuck you’. The same attitude was applied to Radio 100. Bart: ‘Those

guys had too much money to spend, too nice equipment, they were all

headed for the public broadcasting services in Hilversum. Whenever we

wanted to take the piss out of someone, it’d be Radio 100. They sucked,

sad individuals doing sad radio.’ Vendex: ‘We even did these radio

plays, ‘Behind the scenes with Radio 100′, in which we exposed the

appalling abuse there: the incredible amount of money they had, DJ’s

being forced to take to Valium 10 or they wouldn’t fit into 100’s

general format.’ With Dood, the end was always near. Vendex: ‘People

got kicked out because they were so drunk they had completely wrecked

the studio, they’d tear the needles from record players. For instance,

I invite a singer in this band. Next, 30 people show up, pissed out of

their minds, leaving the doors to the street wide open, with the radio

noise blaring out. Sometimes you thought, today will be the end of it,

Dood is finished. It gave you the energy to get that more fierce.’

There was a strong commitment by everyone involved to ‘do it

together’. Vendex: ‘You’d spend full days building the studio, it was

so lovely naive. Before us we see two individuals: one the manager, the

other in charge of tools, quarreling over renovation procedures. Or

take the illustrious idea of loca- ting the studio in the flooded

basement. Perhaps 2 tons of sand were moved to the cellar fom a nearby

garden, in buckets and barrows, to absorb the water with. The mud was

then removed from the cellar. Half a year later, there were another 6

inches of water. Just get together and get at it, it was a nice

training grounds.’

Wolf ‘managed’ Radio Dood. An unusual position in idealistic radio

making, it was generally acknowledged as he did most of the work.

Vendex: ‘Radio Dood was expected to be out of it, if not for its half

witted manager. Whenever Wolf gave radio producers shit, telling them

it sucked, that they were no good, he meant for them to stand up to

him. Most of them were put off by it however. He liked to shock people.

He might start off his show with the words, ‘Good evening every body,

Heil Hitler’. To the squatters’ scene at any rate, that was way past

the limit.’

A meeting was held every two weeks, attended by the full staff. Wolf’s

dictatorial comments made everyone anxious to know what was going on.

‘Will Wolf be dismissed…?’ The meetings dealt with current affairs:

how little money was in store, what equipment had broken down this

time. A recurring theme was the question, ‘Where’s all the women?’. For

there was never a single female DJ involved. Vendex: ‘Perhaps because

it was run by guys. We weren’t looking for women just for the sake of

it. But this was not done really. It never happened, except for Sow,

who was Swine’s girlfriend. There were female spirits present in the

studio, but they never made themselves heard.’

In the summer of 1987, Radio Dood burst apart. The radio was doing well

at the time. A new mixing desk and tape recorder had just been

acquired. The breaking point was a fight between the manager and the

technician, without whom there could be no broadcasting. Vendex: ‘A

manager like that knows everything about how to handle things, but

nothing of electronics. For a long time I figured as an intermediary

between the two of them. A new technician would not so easily be found.

Every more often, Wolf would say: ‘I built up this radio, I’ll break it

down as well’. The DJ’s didn’t like it a bit. Three or four of them

came forward, saying, ‘Manager? What manager?’. They’d kept to

themselves until then, happy with the general state of affairs. A

couple of people then gathered their breaths to tell him: ‘Piss off

then, we’ll start off a new radio, us and the technician’. Wolf got

angry, took the gear and left.’ Bart: ‘There was no trace of democracy

during the meetings. Wolf was deaf to whatever arguments. There were

two options: either things were done the way he wanted them, or there

was a fight and nothing was done whatsoever. It got quite irritating in

the end. We were so fed up with being bossed over, we decided to kick

Wolf out. It couldn’t have ended any other way. The joining factor

linking the radio makers was gone. Two weeks later, Radio Dood was

over.’

Wolf: ‘At a certain point I let go of Dood. But the spirit was no

longer there. I felt I had to take full charge again, but people

weren’t up to that. They told me: ‘Wolf, you’re out’, to which I said:

‘No, you’re out’. To me, Radio Dood was no free ride. I made plenty of

sacrifices for it, was lived by it. The others were too easy-going,

there wasn’t enough sweat. I wasn’t after this mess, it just happened,

whether you wanted it to or not: equipment got thrashed, people didn’t

show up at all or delayed. I was appalled with all the hash smoking

going on. Radio Dood was never intended as some relaxed potheads’

radio, trying to curb people’s activities. We were a diverse crew: hard

drug users, stoneheads, alcoholics, down to people who never even

touched a cup of coffee. Despite the differences, there was much

cooperation. Radio Dood formed a secret society, we belonged together,

as members of a silent organi- sation. While everyone around us was

keeping busy having a good time, we were making plans.’

After Radio Dood’s sudden departure, Wolf made renewed attempts at

getting another station off the ground. The others eventually founded

Radio Patapoe in 1989, after their involvement in the short lived VRO,

or, in the Dutch, the ‘United Revolutionary Broadcasting Services’.

Wolf: ‘In a way, Radio Dood fathered Patapoe. It turned out a descent

little chap though. Patapoe is no longer a threat, it’s nice and

accepta- ble. Radio Dood was no fun, it was too anti, too lethal.

Society didn’t deserve Radio Dood.’

Further references:

BILWET Bewegingsleer, Ravijn publishers, Amsterdam,

1990. Published in the USA as: ADILKNO, the foundation for the

Advancement of Illegal Knowledge: Cracking the Movement. Squatting

beyond the Media (tr. Laura Martz), Autonomedia, NY, 1994. Theorie van

de mix (on Radio Dood a.o.), in: BILWET Media- Archief, Ravijn

publishers, Amsterdam, 1992, English translation in: Radiotexte,

Autonomedia/Semiotexte, New York, 1993.

Translated from the Dutch @ P. Bey la-B/Ziekend Zoeltjes Produkties,

Amsterdam, 1995

Bilwet/Agentur Bilwet/Adilkno

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s