Rotterdam Goddamn is out today!

Photo: Frank Hanswijk

Rotterdam Goddamn: an outsider’s testimony is out today. Again, I want to thank Front for planting the idea in my head and working their butts off, and of course, all the Voordekunst-patrons for believing in this book and summoning it into existence. It’s been quite a bewildering ride to get to this point. As the book — with its glorious ‘new book smell’ — is clutched in my hands in its physical form, one sentiment seems to override all of the other sentiments. It’s not being proud per se, but grateful for this project getting so out of hand. All it was meant to be was a couple of blog entries to pass the time during the lockdown, and it turned into more than I had hoped for. So whatever happens from here on out, I’ll take it.

The early reactions are mixed. Some of the young guns in the scene told me they were inspired by what transpired around Rats on Rafts and Roodkapje Meent, which is a welcoming side-effect I didn’t foresee. Of course, there are also grievances for some people in the scene, older wounds reopened and unresolved issues that unintentionally came back. It’s another more regrettable part of digging in the past, of a time when people in the scene were intensely living their lives and trampling all over each other to experience some form of transcendence. It’s a natural side effect of playing in bands: it’s always a chaotic puzzle of personalities that never quite seems to add up to a picture everyone envisions. The act of creativity, the response from crowds, the personal catharsis are those heavy-duty trials one needs to weigh against personal wellbeing and functionality. And more times than not, something has to give. That’s just life. All I wanted to do with this book was try and bring some sort of totality into the frame, to show the world that what happened in Rotterdam was just as special as any scene elsewhere, whether it’s Manchester, Seattle or Copenhagen.

Hopefully, that altruism shines through the book’s flaws. I wrote the whole thing in blind panic and despair, in fear of forgetting all the incredible bands I have experienced up close in this city. So by proxy, it was never going to be an objective tale. I do hope it is an entertaining, inspiring tale, one that compels the reader to take action in some meaningful or constructive way. And in doing so, help raise awareness of the intrinsic value of bands like Rats on Rafts, or places like Roodkapje. Art and art spaces are reflections of the city’s pulse, its citizens, its makeup, its culture.

That’s an intrinsic value that seems to elude governments and real estate planners who merely see them as a means for exploitation. I too have thought long and hard about my place in this, as a middle-class out-of-towner attempting to find some form of belonging or illumination in these places and these bands. Maybe I am complicit in unknowingly fetishizing ‘underground culture’, for a lack of a better word. But what I at least tried to do with Rotterdam Goddamn, is show the readers that within these places lay such an important foundation for a city’s cultural fabric, and to sustain it is to make sure they can weather this storm they are in now during the pandemic.

So support the WORMs, BIRDs, Rotowns, Grounds, and Dizzys, the places where artists congregate and coalesce, whenever and wherever you can. Because only then can we build on a new chapter that elicits just as much inspiring art and music as this past decade. I was fortunate enough to capture just a small glimpse of what happened in the past ten years, and hopefully, between 2020 and 2030, we can do it all over again.

- Jasper Willems, December 18, 2020.