Fuck your comfort zones – The System Live in Sofia

The System origniated in the early 80’s, though everyone was involved in music since 1978 it wasn’t until a CRASS gig in 1980 when everything suddenly has changed. The seeds were sown. The System took its form to become a vehicle for overtly political and anti-war messages within the punk scene.

“The punk scene badly needed a kick in the ass”, reckons Jimi Jerkoff of The System in a conversation with our friend a year ago, discussing band’s history and possibilities for a Bulgarian show. Their “The Warfare” EP (1982) has been revered by many as a classic of the anarcho/peace-punk genre, not to mention the follow up “The System is Murder” 7″ and gigs with Flux of Pink Indians, The Mob, Zounds, and all the classic bands from that era.

As many other legendary bands, The System also have got together making a handful of live appearances in recent years. Recognizable as the the same band, those seeking authentic anarcho-punk The System of the old will not be let down. Because many years have passed by since Reagan and Thatcher, but The System is still murder. Warmongering greedy capitalists still profit on the back of the poor, but punk is still a culture to get you out of your comfort zone and place you right in front of the pressing issues of the day.

“I know about Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.”, says Jimi in May 2015. “I know there were many agents and secret police at the darkest times of KGB. And Bulgaria was one of the most fucked up countries in the Eastern bloc”, of course making The System show in Sofia during the 80’s was completely impossible. This conversation inspired both young and older generations of punks, and the result was astonishing. People from the local underground voluntarily raised money to pay flight tickets, hotel, and other expenses to bring The System in Sofia. Collectively funded the show was set up in a huge warehouse turned into an underground art and culture gallery. Everyone was involved in gig’s organization in one way or another, vegan food, donation jars for a plenty of good causes and huge piles of rebellious literature, records and whatnot were brought on the table to the show.

We’ve been critically observing this gig from behind the scenes and if we have to be perfectly honest at a certain point we didn’t really believe it will happen. Booking shows for about 11 years now we’ve been pretty impressed that over 20 people were involved in the mission to bring UK anarcho punk legends in Sofia. And honestly, many times you’d think why would a dozen of people do work that one or two people can handle? Yesterday (Sept 16) we got answered that question. Punk (hardcore included) is about building something together—no matter if you’re two, twenty people or two hundred people. We’re often stuck in our niche preferences about particular genre tags and we stick to that, it’s just easier. You fit somewhere, call it a taste and boom you have a comfort zone that you develop, but also hide into. And all that in a scene that has always been against comfort zones and about constantly challenging you and your friends, about discovering and exploring the alternative instead.

So, it’s around 7 pm and we’re already at a place that we don’t really visit that often. Let’s call it probably the only DIY venue in town. There’s already a crowd gathering and we look around and maybe we know like 20% of the people that are currently here. That percentage remains the same even when the crowd grows to like 100 people in the end of the night. And we ask ourselves where have most of these people been when we brought hardcore punk bands to Sofia. In the same time we ask ourselves why haven’t we been to their shows more often? Anyhow…

Tonight the bill is three local bands and the guests. First go Разврат и поквара and unlike the last few local hardcore shows the crowd is already going nuts. It’s a punk show, beers are spilled, bottles are broken in the moshpit, mics are feedbacking, proper fucking shit. We do our straight edge duties and ask a bunch of people to leave the place if they want to smoke, everybody’s politely doing so. After Разврат и поквара wrap their short and sweet set on stage come Битов терор, one of the few Bulgarian bands that has never been afraid to clearly stand for anti-fascism. Their gig is unannounced as the promoting collective doesn’t want to attract too much attention to the show of the other side of the political coin, which sadly is dominating in our parts of Europe. The people know each and every word of their tracks, everybody sings along and by the time the whole crowd shouts ‘Alerta Alerta Antifascista’ to ask myself once again, how come we live in such a shitty corner of the world where anti-fascism has to stay in the shadows, how come such a beautiful collective effort like this gig will be forever in the shadows, while in the same time we’re constantly forcefed pro-right wing bullshit every fucking day by ‘media’ and our eternally rotten, post-communist government.

Just like Разврат и поквара, Битов терор don’t do any encores and shortly after The System jump on stage, it’s slightly hard for them because the pace on which they set up for the show smells like hangover, anyhow few minutes later and they are on. No soundchecks, no too much talking, just straight to what they’ve come to do, to rule the punk party. And by that time it’s already a party indeed. People are piling up, stage diving (even though there’s no actual stage and we’re all on the same level just like it should be), singing along. You look at those guys, probably beyond their 50s and you say to yourself I want to be this guy when I get old, not a nicotine addicted Eastern Europe social victim spending their last dime on a ticket for the national lottery with the dream to survive the sad remains of their fucking life. The energy of the band might look a bit tamed, but it’s still there for sure. Sometimes it’s cool to see a band so late in their career, because youth is temporary, but passion obviously is not.

After The System end young dudes from Anti Future close the show. Their music is still finding its way somewhere around raw hardcore punk, but their dedication is a good sign they might be on the right track.

A friend with whom we’ve been touring and booking shows for ages told me that night ‘That’s one of the most authentic gigs I’ve ever been to’. It sure was. Big ups, Sofia punks!

Photos by Stefaniya Georgieva and Violeta Zarankova

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