Rockbitch - Breda, Nederland, October 2001

Sexuality can give to you
The power to destroy all emptiness

"Sex and the Devil", Rockbitch.

The music is loud, too loud. Kaliís hair is no longer blond but newly dyed deep auburn; and sheís coming now towards us, naked, predatory, her eyes unblinking, probing, searing. Iím among women tonight in this dark, smoky throng at De Graanbeurs, more women than men in this part of the crowd, most in their early twenties, bodies trim, skimpy tops, short skirts. They know, as I know, why sheís coming, and the electricity starts to flicker between us; now sheís reached us, she plunges forward, her body horizontal, her thighs resting on the guard-rail at the front of the stage, her arms round the neck of the girl in a wheelchair parked in the front row. And while these two kiss and embrace, the intensity with which the other women will her attention is palpable, itís to be read in the expressions on their faces, felt through the tension in their bodies. They press forward; I think above the music I actually hear them call to her, one after another they reach out to feel, as I have felt once before, her lips against theirs, the pressure of her tongue inside their mouth, her body against theirs, her arms around their shoulders.
Rockbitch incarnates a mix of power and vulnerability which fascinates many women; but though for most this fascination has its overtly sexual element, yet there are those who will touch Kaliís nakedness tonight who would not, perhaps, call themselves lesbian, might not as readily go down on her cunt as they will kiss her lips. In essence, although itís clothed in a sexual form, the yearning to touch and to feel the female is a yearning from the soul as much as it is from the body. And while this is more obviously true for women than for men - because the nature of a womanís response is more often subtler, less disguised by drink and bravado, less mediated by self-esteem, less constrained by cowardice or self-love - it is probably true of some men as well. Later in the evening, a subverted form of Eucharist is made explicit when we are offered the wine from Babeís body - a symbolism made the more touching, more embracing, by its being offered in a moment of respite at the hands of Julie, the harridan, the Fury, the Maenad. In truth, as Kali comes to us now, though she is gorgeous too, what she is offering is a form of sacrament.
And from what source comes this psychic desire to get close? What absolution is being sought in this contact with the female body, and from what imagined sin? From what dark night of the soul does this communion with sex, death and magic provide an hourís release?
At the centre of Breda is the towering church, floodlit palest grey, on a scale quite different from the terraced houses that crouch beneath it. In the very shadow of its tower tonight are Rockbitch playing, in the heart of Bredaís astonishingly vibrant night society; every doorway in this cobbled and car-free quarter pulses with music, opens into bar or nachtcafe. Release of a sort is certainly everywhere. This band is not the guilty secret in Holland that they appear to be in England, posters are up all round the town; people start gathering half an hour before the doors open, most already appear to be holding tickets, by 10 oíclock thereís a crowd on the pavement outside big enough itself to attract onlookers. But in fact the omens havenít been good; when I passed the building earlier this evening I noticed a camera-crew videoing the posters on the door; I feared then, and as we wait outside and as later I buy my first whisky in the long, low room where the band will play, I fear still a media event.
And indeed the evening doesnít start well. First out on stage after the lights go down is a photographer, then another, then the video crew (male cameraman and female sound assistant), then the girl whoís been with the band recording for the DVD throughout the tour, then two big security guards. I absolve the DVD girl - sheís nice, sheís almost part of the act, she wears tight hotpants and bra, she has a lovely smile, and she never gets in the way; but the rest insert themselves between the front row and the stage, and though the stage is fairly high they block the view of many at the front. They do, itís true, following our protest and before the band comes out, remove themselves to less obtrusive positions at the side; some of them, in any case, seem to take almost no pictures all night. But already I feel an undercurrent of unease, a suspicion that we, the audience, are there only as marketing fodder for the band, that what they do on stage will be done for the cameras rather than for us.
And when they do start, the sound isnít good; and itís too loud; and Julieís voice isnít coming through very clearly; and when it does the pitch doesnít seem secure; and the harmonies arenít gelling; and thereís way too much production in the lighting effects - occasional backlighting that floods the stage till you canít see the women at all. Iíve heard the band play brilliantly elsewhere; tonight it seems somehow just routine, I think theyíre fighting against something - maybe tiredness, maybe technical problems. And, much to my surprise, the show turns out to be pretty much the same as the ones theyíve been doing in England; the rituals have changed a little from place to place according to the physical constraints of the stage theyíre working on - and, for example, thereís no clitoridectomy ritual tonight (though Iíve only seen that once or twice and they may have dropped it). But certainly, thereís no sex added tonight, either for the liberated Dutch or for the film crews, and thereís nothing much left out either.
Clearly the women feel themselves to be among friends here; tonight Iíve seen Amanda smile, and even Jo. Kali told me back in England that she'd know everyone in the front three rows when she played in Breda, and thereís something close to adoration on many faces around me as the night goes on. Babe breaks her rules by nominating one recipient of a Golden Condom - female, a former lover? - though the other condom is blindly thrown as normal; the male recipient swaggers off for his three minutes with Kali.
And gradually the celebration of communion exerts its magic, comes to hold sway over and beyond the quality of the performance. The band plays Eveline; for this they invite an old friend up from the audience, maybe a former commune member; she takes over Luciís guitar. And for this too, magically, the stage fills with other girls. Have they been waiting for this moment, this rite, are they hoping to take some power from the touch of the cassock, the proximity of the revered? There are eight group members - nine with their guest - and more than as many girls from the audience have joined them; they start off diffident, a bit shy, but the music relaxes them, and the security of their number, and the growing sense that no taboo is transgressed by their touch. And there is more than the brushing of the hem now; the band continues to play, though Kali and Erzulie and now Luci are free to play other games. Though I lose sight of two of them in the throng, I see Kali over to the right; one girl is holding her body as it arches backwards, leans over from behind to kiss her mouth, another at the same time plays her hands and lips over the front of her body; there's a momentís hesitation before she touches, then kisses, her breast; her hands are fluttering now around her thighs, her belly; sheís unsure what to do next; though she knows what she wants she doesnít know whatís permitted. But she puts her trust in the creed, the power of liberation through sex; she touches Kaliís cunt, lightly, gently, then more insistently, and then her fingers go inside, and Kali gives her body to these two strangers, these two women from Breda.
The bandís talk may often be of rage and hatred; but now, though there is violence in the rituals, the enduring image is of the serenity in fulfilment, twenty women moving, embracing, exploring together; here are hints of the truth - as characteristic of lesbian sex as it is sometimes disguised elsewhere - that sex is an act of giving far more than it is of taking, that it expresses a yearning of the heart, innocence, that indeed it destroys all emptiness.
The music pauses briefly before the band return for Whore of Satan, and now at last it seems to take flight. The women are, after 90 minutes, now wild and dishevelled, their make-up smeared and running, their hair down, tangled and damp; Babe is now naked, her torso drenched in sweat; and in this pulsating, almost last, song, she becomes the musical and iconic power house. Luci alone stands motionless behind the driven beat; Babe is lifted, legs spread, labia soaked by sweat or by sex, in a last motivic emblem of sexual grace; the music winds down to the libation ritual, and soon itís all over.
Tonight thereís no encore.
I stop for another drink - this place stays open till 4 - and yet as I leave I take away a faint sense that thereís been something missing tonight. Maybe Iím just on the wrong wavelength, a stranger in a country where I donít speak the language. Maybe, too, Iím happier watching from the outside, feeling I taste a forbidden fruit, maybe I feel out of place among the clique here, distrust some facets of this adoration; maybe Iím just too old to share what this mostly very young crowd is feeling or to find myself altogether at ease with the ways they show it. It crosses my mind, even, that this is jealousy I feel, that I donít like to share these women with others who love them.
But, actually, I think itís none of this; in truth, Iíve grown protective, I feel the band havenít been at their best, and Iím galled, stupidly and unreasonably pained by this.
But there will be other occasions. And there have been beautiful girls around me all evening, and Breda looks wonderful now beneath the church as I come out into the night. Although everyone under thirty appears to be out on the streets, though the bars and cafes are still open and the music still pours out of every doorway, thereís a civility in the night air, a courtesy, an absence of menace, that simply doesnít exist late at night anywhere I know in England. I stroll around, just watching. Iím sorry I have to go home.
But the Dutch do play their music too loud.
Copyright: Makaris, October 2001

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Rockbitch at Bristol, UK September 2001
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Rockbitch at Kingston, London, UKNovember 2001
Rockbitch at Coventry, UKDecember 2001
Rockbitch return to Bristol, UKJanuary 2002
The final show at Worcester, UKJuly 2002
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