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English translation by Wendell Ricketts.
We’d scheduled the concert in the town hall.
The population of Guhr is around nine hundred, and its residents can all be found in the town hall on at least two occasions each year.
The first gathering is in February, when we officially observe the end of the polar night. The second is Constitution Day, marked by a celebratory lunch for the entire community and a series of events that begin formally and which, thanks to the impressive amounts of alcohol consumed by the revelers, turn decidedly more boisterous later in the day.
As far as we knew, no one had ever tried to hold a concert there.
The way I saw things, the town hall was the perfect venue. The last time I’d been to Ikurissat to see a concert, having made it through three hundred kilometers and change by car and train, I’d verified that the club where the band played was laid out more-or-less similarly to our town hall and was about the same size.
And now it was all set: that’s where the debut performance of the Midnight Sun Hip-Hop Foundation would take place.
In a series of trips back and forth to nearby towns, Elmer and I had managed to put together all the equipment we needed.
We had no idea who would come.
Posters with the band’s name, the date of the show, and the address of the town hall now hung on the noticeboard in the main square, in the front window of the trading post that also serves as our post office, in the library, and in the banquet room of a the town’s only restaurant. Ms. Nikolai, who ran the library, had been very kind about the whole thing. She seemed quite pleased to see the town’s young people involved in promoting a cultural event, and she promised to spread the news on the library circuit. She even said she and her daughter, a delightful child of three, would be sure to attend.
All the snow wasn’t helping much with the job of getting our notices put up around town, and we had to replace soggy posters more than once.
The general idea was to stay cool and detached, like true professionals, rather than call everyone we knew and beg them to come.
The only thing we could count on for sure was that the Groovin’ Geysers would be there. They were an up-and-coming rock trio who, along with us, were what passed for the music scene in our town. Actually, they were still looking for a drummer. They’d chosen a name for the band and ordered all their swag, but they’d never once been in the rehearsal studio. All the positive buzz was entirely the result of their own publicity.
Their bass player told me on the phone that he was running a scorching fever but that he was coming anyway, even if it meant going through an entire box of suppositories.
I said rehearsal studio, but it was really just someone’s basement. We’d go there to put our samples together and practice freestyling. And then we’d hang around long after rehearsal was over, especially when you risked freezing your balls off if you went outside. We spent long evenings staring at the internet, watching concerts, skateboarding contests and rap battles.
As soon as the snow started to melt, we and The Geysers rushed to the courtyard in front of the library and to its stairs and railings – perfect for skateboarding. There was even a crumbling wall where Elmer drew his first graffiti. We all stood guard while he worked to make sure nobody saw, even though, if anyone had cared to make an issue of it, the circle of likely suspects would have been limited.
The news about our concert had been flying around the internet for weeks, but we knew logistical realities meant we shouldn’t expect any massive influx of music-lovers from outside town.
First, it had been snowing for weeks, and the only way to get here, other than the heliport, was over roads that became almost entirely impassable in winter. Plus the fact that we’d never heard of a hip-hop scene of any sort anywhere within striking distance.
Mostly, we pretended we didn’t know that, aside from The Geysers, no one in town had the tiniest shred of an idea not just what underground rap was, but what music of any kind was unless it was produced by a bugling elk or a local singer of traditional folk songs.
Still, we thought we had five or six elements in our favor. Yes, these were simple folk, small-towners in every sense of the word, but we judged them ready to appreciate the irresistible resonance of our dubs. They couldn’t possibly be so numb that they’d remain indifferent when faced with the harsh truths in some of our songs, and they might even be thrilled by our compound rhymes and our street-wise lyrics and their condemnation of society’s evils. We were certain we could plant the seeds of hip-hop culture in their souls and later turn them into serious fans. In other words, we’d eventually have our own faithful crew.
And then there were the girls. Yes, the girls. Up until now, none of them had ever bothered to glance our way, but we’d make them think twice. We weren’t admitting this right out loud in front of everyone, but the two of us were seriously counting on that. We’d set a few special rhymes aside just for them, the kind of thing that would have them screaming their lungs out. You know, some of that suggestive and self-referential stuff about the best ways to please women, pool parties, things like that.
Take Kristin, for example, the doctor’s oldest daughter. She was in my cousin’s class at school, and she’d once come to my cousin’s birthday party wearing a Bowie sweatshirt. I had high hopes as far as she was concerned. When Elmer was down with tonsillitis, the doctor told him to come to his house, where he’d proudly shown off his collection of vinyl. Supertramp, Yes, Genesis, and a lot of other stuff that was, admittedly, a long ways from our cutting-edge post-gangsta crossover style, but, I mean, if the daughter had inherited her father’s love of music, there was at least some basis for mutual understanding, right?
Of course, everything depended on how the show went. We’d asked The Geysers to raise as much hell as possible down in front. They knew the choruses to all our songs, our signature moves and hand gestures, and they’d be ready for us when we started stagediving.
The concert was scheduled to start at 9 pm, but we were planning to let the crowd stew for a while until they were good and worked up.
Just after eight, the first two customers showed up. They were American tourists, and we’d been seeing them around for days. It was a couple, both of them fortyish and chubby.
Tourists come here for snowmobiling excursions watch the sunsets, which are especially brilliant this time of year. Just now, they were the only outsiders in the whole town. Some French tourists were due the following week, but for the moment we had to be satisfied with these two. The fact that they were Americans, though, made us hopeful.
By 8:30 pm, the room was already crowded. A ton of people had showed up.
Standing behind the merch table, I observed the crowd as they wandered around, curious and good-natured, saying hello to people and chatting about what kind of show they were all about to see. The doctor arrived in a buckskin jacket with a fringe. It looked like an original from the Seventies, and it had probably come in the one and only suitcase he’d brought to town, or so the story went, when he arrived from the big city, a freshly minted degree in his pocket and his hair down to there.
Ms. Nikolai arrived wearing a dress that wasn’t at all bad, and her kid was right behind her. Everyone was there. Unfortunately, that included the Ryako brothers, three lumberjack types of the worst kind. They were ignorant and crude, with permanently filthy fingernails, and they were firmly convinced that Elmer and I were first-class pieces of shit.
I’d crossed paths with two of them the week before.
I’d been heading back home from putting up concert posters, my eyes tearing up in the bitterly cold wind. I’d stuck my earbuds under the elastic band of my ear warmer so I could listen to music without risking frostbite, and snowflakes whirled around me, slipping through the folds of my clothing like demented goblins. I was concentrating on where to put my feet so I didn’t fall on my ass on the ice when the Ryako brothers pulled up alongside in their truck. They’d rolled the window down, and I could see the malicious smirks on their faces. Because of the music, I didn’t understand every detail of their insults, but I caught the drift.
“Why don’t you pull your pants up? What’d you do? Drop a deuce in there?”
“What are you and your little pal up to, anyway?”
“You walk like a turkey.”
“Better hope no one catches you messing up the walls with that crap.”
At 9:30, the show got underway.
Our first song was called “Dirty Ice.” Elmer started off with the bass line, a sick guitar riff in a let-it-all-hang-out metal-rap style. Then he pulled a balaclava down over his face and started rapping. As he windmilled his hands in the air, I pranced around the stage, unleashing flying kicks as I went, as much to show the audience I could bring it as to release some of the tension I was feeling. By the time I got on stage, in fact, my adrenaline levels were pretty high.
I can see corruption in your eyes!
As I moved toward the edge of the stage, I could clearly make out the faces in the first row. I noticed an odd smile frozen on the doctor’s face.
This land has sunk under dirty fuckiiin’ ice.
Glancing around me, I realized his wasn’t the only horrified grimace. Ms. Nikolai had even clamped her hands over her daughter’s ears.
(Chorus) Dirty as fuck! Dirty as fuck!
I shifted position until I found the friendly faces of The Geysers. In fact, they were doing their best: gesturing wildly with pointed fingers, jumping up and down, occasionally shoving someone at full force.
Dirty like your opportunism!
Even Kristin was nodding her head in time to the music, and that might have been why I lowered my guard and a sudden, rash impulse got the better of me.
Obsolete like feudalism! Guess you better hide, cuz’ you’re not on my side!
Listening to the playback a few days later, I realized I’d never made it to the end of the verse. In my attempt to outrun the Ryako brothers, I’d stopped halfway through. If I’m honest, I have to admit I did let things get out of hand: On the word “obsolete,” I flipped all three of them off. It didn’t take me long to recognize that I’d made an extremely unwise decision, though, and I tried to play the whole thing off by shooting the bird at the rest of the audience, too. The problem was that all I really managed to do was convince the Ryako brothers the moment had come to teach me a lesson once and for all. I was still singing when all three jumped onstage. I dropped the mike and tried to fake past them on one side, but it was no use.
Two of them jumped me and knocked me to the floor. The third stood guard to make sure nobody tried to be a hero, not that any actual help was coming. From the floor, I could see Elmer leaping in terror. He’d taken off his balaclava and was covering his head with both hands. Meanwhile, I felt punches rain down on my back as I slithered on my belly, trying to get out of harm’s way. Then I felt myself being lifted by my belt and flipped over like a fish in a frying pan.
Satisfied with their work on my front side, the Ryako brothers turned to the job of stomping an amplifier to pieces before they climbed off the stage.
The next day, I got Elmer on the phone.
“How you doing?” he asked.
“My face is a disaster.”
“It’s all kinds of colors.”
“No rehearsal today? Can you sing?”
“I can barely suck down a spoonful of soup.”
Elmer didn’t speak. I realized he was listening to the playback of the concert in the background. I heard my own voice.
“We killed it last night, didn’t we?” he said finally.
I pressed my ear into the phone so I could hear better.
“You better fucking believe we did,” I answered.
“For five minutes—nothing but pure energy.”
“We had them eating out of our hands.”
“I was still pretty wired when I woke up this morning”
I touched my lower lip, which was the size of a doughnut.
“There’s the Ikurissat Festival in a month,” he said. “We should ask if we can perform.”
“For sure. Meanwhile, we’ve got to make sure everyone knows about the fight.”
“Hey, your bruises! We need pictures of your face.”
“Good thinking. Let’s get together later and take some shots.”
I hung up. The knuckles of both hands were skinned. The pain came and went unexpectedly, giving me twinges up and down my spine and across the back of my neck—even deep in the meat of ass. I got up and went over to the mirror on the closet door. The purple ring around my right eye seemed to have thickened during the night and now included various shades of yellow. My left eye was fine, but with a little Photoshop, I knew, we’d have it looking right in no time.