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CODE’s ‘edit and reconstruct’ issue

CODE21LR-379x469The spring/summer 2012 issue of CODE magazine has been out for a while.

Besides managing as managing editor, I wrote a travel feature about grey – but mighty and magical – Kaliningrad. This city-formerly-known-as-Königsberg is now a dislocated blob of Russia in the heart of the EU, and offers crash courses in Teutonic Knights, WWII, the Cold War and how to build arts scenes out of freaking nothing. It’s also got killer beaches and drunken pine trees.

I also had the honour of interviewing Magnum Force of Street Style (and cover boy) Nick Wooster, as well as the Dutch artist/designer Joep van Lieshout. As founder of Atelier van Lieshout, Joep has brought the world fully-realised ‘Free States’, slave camps and rectum bars. Now he’s just come out with a line of unisex handbags. So I asked him if he was undermining his past work, playing with people’s minds or just being hilarious – he definitely proved to be hilarious. He also had interesting things to say about order vs. chaos.

This issue also has features from two of my favourite writers: Sarah Gehrke (on Noses) and Floris Dogterom (on doodle tattoos). And the design is by the inspired lads of Het Echte Werk. So check, check, check it out. It’s now available at the world’s better mag shops – including Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum in Amsterdam.

Read about CODE’s ‘2012 Survival Kit’ issue here.

Posted: June 4, 2012 at 11:54 am.

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‘BLACK PETER’ MAY OR MAY NOT BE RACISM… BUT ST. NICK IS DEFINITELY SATAN

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[Spoiler alert: Not recommended reading for those who believe in Santa Claus.]

Each year in the Netherlands during the Christmas season, the tone around the debate on whether Zwarte Piet (‘Black Peter’) is a form of racism gets darker. This year, the discourse was further inflamed by the rather violent arrest of ten protesters with ‘Black Peter is Racism’ t-shirts and the news that the Dutch-Canadian community in Vancouver decided to no longer allow Black Peters in their annual Sinterklaas (St Nicolas) procession. Meanwhile many of the Dutch-Dutch just get increasingly defensive as they treat such talk as a threat against their culture.

For the outsider, it remains a curious tradition: countless Dutch adults putting on black face, smearing on red, red lipstick, popping on a wig of kinky hair and adorning their ears with large golden hoops – and doing all this without any sense of malice. Then they hit the streets like a pack of highly caffeinated Al Jolsons to help St. Nick distribute sweets to children.  Years ago, a visiting friend and I came across such a posse. I was long used to it, but my friend’s jaw hit the ground in disbelief – and this is a man who has witnessed much weirdness worldwide. ‘What is this minstrel madness?!?’ he asked flabbergasted. (Not long after while in Russia our roles were reversed in a strange and convoluted way when we were waiting at a backwoods train station and some skinheads came to confront my friend about the colour of his skin. He stayed cool and dealt with the situation. I just stood there. Totally flabbergasted.)

Local Dutch cultural history only goes so far in giving my friend a reasonable explanation behind the Black Peter tradition. Continue Reading…

Posted: December 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm.

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The Hole Report (or at least part of it)

Yesterday I had a night full of holes. And it wasn’t about drinking to excess, but about attending the ‘On Portable Holes and Other Containers’ night at Felix Meritis organised by Paleisje voor Volksvlijt. Artists, philosophers, musicians and writers gathered to present and ponder such questions as ‘Is a hole a container?’, ‘How do we talk about something that does not exist?’ and ‘If you buy a donut, are you also buying the hole?’

It was actually quite enlightening. Lately I’ve been looking for new ways to perceive reality, and holes might just be the ticket. But I must admit I am still a little stuck on: ‘How do you successfully describe a knotted hole without refering to the immaterial?”

The night was partially inspired by the excellent and often hilarious book Gaten & andere dingen die er niet zijn [‘Holes and other things that are not there’] by the Easy Alohas. This DJ duo, comprised of Bas Albers and Gerard Janssen, were on hand for what must have been one of their easiest gigs ever: playing silence – or rather a mash-up of John Cage’s ‘4’33”’ and Mike Batt’s ‘One Minute Silence’. Because there was no turntable, the Alohas were forced at the last minute to download these tracks of nothingness from iTunes. This also meant we could not listen to the album they had brought along called The Best of Marcel Marceau – everyone’s favourite mime.  

Later I confessed to Gerard of the Alohas that my life is filled with huge, gaping holes. He reassured me as only a holy master of holes can: ‘You shouldn’t see that as a problem. These holes are just spaces that you can fill up with new people and ideas.’ I was suddenly filled with a huge sense of belonging. I was now truly part of the silent majority.

[Full disclosure:  You remember when the CERN Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator was first turned on in 2008 and it mysteriously shut down almost immediately, and it was theorised that a particle from the future had travelled back in time to do this in order to ensure that the accelerator would not form a black hole? I am that particle.]

Posted: December 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm.

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CODE’s ’2012 Survival Kit’

CODE_20_COVERRecently I acted as managing editor for the fall/winter issue of a fashion magazine. Yes, I entered the world of style.

[I’ll pause for effect...]

Of course this gig should come as no surprise to those who already know that I get my savvy selection of seasonal clothes here and my 1960s welfare-recipient glasses here. But for some reason whenever I mention this whole ‘Steve in fashion land’ concept, friends generally break down into hysterical laughter. Why do they do that? During the whole process, there were really only a few moments of complete Mr Bean-like slapstick.

But anyway, the periodical is CODE (‘documenting style’), and the issue’s theme is an enticing one: ‘2012 Survival Kit’. It poses the question ‘What would you design for a hypothetical toolbox meant to help you survive the apocalypse?’ It’s also an international creative call to artists, architects and designers of all stripes to come up with their own ultimate survival products. The results of this ‘co-creation’ will be touring the world as an exhibition through 2012 – from Amsterdam to Kobe, Japan. You can find more information about the project and how to get involved here.

The issue’s main features focus on the survival tactics of sideshow circus freaks, new agers, off-grid pioneers, emerging tech gurus, urban warfare clothing designers and the brave and delightfully eccentric characters who fish off the decaying piers of Brooklyn.

CODE’s ‘Survival Kit 2012’ magazine is distributed worldwide (check out this week’s window display at Athenaeum in Amsterdam). 

See you in the hills! Looking sharp! And sustainable!

Posted: October 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm.

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THERE’S AN EEL RIOT GOIN’ DOWN

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I am in a perfect position to imagine the setting of the Eel Riot of 1886: a window seat at cafe De Kat in den Wijngaert overlooking Lindengracht, a former canal that was filled in shortly after this tragic event from almost exactly 125 years ago. But sadly I cannot have a ‘perfect Amster-moment’ since the café’s otherwise stellar menu – their tostis are justifiably legendary – offers no eel-based snacks.

As deeply enigmatic tubes, eels are 100-million-year-old slime wonders with authentic phallic mystique. A connoisseur no less than Freud spent a summer as a medical student slicing and dicing hundreds of eels in what proved to be a failed search for their sex organs. And to this day, their sex rites remain shrouded by the bottomless Sargasso, leaving scientists to hypothesize about the actual nature of the orgy of lust that climaxes the eels’ journey of thousands of miles. Continue Reading…

Posted: October 4, 2011 at 12:26 pm.

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Buck Owens’ ‘Amsterdam’

American country singer Buck Owen’s only hit in the Netherlands: ‘Amsterdam’. In 1970 the song spent eight weeks in the Top 40. Now I’m wondering if his song ‘Made in Japan’ was a hit in Japan. Perhaps targeting specific spots to write songs about – and hopefully scoring a local hit – was his business model after his American hits dried up.

But whatever: ‘I picked peaches in a Georgia town / And I picked cotton down in Birmingham / At the day I’ll get out of Alabam / I’m goin’ back to Amsterdam. / Amsterdam, old Amsterdam…’ 

Posted: September 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm.

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Guardian’s Amsterdam City Guide

Guardian Travel playlist for Amsterdam by De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig by Guardiantravel on Mixcloud

The Guardian just published their online guide to Amsterdam. It’s quite fine indeed and features some fine local contributers — including the folks behind Unfold Amsterdam. My contribution involved asking the Dutch gibberish-hop collective De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig about their favorite Amster-songs. The interview was both hilarious and exhausting. Sadly much of what they said proved to be too racy for a family newspaper. My favorite part was when they claimed that volkszanger Andre Hazes was the nation’s Tupac and was actually black — ‘but you know how the history books always change everything.’

Posted: June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am.

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Stoned Tourists: R.I.P.? A YouTube tribute…

It’s currently a pretty sweet deal for tourists in the Netherlands. They can strut through the front door of a coffeeshop, smugly engage in a simple transaction, and then smoke the sweet smoke. They can exit the same front door: wiggly, wasted and most importantly — for they have done no wrong — free of paranoia. The glitch is that the wobbly law that allows them this simple pleasure neglected to deal with how the wacky weed got there in the first place. The ‘back door’ where the produce arrives by the kilo is still a gateway to an illegal distribution system.

It’s a typical situation in the Netherlands. It may not be legal but it’s ‘tolerated’. This is why the Dutch national government has been regularly re-introducing the debate of how to deal with this situation — and all those silly, stoned tourists. Whenever this debate reared its head an editor from a foreign newspaper would call me and ask ‘Hey what’s going on? Are they really closing the coffeeshops?’ And then I would have to kill any work opportunity by going ‘No it’s all just talk’. But now the national coalition seems more serious. Crazy. But serious. They plan to institutionalise a ‘weed pass’ whereby only locals would have access to coffeeshops. Were these zealots stoned when they came up with this idea? Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a weed pass. I could then show it off to friends back in Canada so they can go: ‘A weed pass!?! You’re kidding right?!?Continue Reading…

Posted: May 31, 2011 at 1:53 pm.

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Amsterdam Chase Scenes

For some reason I’m enjoying chase scenes set in Amsterdam. Perhaps I am being chased? Or am I chasing something? Or I just want to experience this city in a more speedy way? Regardless, I’ll try not to read too much into it.


The oldest clip comes from Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940). Since he was filming it at the dawn of WWII, Hitchcock was forced to ask Hollywood set-builders to build a fake Amsterdam complete with ‘a few hotels, a Dutch windmill and a bit of the Dutch countryside’. It resulted in an 80-metre windmill and a 10-acre reconstruction of an Amsterdam square (with Hotel L’Europe becoming ‘Hotel Europe’), complete with sewer for the simulated storm scenes. The cameraman sent to get background footage in the real Amsterdam lost his equipment when his ship got torpedoed. But he did eventually film the Jordaan for the chase scene. Unfortunately after a jarring left-turn, the viewer lands in a countryside with an oddly Spanish-styled windmill (sadly, this lack of research also flawed the windmill scene in the South Park movie’s ‘Kyle’s Mom is a Bitch’ segment). However Foreign Correspondent does retain a realistic sense of location thanks to all the cheese references. Continue Reading…

Posted: May 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm.

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328 stories, 10 bios

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328 Stories is a production house for some of the more happening film-makers in the Netherlands and beyond. They aim to produce 328 stories every year. I helped out by writing 10. Check out their website, click on a ‘storyteller’ and then scroll over their name. There’s a pop-up in which I tried to tell the storyteller’s story in less than 90 words. It was a fun gig. It  also reminded me that there are still many, many, many stories out there. So listen people: let’s go out there and nail them!

Posted: May 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm.

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