The car pulls up, and they step out – or rather Bongo steps out, while Manny and Paula practically leap out. The pieces of sound-check music that reach Bongo’s ears bring back memories of his childhood. He instantly feels a little uncomfortable, and is not looking forward to the next eight hours. The nostalgic feelings of listening to music in the car had failed to include the negative side of things. The first hour passes painfully slowly. Bongo spends it awkwardly following his parents around as they look at a range of stalls and reunite with various friends – each a better picture of a stereotypical hippy than the last. As the first bands finally take the stage, Bongo splits away from his parents. He walks to the rock and punk stage, while they stay at the main one.
The first band is a group of men with beards. They introduce themselves as Blood of the Earthmother, and power through some heavy but bland songs full of shouting. The sound quality is poor, but even if it was better Bongo expects he still would not have made out any words. Next up, five scantily clad young women run out onto the stage, and one starts talking into the microphone.
“We’re The Morally Ambiguous Teen Sluts… But Angie turned twenty last week… so… add lying to the list of reasons why she’s morally ambiguous…”
Angie, the bassist, raised a middle finger, and then started playing a bass riff. They play a quick set of angry feminist punk. Bongo dislikes the music and cannot tell one song from the next. No one in the band addresses the crowd again until the end of their set, when the singer says “Good crack, Flower Hill. Fuck you all next year. Sluts Out!” and drops the microphone.
When a band called Terminal Pisser comes on and plays discordant noise with a man growling tunelessly, Bongo takes out his phone and starts playing around on pointless apps. His heart sinks when he sees the time and only an hour and a half has passed. The band leaves the stage and Bongo continues killing time on his phone.
Two more bands play and leave, without Bongo paying attention. It’s nearly dark now. Bongo is about to go search for food when the stage lights go out. The sudden change draws his eyes away from his phone.He
Quiet feedback grows slowly louder from the speakers. Just before it becomes painful to hear, it is replaced by a fast power chord riff. Lights flash on revealing the band. One moment the guitarist is erratically moving around the stage, and the next she is in the middle, yelling into the microphone in aggressive staccato.
RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES
SOMEONE FUCKED OUR LIVES
Bongo is taken aback. Never has he seen such anger and venom so openly expressed on stage. Some of the previous bands of the day had tried their best, but none had struck Bongo like this. It is a stark contrast to what he remembers from his youth – to what is happening in the next field. The next few lines are lost among the noise of the crowd and guitars, and then comes the chorus where the singer shows that she can sing as well as she can yell.
The lesser of two evils, is an evil all the same, and if you sit in silence, then you’re as much to blame
The smaller of two problems, is a problem all the same, and if you don’t help solve it, then I’ll curse your fucking name
The brief melodic respite of the chorus soon gives way to another angry verse
SUCH A GODDAMN BORE
During the second chorus, Bongo quickly checks Google to find out that Shane Hines was a politician who got away free after multiple drug scandals, despite voting against the release of certain drug-crime prisoners following reformed laws. He also finds out that Peter Walkenshaw was another politician, but he fails to learn what in particular he had done before the song ends as abruptly as it began and the singer speaks.
“Hey hi, how’s it going?” She pauses as the crowd cheers. “For those who haven’t seen us before… I’m Kim Khaos, and we’re The Filthy Fucking Moonrats.. Uh.. I wanna give a quick bit of background before we play more, cos this is politically minded festival right? So you probably don’t give a fuck if I get real for a moment before next song. You guys heard of Moonlight City? Sounds nice, huh? Well, you’d be fucking wrong if you thought that. It’s a shitty slum district around one of the shuttle stations for a Lunar Base where they send out all the asteroid miners from. All the industrial workers live in this place… Five years ago a shuttle botched the landing and crashed into some houses and thirty eight people died. Then our own damn prime minister, Harry Finchley, pays some fake respects… but then he leaves his mic on and from his limo on live TV he says “Why the big fucking memorial for some filthy fucking moonrats? It’s not like it hit central London or something.” We were fucking angry. So we started a band in an abandoned warehouse and said, “You think we’re filthy fucking moonrats? We’ll show you what some filthy fucking moonrats can do, dickshaft!” We never thought we’d play outside Moonlight City, but here we are. I don’t wanna piss everyone at every gig off with a big monologue, but it’s important. Fuck Astralunus. Fuck Harry Finchley. Now let’s fuck shit up!”
With barely a second’s pause, the next song opens with Kim striking a chord, and letting it ring. As it gradually turns to noise and feedback, she shouts:
There’s no clearer sign of a stagnant state than an apathetic man
Who does nothing and says “I’m doing what I can!”
Bongo stares wide-eyed at Kim. The phrases he can make out amidst the noise resonate through him. When it comes to the chorus he has his hands on his head and is breathing heavily.
What the fuck!?
What are you waiting for?
Why don’t you ask yourself,
Why not now?
What are you waiting for?
You’re part of the problem, man
What the fuck?!
What are you looking for,
Come on just tell yourself
Do it now
What are you waiting for?
You’re part of the answer, man
Years of subtle thoughts return to Bongo. The effects of every little time he thought “I should do better…” and did nothing now coalesce in his mind, creating an unignorable cluster. He had always known, but never had he heard his actions so blatantly and angrily criticised in the way that Kim was currently doing. He does not even hear the rest of the song, or the next one, for being lost in uncomfortable thought. He only snaps out of it when Kim speaks again.
“We are the lucky ones. We got out of Moonlight City, but we haven’t forgotten our roots. Half the money from our t-shirt sales today will go straight to the Arrolson Street Foodbank. Jason here -“ Kim gestures to the bassist who raises both fists in response. “- has dedicated so much time and effort to getting that foodbank running. It is so important to the community, with many workers depending on it for survival. So this song’s dedicated to those innocent citizens who depend on charitable efforts like this ‘cos the fucking government won’t provide shit.”
For the first time in the set, Kim uses a clean guitar tone. The emotion is clear in her voice right from the opening line.
You’ve been given a choice
You can freeze or you can starve
Pick the way you’d rather die
You’ve been given a choice
It’s a joke at your expense
You cannot laugh but you can cry
And I do,
So tell me…
Is this all?
Is this alright?
Is this the life we’ll live until we die?
Oh is this all?
Is this alright?
Is this the life you’d wish on anyone?
During a slow instrumental section, Kim speaks again.
“Every year… the mortality rate in Moonlight City during winter is disproportionately high compared to the rest of the country… Cos people live in houses with shitty insulation and can’t afford to pay for heating… And this statistic… Nobody seems to give a fuck, because every year we beg the government or the energy companies to do something about it, and every year we are ignored. Don’t let anyone get away with ignoring us this year. Protest for our people. Don’t let any more lives end in being another fucking statistic.”
The first verse and chorus repeat, this time with distortion. Kim’s voice cracks slightly with emotion and anger, and the last line of the chorus almost becomes a shout.
You’ve been given a house
It has its walls and that is all
It isn’t safe to go outside
You’ve been given a house
With broken windows boarded up
You can’t see the light outside
It’s just dark
So tell me…
The chorus repeats twice more, each time more painful than the last. The song ends with Kim repeating “Is this all?” in a mournful yell. Bongo is transfixed on her hunched formed kneeling on the stage. She remains in that position for several seconds before climbing to her feet and speaking into the microphone with a slight tremble in her voice.
“Thank you. We got time for two more songs. We are very grateful to the organisers of Flower Hill for letting us come and rant about politics and feelings at you. Come see us at the merch table after, we’ll talk to as many people as we have time for! Alright, let’s go!”
The remaining two songs return to the high energy power chord mayhem of earlier. Bongo can barely make out any words in them, but in a way he is relieved for some respite after the emotional intensity of the previous one.
The music stops, and Kim speaks one last time.
“You were fucking awesome tonight, Flower Hill. We’ve been the Filthy Fucking Moonrats. Stay strong, stay angry. Fuck shit up. Peace.”
Bongo watches as the band leaves the stage. To pass the time while waiting for them to head to the table, he goes and buys a bottle of water and a chickpea burger. After a slow queue, he finishes it rapidly, surprised by the realisation of just how hungry he had become during the set. That basic need had been almost forgotten in the face of the impact the performance had on him. He looks round to see Kim and her bandmates taking seats in a stall nearby. A short pause and deep breath later, Bongo is walking towards them. As he gets close he can make out the band’s faces better than he could from the crowd. Seeing them up close makes him nervous, but before he can turn away they see him looking. The drummer gives him a welcoming nod, and Bongo approaches.
“Hi,” says Kim, her voice hoarse, but her enthusiasm genuine. “Wanna buy anything? Get something signed?”
“Um… I…” Bongo pauses for a moment. “I think one of your songs was pretty much written about me.”
“Oh, which one?”
“Uh… I think I am the apathetic man… You make me want to do better.”
“Dude, that’s awesome. I know it can be hard to do more, but knowing that you have to is the first step!”
“Yeah, man,” says Jason. “Awesome to hear someone say that!”
“So… You guys don’t think I’m a bad person for taking this long to realise it? You guys made it out here and are making a difference… I have every bit of privilege I need to make a stand and I just… haven’t…”
“Hey, we stood up and fought for shit because we had to. If you do it, it’ll be cos you want to. That counts for something, man,” says Kim.
“If I start fighting now, it’s thanks to you. You’re so modest when you’re making such a huge difference. I never even listened to punk music before today… I think you sparked some kind of internal revelation in me. I want to make a difference like you guys do, but I don’t know how…”
“Find our FriendFace profile, man,” says Jason, “We post helpful shit all the time, and try our best to reply to shit. What’s your name so I can look out for you in the comments? I’m Jason, by the way.”
“Uhh… Bongo Jones…” replies Bongo, slightly embarrassed. “My parents are hippies. That’s why I’m here. They thought a ticket would be a good birthday gift.”
“Well, we won’t forget that name when we’re reading comments on the page!” says Kim with a grin. “If you see a reply from Kimberly Lang, that’s me. Khaos is just a stage name, who’d’ve guessed?”
“Thanks. I better let the next person meet you before the line gets too big. You guys are all fucking awesome. Oh. Wait, I’ll buy a shirt before I go. The one with the rat on it, please. Medium.”
In the toilet block, Bongo changes into his new shirt. He stands staring into the mirror for a while, amazed at the unexpected result of the day. When he goes outside again, the music he hears from the punk stage does not sound great, so he makes his way to the main stage.
Bongo does not recognise the band, but their sound is somewhat similar to ones he remembers from his childhood. If he had seen them before he saw the Filthy Fucking Moonrats, he might have been filled with discomfort at the childhood memories it brought up. Instead, the memories make him smile. They may not be solely happy ones, but they are his. Each is a piece of himself, and each played its part in leading him to this festival and his revelation. The closing song comes, and most people are singing along. Bongo does not know the words, but he finds himself lost in the music, feeling a strange mixture of peacefulness and excitement.
Wrapped in this feeling, Bongo is only partially aware of the festival ending, and the crowd shuffling him along. He is soon waiting at the car, not quite knowing how he got there. When his parents arrive, he greets them with a big hug. For the whole journey home, he talks eagerly about the Filthy Fucking Moonrats and how inspiring they were. In response, Paula sheds a single tear of happiness and pride.