Interview: Radioactive Rats
Radioactive Rats play metal tinged punk with danceable riffs and rhythms, fronted by singer Ewa Zablocka they are gaining a reputation as a very good band indeed and on the evidence of this gig it’s obvious why
I have been extremely excited by what I’ve seen and heard of Radioactive Rats online for a few months but up till the start of December hadn’t been able to see them live so when I saw they were playing the legendary Sumac Centre in Nottingham it seemed like an ideal opportunity. So a bus, a train and a bit of walk later I was there. I’m aware that the Sumac Centre may not be on everyone’s radar but my mate Eagle has put on so many gigs there and talks about it like it’s his second home so I was intrigued to see it. As far as I could make out it’s a (biggish) house that has been turned into a social centre that is used by various groups in the area, up on the wall is a notice telling people like me that ‘The Sumac Centre promotes co-operation, non-hierarchy and grassroots groups promoting social and environmental justice. We are not-for-profit and run by volunteers’. The gig that night had been organised by Matt to raise money to help the homeless and lonely in Nottingham this Christmas. (As I handed over the small amount of ticket money I noticed a book with one of my heroes, Louise Michel, on the cover. This amazing woman was a member of the Paris Commune, when it was overthrown she was deported to New Caledonia where she befriended and supported the indigenous people. When released and back in Europe she continued her radical activities including refusing to condemn a would be assassin who shot her.)
Tonight there were five bands on, as far as I am aware from Nottingham and Lincoln, with RR headlining, the other four I hadn’t heard or heard of before the gig. It seems from the stream of online flyers and posters that grassroots punk is doing very well indeed-as one person said that night ‘So many bands there aren’t enough punks to go round!’. Whether punk was primarily about a DIY, participatory ethos originally or whether it has been read retrospectively in to it at grassroots level it seems to be a well established model.
First four bands in the large ex living room were Sod’s Law, Mothcob (who have a very pleasant lead singer), Prisoners of War and Boycott the Baptist. Each band really gave it their all-as a mate said ‘There is no money to be made, these bands do what they do because they love doing it’ I really enjoyed all four, perhaps especially PoW but that was to do with personal taste in riffs and politics.
Last up were Radioactive Rats who played for about 40+ mins and were completely worth travelling up for. Fantastic! Playing metal tinged punk with danceable riffs and rhythms, RR are fronted by singer Ewa Zablocka and are gaining a reputation as a very good band indeed and on the evidence of this gig it’s obvious why. Musically they are superb, coming across as really enjoying themselves and are expert at breaking down any sense of separation between the band and ‘the audience’ with the two guitarists and vocalist all standing in with the crowd at various points. In fact at one point Marek Stepien handed his guitar to a (surprised) friend who proceeded to sub for the song! For a while I’ve been a bit worried about my back and the physical demands of being at the front of punk gigs but this was so good I decided to risk it and view any consequences as worth it!
Before the gig I grabbed a few minutes with Radioactive Rats (Ewa- vocals, Joseph- guitar and vocals, Kubczak- bass, Stemp- guitar and Bartek- drums) to find out how there is a Polish language punk band based in Nottingham!
E&D: How did Radioactive Rats start?
Ewa: Well, we started in Poland in 2003 as Pot?uczony Kaloryfer (Smashed Radiator), me and Kubczak were in the original band. When we moved here we started playing with Joseph because we knew each other from different bands in Poland and we reactivated Smashed Radiators and then we changed the name.
E&D: Why did you change the name?
Ewa: Because you couldn’t say Pot?uczony Kaloryfer haha!
E&D: Yeah, that’s fair enough! Has the line up changed very much since you have been in Britain?
Ewa: No, not really, the guitarist and the bassist are the same. We’ve got a new drummer at the moment who has played with us a few months, the previous one used to play with us in Poland as well. And also we’ve got another guitarist, Marek.
E&D: So has your sound changed over the last year?
Ewa: For sure because we grow up a little bit!
E&D: And has your sound got harder?
Stemp: Technically we changed the tuning on our guitars a little bit lower to have a little bit heavier sound and now with two guitars in the band we can do more things, with one playing rhythm the second one can play solos and stuff like that. So there is more space for different sounds.
E&D: Is there a long history of punk in Poland? I’ve heard of Dezerter…?
Eva: Yes there is a long history…
Kubczak: The best punk festival in Poland was Jarocin, Dezerter and many other polish punk bands played there, Dezerter are playing again. Punk rock has a long history in Poland, forty years like in the UK.
E&D: So when punk started in Poland it was still a communist country? Was it difficult for punks?
Stemp: Yeah, because punks always try to say ‘Fuck the System’ so it wasn’t very popular with the government and those sort of organisations, but it is strong because a lot of people supported it because of that message behind the lyrics…and it’s not easy to have a haircut like Kubczak. Now it is easier but years ago..
Kubczak: Travelling to bigger places in Poland…
Stemp: ..a lot of people would like to hit you for looking different!
E&D: Ah OK, it was a little bit like that in the UK. What punk bands have influenced or inspired you as a band?
Ewa: The Exploited, the Sex Pistols a little bit, and many Polish bands.
E&D: You’ve started to put up tracks on Bandcamp with more tracks to come, what sort of things do you sing about?
Ewa: About everything haha. About being against the system, about religion, human rights, animal rights, and about sexism as well.
E&D: And how would you describe your politics? Left wing?
Ewa: Well to be honest, left or right is the same shit. I’m trying to be out of politics.
Stemp: I don’t like putting people in brackets I prefer that everyone is thinking for themselves, with their own views. Sometimes even on the right they have good ideas, sometimes on the left so you have to choose, you have to think for yourself.
E&D: Who does the most songwriting in RR?
Ewa: It depends, at the moment I am. But most of the Polish lyrics are written by Kubczak.
Kubczak: When I was young I started listening to punk rock through my cousin, it was something fucking good and I started writing lyrics. But not so much now.
Ewa: The old Pot?uczony Kaloryfer lyrics were written by him.
E&D: And do you still do some of those songs?
Ewa; Yeah we do.
Stemp: We have started writing new songs, you will hear two new ones today that we wrote recently in English. We decided if we want to play here we will try to write so people can understand and it is easier to get to the listeners.
E&D: When you write your songs what inspiration do you draw on, personal experiences, books, films?
Ewa: I think it is everything. Everything you can feel, hear, see.
E&D: Ewa, A lot of female musicians experience some sexism, how have you found the punk scene? Is it an easier place to be a woman than mainstream culture?
Ewa: To be honest yeah, I think that punk rockers are not sexist so I never met with any bad situations.
E&D: And how is punk doing, are you encouraged by it, are there a lot of punk bands around Nottingham?
Stemp: Yeah, and it’s very encouraging that after gigs we have so many new friends, also from other bands that ask us ‘Will you visit us and play with us in our city later’.
E&D: So grassroots punk is still very strong?
Stemp: Our experience till now, yeah it is.
E&D: I went to see Perma War in London a few weeks ago, are there many polish language punk bands in Britain?
Ewa: Well, I know a few from London so I think yeah, and most of them know each other from Poland where they were in different bands and now they meet here and create new bands.
Stemp: The world is so small now, I came to the UK to Nottingham and met them, I think it was at ‘Sick of it All’ at Rock City and they asked me to join.
E&D: And what are your plans for next year? Have you got an album coming out?
Stemp: We want to finish the Demo of five old songs and like I said we have the two new songs and then hopefully we will get eight or ten new songs and start recording them as a proper new album with new stuff. We hope it will be a little bit more hard core than punk, hardcore punk with a lot of influence from metal, a little bit heavier.
On my way back to the station the next day I noticed that Donny Osmond is playing a big arena in Nottingham early next year as part of a UK tour, we live in strange times when music that’s vital and important is being played in small social centres while Donny Osmond plays arenas! Personally Radioactive Rats at The Sumac sounds much more interesting!
Photo by Mariusz Fratczak