Tales of Modern Wrath: An Interview with Adrestia

D-beat for Rojava

A somewhat shorter version of this interview appeared on The Battleground a week ago. It included a very apt editorial introduction, which is not reproduced here, but which we recommend that you check out in situ. Sweden’s Adrestia is one of the most vital acts to come out of the vaunted Swedish d-beat scene in years. Wrath of Euphrates creates a powerful amalgam of metal and punk, leavened with a strong political awareness and a commitment to raising the profile of the current situation in Rojava. Adrestia continues the strong tradition of punk music in general, and Swedish hardcore in particular, of blending political sentiments with intense music to create an artistic project that is more than the sum of its parts.

I first heard about you guys when you put out the In Solidarity with Rojava split with Martyrdöd. How long had you been around when that happened?

Martin: Adrestia started out in 2015, and in February 2016 we made our first recording. We started to make plans together with Martyrdöd at a show in Stockholm in November 2016. Both bands had members who were following the development in Rojava quite intensively, so it felt quite natural that we did something together. Back then we just knew that we wanted to contribute to the revolution in Rojava somehow, and after we discussed it online for some weeks we decided that the best way to do it would be to make some kind of benefit release and also to make a benefit show together as soon as the EP arrived from the pressing plant.

Captured on stage

Was that before or after you released The Art of Modern Warfare?

Martin: The split EP was released before The Art of Modern Warfare, but they were recorded at the same time. If I remember correctly, the split EP came in February 2017, while The Art of Modern Warfare arrived from the pressing plant about 3 months later.

What drew you to Rojava as a political issue?

Martin: For me, it all began back in 2014 when I started to read about the siege of Kobani. I reacted to the fact that a lot of the photos depicting the defenders of the city (who was by then under attack by the Islamic state) were women. I thought it looked interesting, so I started to read more about the battle in itself, but also about the people who fought the IS. What struck me in the beginning was that the IS was heavily equipped with the guns and the tanks that they took from the Iraqi army in Mosul a couple of months earlier, while the YPG/YPJ, Rojava’s military forces, fought them back mostly with the help of old weapons, and without tanks or any other heavy armored vehicles. The battle was interesting in itself of course, especially when it became clear that Turkey was on the IS’s side, but what really caught my attention and made me determined to do what I could to help out was the ideology on which the society in Rojava is built.

Henry: What drew me personally was Adrestia, before I was a member. I saw them both play and talk about the wars.

I want to get back to Rojava in a minute, but what were the circumstances of you (Henry) joining Adrestia? Had you been in other bands before?

Henry: I learned to play guitar for fun with a friend who learned to play drums at the same time, 2015 I think. Then I started a black metal band called Outhärdligt in 2018 with which I had one gig, but then we stopped because of disagreements and arguments. I also play bass with some guys at Kulturskolan (culture school) in Gnesta, playing death metal covers. I’ve had one gig with that band, and it was for mostly little kids with their parents and parents’ parents. Then I saw that Adrestia needed a new guitarist and first I didn’t think I would make it because of school but it turned out to work. As mentioned before, I was already listening to the band before.

Getting back to Rojava, how to you see it as different from other states or organizations?

Martin: Rojava is definitely different than other states, because Democratic Confederalism (the ideology on which the society in Rojava is built) rejects the notion of nation-states. Democratic Confederalism rather seeks to build a federation between all regions who want to take part in their system, regardless of where borders between nation-states are drawn. There are of course organizations with ideas and structures that resembles those of the different organizations and bodies within the society in Rojava. The PKK, for example, practices the same ideology, and there are a couple of other political parties and organizations in the Kurd dominated areas of that region sharing the same ideas. Recently I’ve seen reports about organizations in South and Latin America embracing the same ideology, which is a very positive development. Apart from that, and apart from the similarities with anarcho-syndicalist organizations, I’d say there are few organizations like those in Rojava. I guess that’s mainly due to the fact that Democratic Confederalism is first a relatively new ideology, and second, it was formulated in the context of that region, and therefore it might need to be adjusted a bit too different cultural and political contexts in other parts of the world before being implemented there.

Henry: Martin knows much more about all this, so I could summarize what I think into that Rojava has a kind of equality that’s not very common, and I think it’s stupid to let that be lost.

So, what is Democratic Confederalism? How does it work, how does the structure look like?

First, there are three pillars:

Democracy, meaning direct democracy where those affected by decisions are also the ones making the decisions.

Women’s rights. This pillar has been a high priority for the movement for a long time, even in the first years of the PKK it was clear that they prioritized the rights of the women in a way that no similar organization did. In Rojava, this issue has the highest priority. We can see that clearly if we look at the structure of their society, since in every important position of society there is one woman and one man sharing the work and the responsibilities. We can also see it if we look at the society charter, which is Rojava’s equivalent to a law book. There it says that no decisions can be taken unless at least 50% of those voting on the decision are women. Also, women have parallel separatist organizations on all levels of society, and oppressive cultural and political traditions like child’s marriages and domestic violence are strictly prohibited.

Ecology and ecological sustainability is the third pillar, although here it must be said that the situation in Rojava, with a war going on around it, and with the Turkish blockade, has made it a bit hard for the society to be as progressive as it wants to be when it comes to ecological sustainability.

In practice, the society in Rojava is organized from the bottom and up, like a pyramid turned upside down. The smallest entities of society are the communes (not to be confused with communes in the western world). A commune consists of 300-400 people. It could comprise some blocks in a town or a village. In the commune, the people living there vote on decisions that directly affect them. Fifty percent of the voters need to be women, otherwise, the decision is not valid. All these communes have representatives that they can send to the next level of society if the questions addressed cannot be solved within the commune, or if the decisions affect people outside of the commune.

In the communes, people work in different committees, dealing with different issues in fields of society (it can be for example women’s rights, security, agriculture, local businesses, etc.).

The same structure remains on higher levels, where representatives from the communes are sent to meet other representatives and discuss issues that affect larger areas, up to the highest level where the representatives represent the different cantons.

Democratic Confederalism rejects the notion of nation-states completely. Therefore, the goal is not to create an independent state in northern Syria, but rather to include as many regions and people as possible into this system.

Throughout the war in Syria, this policy has by time been proven effective, as the YPG/YPJ has been taking lots of territory, mainly from the Islamic state. Many of the people who are living in these now liberated territories are not Kurds, but they have chosen to be part of this system anyway.

Do you think there is a possibility of a European version of this? There seem to be so many groups like SD becoming popular these days, can this approach combat the rise of right-wing extremists?

Martin: I would like to see something like that happening, but I have a hard time seeing it coming for a lot of different reasons. First, people within the European left-wing are unfortunately busy fighting each other rather than ideas on the opposite side of the spectrum, and second, the polarization within European societies (which is getting worse by time mainly due to the rise of populist right-wing parties) makes it hard to mobilize people in the way that they’ve done in Rojava. The most important factor, at least in my mind, is that capitalism and capitalist thinking is so integrated into our lives here that it’s easier for people to accept the death of our planet than the death of capitalism. I hope I’m wrong though. It’s also hard to predict what is going to come. If there will be radical changes in society, changes that really affect people’s lives, maybe there is a chance that larger groups of people start to work for a change? I’m thinking of for example the debate that is going on in Australia right now when large groups of people start to question the government and even the capitalist system in itself as they see their government busy making excuses and staying passive as the country is burning up. Martin

One thing is for sure, the political structure within Democratic Confederalism, where democracy is built on a grassroots level, from the bottom and up, is almost the opposite of the society we live in. I guess that if people got the chance to participate in such a system, to feel that their voices mattered and that they’re being listened to, the way people think and act would change as well. At least that’s what I believe.

What is Punks for Rojava and how have you been active in it?

Martin: Punks for Rojava is a network of punks and bands worldwide, created with the sole purpose of supporting the society in Rojava and to spread awareness about what’s going on there. It took a while, but now it seems that the network is growing, and there are benefit shows in many different countries in Europe, and also recently in North America. The whole thing kind of started with that split EP we made with Martyrdöd and the benefit shows that we organized in Sweden, but now there are people all over the globe picking up the concept and taking it further, which is something that I’m really happy to see.

In my mind, being a punk/anarchist/activist without caring about Rojava would be complete hypocrisy. Punk bands have been singing about revolutions and societies like the one in Rojava for 40 years now, so as the revolution is here, make sure to support it!

I can maybe add that I wrote a quite long article about Rojava and Punks For Rojava for diyconspiracy.net some weeks ago. If anybody’s interested they can read it here.

Do you think punk music (or punk culture) has a role in making things better?

Henry: I think it does, with its message(s) and even collecting money for things and of course scaring the shit out of people. But it’s definitely not enough alone. The world can’t be saved only by musicians but from people actually taking action for what they stand for and politicians leaving their bubbles, and we need more politicians who don’t just want to make things easy for some people but say “fuck you to everyone else”. Also, as we see with Donald Trump, Ulf Kristerson (party leader of Swedish party “Moderaterna”) and others, rely on being total jerks that don’t let others say anything, so we need more politicians who can deal with that kind. Back to punk, it does help but mostly to inspire and show a point. But punk has historically also been a center for people who can’t be forced to be what people expect, and the fact that there exist people that nothing can change is great.

Martin: I think that the punk community is fantastic in many ways, it’s the only culture where I feel like belong, and to me, it has changed my life for the better in many ways. That said, I was skeptical for a long time about our movement’s ability to change things on a larger scale, outside the community. That’s due to different reasons, but the most obvious one is, of course, that very few people share our taste for music, and to be able to reach out to enough people to actually influence society, you can’t build a movement on music taste. However, I think that the presence of the ideas that are being advocated within the punk community are influencing other people as well, and in the cases when punks join forces with other people and organizations with the same ideas, we can definitely make a difference. To me it has been a true experience to see the Punks for Rojava network grow from an idea embraced by a few people to a global network working for that cause. I also think Punks for Rojava is a great example of how we can interact with people from outside our own community sharing the same values to accomplish something. Let me also add that I believe that the punk community is definitely worth fighting for in itself. For example, I have some friends in Slovenia who have been dedicating their lives to setting up shows, keep squats and clubs going, fighting authorities and doing everything they can to keep the scene and the venues independent for 20 years now. I have a deep respect for that.

The U.S. killed Qasem Suliemani with a drone attack in Iraq the other day. What consequences do you think this will have?

Martin The list of possible consequences is probably long enough to write a book about it, but to make it short, Iran has an alliance with China and Russia, and the three of them conducted a military exercise together some weeks ago. Mentioning those facts alone would be a reason for most people to think twice before attacking any of the high officials of any of those countries. The situation right now is that Iran is on its way to create a corridor of influence stretching from its own borders through Lebanon to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Before Trump received a phone call from Erdogan and all of a sudden decided to do the complete opposite of what all his counselors advised him, to pull out of Syria and let Turkey and Turkish backed terrorist groups conduct a genocide in Rojava, the US presence in Syria was an obstacle for the Shia axis (including Russia), but when Trump pulled out his troops and left the field open for Putin and Iran, there are no longer any threats to Iranian expansion in the region. The killing of Suleimani I guess can be understood as a way to warn the Iranian regime not to go too far, the same way he sought to warn Bashar al Assad some year ago when videos supposed to depict the SAA using chemical weapons started to circle around the internet.

The irony is that if the US didn’t attack Iraq back in 2003, there wouldn’t be any Iranian influence in Iraq. There wouldn’t be any Islamic state either. Looking at it now, it’s clear that most steps that the US took made things worse for them. I guess it might continue that way…

If someone was coming to see Adrestia who’d never seen them before, what would you tell them?

Martin: Hmm, I think I would warn them that half of the show is gonna be a political lecture rather than a traditional D-beat band’s show.

Henry: It would depend on the situation. Like if I know the person? If the person has never heard a crust death punk band before, I would warn their ears. If would be a metalhead, I would say that it’s heavy and has a raw and old school sound while still very different from other bands. If it would be a punk, I say it’s fast and its d-beat and we have punk riffs with metal styled fills.

For your latest album (Wrath of Euphrates) you collaborated with Tomas Jonsson (ex-AntiCimex, Wolfpack, Moment Maniacs, etc.) on a video for the song “The Message”.  How did that come about?

Martin: Jack and I know Jonsson since the time he used to live in our city. I hadn’t been in contact with him for many years, but ever since we started Adrestia we always spoke about how it would be cool to record something with him. We actually tried to make him sing already on The Art of Modern Warfare, but at that time he was in a heavy drinking period, and it just wasn’t possible. During 2018 he spent most of the year in rehab, and when he came out he was determined to stay sober, so we started to contact him. He really liked The Art of Modern Warfare, so he was up for giving it a try, even though he was a bit skeptical about his ability to sing, due to the fact that he hadn’t recorded anything for 20 years. We wanted things to happen fast, so I recorded demo versions of the songs at home, and then I managed to book a studio in Kumla, which nearby the town he lived in at that point. Then in September 2018 Jack and I went by car to pick him up, and then we went to the studio where he recorded his vocals for “The Message” and “See You in Hell”. We asked if we could film him at the same time, so the footage that you can see in the video for “The Message” is from that session. I have to say that we’re really happy that we could accomplish that, and there’s probably be a continuation of that collaboration in the future.

One of the ideas behind the decision to include that many guest artists on The Wrath of Euphrates was also to create a more dynamic sound. Nowadays both Henry and Mattias do vocals, but at the time of recording it was only me, so we wanted to create more variation by inviting Brad, Nastya, and Jonsson to take part in the recording. Also, since the album turned out to be a bit of a concept album lyric-wise, we thought it would be cool to show that the ideas expressed in the lyrics and through the artwork id not just the ideas of our band, but of the whole movement. As the writer of the lyrics,it was also important to me to try to create the feeling that this is not just Adrestia’s album, it belongs to anyone who fights for these ideas, everywhere.