The Spider Ferns in Europe
by Kelly Fleek
The internet is a fascinating world. Four years ago, I stumbled upon a fantastic Parisian band called Hi Cowboy while searching a European version of MySpace called Noomis.
Hi Cowboy popped up as a recommendation. I liked the graphics on their album cover and I hit play. Their songs recall 60s French pop with an updated 80s pop-punk, danceable twist. I was hooked. Alton (the other half of Spider Ferns) listened and we instantly decided to reach out to the band. What came next was an intercontinental friendship that culminated in our first European tour, albeit four years later.
Syrile Le Cowboy and Flip Faro (their internet monikers) fell in love with our music as well and we began dreaming of sharing the stage with these artists that were essentially the French version of us: an electronic music couple that are also visual artists, educators and parents. The kismet was electric and our collective intuition said yes.
In 2015, we began the arduous work of trying to book our own tour from thousands of miles away. The pitfalls were nauseating. The successes enthralling enough to keep us at it. We employed the help of friends in our music community both in the U.S. and abroad to get the ball rolling. Then, one amazing day, Syrile and Faro offered the best anchor point for our forthcoming tour. They wanted us to be main support for their 2016 album release party in Paris at a lovely little club called Le Truskel and our tour was officially etched in stone.
Fast forward to September 2016. We have eight shows booked in four countries, renewed passports, hotels booked in most of our destinations and our friends across Europe that I’d met via musical collaborations in the past had generously opened their homes to us. We nervously boarded a plane with a stripped down tour set up, a couple of backpacks, our guitars and a lot of hope.
We landed in Frankfurt, rented a car and on zero sleep, Alton drove a little Ford tour van out of the parking garage of the Frankfurt Airport and accidentally onto the Autobahn! Not the best introduction to driving in Europe, but thanks to GPS, we not only survived, but were in the arms of friends within an hour. Our friend Bobby, a former Bellingham tattoo artist, had relocated to Frankfurt a few years earlier and seeing her again was the best tour kick off we could have hoped for.
Two days later, we made the perilous journey from Frankfurt to Liverpool, England with a hideous catch. We decided to drive to Dunkerque, France, to stay the night in a skeezy little hotel so we could enjoy the French version of Cannery Row before taking the ferry to Dover, England the following morning. We had a van full of equipment, all of the proper paperwork and boom! We were detained for four hours, behind a Border Force office with barbed wire fences, armed guards… the works. We were completely terrified our whole journey hinged upon the whims of jaded bureaucrats. Hours later, we hear our music pouring out of the Border Force office and a rather jaunty officer approaches our car and thanks us for the great music, and apologizes for the bother we’ve been caused. It turns out that luck was on our side and the change of guard had brought a music enthusiast on duty who’d determined all of our paperwork was correct, and that Brexit had caused chaos for border officials in dealing with bands from abroad. We were then informed that “Oasis should have made it in the U.S.” and that the “U.K. was gonna love you lot! You’re going to do quite well in Liverpool.” And we were off.
The white cliffs of Dover in the pouring rain, mild flooding and driving on the wrong side of the road for ten and half hours was possibly the most tortuous and fun thing we have ever done. We were classically six hours late for the first soundcheck of our tour, starving and excited as hell. Rolling into town just in time to hop on stage and play a show on leftover adrenaline and gin had never been a better time.
We played five dates in the U.K. with Bristol and Edinburgh taking the cake. We stayed for three days in London to play a Women of Electronica showcase and then stayed with a Polish producer I’d collaborated with and his amazing wife. It was absolutely incredible to finally stand face to face with such beautiful, creative souls.
England was a whirlwind of endless horrible traffic that made Seattle traffic look tame. Narrow escapes from hotels with bedbugs followed. Castles, castles, castles and a couple of dodgy venue owners that tried to steal our guarantees and destroyed our equipment. We still loved it. And oh yea, that 3 a.m. impulse drive to catch dawn over Stonehenge was simply the best. We also took nerd diversions to Cardiff, Wales to see the landmarks from Torchwood and Dr. Who as well as a few Harry Potter destinations.
Paris Paris Paris. Everything we could have hoped for. We finally found ourselves in the arms of our beloved Hi Cowboy, played an incredible show together for their gorgeous album release and then spent days upon days eating, drinking, laughing, touring the city, hanging out with their beautiful children and making trip-hop music in the small hours in their living room with artists they’d invited over who are now our friends. We dream every single day of our return. The museums, food and music culture, the history, the macaroons… Perfection.
We left Paris for Bruges en route to Amsterdam. We had four days before our final shows in Berlin and it was time for adventure. Bruges nearly broke us. From the smell of the canal system, which seemed to have flooded with sewage recently, to both the best and worst food we’d ever eaten in our lives, Bruges was a hilarious test of our tour endurance. Our phones died, we got lost, we starved, we walked for eight miles to find our car and paid four dollars for hot water at a gas station on the way to Amsterdam so we could eat instant ramen to assuage our hunger.
Amsterdam was gorgeous, weird, fun. It’s a city full of sweets for stoners, crazy bicyclists, incredible museums and excellent music and food culture. The macaroons gave Paris a run for its money. The Van Gogh Museum stole our hearts. The tilted buildings lent a Dr. Seuss vibe to the whole place. We loved it.
Berlin was graffiti, party hotels, endless techno music, amazing Middle Eastern food, the best pizza we’ve ever had in our lives and one of the quirkiest shows on tour. We were booked at a heavy metal club that wanted to host new music. We unloaded into a smoky bar, with 9-foot tall Orc sculptures, thrash metal playing overhead and a very hostile security guard. We survived, mostly unscathed and actually sold merch to the stony faced metal-heads that began to smile and tap their toes about three songs into our set. We spent the remaining days wandering the Berlin wall, checking out art collectives and stuffing our faces with amazing food.
We left Berlin for one last hurrah in Frankfurt with our friends and one last detainment at the Frankfurt airport… We were surrounded by authorities who thought Alton’s tiny amp head in his backpack was an explosive device. Seriously folks, being detained and interrogated is not fun. The flight home was a mix of complex emotions. We were ready for our own bed, but still high on the experience of it all.
It’s taken us months to digest and absorb a month long European adventure. We came home exhausted, inspired and with a deep longing to return. Eight countries in four weeks with shows in four of those was a huge undertaking and we’re ready for more.
For more information about the Spider Ferns, follow their Facebook page. More photos of their tour can be found in the online article at www.whatsup-magazine.com.