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An Interview with Michael "Mike Virus" Rothstein

"If the punks don’t support other punks, who will?"


An Interview with Michael

Aceh Calling

Evacuate Records
While much has been said about recent developments in the world that have resulted in the political persecution of punk scenes, specifically in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, one punk stepped forward to actually do something to make a difference. Following the events in Aceh, Michael "Mike Virus" Rothstein, former frontman for The Virus and Cheap Sex, and most currently Evacuate, started a discussion on his personal Facebook page. The discussion caught fire, and within three months it turned into Aceh Calling, a 72-band compilation to benefit the punks in Aceh.

The compilation is now available as a $6 download here, and is an amazing collection of punk and hardcore from all over the world, united by the common belief that punks can and should stand together whenever and however possible.

I reached out to Mike Virus to talk about what lead to the production of the compilation, the thoughts behind it, and his views on punk rock as a worldwide scene.

RC: So what's the situation of punk rock in Aceh?

MV: Banda Aceh, Indonesia, is a strict Islamic Sharia region. Punks are forced to have their heads shaved, are forced to pray, their clothes are burned, they're detained (64 were detained) and forced into “re-education” camps. Deputy mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal proudly claims that she personally supervised police raids in cafes and city parks. Djamal also has been quoted as saying “Punk is a new social disease” and also has been quoted as saying “Aceh is a Shariah region. Everyone should obey it and the punk community is clearly against Shariah”.

These people are being jailed for being punk. They have not been charged with any crime. On Tuesday December 13, 2011 police took the 64 detainees to the Aceh State Police Camp and shaved their mohawks and dyed hair off and forced them into a lake.

RC: Why do you think punk is being so harshly persecuted there?

MV: It is not just there. Punk is being harshly persecuted in many countries right now. Last month (March, 2012), Reuters reported that at least 14 young people had recently been stoned to death in Baghdad by Shiite militants against youths wearing Western-style ‘emo’ clothes and haircuts.

In Moscow, two members of the band Pussy Riot were arrested after illicitly taking over a pulpit in a Moscow church and attempting to recite a ‘punk prayer’ written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Their shows have been made illegal and two of the members are facing 7 years in prison for “hooliganism”.

In Burma, punks are regularly harassed by police.

People want to be free, and punk is all about giving the people a voice and standing up against authority. This is why these oppressive governments view punk as such a threat.

RC: And what's the goal of Aceh Calling?

MV: 1. To let the Aceh punks know that punks throughout the world support them and that they are not alone by bringing together 72 bands from all over the world and produce a top-notch compilation that will raise money to buy them food and clothing as well as produce a 3-CD set that will be given to the Aceh punks for free.

2. Show the world a united, aware, thoughtful punk rock scene that sticks up for each other in times of need.

3. Inspire others to give back to their scene, and bring some much needed positivity back into the scene.

RC: How does it work? What does selling the downloads of the comp worldwide translate into for the scene in Indonesia?

MV: There are two versions of the compilation. First there is the downloadable version which is available now at www.punkaid.org, which is only $6 and contains 72 tracks and a booklet containing track info, band info, essays, photos, background on Banda Aceh and more. The money from the downloadable version will all go to printing t-shirts to give to the Banda Aceh punks for free, and to provide other clothing and food. Many of them had their clothes burned.

Second, there is a 3-CD set which will be made available in Indonesia by Movement Records in Jakarta. Money raised by benefit shows paid to make 1,000 3-disc sets - we have already raised enough money to make the CDs. These CD sets will be given to the Banda Aceh punks for free. Others will be able to purchase the CDs from Movement Records and the sales of these CDs will also go towards providing food, printing t-shirts and giving clothes to the Banda Aceh punks. The CD version should be available by Summer 2012. The main reason for the CD version is the fact that most of the Aceh punks do not have access to computers or MP3 players, but they do have CD players.

RC: Why is it important to put punk in the hands of the punks in Aceh?

MV: It is important to stand up for our lifestyle. Punk is our music, our way of life. It is unacceptable for people to have to worry about being beaten, and thrown in prison for choosing an alternative lifestyle and not just accepting the dogma preached by a government or a religion. Music is power and it is our common language. It is inspiring to know that people from all over the world have this music in common, and this desire to be in control of our own lives. The thing that will set these people free is if we show them we stand with them, and that punks all over the world have their back.

RC: When you reached out to bands and support for the comp, what kind of response did you receive?

MV: I just posted to the wall of my personal FaceBook page about what was happening in Banda Aceh and that I wanted to put together an international compilation to help raise money for the Aceh punks. Within a couple of hours I already had over 40 bands confirm that they wanted to submit a track to the compilation. In less than a week from the time of that original post I had 84 confirmed bands. Out of the 84 bands who confirmed I received 72 tracks, which is what became the compilation.

RC: What are some of the highlights on the comp?

MV: The whole comp is amazing. Some tracks that really stand out are the Oversuck (Indonesia), An unreleased Monster Squad track, the Mad Pigs (Czech Republic), the Bricks (China), AntiSeen (USA), Krum Bums (USA) - just so many good ones.

RC: What's the response been like in Aceh?

MV: I am really not sure because the CD version has not yet been released and most of those kids do not have access to computers. I have heard from some of the Jakarta punks that the Aceh punks are very excited about the compilation.

RC: Have you had any contact with the punks in Aceh themselves?

MV: I have not had any yet. I have had a lot of contact with the Jakarta punks, however.

RC: Are there any plans for further comps for other areas where punk rock is being suppressed?

MV: Unfortunately I am sure there will be a need for other compilations like this. And Punk Aid will do what it can. Nothing is planned as of right now, but that is not to say that there will not be more. I kind of wanted to test the waters with this one and see what kind of support we received. And to see if the punk scene could come together in a very short amount of time to produce something positive.

RC: Anything else you'd like to add?

MV: This compilation was produced with just an idea posted on Facebook, and it just came together. Within three months of the Facebook post we had a top quality compilation with 72 bands from around the world and a massive booklet to accompany it released and available. During that time we also raised enough money to make 1,000 3-CD sets to hand out to the Banda Aceh punks for free and make available in Indonesia (and to the rest of the world, too, if they are willing to pay the shipping costs to order from Indonesia). We are also continuing to raise money for clothing and food for the Aceh punks. This goes to show what can be done, and anyone can do it.

It is a lot of work, but if the punks don’t support other punks, who will?

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