“Partying During Wartime”: quella volta che i Desert Storm portarono la techno a Sarajevo
Everyone’s dead – your granny, everything. But if these guys have come all this way in this crazy vehicle and they’re doing a party, then it must be getting better. That’s what people think.
a cura di Skatèna
La storia dei Desert Storm è unica e indimenticabile (cit. freeteknomusic.org). Pensate che nel 1994 partirono alla volta delle regioni balcaniche (furono a Tuzla per capodanno, a Sarajevo poi), dove riuscirono anche ad organizzare un illegal proprio mentre quell’area geografica era martoriata dall’ennesimo, sanguinoso e aberrante conflitto tra popoli (Alessandro Kola).
Il primo illegal rave i Desert Storm lo organizzarono a Glasgow nel 1991, in un magazzino in disuso vicino al porto. L’evento fu “a great success with hundreds of people enjoying music late into the morning hours”. Le persone dovettero pagare l’ingresso, ma a causa di alcuni problemi sorti con i gangster locali che cercavano di controllare la porta, le feste successive furono rese gratuite. Chi li ha sostenuti e seguiti ricorderà certamente le loro continue sfide alla repressione legislativa, da parte del governo conservatore inglese, di raves, free parties e festivals per tutto quel decennio.
Qui sotto, uno dei tweet del 21 settembre 2016 con cui venne annunciata la morte di Keith “Keef” Robinson, storico fondatore dei Desert Storm:
— Red Bull Music Academy (@RBMA) September 21, 2016
Gli acid house parties divennero l’obiettivo della repressione politica nei primi anni ’90, così venivano organizzati in luoghi lontani dalle aree residenziali e in posti come magazzini occupati, basi militari vuote, spiagge, boschi o campi. Il culmine della repressione si ebbe nel 1994 con il Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, che introdusse restrizioni e una riduzione dei diritti esistenti a favore di pene pesanti per alcuni comportamenti definiti “anti-sociali”. La motivazione principale fu osteggiare i rave parties, in risposta ai fatti occorsi durante il Festival di Castlemorton del 1992. Con quella legge dunque i rave vennero “bannati” e vennero conferiti nuovi poteri alla polizia per fermarli e sequestrare le attrezzature di chi li organizzava. Fu così che i Desert Storm presero parte ad una massiccia protesta a Trafalgar Square a Londra, che vide la partecipazione di circa 10mila persone, la c.d. Reclaim the Street.
In quella occasione i Desert Storm vennero avvicinati da un membro dei Workers Aid for Bosnia, che chiese loro se volevano organizzare per Capodanno un “gig” per risollevare il morale degli abitanti nella zona di guerra. Mettendo a repentaglio la propria vita, i Desert Storm acconsentirono, e quel dicembre del 1994 partirono per i Balcani con 5 “aid convoy trucks“, attraversando il fronte alla volta di Tuzla. La neve inarrestabile e il freddo pungente li fecero ritardare di tre settimane, ma arrivarono a destinazione sani e salvi. Storming Sarajevo documenta la loro avventura mentre trasportavano generi alimentari, penne, libri, medicine e preservativi che avrebbero distribuito prima durante la festa di Capodanno a Tuzla e successivamente in un locale disco a Sarajevo. Durante una delle serate, la polizia locale permise loro di continuare a mettere musica ad alto volume purché le luci fossero spente, visto che il fronte era a pochi chilometri di distanza. In quella occasione anche i soldati si misero a ballare fino alle prime luci dell’alba. Nel documentario seguito al viaggio dei Desert Storm a Sarajevo, Keith Robinson ha affermato: “We don’t think that music is a luxury. We think it’s an essential. Yet it’s always one of the first casualties of war.” (fonte www.thescottishsun.co.uk, zoneofthefree.blogspot.com)
È intorno a un viaggio che si coagula una delle più grandi azioni del movimento, quella spedizione della tribe inglese Desert Storm proprio nel cuore nero dell’Europa, a Tuzla e Sarajevo durante la guerra, nel ’94, a portare un po’ di speranza e umanità in forma di battiti tekno a chi viveva da mesi e mesi sotto assedio – Vanni Santoni, Free party, nomadismo e Unione Europea
Per saperne di più sui Desert Storm ed avere un quadro più completo sul loro viaggio che qui ci occupa, riporto due interessanti articoli in lingua inglese scovati in giro per il web. Il primo è tratto da freeteknomusic.org e offre una panoramica generale di ciò che i Desert Storm sono e hanno rappresentato; il secondo porta la firma di Ray Philp e va più nello specifico, nel senso che parla proprio della missione del sound system di Glasgow nelle zone dei Balcani colpite dalla guerra nel 1994/95, è corredato anche di belle foto e si intitola Partying During Wartime.
The story of Desert Storm sound system from Glasgow is unique and unforgettable. They drove straight through and over the frontline, forcing them quite literally into the middle of a raging war zone at the height of the Balkan conflict. They took the skin off a number of policemen’s noses as they brazenly lumbered into the centre of several illegal street demonstrations, and led thousands upon thousands of European raver’s right through the eye of some of the biggest underground free rave parties Europe has seen.
It was any weekend of 1991 in Glasgow, Scotland, and the four AM curfew in the city was giving rise to a new kind of resistance. Police were out making sure all the streets were clear as the drunken revellers wobbled home. Except this night there was a rave on. In a disused warehouse down by the docks, newly formed sound system Desert Storm were busy setting up sound equipment, lights and all the kit needed to hold Glasgow’s first illegal warehouse party. The event was a great success with hundreds of people enjoying music late into the morning hours. The police caught wind of the event, but due to some clever paperwork and a few video cameras, left the party believing it to be a video shoot for a new band. And so the story starts.
The first few party’s people were charged for entry, but after some major trouble with local gangsters trying to control the door, and a chance meeting with some of the infamous Spiral Tribe, a London sound system that had spawned the whole free party principal, all future events became free.
In 1994 the government passed a new law called the “Criminal Justice Bill” which contained legislation outlawing such events and giving the police new powers to stop them and seize equipment, it also contained many controversial clauses which were designed to stop or impede people that wanted to follow a more subversive lifestyle.
In the summer of 1994 a huge anti CJB rally was held in London ending in Trafalgar square where near 10 000 protesters gathered. Suddenly from nowhere came a camouflaged transit van, slowly making its way through the crowd. It stopped right in the middle of the Square, two people in balaclavas adorned the roof, set up some speakers and suddenly the whole square erupted to the sound of Desert Storm.
As the demonstration moved of the Square to make its way to Hyde Park closely watched by hundreds of suited up riot police violence began to rear up. It seems the crowd were fine whilst they had music to dance to, but with closing Police lines skirmishes started.
It was whilst DStorm were driving out of the unfolding riot that they were approached by a member of “Workers Aid for Bosnia” and asked if they would be prepared to travel there and hold a New Year eve morale boosting gig, in a war zone.
So with a taste for adventure and a desire to make some kind of difference the crew rallied around, raised the necessary funds to buy a 7.5 t truck and enough cash to fuel the trip. And so in mid December 1994 set off with five aid convoy trucks on the dangerous journey into the warring Balkans.
The trip took the crew across Europe and entered the former Yugoslavia just north of Ljubljana, capital of the break away republic Slovenia.
They made their way down to Rijeka on the Croatian coast where they were witness to a near fatal road accident. Some young Croat soldiers had impaled their car on a twenty foot pole and had a concrete block under their engine.
Unbelievably they were still trying to start the car, and with petrol pouring out of the tank and washing down toward the sparks flying out of the engine, our boys ran towards them to get them out.
As the driver gave up trying to start the car again the petrol washed past the spot where the sparks had been hitting. They were dragged from the car and the first thing that was understood was that these soldiers did not give a fuck, literally, this kind of thing happened to them everyday and it was a dark awakening to the fact that war was here.
After a twelve hour hair raising journey down the Croatian coast in which the DStorm truck was at one point blown by the wind up onto two wheels with a 300 foot cliff next to the road and no barrier. (Saved in the end by loading two tons of pineapple slices onto the windward side to keep it down) the crew made it to the safety of the UN compound in Split.
It was Christmas day and DStorm decided it was time to go to work; they set up a makeshift nightclub using a truck loading bay, three trucks and a huge stack of pallets to create an almost weatherproof dance floor. Some makeshift flyers were distributed around the base and in the town, and UN soldiers and locals were able to dance all night, until the Military Police came by and put a stop to it.
2 .DStorm arrive in Mostar
The next day the convoy headed onto the most treacherous part of the trip. The road to Tuzla was not an easy one to say the least, it involved mainly off road driving, edging along snow covered farm tracks up mountains deep in the Bosnian countryside, so as to skirt around the frontline. This route was known as the Pac-man route and was a UN guarded, supposed safe path to Tuzla. So with snow chains on and nerves on edge they made their way through makeshift tunnels blown in
mountains, passing very close to the besieged capital Sarajevo, until they reached the spot known as snipers alley. Here they rested until dark where upon they were told to turn off their truck lights and drive as fast as possible down a straight valley road until a check point two miles away was reached, then they were safe from not only the snipers, but also the anti tank guns nestled in the hills.
As they drove down the road it was clear from the destroyed chassis pushed to the side of the track that not all vehicles made it to the other end in safety. They had just driven past the frontline.
Desert Storm entered Tuzla on New Years eve 1994.
The sports hall in which they had been aiming to hold the gig had been mortared the day before so a plan had to be made.
It was New Years eve and they had to do something, so they piled all the speakers onto the back of a lorry and set off around the town Pied Piper style.
At one point the cops came up, the music started to be turned down, expecting to be arrested, But in probably the only time in the history of Music, the cops said
“Turn the music up…but please turn off the lights….You will get pinpointed and mortared”…
So the Dj did as he said, drank some of his Slivovitz and watched him as he started dancing alongside the soldiers. They were shooting their AK47’s in the air and drinking right next to the three old grannies doing their knitting with their heads in a bass bin. This carried on all night driving from one housing estate to the next followed by a throng of kids on bikes. The tune of the night was “La Luna- To the beat of the drum” mainly due to the fact that every time it chanted “to the beat of the drum, bang “a volley of AK47 fire was let off into the freezing night sky. At one point they reached a square where a mortar had killed 40 people just two weeks earlier, one crying girl spoke to one of the crew and pointed to a dark stain on the wall,
” This is my brother” she said, the crew not sure what to do began to prepare to move off, but the girl shouted “No, I want to dance for my brother”.
The night ended and DStorm made the dangerous return journey home safely, but it wasn’t enough.
2 – DStorm route to Tuzla
They returned to Tuzla in the summer of that year, again driving around the streets trying to give some hope to the almost besieged city, the message being that perhaps if some crazy musicians can make it all the way here then maybe we have a chance of getting through this war alive.
In the summer Desert Storm entered Sarajevo just one week after the final cease-fire, the first artists to enter the city in five years.
They quickly found the musical sub culture that had been one of the most important and also dangerous aspects of living under a siege. They set up a gig at “The Obola” a club made infamous for the 300 yard sprint you had to make to get in the door and not get shot by the snipers.
Many young people would make their way here during the conflict and stay for days due to the danger outside.
The same could be said for Radio Zid, an underground pirate station that they played on.
It was run by a couple of scared looking twenty something’s, although they looked about 40. They let DStorm play for about 5 hours and all the time advertised the upcoming gig at Obola.
They then took their techno out into the streets, in the same manner as Tuzla a year previously except there were sniper signs on nearly every corner.
There is still a picture somewhere one of the Dj’s in the back of the open sided truck cruising up and down Sarajevo main strip with a fat rig and a Kevlar helmet.
When they played in Obola, the gig was incredible. They were frantic, to dance, drink, laugh, cry, hug, each other, but most of all to be free.
It was 1 week after the Dayton Peace accord and after 5 years of siege and inhumane suffering, finally they got the 1st glimpse of a future….and fuck were they happy about it!
3 – Sarajevo frontline
In the time between trips to Bosnia Desert Storm were centrally involved in many of the Reclaim the Streets demonstrations throughout the UK. RTS was counter car culture as well as being a platform for many environmental and political issues affecting the sub culture of Britain’s youth. Desert Storm was bang in the middle of many of the large demos with their sound system belting out the beats to the dancing activists, and it was only after the system left the area that the Police moved in to disperse the crowd (usually provoking a riot in place of dancers).
Trafalgar Square in the summer of 96 was the venue for one such event.
They met up with other activists in a farmhouse north of London at about five am.
The plan for entering the square with the trucks loaded with sound systems was discussed and positions given.
DStorm were to park up behind some office buildings just 100 yards from the south side of the Square, and at a given signal attempt to enter the demo. They got the call and set off. They were just yards from turning onto the Square when a line of thirty police spotted the suspect looking truck and charged it. Completely surrounded by cops, the driver got out and made an excuse about delivering to a night club, but was instantly cut off and the truck confiscated for being suspected of carrying stolen goods and driven away by some Police. The driver was allowed to leave and picked up the truck and all the equipment two days later from Battersea car pound.
Luckily for the demo there was a second truck that made it in from the north, driven by a man the Police later held on suspicion of attempted murder (For driving straight at a Policeman that was in the way of his entrance – Later dropped)
The DStorm driver was ribbed later for not charging the line of Police by his peers, so upon the next RTS in Sheffield he almost bowled over a bike cop as he tore the wrong way off a roundabout and down the wrong way of a duel carriageway to join the enveloping mass amazed protester. Shame paid!
4 – DStorm in Bristol RTS
And it was after this very memorable RTS in Bristol that one DStorm member was arrested and Held on a Charge of, “Conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”, this is catch all clause which actually carries a life sentence. Luckily the charges were dropped due to lack of evidence but the Police interest led to DStorm widening their horizons abroad.
5 – The Future!
DStorm continue to release records and organise parties in their own inimitable style….watch this space!
Da daily.redbullmusicacademy.com: “Partying during Wartime” (by Ray Philp)
In 1991, Keith Robinson, a tall, mixed-race Celtic fan from the West End of Glasgow, threw a party in an old railway tunnel. A banner with Saddam Hussein’s face was hung on one of the walls. The revellers who made it to Kelvinbridge, holding Hussein-branded tickets, saw “Death Or Glory” written on another stretch of canvas; there were paintings of warplanes, too, and other Gulf War-referencing murals rendered in 2000 AD-style artwork. House and techno music bought from 23rd Precinct, a now-closed record store on Bath Street, punched its way through the speaker stacks. Robinson’s first Desert Storm Soundsystem party, where rave culture and armed conflict became restive allies, was also a synopsis for his improbable life story.
Throughout the ‘90s, Desert Storm Soundsystem – a rotating cast of characters led by the charismatic Robinson – organised free (and usually illegal) parties across the UK and mainland Europe, and eventually became a part of the continent’s Teknival movement, a more politicised, anti-corporate distillation of the UK’s early rave scene. In the middle of the decade, Desert Storm went to Bosnia, via Croatia, to provide humanitarian relief during the Balkan conflict alongside aid convoys. Instead of handing out food, though, Desert Storm offered locals something else: a party. In a documentary tracking their first journey to Sarajevo, Robinson put it thusly: “We don’t think that music is a luxury. We think it’s an essential. Yet it’s always one of the first casualties of war.”
Desert Storm was a transient presence in Scotland’s electronic music scene. DJs whose careers have been defined by stability – James “Harri” Harrigan, Domenic Cappello, JG Wilkes of Optimo and Andrew Weatherall, among others – all played at these parties, but they seldom stayed in Desert Storm’s orbit for long. Robinson organised raves in warehouses, fields, barns, tunnels and remote peninsulas. He once drove up with a friend in a Porsche to a 17th century-style mansion, Formakin House, and told the landlord they were bringing 100 people to take part in a film shoot. (A variation of a smokescreen that Robinson used regularly in the party’s early days).
“I remember the day of the gig; must’ve been 800-900 of us,” Robinson said when we met at his East London HQ. “He looks over the balcony into the courtyard: Andy Weatherall’s coming in, we had everybody there. I said to the guy, ‘Well, I think that’s 100 of us in now.’ There were about 900 coming up the drive. I thought he was going to punch me.”
Stories like these might give off the impression that Desert Storm Soundsystem was a seat-of-the-pants enterprise – and it sometimes was – but Robinson was a shrewd operator amid the chaotic flux of Scotland’s embryonic rave scene. When Glasgow was awarded City of Culture status by the EU in 1990, clubs were granted 5 AM licenses. Once the city council retracted them the following year, Robinson rode in with his camouflage truck and provided a space for people to keep dancing once the city’s nightclubs were cleared out.
But, as the ‘90s rolled on and the police began to grapple with ravers, Robinson collided with the law more frequently. Gangs became a problem, too. Early Desert Storm parties charged clubbers for entry, which attracted the attention of Glasgow’s criminal underworld. To protect himself and his crew, Robinson hired his own heavies, but this only made things worse, and he was wrestling for control of his own parties towards the end. By 1996, they had left Scotland for good.
“The trouble about money in Glasgow and clubs is, there’s dodgy characters,” Robinson said. “It was a dodgy town. One guy came to the door and said: ‘I’m on the guestlist.’ I said, ‘What’s your name?’ And he wasn’t on the guestlist. He said, ‘No, no, I am on the guestlist.’ And he pulled out a huge machete. And I said, ‘Well, mammoth machete, you’re in!’ [And the doorman said] ‘And here’s my security tag, Keith, I’ll not be working for you again.’” (Robinson told the journalist Matthew Collin about the VIP area of a similar night he organised in Glasgow, which was full of “E’d-out maniacs with machetes, all totally wired.”)
In 1994, Desert Storm drove to London to take part in a protest against the Criminal Justice Bill, legislation that outlawed unlicensed raves with “repetitive beats” in open spaces. It was a fateful trip: not only did a chance meeting give Robinson a renewed sense of purpose, but it set him on a path that took his soundsystem abroad.
Robinson and several others, including Ally McKinnes, a former resident DJ at Desert Storm, travelled down south in October in their truck, which they referred to as the Rapid Deployment Vehicle. “It had a box on the roof, and the sides would pop off that, so you had your bass bins belting out the side of the van,” explained McKinnes, who briefly produced music under the Desert Storm name with a friend, Jamie Cloughey.11One of their records, a release on Soma called Desert Storm / Scoraig ‘93, was mildly successful. “You opened the back doors, and the decks were there. And the generator was inside it, with an exhaust poking out the driver’s side.”
The van made its way slowly through a crowd of tens of thousands of people, and parked in the middle of Trafalgar Square. As bemused police officers looked on, protesters surrounding the van twirled and jumped to the house and techno playing from the RDP. The reverie of two previous protests, held in the May and July of that year, didn’t survive to the third gathering. After the protest was ushered along to Hyde Park, police lines closed in and the demonstration became violent. Officers in riot gear formed lines of plastic shields as they advanced on dancing demonstrators.
At some point amid all the fighting, someone approached the van. “I’m saying, ‘Get away from the van’, because the cops are attacking it,” Robinson remembered. “He says, ‘Can you take my number, can you take my number?’ I was like, ‘You’re mad!’ He says, ‘Naw, give me your number!’ He’s back up the road and we’re sitting there [back in Glasgow], our brains bazoongad from this thing. The phone goes. ‘Oh, my name’s Paddy, remember? The crazy Scottish guy that nearly got done in by the cops trying to get your phone number.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I do remember you! What d’you want?’ And he goes, ‘Do you want to take your soundsystem to Bosnia?’”
Desert Storm HQ is a unit in a two-storey business park in Walthamstow, which sits between a row of MOT garages and a residential area. Robinson led me to an office that was stuffed with the contents of an entire house. A long wall of metal shelving housed ragged cardboard boxes of belongings: rollerblades, socks, sleeping bags, a cymbal. There were gas cylinders of various sizes near the door. An Xbox console and a television sat in one corner; on the same side of the wall was a boxed-off recording studio, with a drum kit, mixing desk, and a Novation synth inside. Harsh daylight glinted off the pots and pans stacked on top of another synth. (“It was tidy, and now – look at it! I just can’t do it all now. I can’t get the staff,” Robinson said, by way of apology.)
Everyone’s dead – your granny, everything. But if these guys have come all this way in this crazy vehicle and they’re doing a party, then it must be getting better. That’s what people think.
This room seemed a mirror for Robinson’s train of thought – his anecdotes, crammed with random details, often took the scenic route to get to the point. He delivered stories with a theatrical pomp, as if he was reciting a play with a cast of two or three people. After a long and candid chat about his time in the Territorial Army – he joined after hearing about a terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport, in 2007, and served in Afghanistan before resigning in 2014 – we managed to get round to his trips to the Balkans.
“We were bringing cultural aid, as we saw it,” said Robinson, “instead of tins of beans, which they didn’t even like, it turns out. People were bringing tins of beans and sausages, to a Muslim country! Feeding them pig! If they’d found that out, there would’ve been riots. I think that we had a massive effect. It’s been horrible. Everyone’s dead – your granny, everything. But if these guys have come all this way in this crazy vehicle and they’re doing a party, then it must be getting better. That’s what people think. They’re rushing out their houses, ‘Whoa, I’ve made it, I’m alive.’ And I’ll tell you what, they loved it. They’d never heard any music like this in their lives.”
Their first trip to Bosnia, in mid-December, 1994, came after the worst of the fighting between Bosnians and Croats had ceased. The Washington Agreement signed in March of that year brokered relative peace between the two nations, but travelling to Bosnia still posed significant dangers, and the scars of war – leaking water, cracked walls, huge potholes, shelled buildings – were marked on the roads and tunnels leading there.
What followed is documented in surprising and astonishing detail by Desert Storm themselves and other journalists, including Collin; some of the stories read like a raver’s mythology. Heading to Tuzla, they snaked around the Croatian coastline, whose sea-ward Jugo winds nearly blew the truck onto the rocks several times. They drove through Sniper’s Alley, a boulevard in Sarajevo that was as dangerous as it sounded, in the dead of night, with their lights off. (As well as sniper fire, passing vehicles were vulnerable to anti-tank rounds.) By New Year’s Eve, they’d arrived in Tuzla, an industrial town in the north-east of Bosnia that the UN had prematurely declared a safe zone. (Bosnian Serb militia fired on civilians there a few months later, in May 1995, killing 71 people.)
After scrapping a plan to put a party on in a basketball stadium, they drove around town with techno blaring from the truck. (“We were playing a Carly Cox-y kind of techno,” said Robinson, whose music had begun to accelerate away from the Detroit and Chicago sounds of his early parties.) They were soon approached by armed soldiers, who urged them to turn the music up and turn the lights off – a perverse inversion of the instructions they used to get from police in Glasgow.
As the DJ played La Luna’s “Bang to the Beat of the Drum,” a fast, breaks-infused techno record, people flooded out of their homes, and some cracked assault rifles into the pitch-black night.
They passed a police station, where jubilant officers fired their guns skywards and danced on their patrol cars, and later pulled up at a housing estate. As the DJ played La Luna’s “Bang to the Beat of the Drum,” a fast, breaks-infused techno record, people flooded out of their homes, and some cracked assault rifles into the pitch-black night. A small, hand-held laser danced with the sparks from the tracer fire.
Tuzla was a significant destination for the Workers Aid For Bosnia-led convoy. The man who approached Robinson during the CJB protest was from the anarcho-syndicalist organisation, which official charities heading to Bosnia refused to recognise. If something had gone wrong, they had no support network to fall back on. “Tuzla was a miner’s town that had very strong left-wing roots, and because of those roots it stayed multi-ethnic,” Drew Hemment, a former journalist who accompanied the convoy, told me. “So, Tuzla was the only place in the whole of Bosnia that didn’t just fracture along ethnic lines, because it had very strong left-wing roots. And it also had historic links to the left-wing union movement in the UK. During the miner’s strike [of 1984-85], Tuzla miners sent support – food and other stuff – to the UK miners. It was a very special place, but very fragile and oppressed from all sides.”
According to Desert Storm’s Facebook page, clubbers had to sprint for 300 yards to the front door to avoid sniper fire.
Desert Storm returned to Tuzla in the summer of 1995, and went to Sarajevo not long after the Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the Bosnian War ten days before Christmas. Necessary journeys through Sniper’s Alley apart, they were savvy enough to avoid Sarajevo until the ceasefire; had they entered before then, they risked being shelled or kidnapped by Bosnian Serb forces, who were already taking UN peacekeepers hostage towards the end of the war.
Once in Sarajevo, they drove around playing techno to publicise the party they were throwing in Club Obola that night, the first time the city had hosted a party of that kind in more than three years. (According to Desert Storm’s Facebook page, clubbers had to sprint for 300 yards to the front door to avoid sniper fire, and would sometimes spend days sheltering inside the club.)
In the same way that the days in a working week can shuffle anonymously into one another, dangerous incidents and near-death experiences became commonplace for Robinson. There were too many “hairy moments” to recall, he said, although a few did come to him later. He told me about a flat he stayed in at Sarajevo with a view of the Serb lines, where he found bullet holes opposite the window he had just been looking out of. The risks of violence were just as great, if not more so, in Croatia.
“We went into this really bad town [in Croatia],” Robinson said. “There were Mercedes at the gates, in towns – that wasn’t good at all. And you could see that these people weren’t friendly. Bearded, large ones. We went to town, went to get a coffee. And the guy was not friendly – he was throwing the cups at me. I went out and said ‘I think we should just go.’ As soon as I got out, this Mercedes came past the tables in blacked-out windows and one window went down and inside was this huge bearded guy with an AK pointed straight at us. We finished our coffees and left.”
When Robinson returned from duty in Afghanistan, he was promoted to corporal, and discovered he had a talent for teaching soldiers. “You ever seen that film, Full Metal Jacket? I based myself off that, the Scottish, black version of that,” he said. “I made it all really funny, but with a serious glint. I was really good at it, like a duck to water.” Robinson was wearing a navy 6 SCOTS t-shirt, his old regiment, and we spent the first 30 minutes of the conversation on our feet while he told this story. He sometimes paced the room in his large, black army boots.
The military was good for Robinson – it was a rare period of stability in his life – but it changed him. In old documentary footage from his time in the Balkans, he seemed relatively relaxed and nearly always smiling in spite of the devastation around him. In person, he was a more restless presence: standing, sitting, walking, gesturing. There was a surprising intensity to his manner. (“Keith’s eternally looking for something,” McKinnes told me over the phone. “He’s a free spirit. There’s nobody else I know that would do the things Keith’s done, and gone on the missions and the journeys that Keith’s been on.”)
A party’s a party to me. Bosnia, wherever it is, it’s just a party.
“I’ve always had a moral compass, I’ve always helped people,” Robinson said, answering a question I hadn’t thought to ask. “When I came back from Europe after living in very difficult circumstances, living in Europe in trucks organising raves, my moral compass wasn’t busted – it was better than most people’s – but it was a wee bit skew-whiff. But coming out the army, it was perfected. Your loyalty, integrity, selfless commitment, respect for others, all this stuff. I’m not saying you’ve got to do that all the time, but you’ve got to aspire to it. I came back from that changed, definitely. I’ll never go to many firework shows again. I don’t like loud bangs, and I don’t like people queuing behind me. I’m different now.”
Robinson and two fellow Desert Storm crew members22A young DJ, Terry Beach, who’d brought a battered record bag full of jungle, drum & bass and gabber, and a French roadie who propped himself against a desk as he dozed off, still holding a lager. were about to pack their gear for another Desert Storm event, somewhere outside of London. For most of his 20s and 30s, the army was just a uniform for Robinson’s parties. It’s something else now; an epidermal layer, perhaps. The vague pacifism of Robinson’s youth has grown into, in his mid-40s, a more world-weary outlook, one he wears with pride.
Lessons learned during his time in the army have been applied, to some extent, to Desert Storm’s day-to-day operations, too. His experience as a soldier has given Robinson transferrable skills, which he’s found useful for organising more recent Desert Storm gatherings. I asked Robinson whether putting on parties in the Balkans during the war had changed his outlook on them.
“Actually, no. What it did it to me was, ‘If we can do parties there, we can do parties anywhere.’ A party’s a party to me. Bosnia, wherever it is, it’s just a party. I like to come across in the media as profound and all that. I’m an intelligent person who thinks on my feet. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a party. We just put parties on. That’s what I do. Party, party, party, party. Apart from a small break to party with the Taliban instead, then it’s party, party since I was 14.”