We had met the Rokens two months prior in Paris, in an elevator during the Fargo Festival. It was a magical moment, but all too short. So we promised each other to do the return match on their turf, in the north.
One Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves heading to Lille. After gulping down several local gastronomic specialties with our hosts, we start walking. Roken is Dodelijk call the tune. Wait, I can’t finish this sentence without explaining their bizarre name: “Roken is Dodelijk”. Maybe it’s from an iron will that nobody ever remember what to call them? After a quick check with a Harrop’s dictionary, we find out that it means “smoking is dangerous”. That’s it.
But back to our voyage. With stomachs full and cigarettes at our lips, we start to hang around the streets of Lille. The Rokens vaguely concocted an itinerary for our visit. “Vaguely”: the places they chose were really far away from each other. Not a problem—walking and digesting make a good combination. Except it is ridiculously cold. Not a courageous bunch, we decide that walking is all well and good, but the metro is more practical. They’re incapable of hanging on: the first song will be born there, improvised, between doubts and grins.
The city warms under the Rokens’ melodies. Hardly out of the metro, an invigorating version of “Jogging” and a crowded tunnel, then night falls. And so fast, too. Over several hours, we discover strange characters…all secondhand. Trading in a rich humor based on in-jokes that only they understand, the Rokens know how to make themselves likeable. A cool impression of levity, of not giving a damn. I have this image of French bands being sad and somewhat brooding. Blasé about everything, singing only about their teary-eyed despair. The Rokens have this energy and this pure joy that I’ve rarely encountered. Furthermore, they are in their city, their home; they take us around their streets, their dead-ends, and their memories of Christmases.
Night fell. Time to say goodbye happened long ago. But we’re still there, telling each other that, really, Paris isn’t as good as this. Sure, the Rokens could quit this whole band thing and open a tourism office in Lille. That day was an appetizer-entrée-dessert kind of day, and we were all smiles as we headed home. With extra dessert, actually, since Fonzie, the singer, rode in the backseat on our way back.
The Rokens will be performing a choral concert on March 26 at la Défense (free) and their album should be available soon. Look them up at http://www.myspace.com/rokenisdodelijk.
(Translation by Caitlin Caven)