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  • Writer's pictureJacob Dutkiewicz

Notes from the Once-Underground Man

“They are chaos creatures. They chew through everything.”


6 or 7 guinea pigs are squeaking and scurrying about the room.


A man sits in a wheelchair.


“Most people think they are hamsters…” he says.


It’s not a greeting I would’ve expected from a prolific Groningen punk, squatter, singer, somebody with a history probably more complicated than he is willing to admit.


Neither is it a place I would’ve expected a former punk to live in, but perhaps in my mind, a punk’s abode could only be the stage, a van, a squat, or a cramped and dimly lit basement room plastered with band posters.


But this was none of these things.


It was a small but tidy house in a quaint Groningen neighbourhood, way outside of even the noisy city centre.


I was welcomed into the house of Michael Kopijn by his partner Eva and before I could even realize I was with a warm cup of coffee, sitting down in front of a warm man talking about how much of a nuisance these unassuming critters can be.

Michaels's round and rosy face beams brightly out of his boring, grey (but clearly comfortable) sweater. In some circles in Groningen he could certainly be considered a legend; smack-dab in the middle of Groningen’s 80s punk wave, experiencing it fully and having written all about it on his truly extensive webpage.


“I started when I was 13 or 14, maybe… When I went to high school and saw the older guys wearing leather jackets covered in band names. It impressed me.”

Michael admits readily that there was not much behind his original fascination with punk, other than the recognizable need to belong and an idolization of our older schoolmates.


“Before I knew what was going on I was swept by that wave and didn’t get a chance to look back. At 19 my mom told me I have to start paying for my room…”


“She kicked you out,” Eva corrects. She’s lying on the couch petting one of the guineapigs.


“Yeah, she basically kicked me out… Safe to say she wasn’t very supportive.” After that Michael says he had no choice but to commit. “I joined a squat. There was no coming back from that,” he says only half joking.



I wondered if Michael was always a ‘musical kid’; if starting a band was one of his dreams.


“No,” he responds plainly. “I was a punk so I started a band. It was just another thing that punks did in those days. There were more punk bands than punks in Groningen.”


“My first time on stage with Puinhoop, my first band, was in De Buze, Steenwijk. It was the summer of ’83. It’s a total blur. I don’t remember anything. And I was sober!” Kopijn exclaims, seemingly proud.


“After that, we played stoned a few times too but that wasn’t as fun. I got paranoid on stage so I played sober from then on.”

“After the set, we went partying and crashed at a barn somewhere in Meppel. It was crawling with rats and the next morning the cops came because some idiots were frying live chickens…”


Michael says that despite the chaos of those days he does miss them a lot.


What it Meant to be a Punk


“It meant self-sufficiency, it meant rebellion, it meant going against the grain,” says Michael. But in those days, tensions ran high in the city and that also meant conflict and a good bit of it. 


“It was a very eclectic movement. Punk meant different things for different punks. So we divided along these lines.”


“I remember, back in the Simplon, there were two groups. The communists and the anarchists and they divided the building in half. But the communists had all the sound equipment and the instruments while the anarchists did the planning for all the bands so when they fought nothing could get done,” Kopijn recounts. “Someone would always have to mediate.”


The Simplon was a youth centre, squat and music venue operated by punks for punks. It was threatened with closure by the city council in the late 90s but after rebranding in the early 2000s it remains open to this day. 


And while Groningen was one of the hotbeds of the Dutch punk scene it also attracted those who hated punk and what its subcultures stood for.


“We got an A.N.S. (Aktiefront Nationale Socialisten [Dutch] Front for Action for National Socialism) headquarters in the mid-80s. Then the violence got really bad. The nazis would seek out anybody who dressed like a squatter or a punk. If they got you, you’d get beaten badly,” he says. 


“They never got me but maybe I was one of the lucky ones. I knew a lot of people who weren’t…” When he said that you couldn’t be in the city after dark without a weapon a small shadow rolled over Michael’s face but he lit back up almost immediately. 


“Do you wanna know how it ended?” he asks with a grin. “The nazis beat up a couple with a dog because they were wearing leather. But they weren’t squatters or punks.” 


The smile gets a bit wider. 


“Turns out they were from a biker gang. Within an hour 30 or 40 bikers came and completely trashed the bar the nazis would hang out at. We had a radio in our squat and I remember we were listening to the live reporting they were doing on the brawl.”


Both Eva and Michael are laughing now. 


“Needless to say the nazis stopped being a problem after that.”

On hanging up the leather jacket


Upon exhausting himself more than his rich array of anecdotes, Michael tells me I need to see one last thing. “It’s nearly as old as I am,” he says mysteriously.


I follow Eva up the stairs where just for a second, I catch a glimpse of Michael’s office. Turn out my hunch was right, walls of a tiny room covered with posters head to toe. If you’d try to fit in just a single LP more on the packed shelves, the vinyls would probably, like a failing dam, gush out of the room and onto the corridor.


But there is an air of class and experience about that room which I feel like was well-earned.


Eva shakes me out of it.




In front of me, a piece of leather that could have been a jacket one day but now the countless logos, studs, pins, layers of paint and God knows what else blend into a colourful mess I can only describe as fit for a homeless harlequin.


Jokingly I say it would fit in a museum.


“It does!” Michael shouts from downstairs.

Michael’s leather jacket in 1982 (left) and on the wall of the Groningen Museum in 2022(right), Credit Michael Kopijn

It was exhibited for a few months for a retrospective on Groningen’s graffiti culture of which punks were apparently a big part.

Michael thinks he’ll also belong in a museum soon enough. Although his glory days are past, he’s still in touch with that ‘part’ of Groningen. 


Ever since he joined the punk-wave he’s been chronicling it. In the thousands of photos he took, he gave us a glimpse into what it really was like back then, one snapshot of reality at a time.


Forced of the stage by an ALS diagnosis he is now more of a ‘punk-expert’, cataloguing and writing in his many zines, which he publishes on his website.



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