In their own words, Petrograd are a punk rock band that started in October 1996 in a tiny European country called Luxembourg, also known for being the only remaining sovereign grand duchy and also one of the richest countries in the world. From the get go, it was pretty obvious they didn’t want to play the typical shit every rich kid was into, in order to become a famous rockstar band, but rather do simple three-chord yet powerful and sometimes sad, punk tunes while not being the monarch’s favorite band.
By the release of their last album NineOneOne in 2002, Petrograd played over 350 shows all over Europe. The first full-length Isabelle came out in 1999 on Subway Records, and less than a year later the band decided to record their sophomore album A.B.C. which came out on 13 different labels in countries such as Austria, UK, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Luxembourg and the Basque country! The record sold over 10 thousand copies and Petrograd managed to donate a hell lot of money to the Anarchist Black Cross Innsbruck. During their career, the band released a lot of EPs, compilation tracks and split EPs with bands from all over the world. Petrograd played benefit gigs for a lot of political causes and stomped the line between pop/emo and the political DIY scene, doing it their own unique way.
In 2022, Petrograd reunited to a big surprise to old fans like us, and we contacted their main songwriter and vocalist/guitarist Steve ‘Diff’ Differding to talk about everything Petrograd, past and present.
Hi Diff! Do you mind sharing some background about how and when you first got involved with DIY subculture and punk music? What was it like being a punk to you back then?
Hi my friends. Thanks for your interest in Petrograd. Well, I first got interested in punk music back in the 1980s—I got to know some guy who had a huge record collection and he moved to another country. He was looking for someone he could give over 250 records to, and he decided it was me for some reason.
So I had the opportunity to grow up with MDC, 7 Seconds, Minor Threat, Ripcord, a hell lot of old German punk rock etc. I think I didn’t leave the house for one month straight, just listening to all these amazing records. So I was lucky to get in touch with DIY almost from the start.
You’ve been involved in bands like Subway Arts, No More, and Bakunin’s Children in the early ‘90s. Can you talk about the history of DIY hardcore punk scene in Luxembourg at the time?
Subway Arts was the very first active DIY band from Luxembourg. The very first punk band to play shows not only in Luxembourg but also Germany, Belgium, Holland and many more. Subway Arts was the beginning of a scene growing with a lot of young people becoming involved. At that time we were part of a movement that squatted an old slaughterhouse that we helped turn into a cultural center with politics, an antifascist group and animal rights activists. In the very early ‘90s we set up shows for Born Against, Yuppicide, Rorschach, Hiatus… way too many to name. A lot of DIY and crust punk! Then back in 1994 we moved away because this center signed with the government and got money from the state—it was obvious we couldn’t stay there since we did not want to be supported by a state. So we moved to another place in Luxembourg City and set up a new collective.
Metallic hardcore and the militant straight edge scene were gaining momentum around 1995 in both Europe and the US. Can you talk about your rivalry with the Belgian hardcore scene with bands like Liar, Congress, the Ieper crowd, etc.? What was your opinion on bands like Sweden’s Refused?
It was a mess! We played a few shows with some of these bands since the people from Ieper, Belgium, who always set up shows and had bands play together from different styles and countries. But it got pretty violent between the straight edge people and, let’s say, the DIY and crust punks. I don’t care about straight edge but I care about violent pricks and machos. We played with bands like Nations on Fire and I met the guys from Refused—I even liked both bands but most of the time people in the audience were unbearable. We had a lot of fights—I remember a show in Prague with Petrograd back in the days when I got into a fight with an Italian vegan metalcore band! I’m vegan too but these guys were fascists! Bands like Vegan Reich, Earth Crisis, etc had a big influence on young people but we won ’em over since we were much nicer.
What was the impetus for the formation of Petrograd in 1996? Is the band’s more melodic and pop-influenced sound a reaction to this macho/tough-guy mentality at the time?
Well, it actually is. I was really tired and burnt out of a lot of things that happened. We wanted to change a few things and do the nice way—not the hippiesque but more positive. Like butterflies instead of dead children on the cover etc. However, we still continued the DIY way since it’s a philosophy I really like. We had the opportunity to sign contracts with well known labels and become a regular punk rock band but it’s never been in our interest. We still played shows with Agathocles, His Hero Is Gone, Hiatus, Disaffect, and it was just a lot of fun and a great experience to meet some of the nicest people on earth.
Liege was much much more different then Ieper, for example. It was run by an anarchist collective and they invited us to some wild shows over there. I was always attached to bands like Hüsker Dü, Cringer, 7 Seconds, Crucifix and many more so I wanted to create a new sound and play more melodic music. However I still love a lot of the old stuff!
You managed to sell tens of thousands of records with Petrograd and yet remained a DIY band. What do you think of the success of bands like Chumbawamba, were there any inspiration to you?
Like I already mentioned we had opportunities and remember talks with labels from the US and Europe that had quite a following back then. We played a hell lot of shows, released tons of records and tapes worldwide and got offered tours in South America and Japan, it was all DIY. But DIY is also very tiring if you know what I mean. You “work” 18 hours a day on your project and at the end of the day you also spend a lot of energy and money. When the band became more and more well known and we got offered to play big festivals on big stages and also get paid decent money that you could use to go play more squats etc., but it really burnt me out again to a point where I just didn’t want to do it any more.
Also, we had a lot of changes within the band all the time. Luxembourg is a very small country and life is expensive—so you gotta get a job and follow the slavery life. I lost friends at that time and was really fed up with everything. Going mainstream could have been an option—but I was stubborn and didn’t want to sell out. I hated to see bands tour that were living almost the same life as in modern slavery where you have to go to work 40 hour a week. In DIY at least you could say FUCK IT I’m out! You’re not just a product. And no, Chumbawamba was a horrible band—we played once with them and It was terrible.
Petrograd made a lot of split records with international bands, worked with so many DIY labels and played hundreds of shows every year. In retrospection, what are your favorite memories of being in this band?
I always loved the small shows, the benefit shows, and collecting money for projects. I enjoyed being in the studio and writing new songs all the time. So many good memories—way too many to name. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people throughout all these years but we also had some bad moments and went through a tough time. We started playing shows again this year and the first one was in a very small bar that was packed! It was a blast and it felt like we never stopped playing! Now we are going to record a new album someday soon and hopefully play good shows in the next coming years. I feel motivated again.
Besides Petrograd, I really loved another band from Luxembourg called dEFDUMp who had existed roughly the same time. Were there any other good bands around the late ‘90s and early 2000s?
Wounded Knee had quite a big following—they had former members of No More and were quite known. There were a lot of young bands starting and some are still around—like Toxkäpp (ska punk), Versus You (melodic punk rock)—a lot of indie bands like Mutiny On The Bounty.
What are your favorite European hardcore punk bands and records of all time?
That is a question I guess I will never be able to really reply to. Today I no longer follow the music scene so I almost have no idea what’s up. Not like back in the days when I almost knew every band in existence. I still listen to Seein’ Red, Abolition, Kurt, Turbostaat and many more but I don’t really have a favorite band or a favorite album. Not the best answer I know but it is what it is.
The last Petrograd album NineOneOne came out in 2002 when the band wasn’t playing so many shows due to health issues. How did this album differ from anything you’ve done in the past? It’s still my favorite Petrograd release and I absolutely love listening to it to this day.
2002 was a terrible year for us and we kind of knew that might be it with the band. Though we really enjoyed recording NineOneOne I knew I had to take more than just a small break—which I actually didn’t do. So we released the album, played a couple of good shows and got offers to tour. At the same time I already wrote new songs that were supposed to be released on a split 10-inch and some others for a split 7-inch. But then I got really really sick. I had my first stomach ulcer when I was 12 years old and always struggled with problems, and back in 2003 it got really really bad. Then my son was born in 2004 and I had to stop with the band. We went on to release a CD in the USA with unreleased stuff and some remixes and people really seemed to like it. I wanted to go on, tour and play shows as much as possible but I was out.
On NineOneOne I took a long time to really work on the sound and especially the guitars. We worked really hard on it and I’m still satisfied with the outcome. The artwork is simply amazing. The woman that drew everything [Muriel Moritz] is still a good friend and now does books and drawings for children. Too bad we couldn’t release the other songs but maybe we’ll do it in the future. When we played two shows again in 2009 I wrote ten new songs and those are also still up for being released in the future. I’m still getting a lot of mails from a lot of people all over the world, and now that we play again it might be a good idea to have these songs released as well. It’s amazing to hear that people still love this record today.
The name of the record was clearly a reference to the 9/11 attacks in New York, a historical event that changed so many things in the world and was considered by some as the end of the so-called antiglobalization movement. Did you reconsider some of your politics when it happened?
What happened on the 11th of September indeed changed the world and yes, I reconsidered a lot of my views on politics and globalization. We suddenly got ran over by a lot of aspects we were fighting against. The gap between the rich countries and countries of the Southern hemisphere for example suffered even more than they did before 9/11 and everything culminated in the election of Bush and later Trump. Today we have more racism, antisemitism, homophobia, islamophobia, hatred and radicalism than we ever had and it’s only getting worse.
To change the topic of the conversation, you seem to be really passionate about MMA and sports at the moment? Is there a connection between punk and sports to you or are they two entirely separate things?
I’ve always been passionate about sports, especially football and MMA. I got into MMA back in mid ‘90s—so almost from day one that the UFC started promoting the sport—well at the beginning I guess not many people believed this could turn into a real sport that now is almost mainstream. I’ve done traditional Martial Arts (tae-kwon-do) when I was young and once I heard about Muay Thai and BJJ I got hooked on it immediately. There’s a lot of aspects about traditional martial arts that I never liked—like bowing and calling your coach a master. This never really sat well with me. Even today I still don’t use words like Master or so…..but MMA really helped me a lot when I was struggling in life at a certain point.
It’s a lot about respect and challenging yourself to become a better person. Nowadays I organize events and it’s almost DIY—at least we’re not doing it for the cash but for the love of the sport. We also educate people about racism, homophobia and discrimination. We are all one!
You’re also an avid HSV supporter in contrast to most punks being HSV’s biggest rival St. Pauli fans. Is it because of Hamburger’s prominent history in the Bundesliga or just being at odds with what is considered hyped within the leftist/punk scenes?
I’ve been a HSV fan since 1980—I grew up with the club. Since every other kid either supported Bayern and Real Madrid, I supported HSV and Barcelona. It’s funny that later on a lot of leftists or people from the punk scene became St. Pauli fans—sometimes I feel like these people are more religious about that club than anything else. I totally adore the fact this club has taken a stand against a lot of evil things like racism, homophobia, capitalism and all these aspects. However, I get the feeling it’s more like a huge gathering of people celebrating themselves than enjoying the game of football. It’s great to see that nowadays a lot of football clubs have banned racists, fascists and homophobes and stand up for equality. However, the big leagues are way way too much about money and players are treated like slaves—so I’m getting more and more fed up. I like to hang out at small local pitches and watch the kids play!
Thank you very much for the opportunity. I really prefer doing Interviews face to face since it’s just much more fun and we can discuss things. Also, I could fill pages with some questions / answers so I really tried to keep my answers short. Hope to see you some day and keep up the amazing work.