It started with the liver

Escaping bankruptcy several times, often being more of a fan than an entrepreneur: How a hepatitis-ridden, toothless punk from Berlin made it from an unemployed flower seller to international concert organiser. The story of MCT.

On a warm summer morning in 1981, a young punk drives a Fiat delivery van across West Berlin. Shortly after 9am, he speeds down Otto-Suhr-Allee at 70km/hour. The car belongs to a flower wholesaler, and the young man at the wheel is supposed to transport a delivery to a shop in Spandau. His name is Stefan Sabottka, but only his parents call him that. His friends name him Scumeck, which doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Back in those days, it’s obligatory to have a good nickname.
By all means, Scumeck is tired. He often parties late with his friends until his delivery shifts with the flower wholesaler starts in the middle of the night, but on this day, he feels pretty beat even though he had gone to bed early. The car’s tape deck blasts the loud guitar trashing of the Damned.
Scumeck looks how all young punks looked at that time. He wears a mohawk and is missing his front teeth. A couple of bodybuilders kicked them out during a big fight the other day. The previous year, he fled from the Ruhr area to Berlin. Here, the Federal Armed Forces can’t recruit him, his parents can’t dictate him anything, and the city has the best music scene. He lives in a tiny apartment in Kreuzberg, which is surrounded by the Berlin Wall, with a shared toilet down the hall. He likes his life here. For him, Berlin is the land of milk and honey.
As always, Scumeck is driving fast this morning. A red traffic light in front of Charlottenburg Town Hall doesn’t stop him. Suddenly, a Volvo shoots out onto the intersection, turning left, and Scumeck crashes, without even attempting to brake, into the side of the other car with his van. The Volvo spins out and knocks down a street light. Of course, Scumeck hasn’t fastened his seatbelt and is sent through the front windshield. The Damned are still blasting from the tape deck. The music merges with the horn of the van, but the young man, hanging out of the broken window with his torso, only hears silence and the chirping of birds. He watches the other driver climbing out of his vehicle, unharmed. “Scumeck!” a voice shouts out. “Scumeck!” The flower shopkeeper has recognised him and runs to the accident scene. Flower vendor Scumeck Sabottka is seemingly uninjured.
A paramedic looks thouroughly into his eyes and says: “Boy, look at you! You’re all yellow. Something’s wrong with you.”
Later, at the hospital, Scumeck is diagnosed with icterus and hepatitis B. And due to this illness, he is not held liable for the accident.
His liver is infected. The doctor puts him under quarantine. He’s allowed to return home but still needs to be under supervision. He covers the walls of his room with plastic sheets and pads the floor with bubble wrap. From all directions, neon lamps bathe the room in ice-cold, white light.
Scumeck listens to SPK, Nurse with Wounds, Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady.” Electronic ‘no-noise’ music. Sick stuff that mirrors his current state. He slims down to 63kg and is intensely concerned with the question if he’s ever able to do drugs again, or if he now has to quit them for good. After six months, his blood test results stabilise, and the doctor releases his quarantine. He warns Scumeck: “Your liver is so battered from the cirrhosis, that every drop of alcohol you drink will shorten your life.”
Because Scumeck is rather attached to living, he decides to be sober from then on. But how he is going to pay rent (135 Deutsche marks, after all) remains a mystery to him. All his life, Scumeck managed to find work, despite having no professional education. All he has left now are these music dudes. People he still knows from the Ruhr area. Back there, he used to play in a band called Public Enemy when he was 16, but that act already broke up after their first gig in Dortmund.
The news that Scumeck is permanently sober makes the rounds. Jäki Hildisch, a.k.a. Jäki Eldorado from the band Abwärts, calls him: “Cirrhosis, oh boy, Scumeck, you’ve got a driver’s licence after all. Can’t you drive us on our tour?”
He borrows a car and accepts the offer. Then, he does the same thing for Malaria on a European tour: Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels.
It turns out that he is good at something after all: Reading maps, driving cars, sorting payouts and costs. For months, he drives Violent Femmes on their tour from Spain to Finland. During this time, he sublets his apartment to Anton Corbijn, who is writing the script for a music video for Propaganda. Even though Scumeck makes almost no money with is new job, he has tasted blood. He is put in contact with an English agency, which asks him if he can pick up Jonathan Richman in London for his tour.
He writes a letter to the Australian band SPK and organises his first gigs in Germany with the act in 1982. SPK perform together with Tödliche Doris and Borsig at SO36. While playing extremely loud and dark music, the band dissects dead animals on stage. Thus, it is a great night. But Scumeck still doesn’t make any money.
During his time as a bus driver and tour manager, he meets Dietrich Eggert of Rough Trade Booking from Herme, an agency affiliated to the Rough Trade label in England. The two of them make a bold plan: “Before the others cash in on everything, let’s do it ourselves.”
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