Thursday, 15 July 2010

South-East European funk

Whenever I spend any time abroad I always make sure I try and find the local punk scene and catch a show. However Oslo, despite its eighties heritage as one of the world capitals of gnarl, proved a tricky nut to crack on the underground scene. Gigs were few and far between over the two weeks we were there, and those that were featured major international touring bands asking for a minimum of 20 quid to get in. Not very punk rock at all.

So thank heavens we got to hear about a show by the a fabulously politicised bunch of new wave funkers from Macedonia called Bernays Propaganda at the historic Blitz squat on Pilestredet. But this being Oslo, it wasn't simply a case of just turning up and watching the band.

Blitz has long been on the European squat circuit, and I've seen many evocative pictures from down the years of a reassuringly crumbling building covered in grafitti and surrounded by baracades. Well it would appear that since those days someone has decorated, at it was the cleanest, most well kept squat that I've ever seen. Not that there's anything wrong with cleanliness of course, it's just not what we were expecting. Then there was the timing issues. Now I'm used to shows running on punk time, but this bordered on the silly. After arriving at 9pm, we were told to come back in an hour, and then when we did there was clearly no one but us and the residents there, so got asked to try a bit later. A little after eleven we returned, concerned that we'd miss the last tram if things dragged on any longer, and bless if Bernays themselves didn't see our plight, get up and go in to play - despite there being little more than three dozen people in the building.


But despite the sparse attendance and the cavernous backroom we were led to, it was quite a show. I was aware of drummer Dzanno and guitarist Vasko's previous band, the speedy hardcore thrashers FxPxOx, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this new outfit was an entirely different beast.

Cranking out the disco drumming and a deeply funking groove from the fresh-faced bassist Nenad, this was more reminiscent of old time British post new wave bands like Gang of Four, The Slits and The Pop Group. But that wasn't the best of it. Singer Kristina was an unsettling beast, prowling the front of the stage like a cadged cat, part vulnerable, part confrontational, looking every bit like a hollowed out Uma Thurman with a grudge. You were wary of catching her eye, just in case she caught you with a steely gaze and you melted in some kind of frightened rapture.

But this is not just unabashed turn-your-brain-off dancing. This is a band infused with anarchist ideals and deep human politics. Named after Freud's nephew, andinventor of modern propaganda Edward L Bernays, every beat means something. The labrynthine rhythms driving vital messages under your skin with every funky lick. This lot means business, winning your heart and your brain by moving your feet first.

With each new tune the dance notches cranked up, and before we knew it, every last person was dipping and diving in a hotch potch of difficult dancing styles, our feet infected by the chunking groove. It didn't really matter that we were crowded into the corner of what looked like a massive gym - that corner was the funkiest corner in the city, we were there to dance whether we liked it or not.

And we liked.

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