REPUBLIC OF SAFETY CD release with DJs BARBI and KP REGINA at Stone's Place (1255 Queen West), Saturday (March 19). $5. 416-536-4242. Rating: NNNNN
The cats in local indie punk quintet Republic of Safety are a sly bunch. On first listen, their bouncy riddims, raunchy riffs and shout-out vocals make 'em sound like a party band of Charlie Sheen-sized proportions. ut just when you start to get down, band mouthpiece (and former NDP staffer) Maggie MacDonald'll slip in a diatribe on the militarization of space and smack your ass with a lesson in Canadian history. Ouch.
But don't stop dancing; like a bitchy Le Tigre, Republic of Safety pen political tunes that are also surprisingly fun.
"This is a way of being involved in activism, but activism can be dull and alienating," says band guitarist Jonny Bunce (also known as Wavelength co-founder Jonny Dovercourt), chilling with his mates in one of those wooden booths at Sneaky Dee's. "This is our chance to rock out and communicate."
"We do party with our politics, but sometimes you need a social lubricant," adds Katherine McGee, one of the band's two bass players. "We have to counterbalance the politics."
In a time when most musicians' politicizing comes off as either trite or cheesy (!!! and System of a Down come to mind), McGee says part of their mandate is to provide new anthems. They're off to a good start, with live shows that feature banners and fist-pumping sloganeering. And their debut EP, Passport, offers raunchy, politico-punk workouts and enough vitriol to rival a vexed Bea Arthur.
On Get Your Horses Back, MacDonald ominously spits, "We might be a small country in population / but we burnt down the White House once."
Elsewhere, the message is just as powerful, if more tangential. Sung from the perspective of a dirty old man, Baby I'm It is a post-feminist call to arms for coy females.
"I used to be very embarrassed about singing," explains MacDonald. "A lot of girls don't have enough confidence to pick up a guitar, but a dirty old man can walk up to a 16-year-old girl and with no shame tell her she should want him. I wish girls could have that kind of confidence."
Though they've been around barely a year, the roots of RoS (the band's rounded out by drummer Evan Griffith-Nash-Davies and absentee bassist Kat Gligorijevic-Collins) go back a decade to when MacDonald was publishing a punk rock zine called Saucy. Bunce came across a copy and loved it so much, he wrote MacDonald a letter - on map stationery, no less. Though the pair became pen pals, they eventually lost touch.
Fate wouldn't reunite them until a Hidden Cameras gig at Lee's Palace in late 2001. Legend has it that Camera MacDonald spotted Bunce in the crowd, grabbed a mic and started freestyling at him.
"After I saw that, I was like, 'Who is this girl?' I have to start a band with her,'" says Bunce. Combining his razor-sharp riffage with MacDonald's "off the top of her head" lyrics, the pair clicked immediately, and their first jam session yielded four tunes.
"This is our utili-topian fantasy," continues MacDonald, adding that the songs are a chance to "amplify" what they love about Canada. "Nationalism can be dangerous," she says, "but people have to think about what they want from their country. It's a way of laughing about nationalism, but it's also a way of daring to dream."