WARSAWPACK with Wheels on the Bus and Electric Shoes at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, January 16). $3. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
the next time hamilton-based groove collective Warsawpack sally forth south of the border, they'd better hope they don't cross paths with a customs officer well versed in contemporary music.It's not that the band has a sordid trail of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll-style offences on their criminal records (although they might). Their offences are way nobler. Like punk shit-disturber Jello Biafra, Warsawpack's crusadin' tunes tear mercilessly into the dirty reality of post-9/11 global politics, ripping semi-automatic holes in "rogue nation" the U.S. and the insanity of its war on terrorism.
But as Warsawpack MC and lyricist Lee Raback insists, he and his bandmates are just a crew of nice left-leaning guys on a musical mission.
"I don't want to project this image of us as Black Bloc planners sitting in our basements, hiding from the FBI. I think when people listen to us they get this idea that we spend our free time throwing Molotov cocktails at police cars. As a kid, especially in my teen years, I had a sort of feeling of anti-authoritarianism, but I didn't know much about the state of the world till later. I spent three years overseas, and that really upped the stakes. I spent about a year and a half in Thailand, and it was pretty hard to ignore the state of affairs there, which is directly related to the failings of the Western world. You could see it everywhere."
Maybe it's something in the Hamilton water. Steeltown has a healthy heritage of politico punk outfits, although the seven members of Warsawpack have forsaken the messy DIY crashy-guitar aesthetic of their hometown for stupidly tight jazzy hiphop grooves and a shiny horn section that owe more to the Herbaliser than the Dead Kennedys.
Similarly, Raback says his agitprop proclamations were influenced less by the politics of his upbringing (his CUPE-organizer mom and his right-leaning dad engaged in playful debates over the dinner table) than by the Public Enemy and KRS-One tracks he kept on constant rotation all through high school.
Raback wonders about a socially conscious white MC adopting as his own what has traditionally been a "black" voice.
"That's a huge question for our era. I'd like to think I'm giving back to it and not just copying what's there and trying to do it myself with the intention of taking it to a white audience. It's come up before with rock 'n' roll and its transition. Elvis Presley never wrote a single one of his songs, right?
"In general, with the hybrid of hiphop in the whole rock-rap movement, I'm the first to say it's a rip-off. In the end, it all comes down to the artists and whether they're doing something new with the form.
"There are a lot of really good white hiphop artists out there, especially in the underground. At the same time, I think a lot of black artists are bastardizing the culture. The whole turn toward bling-bling and the movement toward pop kind of sucks. I don't think it's doing the culture any favours.
"It'd be way easier for me to argue that I'm doing something good for hiphop than it would be for Puff Daddy. I do worry about that, but it would never make me stop doing what I'm doing, 'cause I can't write lyrics any other way."
Warsawpack's recent Gross Domestic Product disc, featuring rants about environmental destruction and the dangers of globalization, found an ideal home with Winnipeg's G7 Welcoming Committee (the activist record label responsible for pinko prairie punks the Weakerthans), which re-released the indie recording last fall. But the LP doesn't include Raback's recent anti-anti-terrorism rants, which he claims make up the bulk of their current live show.
He admits that their newest stuff may suffer from the problem that plagues any political-leaning band: how do you prevent such timely material from sounding dated in a few months' time?
"I wrote the lyrics as a reaction to what was being said on TV or what I was reading in the paper or what I heard idiots talking about on the bus. But y'know, if you listen to, say, Bob Dylan's Hurricane, the same injustice prevails today."firstname.lastname@example.org