The Fatwa’s, Bernay’s Propaganda - Vrankrijk, Amsterdam 19/4/13

To be berated like this by someone who is both obviously attractive AND strange AND incredibly powerful was too much for many.

It’s late and getting later. I’m here to see Macedonian act Bernays Propaganda, lured on by the promise of early stage times and catching last trains. Remind me please, that Vrankrijk doesn’t start early, ever, and that coming early wins no brownie points and just leads to interminable drinking in the bar…  Add an hour. Or two.

……

The place was a funny mix on the night, crustcore types and tough, heavy urban punks with a very obvious sprinkling of Macedonians who clung together, conspicuous by the fact they were all small and dressed in a drastically different manner to the tall punk lads and lasses who normally frequent here. There were a number of Boho hipster types too, but they don’t count. They never do. The reason for such intermingling of the tribes was a line-up that boasted a sludgecore punk, classic punk and well, Macedonian post punk, for want of a better word. Before all this cataloguing turns you off, we’ll move onto reviewing the bands, which I’ll restrict to the Fatwa’s and Bernays Propaganda, because in all honesty I can’t think of anything good to say about the first band. Well, they were okay but unremarkable, making a crashing noise and forcing a number of people to move to the bar. Quite why they were on the bill is a mystery. But fine. I’m not kingmaker and each to their own I guess.

Next were The Fatwa’s; an act who, (in their own words), have “females on bass guitar, guitar and lead vocal and since September 2012 a male drummer.” Got that? Flippancy aside, quite why this band can’t be everyone’s darlings is beyond me. They should be. There is an impish intelligence to them; they boast an incredible back to basics, “no shit Sherlock” charm too. And then there are the subjects the band sing about, and I quote; “politics, rebellions, women's struggles, making music, reading books, squatting, vegetarian and vegan cooking, self-defence, martial art”. And no, before you get cynical, it all sounded fantastic. Fantastic, life affirming even.  The singer knows how to work a stage, expressing points of view with swift effective movements and gestures. It’s almost like she directs traffic, in this case the increasingly demented and raucous crowd. Their sound is best described as a heady mix of tough, funny and intelligent punk, a bit like Discharge; in any case it’s incredibly expressive music and the guitarists loaded the licks and riffs for maximum effect. They are all foreigners living in Amsterdam, (French and Hungarian I think), and using a simple effective manner of communication is second nature, and their crackling, buzzy snapping punk started to bounce round the room like a rubber ball, infusing the audience with a sympathetic, vibrant energy. All too soon they were off, though we did get an encore.

Finally, the band we came to see: Bernays Propaganda. Now, I was excited and not without reason, as I noted in my review for their last LP that given the way the songs are drilled within an inch of their lives, they must be a hell of a live band. If anything I understated the case, finding myself lost for words at the end, my psyche having taken a real battering. You see, when all’s said and done/at the end of the day/thinking about it some more…. regardless of an act’s actual playing prowess / talent as an entertainer /dexterity in setting up an attractive, informative sound, blah blah… sometimes you realise that singing about something you really know about with conviction is the main, essential ingredient that sets good acts apart from average ones. For sure, Bernays Propaganda don’t sound all that different to a million tough sounding post punk acts. They don’t really give melody or harmony much room outside of setting up perfunctory soundscapes, relying a lot instead on the power of dynamics to drive their music. For sure the tracks pound along like some huge Moon Buggy bouncing through the lunar landscape. But what absolutely shines through is the utter conviction that their message is the truth and that you need to know it. It’s no problem that the singer is  also utterly mesmeric, not to say shamanic: she stood imperious, the band slightly behind her, and went through a set of strange poses before bursting into life and screaming out her lines, like some supply teacher who’s just snapped and having a wig out in her classroom. To be berated like this by someone who is both obviously attractive AND strange AND incredibly powerful was too much for many. Once you took the intense quality of the band’s sound into account it’s no surprise the room went ape. People started throwing themselves around, even the singer found herself crowd surfing. There was no encore, and we left in a daze; first for the pub with an old pal, then for the night train, happy, elated and a little bit in awe.