Published Jan 01, 2006It defies all logic that Warsawpack should even exist. A seven-member genre-mutation cooked up by chance meeting at a party, the band rocks the line that connects jazz to hip-hop, with nods to Fela Kuti and James Brown along the way. Defying the clichés that dog the marrying of rock to rap, they have also gathered a wildly disparate following of punks, jazz heads and hip-hoppers to become the locus of the current Hamilton scene.
"The cross-section of our audience is probably the most bizarre and interesting thing," says lyricist and MC Lee Raback. "It's all kinds of people. There's a huge age range there, in addition to the cross-genre thing. People gravitate toward the politics of the music. I'll talk to a guy with a Yankees ball cap on all sideways, and then two seconds later be talking to some kid with a mohawk. There would be so many other situations where those two people would hide on the other side of the room from each other, like kids at a grade eight dance."
Now the Pack have dropped Stocks and Bombs, their second release on G-7 Welcoming Committee Records, less than a year after the label re-released their independent debut. To their devoted following, it's not a moment too soon most of the songs were already fleshed out while the band was touring their debut, Gross Domestic Product. "A lot of people hadn't heard about [their debut] until last year, [but] a lot of people in this area were asking Where are all those songs we're hearing at every show?'"
In contrast to the slow painstaking process of the first album, Stocks and Bombs was recorded in a few short weeks, and the spontaneity is evident. Propelled by blasting saxophones and relentless bass, the album fairly crackles with the drive to bring us dire news in the stark fashion warranted by global circumstances. Where their previous effort delivered its critique somewhat antiseptically, here Warsawpack are musically much more liberated, and Raback more precise and virulent in his lyrical attack. The band has greater confidence to stretch out its jazz-laden muscle. "A lot of [GDP] was just the first stuff we ever wrote," says Raback. "It was written without ever throwing it up before an audience. We've gotten in the habit of taking new material and kinda throwing it at people here in Hamilton."
In keeping with their live reputation, the new record is an inferno. It twists and lurches through a chronicle of state-sponsored terrorism, genetic mutation and technological addiction, rendered both poetic and terrifying by Raback's intense delivery. The thematic preoccupations of the first record persist, but are intensified by the acceleration of global absurdity over the past few years.
"What I always liked about hip-hop was that it could be so frank. I really think that if you're gonna speak about things, especially politically, it's refreshing to hear it put that way. I always liked how hip-hop can name names." And name names they do, blasting the global bully tactics of the U.S. administration. Taking a cue from the U.S. media's sexed-up war coverage, the language is also frequently and disturbingly sexualised.
"I think I just had a revelation about media and how sexual the imagery was," says Raback. "I weaned myself off TV, so when I saw TV it was at someone else's house. Watching people watch TV is very interesting it's like something out of a sci-fi B-movie from the 50s. They have a very creepy countenance." Many of the new songs address media whoring quite bluntly, such as "TV Eyes," where Raback re-imagines his television set (gender: ambiguous) sexually subordinating the viewer. "I just think the TV fucks you, in every sense. And it's abusive. It taps into people's sex drives and urges, and toys with them so easily."
These recurring images, while predominantly (and problematically) female, draw a connection between sexual imagery and media sexualisation of war and human suffering. "The best way of describing it is pornographic. All that news is received the same way it doesn't seem to matter the severity of anything. It's dulled everybody's brain to people's pain and suffering in this fucking world. It's reduced it to look at these poor bastards. Too bad for them. And now this.'"
If there is one theme running through Stocks and Bombs, it is that of addiction: to consumption, to mass media, even human genetic modification, with Raback imagining himself drinking polluted water from the Hamilton harbour: "unless I was going full-on horror sci-fi, I couldn't think of a way to present it that was also entertaining." He easily fends off criticism that finds the politics too much in the forefront, or the images too disturbing. "I would like it to be jarring. We need some good old-fashioned jarring right now."