Propagandhi: Winnipeg punks thrash the boundary between the personal and political

Wednesday 01st, November 2017 / 09:00
By Graeme Wiggins

punk rock quartet take a Victory Lap after releasing new album. Photo by Greg Gallinger

VANCOUVER – There’s nothing more disappointing than when a favourite punk or metal band goes soft. This goes for both the music and their attitude. When a band whose punk rock guided you through tough times and whose politics got you thinking, it’s crushing when they start sounding like Nickelback. It pays to be fan of Winnipeg punks, Propagandhi, who have kept things high intensity both musically and politically. Their new album, Victory Lap is a testament to both their thrash roots, and their leftist politics.

Often as a political band ages, they slowly delve into more clear cut emotional music, gradually dropping off the specific politics for songs that have a more universal emotional resonance. It could be suggested that Propagandhi have moved a touch towards that direction, with songs like “Failed Imagineer” about the plight of returning veterans but bassist, Todd Kowalski disagrees. For him Propagandhi have always been an emotional band.

“People tend to see certain things as unemotional when they actually are emotional. Even some simple song off of Less Talk about animals or not eating meat, the emotion that comes across is extreme sadness about how animals are treated.” Kowalski continues: “People tend to think that if you write a song about death or love or something that it’s more emotional. We’re conditioned to think that but I’ve never believed that.”

In the early years of the band, the crowds at their shows was an odd juxtaposition. There were like minded political folk attracted to the band for their sympathetic ideals and then there was a whole group that tended towards the slightly more jockish, the snowboarders, the skaters, etc… A quarter decade later the band still doesn’t try to play to a specific audience.

Kowalski explains: “For us even the jocks and snowboarders didn’t bother us. Whoever wanted to listen, it never really mattered. We didn’t discredit headbangers or whoever. Our crowd is a little older now. Tired of snowboarding. Growing beards. As long as they’re into the tunes and thinking about it a little bit.”

Kowalski isn’t just about preaching to the converted. He’s open to whatever audience shows up. “I like being around non-assholes. But people don’t have to be like-minded, I like being around all kinds of people. As long as they’re not dickweeds, that’s what I can’t stand. But it is nice to see that we resonate with some people. We’re not completely alone.”

The crowds may be older, but Propagandhi hasn’t toned down the metal side of their music. If anything, over the years, they’ve dialed it up. This is a point of pride.

“I’m proud of that. For me, the pain I felt when Judas Priest’s Turbo and Motley Crue’s Theatre of Pain came out in the eighties, I instantly thought as a kid that I could never ever do this to someone who is a listener of heavy music. As times goes on, all the metal bands went soft. And then the thrash bands tried to mature. Then the punk bands tried to mature. I was like no man, not for me. We want to thrive and rock and thrash and go wild.” With Propagandhi, punk and metal aren’t just a young person’s game, it’s a band even older punks can still thrash to.

Catch Propagandhi live November 8 at the Rickshaw Theatre

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