/ 7 May 2004

Straight to hell

Take everyone from your past that has ever upset you, done you wrong, bullied you in school or called you names. Take the man, your boss, your mom, your dad, corrupt politicians, that failed relationship, my editor, this deadline — put them in a row and bash them over the head with a bass. Plug them into the amp, drive a lead up their asses and play the drum solo on their skulls. This is punk rock and, ja, while you’re at it, fuck you, too. God bless anarchy and self-righteous indignation. God bless The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Bad Religion. You remember punk, right?

Fast forward to 2004 in South Africa and tune into the sound emanating from thousands of garages in the privileged white suburbs from Durban through Jozi to Cape Town.

Hear the unbridled rage of a thousand teeny-boppers beating the drums, guitars and basses that daddy bought them for Christmas, just like Blink 182. Not too sure what they’re so angry about, but screaming all the same, just like their spoilt, disaffected First World heroes on MTV. Hear the whine of a million faux American accents and marvel at the “success” of derivative local punk bands like Tweak and The Finkelstiens.

Beat me over the head, throw me in the boot and drive me to Bellville, amid the rows of verkrampte suburban homes, low fences and golfball letter-boxes. Bellville, home to a million bad drivers and the Western Cape’s First World, suburban, nuclear fantasy. In this neighbourhood, under the shadow of the local NG Kerk and in the manicured gardens, Fokofpolisiekar exist as the answer to South Africa’s boom of punk-rock mimicry.

They’re an Afrikaans punk band currently breaking on to 5fm’s playlist, on air called merely “Polisiekar”. They got airplay not so much because 5fm supports original local music, but because Fokofpolisiekar play with such energy and drive that they cannot be suppressed.

Although 5fm doesn’t really know how to position angry, Afrikaans punk alongside Britney and Jay-Z. Fokofpolisiekar don’t give a shit anyway. They didn’t ask to be played on radio, but their growing legion of fans certainly did.

With a Molotov cocktail of roaring guitar licks and highly flammable lyrical content, Fokofpolisiekar flip between wailing guitars, heavy bass and drum noise, easy melodies and rhythmic guitar riffs that infuse stylistic elements of ska into the music.

The sound is pure punk, as purveyed by a plethora of bands, past and present. But it is the unrestricted appropriation of Afrikaans as the language of young, angry suburban whiteys that makes Fokofpolisiekar so easily accessible.

To those who have languished through 12 years of Afrikaans in the nation’s schools, the music is a stiff, two-fingered salute to Mnr Groenewald, the Afrikaans teacher who beat me with the fast end of a fishing rod in grade six. Fok jou! In sy eie taal ook (In his own language, too).

Through Fokofpolisiekar I am busy re-appropriating the Afrikaans I have had drilled into my skull since I was a laaitie. Lead singer Francois van Coke’s lyrics infuse the international punk sound with a local relevance and create hybrid anthems out of the Afrikaans suburban South African experience.

With song titles such as Maak of Braak, Vernietig Jouself, Lê en Kots and Hemel op die Platteland, Fokofpolisiekar are not simply a South African pop-punk flash in the pan, they actually have something important to say. They are fast creating a relevant new platform that takes its cues as much from MTV and Linkin Park as Johannes Kerkorrel and The Springbok Nude Girls.

Afrikaans punk rock offers this new generation the potential for dealing with issues their parents wouldn’t touch with a cattle prod.

Of course there’s a fair amount of seks, dwelms en rock’n’roll mixed in.

Sitting around a roadhouse overlooking the Belville Velodrome on a Friday morning, and the Fokof boys are already into the booze. Black Label, Hunters and whisky for the drummer.

Fokofpolisiekar’s members come from different, now defunct, copycat punk bands: New World Inside, 7Th Breed and 22 Stars.

All of them were shite, delivering hackneyed riffs and lyrics sung with stolen American accents. But they’ve stumbled across something close to a home truth with Fokofpolisiekar.


“Francois and myself are sound engineers,” explains Wynand, the bassist, from behind his huge snor and 1970s glam-rock hair and thick Afrikaans accent. “We see so many bands, and it’s just copies, just people speaking [in] American accents and it’s stupid, you know.

“And in this band we decided fuck it, let’s just be exactly who we are, and that’s how Fokofpolisiekar started off.

“All our bands were breaking up and we were talking about doing something else. Then we were driving in the van and a family station wagon pulled up in front of us and I said, ‘fokof familiemotor‘, and we were stoned and all started laughing.

“We just digged the sound of it. There were two names we were toying with. One was Fokofpolisiekar and the other was Blasphemous Demon Whore. But the other one would have been more acceptable because it doesn’t have a swear word in it.”

“We chose to do it in Afrikaans because it was the most honest way we could get rid of a lot of shit,” says Hunter, the rhythm guitarist. “Punk music was perfect for that.”

“It’s like breaking all that shit off, what we always wanted to be and pretend to be and just be exactly who we are,” says Jaco the drummer between sips of whisky and drags on his cigarette.

But the music is not all driving guitars, angst, anger and crotch-grabs. It flips frequently between hard rock and anthem-like melodies, in the same way that jazz flips back and forth between the improv and the hook.

It is obvious that Fokofpolisiekar sing their plaintive Afrikaans punk with a wink and a firm tongue in cheek. This is evident in their merchandise, of which there is plenty. Caps, T-shirts, buttons and stickers featuring Jesus, arms outstretched, with batons ominously looming over his left shoulder.

Then there’s the five-pointed star in their logo and the Fokofpolisiekar Jeugsangbundel (youth songbook), featuring all their lyrics in a type of hymn book, cribbed straight from the pews of the NG Kerk. Such imagery has led to several cries of “Satanism!” from the conservative Afrikaans community.

“When I was 12 I gave my life to Lucifer!” Wynand says, holding his two fingers aloft in the time-honoured punk-rock salute, laughing. But what about the five-pointed star in the logo?

“It’s just a fuck-around, man,” says Wynand. “And it’s absolutely what it is. Punk is all about reaction.”

Francois pipes up: “There was a big charismatic Christian revival in Bellville a few years ago. It catered for people like us. People who dig heavy music and alternative lifestyles. It was weird and all of us were involved with that to a degree.”

“It was in all the schools. Everyone was getting saved. All the alternative people,” says Hunter. “All the alternative people at this church with this big pastor, with a shaven head and earrings.”

“I’ve even got a new surname,” says Francois. “My father is a Dutch Reformed minister and the whole congregation started to phone our house when they saw us in the paper, and shit. So my parents said I must not use our surname.”

“They hate it,” admits Francois. “But they’re cool with me, as me. And they’re cool people — they obviously just hate what I am doing.”

“So why are you guys so angry?” I ask them.

“We never thought to ourselves, ‘jussis we are angry’, explains Wynand. “But now people have been saying it and when I open up the lyric book and read ‘alkohol en ek is in die hel (alcohol and I are in hell)’, I think: Jesus Christ, what the fuck were we thinking at the time? But that’s just what happened.”

“That’s what we felt,” says Hunter.

“I’m sure that a lot of young people can relate to it,” Wynand adds wisely.

“Wynand broke his bass on my head on tour,” says Francois, pointing to a fresh scab in his hairline.

“What I don’t understand is that it feels to us that girls don’t really like us. They don’t really talk to us. Everyone is like, ‘how’s the groupies?’ And we’re like, ‘what groupies?'”

The band has no pretensions to being played on MTV and probably never will be.

It’s not caught up in the myth of “making it” — or being everything everyone ever wanted. It simply is what it is — Afrikaans punk.