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Local Band Feature: Ballot Burner

because political punks should be a redundant phrase

Ballot Burner
forward into extinction 7”

Ballot Burner is a punk band from Regina featuring members of Royal Red Brigade, Failed States, and Kleins 96. Made up of veterans of the punk scene, Ballot Burner is an energetic three-piece hardcore punk band taking cues from crust, grind, metal, and D-beat (do a something search for the hardcore band, Discharge) while putting forth something woefully absent from much of Regina’s punk scene – progressive thought.

Living in a place as politically backwards as Regina, one finds backlash to progressive ideas even within the punk scene, historically a place ripe for visions of a radical, emancipatory politics. Bass player and vocalist Chris Jenson went into the reasoning behind naming the band Ballot Burner.

“We were looking for something political in nature and I think Ballot Burner describes the frustration we have with our political system, here. The thought that we are always voting for one of them – they’re all the same.”

Guitar player and vocalist Dylan Ludwig went further into the naming of the band.

“It marks an extreme conceptual approach to that way of thinking that a lot of bands dabble in political ideology but I think that if you want to be serious about certain things take things to a new level, conceptually. Ballot Burner. Burn ‘em all.”

“And Politician Burner just doesn’t have the same ring to it,” interjects Jenson, following Ludwig’s statement.

On the topic of voting for a lesser evil, Jenson had the following to say.

“I personally don’t vote because I don’t like to encourage them, but lately I have been holding my nose and voting because I don’t see rich people swinging from telephone poles anytime soon, so…”

The band ruminated on the artists’ roles in revolutionary upheaval and construction.

“It’s always been my frontline. I have very little sway or power in the world, like most people do. For me, it’s always been my frontline because, for me, it’s a great war of ideas that we are all involved in. People are in need of an evolution of ideas. To me, the artist who goes out and plays and puts their music in people’s faces is a way of ideally addressing these ideas in a direct sense.”

Jenson disagrees with Ludwig’s idea of the artist as revolutionary, even rejecting the label outright.

“I’m not an artist. I’m not a musician. This music that we make, I participate out of frustration, anger, catharsis, and fun. When it comes to these radical ideas, I don’t know if the artist has much of a place in making real change. I haven’t seen a lot of that, especially in recent times. I don’t think you can stand at your easel and change the world.”

“How else do you start unravelling millennia of oppression but trying to address these underlying conceptual issues? Yeah, artists feel like we’re screaming against a wall because art is bent against people who are challenging these things. People don’t pay attention to art that is challenging, that’s just not art’s place in the modern culture,” says Ludwig in response.

Ballot Burner has already released an EP on Harvest King Records and completed an Eastern Canadian tour – all within twelve months of their founding as a band.

“I think it’s really cool. We worked hard and it really paid off,” Ludwig said.

Eastern Canadian tours are especially daunting for western bands whose schedules encounter a vast gap between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay devoid of punks.

“Those are the doldrums. Thunder Bay is apparently a tough nut to crack,” said Jenson of the show at the end of the drive across the eastern prairies.

Jenson talked about the eastern tour.

“The shows that I thought would be my favourites turned out not to be. The shows where my expectations were low ended up being some of the best shows of the tour. Sault Ste. Marie, the very first one, was a lot of fun. For a Monday night in Sault Ste. Marie, it was a complete success,” Ludwig replied. “It’s really tough to get people to come to a show in general. You can spend all of the money in the world on the best gear and make the best recording and travel a million miles. Getting someone to pay ten bucks to stand in a room and check out your stuff is the eternal struggle,” Ludwig elaborated.

Ballot Burner is playing a show with Cuban hardcore bands Arrabio and Adictox on Oct. 7 at the Exchange. Arrabio hails from Trinidad in central Cuba and play a style of hardcore most commonly associated with New York’s Lower East Side – so much so that classic NYHC band Agnostic Front’s singer Roger Miret features on their latest album Hecho en Trinidad. This tour is being promoted by the Cuban-Canadian organization Solidarity Rock, aimed at bringing more alternative music to Cuba – whose Communist Party government are nervous about allowing music like this to become popular on the island.

“The organization Solidarity Rock functions as an exchange program for bands wanting to go to Cuba,” Mitch Rogers, drums and vocals, said about the Solidarity Rock program.

Solidarity promotes a cultural exchange between the politically isolated Caribbean island and the outside world, trying to prove to the world that Cuban music is more than the Buena Vista Social Club and state sponsored dancehall music. Solidarity also collects donations of musical instruments to distribute to Cuban musicians who otherwise could not afford such large-ticket items.

Ludwig went into some of the history of Solidarity Rock.

“They’ve been trying to bring bands there, which is a bit more difficult. But they have done a couple of tours sending their bands out… they’ve had very little contact with the North American scene so it makes it feel worthwhile that we are able to play that show.”

Jenson was recently in Havana and was put in contact with one of the local organizers.

“I was supposed to meet one of the members of Arrabio in Havana. His paperwork didn’t come in time, so he didn’t want to waste money on a fruitless trip to the capital, but he put me in touch with another fella who’s very active in the Cuban hardcore scene. He puts on a travelling festival four times each year for twelve nights at a time – Cuban and international bands. It turns out we had some mutual friends and he invited our band to play in Cuba, so if I can convince these two to go to Cuba, we’ve got a gig.”

The do-it-yourself ethic of punk rock is still very much alive, according to Ludwig.

“It’s a good example of the DIY network kind of paying off. You work really hard to try to bring bands through and you meet really cool people who are willing to do the same for you and you can ideally see the world and meet new people.”

“And Facebook wouldn’t have helped me out in that situation. It’s all word of mouth, me trying to figure out how to make a phone call in Cuba, and face to face meetings,” Jenson said about his experience building the band’s Cuban connection. “Hardcore just isn’t on a lot of people’s radar in Cuba. But things are changing, now. It goes to show that punk is a global movement and in a place like Cuba where you don’t even hear rock and roll music – let alone hardcore – can still be a political statement or threat,” said Jenson.

The band discussed some of the problems in the modern punk scene. Rogers had this to say on conservative punks:

“In this day and age, if you have any kind of cause or stand up for anything, you’re labelled a PC Punk. Like, ‘You’re a leftist!’ You can sing about getting drunk and playing with your shit all day long, but to even acknowledge things like racism or sexism, it isn’t just politics.”

“Someone recently said, ‘there’s too much leftist punk rock happening in this city,’ and I am struggling trying to convince people that these are things we should be talking about. To talk about political issues in a serious way and be pidgeonholed as a leftist is just bizarre… This person is a Conservative voter who plays in local punk bands.”

“I just don’t think there is any other kind of punk rock,” said Jenson. “Fuck Conservative punks. Reagan’s dead, you’re next.”

Ballot Burner is a political hardcore punk band that does not care for the other side. You can check them out at the Exchange next month on Oct. 7 with Arrabio, Adictox, and Regina’s Tomorrow Starts Today for ten bucks. You can pick up their album from them in person or on their Bandcamp site if you are shy.

About John Kapp