Writing about Canadian punk-rock band Billy Talent’s live performance at the 3 Arts Theatre in Plumstead, Cape Town is what my initial intentions were. Or rather what my duty was – a 600 word blog in exchange for a red re-used RAMFEST media pass. Alas, post-interview – with the lead singer Ben Kowalewicz and drummer Aaron Solowoniuk – dutiful intentions got drowned with sips of whisky. But, whatever, intentions have never been my strong point anyway.
As I made my way across the grassy parking lot of the 3 Arts Theatre I felt nostalgic as I gazed, distracted, at the pre-20 crowd. I saw around me righteously rebellious renegades, full of youthful insecurities that they’ve managed to disguise with vengeful faces and provoking dialogues. I’d like to think that at 25-years-old I’ve found some sort of identity, happy that I’ve escaped those youthful years that were a whirlwind of heightened emotions and never-ending questions. But those years, in hindsight, have formed some of the best memories I have today. They were years of reckless abandonment, where anything was possible and I really had no idea of what being responsible actually meant.
And on 7th August I felt wrapped in the beautiful youthful energy that was resonating around me. Despite my lack of Billy Talent knowledge, I realized it was this distinct force that formed the fundamental elements of punk. A sub-culture that is raw and without expectations. Being able to lose inhibitions and not giving a shit. And I realized that this feeling, whether we’re talking about the ‘60s beat culture and free-love hippies to the massive acid-rave scene of the late ‘80s and then the big beat scene of the ‘90s to where we are today – the feeling has remained throughout.
So, with this in mind, I hoped I would find some common ground with the guys from Billy Talent. In my mind I imagine a night at CBGB’s in 1974. It’s not a pretty picture. I’m part of a hyped crowd that is ready to make a riot, whilst getting completely trashed… Cultivating controversy and spreading it to the streets.
Sadly, this scene was a world apart from what I experienced backstage with Ben and Aaron. Madly chewing gum, they too seemed to be in a mental place that was a world apart from the small room we all sat in. Indifferent and distracted, the mise-en-scène was surprising and resembled nothing compared to what I would imagine their influences – The Clash / The Specials – would have been.
“[They’re] just not that kind of band” that can tell of crazy festival experiences, and the draining experience I had in that backstage room was the exact opposite to what they delivered four hours later on stage. Maybe they were saving their energy, being a punk rocker these days must be demanding. Perhaps, after seventeen odd years of playing, interviews have become mundane and insignificant. Yet, I had naively hoped for an experience that had traces of a warm ‘80s night with The Dead Boys. This ain’t no Hot Generation no more. But I guess, like intentions, being politely objective has never really been my strong point either.
Words by Sarah Claire Picton