On a recent jaunt to Belgium, I had the pleasure of getting to play a gig with Brugge punk outfit the Sillycons. Collectively the four-piece have been involved in the Belgian punk scene in varying guises since the ‘80s. They’ve played with the likes of UK Subs, Vice Squad and GBH as well as countless other bands. Musically they are heavily influenced by such acts with a lyricism that tackles politicised issues and inequality coupled with lighter numbers celebrating the joys of getting pissed; such as the excellently titled ‘Twist My Rubber Arm.’
Their lead singer and bassist Alex was also the consummate host showing us around putting us up. After an evening spent getting acquainted with the staggering range of beers the Belgians have to offer we sat down to talk about the band and the Punk scene in Belgium more generally. Needless to say, the recordings were a little bit slurred but there were some coherent sentences buried in there as well. These included thoughts on political positions, gig attendance levels and even a little bit of Seneca.
Tell me first of all how you got into Punk and the Belgian Punk scene?
How did I get into punk? Well, it sort of got into me instead. It goes back further than I actually realised. There was this little pub that needed some support and my Dad taught me to be a rebel without a cause. All the punks in Brugge, I met them when I was about six years old and that was my dad’s fault.
So your dad was into the Punk scene?
No not at all, he was the complete opposite but he was a convenient solution to a problem of where to play.
So how did he feel about you getting into the scene?
He bloody well hated it, what do you expect?
When did you start playing gigs?
I was in the scene in the mid-80s but started playing gigs towards the end of the decade.
What was your first band called?
Surfucari which means shoot yourself in Latin. The title was an idea from the guitarist. We also played with Chronic Disease.
How strong is the Belgian punk scene?
It’s unbelievably stubborn. It’s like the rash that won’t go away. People are still into it and coming to gigs. Sometimes I wonder how they muster the courage to still be there and be part of it. Then I look at myself and think well of course they do, so do I.
I’m interested in how people apply the influence and ideas of punk beyond the musical sphere. Obviously, you are making music but are there ways in which Punk has inspired other things that you’ve done?
I was inspired by Jello Biafra’s approach. He saw that there were elections and thought, hey why not use them as a means to an end. Get out there and use that time as a special moment to open your mouth. You have about 10 minutes where you can speak and people will listen. The rest of the time they couldn’t give a fuck what you say so use that bloody ten minutes. I’ve been involved with a couple of parties, one of them was called Robin Hood, which is a dead giveaway of course. Another was inspired by the slogan take from the Greedy give to the Needy. It’s all informed by the same mentality of helping people out and you should advocate for your cause in any way that you can.
So would you say taking up politics is a logical extension of punk?
I don’t really do politics, I do social engagement. To me, this means making use of the ideas and mentality which promote the ideals you believe in but not through politics as such. Politics largely includes blackmailing each other and backstabbing and tormenting each other with speeches. I don’t do that. The best thing we have in our part of the world is the right to be wrong, you’re not punished for having another opinion.
I agree with you, but could you elaborate on what the right to be wrong means to you?
It doesn’t necessarily say what right or wrong is, the right to disagree is important. The right to be wrong is the pinnacle of how our world works now. What people think of as getting the most votes is not the right attitude, that’s a despicable approach.
That’s quite a pluralistic position, do you think that politically and even musically people don’t accept others views so readily these days?
I can’t dictate what everybody else should do, or to listen to. I’m pretty open to everything in terms of music.
How has the message of Punk developed since the ‘80s, is it still relevant and how do you think it’s changed.
We’re a part of the damned French Revolution, Liberty Fraternity Equality and that’s one of the most beautiful things to ever happen to society.
How would you describe the Belgian Punk Scene as you’ve experienced it?
I was very grateful to get the chance to play with Vice Squad although I organised it myself. At a certain time, I was in a deep rut. Back then, it was mainly cassette tapes I was listening to and they imparted a message of standing tall and being strong and believing in what you’re doing. It’s hard to express how potent an effect this can have. If you’re in a bad situation it can really give you courage.
Do you think there has been a diminution in interest in the scene and what you’re doing now?
In general, I’d say no though sometimes attendance is little low. Particularly with gigs, it has to be worthwhile getting out of the house. The thing is you have to get people out of the house and make it a worthwhile trip for them because they are still out there.
What does Punk mean to you?
For me, it’s always been an outlet and a way to speak up. Social engagement is very important to me. It’s a way of speaking out In a society that doesn’t want to know or hear about you, that doesn’t give a fuck about who you are. In that time you have five minutes to speak on stage and you can say something. That said you have to be mindful not to be overly preachy. The best thing you can do is not take yourself too seriously.
In the time that you’ve been playing do you think the way that people play has changed?
As far as it concerns me no but music is constantly evolving. You can’t shut certain developments out.
Do you think there is a certain expectation of how to look or act within the punk scene?
The punk scene is not about looks but about deeds. To paraphrase an old Roman philosopher Seneca, Who judges a man by what he stands for if his deeds already speak for themselves. It’s possible to look the part without actually doing the thing. Just as in the same way you don’t necessarily have to have a certain look to embody the ideals of what punk is.
You know it’s more than how you look. If you look at a band like Stiff Little Fingers, they may not look exactly like the pinnacle of the punk aesthetic. However, when you look at their lyrics the sentiment is there and the spirit of what they’re writing about holds true.
Really it shouldn’t matter where you come from, whether you’re from a rich or a poor background or whatever. What’s important is who you are and what your aims are at this moment. You have a short moment in which you exist, maybe seventy years or so; what are you going to do in that time, within the world and within society? Are you going to bend to everybody’s wants around you or are you going to be true to yourself and express your own feelings? For me the opportunity to engage in musical expression is hugely important, playing in a band facilitates me being able to do that.
You can find the Sillycons here: https://www.facebook.com/TheSillycons/