Bodega's catchy critique generates a wave of excitement
Sometimes South by Southwest does indeed work the way South by Southwest is supposed to work.
Case in point: Bodega. The Brooklyn art-punk quintet — to be confused neither with the late, great Toronto indie-pop outfit nor the old Scottish folk troupe with whom it shares a name — had barely played outside New York City’s five boroughs when it decamped to Austin this past March to give SXSW a taste of its smashing live show. A handful of gigs later and, yep, the mythical SXSW “breakout” was happening.
“If you’re looking for that act that everyone will rave about when the fest is over, I have a feeling this might be the one,” mused Austin Town Hall at the time. The NME, rightfully awestruck by the band’s Saturday-night gig at Cheer Up Charlie’s, praised Bodega as “the best band you will see anywhere at SXSW 2018. Hands down.” This writer right here called the band “this year’s most prized SXSW discovery” and was so completely smitten after catching them on the Saturday afternoon of the festival that I went back for a second taste at Cheer Up Charlie’s later that evening — dragging one of the two promoters now bringing them to the Rivoli in Toronto on Saturday, June 16, during the North by Northeast festival. I hadn’t even left Austin before emails were being exchanged and offers being made.
Bodega has that effect on people. “If there’s a turn of phrase we kind of detest here at The Deli it’s ‘taking the scene by storm,’ ” sighed New York’s The Deli magazine recently, Bodega proudly adorning its cover. “Brooklyn’s Bodega are taking the NYC scene by storm.”
“It’s really flattering,” says guitarist/vocalist Ben Hozie, who shares most of the writing duties in Bodega with vocalist, percussionist, electronics overseer and general rabble-rouser Nikki Belfiglio. But he doesn’t do any gloating beyond that because, frankly, that would be most unlike Bodega, which began in part — initially as another combo called Bodega Bay that also featured Hozie and Belfiglio — as a reaction against bands taking themselves way too seriously.
“One of the ideas that we carried over from the last band was just to sort of critique what we were doing,” he says. “In the beginning, it was kind of rock music about rock music — that was definitely our last band — and we wanted to keep that same critical mentality but apply it less to, like, genre tropes and more to ourselves and the community around us. The band was kind of meant to point out the hypocrisies of ourselves and what it means to be playing music in New York in 2018. Also, to kind of poke fun at the holiness of DIY. I feel like so many people I’ve come across playing in bands over the last few years think what they’re doing is really important and that kind of smug attitude always rubbed me the wrong way.”
A large part of Bodega’s charm — beyond spiky, shouty agit-punk anthems that bring to mind a pogo-ing fusion of Krautrock, Gang of Four and Le Tigre — is that its barbed takedowns of consumer culture and our dependence on technology come charged with a snarky sense of humour. As Hozie puts it, “comedy is the funniest when it’s true.”
You certainly don’t feel like you’re being lectured or hectored while listening to the band’s forthcoming debut album, Endless Scroll, even if the uncommonly brainy album’s basic message overall is a challenge to shake yourself out of your complacency and ask yourself why you do the programmatic things you do. And if you wait around long enough, a song about masturbation or “Jack in Titanic” will come around to leaven the mood eventually.
“In this particular city, but also in all of America right now, there’s a certain kind of politeness that people are subscribing to that you can’t get around,” says Belfiglio. “You can’t say your opinion without people coming at you for being mean. They prescribing this kind of politeness upon you and we’re kind of trying to break through that a little bit … Mostly we’re talking about ourselves, anyway. So if the blame lands and you feel it, then look inward. But, y’know, it’s self-critique and documentary as much as it is any kind of self-important lecture.”
“I always think about essays, like the classic form of the essay where a good essay poses a really strong point of view but as an open-ended question, in a way,” adds Hozie. “ ‘Here’s this topic. I think X, but I can also see why Y is valid.’ And then it all kind of ends with a big question mark. I think our best songs tend to have that similar strategy.”
With Endless Scroll officially landing on July 6, Bodega has the perfect excuse to take that much buzzed-about live show — whose infectious boisterousness is effectively captured in the 360-degree video for “How Did This Happen?” — as far and wide as possible.
“I think we’re still very much a live band at this point,” says Hozie, nevertheless concurring that being very much a live band didn’t hurt when the band decided to record its debut album … live.
“We’ve been working on those songs for a year or two or something like that, but the recording actually happened really fast, in four days. We recorded it all to tape and played everything live … on an eight-track Tascam thing so we couldn’t really do any edits of the playing. It just had to be what it was.
“Obviously, we dubbed all the singing so we could get the singing right, but it happened really fast. It was the sort of record making that’s kind of like making a documentary. You’re creating a world and just capturing what the band sounds like.”