When electro-pop meets electoral politics
Laim Maloney/Yukon News
EDITORIAL NOTE: The Handsome Furs have cancelled their appearance at the Frostbite Music Festival.
Handsome Furs front man Dan Boeckner doesn’t look like a librarian.
But that didn’t stop the tattooed indie-rocker from picking that profession as his cover on a recent covert mission to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
“If government officials knew the show was happening we would have been deported,” Boeckner said in a recent interview from Montreal via his cellphone.
“And they probably would have thrown our friends in jail.”
In a way, he was keeping up the librarian ruse during this interview, ducking into a Chapters to find a quiet place to speak to the News about his upcoming gig at next week’s Frostbite Music Festival. The interview took place between the I’s and J’s.
Boeckner and his wife/bandmate Alexei Perry played the Burma show shortly before the country’s rigged elections in 2010.
They’d been invited into the country by friends, a Burmese band called Side Effect. They took advantage of a brief window of time when certain flights from certain international destinations would be given a visa upon arrival.
“That seemed to us a better shot than trying to legitimately apply for a visa,” he said.
But the group still needed to make it through customs. And they had to make it through with their instruments.
Boeckner and Perry collected their luggage and noticed a chalk mark on one of the bags.
They’d received a tip from friends that the chalk mark meant that the bag would be searched.
The marked bag was a pedal case containing a synthesizer - suspicious luggage for a wandering librarian.
While waiting in line to go through customs, Boeckner bent down and surreptitiously began rubbing at the chalk mark.
“I was shit scared the entire time we were in the line up,” he said.
“And then we got in. And once we were in we were fine.”
The show went off without a hitch, although lookouts had to be posted on street corners to keep an eye out for police.
This is just one of Boeckner’s colourful tales from the road. The man collects interesting show locales the way scouts collect merit badges.
And the Canadian North is a gaping hole in his sash. Next weekend, he’s looking to fix that.
The Handsome Furs will be just one of a host of incredible bands coming to play the annual Whitehorse festival which begins Feb. 17.
“This will be as far north as I’ve ever gone in North America,” said Boeckner.
“It’s about time we went somewhere off the beaten path within Canada because we tour so much in non-standard touring places around the world.
“For me it’s as interesting as going to Russia, because I’ve never been up there, and I’m really excited about it.”
The two musicians have travelled a long way artistically as well.
Boeckner began his musical career playing base in a Metallica cover band called Ride the Lightning.
Thankfully, that project was short-lived.
In 2003, he became the front man of the indie rock group Wolf Parade. The group played their first show alongside a little band by the name of Arcade Fire.
In 2010, with three albums under their belt and at the height of their career, Wolf Parade went on permanent hiatus.
That was OK though. Because the Handsome Furs were beginning to receive a lot of attention.
The Furs released their first album Plague Park back in 2007. The music was far more electronic than Boeckner’s previous outings, described by a Rolling Stone reviewer as “a dingy version of the Clash rocking some hipster dive bar.”
Boeckner describes the first album as “a bit folky.”
The second record, Face Control, was “a balls-out guitar rock record.”
“We wrote a lot of that stuff in 2008, right before the financial collapse,” he said.
“We were in the Baltics and ex-Yugoslavia and I kind of felt it was the best place to watch the beginning of the end of the good times in Europe, because they’re on the fringes of Europe. If you consider the west the city, we were in the suburbs basically.”
The third album, Sound Kapital, let the guitars fall into the background and focused more on keyboards.
The group also focused on politics more than ever before.
“We wanted people to dance and we wanted to make a straight up political record, so we did,” he said.
In Serve the People, Boeckner sings, “And it’s diamonds and gold for the idiot sons / All the privileged thieves gonna make things run / But I believe in heart and apocalypse sound / You kick ‘em in the head and you kick ‘em when they’re down.”
The way Face Control was inspired by Eastern Europe, Sound Kapital was inspired by the group’s trips to Asia - off the beaten path places like Myanmar.
So if the Yukon plays its cards right, it may serve as inspiration for the Handsome Furs next single.
There is a bit of competition though.
The Handsome Furs were in Russia a couple months ago during another rigged election.
Putin won again, but by a far thinner margin than expected. When the results were announced, anti-Putin protestors flooded the streets.
“When it happened, we went out to check it out because we heard that people were speaking out against the government,” said Boeckner.
“There were about 10,000 people there. The military came in and started arresting everybody, it was insane.”
Maybe instead of trying to compete with that sort of excitement, the Yukon should just enjoy their music.
Contact Chris Oke at