Since forming in 2016, Bunkerpop have earned a considerable reputation on the live circuit, gaining a cult following in their hometown of Hull and beyond. Adopting the Cornershop slogan of “people power in the disco hour”, their shows are built around a punk egalitarian spirit, encouraging audience participation with frontman Paul Sarel handing around the mic and breaking the wall between audience and artists by inviting the audience onto the stage; a provocation which earned a rebuke from security at 2018’s Humber Street Sesh festival. With the white boiler-suited band members coming across like a musical ensemble from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or a loved-up version of Alex’s droogs from A Clockwork Orange, Bunkerpop gigs are renowned for spiralling into a joyfully anarchic free-for-all.
The punk DIY ethos has informed Bunkerpop’s career to date, permeating their modus operandi to such an extent that all management, promotion, artwork and publicity is done by the band and their friends. Now comes their crowdfunded eponymous debut LP, released on the band’s own Fast and Bulbous label. How would the riotous mayhem of Bunkerpop’s gigs translate onto record?
From the album’s opening, ‘Start Something with a Stop’, it is immediately apparent that the band are not intent upon merely replicating their live sound in the studio. The merging of woozy bass, squiggly synths and the treated, “dot dot dot dash dot” hissed vocal line emphasising Bunkerpop’s affection for electronica and Krautrock. It is followed by ‘(Are You Ready) For Something’ which repeats the formula, adding vocoder vocals, bass guitar and percussion. Many of the tracks here are aimed firmly for the dancefloor, amalgamating the P Funk of Parliament/Funkadelic with the post-punk funk of band’s like A Certain Ratio, The Gang of Four and The Pop Group. The sample-heavy ‘Bunkerpop Theme’ adds a muted and repetitive guitar riff to cut through the synth bass, the synthesised whistle effects recreating the carnivalesque vibe of their live shows.
There’s a great deal of variation and an imaginative range of influences and textures on the 12 tracks here. ‘Stop’ slows the tempo, proving that Bunkerpop can give you laid-back, too, the inclusion of harmonica and Spanish guitar adding a summer feel to the LP before ‘Kijk’ drops you right back upon the dancefloor. The screeching car and bird song samples on ‘Luister’ manage to combine the industrial with the pastoral, the undulating synth opening shifting gear into a Klaus Dinger, 4/4 beat. Similarly, the vague dub of ‘Wet Brains’ gives you six minutes of mid-tempo, hypnotic ambience before an explosive coda of fierce motorik energy violently jolts you from your reverie.
In an incongruous case of electro coming to Milton Keynes, ‘Newtown’ has Sarel rapping on the intricacies of town planning before moving on to a series of non-sequiturs on the joys of a night out. ‘Don’t Upset the Hawk’ is an incredibly far-out combination of real drums, dirty bass-synth and trippy guitar which segues into a country/folk interlude.
The three final tracks offering a more chilled out ambiance. The jazzy, psychedelia of ‘Harmony Wheel’ coalesces into the warped bass, percussion and swooshing synths of ‘Lovely Eno’, providing an African/World Music feel before the album closes on the atmospheric ‘Action After Warnings’.
Bunkerpop is a startling sonic triumph. Like JG Ballard or Philip K Dick on the dancefloor,it’s agroovy, trance-inducing mix of Krautrock, post-punk funk, mutant disco and electronica with nods to Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Can, Neu and Talking Heads. A mention must also go to the high level of production on show, often recalling Martin Hannett’s sparse recording technique for Joy Division and Factory, eschewing the clutter and fuzz of guitar feedback to leave a void for your mind to ecstatically drift into. Their debut proves that Bunkerpop are more than just a live outfit and can up their lo-fi game to draw upon a wide range of influences to create something fresh and original.
Are you ready to trip-out and immerse yourself in the blissfully expressive, mind-expanding, ambient and futurist funk of Bunkerpop? People power in the disco hour is coming somewhere, soon.
Words: Lee Freeman