Artist Spotlight: Polkacide
The only true polka-punk record
As of this writing, I’ve only listened to one true polka-punk album, ever. I’m a philosophy prof, so let me make this maximally boring for you by defining my terms.
What is punk? That’s easy. We all know what punk is. Bang, crash, strum, shout, repeat.
But what is polka? Much more difficult question. In the most general sense it’s just a dance beat, 1-2 1-2, boom ting boom ting, you know, and somewhere around the Czech Republic some years ago certain folk musicians (and classical composers) started using that tempo and beat to match certain dance styles.
But if this were all there is to “polka punk”, then almost every punk band since 1984 would be polka-punk, since they blended guitars and drums and defiant lyrics with the 1-2 beat. And if it’s just that band plus an accordion, then any punk band with an accordion is automatically polka punk. There’s been a lot of that sort of thing, and we’ve done a whole bunch of it, but it hasn’t usually been polka-punk.
Real polka, for me, is Frankie Yankovic, Walter Ostanek, Myron Floren, Six Fat Dutchmen. It’s accordions, horns, a steady 1-2 backbeat, and faces smiling absurdly widely as they deliver an unavoidably good time. It’s sincerity, community and tradition with a heavy dose of hedonism. It’s one of the best things ever invented.
So others have come close; Brave Combo often exudes a certain punk energy, and another honorable mention is the Polkaholics, who are awesome but who don’t incorporate any folk instruments. And so, by this standard, I think there is basically only one polka-punk band ever, and that band is San Francisco’s sadly defunct Polkacide.
You can sort of tell right away, just from the graphic design, that these guys weren’t fucking around with the polka-punk thing. They meant it. And sure enough, when you cue up the music, it has all the joy of polka with all the manic energy of mid-80s punk, like Ostanek’s band went to jam with the Dead Kennedys. Buy this record if you can find it.
One thing makes the Polkacide record so impressive is when it was made: 1986. At a time when the denigration and comedy-fication of old-world “ethnic” music was in full swing, these guys refused to play along with that all too easy game, and made something that shows a deep, profound love for the genre and its history. They could have just noticed what Weird Al was doing and followed suit. Instead, they made music that seriously pushed the envelope while staying true to the spirit of polka. That, I can say from experience, is one of the hardest things you can try to do.
Legend has it that these guys got together sort of on a whim, hoping to play just one gig at San Fran’s legendary punk venue the Deaf Club, and hilariously the gig was shut down before they could play for violating noise laws. Having learned a bunch of songs I guess they decided to just keep going. And so they did, for another thirty-two years.
I am devastated that I am too late to this party to have caught a Polkacide show before they disbanded in 2017. It was extreme hedonistic cabaret. Tons of makeup, costumes, cross-dressing, booze-swilling, people storming the stage to sing, all of it. Here’s the one early video of a full show I was able to find:
And they once played a gig with the mighty DESCENDENTS, on August 23rd, 1986. Can you even imagine being at that gig?
Anyway, Polkacide, whoever you are, and whoever you were, we are in awe of what you accomplished, and one day we are going to dedicate an entire record to you. Book it.
I'll have to check out these bands!
I've been raising the kids on polka and putting it out there more. Usually Stanky and the Pennsylvania Coal Miners and Frankie Yankovic. It's great to hear the young ones running around singing "who likes perogi?!" and making a batch of perogi for them. Good times. Still though, the more I put it out there the more Weird Al and his recent movie keep coming up. I need to research more interesting polka history to open up the conversation beyond *him* in those situations.
Just snagged a copy of Polkacide on vinyl for $17! Thanks for the recommendation!